UCL News


Archimedes Palimpsest presentation evening

5 December 2006

Professor Chris Carey (UCL Greek & Latin) is participating in a presentation evening at the British Academy entitled 'The Archimedes Palimpsest and its New Texts' on 13 December 2006.

archimedes palimpsest

A tenth century manuscript of unique importance to the history of science, the Archimedes Palimpsest is the sole source for two of Archimedes Treatises, 'The Method' and 'Stomachion', and it is the only source for the Greek text of 'On Floating Bodies'.

The Archimedes Palimpsest is a medieval parchment manuscript, containing seven treatises by Archimedes. As it exists now, the manuscript is a prayer book completed in 1229 AD. Medieval monks had cleaned the original writings from the parchment, cut it in half and written over the top. In addition, forgers have later painted over the top in an attempt to raise the value of the book.

Since its deposit in 1998 at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, the manuscript has been subject to conservation and research. Using x-ray fluorescence techniques, scientists were able to reveal the original text, now invisible to the naked eye.

Several other texts, not all so far identified, were also palimpsested in this way to make the prayer book. One of these is a commentary on the philosopher Aristotle, a project involving Professor Bob Sharples (UCL Greek & Latin). The British Academy has taken a special interest in five leaves that have the remains of two lost speeches by the fourth-century orator Hyperides.

One of them relates to a private action on behalf of three orphans against a guardian's treatment of them, and is mainly of sociological and legal interest. The other relates to the bitter political argument reflected in the speeches made in 330 BC by Aeschines (Against Ctesiphon) and Demosthenes (On the Crown), to which it adds new perspectives.

The presentation is from 6pm-7pm, followed by a drinks reception and there will be opportunities to meet members of the research team and see a display of some of the results of the project. Tickets cost £10 (£5 concessions).

Image: the Archimedes Palimpsest