It was soon discovered the carbonised lumps they thought were rolled-up hunting or fishing nets, or bolts of cloth, in fact contained writing.
- It was soon discovered the carbonised lumps they thought were rolled-up hunting or fishing nets, or bolts of cloth, in fact contained writing.
- What these peasants had found turned out to be a huge building from the ancient Roman age, when the town was known as Herculaneum.
- I have worked on the scrolls in the Herculaneum library since 2010, when I began my PhD thesis on Philodemus’s text On Poems.
- This means no one alive has ever read the first sentence of a Herculaneum text, only the first visible, surviving sentence.
Unrolling and reading the library
- In 1753, Italian priest and scholar Antonio Piaggio, on loan from the Vatican library, invented a machine to unroll the papyri by slowly pulling the outer layer off.
- Hundreds of Herculaneum papyri were thus unrolled, though their harder outer bits were cut off to get at the better preserved insides.
- Philodemus of Gadara is the most common author in the library.
- Epicurus makes up a substantial proportion of the library too – especially On Nature, his magnum opus.
What will we find?
- The chances of finding lost Ancient Greek literature are slim because none has so far been found in the Herculaneum library, though it would be thrilling.
- But there’s real hope for more Latin literature at Herculaneum – lost works from the first centuries BC and AD.
- There will be more Philodemus and, as a scholar of his work, I am over the moon about this.
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Michael McOsker does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.