THE LIBRARY AT HERCULANEUM. I have posted a number of times with satisfaction about successes of archaeologists in making finds of things that were thought to be lost forever. So it was with considerable excitement that I saw in the table of contents for the November 16 issue of the New Yorker an article by John Seabrook: “THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY—Secrets of the Herculaneum scrolls”.
I knew that there was a library of scrolls found in a villa in Herculaneum, a neighboring town to Pompeii, which was destroyed by the same volcano which destroyed Pompeii. However, the scrolls that survived in Herculaneum are charred and crumble when an attempt is made to open them. I had also watched a television program which described ongoing efforts to use modern computer technology to read the contents of the Herculaneum scrolls.
So I anticipated that the New Yorker article would report on the current state of research.
The Seabrook article describes past efforts to use modern spectral-imaging techniques to “virtually unwrap” the scrolls. It also describes the results of the current efforts, which have only been able to identify a few scattered letters. The end of the article presents the sad news that the Institute of France, which owns one of the scrolls, has withdrawn approval of further tests.
The last paragraph of the story quotes a scholar who has been working on the scrolls: “I do not expect this scroll will be read during my lifetime.”