The Archimedes Palimpsest is a palimpsest on parchment in the form of a codex. It originally was a copy of an otherwise unknown work of the ancient mathematician, physicist, and engineer Archimedes of Syracuse and other authors, which was overwritten with a religious text.
Archimedes lived in the third century BC, but the copy of his work was made in the tenth century AD by an anonymous scribe. In the twelfth century the original Archimedes codex was unbound, scraped and washed, along with at least six other parchment manuscripts, including one with works of Hypereides. The parchment leaves had been folded in half and reused for a Christian liturgical text of 177 pages; the older leaves folded so that each became two leaves of the liturgical book. The erasure was incomplete, and Archimedes’ work is now readable after scientific and scholarly work from 1998 to 2008 using digital processing of images produced by ultraviolet, infrared, visible and raking light, and X-ray.
In 1906 it was briefly inspected in Istanbul by the Danish philologist Johan Ludvig Heiberg. With the aid of black-and-white photographs he arranged to have taken, he published a transcription of the Archimedes’ text. Shortly thereafter Archimedes’ Greek text was translated into English by T. L. Heath. Before that it was not widely known among mathematicians, physicists, or historians. It contains:
- “Equilibrium of Planes”
- “Spiral Lines”
- “Measurement of a Circle”
- “On the Sphere and Cylinder”
- “On Floating Bodies” (only known copy in Greek)
- “The Method of Mechanical Theorems” (only known copy)
- “Stomachion” (only known copy)
The palimpsest also contains speeches by the fourth century BC politician Hypereides, a commentary on Aristotle’s Categories by Alexander of Aphrodisias, and other works.