In the year 79 AD, as you know (they will certainly have warned you), the eruption of Vesuvius buried the city of Herculaneum under ashes and lapilli along with an entire library of papyrus rolls. For centuries, these documents have remained an indecipherable enigma, silent witnesses of lost knowledge. Today, thanks to the Vesuvius Challenge project, we can finally begin to reveal the secrets kept in these ancient manuscripts.
The Vesuvius Challenge
The Vesuvius Challenge, launched ten months ago, had the ambitious goal of solving the mystery of Papyri of Herculaneum, a unique cultural treasure. These scrolls, charred by the eruption of Vesuvius, remained illegible for millennia. Thanks to an innovative approach and international collaboration, we have only just begun to read the texts: the beginning of a historical turning point in understanding our past.
The success of the team composed of Youssef M. Nader, Luke Farritor e Juli Schillij, which won the $700.000 Grand Prize, demonstrates the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration.
The results? Extraordinary. The fifteen columns of text deciphered come from the first scroll read. The author, probably the Epicurean philosopher Philodemus, discusses music, food and the good life. There is also no shortage of criticism of his ideological "adversaries", the Stoics, for their lack of reflections on pleasure. This discovery also opens up new perspectives on how the ancients interpreted life. And that's just the beginning.
The future of the Vesuvius Challenge
The success of the project does not stop here. On the other hand, the texts revealed so far represent only 5% of a scroll. The goal for 2024 is to read at least four scrolls in their entirety, with a new prize of $100,000 for the first team to achieve this feat. Scholars estimate that the unread scrolls preserved in Naples contain the equivalent of over 16 megabytes of ancient text (that's a lot).
Not to mention that the success of the Vesuvius Challenge could stimulate further excavations in the villa where the scrolls were found, bringing to light other papyri from this great main library. There may be lost works by Aristotle, Livy, a Homeric epic, or poems by Sappho. The hope is also to discover a larger library still buried, with thousands of other scrolls that could revolutionize our understanding of classical literature.
Thanks and future prospects
Special thanks go to Brent Seales e Nat Friedman for laying the foundations of this work and to all those who contributed to the project, both financially and intellectually. This extraordinary and slightly crazy project is a testament to the human passion for knowledge and our incessant curiosity about the past.
With these new discoveries, we come ever closer to better understanding the history of humanity and ancient thought, opening new horizons for future research. To find out more, visit scrollprize.org/grandprize.