Archimedes: Knowledge and Lore from Latin Antiquity to the Outgoing European Renaissance

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


With Apuleius and Augustine as the only partial exceptions, Latin Antiquitydid not know Archimedes as a mathematician but only as an ingenious engineerand astronomer, serving his city and killed by fatal distraction when in theend it was taken by ruse. The Latin Middle Ages forgot even much of that, andwhen Archimedean mathematics was translated in the 12th and 13th centuries,almost no integration with the traditional image of the person took place.Petrarca knew the civically useful engineer and the astrologer (!); no otherfourteenth-century Humanist seems to know about Archimedes in any role. Inthe 15th century, however, “higher artisans” with Humanist connections oreducation took interest in Archimedes the technician and started identifyingwith him. In mid-century, a new translation of most works from the Greek wasmade by Jacopo Cremonensis, and Regiomontanus and a few othermathematicians began resurrecting the image of the geometer, yet withoutemulating him in their own work.Giorgio Valla’s posthumous De expetendis et fugiendis rebus from 1501 marks awatershed. Valla drew knowledge of the person as well as his works fromProclus and Pappus, thus integrating the two. Over the century, a number ofeditions also appeared, the editio princeps in 1544, and mathematical workfollowing in the footsteps of Archimedes was made by Maurolico,Commandino and others.The Northern Renaissance only discovered Archimedes in the 1530s, and forlong only superficially. The first to express a (purely ideological) highappreciation was Ramus in 1569, and the first to make creative use of hismathematics was Viète in the 1590s.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGanita Bharati
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)1-22
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Archimedes
  • Medieval Latin translations
  • Moerbeke
  • Italian Humanists
  • Jacopo Cremonensis
  • Regiomontanus
  • Giorgio Valla
  • Maurolico
  • Commandino

Cite this