Lecture: Ancient Writings on Mathematics (Listen and Read)

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Lecture: Ancient Writings on Mathematics
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In the beginning, all scripts were hand-made.
I'm referring to Europe during the Middle Ages.
Certainly not the beginning of all things, but it's where we're starting today.
Books, scrolls, notes, letters to the king,
they were all penned by hand, usually on parchment with a quill and ink.
Parchment is an animal skin that had been stretched thin and dried under tension.
This treatment of a hide will make it very thin, flexible, and easy to write on and transport.
During the 1400's, papers became the more commonly used material for books in Europe,
but before that, it was parchment.
Parchment is durable, unlike paper, and could be reused.
Reusability was nice because writing supplies were in short supply and were quite valuable.
It was fairly common for religious leaders to be the ones who produced written work.
To be able to read, let alone write, one had to either be born high-class,
a merchant, involved in your local religion or both very lucky and very hard-working.
Anyway, scribes could re-use parchment by rubbing away the ink from parchment previously used for less important manuscripts.
Using the parchment again was called Palimpsest.
The original text on a Palimpsest could sometimes be recovered.
There were two ways to remove the ink to reuse parchment.
The first is to simply scrape away the ink with something abrasive.
This removes a layer or two of parchment as well,
and it completely wiped out any writing that could have been on them.
However, before that method became widespread,
the original ink was normally washed away in a bath of milk.
This technique removed the letters, but over time they might reappear.
Actually, it might reappear with such clarity
that scholars would be able to make out and translate the original text
from where it laid under the new text.
One of the most notorious examples is the Archimedes' palimpsest.
Archimedes is a fairly well-known name at this point.
He is heralded by many as one of the greatest Mathematicians who ever lived.
Unfortunately, he lived in Greece around 200 B.C.E.
and many of his scholarly works have been lost,
most devastatingly, his keystone work called “The Method”.
In 1998, just 17 years ago,
a book of prayers from that time period was sold for millions of dollars -
far more than one would normally pay for a damaged, 12th century book at an art auction.
Sure, it may have been beautifully penned, but why so costly?
Well, it had been discovered that the book was a palimpsest,
and under the prayers on the surface was a manually penned script
of Mathematical theorems and diagrams from Archimedes himself.
His writings were originally on papyrus,
which is a form of paper made from woven and processed river reeds.
Around the 10th century, a scribe must have made a copy on parchment of some of his texts and diagrams.
Their logs included what had long been lost to time, the entirety of “The Method”.
In the 12th century, about 200 years later,
the animal-skin log of Archimedes' most important work was cleaned with milk and used again to write down prayers.
The page, the parchment itself was preserved well enough for the original ink to reappear after hundreds of years.
It wasn't until 1906 that the prayer book was found by a scholar
who could realize it was a palimpsest.
Upon further analysis, that resurfaced layer of text could only be “The Method”.
The greatest mathematician's finest work had finally been discovered after nearly 6 centuries, for the first time.
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