The Curious Case of the Tomb of Archimedes
This is the case of the Tomb of Archimedes: you think you know where it is? Cicero found it and accused the Syracusans of negligence. But where is the tomb?
We Syracusans are really peculiar people, we have a historical legacy that traces back millenia, but an incredibly short memory! Our most illustrious fellow citizens who have changed history are celebrated little or nothing at home, and for centuries were wrapped in oblivion and indifference.
This was the case for the famous Archimedes, whom after his death was (almost) forgotten. Certainly the Syracusans must have had other things on their mind for them not to celebrate their most important citizen, to the point of forgetting his burial site.
Only Cicero, who only visited Syracuse a few centuries after the inventor’s death, took care to look for the grave and pay his respects.
Eureka! The tomb was discovered in 75 B.C., cleaned and restored to its former glory; unfortunately it did not last long: it mattered little in the average Syracusans day-to-day life and soon the tomb was again forgotten and left to itself.
“Once, while I was superintendent in Syracuse, I brought out from the dust Archimedes, a distinguished citizen of that city. In fact, I searched for his tomb, ignored by the Syracusans, surrounded on all sides and covered with brambles and weeds. The Syracusan denied absolutely that it existed, but I possessed the senari verses written on his tomb, according to which on top of the tomb of Archimedes a sphere with a cylinder had been placed. But I was examining everything with the eyes … And shortly after I noticed a small hill not far emerged from the bushes. On it there was the figure of a sphere and a cylinder. And I said immediately to the Syracusans “That’s what I wanted!” – Cicero, 75 BC
Of course if Cicero was still alive he would shudder at the sight of how his striking discovery has been completely ignored for all these centuries; indifference and carelessness has remained a constant in the Syracuse character, from generation to generation it has been passed down to the present day.
You think you know where the tomb of Archimedes is? And instead..
I often hear people say, “Here is the tomb of Archimedes,” pointing to the most ornate tomb out of the many tombs in the “little caves” necropolis (next to an information banner). This position attributed by the Syracusans is absolutely wrong!
In fact the alleged tomb of Archimedes is nothing more than a Roman columbarium, that is a burial chamber from the Roman period, surely built a few centuries after the death of the mathematician!
But then where is this tomb of Archimedes?
According to some rumors the tomb was found under a famous hotel in Via Grotticelle Necropolis; the “cuttigghi” Syracusans are full of conspiracies and power games and who knows if they really have a minimum of foundation.
Surely history tells us what is false.
Cicero said that the tomb of Archimedes had a carved cylinder and sphere, which paid tribute to the great contribution that the scholar gave in mathematics and physics: these signs are not present in any tomb of the necropolis!
As the famous proverb goes: “Every lie in the long run becomes truth” and who knows if in a hundred years this false historical fact, which is only used to enchant the tourists, may not in the end become the “true” tomb of Archimedes!