“Don’t disturb my circles!”
Rome wanted control of Syracuse, Sicily for strategic purposes. Archimedes was an old man; some suggest nearing 80, when Roman ships closed in on his city in 212 B.C. Even as Syracuse was being besieged, Archimedes continued inventing all kinds of clever contraptions to keep the enemy at bay. But even his remarkable skills could not overcome the military might of Rome.
Archimedes’s legendary feats had reached the ears of the Roman commander Marcellus, who was determined that no harm should befall him. Archimedes was to be treated with the respect accorded to a man of his stature. Yet, fate had a different outcome for our noble Archimedes. The Roman officer, who discovered Archimedes busily drawing circles and making calculations in his sand tray, had not received Marcellus’s orders. When Archimedes shouted, “Please do not disturb my calculations,” the officer was in no mood to obey an old, foolish man. When Archimedes insisted on finishing his calculations, the soldier ended his life.
The death of Archimedes is a poignant reminder that whatever ideas, thoughts, calculations that remain locked in a human mind, is forever lost to the world. Unless, there is a record! In 1906, the philologist J.L. Heiberg discovered a palimpsest, also known as a scroll in which the original writing has been partially erased to be repurposed for new text. Miraculously, beneath the Greek orthodox scriptures, were hidden copies of assorted key works by Archimedes. The Arab mathematicians safeguarded his work through the Dark Ages until it could be swept into the seventeenth century scientific revolution.
But that is another story…
“Mathematics reveals its secrets only to those who approach it with pure love, for its own beauty.”