The thought of lost books from Livy or Aristotle being unearthed is so cool, check this out:
Classical treasures threatened by Vesuvius
An earthquake or volcanic eruption is likely to destroy a library of ancient books at Herculaneum, near Pompeii, before they can be excavated unless urgent action is taken, according to the founder of a new group based in Oxford. Scientists have discovered new ways to read 1,800 charred manuscript scrolls already found in the ruins of the so-called Villa of Papyri at Herculaneum, a city that, like neighbouring Pompeii, was buried in volcanic matter when Vesuvius erupted in AD79.
Scholars are convinced that many more scrolls lie awaiting discovery there, among which are probably lost books by great authors such as Aristotle and Livy.
“The chances are very high that much remains to be found in three newly identified and unexplored levels,” Professor Robert Fowler told a meeting of the Herculaneum Society at Wadham College, Oxford, at the weekend.
The society was founded last year to promote the excavation and preservation of sites at Herculaneum before it is too late.
The ancient city on the Bay of Naples, covered by up to 100ft of lava, lies on a fault line like that which led to the Indian Ocean tsunami, and renewed volcanic activity or an earthquake could destroy its remains for ever.
Vulcanologists believe that an eruption of Vesuvius is overdue.
In an eyewitness description of the eruption of AD79, Pliny the Younger wrote of the sea retreating, as in the Indian Ocean disaster, while the ground shook.
“A dense haze was following at our backs, like a stream flowing on land,” wrote Pliny, “and night fell on us, like the darkness in a closed place without a lamp.”
Though he was on the other side of the Bay of Naples, he was lucky to escape, shaking ash from him as he went, feeling it weighing him down and choking him.
The huge Villa of the Papyri, which belonged to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, extended for 250 yards along the shore. “It must be possible that a family capable of owning such a villa also possessed a copy of Livy’s History of Rome, of which more than 100 of the original 142 books are missing,” says the writer Robert Harris, author of the best-seller Pompeii.
“It appears that slaves had been trying to carry crates of books to safety when they were overwhelmed by the eruption,” he says. “There may be lost plays by Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus, or even the lost dialogues of Aristotle.”
Scholars at the Herculaneum Society meeting agreed that works lost to humanity for two millennia could be retrieved.
But strong opposition to immediate excavation came from Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, director of the British School at Rome and an acknowledged expert on Herculaneum.
“It would be a scandal to expose the Villa of the Papyri to the daylight now, before we can guarantee that it would be saved for the future,” he said.
Prof Wallace-Hadrill pointed to damage suffered by parts of Herculaneum excavated in the 1930s and 1990s.
“Restored roofs are in collapse, broken tiles litter mosaic floors, the precious carbonised wood crumbles constantly, rain forms pools on marble floors and against plastered walls, and the frescoed surfaces fade, leach in Hercusalts, bubble up, explode and fall from their walls.”
Prof Fowler disagrees. “So long as there is a chance of finding the rest of the library – and everyone admits there is a chance, however strong or weak they rate it – we owe it to the world to dig.”
Because the rest of the villa lies beneath the modern town of Ercolano, Prof Fowler advocates tunnelling, a feasibility study for which should be concluded this year. But Professor Wallace-Hadrill quoted a warning made when modern-day excavations began in 1927: “Were we to make an excavation by which the ancient city died for a second time, it would have been better to leave it sleeping under the hard mud.”
One reason for thinking that lost works by Aristotle lie beneath the volcanic layers is that the hundreds of papyri already studied almost certainly belonged to Philodemus (110-35BC), a philosopher engaged in opposing Aristotle’s poetic theory.
The Herculaneum Society meeting gasped like spectators at a firework display when Nigel Wilson, of Lincoln College, Oxford, showed a slide of a blackened roll of papyrus on which no writing could be seen, and then showed what it looked like after multi-spectral digital imaging had been used on it. Clear lines of ancient Greek script appeared, like invisible ink held before the fire.