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The Death of Archimedes (1923)
Karel Čapek

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 Čapek 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 Čapek 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 Čapek'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.

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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. Dead Ancients Trilogy by Peter Hobbs
  3. Archimedes, a planetarium opera by James Dashow
  4. Galileo by Bertolt Brecht
  5. Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman
  6. War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy
  7. Confusions of Young Torless by Robert Musil
  8. The Ingenious Mr. Spinola by Ernest Bramah
  9. The Goddess of Small Victories [La déesse des petites victoire] by Yannick Grannec
  10. Le larmes de saint Laurent (Wonder) by Dominique Fortier
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:
2.8/5 (5 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.37/5 (8 votes)

GenreHistorical Fiction,
MotifReal Mathematicians, War,
MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)