Introduction  pp. 1-28


By Archimedes and Reviel Netz

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GOAL OF THE TRANSLATION

The extraordinary influence of Archimedes over the scientific revolution was due in the main to Latin and Greek–Latin versions handwritten and then printed from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries. Translations into modern European languages came later, some languages served better than others. There are, for instance, three useful French translations of the works of Archimedes, of which the most recent, by C. Mugler – based on the best text known to the twentieth century – is still easily available. A strange turn of events prevented the English language from possessing until now any full-blown translation of Archimedes. As explained by T. L. Heath in his important book, The Works of Archimedes, he had set out there to make Archimedes accessible to contemporary mathematicians to whom – so he had thought – the mathematical contents of Archimedes' works might still be of practical (rather than historical) interest. He therefore produced a paraphrase of the Archimedean text, using modern symbolism, introducing consistency where the original is full of tensions, amplifying where the text is brief, abbreviating where it is verbose, clarifying where it is ambiguous: almost as if he was preparing an undergraduate textbook of “Archimedean Mathematics.” All this was done in good faith, with Heath signalling his practices very clearly, so that the book is still greatly useful as a mathematical gloss to Archimedes. (For such a mathematical gloss, however, the best work is likely to remain Dijksterhuis' masterpiece from 1938 (1987), Archimedes.)