An expedition leader said Friday that archaeologists in Egypt have dug up what may prove to be the earliest complete versions of three classical Greek texts, at least one of them by Aristotle.
Professor Anthony J. Mills said his Canadian team found two books dating from the late third century A.D., one literary and one containing farm accounts, excavating the remains of the post-Hellenic town of Isment in central Egypt.The literary manuscript contains a treatise on politics, apparently by the philosopher Aristotle; an essay on kingship by Isocrates, his 4th-century B.C. contemporary; and an unidentified text that could be one of Aristotle's lost works, Mills said.
The earliest complete texts of writings by Aristotle and Isocrates that survive in museums today date from the 10th century, a British expert said. The new discoveries could bring scholars more than six centuries closer to the lost originals.
The original works of classical Greek scholars have vanished. What survives are usually separated from the authors' lifetimes by hundreds of years of copying and recopying by scribes.
The books, measuring 4-by-10 inches, each has eight or nine wooden pages one-eighth of an inch thick, said Mills, 51, an Egyptologist affiliated with the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
Mills, leader of a 25-member museum expedition that travels to the Dakhla Oasis every winter, said the books were found in mid-January.
They are written in ancient Greek with a split-reed pen, bound on one side and held together with the original strings, he said in a telephone interview from his home in Bodmin, southwest England.
"The books are in excellent condition, the wood is good and hard and the writing is very clear," he said.
"The one with literary text is written in a very clear, very small and very precise hand. I would guess there would be 60 lines on each page, and writing on both sides of the page."