Mystery in Centuries-Old Copy of Odyssey Solved

Italian computer engineer claims $1K prize

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted May 6, 2014 7:03 AM CDT

(Newser) – An Italian computer engineer has produced fresh insight into Homer's The Odyssey—or, more specifically, one long-intriguing copy of it. In 2007, the University of Chicago Library was given a copy of the book dating to 1504. But alongside about 20 of the pages making up Book 11 were handwritten lines in French and some kind of script. All that was known about the "mystery marginalia" was that it was likely penned in the mid-19th century, reports Phys.org, and in hopes of unlocking its secrets, MC Lang, the collector who donated the book, put up a $1,000 prize to the person who could translate it. The honor has now officially gone to Daniele Metilli, a student of digital humanities who teamed up with Giula Accetta, a colleague with knowledge of both the French language and contemporary Italian stenography, NBC News reports.

Using the French words and a date written in the margins—April 25, 1854—as a starting point in terms of which stenographic systems to review, they ultimately unmasked the script as a system of shorthand created by Jean Coulon de Thévénot in the late 1700s. But the translated copy ended up being somewhat pedestrian: largely French translations of portions of the Greek text. But there's one mystery left, Metilli wrote on his website. "We still know next to nothing about the annotator. There are no personal references in the annotations, and in the few instances in which the author uses the first person it is only to explain why he or she committed a translation mistake." The two are now trying to suss out the author's identity, and figure out why the writing appears only in one portion of the text. The library notes that two runners-up arrived at the same correct conclusion. (Another annotated mystery: Does a musical score reveal the location of Nazi treasure?)

Portion of the mystery text.
Portion of the mystery text.   (University of Chicago Library)
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