Thursday, October 14, 2010
Cicero on Discovering Archimedes' Grave
Cicero (106-43 BC), Tusculan Disputations, Book V, Sections 64-66
But from Dionysius’s own city of Syracuse I will summon up from the dust—where his measuring rod once traced its lines — an obscure little man who lived many years later, Archimedes. When I was questor in Sicily [in 75 BC, 137 years after the death of Archimedes] I managed to track down his grave. The Syracusians knew nothing about it, and indeed denied that any such thing existed. But there it was, completely surrounded and hidden by bushes of brambles and thorns. I remembered having heard of some simple lines of verse which had been inscribed on his tomb, referring to a sphere and cylinder modelled in stone on top of the grave. And so I took a good look round all the numerous tombs that stand beside the Agrigentine Gate. Finally I noted a little column just visible above the scrub: it was surmounted by a sphere and a cylinder. I immediately said to the Syracusans, some of whose leading citizens were with me at the time, that I believed this was the very object I had been looking for. Men were sent in with sickles to clear the site, and when a path to the monument had been opened we walked right up to it. And the verses were still visible, though approximately the second half of each line had been worn away.
Non ego iam cum huius vita, qua taetrius miserius detestabilius escogitare nihil possum, Platonis aut Archytae vitam comparabo, doctorum hominum et plane sapientium: ex eadem urbe humilem homunculum a pulvere et radio excitabo, qui multis annis post fuit, Archimedem. Cuius ego quaestor ignoratum ab Syracusanis, cum esse omnino negarent, saeptum undique et vestitum vepribus et dumetis indagavi sepulcrum. Tenebam enim quosdam senariolos, quos in eius monumento esse inscriptos acceperam, qui declarabant in summo sepulcro sphaeram esse positam cum cylindro. Ego autem cum omnia conlustrarem oculis—est enim ad portas Agragantinas magna frequentia sepulcrorum -, animum adverti columellam non multum e dumis eminentem, in qua inerat sphaerae figura et cylindri. Atque ego statim Syracusanis—erant autem principes mecum—dixi me illud ipsum arbitrari esse, quod quaererem. lnmissi cum falcibus multi purgarunt et aperuerunt locum. Quo cum patefactus esset aditus, ad adversam basim accessimus. Apparebat epigramma exesis posterioribus partibus versiculorum dimidiatum fere.
So one of the most famous cities in the Greek world, and in former days a great centre of learning as well, would have remained in total ignorance of the tomb of the most brilliant citizen it had ever produced, had a man from Arpinum not come and pointed it out!
Ita nobilissima Graeciae civitas, quondam vero etiam doctissima, sui civis unius acutissimi monumentum ignorasset, nisi ab homine Arpinate didicisset.
• Translation by Michael Grant in Cicero - On the Good Life, Penguin Books, New York, 1971, Pages 86-87.