When Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79, The scrolls of Herculaneum were blasted by volcanic gas hotter than 300C. The scrolls still exist today, but are essentially ashes that haven’t fallen apart. How Many? The best count that I have found is 1,785. However, there are still 2,800 m² left to be excavated, so there could be more scrolls, many more.
Since their discovery this scrolls have been a source temptation and a source of anguish. What do they contain? We don’t know. To unroll the scroll is to destroy it. The riches trapped in the scrolls have been locked in their condition until most recently.
Using a 3D X-ray imaging technique Scientists this they may be able to read the scrolls without rolling them. Dr Vito Mocella from the National Research Council’s Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems (CNR-IMM) in Naples, Italy, has identified a handful of Greek letters within a rolled-up scroll for the very first time.
The technique doesn’t actually read the scroll it reads the difference in thickness caused by the dried ink on the papyrus. It reads the thickness of the ink, not the ink itself. It’s difficult because the Papyrus isn’t perfectly flat. Imperfections can disguise vertical and horizontal strokes, so letter with curved lines are easiest to detect.
With over seventeen hundred scrolls it is possible that some lost works of literature may be recovered. There is some speculation that the villa that housed the scrolls was owned by Father-in-law of Julies Caesar. It is believed that the library might have been collected and selected by Piso’s family friend and client, the Epicurean Philodemus of Gadara.
I can speculate. Actually, anyone can. If this was Julius Caesar’s Father-in-law, we can hope to find the following works by the famous Roman:
- Anticatonis Libri II (only fragments survived)
- Carmina et prolusiones (only fragments survived)
- De analogia libri II ad M. Tullium Ciceronem
- De astris liber
- Dicta collectanea (“collected sayings”, also known by the Greek title άποφθέγματα)
- Letters (only fragments survived)
- Iter (only one fragment survived)
- Laudes Herculis
- Libri auspiciorum (“books of auspices”, also known as Auguralia)
- possibly some early love poems
- Four tragedies in the Greek style: Tiroas, Erigones, Electra, and one other.
- Hortensius, a dialogue also known as “On Philosophy”.
- Consolatio, written to soothe his own sadness at the death of his daughter Tullia Ciceronis
- The Odyssey mentions the blind singer Demodocus performing a poem recounting the otherwise unknown “Quarrel of Odysseus and Achilles”, which might have been an actual work that did not survive.
- The sequel to the Odyssey?
- 107 of the 142 books of Ab Urbe Condita, a history of Rome
- Medea, of which only two fragments survive.
Then there are the lost works that might, just might show up, but really don’t fit with a Roman library. The lost books of the bible for example, or the lost epistle of Paul.
We just don’t know what the library contains. However, today we have more hope of its recovery than before.
Yes, works can be lost and recovered. The most famous case is the Epic of Gilgamesh, dating from the Third Dynasty of Ur (circa 2100 BC).
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