"700 years ago, a monk needed parchment for a new prayer book. He pulled the copy of Archimedes' book off the shelf, cut the pages in half, rotated them 90 degrees, and scraped the surface to remove the ink, creating a palimpsest—fresh writing material made by clearing away older text. Then he wrote his prayers on the nearly-clean pages." - A Prayer for Archimedes
News up on the Archimedes Palimpsest, now being exhibited at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. [website] [previously]
In the 13th century, thrifty monastic scribes erased an old Archimedes manuscript they had lying around and reused it. Thankfully, they didn't do a very thorough job. Ten years ago today, an anonymous American collector purchased the Archimedes Palimpsest, and has since funded the project to conserve, image, and study the manuscript, which contains several otherwise unknown works. Today, the Archimedes Palimpsest Project has released all its data and images under a Creative Commons license.
"That's why so many insights happen during warm showers."[pdf/html]
print-only print-mostly article in last week's New Yorker magazine fascinatingly describes the neurological processes behind human insight, with nods to Henri Poincaré's omnibus eureka ("Having reached Coutances, we entered an omnibus to go some place or other. At the moment when I put my foot on the step the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it") and Archimedes' bathtub eureka* ("Eureka!")
We've talked about the Archimedes death ray, but it is not the only mysterious ancient war machine the Greek scientist constructed. A contemporary Greek historian describes a wide number of clever devices developed by Archimedes during the siege of Syracuse by Roman forces - most notably a mysterious "Claw" that destroyed invading ships. You can see animations and scale models that attempt to reconstruct the Claw. Other, less-warlike, Archimedes secrets are being revealed as the Archimedes Palimpset, an overwritten text of some of the scientist's mathematical writings, has been gradually recovered using new techniques. Among the suprises is the Stomachion, a mathematical puzzle (tangrams, anyone?) and early discussion of combanitorics.
De Architectura, known also as The Ten Books of Architecture, is an exposition on architecture by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. Originally in Latin, here it is translated into English.
Cicero, writing in the first century BC, mentions an instrument “recently constructed by our friend Poseidonius, which at each revolution reproduces the same motions of the sun, the moon and the five planets.” Archimedes is also said to have made a small planetarium, and two such devices were said to have been rescued from Syracuse when it fell in 212BC. This reconstruction suggests such references can now be taken literally.
The Independent has a report that excavations at Herculaneum has brought forth some 850 papyri and "Among the works, which academics hope to read using the new equipment, are the lost works of Aristotle (his 30 dialogues, referred to by other authors, but lost in antiquity), scientific works by Archimedes, mathematical treatises by Euclid, philosophical work by Epicurus, masterpieces by the Greek poets Simonides and Alcaeus, erotic poems by Philodemus, lesbian erotic poetry by Sappho, the lost sections of Virgil's Juvenilia, comedies by Terence, tragedies by Seneca and works by the Roman poets Ennius, Accius, Catullus, Gallus, Macer and Varus."