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• Archimedes’ palimpsest, buoyed by history, floats into view in Baltimore.

By William Triplett [Wall Street Journal] – “Lost and Found: The Secrets of Archimedes” is a palimpsest that mostly contains recovered writings of the great Greek mathematician, but it also includes two other recovered texts that have caught the attention of a variety of scholars. A good chunk of these writings exist nowhere else, any other copies having been lost or destroyed long ago.

“It really is a small ancient library of unique texts,” Mr. Noel says.

Considering the Archimedes palimpsest’s filthy, abused condition upon arrival at the Walters in 1999, and its mysterious travels of nearly 800 years, including a stretch in the hands of forgers, it’s a surprise the irreplaceable relic is much of anything. But thanks to more than 10 years of painstaking conservation efforts, the palimpsest now looks, well, hardly new, but certainly pretty good for all it’s been through.

In 1229, a monk in Jerusalem wanted to make a prayer book, but virgin parchment—the staple of medieval publishing—was hard to come by. So the monk did what most people did at the time—took existing handwritten books, removed the binding, and used a knife to scrape the ink as much as possible from the parchment folios. He then cut the folios in half, rotated them 90 degrees and started writing on them. Eventually he added a new binding, and a palimpsest—derived from the Greek word palimpsestos, meaning “scraped again”—was born.

The monk had used parchment from several books, the principal one a tome of Archimedes’s treatises on math, first written on papyrus in the third century B.C. and then copied into book form around the 10th century, Mr. Noel says.

What happened to the palimpsest for the next 670 years is anyone’s guess, but by the turn of the last century it was in a monastery in Constantinople, where in 1906 remnants of the original ink were identified as the work of Archimedes. But the prayer book disappeared again…

Continued at The Wall Street Journal | Exhibition announcement [The Walters] | Exhibition website | More Chronicle & Notices.

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