Monday, October 8, 2007

A Prayer for Archimedes

For seventy years, a prayer book moldered in the closet of a family in France, passed down from one generation to the next. Its mildewed parchment pages were stiff and contorted, tarnished by burn marks and waxy smudges. Behind the text of the prayers, faint Greek letters marched in lines up the page, with an occasional diagram disappearing into the spine.

The top layer of writing in this 700-year-old book describes Christian prayers. But underneath, almost obliterated, are the only surviving copies of many of the works of the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes.
The top layer of writing in this 700-year-old book describes Christian prayers. But underneath, almost obliterated, are the only surviving copies of many of the works of the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes.
The owner of the Archimedes Palimpsest


An intensive research effort over the last nine years has led to the decoding of much of the almost-obliterated Greek text. The results were more revolutionary than anyone had expected. The researchers have discovered that Archimedes was working out principles that, centuries later, would form the heart of calculus and that he had a more sophisticated understanding of the concept of infinity than anyone had realized...

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