WWW Opinion Times

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Could Texts Lost for Millennia Be In Our Grasp?

This would be the most amazing find since the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Sunday Times: Even in our age of hyperbole it would be hard to exaggerate the significance of what is at stake here: nothing less than the lost intellectual inheritance of western civilisation. We have, for example, a mere seven plays by Sophocles, yet we know that he wrote 120; Euripides wrote 90 plays, of which only 19 survive; Aeschylus wrote between 70 and 90, of which we have just seven.

We also know that at the time when Philodemus was teaching Virgil on the Bay of Naples, the lost dialogues of Aristotle were circulating in Rome (Cicero called them “a golden river”: the essence of ancient Greek philosophy); they, too, have vanished.

. . .When the great library at Alexandria caught fire 1,600 years ago, more than half a million scrolls were destroyed: the greatest intellectual catastrophe in history. But the tightly rolled papyri caught in the eruption of AD79 — not only in Herculaneum but also in Pompeii — were first carbonised and then, when the pumice and ash moulded around them, effectively sealed in airtight stone vaults.
This bibliophile salivates at the possibilities for understanding better the underpinnings of Western philosophy through its Greek roots.

Hat tip to Confessions of a Political Junkie.