At a Christie's auction in October 1998, a battered medieval manuscript sold for two million dollars to an anonymous bidder, who then turned it over to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore for further study. The manuscript was a palimpsest-a book made from an earlier codex whose script had been scraped off and the pages used again. Behind the script of the thirteenth-century monk's prayer book, the palimpsest revealed the faint writing of a much older, tenth-century manuscript. Part archaeological detective story, part science, and part history, The Archimedes Codex tells the extraordinary story of this lost manuscript, from its tenth-century creation in Constantinople to the auction block at Christie's, and how a team of scholars used the latest imaging technology to reveal and decipher the original text. What they found was the earliest surviving manuscript by Archimedes (287 b.c.-212 b.c.), the greatest mathematician of antiquity-a manuscript that revealed, for the first time, the full range of his mathematical genius, which was two thousand years ahead of modern science.
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Reviel Netz, Professor of Classics and Philosophy at Stanford University, specializes in ancient science. William Noel is Curator of Manuscripts at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, and Director of the Archimedes Palimpsest Project.From Publishers Weekly:
In 1998, the auction house Christie's sold a medieval prayer book for more than $2 million. The price owed to a startling discovery: the prayers had been written over the earliest surviving manuscript of Archimedes (287–212 B.C.), the ancient world's greatest mathematician. In a delightful and fast-paced archeological and scientific detective story, Netz, a Stanford classicist, and Noel, director of the Archimedes Palimpsest Project, make palpable the excitement this discovery evoked. After the auction, they were given access to study the palimpsest; after frustrating days of trying to read the writings beneath the prayer manuscript, Netz, Noel and a team of scientists and conservators turned to a variety of imaging techniques to reconstruct the hidden Archimedes manuscript, which turned out to be heretofore undiscovered works, Balancing Planes, On Floating Bodies, The Method of Mechanical Theorems and the Stomachion, in which Archimedes wrote about topics ranging from gravity to infinity. The manuscript also revealed some lost speeches by Hyperides, one of the 10 canonical orators of antiquity. Netz and Noel's book chronicles the often difficult and demanding work surrounding the preservation of antiquities as they uncover one of the most exciting documents of ancient history. 16 pages of color photos. (Sept.)
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