Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Archimedes Palimpsest

Thanks to Paul Halsall, I've just learned of a model website, one devoted to the Archimedes Palimpsest. It combines basic information for the casual reader with unique material vital to specialists, all in a friendly and well organized format.

In the Middle Ages, the normal writing material was parchment (treated animal skin), much more expensive but far tougher than our paper or ancient papyrus. Kept dry, it lasts a very long time. I myself have handled and used a parchment book from the fifth century.

Sometimes an old book would be reused. The parchment would be scraped clean and a new text would be inscribed on it.

The Archimedes palimpsest is a manuscript where several ancient texts, including unique ones by the scientist and engineer Archimedes of Syracuse, were turned into a Byzantine prayerbook. There's enough of the older material left to be usable by scholars interested in this brilliant ancient figure.

Another Paul Halsall put it, the book "has its own Web site." I love the concept, I love the way the phrase rolls off my tongue.


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