Dr. Gregory Heyworth, In the Footsteps of Petrarch: Recovering Lost Classics from the World’s Oldest Libraries

RPS Presentation, April 12, 2023–  Gregory Heyworth- In the Footsteps of Petrarch: Recovering Lost Classics from the World’s Oldest Libraries.

Gregory Heyworth is an associate professor of English, History and Computer Science at the University of Rochester. He holds BAs from Columbia and Cambridge in English, and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Princeton. He is the author of a monograph, Desiring Bodies (2009), which named an outstanding academic title of 2010 by Choice magazine, and the scholarly edition of Les Eschez d’Amours (vol 1, 2014; vol. 2 2023). Trained as a medievalist, he is an expert in everything dealing with old books – languages, old handwriting, book history, illuminations, manuscript making – and above all in finding and editing books no one has read in centuries. In 2010, he founded the Lazarus Project as an initiative to recover damaged cultural heritage objects using spectral imaging around the world, having built the first, transportable, multispectral imaging laboratory. Under Gregory’s direction, the Lazarus Project has recovered damaged manuscripts, maps, globes and paintings using multispectral imaging (MSI) and other technologies in 13 countries from Azerbaijan to Mexico. He and his team have recovered such renowned works as the Black Book of Carmarthen, the 1491 Martellus Map, the Vercelli Book, the Bronze-Age cave paintings of Laja Alta, the Gaius palimpsest of Roman Law, and pre-Columbian Mixtec manuscripts of Oaxaca.

Amusing anecdotes:
* He can be seen in two recent documentaries on National Geographic and the History Channel dealing with the search for the lost city of Atlantis. He is disappointed not to have been cast in the recent film Aquaman (King of Atlantis).

* While working in the Vatican Library, he smelled smoke in the wall of the large room in which he was imaging. He located a smoldering electrical short and called the Vatican firemen. After they left, the head curator thanked the Lazarus team for preventing a fire in the library. “But don’t tell anyone,” she said. “The headline would read, ‘vigilant Italian firefighters prevent Americans from burning down Vatican.”

* Once, when traveling back from Italy with his equipment, some of which is kept in a golf bag, a check-in agent asked him to pay extra for oversized bags. Arguing that “Golf bags go for free” he got the agent to waive the 150 euro surcharge. Just as he was about to go through security, he hears someone yelling “stop.” It’s the agent.

“You lied to me. There’s camera equipment in that bag.”

“I never lied. I said it was a golf bag, and it is.”

“In order for it to be free, it needs to be for golf.”

“Are you saying that if it had any golf equipment in it, it would qualify?


“So, a golf ball?”


“Golf gloves”


“Then I submit to you, no one can play golf without a golf bag. The bag is its own equipment.”

“You’re not going through unless you pay me 150 euros.”

Since then, Gregory always travels with a bright green plastic toy putter.