Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Lost Library of Rome

A carbonized scroll from Herculaneum (from Discovery.com)

Jack Stephens at Conservator points out an amazing article in the Sunday Times: "The search for the lost library of Rome."

When Vesuvius erupted in AD79 it buried "one of the greatest villas in the Roman world."

Although 1,800 papyri were recovered in an excavation of the villa in the 1700s, schlolars believe an additional library exists and must be located soon. Calls for the reopening of the excavation are coming from all corners.

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.

As a book lover and librarian I agree with Stephens about the poignancy of this line:

It also appears that slaves were in the act of carrying crates of books to safety when they were overwhelmed by the eruption.
More info:
The Philodemus Project
Villa of the Papyri: to dig or to not to dig?
How did the Villa of the Papyri get into this state?
Pompeii: The Last Day

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