Ever since the the Villa dei Papiri and its cache of at least 800 papyrus scrolls was discovered in Herculaneum in 1752, this potential treasure trove of information and insight into the classical world has fascinated scholars with what it could possibly contain. The difficulty has been in how to read them without destroying them. As John Seabrook describes for The New Yorker: "One scroll was peeled apart into many fragments; the other dried up and then, like a disaster in slow motion, split apart into more than three hundred pieces." Now, thanks to new imaging techniques, the contents of the scrolls could—slowly—be revealed.
While the ancient city of Herculaneum is experiencing something of a archaeological renaissance, the nearby site of ancient city of Pompeii is falling apart due to a cocktail of mismanagement, corruption, weather, neglect, and the decisions of the past. The Smithsonian provides an overview. [more inside]
"My subject is a barren one – the world of nature, or in other words life; and that subject in its least elevated department, and employing either rustic terms or foreign, nay barbarian words that actually have to be introduced with an apology. Moreover, the path is not a beaten highway of authorship, nor one in which the mind is eager to range: there is not one of us who has made the same venture, nor yet one Roman who has tackled single-handed all departments of the subject."Naturalis Historia was written by Pliny the Elder between 77 and 79 CE and was meant to serve as a kind of proto-encyclopedia discussing all of the ancient knowledge available to him, covered in enough depth and breadth to make it by a reasonable margin the largest work to survive to the modern day from the Roman era. The work includes discussions on astronomy, meteorology, geography, mineralogy, zoology and botany organized along Aristotelian divisions of nature but also includes essays on human inventions and institutions. It is dedicated to the Emperor Titus in its epistle to the Emperor Vespasian, a close friend of Pliny who relied on his extensive knowledge, and its unusually careful citations of sources as well as its index makes it a precursor to modern scholarly works. It was Pliny's last work, as well as sadly his sole surviving one, and was published not long before his death attempting to save a friend from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum, famously recounted by Pliny's eponymous nephew Pliny the Younger.
Here is a reasonable translation that is freely available to download from archive.org for your edification.[more inside]
O Hammers, Head : discussion of a freakish reference in Philodemus's On Methods of Inference, found in the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum. [more inside]
The Works of Giovanni Battista Piranesi: high-resolution scans of all of Piranesi’s etchings. Also, the plates from Les Ruines De Pompei by François Mazois (1812-38), and, the complete 9-volume Le Antichità di Ercolano Esposte (The Antiquities discovered in Herculaneum) published in Naples from 1755-62. Also, at the same site (UT-PICURE: the Center for Research on Pictorial Cultural Resources, at The University of Tokyo), images from the Stibbert Collection of Japanese costume.
Remains of a 2,000 year-old library await funds to restart excavation. "All that now remains of the exploration is a huge waterlogged hole in which float the syringes of local heroin addicts."