The 1800 scrolls recovered from the Villa of the Papiri at Herculaneum is the only library from the ancient world to survive into the modern era.
The Society helps fund an ongoing programme of research into the interpretation and conservation of the Papyri.
Unrolling the scrolls is a difficult and problematic process, but new developments in computer imaging techniques such as those developed at Brigham Young University mean that previously invisible text can be deciphered. Tantalisingly, more scrolls may still remain in the unexcavated portion of the Villa, which was revealed in the 1990s to be larger than previously thought.
Work on deciphering these texts is part of the work that the Society funds through generous donations from the public and private funders.
There are four aspects to work on the papyri.
Discovery. At Herculaneum the exciting prospect exists of discovering the rest of the library in the unexplored part of the Villa of the Papyri. Completing the excavation poses major problems, however. This is a long-term goal. In the meantime the Society promotes preservation of the excavated part, and calls for the development of a completion strategy.
Preservation. The Herculaneum papyri are as fragile as burnt newspaper and require extraordinary care. They are housed in the Officina dei Papiri in the Biblioteca Nazionale, Naples, where scholars supported by the Society have done important work.
Editing. The Herculaneum papyri are unbelievably difficult to read. Reading black ink on charcoal-black, carbonised papyri, the naked eye can often see only a few letters. Modern technology comes to the rescue with multi-spectral scanning, which can bring all the letters to life as if written yesterday. The Society funds scholars and students who transcribe and publish the papyri. Several of its trustees do this professionally.
Interpretation. Once edited, the texts need to be translated and explained. They provide brilliant glimpses into the cultural life in the first century AD, the time of the philosopher Philodemus whose personal books were part of the Villa's library. The Society supports students and scholars seeking to understand these amazing papyri and the world that produced them.
Donations to our Society go directly to supporting the preservation, editing and interpretation of the papyri. The future of the Villa of the Papyri is a matter for the Italian authorities to determine but the Society is greatly interested. If you wish to know more about this subject please contact us.