Out of the Ashes: Recovering the Lost Library of Herculaneum (2003)

Out of the Ashes: Recovering the Lost Library of Herculaneum (2003)

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in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, a library  of ancient scrolls is preserved when it is   burned and buried by the volcanic eruption  of 79 AD. The volcano gave us the papyri,   that's certain. The only library ever recovered  from antiquity comes to light in a new day. The   fact that they found 1,800 rolls of papyri  from one villa in Herculanum is absolutely   staggering. From within these charred pages,  scholars hope to recapture life in the days of   Pompeii and Herculaneum. It is a race against  time and deterioration. We're losing pieces   of them all the time. 250 years after the scrolls  were found, can new technologies help to read the  

blackened pages?We have the application of  space-age technology applied to texts that   have not been available for 2,000 years. And is  there another library still buried at Herculaneum? At the National Library in Naples, Italy,  scholars read from the pages of history's   most fragile ancient library, scraps  of papyri transported through time by   an unlikely set of circumstances. The  eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD   burned and buried nearly 2,000 papyrus  rolls. The carbonization preserved the   scrolls when they would have otherwise turned  to dust. So this whole process preserved them   for us. If they hadn't been burnt in this  way then they would have just rotted away. I am a friend of Vesuvius because Vesuvius,  with the eruption of 79 AD, has conserved   this papyrus. More than two centuries after they  were first discovered, many scrolls have yet to  

be unrolled or read. Only from the Villa de Papyri  do we find these entire rolls. The problem is we   don't know fully how to unroll them when they're  completely carbonized and blackened. From more   than 10,000 scattered and charred fragments,  scholars work to recover the lost writings of   classical philosophers and new perspectives  on two ancient cities silenced by Vesuvius.

In the ancient world the cities of Pompeii and  Herculaneum reach their peak in the thriving   Roman Empire. Both cities are located between  the Bay of Naples and the fertile foot of Mount   Vesuvius. Their archaeological remains provide a  rare glimpse into the lives of both the rich and   the commoner in the first century. One of the  really significant things we get from Pompeii   and Herculaneum is a pair of cities preserved  in time, snapshots. So we learn exactly what   the living conditions were like for people in the  First Century AD. In Pompeii you can see private  

houses very vividly and I think people relate  very closely to that because they can imagine   what was life like for a family in antiquity.  They were nice places even the houses of bakers   and fullers and people that we would think are  quite lower- middle-class, who had been given a   chance to enjoy themselves by the wonderful kind  of first try at modern civilization that was the   Roman Empire. While they are sister cities Pompeii  and Herculaneum have distinctive personalities.   The largest city, Pompeii, is a busy commercial  center. Herculanum is located closer to Mount   Vesuvius than is Pompeii. The pace of this seaside  community is more subdued. It is one of the most   beautiful towns on the Bay of Naples. Herculanum  was very different from Pompeii. It was a seaside  

town, it was something of a port therefore, but  it always had a somewhat more cultured air to   it. It was in touch with the intellectual life  of the day to a greater extent than Pompeii.   Herculaneum is a very small city, but also a  very refined one especially regarding the villas,   and consequently at Herculaneum, we see houses,  pictures ,and sculptures that are more beautiful   and rich than those that we see at Pompeii.  Many of Rome's rich and powerful citizens   have properties here. One spectacular villa  is owned by Julius Caesar's father-in-law,   a politician named Lucius Calpurnius Piso. He  was consul in 58 BC, that's the most powerful  

position that you can have in Rome. It's clear  that whoever owned the villa was the most powerful   person around. From the verana of this seaside  villa, the wealthy Piso family could gaze across   the Bay of Naples and enjoy a life of wealth and  privilege. It's hard to realize how far above   the life of the common people the great Roman  nobility were raised, in what was already this   incredibly rich empire, unless maybe you were to  refer to such unheard of modern billionaires as   Bill Gates. To judge by the decorations in the  villa, he would have been extremely wealthy,  

and we must remember that this was his holiday  home. Two thousand years later, this collection of   papyri would be the only known library to survive  from antiquity. And the scrolls would miraculously   endure one of the greatest natural disasters  ever recorded: the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  The horror of an August day in 79 ad is forever  etched in the faces of the victims of Veusivius.   As the volcano explodes around midday, a  witness records the scene as a dark cloud   of ash stretches across the sky. And Pliny  observed this strange mottled cloud and this   was the start of the eruption. Archaeology shows  us what was actually going on in the cities at  

the foot of Vesuvius and there it was absolutely  dire. In the town of Pompeii, the town was being   covered by ash and pumice. You can reconstruct  in minute by minute detail their deaths, which   were absolutely horrific. There is this long rain,  the rain of ash comes down for at least 12 hours,  

and it must be very choking but it doesn't  actually kill people. And they're all trying   to find strategies for survival. Some of them get  out of the city. Some of them hide. People were   choking and so on, but they were mostly able to  escape. It was only the greedy ones who wanted to   go back for their money and their valuables who  tended to succumb. Because of their locations,  

the victims of Pompeii and Herculaneum meet very  different ends. Pompeii is blanketed with falling   ash. The ash conforms perfectly to its victims  preserving a nightmarish imprint of their deaths.   Herculanum's victims are enveloped by a cloud of  gas then skeletonized by a flow of hot mud. At   a certain point, the volcano released a cloud of  superheated gas and steam which the volcanologists   call a pyroclastic flow. This terribly hot mud  mixed with gas heated to around 325° Celsius,   that's three times above boiling point, came  down and overwhelmed everything in Herculaneum,   burying it in a depth probably of 70 ft. For many  years it was thought that all of Herculaneum's   residents had escaped, but in the 1980s hundreds  of skeletons were found clustered near the shore.  

Certainly people were trying to escape from  Herculaneum by boat. Near the shoreline hundreds   of skeletons were found. So they they didn't  get out quickly enough and and then came the   pyroclastic flow and there's no getting away  from that. It must have been a terrible end. The city of Herculaneum would remain buried for  1700 years, its location forgotten as the modern   city of Ercolano is built above the site.  But in 1709, a chance discovery reveals this   perfectly preserved ancient city buried under  volcanic materia. The original discovery of the   town of Herculaneum was made when someone was  digging a well, and they dug a well, and at the   bottom there was a statue. So this encouraged  excavation, and it was done by tunneling. The  

tunnels they were working in were only wide  enough for one person and just tall enough   to walk under. They're following like moles these  deep trenches along the foundations of the ancient   buildings and extracting sculpture and other  precious items as they go. By today's standards,   the first excavations are not very scientific.  Workers tunnel into the city and hunt for precious   objects. The immediate object of the excavations  really was a treasure hunt. Charles of Bourbon   was most interested in the kinds of materials that  he would then come to display in the Royal Museum.   The treasures from Herculaneum would fill the  royal museums. The discoveries here, and later  

at Pompeii, would attract international attention  and turn Naples into a prime tourist destination.   People were realizing that these were some  fundamental places that showed how the ancients   lived. This large firsthand discovery of an  entire city really brought it home to people. The   archaeological discoveries would have long lasting  impact on art and culture worldwide but no find   would attract more attention than the villa owned  by Lucius Calpurnius Piso. The Villa de Papyri   turned out to have a extraordinary treasure trove  of bronze sculpture and marble sculpture. There's   never been another Roman villa discovered that  had a comparable amount of sculptural decoration.  

Archaeologist Karl Weber would create this floor  plan drawing of the villa in 1754, even though the   structure itself is still buried. He describes the  vast estate as the most valuable and richest villa   in the ancient world. But the single most unique  discovery from villa was almost overlooked: 1,800   carbonized papyrus rolls are at first mistaken for  charcoal. In 1752, they were working in the Villa  

of the Papyri and discovered these very mysterious  objects which appeared to be lumps of coal. They did not realize this were papyri. This  is understandable because the concept of a   papyrus did not exist. They saw what looked like  carbonized tree branches. We even know that the   first three or four papyri were burned for heat.  It seems a number of them were thrown away or used   perhaps as as fuel on the fire but at some point  somebody realized that there was writing on the   insides of these lumps and they understood that  they were books. The fact that they found 1,800  

rolls of papyri from from one villa in Herculaneum  is absolutely staggering and of course one of our   great frustrations is that we cannot get back to  ancient libraries. We can get back to Medieval   libraries, because medieval documents survive,  but everything from antiquity has been burnt,   destroyed. The excavation supervisor notes that  hundreds of scrolls are found scattered throughout   the villa. He talks about bringing up a huge load  of them, even too too huge to carry himself. He  

describes their nature. He says they're like lumps  of charcoal. But Oxford scholar Dirk Obbink says   that the scrolls not only survived the heat of  the Vesuvius eruption, they also were subjected   to rain and other forces. Well these are papyrus  rolls, that they look just like they looked when   they were dug out of the ground in 1752, when they  were first taken for lumps of coal. They've been   smashed by the pressure of the volcanic rubble  that lay on top of them. They also got wet and the   rains that turned the ash into mud, that filled  the buildings, which made them shrink around the   edges producing a trapezoidal shape of the papyrus  rather than a round cylinder. The discovery of the  

library at Herculaneum would attract international  attention and anticipation. The news of this   incredible discovery made its way around the  learned centers of Europe very very quickly,   and so people had great hopes that you might  find lost tragedies of the great playwrights   of Greece. This was our first chance to reach  directly into antiquity and try to pull something   out. In Naples, King Carlos sees the scrolls as  a way to boost his prestige internationally. It   was good for the king's public Image to have such  a treasure in his own kingdom. Anybody who came   to Naples after that time wanted to know what's  with the papyri, can we see them, what have you   learned from them, how many have been unrolled.  But for all their promise and possibility, there   is one serious problem. The carbonized scrolls  are so fragile that they are nearly impossible  

to unroll. iIt would be years before the king's  staff would successfully unroll even one. In the 18th century, the question of how to unroll  the Herculaneum papyri presents a unique challenge   for curators. These things were very difficult to  unroll and the first procedure that was followed   was was adopted by Camillo Paderni, a painter from  Rome, who had a very undistinguished background as   far as antiquities were concerned. Paderni had a  sort of rough and ready way of opening up papyri,   that is he took a knife to them. And one way  which we know that he used was simply to take   a large knife and cut through the papyrus rolls  lengthwise, to cut them into two halves. yYou   would then get two halves like this wouldn't you  and and he would expose layers of writing on the   inside running across, in fact scraping off the  damaged layers. And he crushed all the material  

in the middle and then he just emptied that out  onto his workbench ,and he would continue doing   that until he had got closer to the external part  of the papyrus and on that layer, he could read a   certain amount of continuous text, that is to say  he could see a certain number of letters which   seemed to follow one after the other, because  he couldn't actually read Greek. Paderni was an   ignorant brute, I think that's very clear, but he  has the glory of having invented the technique of   sawing them in half. As we're told, Paderni took  for his butchery the best preserved papyri. It's   really just incalculable to say what what we  will have lost. Visiting scientists including   the prince of come to Naples to test their own  theories about unrolling the scrolls. This person   thought that liquid mercury, because it seems so  slippery, and doesn't seem to move with friction   through anything, would be able to slip in between  the rolls of the papyrus and would therefore   separate them cleanly. So he constructed a big box  into which a papyrus roll was stood on its end,  

and he then filled the box from the top with  liquid mercury. Well this seemed like a good   idea at the time, but when they opened up the  box again all they found was that the density   of the mercury had simply pulverized the papyrus  with nothing left but powder. There were other   attempts made to unroll the papyri as well,  often using chemical solvents. And the worst   was Sir Humphrey Davy, the greatest chemist  in England, who was absolutely sure that he   was going to find some chemical compound  that wouldn't reduce them to dust, and got   as far as finding one that only broke them into  fragments. He was even allowed to go to Naples in   the 1820s and tried his experiments. And after  he reduced about 12 more scrolls to fragments,   gave up. Facing criticism from all of Europe,  the king eventually enlists help from the Vatican  

which responds by sending a trained conservator  to Naples, but Paderni does not welcome Antonio   Piaggio's arrival. Piaggio basically thought that  Paderni was a butcher. He kept talking about the   slaughter that he had inflicted on these papyri.  Father Piaggio was much more careful, much more   sophisticated in his approach, and he was the one  who devised the unrolling machine with which they   could finally begin to unroll these papyri.  The method was that you pasted sort of very   fine animal membrane on the back of the papyri and  then very very gently separate the layer off that   membrane serves to hold the papyrus together as it  sort of crumbles away from the rest of the scroll,   and is rolled upward. Once a a strip of papyrus of  some length is acquired, then the person running   the machine comes with a very sharp knife and cuts  that piece off, lays it flat and allows it to dry.  

It's a very painstaking process because you had to  continually find ways of supporting the papyrus so   that it wouldn't disintegrate as it came off  the roll. You had to find the leading edge of   the papyrus which was by no means an easy kind of  thing to do. The method of unrolling the scrolls   is very slow, painstaking work. The first papyrus  which was unrolled took four years to unroll,   proceeding at at a rate of millimeters per day.  By the end of the century, only a handful of   scrolls have been unrolled. Despite the slow pace  of the work, the scrolls are a form of political   currency for the Neapolitan monarchy. There was  no no court, no individual aristocrat, I imagine,  

who didn't have some interest in finding out what  was involved in those texts. The queen of Naples   Caroline Murat, Napoleon Bonaparte's younger  sister, would sometimes present scroll fragments   as diplomatic gifts. Napoleon himself receives  several scrolls, which would later be unrolled and   translated by French scholars. Through a series  of sometimes strange trades, papyrus rolls would   end up in Berlin, Copenhagen, and other European  cities. One of the most interesting anecdotes told   about the the trafficking in Herculaneum Papryi is  the exchange, or we should say alleged exchange,   of 18 kangaroos for 18 scrolls of papyrus. They  were presented to the Prince Regent in the early  

19th century by the King of Naples, and he gave 18  of these rolls to the Prince Regent and in return   he received 18 fully grown kangaroos, so that's  the exchange rate: one papyrus per kangaroo.   Contemporary sources treat this incident as if  it is in fact something rather scandalous. One of   the sources includes the detail that the kangaroos  were deformed, as if it somehow cheapens the deal.   Eventually several scrolls, and an important set  of drawings related to the papyri, would end up   at Oxford University. In 1802 the Prince of Wales  sends the Reverend John Hayter to Naples to work   on the scrolls. It was the biggest piece of luck  these payri ever had that this man came there,   and he got fascinated with the technique of  opening the papyri and opened up the 500-600   Scrolls that form the basis of our collection  and our reading today. And Hayter stayed there  

for a number of years and the work proceeded  much more rapidly under his care. Hayter makes   careful drawings of each scroll fragment as it is  opened and in 1806 the army of Napoleon came and   the royal family fled and Hayter fled with all his  drawings he' made. There was some sort of scandal,   I think. He took with him the drawings which had  been made and they now reside in the Bodleian  

Museum at Oxford. Today the Hayter drawings are an  important resource for papyrologists because they   document how the scrolls looked when they were  first opened, and they're a principal resource   for constructing the text because he saw lots of  things that aren't there now. In the two centuries   since the scrolls were found, no easy system  has been developed for unrolling them. The most   recent innovation, known as the Oslo method,  uses special glues to stabilize the scroll   fragments and minimize damage during unrolling.  It involves applying a mixture of acetic acid and   gelatin with brush strokes onto the outside of a  scroll, and then when that dries it forms a very   fragile but cohesive shell. When the shell comes  off the interior layer of that piece is revealed,   on which the text is recorded. The problem with  doing that is every time a little bit is peeled  

off, the papyrus breaks slightly and you can see a  break about every centimeter or so, where they've   pulled a little bit more off and then a little bit  more off. It remains glued to the rice paper but   from a conservation point of view you've actually  destroyed a bit of papyrus every time it breaks,   and over a period of time that's where the papyrus  will wear. Those who work to read and publish the   thousands of fragments now stored in Naples face  unusual challenges making sense of the carbonized   and crushed papyri. Well I suppose they look  like toast. They are brown, dark brown, bits of   them are sort of grayish, very broken fragmentary  surface. And then against that you can see a kind   of shinier gray ink, that's what we're looking for  of course is this ink. The surface is not at all  

flat, there are ridges in it which come from the  papyrus having been rolled up and then squashed.   It was like flattening out a potato chip. Papyrus  is a little thicker than potato chips but it's   nearly as brittle. You can't sit at a table put  the papyrus flat on that table, look through the   microscope and you'll see everything. You have  to keep on moving it constantly trying to get the  

exactly the right angle at which the ink shows  up. Sometimes what's happened is that part of   one layer has come apart from the layer to which  it belongs, and that piece of papyrus has become   attached to the wrong layer. When this papyrus  came unrolled, like many of the Herculaneum   papyri, the layers stuck to each other and when  you're reading the papyrus, sometimes almost   imperceptively, you find that you're reading text  that belongs on a different part of the papyrus,   and you can hardly even see that the layers have  stuck to each other. A typical publication of a   scroll fragment will be full of holes. Patient  scholars work on an elaborate puzzle, trying to   fill in text that others may have missed. One  feels kind of desperate having 75% or 35% of a  

text but the conditions are such that you can't  read it all, and this is what drives scholars   on. I never think of this as a hideous work, it's  almost addictive really. What you find when you're   in Naples reading the papyrus is that you're angry  every time you have to leave the Officina because   it's closing. After I've worked on the papyri  all day, when I go to sleep I will frequently   have letters dancing in front of my eyes there's  no doubt of this. Despite the efforts of scholars  

over 250 years, some scrolls have revealed little  or no text, and have not been identified or   published. In 1969 Professor Marcello Gigante  launches a renewed international effort to   read and publish the papyri. And from the very  beginning I wanted international collaboration. At a conference in 1999, Gigante meets an American  team that is using new imaging technology to read   burned manuscripts. He invites the team to  Naples but they are initially discouraged by   the poor condition of the papyri. When I looked at  them, first I thought well this is the destructive   power of a volcano. They look in the worst shape  of any papyri I've ever seen. When they arrive at  

the National Library, Steve and Susan Booras of  Brigham Young University set out to see if the   new technology called multi-spectral imaging can  reveal any new text on the blackened papyri. They   quickly determine that the technology makes it  possible to isolate the text from the carbonized   background. You've got black ink on black papyri,  but each one of those have different reflective   characteristics. While the eye sees black ink  and black papyrus, multispectral imaging is  

based on reflectivity. Because the ink and the  papyrus reflect light differently, they can be   easily distinguished from each other, especially  in the infrared spectrum. In the infrared region,   we have a different set of responses and  so what we see as a black paper may appear   light gray in the infrared region, and the ink  will appear black, and so we see now black on   a gray background, we photograph that, and it's  easy to read. Here we have a scorze, a fragment   which is an outer layer of a scroll. You can  see evidence of the writing with the unaided   eye. This fragment right now is being shown in a  visible light filter, it's about 500 NM. There's   really no evidence that there's writing at all.  Now we're about 700 NM, start the camera back up,  

reduce the light, we're starting to see a little  bit of text in here. I'm going to focus it again,   we're now seeing an image with almost complete  text in the infrared using a 1,000 nanometer   filter, which before, the very first image using  visible filters, we were seeing virtually no text.   Multi-spectral imaging was originally developed  for the space program NASA's Jet Propulsion   Laboratory uses the technology to study the  Earth and other planets. People at JPL have   tried to determine what's on the surface of some  of the planets on their flybys and that gave rise   to the idea that perhaps, on a smaller scale, we  could now start to image some of these troublesome   texts and archaeological objects. In Naples, when  word spreads about the new technology, skeptical   papyrologists immediately bring the BYU team their  most difficult fragments for study. I just told   them well if you really can bring out new letters  I've got a challenging test case there is a piece   of papyrus which Richard Janko and I worked  over for an entire hour with the microscope,   and all that is visible on it is blank surface  plus remnants of two or three Greek letters,   so if you can do something with that one I'll  be very impressed. So with fear and trembling,  

they took the piece of papyrus in, put it under  the multiple imaging spectrum, started turning   it up and right in front of Jeffrey Fish's  and my amazed eyes, every single letter on   the papyrus sprang to life. Well I thought he was  going to have a stroke but he was very excited. I   actually moved out of the way and he sat down at  the screen, he maneuvered the text on the screen,   so you could see the full column of text and  I I think he sat there for 10, 15, 20 minutes,   looking over that text for the very first time.  Richard Janko had a similar experience with   another fragment that had been very difficult to  read. And suddenly instead of three letters there  

were 60 letters. We went back to the library to  check this, to confirm these readings, I assumed   that I would be able to confirm them and after  10 minutes we realized that we had the fragment   upside down, and I realized also that we could  never confirm these results with the human eye,   because the human eye cannot see those wavelengths  of light. These before and after images show what   was visible to the human eye and the text that  is then revealed in the infrared spectrum. The letters are kind of leaping out of the papyrus  in ways that we never imagined and so we're   getting new words, we're getting new new letters,  new new thoughts, new readings.The multispectral   images would allow for dramatic new readings. They  would also allow for study of the papyri outside  

of Naples. So which filter is this one, with this  filter was at 450 NM so pretty much visible light,   visible light, naked eye. Yeah this image, which  obviously is very striking was taken with a 1,000   nanometers that's in the infrared. Now we've  taken these two images and done a photographic   print out. It really is amazing when you compare  the 450 nanometer image with the the 1,000 nanomer  

image. Here there really is almost nothing  that can be read and Gigante doesn't rate it   very high in fact 1491 known uno poco legible,  so hardly or scarcely legible, and pessimo,   in really bad shape. One of the interesting  things is that it's cataloged among the papyri   Latini when in fact it's obviously Greek. Here  you have entire words. It's almost certainly a   philosophical text. You can read complete sections  of text essentially wherever it's not broken away.   Here we've got a text that we can actually  do something with and read. Is this worthy of  

publication? Definitely. It's uh this is a sort of  thing that a papyrologist would be ecstatic about   getting a text in in a condition this good. For  scholars like Gigante, the new images will make it   necessary to revise old readings and publications. This is papyrus number 1050 that I have been   studying for many years, more than half a  century. I should now make a new complete edition. I think that without doubt the  new photographic proceeding that   is important contribution to  the progress of our papyri.

What is emerging from the scrolls today with  greater clarity than ever before is a picture   of Roman intellectual life in the first century.  We have archaeological remains which can speak   to us in a certain way but they can't speak to  us in quite the same way as those places which   have left writings. There are certain kinds of  questions that you cannot get answered from the   mere material remains. We need to have what  people wrote, this is the thing which gives   us the best insight into their thinking, their  way of lives, their highest thoughts and their   highest aspirations. It is believed that the  Villa of the Papyri where the scrolls were all   found was home to a school of philosophy, led  by an Epicurian philosopher named Philodemus.   His writings provide new insight into Epicurian  beliefs. They are of incomparable value for anyone  

who's interested in Epicurianism. This is the  ur text of epicureanism. And here you have for   example among the Epicurians, a group of people  who were intelligent, who were responding to   many of the same kinds of life pressures that we  are, and who had a philosophy to which they were   deeply committed, which tried to make them happy.  While they are not considered religious texts,   the philosophical scrolls do address some  of the same questions posed by religion,   questions about gods, about a virtuous life and  about death. Epicurians saw that one of the ways  

in which you eliminate pain from your life is to  eliminate fear, and in particular fear of death,   fear of the afterlife, there is dispute about  whether Epicureans literally believed in gods.   I think that they did. But in any case it's  clear that those gods have nothing at all   to do with us they are not interested in us  they do not interfere in our lives for good   or evil. It was a world in which most people  worship the gods without believing in them,   and the philosophers said, "well find your inner  God and be tranquil in yourself and reach out   to friends who think the same way, and then  you'll live as happy a life as can be lived."   What has not been found in the scrolls so far  is any reference to early religious movements,   including Christianity. At the time of the  eruption, many religions were active at Pompeii   and Herculaneum. Christianity had begun to take  root in the area. The Apostle Paul even visited  

the nearby city of Pozzouli as a missionary  30 years before the eruption of Vesuvius. So at the time of Paul, a thriving congregation  existed at Pozzouli. He stopped there for many   days. Ut would not be a great stretch to imagine  that the Christians at Pozzouli transferred their   message to Pompeii, the city with the port nearest  its own. A lot of people are kind of skeptical   about Christianity having made it to Herculaneum  by 79 ad I'm not at all. I I think that ideas tend   to move fast, especially very appealing ideas,  very beautiful ideas. Although Christians were  

probably there at the time of the eruption,  most scholars believe that the Herculaneum   papyri are very unlikely to contain Christian  references because of the age and ownership of   the library. The latest of the papyri in this  library were written about 15 BC. They were   already you know quite old when the volcano blew  up, but if you're expecting works comparable to   the Christian gospels, no there wouldn't, I don't  think there would be anything like that. This was   a philosophical library belonging to a member of  the elite. Their influences would be Greek. They   wouldn't be Jewish. They wouldn't be Christian,  but because all of the Scrolls have not been read,  

it is possible that other religious references  may yet be found. What may still be hidden here   is a subject of great speculation for scholars  who, like their 18th century predecessors,   hold out hope for new texts and more prominent  authors. Well people were aware of course that   vast quantities of what might be considered the  best of ancient literature had been lost and so   people had great hopes for this that you might  find the lost tragedies of the great playwrights   of Greece, or that you might find the lost books  of the historian Livy, and you would discover all   the things that people had come to admire the  remnants of in the Renaissance. People asked me   are we going to find some Aristotle and I think  it's very unlikely that we would find a full   text of an Aristotle or a Plato, but the habit  of the school was to read passages from other   philosophers and discuss them, and consequently  it isn't ,impossible that we get big passages from   ,greater philosophers still. The unread scrolls  might also provide more literature by women,   like the poet Sappho whose writings rarely survive  from antiquity. We have already some quotations   of Sappho in some of the philosophical writings  but they're limited in extent. Rather little was  

written by women in antiquity but we would be  very lucky indeed to find their writings. This   was something which most women did not have  the leisure or the means or the education to   do. Despite all that has been reclaimed from  Vesuvius, there is a sense among scholars that   the current collection is incomplete, that  there may be something more, perhaps another   entire library still buried at Herculaneum. I  can't believe that there wasn't another library,   another library with lost plays of Sophocles and  Aeschylus, with maybe roles of of lyric poetry   that we don't have, rolls of beautiful poetry.  In the 18th century, excavations at the Villa of   the Papyri were abandoned because of poisonous  gases in the tunnels. When he rediscovered the  

villa in the 20th century, archaeologist  Antonio de Simone hoped to excavate the   entire structure. At the time he didn't realize  just how much the first excavations had missed.   It would be a major undertaking to bring to  light just one part of the villa, which was   buried under the modern city of Ercolano. We  are in the Villa of the Papyri, and this is   the arcade outside the atrium. This point offered  the best panoramic view. We have to imagine that   this mosaic-decorated floor was part of a hallway  in a great balcony that face the Gulf of Naples Even after 2,000 years, the beautiful  mosaic floors and fresco-covered walls   reveal the wealth and elite status  of the original owners. These owners   were familiar with philosophy Virgil, who  probably stayed here, as did Philodemus,   these great representatives of ancient literature  and philosophy, and the refinement of the house   furnished a most appropriate context for the  circle of intellectuals who visited here.

When we resumed the excavation of this site,  we came down to this level on this mosaics   to verify what had been done in the 18th  century. We came down through a well that   was here but can't be seen anymore because  it was taken out during the excavations. It   was not far from this site where nearly 2,000  papyrus rolls were found in the 18th century,   in room number five which is still unexcavated.  And from room number five along this trajectory   were found at the nearly 2,000 papyri that are  now kept in the National Library in Naples. But De Simone says the discovery of the  papyri was unusual. The library was not   intact. Scrolls were found scattered along the  floor. He believe that when Vesuvius erupted,  

the papyri were being moved to safety. In all likelihood the owners of the  villa considered the papyri a very   valuable possession and so, in the  process of fleeing towards the sea,   they tried to save these papyri by carrying the  cases with them. If an effort was being made to   move the papyri, during in the course of the  the few days in which the eruption took place,   then the papyri might then have been transported  to a more distant part of the villa or the villa   grounds. It's possible that if you find the way  in which they would have got out of the house,   and the way in which they would have got down  to the sea from the house, that there might be   other traveling boxes for example that would be  found along that route. Many scholars agree that   there may be other papyri found in locations  throughout the villa. If you're asking are  

there going to be more texts discovered, well,  yes, I'd say probably there are a lot more still   buried. And if there was a main library, then the  chances are it could well still be there. In 1996,   the prospect of finding another library here  increases when De Simone makes a startling   discovery. He determines that the original villa  of the papyri was at least three stories tall,   but only the top level has ever been excavated  or explored. Here we are on the lower level just   below the public area of the villa. As you can  see it's an impressive facade, well constructed.   This level was made up of living quarters not for  the servants but for the masters of the house. A rare glimpse inside this room  reveals beautiful frescos and mosaics.

This lower level is full of rooms with  mosaics on the floors and important   pictures on the walls. First of all we  can say that this room isn't isolated.   You have access to other rooms and from  this room you can enter the other rooms.   This is all that remains of the wooden door  that led to the other rooms. Above the door   is a board painted red and a frame with painted  friezes and even further up other decorations. The vault is decorated as well. On the  vault we see a stucco frame that runs   along the sides and splits into decorations  of climbing ivy, and from this room one could   have gone into still another one. This  is the door jamb of another passageway  

so from this room one could have gone in any  direction. I believe, in fact I'm convinced,   that in this levels there are certainly other  papyri brought down here by the villa's owners   who were trying to save themselves. On the  lower levels of the villa, 20th century   archaeologists find two new works of sculpture.  Many believe that if there is sculpture on these   levels there could also be more papyri. On the  first layer of the villa that was on the sea,  

two beautiful heads were found. I wrote an article  right away: today the heads, tomorrow the papyri,   because as we were able to find these new works  of art so we will be able to find the papyri. Modern archaeologists are forced to stop digging  here before they can open this door to see what   is on the other side. The dig is one casualty of  a new government policy to suspend excavation and   focus instead on preservation of Italy's many  archaeological sites, but many scholars are   hopeful that one day the villa excavation  will be reopened. If there is a library,   I think that that the water that I've seen around  the excavation could perhaps be be seeping down   and and destroying the papyrus rolls, so I  have a great hope that the excavations will   be continued. Well in general I would support  excavation in the villa eventually but there   are many problems with such an excavation. For  one thing it's not normally considered a good  

archaeological technique to go looking for  something in particular. You know that that   beautiful villa can't fail to be a great artistic  discovery, that's really the important thing,   and I think to say we've got to get in there and  get the papyri is the mistake because it's the   whole complex. Perhaps no one is more anxious  to see what is inside the villa than Marcello   Gigante. There is a part of the villa which never  was excavated, we know this, and then we hope that   the archaeologists will again excavate our villa.  While the original Villa of the Papyri is still   buried, it is possible to experience the richness  of the Villa firsthand, not in Naples, Italy,   but in Malibu, California. J Paul Getty's replica  of the Villa of the Papyri, built in the 1970s,   was based on the original 18th century floor  plan drawings. A collector of antiquities,  

Getty wanted to create an authentic setting for  his collections. He said I wanted to build a   building that was the kind of place in which the  objects would originally have been displayed,   so that people could really appreciate them in  something analogous to their original context.   It does give people a very good sense of what a  Roman luxury villa was like. This mosaic floor   is a replica of the first pavements found in  the Villa of the Papyri in the 18th Century.  

The Getty Villa succeeded in capturing the  grandeur of the original Villa of the Papryi   at Herculaneum. At one point the superintendent  of excavations traveled from Pompeii to Malibu   to see the museum. He said it's extraordinary  this is the only place where one can really   experience a Roman luxury Villa as it was  intended to be seen. J. Paul Getty never   saw the finished Getty Villa in person, but the  museum stands as his tribute to the ancient world. Today at Herculaneum, the debate continues  about the future of the original Villa of   the Papyri. Most archaeologists agree that it is  more important to preserve what has already been  

excavated here than to expose new parts of the  site. We simply don't have very good techniques   in many cases for conserving these objects. In  fact the situation around there is so disastrous   that many things which we could preserve aren't  being preserved simply because we don't have   the money and the people to do it. Everything  is in a critical condition. Wherever you go,   you see the appalling difficulty of maintaining  what has been excavated. You can look at the   bits that were excavated in the 18th Century,  and they're reduced effectively to bare walls,   to rubble. You can't see any frescoes. If  they are any mosaics they've long since   been overgrown by vegetation, and so on and  essentially it's lost apart from the very   bare bones of the skeleton. The few excavations  that are active today at Pompeii are different  

from those in the 18th Century. They focus on  the Pre-Roman history of the city. There is   very little pressure or interest in exposing  new parts of the city, because of the problem   of maintaining and preserving the rest of it.  (Take this out carefully here...when you get   into here you can't do more...) Everything that  hasn't been actually restored within the last   10 years needs restoration now, and that is why  there's so much worry about doing new excavation.   If you can't maintain the excavations of  as recently as 50, or even 30 years ago,   how can you justify doing new excavation which  will add to the problem? The Italian government   has made big efforts in recent years to increase  the money spent on the very costly process   of restoring and maintaining the site. I think  that's very welcome but maybe you can never win.

Like the archaeological sites that were  frozen in time when they were sealed under   volcanic material, the Herculaneum papyri are also  deteriorating. I mean we're losing pieces of them   all the time. The papyri are disintegrating in  front of our very eyes. When you look at a scroll,   there is black dust over the whole thing. If  you just take a little bitty piece of of this   carbonized papyrus and just touch it,it just  turns to dust immediately. One's always afraid,   when working over the materials, of sneezing.  It is a terrifying thought that one could blow  

away part of the scroll by an ill-advised  sneeze. Deterioration has always been a   big issue. Even Piaggio says that the longer a  scroll has been open the fainter its characters   have become. The texts that I'm working on,  when I started working on them 10 years ago,   I could read many more letters in them than I  can read today. We have no photographic record  

of what they looked like then because photographic  techniques were not such that they could capture   them. On the 250th anniversary year of the  scrolls' discovery, the National Library and   Brigham Young University complete an imaging  project as they work to convert multi-spectral   images of more than 10,000 scroll fragments  into a permanent digital library. Well no one   has really come up with a particularly good way of  conserving the Herculaneum papyri because anything   you do to them alters them, and so the modern  approach to conservation is to try to make as   good an image of an object as possible, and these  images are, so far, the best that we've been able   to get. It's really exciting to have tens of  thousands of images in the digital library.   No matter what happens to the originals, we'll  be able to now have digital images that will   survive indefinitely. The creation of a digital  library will assure that the philosophers and  

writers whose voices are heard only through the  Herculaneum papyri will never be silenced again. Mount Vesuvius looms over cities ancient and  modern here on the Bay of Naples. The active   volcano is a constant reminder of an ancient  tragedy. I'm always struck by just how close   Vesuvius is. It's always looming up on the  horizon. You can't forget that it's there and  

I suppose the people who lived there perhaps they  did forget that it was there and they couldn't   believe what was happening. For visitors here,  there is always a sense of the people who lived   in these spaces and built these cities. I would  like to feel the ghosts of antiquity rather more   strongly and not less strongly. In a sense what  I want to do is is is feel their presence here   and how did they use these spaces that we see.  You can see the moment of death very vividly,   but in a sense what I want is not the moment  of death. It's getting behind that to the to   the life, the many moments of life behind  that, and it is here, the traces are here,   and it requires a patient effort of historical  imagination to put those traces together and   recapture ancient life. The Herculaneum papyri  alone reveal the people's thoughts and daily lives  

in the days before Vesuvius swallowed up these  ancient cities. It makes me sad that that kind of   tragedy was what froze Herculaneum so that we can  read these texts. I love to imagine Philodemius   reading these things to people like Virgil. I  love putting myself back back there in the villa. It is silent here in the Villa of the Papyri,  where a doorway stands unopened and a part of   the villa unexplored. The scholars who  study the Herculaneum papyri recognize  

that the work has its own timetable.  Still they are anxious and hopeful   that the search will one day resume for a  lost library. I'm disappointed, of course,   like so many things in this long story,  which takes place at time intervals which   aren't really compatible with the scale of  a single human life, that that brings up  the prospect that I may in the end be too old and  tired to rejoice in these new papyri if they ever   get discovered. I hope that before my death, I  can see the all of the villa the light of our sun.

2023-10-21 05:10

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