I am ARCHIMEDES this is my home
VIDEO

I AM ARCHIMEDES

Less than two centuries after Archimedes death, Cicero would bewail the native city of Syracuse for its forgetfulness. The city which boasted a glorious past, and took great care to enhance the tomb, were unaware that centuries later it would be partially denied and condemn the city and its most brilliant citizen to the common fate of oblivion.

Filmmaker: Piero Sabatino

Just one indulgence, before you cross the threshold: abandon the anecdotes you have heard about me, and the rumors of those who after my death wanted to separate the genius from the man.

I am simply Archimedes.
The only man bound for eternity to Syracuse and all of Sicily.
I was a man like you, only far more curious and fantasying.
One that used more areas of the brain. It happens. Occasionally, over the centuries it happens.
Enter, and discover the truth.

Obviously my name, as you know, or as you should know, is closely associated with  more or less, forty great inventions or discoveries.

Here, in my home you will find many of them, and also everything about me. I share the museum dedicated to me with an Italian genius who had the goodness to study my most famous works in depth, Leonardo da Vinci, from the little moments of my earthly life, to the practical applications of my geometric and mathematical principles.

I studied and wrote on tablets similar to yours, although instead of a display I had a layer of wax. I also used sophisticated and expensive (for my time) sheets of paper made from the papyrus plant. The incredible rescues recount how some of the things I wrote were painstakingly recovered. Others have been lost forever.

However, what is left today is still enough, don’t you think?

They say I was centuries ahead.  Yes, I certainly was. But I can’t take any credit, I was born that way.

MY SYRACUSE

Urbem Syracusas maximam esse Graecarum, pulcherrimam omnium saepe audistis. Est, iudices, ita ut dicitur..” 

“You have often heard it said that Syracuse is the greatest of the Greek cities, and the most beautiful of all. Gentlemen judges, it is just as they say…”

I am very proud of my city. I can say that for centuries it was among the most important metropolises of the ancient world.

Our legend tells that it was founded by a group of Corinthians who landed here between 735 and 734 BC. They were led by Archias. A Bacchiades, no less a descendant of the hero Heracles. They settled in Ortigia and the choice was a good one, strategically due to its geographical position at the centre of the Mediterranean and therefore good for trade, but also due to its favorable nature. A safe double port. Plenty of water. Easily defensible territory. The city’s growth was rapid and tumultuous.  After Ortigia came the residential Akradina, Tyche, and Neapolis, rich in monumental buildings, and lastly Epipoli, the highest defensive area.

Certainly this development was marked by bloody wars and internal feuds, sudden reversals that led to the establishment of tyranny to the republic. However, this did not diminish the beauty of my city. Temples, theaters, squares and magnificent public buildings adorned it. The Temple of Apollo, built in the sixth century, comes to mind. Or the Temple of Athena, built in 480 BC, which over the centuries was transformed into a what we know today as the cathedral. I proudly remember the mighty walls that surrounded it, more than twenty kilometers long: the perfect stage for my war machines. I remember the Persians of Aeschylus in the newly restored theater in Neapolis, built in the time of the tragedians on the southern slopes of the Temenite hill. And the story of Arethusa, the nymph turned into a fountain of water by Artemis, so closely linked to these places that the adjective “aretuseo” is onomastic to my city. In short, when I was born, Syracuse had already been for some centuries one of the most beautiful and flourishing centers of what you call ‘classical civilization’. Even Plato the philosopher had traveled here three times between 388 and 360 BC, convinced that he could put his political ideas into practice. Deluded! He encountered not only the normal mistrust of the tyrant, Dionysius I, but the reluctance of the whole of Syracusan society. We don’t need anything, thank you! they replied. Why bother? We were enjoying unquestionable prosperity. Further even than in philosophy, my fellow citizens excelled in painting, ceramics, and  the production of fine jewelry, and even the art of fine food and wine.

The splendor of the Syracusan court, its’ riches, the desire to expand, which alas always grips ordinary mortals, more than once led it to face dangerous enemies. Carthage, a competitor for control of Sicily during the Greek-Punic wars. Athens, a rival for domination of the Mediterranean during the Peloponnese wars, badly defeated in 413 BC.

When I was born in 287 BC, King Agathocles had been dead for just two years. The city ruled over more than half of Sicily. It was undoubtedly the most important cultural center in the Mediterranean, along with Alexandria in Egypt,  the center of dense scientific, political and economic relations. In 270, a great ruler took the throne: Hieron II. I knew him well; he was my dear friend. Most all of my life and activity was during his reign. Hieron not only devoted himself to the administrative, economic and cultural reorganization of the kingdom, but also tried with all his might to protect it from the impending clash between Rome and Carthage, which threatened to involve us. It was his intuition to change horses, during the First Punic War of 264, and to ally with the Romans, abandoning the Carthaginians. A winning move, which guaranteed Syracuse a long period of prosperity and peace. I can never thank him enough. It was during this time and under these conditions that I was able to study in Alexandria with Eratosthenes and the others, to dedicate myself to science, and also to incredible projects such as the construction of the Syrakosia, the largest ship of antiquity. What splendid years they were. It seemed that Syracuse would never experience a decline.

But things turned out differently. In 216 the crown prince Gelon died; the king passed away the following year at the ripe old age of 90, and everything he had worked so hard to build fell apart in the blink of an eye. His grandson, Geronimo, took the throne, a beardless boy who had traded his grandfather’s shrewdness for ambition. A bad barter.

He broke the alliance with the Romans. He taunted the ambassadors with news of their defeat at Canne. He allied himself with Hannibal, dreaming of taking Sicily. The Roman Senate, as was expected did not take it well.  They immediately sent an army under the command of Consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus, against us. I felt we were heading for catastrophe, but I did everything I could to defend my land. The siege was long, with ups and downs, and at one point it seemed that my efforts and inventions that frightened the Roman louts could avoid defeat. However, they seized one of our ambassadors, whom we had sent to the king of Macedon, Philip, for help and arranged an exchange of prisoners, and this cunning measure allowed them to take our walls. So one night, in the year 212, taking advantage of a three day celebration for Artemis, they managed to surprise us and overtake the walls.

That was the end of the Syracuse I knew. And also me.

I am very proud of my city. I can say that for centuries it was among the most important metropolises of the ancient world.

Our legend tells that it was founded by a group of Corinthians who landed here between 735 and 734 BC. They were led by Archias. A Bacchiades, no less a descendant of the hero Heracles. They settled in Ortigia and the choice was a good one, strategically due to its geographical position at the centre of the Mediterranean and therefore good for trade, but also due to its favorable nature. A safe double port. Plenty of water. Easily defensible territory. The city’s growth was rapid and tumultuous.  After Ortigia came the residential Akradina, Tyche, and Neapolis, rich in monumental buildings, and lastly Epipoli, the highest defensive area.

Certainly this development was marked by bloody wars and internal feuds, sudden reversals that led to the establishment of tyranny to the republic. However, this did not diminish the beauty of my city. Temples, theaters, squares and magnificent public buildings adorned it. The Temple of Apollo, built in the sixth century, comes to mind. Or the Temple of Athena, built in 480 BC, which over the centuries was transformed into a what we know today as the cathedral. I proudly remember the mighty walls that surrounded it, more than twenty kilometers long: the perfect stage for my war machines. I remember the Persians of Aeschylus in the newly restored theater in Neapolis, built in the time of the tragedians on the southern slopes of the Temenite hill. And the story of Arethusa, the nymph turned into a fountain of water by Artemis, so closely linked to these places that the adjective “aretuseo” is onomastic to my city. In short, when I was born, Syracuse had already been for some centuries one of the most beautiful and flourishing centers of what you call ‘classical civilization’. Even Plato the philosopher had traveled here three times between 388 and 360 BC, convinced that he could put his political ideas into practice. Deluded! He encountered not only the normal mistrust of the tyrant, Dionysius I, but the reluctance of the whole of Syracusan society. We don’t need anything, thank you! they replied. Why bother? We were enjoying unquestionable prosperity. Further even than in philosophy, my fellow citizens excelled in painting, ceramics, and  the production of fine jewelry, and even the art of fine food and wine.

The splendor of the Syracusan court, its’ riches, the desire to expand, which alas always grips ordinary mortals, more than once led it to face dangerous enemies. Carthage, a competitor for control of Sicily during the Greek-Punic wars. Athens, a rival for domination of the Mediterranean during the Peloponnese wars, badly defeated in 413 BC.

 

When I was born in 287 BC, King Agathocles had been dead for just two years. The city ruled over more than half of Sicily. It was undoubtedly the most important cultural center in the Mediterranean, along with Alexandria in Egypt,  the center of dense scientific, political and economic relations. In 270, a great ruler took the throne: Hieron II. I knew him well; he was my dear friend. Most all of my life and activity was during his reign. Hieron not only devoted himself to the administrative, economic and cultural reorganization of the kingdom, but also tried with all his might to protect it from the impending clash between Rome and Carthage, which threatened to involve us. It was his intuition to change horses, during the First Punic War of 264, and to ally with the Romans, abandoning the Carthaginians. A winning move, which guaranteed Syracuse a long period of prosperity and peace. I can never thank him enough. It was during this time and under these conditions that I was able to study in Alexandria with Eratosthenes and the others, to dedicate myself to science, and also to incredible projects such as the construction of the Syrakosia, the largest ship of antiquity. What splendid years they were. It seemed that Syracuse would never experience a decline.

But things turned out differently. In 216 the crown prince Gelon died; the king passed away the following year at the ripe old age of 90, and everything he had worked so hard to build fell apart in the blink of an eye. His grandson, Geronimo, took the throne, a beardless boy who had traded his grandfather’s shrewdness for ambition. A bad barter.

He broke the alliance with the Romans. He taunted the ambassadors with news of their defeat at Canne. He allied himself with Hannibal, dreaming of taking Sicily. The Roman Senate, as was expected did not take it well.  They immediately sent an army under the command of Consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus, against us. I felt we were heading for catastrophe, but I did everything I could to defend my land. The siege was long, with ups and downs, and at one point it seemed that my efforts and inventions that frightened the Roman louts could avoid defeat. However, they seized one of our ambassadors, whom we had sent to the king of Macedon, Philip, for help and arranged an exchange of prisoners, and this cunning measure allowed them to take our walls. So one night, in the year 212, taking advantage of a three day celebration for Artemis, they managed to surprise us and overtake the walls.

That was the end of the Syracuse I knew. And also me.

MY LEGACY

How did my studies reach posterity? What winding roads did they follow?

The story I am about to tell you briefly involves great artists and great scientists, adventurers and swindlers, and its silhouette frequently shrouded in mystery. Follow me and you will not regret it.

With the fall of the Roman Empire, a blanket of silence fell over my life and works. With the exception of a small number of Byzantine scholars, such as the famous Mathematical Lion to whom I shall never cease to be indebted, and a few other willing Arab mathematicians come to mind, the three brothers Muhammad, Ahamad and al-Hasan (known as the Banu Musa).

So until the thirteenth century the Latin West knew relatively little of what I had been and what I had done. Even my name faded into oblivion: the sources distorted it into forms derived from Arabic, such as “Ersemides” or “Arsamithes”.

History, however,  also lives through epochal upheavals. It is to one of these that we owe the rediscovery of the undersigned in Europe: the conquest and sacking of Constantinople.

In April 1204, crusaders on their way to the Holy Land to liberate Jerusalem stopped en route to raid the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Its inhabitants considered themselves the sole repositories of classical Romanity and the city held the most important literary treasures of the ancient world, many of them from the ancient Library of Alexandria in Egypt. Among them were some of my writings.

Unlike the hundreds of thousands of volumes that were destroyed, three books containing some of my writings miraculously survived the devastation, probably stolen: what were later called, with little imagination, Codices A, B and C.

Of these three books, most likely written between the ninth and tenth centuries, apparently at the instigation of Leo the Mathematician.  The first, the so-called Codex B, was last seen in 1311 in the Pontifical Library of Viterbo. Then it was the turn of Codex A, which in 1564, before disappearing, was still preserved in Venice. It was thanks to copies of these two manuscripts and their transcription that the masters of the Renaissance, such as dear Leonardo da Vinci who is my permanent guest here, had the opportunity to study some of my work.

Ultimately, by the end of the 1360s, all my legible works were available in Latin, with the exception of the Arenario and the Metodo.

Nothing was known of the third book, the famous Codex C, known today as the   “Archimedes Palimpsest”, a manuscript with an incredible history, which I will discuss in a moment.

Returning to Codices A and B, which arrived in the West in 1269, it was the Flemish chaplain William of Moerbeke, a Dominican residing at the papal court in Viterbo, who translated them into Latin. I thank William for his painstaking work, which was of fundamental importance for the subsequent dissemination of my studies and inventions, which thus at least in part reached some of the most talented men of the Humanism and the Renaissance period, awakening a new interest in my works. Around the middle of the fifteenth century the humanist Tommaso Parentucelli, Pope Nicholas V creator of the Vatican Library, commissioned Jacopo da San Cassiano (also known as Iacobus Cremonensis) to translate Codex A before his final demise.

This copy was in turn transcribed by none other than the great Piero della Francesca, and probably also passed into the hands of Leonardo. The veil that shrouded the mythical Archimedes was definitely torn. The advent of the press did the rest. My works began to circulate throughout Europe, feeding and inspiring scientists of such caliber as Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton. Which is another story.

The Codex C : Archimedes’ Palimpsest

The famous Codex C deserves a separate chapter. Reconstructing at least part of its history is a fascinating journey through the centuries. I will start with the epilogue.

Thursday 29 October 1998: Codex C, 174 parchment folios in which some of my works are transcribed, was auctioned at Christie’s in New York. Given its poor state of preservation, I would never have thought that it could be bought for the incredible sum of $2 million dollars (plus $200,000 in auction fees) by a London book dealer acting on behalf of an anonymous  client.

However, that Codex is really precious. It is the only one to contain two texts of extraordinary value, of which I am very proud: the Method and the Stomachion.

Shortly afterwards, the mysterious buyer entrusted Codex C to the care of William Noel, head of the Antiquarian Books Section of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, offering the book to be studied on the condition that  it would sustain the costs.

Thus ended the fascinating story of the precious Palimpsest, which in its eleven centuries of life had touched three continents, and began an exciting scientific investigation that over the past 20 years has seen the cooperation of paleographers, restorers, analysts, computer scientists and physicists, philologists and historians of mathematics.

You can not enjoy history, however, if you do not know what a palimpsest is and how it is made. From the Latin palimpsestus, a word borrowed from the Greek παλίμψηστος meaning “scraped again”. In the Middle Ages, given the enormous cost of parchment, which at that time was a privileged writing medium, it was quite common practice to reuse written sheets, eliminating the original text no longer considered of interest by washing and scraping it, and then replacing it with another arranged in the same direction (usually in the inter-lineations of the first), or transversal to the first.

Codex C had also undergone this treatment. The amanuensis monk Johannes Myronasche in 1229 had – I feel sick just thinking about it – erased my text and replaced it with transcriptions of prayers and exorcisms.

At this point it is useful to rewind the tape further and follow the traces of Codex C from its disappearance in 1204 to its discovery, from Constantinople to Baltimore, where it arrived after a thousand vicissitudes.

Like A and B, it was miraculously saved from the sacking of the Byzantine capital as I have mentioned. From here the manuscript was taken to Jerusalem and mercilessly transformed into a prayer book. From there it later arrived at the monastery of St Sheba in the Judean desert, where it remained for an unknown length of time.

In 1846 the Codex mysteriously reappeared in the Library of the Holy Sepulchre in Constantinople: the Metochion. In that year the philologist Konstantin von Tischendorf found it and recognised it as a Greek mathematical work. However, he did not understand that it was me. He simply removed a sheet of paper and took it with him to Cambridge, where it remains today. It was Professor Heiberg in Copenhagen who discovered its precious contents. In 1906 he managed to identify the Doric dialect I spoke in the eroded and overwritten text of the palimpsest.

But the vicissitudes of Codex C were not yet over.  From Asia Minor we move on to Europe. Due to the turmoil in Turkey at the end of the First World War, many manuscripts were transferred from the Metochion in Constantinople to the National Library in Athens. Codex C never reached the Greek capital. It disappeared, possibly stolen and sold, only to reappear in the 1930s in Paris, in the hands of the famous Jewish antiquarian, Samuel Guerson, who had bought it from the Armenian Dikran Kelekian, one of the most famous art dealers of the 20th century. When the Nazis entered Paris in 1940, Guerson found himself in difficulty and tried to flee. His possessions had already been seized and only the Palimpsest remained. He suggested to his friend Marie Louis Sirieix that he should buy it. In order to convince him of the value of the manuscript, he made some false miniatures of holy images. Sirieix bought the book and Guerson managed to escape. In all likelihood the manuscript remained hidden in a damp cellar for decades until Anne Sirieix, Marie Louis’ daughter, tried to have it restored, causing further damage. This brings us to your time, and to the New York auction.

I AND LEONARDO

We who see the infinite web of things, the regularities and associations that escape others, who unveil them in complicated languages, who use them and turn them into tools to tame nature, people call us geniuses. These rare gifts, for which we can thank the gods, are a property that transcends spatial and temporal boundaries, creating a dense network of relationships, links and connections between people who lived in very distant times and places.

This kinship is definitely, what binds me to Leonardo da Vinci, spanning no less than 17 centuries. Leonardo gave me his deepest admiration, and I had the honor of inspiring many of his creations and studies.

What connects us? Both of us similarly embodied, the aspiration for knowledge of the real world through reasoning and experience. Mankind recognized that  our insatiable and creative curiosity expressed something universal: the deep desire to push our own limits through observation and experimentation.

The imagination of posterity has been greatly impressed by my exploits, all those legends of me, a sage person, who astounded his fellow citizens and opponents with a kind of science spectacle.

This would not have been enough for Leonardo. His fascination must have been the conformity between science and technology, between theory and its practical applications, which I had demonstrated by combining the science of a pure mathematician with the profession of mechanic and inventor of prodigious machines. The continuous and multiple references to me in Leonardo’s writings, drawings and studies give the idea of a pupil studying the master’s texts in the hopes, not always fulfilled, of grasping his master’s secrets and reproducing them. This must be why Leonardo was trying to be rid   of the label of ‘craftsman’ that he received from his training in Verrocchio’s workshop. Instead, he wanted to be recognized as a scientist. Inspiration from classical models gave cultural prestige to his enterprise, just as in the art world the models of the past had become the archetypal reference. Beginning with Humanism, and through the Renaissance, there had been a powerful revival of interest in the science of my time, the Hellenistic period (4th-1st centuries B.C.).

Like some before him, and many more after him, Leonardo wished to reclaim knowledge already present in ancient scientific texts transcribed and translated from Greek, which in those very years began to circulate copiously in Italy. Maybe, just maybe (and Lucio Russo agrees ) the Renaissance “intellectuals” were not able to fully understand our science. They were more interested in the practical and concrete achievements of their illustrious predecessors (perspective, pneumatic machines, hydraulics, anatomy, war machines). My environment was actually full of advanced and highly refined scientists. Alexandria was the driving force, where all disciplines met at the highest level. Something like your MIT, an MIT ad litteram. Just think of my friend Eratosthenes, the first mathematician who managed to provide an extraordinarily precise measurement of the Earth’s meridian. Euclid and his axiomatic method that constructed all geometry. Aristarchus of Samos, inventor of heliocentric astronomy. Hipparchus, the forerunner of trigonometry. We were all protagonists of a scientific revolution so rich that Renaissance men interested in science appeared to be somewhat confused apprentices, even if they were sharp and full of good intentions.

This museum is my home where Leonardo is my favorite guest; it is the best place to delve into our bond. Which is a great way to get to know us both better.

 


Text freely adapted from Leonardo e Archimede, Encounter of Geniuses by Gastone Saletnich

Credits

Graphic Design
Elio Di Franco

Web Design
Isabella Mancioli

Collection
Niccolai TeknoArt

Exhibition Design
Teatro Stabile of Catania

Scientific Committee
Archimedes and Leonardo Museum – Syracuse

il Museo
Archimede e Leonardo

il Museo
Mobile

il Museo
per bambini