[from The Believer]
Heiberg was attempting to translate the words of Archimedes, arguably the most important thinker in the history of science. His frustration arose from the fact that, sometime in the thirteenth century, the Archimedes text had been scraped off, cut up, rebound, and written over to make a Greek Orthodox prayer book, rendering the ancient mathematics nearly impossible to read.
But this is the least remarkable of the book’s oddities. The text Heiberg faced had been written in the ninth or tenth century CE—a copy of innumerable previous copies stretching back to the original treatise Archimedes wrote in the third century BCE. And almost immediately after Heiberg’s discovery, the book disappeared for ninety years.