Ancient Scrolls of Philodemus, Carbonized by Vesuvius, Now Readable


Using a technique known as x-ray phase-contrast tomography (XPCT), a research team in Italy has figured out a way to read the text of ancient rolled-up scrolls that had been blackened, warped, and embrittled in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The scrolls were found in 1752 during excavations in Pompeii. Most of the approximately 1,800 (!) scrolls found so far have been impossible to read or even unroll without destroying. According to an article at Smithsonian Magazine, “most of the scrolls that have been unwrapped so far are Epicurean philosophical texts written by Philodemus—prose and poetry that had been lost to modern scholars until the library was found… Modern scholars debate whether the scrolls were part of Philodemus’ personal collection dating to his time period, or whether they were mostly copies made in the first century A.D.” Further details about the technique are also described at the website of the European Synchotron, the particle collider that was needed “to produce the high-energy beam of x-rays needed for the scans,” and at Nature Communications.

guest
5 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dan
Dan
6 years ago

Do you think they’ll be able to find the lost books of Aristotle? Maybe an unknown dialogue from Plato will be found. This could be incredible.Report

Jurgis Brakas
6 years ago

Yes, some of the lost works of Aristotle! I can’t believe there aren’t some of them somewhere.Report

chris
chris
6 years ago

The library in which these papyri were found is mostly an Epicurean library, from what I gather. That doesn’t mean that substantial quotation from Epicurean opponents (e.g., the Stoics) won’t also show up.Report

Tom
Tom
6 years ago

There was already a lost book of Aristotle found and then lost again, in a library in a Benedictine abbey. The pages covered with poison, lost in a huge fire.Report

Jeff Weskamp
Jeff Weskamp
5 years ago

I hope they find some of the lost comic and tragic plays of antiquity. Many hundreds of plays have been lost. Sophocles wrote 123 plays and we have only 7 intact and about half on an 8th play.Report