Counting on Epic : Mathematical Poetry and Homeric Epic in Archimedes’ Cattle Problem
Cambridge University Press
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Leventhal, M. (2015). Counting on Epic : Mathematical Poetry and Homeric Epic in Archimedes’ Cattle Problem. Ramus, 44 200-221. https://doi.org/10.1017/rmu.2015.10
In 1773, the celebrated enlightenment thinker G.E. Lessing discovered in Wolfenbüttel's Herzog August Library a manuscript which contained a previously unknown Ancient Greek poem. The manuscript identified the author as Archimedes (c.287-212 BCE), and the work became known as the Cattle Problem (henceforth CP). On the surface, its twenty-two couplets capitalise on Homer's depiction of the ‘Cattle of the Sun’ in Book 12 of the Odyssey and its numerical aspect. A description of the related proportions of black, white, brown and dappled herds of cattle, which are then configured geometrically on Sicily, creates a strikingly colourful image. The author's decision to encode a number into the figure of the Cattle of the Sun styles the poem as a response to, and expansion of, Homer's scene. Reading through the work, though, it becomes clear that the mathematics is more complex than that of Homer's Odyssey.
External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/rmu.2015.10
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/247868