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Researchers Have Discovered Plato’s Final Resting Place

Photo Credit: Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche and DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI / De Agostini via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche and DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI / De Agostini via Getty Images

A research project has achieved what was thought to be impossible: revealing the text on ancient papyri that could disintegrate at the slightest touch. Using cutting-edge technology, researchers were able to decipher information from carbonized Herculaneum papyri. Previously unknown facts about the ancient philosopher Plato have been discovered, with more information likely to be revealed with further research.

The “Greek Schools” project

An ancient papyri.
Part of the carbonized papyri. (Photo Credit: Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche)

The “Greek Schools” project began in 2021 with the aim of deciphering ancient, carbonized papyri that were recovered but sustained damage from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. These papyri have been stored in the ‘Vittorio Emanuele III’ National Library in Naples, and the particular passage that has been deciphered is known as the History of the Academy by Philodemus of Gadara.

Due to the fragile nature of the papyri, the project has required both philological expertise and the use of imaging techniques. As such, multiple institutes under the National Research Council of Italy have come together to carry out the work. This undertaking is not without its costs, and the project has been supported by a substantial grant of over €2 million from the European Research Council.

Discovering his final resting place

Ancient writing overlapped.
Writing from the ancient papyri. (Photo Credit: Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche)

The research conducted revealed an important piece of information about the philosopher Plato that was previously unknown. Prior to this research, Plato’s place of burial was only generally known to be somewhere at the Academy of Athens. However, this text concretely outlines that his burial site was within a garden at the Academy located near the Museion, a sacred area dedicated to the Muses.

Additionally, other important information about the philosopher was revealed as well. In a statement about the project’s findings, it was explained that Plato “was sold as a slave on the island of Aegina perhaps already in 404 BC, when the Spartans conquered the island or, alternatively in 399 BC, immediately after the death of Socrates. Until now it had been believed that Plato had been sold into slavery in 387 BC during his stay in Sicily at the court of Dionysius I of Syracuse.”

They used state-of-the-art methods

A screenshot of a webpage with text and photos.
Advanced techniques have allowed for the deciphering of these fragile papyri. (Photo Credit: Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche)

The project’s ability to research and reveal this previously unknown information is thanks to the use of state-of-the-art technology. The methods they employed were non-invasive, an important approach to studying these papyri, as some are too fragile to handle physically and some have layered writing or writing on reverse sides.

Through the use of diagnostic imaging techniques, including infrared, ultraviolet, thermal imaging, and digital microscopy, the “Greek Schools” project was able to make the previously unreadable papyri readable. Successfully doing so makes the future of manuscript analysis all the more exciting, with researchers eager to know what other vital information these ancient texts might be hiding.

Revealing Plato’s final day

A stone sculpture of a woman playing a flute.
Detail of relief depicting woman playing double flute. (Photo Credit: DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI / De Agostini / Getty Images)

As if learning of his final resting place wasn’t enough, this new technology has also allowed researchers to uncover exactly what it was he was doing on the last day before he died. A passage deciphered from the scroll revealed that the philosopher spent his final evening listening to a Thracian slave girl play flute music. It also revealed that he was rather critical of the performance.

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Plato was a strong supporter of music and its power to penetrate into the very core of the “self,” having said that “because more than anything else rhythm and harmony find their way into the inmost soul and take strongest hold upon it.” As such, it only makes sense that the man was a critic.

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Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!