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PHERC — Result In Brief

Project ID: 241184
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Italy

Modern technology aids in the review of ancient texts

An EU-funded project has provided the first comprehensive interpretation of various physical, epistemological, ethical and rhetorical works by key figures of Hellenistic philosophy. The study employed an innovative critical approach, exploring the works of Epicurus, Chrysippus and Philodemus among others.
Modern technology aids in the review of ancient texts
These works are preserved exclusively in the carbonised papyrus rolls found since 1752 at Herculaneum. They have either never been published or were published only in part between the 19th and 20th century. Their editing was done using very precarious methods – previous editors usually did not read the original papyri themselves and, even when they did, they could not use any modern technology in the process. The project PHERC (Interactive edition and interpretation of various works by stoic and Epicurean philosophers surviving at Herculaneum) was set up to overcome these problems.

Research members were given a specific philological and papyrological formation, and attended tutorials on Herculanean bibliology and textual ecdotic (editorial intervention). After inspecting the original manuscripts containing the texts for editing, they reconstructed on mathematical grounds the correct sequence of fragments and the anatomy of the original rolls.

Using a microscope, they read both edited and inedited (not edited or published) text columns of these papyri and produced systematic manual transcriptions of them. The researchers also prepared new critical editions, with modern translation, of major groups of columns and provided both a diplomatic and literary transcription for each one.

As such, better edited text could be recovered from the 'ashes' of Herculaneum – an ancient Roman town near Naples, on the slopes of Vesuvius. Senior scholars have revised these editions, which are available on the project website as in-progress, open-access digital texts. Consolidated versions of these texts, including an introduction and a commentary, are in press or have been submitted, with some accepted, to peer-reviewed scientific journals or book series. Three papyrological, bibliological and palaeographical introductions to PHerc. 1 020 (Scriptor Stoicus Incertus, On the wise), 1 004 (Philodemus, On Rhetoric, Book VII) and 454 (Epicurus, On nature, Uncertain Book) are presently in press.

PHERC carried out a comprehensive plan for the study, research and reworking of important texts by stoic and Epicurean philosophers. The project's approach and outputs, combined with successful application of innovative methods of image processing, should prove beneficial in future research on ancient texts.

Related information


Ancient texts, Epicurus, Philodemus, papyrus rolls, Herculaneum, PHERC, Epicurean philosophers
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