Summer 2012 • Vol. XXXIV No. 3 NonfictionJuly 1, 2012 |

Fragments (Somewhat Charred)

These aphorismic fragments have turned up on one of the charred scrolls recently unearthed in what is thought to have been a private library in a villa in Herculaneum. Linguistic evidence and the tenor of argument point to the late second century BC. Some scholars have put forward the name of Epicharnus of Agra. But virtually nothing is known of this moralist and rhetorician (if that is what he was). At several points, moreover, the condition of the papyrus makes decipherment conjectural. 1. When lightning speaks it says darkness. Numerous mythologies and cosmologies attach semantic values to lightning. Lightning bolts signal. They herald and give notice of impending storms. Their jagged but graphic forms solicit interpretation. They are a mute calligraphy, sometimes suggestive of Islamic lettering. They are a shorthand at once blindingly clear and enigmatically silent (even the fiercest flash is noiseless). Lightning seems most menacing when not followed by thunder. Hea

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George Steiner is a fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

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A New Literacy

By George Steiner

These aphorismic fragments have turned up on one of the charred scrolls recently unearthed in what is thought to have been a private library in a villa in Herculaneum. Linguistic […]

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