We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Archimedes and the Roman Imagination

Mary Jaeger

Publication Year: 2008

The great mathematician Archimedes, a Sicilian Greek whose machines defended Syracuse against the Romans during the Second Punic War, was killed by a Roman after the city fell, yet it is largely Roman sources, and Greek texts aimed at Roman audiences, that preserve the stories about him. Archimedes' story, Mary Jaeger argues, thus becomes a locus where writers explore the intersection of Greek and Roman culture, and as such it plays an important role in Roman self-definition. Jaeger uses the biography of Archimedes as a hermeneutic tool, providing insight into the construction of the traditional historical narrative about the Roman conquest of the Greek world and the Greek cultural invasion of Rome. By breaking down the narrative of Archimedes' life and examining how the various anecdotes that comprise it are embedded in their contexts, the book offers fresh readings of passages from both well-known and less-studied authors, including Polybius, Cicero, Livy, Vitruvius, Plutarch, Silius Italicus, Valerius Maximus, Johannes Tzetzes, and Petrarch. "Jaeger, in her meticulous and elegant study of different ancient accounts of his life and inventions...reveal more about how the Romans thought about their conquest of the Greek world than about 'science'." ---Helen King, Times Literary Supplement "An absolutely wonderful book on a truly original and important topic. As Jaeger explores neglected texts that together tell an important story about the Romans' views of empire and their relationship to Greek cultural accomplishments, so she has written an important new chapter in the history of science. A genuine pleasure to read, from first page to last." ---Andrew Feldherr, Associate Professor of Classics, Princeton University "This elegantly written and convincingly argued project analyzes Archimedes as a vehicle for reception of the Classics, as a figure for loss and recovery of cultural memory, and as a metaphorical representation of the development of Roman identity. Jaeger's fastening on the still relatively obscure figure of the greatest ancient mathematician as a way of understanding cultural liminality in the ancient world is nothing short of a stroke of genius." ---Christina S. Kraus, Professor and Chair of Classics, Yale University "Archimedes and the Roman Imagination forms a useful addition to our understanding of Roman culture as well as of the reception of science in antiquity. It will make a genuine contribution to the discipline, not only in terms of its original interpretative claims but also as a fascinating example of how we may follow the cultural reception of historical figures." ---Reviel Netz, Professor of Classics, Stanford University Cover art: Benjamin West. Cicero Discovering the Tomb of Archimedes. Yale University Art Gallery. John Hill Morgan, B.A. 1893, LL.B. 1898, M.A. (Hon.) 1929, Fund.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (49.1 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (57.3 KB)

read more

Preface and Acknowledgments

pdf iconDownload PDF (77.6 KB)
pp. vii-ix

This project rises from two sources. The first is a long-standing interest in teasing out what ancient literary descriptions of monuments tell us about the authors who describe them, figures whom I anachronistically imagine standing in front of each of these monuments and waving...


pdf iconDownload PDF (50.4 KB)
pp. xiii

read more

Introduction: The "Life of Archimedes"

pdf iconDownload PDF (145.5 KB)
pp. 1-14

In the first chapter of his dissertation on Archimedes, published in 1879 as Quaestiones Archimedeae, Danish scholar Johan Ludvig Heiberg methodically sets forth a narrative biography of the great mathematician.1 The information about the lives of all the ancient...

Part One

read more

1. The "Eureka" Story

pdf iconDownload PDF (184.2 KB)
pp. 17-31

During most of Archimedes' life, Syracuse was ruled by Hieron II, who had come to power through a military coup and thus reigned as a tyrant—a usurping monarch—for some years before being proclaimed king. The story of Archimedes' helping Hieron solve a problem...

read more

2. Cicero at Archimedes' Tomb

pdf iconDownload PDF (151.5 KB)
pp. 32-47

A painting by Benjamin West, in the Yale University Art Gallery, shows a group of figures in classical dress in a Mediterranean setting. Smoke rises from a volcano in the background. Almost all the adult men are bearded, by which West conveys that they are Greek; one is rather portly. ...

read more

3. Why Two Spheres?

pdf iconDownload PDF (204.7 KB)
pp. 48-68

Cicero's account of finding Archimedes' tomb transforms the grave marker into a symbol of knowledge neglected and lost by its original owners, while the digression itself acts as an extended metaphor for the recovery and appropriation of that knowledge by a worthier heir. ...

read more

Coda to Part One. The Afterlife of the Spheres from the De republica

pdf iconDownload PDF (82.8 KB)
pp. 69-72

To see even more clearly how Archimedes' two spheres together form a figure for the transmission of knowledge, we can examine the discussion of a sphere that appears in a work from late antiquity, the Matheseos libri VIII, eight books of astrological learning...

Part Two

read more

A Sketch of Events at Syracuse

pdf iconDownload PDF (61.6 KB)
pp. 75-76

I include here, simply to orient the reader, a brief sketch of events at Syracuse, based largely on Polybius, Livy, Cicero, and Plutarch, some of the very sources discussed in the following chapters.1 ...

read more

4. Who Killed Archimedes?

pdf iconDownload PDF (201.0 KB)
pp. 77-100

Valerius Maximus, author of the nine-book Memorable Deeds and Sayings (Factorem et dictorum memorabilium libri IX), tells the story of Archimedes' death as an example of extraordinary industria, or "diligence."1 ...

read more

5. The Defense of Syracuse

pdf iconDownload PDF (191.5 KB)
pp. 101-122

Cast as the story of Marcellus receiving the news, the "Death of Archimedes" plays a role in the aristocratic competition for glory in republican Rome: any thug can kill an unarmed old man, but it takes greatness of character to recognize and commemorate the virtues of an enemy who...

read more

Coda to Part Two. Claudian on Archimedes

pdf iconDownload PDF (116.6 KB)
pp. 123-127

I here take leave of the ancient Archimedes with a glance at a text by the late antique writer Claudian, whose collection of short poems includes a fourteen-line epigram on Archimedes' sphere.1 Of Archimedes' mechanical achievements, it is the planetary sphere, not the giant...

Part Three

read more

6. Petrarch's Archimedes

pdf iconDownload PDF (144.1 KB)
pp. 131-148

Petrarch includes biographical accounts of Archimedes in two early prose works, the De viris illustribus and the Rerum memorandarum libri.1 The De viris illustribus includes a life of Marcellus (the De Marco Claudio Marcello, hereinafter Marcellus), which in turn includes an account...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (94.8 KB)
pp. 149-155

Archimedes enters historiography, via Polybius, as the possessor of a power on which the Romans did not reckon and as the embodiment of a principle that they could not foresee. The attack on Syracuse, in theory, should have worked, but the Romans' mathematical reckoning...


pdf iconDownload PDF (459.8 KB)
pp. 157-207


pdf iconDownload PDF (172.9 KB)
pp. 209-223


pdf iconDownload PDF (118.4 KB)
pp. 225-230

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025329
E-ISBN-10: 0472025325
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472116300
Print-ISBN-10: 0472116304

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2008