a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Death of Archimedes (1923)
Karel Capek

As history usually tells the story, Archimedes is killed by a Roman soldier who did not realize who he was. In this version, however, the centurion is well aware of who he is speaking with. While he tries to convince Archimedes to use his mathematical skills to aid the Roman army (which Archimedes refuses to do) the reader enjoys a philosophical discussion of the role of mathematics and its application to the science of warfare.

It should be noted that Capek is often credited with having coined the word "robot", which appeared in his play RUR. However, when I repeated this "well-known fact" here, translator Norma Comrada wrote to correct me:

Contributed by Norma Comrada

Saw your list of math-related books, and thought you might like to know:

1. Karel Capek didn't coin the word "robot," a word which has its own history. When Karel asked his brother, Josef, what to call the creatures in his play, Josef suggested "robot" and the word soon became known and used worldwide.

2. There's a newer and more accessible translation of "The Death of Archimedes" than the one mentioned (that one you cited is actually from 1923). I say this shamelessly because I did the newer one. It's in Capek's "Apocryphal Tales," published by Catbird Press in 1994, and it's easy to find here. [Link seems to be broken. But, I am still able to read the story online here. -ak Oct 2012]

The 1923 translation was reprinted in the mathematical fiction collection Fantasia Mathematica and Comrada's more recent translation is in Apocryphal Tales.

(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to The Death of Archimedes
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Sand-Reckoner by Gillian Bradshaw
  2. A Szirakuzai Óriás [A Giant of Syracuse] by Száva István
  3. Archimedes, a planetarium opera by James Dashow
  4. Dead Ancients Trilogy by Peter Hobbs
  5. Pythagoras the Mathemagician by Karim El Koussa
  6. Galileo by Bertolt Brecht
  7. Agha and Math by Vladmir Karapetoff
  8. The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung
  9. A Universe of Sufficient Size by Miriam Sved
  10. The Cypher Bureau by Eilidh McGinness
Ratings for The Death of Archimedes:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
2.67/5 (6 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.44/5 (9 votes)

GenreHistorical Fiction,
MotifReal Mathematicians, War,
MediumShort Stories,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)