Ancient philosophical writings found hidden beneath a medieval text
A group of scientists and historians have made an incredible discovery relating to some writings made on parchments that were produced in medieval times. Using cutting-edge technology, the researchers found that the parchment had once contained ancient philosophical writings that had later been washed off and over-written. Using multispectral imaging, scientists have been able to recover the original text, shedding new light on the history of philosophical education in the late antiquity.
The uppermost layer of text dates to the thirteenth century and comprises the Prophetic Books of the Greek Old Testament. However, through an amazing stroke of luck, it was discovered that beneath this text there had originally been some writing by the well-known ancient Greek writer, Euripides, and an unknown ancient commentary on Aristotle, which dated back to the fifth century.
Euripides (480 – 406 BC) was one of the great tragedians of classical Athens and is known to have written at least ninety-two plays, although only 18 or 19 have survived in a complete form and his work became, in the Hellenistic Age, a cornerstone of ancient literary education. Euripides is identified with theatrical innovations that have profoundly influenced drama down to modern times, especially in the representation of traditional, mythical heroes as ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. His contemporaries associated him with Socrates as a leader of a decadent intellectualism. However, while Socrates was eventually put on trial and executed as a corrupting influence, Euripides chose a voluntary exile in old age, apparently dying in Macedonia.
The team of researchers, based out of the Universities of Göttingen and Bologna, were able to clearly separate Euripides original writings in the manuscript from the 13 th century upper layer of text, which is now located at the library of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem. The other part, which contains commentary of an unknown author on Aristotle’s work, can be found at the National Library of France in Paris.
“The manuscript in Jerusalem is one of the most significant witnesses to Euripides’ work”, explains the head of the research project, Felix Albrecht from Göttingen University’s Faculty of Theology. The manuscript contains the text of Euripides, surrounded by ancient annotations.
The manuscript in Paris contains drawings of highest quality, which, due to their age, constitute important evidence for the textual tradition of philosophical commentaries. “The discovery of this work is of inestimable value for the history of philosophical education in the late antiquity”, says the discoverer of the manuscript, Dr. Chiara Faraggiana di Sarzana from Bologna University.
The research being undertaken, named the Palamedes Project, aims to create a critical edition of the two important manuscripts featuring the newly discovered and unexplored Greek texts, made readable using the latest forms of technology.