Newly Deciphered Papyrus Scroll Reveals Location of Plato's Grave

(May 1, 2024)

Smithsonian Magazine 

Some 2,000 years ago, the famous philosopher’s burial was recorded on a papyrus scroll housed in the Roman city of Herculaneum, according to a statement from Italy’s National Research Council. When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 C.E., famously extinguishing the town of Pompeii to its southeast, it also destroyed Herculaneum, located at the volcano’s western base. A villa in the city—possibly belonging to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law—was full of scrolls, and while the volcano’s blast damaged and buried the papyri, it didn’t destroy them.

Researchers only discovered the trove of texts in the mid-18th century. Now known as the Herculaneum scrolls, they are “the only large-scale library from the classical world that has survived in its entirety,” as the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) writes.

Following the discovery, historians tried unrolling some of the scrolls on various occasions over the years. However, such attempts proved disastrous, “turning the coal-like relics to dust,” per NEH. For this reason, none of the papyri have been physically opened since the 19th century.

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