TECHNOFILE 4

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The Independent Culture
"Television? No good will come of this new device. The word is half Greek and half Latin," declared C P Scott in the Manchester Guardian. Reassuringly, though, the Greeks themselves are eager to renew their heritage by translating it into binary code.

They take their lead right from the top. It was former president Constantine Karamanlis who originally instigated a project to complete the electronic database of the Greek language. The core of it is the Thesaurus Graecae Linguae, first published in Geneva in 1572, and now issued on CD-ROM, the fruit of 25 years of labour at the Irvine branch of the University of California. Extending it to the last 1,500 years' worth of Greek literature remains a presidential undertaking.

Like Perseus, the American database on Ancient Greece which I wrote about a few weeks ago, the Thesaurus is an archive. It therefore disposes towards the study of classics as history. But as Dr Theodore Scaltsas points out, classical Greek philosophy has thrived over 2,000 years because it has remained productive. Scaltsas's mission is to use computer technology to foster the study of Platonic or Aristotelian thought as philosophy, rather than heritage.

The name of the project is Archelogos; Dr Scaltsas runs it from Edinburgh University, in the Athens of the North. Its other leg is in the southern Athens, however, and Dr Scaltsas affirms that it is of paramount importance to him for Archelogos to be a Greek project. Speaking at the Hellenic Institute in London recently, he hoped that his project might instigate a new phase of classical study, pointing out that its methods can be applied not just to Plato and Aristotle, but to the whole history of philosophy. The national implications can be glimpsed on the Archelogos homepage (www.archelogos.phil.ed.ac.uk), which flies the flags of both Greece and Cyprus.

Archelogos is designed to present philosophical texts and interpretations of them so as to reveal the logical structures of the arguments and the relationships between different readings. It will draw not just upon the 40-odd scholars who are supplying specially commissioned exegeses, but on Edinburgh University's considerable expertise in artificial intelligence. Dr Scaltsas hopes that the technology will generate new arguments, by registering groupings and interconnections between texts in the database. Perhaps that's what hypertext needs in order to develop its potential: insight into itself.

Launched in 1990, Archelogos is aiming for the millennium, but hopes to publish a spin-off product in a year's time. LogAnalysis, a program aimed for colleges and schools, is based on Plato's dialogue Protagoras. It is essentially a costume version of Archelogos, whose analytical tools have been coated in lashings of multimedia syrup. There is a soundtrack based on what Ancient Greek music is thought to have sounded like, and animated philosophers (which reminded me of illustrated Bible stories for children).

The funding for LogAnalysis comes from the Secretariat of New Generation of Greece, which will supply the CD-ROM version to schools and colleges free of charge. One of the aims of LogAnalysis is to encourage young Greeks to read Ancient Greek, a compulsory subject in high school, and to learn how to use it. Dr Scaltsas also envisages placing the database on the Web. Protagoras discusses issues such as the justification of central political control, he notes, conjuring a vision of European youth engaged in Platonic online debates about the civics of the new Europe.

Marek.kohn@mcr1.poptel.org.uk

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