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Hundreds Of Ancient Greek And Roman Texts To Be Decoded

Unless you're planning on majoring in the classics, news of the discovery of a method to decode previously unreadable texts from early A.D. centuries raises the possibility of a a 20 per cent increase in the number of great Greek and Roman available. From Independent News & Media (UK) :

For more than a century, it has caused excitement and frustration in equal measure - a collection of Greek and Roman writings so vast it could redraw the map of classical civilisation. If only it was legible.

Now, in a breakthrough described as the classical equivalent of finding the holy grail, Oxford University scientists have employed infra-red technology to open up the hoard, known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, and with it the prospect that hundreds of lost Greek comedies, tragedies and epic poems will soon be revealed.

...The previously unknown texts, read for the first time last week, include parts of a long-lost tragedy - the Epigonoi ("Progeny") by the 5th-century BC Greek playwright Sophocles; part of a lost novel by the 2nd-century Greek writer Lucian; unknown material by Euripides; mythological poetry by the 1st-century BC Greek poet Parthenios; work by the 7th-century BC poet Hesiod; and an epic poem by Archilochos, a 7th-century successor of Homer, describing events leading up to the Trojan War. Additional material from Hesiod, Euripides and Sophocles almost certainly await discovery.

Oxford academics have been working alongside infra-red specialists from Brigham Young University, Utah. Their operation is likely to increase the number of great literary works fully or partially surviving from the ancient Greek world by up to a fifth. It could easily double the surviving body of lesser work - the pulp fiction and sitcoms of the day.

That last paragraph got me to wondering... Two thousand years from now when some enterprising scientist discovers the secret to decoding a unearthed pile of VHS tapes from the goo they've become, will Three's Company take it's place in the pantheon of ancient classic?


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Comments (21)

Two thousand years from ... (Below threshold)

Two thousand years from now when some enterprising scientist discovers the secret to decoding a unearthed pile of VHS tapes from the goo they've become, will Three's Company take it's place in the pantheon of ancient classic?

Are you kidding? What we ought to do is to put a bunch of 3C VHS tapes in a time capsule along with a notation that this show was considered to be one the finest works of art of the 20th century.

Archaelogy, punk'd.

"infra-red specialists from... (Below threshold)
Just John:

"infra-red specialists from Brigham Young University"

Are they using one of Joseph Smith's magic rocks?

There go those "scientists"... (Below threshold)

There go those "scientists" again with their anti-Biblical messing around with supposed ancient artifacts. We all know the Bible says they didnt really exist.

I shiver at the thought of ... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

I shiver at the thought of Three's Company being even remotely considered a classic.

But then Jane Austin's books were considered trash when she was writing-so who knows.

Luddites, this is an exciti... (Below threshold)

Luddites, this is an exciting and important discovery. If one is unable to learn anything from the giants of our classical Greek heritage, it is best to keep this type of bliss to oneself. By the way, there are tons of early Christian texts in that stash.

I wonder how long it will t... (Below threshold)

I wonder how long it will take for these new discoveries to become part of the traditional texts used to teach history and the classics in college...and I also wonder how soon they will have translations posted on the internet.

Actually, VHS tapes would b... (Below threshold)

Actually, VHS tapes would be a bad choice. They would de-magnetize over time. DVDs would be better.

I don't think it will be Th... (Below threshold)

I don't think it will be Three's Company that will make it into the classics, my fear is that The Dukes of Hazzard will, especially since they are remaking it. Try imagining what the people of the future will think of our times when stumble across that.

Two thousand years from... (Below threshold)

Two thousand years from now when some enterprising scientist discovers the secret to decoding a unearthed pile of VHS tapes from the goo they've become, will Three's Company take it's place in the pantheon of ancient classic?

....only if they're the ones with Mr. Roper. (CLOSE UP ON NORMAN FELL SMILING!!)

Emily-I just hope ... (Below threshold)
Dave Eaton:


I just hope that the Classics haven't been completely expunged from college by the time they are decoded. When I was a student, I heard nutbags all the time saying that we needed to get rid of every remnant of western civ type studies to make room for "post colonial" stuff.

It should be interesting. Somewhere I read that it may actually contain gospels, as well as greek works that we know only from fragments of from allusions made by other classical writers.

This is an exciting discove... (Below threshold)

This is an exciting discovery, and we will surely gain some ancient greek ms we only had a sentence or two of before. But the apart from religious beliefs, historically speaking the New Testament is the most well documented and attested to ancient book we have, by a factor of ten or more. Other ancient books have perhaps five to ten existing copies (sometimes fewer) or fragments with gaps of a thousand years between the oldest copy and the time of writing. The New Testament has thousands of copies or fragments, with gaps of a few decades between the oldest copies we have and the time of writing.

Even the Old Testament has incredible documentation. The Dead Sea Scrolls contained a book of Isaiah one thousand years older than our previous oldest existing copy, and there was a lot of speculation that once translated, we would find all kinds of revisions and changes had been made in the millenia between the Dead Sea Scroll copy and our current text.
In fact, it was astonishing how accurate it was- there were differences of spelling and word order. The expected substantial alterations did not exist.

There are some good comments on this in the NRO, and some documentation on the difference between the NT and other ancient books on my blog here.

I will eat an Amish bonnet if the purple prose about possible new gospels turns out to be true.

and an epic poem by Arch... (Below threshold)

and an epic poem by Archilochos, a 7th-century successor of Homer, describing events leading up to the Trojan War.

I don't know, do we really need a Troy prequel. Really?

Forget 3's Company. Imagine... (Below threshold)

Forget 3's Company. Imagine them finding such innane classics like Gilligan's Island or the gods helps us...Cop Rocks...

Interesting thoughts. I thi... (Below threshold)

Interesting thoughts. I think in that age, if someone bothered to write something down, it was a keeper.

OTOH, since I have the theme song memorized (like everybody else), the discovery of a dozen lost Gillian's Island episodes would also be a thrill.

As long as "In Memory of El... (Below threshold)

As long as "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" from The Allman Brothers Band (Live/Remastered) At Fillmore East" is preserved, the human race will have a great idea of what us priors were and how.

"The Dukes of Hazard" SHOULD be something relished in whatever years may be ahead for our descendants, and I mean that in all sincerity.

O.J. Simpson jumping around for Hertz and a number of other commercial pieces would be great to see degenerate into future goo. Unfortunately, however, as film, the worst has been published in recent times as DVD material and will live on long past most human life is gone. Our only satisfaction, from this time imagining the future, is that there will come a day when "Alexander" on DVD is loitering on a rock and there will be no human life in existence upon whom the dreadful work can be wrought.

I used to have an art instr... (Below threshold)

I used to have an art instructor who interpreted past relics by describing them as equivalent to our everyday items...here we are, marvelling at the wonders of the clay pot we've memorialized, while, as per the instructor, we were to imagine our porcelain toilets being unearthed by some future sentient beings and then placed in an awesome spot of wonder for them and theirs as evidence of our (now long past) civilization's works.

I always wondered about that instructor, particularly as to him suggesting that some future sentients sentient enough to explore, find, unearth and memorialize wouldn't comprehend a good toilet for about the same reasons we do.

Now where's J Tea on this o... (Below threshold)

Now where's J Tea on this one, what with the LDS scientists in on the big work here.

This is a breakthrough for historians, and literature freaks everywhere. I wonder if Lysistrata had an unpublished sequel? Any Aristophanes in there?

Hm. I'm not finding many so... (Below threshold)

Hm. I'm not finding many sources about this online. No announcements on the Oxford site, for instance.

I sincerely hope this isn't a hoax.

yamara...what I HOPE is goi... (Below threshold)

yamara...what I HOPE is going on is that people are refraining speculative pieces about the contents until there's been at least initial discovery.

It'll be interesting to find that, in fact, God and Jesus DID speak about certain issues that the liberals today rely on as otherwise (their supposed lack of comment about) methodology to rationalize certain human behaviors.

Actually, just because there was no specific word that we know about from Christ, did not mean that He therefore had no opinon about whatever. I'm just saying that perhaps there'll be contents in the new material that will modify/clarify/change certain assumptions/presumptions. I have no idea, just saying, at least (let's hope) there'll be adequate discovery before people start announcing what's contained there or isn't.

Might be someone's property list, deeds and such, who knows. Or a merchant group's accounting of who owes what to whom and why. It'll be interesting to see what's revealed, no doubt about that.

I severely doubt that the c... (Below threshold)

I severely doubt that the classics will be expunged from college any time soon. I think that there will always be people as interested in Greece and Rome, etc, as I am in the Medieval period. There may be a point in time where a general understanding of the classics is no longer required (for, say, a computer-science major), but I think that anyone interested in the humanities is going to have to have at least a basic knowledge of the classics for a long time yet.

Let's not trivialize the si... (Below threshold)

Let's not trivialize the significance of this discovery. Better to wait for the results of their findings than to speculate on their impact.






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