Plato & Aristotle writings

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    Dr. Jewell,

    I’m curious about how Aristotle and Plato actually wrote. In other words, what was the nature of the materials they used? Were they using papyrus, parchment, paper, or something else that started with the letter “P”? Were copies made to be dispersed among students or anyone else? Do we know how the writings were preserved, so that they could be read through the ages? I imagine entire courses dwell on this topic alone.


    “Almost every ‘book’ in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome (spanning a period of more than 3500 years) is a papyrus scroll.”

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    Jason Jewell

    I’ll add to what Dr. Woods posted that virtually no original manuscripts from the classical world have survived. The earliest extant copies we have in most cases were produced by Christian monks in the early part of the Middle Ages.

    Jason Jewell

    And yes, Ray, there are entire degree programs at some universities in the “History of the Book.” Concerning transmission, the educated elites passed manuscripts among themselves and copies were made of texts in demand. Some cities had depositories of manuscripts, the Library of Alexandria of course being the most famous.


    A slight (and very hopeful) addition to what Dr. J says: while we don’t presently have access to original manuscripts from the classical world, that’s not to say there’s no hope. As I understand it, Julius Caesar’s father-in-law’s villa has yielded abundant ancient manuscripts, and there’s reason to believe many unknown works remain to be unearthed there. As the vast majority of works by all three of the great Greek tragedians, all but one of Aristotle’s collected constitutions, most of the writings of Aristophanes, most of the Athenian orators’ oratory, some of Plato’s dialogues, etc., are now unknown, perhaps great wonders await.

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