The Rise of the Flesh-Avoiders

An English translation of the essay De esu carnium, written by the first-century Greek philosopher Plutarch, was published in 1603. Translated by Philemon Holland, the text was given the title ‘Whether it be lawfull to eate flesh or no’ and opens with a bang:

The Antikythera Mechanism

Andrew Robinson | Published 08 September 2017
Everyone has heard of the Rosetta Stone. Not so familiar, but equally compelling, is a purely Greek artefact of the same period found in a first-century BC shipwreck chanced upon by sponge divers off the coast of Antikythera, an island between Crete and the Peloponnese. It triggered the first underwater archaeological excavation in 1901. The Antikythera Mechanism comprises more than 30 precisely cut bronze gear wheels, dials and pointers held in a wooden box the size of a phone book, with a damaged inscription indicating that they formed a model of the ‘cosmos’ (the Greek word appears in the inscription)...Read more »
More articles by Andrew Robinson

The Savage Punishment of Siberian Exile

Paul Dukes | Published 01 June 2017
When the Scottish explorer John Dundas Cochrane visited the town of Tobolsk in the early 1820s, he found ‘very good society … and the strongest features of content … in this hitherto supposed metropolis of barbarism and cruelty’. But few others walking through Siberia in the 19th century would have shared this view, since the majority of them were convicts shackled and poorly fed and more likely to agree with Dostoevsky that they were in ‘The House of the Dead’. In this welcome book, Daniel Beer follows in the path of others but brings to the subject a new view...Read more »
More articles by Paul Dukes

The Wolf Must Be in the Woods

In the popular imagination, early medieval England was a wild place populated by packs of ravenous wolves, devouring people and livestock. The image is at odds with modern research into wolf biology and wolves were extinct in England by the time of Henry VII. With a programme of wolf reintroduction proposed for the UK, it is time to look back at the history of attitudes to wolves from when written accounts began, in the Anglo-Saxon period.

Tim Flight | Published 31 May 2017
More articles by Tim Flight
Published in
Volume 67 Issue 6 June 2017

The Man Who Invented Pi

In 1706 a little-known mathematics teacher named William Jones first used a symbol to represent the platonic concept of pi, an ideal that in numerical terms can be approached, but never reached.

William Jones, mathematician from Wales, 1740
William Jones, mathematician from Wales, 1740

The history of the constant ratio of the circumference to the diameter of any circle is as old as man's desire to measure; whereas the symbol for this ratio known today as π (pi) dates from the early 18th century. Before this the ratio had been awkwardly referred to in medieval Latin as: quantitas in quam cum multiflicetur diameter, proveniet circumferencia (the quantity which, when the diameter is multiplied by it, yields the circumference).

It is widely believed that the great Swiss-born mathematician Leonhard Euler (1707-83) introduced the symbol π into common use. In fact it was first used in print in its modern sense in 1706 a year before Euler's birth by a self-taught mathematics teacher William Jones (1675-1749) in his second book Synopsis Palmariorum Matheseos, or A New Introduction to the Mathematics based on his teaching notes.