Researcher claims he's found Plato's grave after using AI to decipher ancient Herculaneum scrolls


The quintessential Greek philosopher, Plato, is the cornerstone of Western philosophy, arts, and political science due to his seminal work, The Republic. His Socratic Dialogues introduced the Western world to the intellectual giant who virtually defined ethics, civic relations, and the Socratic method that modern pedagogy is based on. Plato passed away around 80 years old in 347 BCE.

According to Graziano Ranocchia, an expert from the University of Pisa, the Herculaneum papyri may have pinpointed the exact location of Plato's burial site.

The Herculaneum papyri are an impressive collection of over 1,800 papyrus scrolls discovered during the 18th century in the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum. These ancient texts were carbonized by the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, which famously destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The villa, believed to belong to Julius Caesar's father-in-law, was buried under volcanic ash, preserving the papyri in a charred state. Despite their fragile condition, these scrolls are invaluable as they constitute the only surviving library from antiquity with complete texts.

These scrolls predominantly contain Greek philosophical works, and efforts to decipher them have been ongoing since their discovery. Modern attempts have employed sophisticated imaging techniques and artificial intelligence, providing new ways to decipher the texts without physically unrolling them, thus avoiding further damage.

The significance of these papyri lies not only in their content but also in their potential to reveal lost classical texts referred to by other ancient authors. Reading the scrolls is extremely difficult and carries risks of destroying them.

The location of Plato's burial place was found in thousands of new words and differently interpreted words in papyrus on the history of the Academy by Philodemus of Gadara, an Epicurean philosopher, and poet who resided in Herculaneum. Ranocchia stated that the texts suggested that the burial place was in a garden designated for Plato in a private area within the Academy, adjacent to the sacred shrine dedicated to the Muses.

The scholar made the announcement at the Naples Biblioteca Nazionale (National Library) while presenting the mid-term findings of the "Greek Schools" research project conducted in collaboration with the National Research Council.

The Platonic Academy was destroyed by Roman dictator Sulla in 86 BC.

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