Tuesday, April 19, 2005

I am just thrilled about the discovery of imaging techniques that will allow scholars to decipher the scraps of Ancient Greek literature that were discovered in an Egyptian trash heap. According to the Independent:
The previously unknown texts, read for the first time last week, include parts of a long-lost tragedy – the Epigonoi (“Progeny”) by the 5th-century BC Greek playwright Sophocles; part of a lost novel by the 2nd-century Greek writer Lucian; unknown material by Euripides; mythological poetry by the 1st-century BC Greek poet Parthenios; work by the 7th-century BC poet Hesiod; and an epic poem by Archilochos, a 7th-century successor of Homer, describing events leading up to the Trojan War. Additional material from Hesiod, Euripides and Sophocles almost certainly await discovery.

So much of Greek culture has been lost, and since it's been assigned such importance in the development of our culture, these gaps of knowledge about the period are disturbing.

In the Crooked Timber thread about the discovery, I debated briefly with Des von Bladet, whose position was, basically, that the past is irrevocably past and that the only potential interest such texts could have was in their direct influence on the present. I'd like to restate some counter-arguments from that thread:
--The arguments that were then going on influence on our inheritance of Greek culture.
--The literary forms that were then competing influence our understanding of what survived from that period.
--The expansion of data of work from that period gives lexographers more points to work from in interpreting canonical texts.
--The rediscovered work might be cool (moving, interesting, problematic) in itself.

And it seems that BYU scholars have really put Mormon archeology on the map with this one. BYU scholars came up with the imaging technology that would make this "discovery" (actually the ability to read what had already been discovered) possible. It seems that BYU has channelled some of its interest reading ancient texts for traces of the Mormon historiography (metonymized by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies--FARMS) into a more generally useful study of ancient religious texts and technical mechanisms by which to recuperate and study them (Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts--CPART). I for one am extastic--both by this evidence that BYU scholars can make disinterested discoveries and by the discovery they have made. Go on with your bad selves!


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