Plato’s final resting place has been revealed after researchers recovered an ancient scroll –

ROME — In a remarkable discovery, a team of researchers has uncovered the long-lost location of Plato’s tomb, thanks to cutting-edge analysis of an ancient carbonized papyrus scroll. The scroll that contains Philodemus of Gadara’s History of the Academy reveals that the great philosopher was laid to rest in a private garden within the Academy of Athens, near the Museion, a sanctuary dedicated to the Muses.

This monumental discovery is just one of many insights gained from the GreekSchools research project, which applied advanced imaging techniques to decipher over 1,000 new words, making up 30 percent of the text.

The discovery of Plato’s burial site is an important milestone in the study of ancient Greek philosophy and the life of one of its most influential figures. Before this discovery, it was only known that Plato was buried somewhere in the Academy, but the exact location remained a mystery. Newly discovered knowledge of his final resting place, a private garden reserved for Plato’s school, sheds light on the reverence and respect accorded the philosopher by his followers and successors.

The GreekSchools project, a collaborative effort led by Graziano Ranocchia of the University of Pisa, in partnership with the Heritage Institute (CNR-ISPC), the Antonio Zampolli Institute of Computational Linguistics (CNR-ILC) of the National Research Council and the National Library of Naples played an important role in uncovering this and other secrets hidden in the carbonized papyrus. The project, which started in 2021 and is expected to last five years and eight months, has received significant funding from the European Research Council (ERC) to support its ground-breaking research.

Philodemus of Gadara, a philosopher who lived from 110 to after 40 BC, wrote the History of the Academy as part of his larger work, An Inquiry into the Philosophers. This text is the oldest known extant history of Greek philosophy and contains extraordinary information about Plato and the development of the Academy under his successors. The papyrus scroll containing this work was carbonized during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, making it a challenging but invaluable resource for scholars.

Charred Papyri (Credit: CNR – National Research Council)

Thanks to the application of cutting-edge imaging techniques and philological methods, the research team was able to create an updated edition of Philodemus’ text. Kilian Fleischer, editor of the papyrus for the GreekSchools project, notes that compared to previous editions, the text has undergone significant changes, revealing new and specific facts about various academic philosophers. The newly deciphered text is equivalent to the discovery of 10 new medium-sized papyrus fragments, offering fresh insights into Plato’s Academy, Hellenistic literature, Philodemus of Gadara, and ancient history in general.

Among the most impressive discoveries is the burial site of Plato. Before that, it was only known that Plato was buried somewhere in the Academy. The text also suggests that Plato was sold into slavery on the island of Aegina, possibly as early as 404 BC when the Spartans conquered the island or, alternatively, in 399 BC, shortly after the death of Socrates. This challenges the previous belief that Plato was sold into slavery in 387 BC during his stay in Sicily at the court of Dionysius I of Syracuse. Another passage shows Plato engaged in a dialogue in which he expresses contempt for the musical and rhythmic abilities of a Thracian female musician.

The GreekSchools project aims not only to decipher and contextualize ancient texts, but also to develop new methods for the study of manuscripts using the most advanced diagnostic imaging techniques available. Costanza Miliani from CNR-ISPC explains that the project uses optical imaging in the infrared and ultraviolet ranges, molecular and elemental imaging, thermal imaging, tomography and digital optical microscopy. These non-invasive techniques, applied using mobile tools from the Molab platform, part of the European Research Infrastructure for Heritage Science (E-RIHS), allow researchers to read text that is inaccessible on the back or hidden in multiple layers of opistograph and stratified papyri .

The discoveries made by the GreekSchools project offer a fascinating insight into the world of ancient Greek philosophy and the life of one of its most influential figures, Plato. By combining the expertise of scholars from various disciplines and using cutting-edge technology, the project sheds new light on the history of ideas and the transmission of knowledge in the ancient world. As research continues, it is likely that even more secrets will be revealed, deepening our understanding of this pivotal period in human history and the lasting legacy of the great thinkers who shaped it.

StudyFinds Editor-in-Chief Steve Fink contributed to this report.

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