Search - NOVA - Infinite Secrets: The Genius of Archimedes on DVD

NOVA - Infinite Secrets: The Genius of Archimedes
NOVA - Infinite Secrets The Genius of Archimedes
Genres: Documentary
UR     2004     1hr 0min

In 1991, a small Medieval prayer book was sold at auction. Miraculously, some original writings of Archimedes, the brilliant Greek mathematician, were discovered hidden beneath the religious text. Through scholarly detecti...  more »


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Movie Details

Genres: Documentary
Sub-Genres: Documentary
Studio: WGBH Boston
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 01/06/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 0min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 5
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Eureka - they have found Archimedes' long-lost, most importa
Daniel Jolley | Shelby, North Carolina USA | 07/23/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is an utterly fascinating documentary. Not only does it help cast Archimedes in an even more important light than ever, it details one of the most amazing "lost book" stories I've ever read. Lost for over a millennium, then discovered, then lost again for decades, then rediscovered, the last known copy of Archimedes' greatest work has finally reemerged, amazing scholars with its revelations of Archimedes' true genius. Sold at auction in 1998 for two million dollars, this priceless document is now being painstakingly deciphered and translated by a team of experts.

The documentary opens with a summary of Archimedes' life and accomplishments. We may laugh at the story of Archimedes jumping out of his bath and running naked through the streets shouting Eureka, or roll our eyes when we hear of his boast to move the entire world if he only had a place to stand, but his discoveries speak for themselves: e.g., the principles of density and buoyancy, a remarkably accurate estimate of the value for pi, his work with spirals, spheres, etc. The man was also a gifted inventor, especially in the realm of weapons of war - catapults capable of firing at multiple ranges, the burning-mirror that proved so effective against Roman invaders, and advanced pulley and lever systems, just to name a few. When the Romans finally did invade Sicily, Archimedes was specifically targeted and killed (in 212 BC). Interest in mathematics soon declined, reemerging only during the European Renaissance - and now we know that the great thinkers of that new golden age were rediscovering things Archimedes already discovered and wrote about over two centuries before the birth of Christ. If the manuscript of Archimedes' greatest work, The Method, had not been lost, it's certainly realistic to speculate that modern science would be far more advanced than it already is.

The Method was transcribed by several generations of monks, with a final copy being made in the 10th century. Two centuries later, however, a monk ran out of parchment and used that precious copy of Archimedes' book to make a prayer book. This involved cutting the pages, folding them over, and washing or scraping away enough of the original content to allow him to write over what was there. This palimpsest spent centuries in a monastery in the Judean desert before turning up in Constantinople in the early 20th century. In 1906, a philologist named Heiberg discovered the document, realized its true significance, and photographed its pages for his own study. History soon struck again, however, and the manuscript disappeared during the chaos of World War I. It was not until 1971 that a single copy of the manuscript suddenly appeared in Cambridge, England; Greek expert Nigel Wilson learned he could make out most of the faint writing using UV light, but the rest of the manuscript was seemingly lost. We now know it had been in Paris since the 1920s, but now, finally, it is in the hands of experts working to restore it.

The restoration process has not been easy, as you can imagine. The museum curator in charge of the project paints a vivid picture of the terrible state the manuscript is in, having been damaged by fire, mold, modern glue, etc. Curiously, it has also had religious images painted over several pages - pieces of artwork conclusively shown to be modern forgeries. With so many obstacles in the way of reclaiming the "infinite secrets" contained in the manuscript, the documentary goes into painstaking detail in terms of the impressive efforts being made to restore, read, and translate it. The work continues, but some major discoveries have already been made, showing Archimedes to be a man many centuries ahead of his time. Among other things, he had come up with a set of rules for dealing with infinity, proving that he was essentially Newton's immediate predecessor in the discovery of calculus.

As I said, this is a stellar, super-informative documentary. The remarkably mysterious journey of the Archimedes Palimpsest over the last millennium is yet another example of truth being stranger than fiction, and the modern techniques being brought to bear in restoring this ancient manuscript are fascinating in and of themselves. If you have any interest in history or mathematics, you will no doubt be as impressed with this documentary as I am."
Fascinating insight into history as well as the mind of Arch
Woody | Birmingham, Alabama, USA | 07/16/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I found this DVD at the local library, and now that I've seen it, I want to know more about Archimedes, and I want to study the lost book, "The Method".

I never knew how the scientific community held Archimedes in such high regard. To be labeled "centuries ahead of his time" indicates that this man could have easily reshaped our daily experiences, and the experiences of our posterity. This movie portrays the awakening of the scientific community on the the methods and thinking of a man who could have taught calculus to the inventors of calculus; a man whom Leonardo would call "genius".

How does one spark the curiosity of another to this degree? Such is the mystery of teachers everywhere.

Archimedes could have easily surpassed all other "geniuses", if only he had been captured instead of killed. I won't give the plot away, because I loved this DVD, and I strongly recommend it for the curious at heart.

Delightfully informative and entertaining! I might change this from a 4-star to a 5-star rating."
Great Man
Osam Alwan | Bahrain | 06/08/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Archimedes was a mathematical visionary who was ahead of his time, and if his work was used earlier, we would be far more advanced than we are today mathematically, and probably technologically. This discovery has been made by reading his lost manuscript, which has been found and restored by scientists. Archimedes also discovered a way to measure volume by water displacement. But what impressed me the most from the documentary was the techniques used to restore back the Archimedes texts from the damaged manuscript, worth the purchase, but 4 stars only because I'm hard to please."
Rather brief
R. S. Rehmel | 12/28/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)

"I had purchased this hoping it to be more about Archimedes. Instead it follows the discovery of a manuscript with Archimedes writings on it. I have read the book that inspired this documentary and it covers the subject briefly but well."