Archimedes Codex – The Lost Palimpsest

In recent years I have become interested in the history of mathematics. What is interesting is that a lot of what I learned about the history of maths, usually through asides from my lecturers, is actually wrong. And often what I hear on the radio and TV makes me cringe as it is usually innaccurate.

One area I am developing expertise in is ancient Greek mathematics. (The name is misleading – most of the important maths happened outside of what we think of Greece although it was certainly influenced by Hellenistic culture.) Following my interest my favourite mathematical theorem is Archimedes Quadrature of the Parabola. Also, there are many great stories – see for example the Antikythera Mechanism. Another interesting story to emerge in recent years is that of a copy of work by Archimedes discovered written in a medieval prayer book. In the 12th century books were rare, precious and difficult to make so people would disassemble old books, scrape off the ink and write something new on the cleaned paper. This fate befell a text book on the work of Archimedes which was turned into a prayer book.

Fortunately, some of the mathematical writing was still visible and the scholar Heiberg found it in a religious establishment, publishing a translation of some of it in around 1906. The book then mysteriously disappeared, resurfacing in the 90s in an auction where it was sold for $2 million. The project to find more secrets in the book was detailed in Archimedes Codex by Reviel Netz and William Noel. (Be warned the book is told in the first person by two people so can be a bit confusing!). The following video of the first author tells the story and discusses the work of Archimedes:

Get the newsletter!

Fancy a newsletter keeping you up-to-date with maths news, articles, videos and events you might otherwise miss? Then sign up below. (No spam and I will never share your details with anyone else.)