A new play — by Sophocles

In the next few months, the history of the world may look a little different.

The Independent reports that Oxford scientists have used infrared technology to decipher thousands of previously illegible pages from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, an ancient document collection excavated more than a hundred years ago. According to the British newspaper:

In the past four days alone, Oxford’s classicists have used [the technology] to make a series of astonishing discoveries, including writing by Sophocles, Euripides, Hesiod and other literary giants of the ancient world, lost for millennia. They even believe they are likely to find lost Christian gospels, the originals of which were written around the time of the earliest books of the New Testament.

The original papyrus documents, discovered in an ancient rubbish dump in central Egypt, are often meaningless to the naked eye — decayed, worm-eaten and blackened by the passage of time. But scientists using the new photographic technique, developed from satellite imaging, are bringing the original writing back into view. Academics have hailed it as a development which could lead to a 20 per cent increase in the number of great Greek and Roman works in existence. Some are even predicting a “second Renaissance”.

The proprietor of Stromata correctly observes:

A careless reader of the news account might think that all of this hoard, excavated from a town dump in central Egypt from 1897 onward, had lain unread all these years. In fact, some 67 volumes of the materials have been published. The vast bulk are the detritus of private life: tax records, personal letters, business and marriage contracts, and other material that has augmented our understanding of how ordinary men and women lived in Greco-Roman times. There have also been some important literary discoveries, including otherwise unknown works by Pindar, Menander, Callimachos and the anonymous “Oxyrhynchus historian”, as well as many Christian, Gnostic and pagan religious texts.

(Thanks to Mr. Maud for the Independent link.)


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