You are here

Editing in three dimensions: the papyri from Herculaneum

Richard Janko

Editing the Greek and Latin library from Herculaneum presents great challenges to classical scholarship. These papyri were preserved by being carbonized in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (Sider 2005). They have either been opened invasively, which has left them badly damaged, or not opened at all. There is also the problem, or advantage, that all the texts, so far, have been unique, and are not subject to the vagaries of Medieval transmission.

Accordingly, the hundreds of papyri that were unrolled two centuries or more ago on the machines of Antonio Piaggio have remained poorly presented and edited, while many other rolls were too twisted to be opened with that technique and have had to await sophisticated scientific solutions such as phase-contrast X-ray tomography with synchotron-radiation, which has finally been proved capable of showing us the ink (Seales et al. 2011; Mocella et al. 2015). Developments in such techniques, which will result in the imaging of a couple of hundred new papyrus-rolls without the damage that is caused by physical unrolling, can be expected to advance rapidly. Meanwhile scholars developed multiple editing techniques for those papyri that were opened physically. These were opened by three methods: the removal of fragments from the backs of rolls (sollevamento), continuous unrolling of their middles (svolgimento), and scraping off successive volutes from their insides (scorze), the only method which destroyed the original so that only drawings survive. Techniques have been developed for ordering the fragments. These include arranging scorze in backwards alternating order; the calculation of circumferences (sezioni) from the measurement of repeating folds or repeated fractures or pieces displaced from layers above (sottoposti) or below (sovrapposti); study of the archives of the Officina dei Papiri, since fragment numbers have often been changed; the discovery that Philodemus summarized and rebutted his adversaries in the same order; and study of the scribal hands in this enormous collection. These results are verified and improved by the construction of models, whether digital (which can have serious limitations) or physical. Such procedures have resulted in the reconstruction of several entire rolls of papyrus. The first such roll to be published was Philodemus’ On Music IV, which turned out to be 11.3 m long with 152 columns of text (Delattre 2006; 2007).

Philodemus’ On poems II has now been reconstructed in its entirety from papyri with six different inventory-numbers. The ways in which this was done will be demonstrated, in order to encourage more scholars to enter this exciting and wide-open field of study. Its roll was 16 m long, consisting of 100 sheets (kollemata). This was at first a roll of 70 sheets; a further 30 were glued on when the work proved to be long. It contained 222 columns of text, most of which survive. In it, Philodemus rebuts two Hellenistic literary theorists: Heracleodorus, who regards synthesis (the order of words in a verse) as the essence of poetic excellence, and Pausimachus, who locates excellence in the sounds themselves, and has an elaborate hierarchy of good and bad sounds in poetry. Via his summary in On Poems Book I (Janko 2000) and his rebuttal in the same sequence in Book II, Philodemus preserves 169 fragments of Heracleodorus and 148 of Pausimachus, some of them very extensive, which reveal a hitherto almost unknown school of literary theorists.

Session/Panel Title:

Herculaneum in Word and Text

Session/Paper Number


Share This Page

© 2019, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy