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Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Hidden ancient texts are coming to light


There's been a big breakthrough in the efforts to decipher and read the library of charred scrolls that were left after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. 

Nat Friedman, the Silicon Valley person who funded efforts to use AI to finally decipher the previously unreadable scrolls, posted about the latest breakthrough on X/Twitter, here is some of his post referring to the above image:

"This image was produced by @Youssef_M_Nader, @LukeFarritor, and @JuliSchillij, who have now won the Vesuvius Challenge Grand Prize of $700,000. Congratulations!!

"These fifteen columns come from the very end of the first scroll we have been able to read and contain new text from the ancient world that has never been seen before. The author – probably Epicurean philosopher Philodemus – writes here about music, food, and how to enjoy life's pleasures. In the closing section, he throws shade at unnamed ideological adversaries – perhaps the stoics? – who "have nothing to say about pleasure, either in general or in particular."

"This year, the Vesuvius Challenge continues. The text that we revealed so far represents just 5% of one scroll.

"In 2024, our goal is to from reading a few passages of text to entire scrolls, and we're announcing a new $100,000 grand prize for the first team that is able to read at least 90% of all four scrolls that we have scanned.

"The scrolls stored in Naples that remain to be read represent more than 16 megabytes of ancient text. But the villa where the scrolls were found was only partially excavated, and scholars tell us that there may be thousands more scrolls underground. Our hope is that the success of the Vesuvius Challenge catalyzes the excavation of the villa, that the main library is discovered, and that whatever we find there rewrites history and inspires all of us."

More here.

I have become very interested in Epicureanism. Much of the ancient writings about the philosophy have been lost, but as Friedman writes, his efforts are recovering some of it; as he notes, there is speculation that much lost ancient literature can be recovered. See this article, "Can AI Unlock the Secrets of the Ancient World?", written by Ashlee Vance and Ellen Huet.

The above image is copyrighted, and I am normally very cautious about using copyrighted images. However, I have linked  to Mr. Friedman's posting, which included the image and which has been reposted about 17,000 times and which has had more than 21 million views.  So I hope my use is acceptable. 

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