Archimedes outlasts prayers


Ain’t this just too perfect? An ancient work of Archimedes where he was closing in on calculus was almost lost, because some monk scraped the ink off, chopped up the pages and used them to make a prayer book. Yeah, remember this the next time you hear clowns like D’Souza talk about how Christianity fostered science and oh what a debt we owe to those monasteries.


What’s even more interesting to me is that after someone discovered the work was under these damn prayers back in 1906, the book was lost for another 90 years and during that time, another jackass painted even more shit in the book! Man, unbelievable.

Anyway, check out the article. It’s pretty interesting. Higher math is something I haven’t touched for over 20 years, so it’s lost on me now.

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11 Responses to “Archimedes outlasts prayers”

  1. Holy crap. I can’t believe this was almost lost because of some holy crap. That is well and truly incredible. I’m a huge fan of Archimedes. He narrowly missed inclusion in my 10,000 years of man post, and only because I had enough going on in the BCE section already. What’s that, ‘revised and expanded edition’, I hear you say?

  2. Lower math has always been beyond me, let alone the higher kind. :(

    In all fairness to the monk who started the mess, paper was probably pretty scarce in his days. Still, your general point stands: there was no respect for any scholarship other than what was sanctioned by Mother Church. Who knows how many times humanity has been forced to reinvent the wheel (or, in this case, calculus) because conquerors destroyed the cultures they overpowered.

  3. Believe it or not, I did so poorly in Geometry that I had to petition hard to be allowed to take Calculus. That’s right, the guy who loves logic problems and dissecting arguments hated doing proofs. I guess I was more right brained then. I remember one argument I had with the teacher…

    You never proved these lines were parallel first.
    - But it’s obvious they are
    You have to prove that they are first.
    - They are parallel though, aren’t they?
    Yes, bu-
    - Then I was right, it was obvious, so what’s the big deal?

    Anyway, yes, I know parchment or animal skins were scarce back then and they’d reuse stuff but this story just infuriates me. Clearly priorities were way off. Of course that excuse doesn’t work for the jackass who, in the 20th century some time, decided to gold leaf a few pages.

  4. Yes, I remember seeing a story on this a while back, it’s pretty amazing that modern technology can recover the original writings of Archimedes after all this time, especially when buried under a pile of religious garbage for all these centuries.

    I will be honest though, we do owe the monk who recycled the pages a debt of gratitude, it is likely that they only exist today because he scrawled his religious vomit all over them, otherwise they may have been destroyed long ago.

  5. It’s quite an unusual thank you, isn’t it? Sort of like thanking Hitler and the Nazis for making Israel possible.

  6. It’s pretty amazing that you posted this right now. I’m currently reading “Microcosm” by Carl Zimmer. In it, he uses this story to make an analogy of how genomes were developed (via natural selection) and how we can understand them.

    By the way, this type of document (used over and over)is called a “palimpsest”.

  7. I should clarify my use of “amazing”. I found it amazing because I just read the part about Archimedes last night.

  8. I’m interested to see if they had worked out the physics of stress loads too.

  9. Anyhow, thank you for sharing that.

  10. Math and religion . . . the two classes I hated most throughout primary and secondary school. I did my considerable best to neither think or pay attention in either.

    Math is the one I got bad grades in. Religion I always aced. Thinking really isn’t required. . . .

    And math really isn’t appreciated like it should be. Not by most, not even now. Way Back When, the first idiot that wrote over those calculations probably thought it was some pagan spell, and that he was saving the poor scrap of parchment–not to mention anyone who came across it–from an eternity spent bathing in hellfire, away from god’s endless love.

  11. There was a fairly crappy movie awhile back called Clan of the Cave Bear. Something about a neanderthal tribe that raises a homo sapien baby (Daryl Hanah). Anyway, I remember a scene where the shaman shows counting with rocks and she quickly counts higher, to the shock and fear or everyone.

    I thought of that at times during this past election whenever I heard disparaging remarks about “elitists” and “intellectuals”.

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