The Archimedes Codex : Revealing the Secrets of the World's Greatest Palimpsest, Paperback Book

The Archimedes Codex : Revealing the Secrets of the World's Greatest Palimpsest Paperback

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The story of the amazing discovery of Archimedes' lost worksDrawings and writings by Archimedes, previously thought to have been destroyed, have been uncovered beneath the pages of a 13th-century monk's prayer book.

These hidden texts, slowly being retrieved and deciphered by scientists, show that Archimedes' thinking (2,200 years ago) was even ahead of Isaac Newton in the 17th century.Archimedes discovered the value of Pi, he developed the theory of specific gravity and made steps towards the development of calculus.

Everything we know about him comes from three manuscripts, two of which have disappeared.

The third, currently in the Walters Art Museum, is a palimpsest - the text has been scraped off, the book taken apart and its parchment re-used, in this case as a prayer book.

William Noel, the project director, and Reviel Netz, a historian of ancient mathematics, tell the enthralling story of the survival of that prayer book from 1229 to the present, and examine the process of recovering the invaluable text underneath as well as investigating into why that text is so important.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 320 pages, 1 Maps
  • Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: History: specific events & topics
  • ISBN: 9780753823729

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It is rare that “lost” writings of ancient scientists and philosophers are discovered today. But this is exactly what happened in 1998 when a medieval prayer book was offered for sale. It was a codex (a manuscript book) with several missing pages and several forged pictures, but the parchment reused by the medieval scribe contained texts from Archimedes and other ancient scholars. It became clear that this was a manuscript that went missing in the mid 20th century but had been studied earlier in the century by the noted Archimedes scholar Heiberg.This sets the stage for the book, the joint efforts of Reviel Netz, a scholar of ancient science, and William Noel, curator of the Walters Art Museum. They traded chapters with Dr. Netz writing about the Archimedes and his math and science and Dr. Noel writing about the book and its challenges, the building of the team to read the underlying palimpsest (and in the case of the forgeries, the prayer book text), and discovering the other lost writings including some pages of Hyperides, a Greek orator.The science and math was challenging to understand, especially the math notation. Once I could equate the notation of Archimedes with one that I knew and understood, the reading became much easier. The science of imaging was one of the most interesting sections of Dr. Noel’s presentation. The images were clearly presented in the text with 16 pages of color plates and numerous black and white images. The authors also provided a website for the Archimedes project that contains images as well text and video. The bibliography is extensive and includes much supplemental reading.For anyone interested in manuscripts, codices, palimpsests, math and the beginning of modern science, this book is a great introduction.