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Technological Civilization is Awesome (New Epicurean Scroll Just Dropped Edition)

Shared Article from Smithsonian Magazine

Three Students Just Deciphered the First Passages of a 2,000-Yea…

The trio used artificial intelligence to decode sections of the text, which appear to be a philosophical exploration of pleasure

Margherita Bassi @ smithsonianmag.com

    col. -8, ll. 2-14:   
2   ...]ι̣μ̣εν τοὺϲ̣ [πα]ρ̣[ὰ Ξ]ε̣-   
    νοφάντωι το̣ιούτου[ϲ,   
    ὃ καὶ ὑπ’ ἄ̣λλων δοκεῖ    
5   γείνεϲθαι, παραπλη-   
    ϲίωϲ δ̣’ ο̣ὐδὲ παρ̣’ ἑτέρωι   
    ἴδι̣ον το̣ῦ δ̣οκοῦ̣ντοϲ̣    
    εἶναι καὶ παρὰ πλε̣ί-  
    οϲ̣ι̣ν̣ ἥδιο̣ν, ἀλλ’ ὡ̣ϲ̣ καὶ   
10  ἐ̣π̣ὶ τῶν βρω̣μ̣άτ̣ων   
    ο̣ὐ̣κ ἤδ̣η τὰ ϲπάνια    
    πάντωϲ̣ καὶ ἡδ̣ίω    
    τῶν δ̣αψιλῶν̣ ε̣ἶναι̣   
14  νομίζ̣ο̣με̣ν· οὐ γ̣ὰρ̣

—Author Unknown, possibly Philodemus; decoded by the Vesuvius Challenge project

. . .

    col. -7, ll. 4-10:   
    λ̣ει παρὰ τὰ δαψιλῆ.    
5   θεωρηθήϲεται δὲ τὰ    
    τοιαῦθ’ οὕτω{ι} πολ̣λά-    
    κιϲ πότερον ὅ̣ταν πα-    
    ρῇ τὸ δαψιλέϲτερον    
    ἡ φύϲιϲ ἥδιον ἀπαλλάτ-    
10  τει το̣ύ̣τ̣ο̣υ̣ καὶ πάλ̣ι̣ν̣ ̣ ̣    

—Author Unknown, possibly Philodemus; decoded by the Vesuvius Challenge project

. . .

    col. -2, ll. 2-8:   
2   ἑ̣κάϲτηϲ κριτηρίων    
    θεωροῦνται. πρὸϲ δὲ    
    οὔτε καθόλου περὶ    
5   ἡδονῆϲ ἐχόντων τι    
    λέγειν οὔτε περὶ τῆϲ    
    κατὰ μ̣έ̣ρο̣ϲ̣, ὅ̣τε ὡ-    
8   ριϲμένον τι, ἀλλ’ οὖν    

—Author Unknown, possibly Philodemus; decoded by the Vesuvius Challenge project

. . .

    col. -1, ll. 1-6:    
1   ὰρ ἀπ̣εχόμ̣ε̣θ̣α̣ τὰ    
    μὲν κρίνειν, τὰ δὲ   
    κατέχειν καὶ ἐμφαί   
    νoιθ’ ἡμῖν ἀληθῆ λέ-    
5   γειν ὥϲπερ πολλά̣κιϲ   
    ἂν ἐ̣μφανε̣ίη̣{ι}.

—Author Unknown, possibly Philodemus; decoded by the Vesuvius Challenge project

The text has to do with some notable Epicurean themes, in particular the relationship of pleasure to the scarcity or abundance of goods, perhaps especially aesthetic goods or goods of sensory experience (Per the translators: … As too in the case of food, we do not right away believe things that are scarce to be absolutely more pleasant than those which are abundant.)

The in-house scholars at the Vesuvius Challenge have confirmed that the text is new, unattested text from an ancient writer. Right now they seem inclined to think that the author might be the Epicurean philosopher and poet Philodemus (ca. 110 BCE – ca. 40 BCE).[1] He wrote extensively on ethics, music, and the philosophical controversies between the Epicureans and the Stoics.

It is hard to express just how immensely exciting this is. This is the first major passage to come from a cache of books that, in a series of really horrific disasters and insane accidents, has been preserved down to our present distant future, where we can use frickin’ X-rays, 3-D modeling and artificial intelligence to peer through the body of burnt, sealed scrolls and read off the letters from their carbonized insides without unrolling them. This would be an awesome enough story as it is, but the technological feat also has a lot of promise to heal a real and massive loss. Most — the vast majority — of writing from the ancient world is lost to us.[2] For the next phase of the project, ]Vesuvius Challenge’s goals are](https://web.archive.org/web/20240209172423/https://scrollprize.org/grandprize):

In 2023 we got from 0% to 5% of a scroll. In 2024 our goal is to go from 5% of one scroll, to 90% of all four scrolls we have scanned, and to lay the foundation to read all 800 scrolls.

The primary goal for 2024 is to read 90% of the scrolls, and we will issue the 2024 Grand Prize to the first team that is able to do this. More details on the exact grand prize judging criteria will be available in March.

&#8212Vesuvius Challenge 2023 Grand Prize Awarded

Every lost scroll that is recovered shines new light into the corners of a world covered in deep shadow, which we have only seen with the briefest, strobe-light glimpses. The Villa of the Papyri is a lost library from the high point of classical civilization; there are more than 800 carbonized scrolls which the project may be able to recover. It offers once of the most exciting chances in decades to recover lost works and add new primary sources for understanding and debating ancient history and ancient philosophy.

Technological civilization is awesome.

Shared Article from web.archive.org

Vesuvius Challenge 2023 Grand Prize awarded: we can read the scr…

The 2000-year-old scroll discusses music, food, and how to enjoy life’s pleasures.


  1. [1]This is a pretty good bet even aside from the topics in the passages decoded; the scroll was taken from the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, which seems to have had a really large collection of Philodemus’s work.
  2. [2]This is true even of the most famous and celebrated authors. All of Aristotle’s dialogues and the second volume of the Poetics are famously lost; volumes of Livy; every poem by Sappho except for one or possibly two which were preserved in the work of others who quoted or translated them; etc. etc.

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