|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:
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.