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The history of Greek philosophy in some neglected Herculaneum papyri

Richard Janko

University of Michigan

In 1819–1820 the Prince Regent sent to Naples the distinguished British scientist Sir Humphry Davy (1778–1829), who was joined by the classical scholar Rev. Peter Elmsley (1773–1825) and by the artist Sir William Gell (1777–1836), for them to make and document the latest of a series of efforts to unroll the Herculaneum papyri. Since the Neapolitans were reluctant to subject yet more papyri to damaging experiments, and by this point most of the centers of the rolls that could be continuously unrolled had been opened, only stacks of detached fragments (scorze) were left, and the expedition accomplished rather little. However, with the help of F. Celentano they did obtain pieces of text from 17 different papyri, of which Celentano made numerous drawings (most of the pieces are marked as being no longer extant). The sets of drawings were then divided: some remained in Portici, but other drawings were taken to Britain, where they are in notebooks kept in the Royal Collection at Windsor and at Oxford. Because of their inaccessibility, these and related materials have not been studied until now.

            The first step in their analysis has been to sort the texts out by language (Greek versus Latin) and by scribal hands, which are hard to recognise on the basis of drawings. A number remain unidentified, including many pieces of Latin prose and a fragment by Demetrius Laco on music. However, several fragments are from the lost outer parts of known works, notably Philodemus' On the Gods and Academica from his history of Greek philosophy. The latter comprises a number of tantalizing fragments, including references to Pythagoras, a passage that quotes Plato's Gorgias 485e, an anecdote about Socrates and his follower Aeschines that also appears in Diogenes Laertius 2. 7, references to the travels of Xenophon and Plato, and mentions of Dion and Dionysius. The same notebook also contains unknown transcriptions of Greek inscriptions that Elmsley saw in Athens (IG2 1199 and 2492) and of a lost inscription from Syracuse that is in fact extracted from Pindar.

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The Villa dei Papiri: Then and Now (organized by the American Friends of Herculaneum)

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