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The Archimedes Codex: A Book within a Book within a Book
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With Reviel Netz and William Noel, author of The Archimedes Codex: How a Medieval Prayer Book Is Revealing the True Genius of Antiquity’s Greatest Scientist

William Noel, left; Reviel Netz, right


In 1998, a medieval prayer book sold for $2 million at a Christie’s auction in NYC—to an anonymous bidder. No one could figure out why it went for so much, especially since it was in terrible shape. And everyone wondered what this mysterious buyer knew that they didn’t.

Now, almost a decade later, experts at Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum—to which the manuscript has been entrusted—are learning the full extent of its value. It turns out that the prayers—penned by a Christian monk circa 1200 A.D.—were written over an earlier text. But not just any text. The prayers were written over the lost works of Archimedes—the greatest mathematician of antiquity.

What did this ancient manuscript hold? Literally the secrets of the universe. And in The Archimedes Codex, Stanford professor Reviel Netz and Walters Art Museum curator William Noel—who have been on the front lines of its decoding—tell its full story. It’s a tale of forgery and thievery, papyrus scrolls and parchment. Throw in the sacking of Constantinople, a Danish philologist, a missing page found in a dusty British library, and a French family that kept the “antique” in their Paris home for seven decades, and you’ll get a good sense of the sweep of the narrative.

Reviel Netz is Professor of Classics and Philosophy at Stanford University. He specializes in ancient science. William Noel is Curator of Manuscripts at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, and Director of the Archimedes Palimpsest Project.

Please join Reviel Netz, William Noel, and Paula B. as they delve into:

  • How they got involved with the codex
  • What sorts of issues they faced in conserving the artifact
  • Why Archimedes is so important
  • What has been discovered about Archimedes through the codex
  • Why a scribe wrote over Archimedes' texts
  • Where the codex was hiding over the centuries
  • How the codex ended up at the Stanford Linear Accelerator
  • Who's allowed to purchase precious artifacts like the codex, and under what conditions
  • How they finally cracked the text.

What Reviel and Will don't tell us is the identity of the mysterious Mr. B., the collector who purchased the codex. Who do you think Mr. B. is?

Interviewees: Reviel Netz and William Noel
Host: Paula B
Date: December 9, 2007
Running time: 01:18:02
File size:  37 megabytes
Rating: G
The Archimedes Codex Web site: Archimedes: The Palimpsest

Purchase The Archimedes Codex at