[Paleopsych] Independent: Decoded at last: the 'classical holy grail' that may rewrite the history of the world

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Decoded at last: the 'classical holy grail' that may rewrite the history of the

[Leading article: A second renaissance? independent portfolio attached. 
I'm not so sure I would want a second renaissance. The first one had the 
effect of turning the youth of our race into wise old men whose authority 
was not to be questioned. Mathematicians, instead of pushing on with the 
purely Western idea of the calculus, went back to Classical geometry. And 
sailors stopped carrying fruit on their travels since no authority could 
be found in Galen. Furthermore, the witchcraft hysteria was a product of 
the Renaissance, not the Middle Ages. The paintings were certainly great, 
the first real portraits came during the Renaissance. Until modern times, 
portraits were done poorly, if at all, outside the Occident. I also note 
that sculpture got caught up with the ancient Greeks around 1450. (I 
conducted a search to find out the approximate date at the National 
Gallery of Art when a blockbuster Greek sculpture exhibit was shown around 
a decade ago. But while the witchcraft frenzy was going on, humanism, the 
idea that reason can uncover truths and (ultimately) that revelation is 
not needed, got rolling. What these discoveries portent is a deepening of 
our knowledge of our sister civilization. I doubt any early MSS of the 
Gospels will be found, not because they were dictated by the Holy Ghost, 
but because the first one was a literary construction. See Dennis R[onald] 
MacDonald (Claremont School of Theology), 1946- , _The Homeric Epics and 
the Gospel of Mark_ (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000). We may find 
some collections of sayings of a certain trouble-making rabbi who railed 
against the hypocrisy of his day and got the religious establishment to 
engage in successful rent-seeking, namely to have the (Roman) government 
do away with the competition, and this would be valuable. Whether the 
collection talked about the Second Coming is the first thing I'd like to 
know. More non-canonical Gospels would be welcome, too. I've at least 
glanced at most of the extant ones. None contain a whole story of Jesus' 
life like the canonical ones. The few that deal with the Crucifixion 
differ in small details. The infant gospels sound wholly speculative. Some 
are quite mystical, like the fascinating Gospel of Mary Magdalene. But all 
are vastly inferior as literature. And it's the good stuff that tends to 
survive in multiple copies, though it's just a bare tendency. Think how 
many copies of Freud's garbarage are around.]

Scientists begin to unlock the secrets of papyrus scraps bearing long-lost
words by the literary giants of Greece and Rome

   By David Keys and Nicholas Pyke
     17 April 2005

    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

    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.

    In the past four days alone, Oxford's classicists have used it 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".

    Christopher Pelling, Regius Professor of Greek at the University of
    Oxford, described the new works as "central texts which scholars have
    been speculating about for centuries".

    Professor Richard Janko, a leading British scholar, formerly of
    University College London, now head of classics at the University of
    Michigan, said: "Normally we are lucky to get one such find per
    decade." One discovery in particular, a 30-line passage from the poet
    Archilocos, of whom only 500 lines survive in total, is described as
    "invaluable" by Dr Peter Jones, author and co-founder of the Friends
    of Classics campaign.

    The papyrus fragments were discovered in historic dumps outside the
    Graeco-Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchus ("city of the sharp-nosed fish")
    in central Egypt at the end of the 19th century. Running to 400,000
    fragments, stored in 800 boxes at Oxford's Sackler Library, it is the
    biggest hoard of classical manuscripts in the world.

    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.

    "The Oxyrhynchus collection is of unparalleled importance - especially
    now that it can be read fully and relatively quickly," said the Oxford
    academic directing the research, Dr Dirk Obbink. "The material will
    shed light on virtually every aspect of life in Hellenistic and Roman
    Egypt, and, by extension, in the classical world as a whole."

    The breakthrough has also caught the imagination of cultural
    commentators. Melvyn Bragg, author and presenter, said: "It's the most
    fantastic news. There are two things here. The first is how enormously
    influential the Greeks were in science and the arts. The second is how
    little of their writing we have. The prospect of having more to look
    at is wonderful."

    Bettany Hughes, historian and broadcaster, who has presented TV series
    including Mysteries of the Ancients and The Spartans, said: "Egyptian
    rubbish dumps were gold mines. The classical corpus is like a jigsaw
    puzzle picked up at a jumble sale - many more pieces missing than are
    there. Scholars have always mourned the loss of works of genius -
    plays by Sophocles, Sappho's other poems, epics. These discoveries
    promise to change the textual map of the golden ages of Greece and

    When it has all been read - mainly in Greek, but sometimes in Latin,
    Hebrew, Coptic, Syriac, Aramaic, Arabic, Nubian and early Persian -
    the new material will probably add up to around five million words.
    Texts deciphered over the past few days will be published next month
    by the London-based Egypt Exploration Society, which financed the
    discovery and owns the collection.

    A 21st-century technique reveals antiquity's secrets

    Since it was unearthed more than a century ago, the hoard of documents
    known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri has fascinated classical scholars.
    There are 400,000 fragments, many containing text from the great
    writers of antiquity. But only a small proportion have been read so
    far. Many were illegible.

    Now scientists are using multi-spectral imaging techniques developed
    from satellite technology to read the papyri at Oxford University's
    Sackler Library. The fragments, preserved between sheets of glass,
    respond to the infra-red spectrum - ink invisible to the naked eye can
    be seen and photographed.

    The fragments form part of a giant "jigsaw puzzle" to be reassembled.
    Missing "pieces" can be supplied from quotations by later authors, and
    grammatical analysis.

    Key words from the master of Greek tragedy

    Speaker A: . . . gobbling the whole, sharpening the flashing iron.

    Speaker B: And the helmets are shaking their purple-dyed crests, and
    for the wearers of breast-plates the weavers are striking up the wise
    shuttle's songs, that wakes up those who are asleep.

    Speaker A: And he is gluing together the chariot's rail.

    These words were written by the Greek dramatist Sophocles, and are the
    only known fragment we have of his lost play Epigonoi (literally "The
    Progeny"), the story of the siege of Thebes. Until last week's hi-tech
    analysis of ancient scripts at Oxford University, no one knew of their
    existence, and this is the first time they have been published.

    Sophocles (495-405 BC), was a giant of the golden age of Greek
    civilisation, a dramatist who work alongside and competed with
    Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes.

    His best-known work is Oedipus Rex, the play that later gave its name
    to the Freudian theory, in which the hero kills his father and marries
    his mother - in a doomed attempt to escape the curse he brings upon
    himself. His other masterpieces include Antigone and Electra.

    Sophocles was the cultured son of a wealthy Greek merchant, living at
    the height of the Greek empire. An accomplished actor, he performed in
    many of his own plays. He also served as a priest and sat on the
    committee that administered Athens. A great dramatic innovator, he
    wrote more than 120 plays, but only seven survive in full.

    Last week's remarkable finds also include work by Euripides, Hesiod
    and Lucian, plus a large and particularly significant paragraph of
    text from the Elegies, by Archilochos, a Greek poet of the 7th century


A second renaissance?

     17 April 2005

    Like explorers mapping the globe in sailing ships, scholars are
    expanding the known world across the terra incognita of classical
    literature. As we report today, infra-red technology has enabled
    hundreds of ancient Greek comedies, tragedies and epic poems, composed
    by classical greats such as Sophocles, Euripides and Hesiod, to be
    deciphered for the first time in 2,000 years. The dramatic increase in
    great literary works surviving from the ancient Greek world is
    prompting experts to predict a "second renaissance". The documents,
    known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, discovered in an ancient rubbish dump
    in central Egypt, are also thought to include lost Christian gospels.
    Of course, this is exciting in its own right, but it could be the shot
    in the arm that teaching of the classics have needed for so long. Like
    genealogy, they could come to be more widely perceived as not only
    interesting but, good heavens, fashionable.

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