Ancient roman scrolls to be topic of March 6 Moses Finley Memorial Lecture at Syracuse University
Ancient roman scrolls to be topic of March 6 Moses Finley Memorial Lecture at Syracuse UniversityFebruary 27, 2007Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
Roger Macfarlane, associate professor of classics in the Department of Humanities, Classics, and Comparative Literature at Brigham Young University, will speak on “Recovering the Lost Library of Herculaneum: Multispectral Imaging and the Carbonized Scrolls” at Syracuse University on March 6.
This lecture, the first of this semester’s Finley Lecture Series sponsored by the Program in Classics in The College of Arts and Sciences, will begin at 4:30 p.m. in Room 207 of the Hall of Languages. The lecture is free and open to the public; parking is available in the University’s visitor pay lots on Comstock and Waverly avenues.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79 A.D. swallowed up the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The eruption froze the remains of an ancient civilization while simultaneously preserving the only library that has survived from antiquity. Hundreds of carbonized papyrus rolls survived in a single Herculaneum villa, but were so badly burned that they hardly resembled precious manuscripts. Although some of the texts were eventually published, many papyri have yet to be unrolled or read. Macfarlane’s lecture will explain the efforts of scholars, working for more than 250 years, to unroll and read the carbonized papyri and will highlight dramatic new developments relating to their study.
While the story of the Villa of the Papyri spans nearly 2,000 years, scholarly interest in the papyri has increased dramatically in the last decade as space age technologies have improved the readability of the scrolls, and new questions have emerged about the villa’s future. For more than two centuries, scholars have struggled to read the faint black ink on the broken surface of the blackened scroll fragments. Since 1999, the National Library in Naples, Italy, and Brigham Young University researchers have joined forces, applying multispectral imaging technology on the papyri. In some cases, the team — using technology that was originally developed by NASA for planetary studies — has been able to retrieve text from fragments once thought to be blank. After capturing more than 30,000 images of the scroll fragments, the team is now working to create a permanent digital library of the papyri, to document their condition, and to make them more available to scholars worldwide.
Macfarlane, the director of papyrological imaging projects at Brigham Young, is an associate professor in the university’s Department of Humanities, Classics, and Comparative Literature. He earned his Ph.D. in classical studies at the University of Michigan in 1991 and has taught at BYU since then. He has been involved with the papyri of Herculaneum since 2000 and has expanded the application of multispectral imaging to other damaged papyri.
Macfarlane was the content advisor for the documentary film “Out of the Ashes: Recovering the Lost Library of Herculaneum,” which won the 2005 Outreach Award of the American Philological Association. The Herculaneum Papyrus Project has spun off another interesting project, which teams BYU faculty and students with their peers from the Suor Orsola Benincasa University of Naples in an archaeological project on Vesuvius’ north slope. Macfarlane is co-director of this project.
The Finley Lecture Series honors the memory of Sir Moses I. Finley. One of the most influential historians of the 20th century, Finley enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a professor of ancient history and master of Darwin College at Cambridge University. He was a 1927 graduate of Syracuse University.