In around 79 AD, Herculaneum, an ancient Roman town, was destroyed and buried under ash by an eruption from Mount Vesuvius. When it was finally excavated in the 18th Century, a huge collection of precious, ancient scrolls were discovered, amounting to around 2,000 texts. This collection has become known as the Villa of the Papyri, and is believed to be the only such library still in existence today.
The only problem is that whenever attempts have been made to read the scrolls throughout history, the attempts have destroyed the scrolls. It’s a fascinating story of the effort to access knowledge so fragile it literally crumbles under the fingers.
An article in The Economist tells that story, and reports the news that a solution may be near. The library mostly contains treatises on the philosophy of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, and at least 44 of the scrolls are the work of Philodemus, a fellow Epicurean philosopher. But what’s particularly thrilling is that Epicurus “wrote a 37-volume treatise on empiricism called On Nature” which is “perhaps the most comprehensive basis in classical times for the modern notion of learning through experimentation.” It’s very possible that fragments from this are among the scrolls.
When the scrolls were first discovered …read more
Via: Melville House Books