In 1969 the International Center for the study of the Herculaneum Papyri (CISPE) was founded in Naples by Marcello Gigante (after whom the center was posthumously named) to promote the reopening of excavations at the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum and to advance renewed study of the Herculaneum papyri. These texts, currently preserved in the Officina dei Papiri Ercolanesi within the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III in Naples, have been the care of both institutions, which have profitably collaborated from the very beginning.
The papyri, discovered at Herculaneum in the mid-eighteenth century in a villa most probably linked to the influential Roman family of the Pisones, form a unique literary patrimony and preserve texts of Hellenistic philosophy, primarily Epicurean but also Stoic. Since these were the first ancient papyri to be uncovered, their initial appearance prompted considerable interest and study. Under Bourbon rule decipherment of the papyri was conducted at the Accademia Ercolanese established in 1755 by Carlo di Borbone. Although study of the papyri continued throughout the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries thanks to the interest of modern European philology, and especially German scholars, general interest in the texts waned. Over the course of the 20th century, however, new techniques for reading the papyri had been developed and our understanding of Hellenistic philosophy had been considerably advanced. Thus it was particularly necessary to reinvigorate the study of the Herculaneum papyri.
By granting annual fellowships to both Italian and international scholars, encouraging the publication of new research and publicizing the significance of the papyrological collection, CISPE seeks to share this heritage and make it accessible as an important window on the Classical world, the ancestor of Western civilization.
In 1972, CISPE initiated the reprinting of La Villa ercolanese dei Pisoni. I suoi monumenti e la sua biblioteca, the still basic study of the Villa of the Papyri by D. Comparetti and G. De Petra. In 1971 M. Gigante established the journal Cronache Ercolanesi, published by Macchiaroli and, since 2013, from the Centro Internazionale per lo Studio dei Papiri Ercolanesi ‘M. Gigante’. This journal (ANVUR Fascia A) welcomes critical editions and articles on themes relevant to the Herculaneum collection; fifty volumes and six supplements have been published sofar; each volume also include articles on archaeological topics. Since 1978, CISPE has collaborated with the Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici and produced 19 volumes (and 4 supplements) in the series La Scuola di Epicuro. Collection of Herculaneum papyri founded by M. Gigante and published by Bibliopolis (Francesco del Franco and heirs). This series produces critical editions of the main works in the Herculaneum collection with facing translation in a modern language, sophisticated formatting and exhaustive commentary which provide a novel and comprehensive approach to all aspects of Epicurean philosophy.
In 1988, an updated bibliography on Herculanem, Herculaneum. A Guide to Printed Sources was published by I. C. Mc Ilwaine as a companion volume to the Catalogo dei papiri ercolanesi, first published in 1979, updated in 1989 and 2000, and most recently (2005) incorporated into to the Catalogo multimediale dei papiri ercolanesi, Chartes, edited by G. Del Mastro. These works provide a point of departure for anyone wishing to approach the study of Herculaneum, for each subset of the field is amply provided with necessary technical data and a full bibliography.
Although associated with the Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli from the beginning, by formal agreement CISPE collaborates with the Department of Humanities, at the University of Naples Federico II and maintains a close relationship with the Parco Archeologico di Ercolano. Indeed, the director of the Biblioteca Nazionale, the chairman of the Department of Humanities at the Federico II and the Director of the Parco Archeologico are all active members of CISPE. Over the past years, CISPE has initiated collaboration with the Philodemus Translation Project, run by Prof. D. Blank of the University of California, Los Angeles and Prof. R. Janko of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. This project aims to translate into English the works of Philodemus (De Poesia, De Rhetorica and De Musica) in order to further the diffusion of Herculaneum texts in English speaking countries. This collaboration has been extended to Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah), to the Friends of Herculaneum Society, to the Telephe Research Group, to the Universities of Pisa, Würzburg, Cologne, to the ERC Project Platinum.
Thus Naples has hosted four international conferences: the 17th Congresso di Papirologia in 1983, the Congresso sull’Epicureismo greco e romano in 1993, the Giornata Internazionale dedicata alla Villa dei Papiri (25th June 1997), and the Colloquio Internazionale “I Papiri Ercolanesi e la storia della filosofia antica” in 2002; the International Congress ‘Vedere l’invisibile: il XXXIV libro Sulla natura di Epicuro (PHerc. 1431) (28th february-1st march 2019), on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Centro; in September 2017, the Summer School in Herculaneum Papyrology ‘Graziano Arrighetti’ was inaugurated.