Plato’s Final Resting Place in Athens Revealed!

    The revolutionary scanning and study of the Herculaneum papyri has revealed remarkable new details about the philosopher Plato, including the precise location of his burial. This significant archaeological achievement comes from a project deciphering ancient, carbonized papyri damaged by the Vesuvius eruption in 79 AD.

    New Light on Ancient Texts

    According to a press release by, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, the “Greek Schools” project, led by Graziano Ranocchia from the University of Pisa, has made extraordinary progress in restoring and interpreting the section of papyrus known as,  History of the Academy by Philodemus of Gadara.

    Stored in the ‘Vittorio Emanuele III’ National Library in Naples, these papyri have undergone extensive analysis through a blend of imaging techniques and philological expertise. This collaborative effort, involving multiple institutes under the National Research Council of Italy and supported by a substantial grant from the European Research Council, aims to bring new life to the oldest known history of Greek philosophy.

    Another image of part of the carbonized papyri. (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche)

    Another image of part of the carbonized papyri. (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche)

    Discoveries About Plato’s Burial Site and His Academy

    A notable finding from the texts is the discovery of Plato’s burial site within a garden of the Academy in Athens, specifically dedicated to him and near the Museion, a sacred area to the Muses. This detail corrects the long-held belief that Plato’s exact burial location within the Academy was unknown. The ancient text says precisely where it was!

    Additionally, new insights have emerged regarding Plato’s life, including the revelation that he might have been sold as a slave much earlier than previously believed, around the time of Socrates’ death or during the Spartan conquest of Aegina. This challenges the previous assumption that his enslavement occurred in Sicily in 387 BC.

    The project has also revealed vital information about Plato’s Academy and its evolution after his time. What revelations about one of the world’s most prominent thinkers!

    Technological Innovations in Manuscript Research

    The “Greek Schools” project also focuses on advancing the methodology of manuscript investigation. Costanza Miliani from the Cnr-Ispc highlighted the use of cutting-edge diagnostic imaging techniques such as infrared, ultraviolet, thermal imaging, and digital microscopy. These non-invasive methods allow researchers to explore texts that are either too fragile to handle or have writings on layered or reverse sides, making them previously unreadable.

    Sophisticated software and hardware has allowed reading of the document. (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche)

    Sophisticated software and hardware has allowed reading of the document. (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche)

    Impact and Future Prospects

    These exciting new findings not only enrich our understanding of the ancient philosophical past but also open new interdisciplinary avenues in the study of ancient history, literature, and the historical context of philosophical works. The project’s success in enhancing the text of Philodemus’ History of the Academy by about 30%—equivalent to ten new medium-sized papyrus fragments—promises further exciting discoveries as more texts are analyzed and interpreted.

    This breakthrough exemplifies how technology and classical studies can collaborate to shed new light on the cultural heritage of ancient civilizations, ensuring that significant historical figures like Plato are better understood in their historical and cultural context.

    Top image: Left; Bust of Greek Philosopher Plato. Right; the carbonized Herculaneum papyri being studied. Source: Left; CC BY-SA 4.0, Right; Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche

    By Gary Manners

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