April 17, 2005

One Man’s Rubbish, Another Man’s Canon

by Scott Rettberg · , 5:52 pm

This is pretty darn cool news that must have classicists jumping up and down. The Independent reports that, using infrared imaging technology developed for satellites, Oxford University scientists are now able to decode a horde of hundreds of papyrus manuscripts discovered in the 19th century in ancient garbage dump in Egypt. The “Oxyrhyncus Papyri” were blackened, decayed, worm-eaten and illegible to the naked eye, but the new technology makes them readable. Fragments of previously unknown texts by Sophocles, Euripides, and Hesoid have already been discovered, and the find is expected to yield five million words of texts, “mainly in Greek, but sometimes in Latin, Hebrew, Coptic, Syriac, Aramaic, Arabic, Nubian and early Persian,” and to expand the known canon of Ancient Greek literature by 20%.