Culture Supplement

Artificial Intelligence deciphers manuscript from Julius Caesar's family

Three students have won a $700 prize after using Artificial Intelligence to read a 79-year-old manuscript burned during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD XNUMX. This ancient manuscript was until now illegible after it was burned in the Roman city of Herculaneum during the same eruption that destroyed Pompeii. It is thought to have belonged to Julius Caesar's father-in-law and is written about music and food. Experts have called it a "revolutionary discovery" in Greek philosophy.

Scholars believe that the writing style is typical of the Greek philosopher Philodemus, who followed the teachings of Epicurus and may have been a philosopher in the city of Herculaneum.

In the 18th century hundreds of papyri were discovered in the library of a luxury villa in the city – the only such library of texts from ancient Roman times ever discovered.

But their contents remained a mystery to researchers – they were so badly burned by volcanic debris that when they tried to decipher them, they crumbled in their hands.

Dr. Federica, researcher of papyrology at the University of Naples, has said that this "curse" is also their saving grace. The high temperatures of the explosion carbonized and preserved manuscripts that would normally decompose.

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In the 18th century hundreds of papyri were discovered in the library of a luxurious villa in Herculaneum – the only such library of texts from ancient Roman times ever discovered

Last year a discovery came when dr. Brent Seales and his team at the University of Kentucky used high-resolution CT scans to unravel the texts, but the carbon black ink used in the manuscripts was indecipherable from the papyrus itself.

Dr. Seales worked with tech investors to launch the Vesuvius Challenge, with a $1 million prize for anyone who could come up with a solution.

A team of three students, working not in philosophy but in technology, realized that Artificial Intelligence might be able to provide the solution.

Berlin PhD student Youssef Nader, SpaceX intern and student Luke Farritor, and Swiss robotics student Julian Schillinger built an AI model that was able to process letters using pattern recognition.

"This is the beginning of a revolution in Greek philosophy in general", added dr. Federica

This Artificial Intelligence model has so far deciphered two thousand Greek characters written in one of the four manuscripts scanned by the team of Dr. Seales – which is only 5 percent of the text.

Now the translated characters reveal the author discussing the sources of pleasure in life, referring to music and food.

In one passage Philodemus asks whether things in smaller quantities bring more pleasure "as in the case of food, we do not immediately believe that things which are few are absolutely more pleasant than those which are plentiful".

The team behind the Vesuvius challenge hope the technology can be used to read 90 percent of the four materials scanned this year, and then another 800.

Taken from the BBC. Translated by: Enis Bytyqi