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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Archimedes Palimpsest

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This fragment is a single folio of the <i>Archimedes Palimpsest</i>, a manuscript originally copied in the middle or later 10th century with mathematical works of the 3rd-century BCE Sicilian Greek mathematician and engineer. In the second half of the 12th or first half of the 13th century, probably in 1229, the leaves of this book were reused to produce a liturgical Euchologion (prayer book). The lower text, identified in 1906, is of exceptional importance, preserving works and portions of works of Archimedes which had otherwise been lost or survived only in translation.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Although he was one of the most important mathematical and technical thinkers of the ancient Greek world, the works of Archimedes did not become a part of the standard repertoire of classical education and were seldom copied, resulting in the slender manuscript tradition to which the palimpsest was such an important addition. The work to which the content of this folio belongs, <i>De sphaera et cylindro</i>, regarding the relative volume of a sphere and cylinder of the same height and diameter, survives in other manuscripts, but the readings in this copy allowed some amendments to the edited text. The copy is dated on the basis of its script, and its context of production is otherwise unknown.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The palimpsest was created in the usual fashion, each of the original bifolios being cut in half and rotated to form bifolios of a new Euchologion manuscript of smaller format. The upper text of this folio is part of the Liturgy of St Basil. The copying of the palimpsest can be dated by its script to the second half of the 12th or first half of the 13th century. On the verso of the first folio of the main surviving body of the manuscript is a note in a different hand, whose style suggests that it was written in the later 13th or 14th century, but giving the date 14 April 1229. Though not entirely explicit, its wording is consistent with the conventions of a colophon recording the completion of a manuscript, and gives the name of the writer as Ioannes Myronas. Since this is in a different hand from that of the main text, it cannot be the original colophon, something that would also usually appear at the end rather than the beginning of the manuscript. However, it may well be that this is a copy of the original colophon, perhaps made due to damage to the folio on which it originally appeared.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The specific liturgical content and textual affinities of the text suggest that the new text may have been copied in Jerusalem. The manuscript certainly appears to have spent some of its later history in the vicinity, as it reportedly used to contain an ownership note of the great monastery of St Sabas (Mar Saba) by the River Jordan, and later entered the possession of the Patriarchs of Jerusalem, being transferred at some point to the patriarchal library at the Metochion of the Holy Sepulchre in Constantinople.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>This leaf is one of a number of fragments purchased by the Library from the executors of Constantin von Tischendorf in 1876. It is believed that Tischendorf removed the leaf from the manuscript when he visited Constantinople in the 1840s. The remainder of the surviving portion of the Archimedes palimpsest was purchased by a US private collector in 1998. Between 1998 and 2008 the manuscript was the subject of extensive study by imaging specialists and textual scholars. The results of their work are available at <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''></a>.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr Christopher Wright</p>

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