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Ancient text reveals details of Plato’s burial place and final evening, experts say

By Barbie Latza Nadeau, CNN

(CNN) — Newly-deciphered text from ancient scrolls may have finally revealed the location of where Greek philosopher Plato was buried, along with how he really felt about music played at his deathbed, according to Italian researchers.

The so-called Herculaneum papyrus scrolls, which were charred after being buried under layers of volcanic ash following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D, continue to be examined by experts using artificial intelligence and other technologies.

The latest revelation is that Plato is believed to have been buried in a secret garden near the sacred shrine to Muses inside the Platonic Academy of Athens that had been reserved for him, according to Graziano Ranocchia, professor of Papyrology at the Department of Philology, Literature and Linguistic at the University of Pisa.

It was previously only known that he was buried in the academy, but not specifically where, Ranocchia told CNN Tuesday.

The Platonic Academy was destroyed in 86 B.C. by Roman general Sulla.

The text also provides more detail about Plato’s final night – and he wasn’t a fan of the music that was played.

It had previously been thought that the so-called “sweet notes” played by a slave woman from Thrace were pleasing to Plato, experts said at a presentation in Naples last week.

But the texts now reveal that in fact, despite running a high fever on his deathbed, he found that the flute music had a “scant sense of rhythm,” according to Ranocchia, who said he made the comments to a guest from Mesopotamia.

“He was running a high fever and was bothered by the music they were playing,” Ranocchia said.

The newly deciphered text also gives further clarity to the circumstances surrounding how Plato was sold as a slave in either 399 BC after the death of Socrates or in 404 BC on the island of Aegina after the island was conquered by the Spartans, Ranocchia said in the presentation in Naples. Previously, it was thought he had been sold into slavery in 387 BC while in Sicily.

The text is part of around 1,800 carbonized scrolls discovered in the 18th century in a building believed to have belonged to the father-in-law of Julius Caesar, who lived in Herculaneum, a seaside town about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Pompeii.

Experts are using AI along with optical coherence tomography, an imaging technique, and infrared hyperspectral imaging technology to read sequences of previously hidden text from the papyri that had been partially destroyed.

The latest discovery came from a passage of more than 1,000 words — about 30% of the text — that had been deciphered and re-deciphered over the last year, according to Ranocchia, who presented the findings at the University of Naples on April 23.

The discovery was made thanks to a €2.5 million ($2.7 million) grant from the European Union (ERC – European Research Council) that was awarded in 2021.

The project, called the Greek Schools project, is a five-year study using various technologies and methods to help decipher the fragile papyri.

“The increase in text roughly corresponds to the discovery of 10 new medium-sized papyrus fragments,” Kilian Fleischer, the editor of the papyri for the Greek Schools project said at the presentation in Naples. “The new readings often draw on new and concrete facts about Plato’s Academy, Hellenistic literature, Philodemus of Gadara and ancient history in general.”

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