Monday, September 16, 2013


I mentioned before that Tom and I like to tease each other with views from Google Earth: Where is this? Here's a view I sent him a few days ago. It didn't take him long to respond, not with the place name, but with a Latin phrase:

"Noli turbare circulos meos!"

Yep. Syracuse.

Tom knows his history of science.

When the Roman general Marcus Claudius Marcellus conquered the Greek colony of Syracuse in Sicily in 212 B.C., he ordered that the brilliant mathematician/astronomer/engineer Archimedes be spared. Soldiers entered Archimedes' house where they found the great man contemplating a geometrical diagram he had drawn in the sand. "Noli turbare circulos meos!", Archimedes supposedly said, "Do not disturb my circles."

Defying orders, they chopped him down.

The truth of the story is not literal, but metaphorical: There are more important things in life than boy games with swords and guns (and poison gas and drones) . Contemplation, for instance, of the beauty and mystery of existence. On Archimedes' tomb was sculpted a representation of a sphere inscribed within a cylinder. The volume and surface area of the sphere is two-thirds that of the cylinder, something Archimedes was proud to have proved. The result is gratifyingly lovely. The proof is elating. The human mind is capable of so much more than making war.

Having said that, I must add that Archimedes was himself not above turning his immense talent to military technology.

You might ask, by the way, how Tom could identify the place with so little shown. That's the fun of the game. Architecture. Style of fortification. Orientation (north at the top). Apparent age. And so on.