Saturday, April 6, 2013

in this genius world

The Roman general Marcus Claudius Marcellus laid siege to Syracuse on the island of Sicily from 214 to 212 BC. When his army successfully entered the Greater Greek city in its continuing quest to extend the rule of Rome, Marcellus gave explicit instructions that the mathematician, inventor, physicist, engineer and astronomer Achimedes was to be spared from the sword.

A Roman soldier patrolling the newly-conquored city saw an old man sketching in the sand. The soldier issued an order which the old man apparently ignored. The soldier, fresh from battle, ran him through ... and killed Archimedes, possibly the greatest mathematician of all times.

In "Plutarch's Lives," it was written:
But nothing afflicted Marcellus so much as the death of Archimedes, who was then, as fate would have it, intent upon working out some problem by a diagram, and having fixed his mind alike and his eyes upon the subject of his speculation, he never noticed the incursion of the Romans, nor that the city was taken. In this transport of study and contemplation, a soldier, unexpectedly coming up to him, commanded him to follow to Marcellus; which he declining to do before he had worked out his problem to a demonstration, the soldier, enraged, drew his sword and ran him through. Others write that a Roman soldier, running upon him with a drawn sword, offered to kill him; and that Archimedes, looking back, earnestly besought him to hold his hand a little while, that he might not leave what he was then at work upon inconclusive and imperfect; but the soldier, nothing moved by his entreaty, instantly killed him. Others again relate that, as Archimedes was carrying to Marcellus mathematical instruments, dials, spheres, and angles, by which the magnitude of the sun might be measured to the sight, some soldiers seeing him, and thinking that he carried gold in a vessel, slew him. Certain it is that his death was very afflicting to Marcellus; and that Marcellus ever after regarded him that killed him as a murderer; and that he sought for his kindred and honoured them with signal favours.
Is there anyone who does not live a life of utter genius -- sometimes apparent, sometimes not? The genius of mathematics, the genius of war, the genius of being what no one else could ever be -- yourself? And yet when one genius dismisses or dispatches another ... well, I think it's a good argument for exercising care for the genius world in which anyone exists.

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