Plato’s final resting place revealed after researchers recover ancient scroll

ROME — In a remarkable discovery, a team of researchers has discovered the long-lost location of Plato’s tomb, thanks to the advanced analysis of an ancient charred papyrus scroll. The scroll, which contains Philodemus of Gadara’s ‘History of the Academy’, has revealed that the great philosopher was buried in a private garden within the Academy in Athens, near the Museon, a shrine dedicated to the Muses.

This monumental finding is just one of many insights gained from the “GreekSchools” research project, which applied advanced imaging techniques to decipher more than 1,000 new words, making up 30 percent of the text.

The unveiling of Plato’s burial site is an important milestone in the study of ancient Greek philosophy and the life of one of its most influential figures. Before this discovery, it was only known that Plato was buried somewhere within the Academy, but the exact location remained a mystery. The newfound knowledge of his final resting place, a private garden reserved for the Platonic school, sheds light on the reverence and respect accorded the philosopher by his followers and successors.

The “GreekSchools” project, a joint effort led by Graziano Ranocchia of the University of Pisa, in collaboration with the Institute of Heritage Science (CNR-ISPC), the Institute of Computational Linguistics “Antonio Zampolli” (CNR-ILC) of the National The Research Council and the National Library of Naples have been instrumental in uncovering these and other secrets hidden in the charred papyrus. The project, which started in 2021 and will last five years and eight months, has received significant funding from the European Research Council (ERC) to support its groundbreaking research.

Philodemus of Gadara, a philosopher who lived from 110 to after 40 BCE, wrote the History of the Academy as part of his larger work, Survey of Philosophers. This text is the oldest known history of Greek philosophy in existence and contains exclusive information about Plato and the development of the Academy under his successors. The papyrus scroll containing this work was charred during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, making it a challenging but invaluable resource for scholars.

Charred papyri
Charred papyri (Credit: CNR – National Research Council)

Thanks to the application of advanced imaging techniques and philological methods, the research team has managed to produce an updated edition of the text of Philodemus. Kilian Fleischer, the editor of the papyrus within the GreekSchools project, notes that compared to previous editions, the text has undergone significant changes, revealing new and concrete facts about several academic philosophers. The newly deciphered text corresponds to the discovery of ten new medium-sized papyrus fragments and provides new insights into Plato’s Academy, Hellenistic literature, Philodemus of Gadara and ancient history in general.

One of the most striking revelations is the location of Plato’s funeral. Previously it was only known that Plato was buried somewhere in the Academy. The text also suggests that Plato was sold into slavery on the island of Aegina, possibly as early as 404 BCE when the Spartans conquered the island or, alternatively, in 399 BCE, shortly after Socrates’ death. This challenges the previous belief that Plato was sold into slavery at the court of Dionysius I of Syracuse in 387 BCE during his stay in Sicily. In another passage we see Plato engaging in a dialogue in which he expresses his disdain for the musical and rhythmic abilities of a female musician from Thrace.

The GreekSchools project aims not only to decipher and contextualize ancient texts, but also to develop new methods for examining manuscripts using the most advanced diagnostic imaging techniques available. Costanza Miliani from CNR-ISPC explains that the project uses optical imaging in the infrared and ultraviolet range, molecular and elemental imaging, thermal imaging, tomography and digital optical microscopy. These non-invasive techniques, applied using mobile instruments from the Molab platform, part of the European Research Infrastructure for Heritage Science (E-RIHS), enable researchers to read text that is inaccessible from the back or hidden in multiple layers of opisthographs and stratified texts. papyri.

The discoveries of the GreekSchools project provide a fascinating insight into the world of ancient Greek philosophy and the life of one of its most influential figures: Plato. By combining the expertise of scholars and scientists from different disciplines and using cutting-edge technology, the project sheds new light on the history of ideas and the transmission of knowledge in the ancient world. As research continues, it is likely that even more secrets will be revealed, deepening our understanding of this pivotal period in human history and the lasting legacy of the great thinkers who shaped it.

StudyFinds editor-in-chief Steve Fink contributed to this report.

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