Away: The ends of Archimedes

Away in a math conference; half-hour chunks of incomprehending dread separated mostly by coffee breaks. Good thing there’s no such thing as caffeine addiction…. aww, crap.

* * *

Archimedes, the famous Greek mathematician, is pondering something deep and mathematical, while the siege of Syracuse is ending. Roman soldiers crowd into the city, liberating all that isn’t nailed down.

Meanwhile, the Roman general Marcellus sends a centurion to bring the famous Archimedes to him if he still lives.

Then what? Since no-one knows, here are four alternatives for the death of Archimedes.

Scenario 1

The soldier comes, sees Archimedes squatting down, drawing circles on the sand. He steps closer, and the mathematician speaks.

“You’re blocking the light.”

“My commander, General —”

“You’re still blocking the light.”

The soldier steps closer and clears his throat.

“General —”

“The light! Careful! Don’t disturb my circles —”

The soldier has a loss of temper, utters a word equivalent to one with four letters, waves his sword-arm, and then returns to his general.

“Why, centurion! Where’s the math-man?”

“He is dead. Can I now go and join the looting?”

Scenario 2

The Roman centurion approaches the Greek great, and cries something like: “Ave! Prior pater, generalum vox!”

The mathematician looks up, frowns, and asks: “Dos moi pa sto, kai tan — que?”

After several more failures to communicate, the sword speaks in a language both can understand.

“Sorry, General. Couldn’t get to him. He’s dead now.”

Scenario 3


“Huh? You’re… you’re one of those Romans, right?”

“Centurion Proforma, yes. You are Archimedes, the famous philosopher and mathematician?”

“Why, you could say — ow!”

“You know, as a boy I had to take tutoring in philosophy and all that.”


“I hated that.”

And later:

“Oh general, it appears he stabbed himself to death.”


“Twenty-three times through the heart, my lord.”

Scenario 4

Acta Diurna, Rome’s first source for exciting news and bizarre events from all around the Mediterranean and beyond, and for gladiator schedules, chronicles the soul-shattering regret of one Per Proforma, former centurion in the army of the infamous Marcellus — about whose latest amorous adventures, see pages four through seventy-three —

“And I’ve been told that some centurion — not me! — didnut know who the old baldy was, so he — not me! — stabbed him to death and takes his stuff, you know, double handful of astrolabababions and like that, thinking they’re worth something. But they aren’t. So I — not me! — goes to general and says, ‘Wait, did you say a bald old guy with lots of astrobababilions and stuff?’, and that’s it. Do I get paid now?”

Ah well, it’s always messy when mathematics and reality collide.

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