N° 487
Archimedes: Knowledge and Lore from Latin Antiquity to the Outgoing European Renaissance
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With only Apuleius and Augustine as partial exceptions, Latin Antiquity did not know Archimedes as a mathematician but only as an ingenious engineer and astronomer, serving his city and killed by fatal distraction when in the end it was taken by ruse. The Latin Middle Ages forgot even much of that, and when Archimedean mathematics was translated in the 12th and 13th centuries, almost no integration with the traditional image of the person took place. With the exception of Petrarca, who knew the civically useful engineer and the astrologer (!), fourteenth-century Humanists show no interest in Archimedes. In the 15th century, however, “higher artisans” with Humanist connections or education took interest in Archimedes the technician and started identifying with him. In mid-century, a new translation of most works from the Greek was made by Jacopo remonensis, and Regiomontanus and a few other mathematicians began resurrecting the image of the geometer, yet without emulating him in their own work. Giorgio Valla’s posthumous De expetendis et fugiendis rebus from 1501 marks a watershed. Valla drew knowledge of the person as well as his works from Proclus and Pappus, thus integrating the two. Over the century, a number of editions also appeared, the editio princeps in 1544, and mathematical work following in the footsteps of Archimedes was made by Maurolico, Commandino and others. The Northern Renaissance only discovered Archimedes in the 1530s, and for long only superficially. The first to express a (purely ideological) high appreciation is Ramus in 1569, and the first to make creative use of his mathematics was Viète in the 1590s.