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In The Murderous Maths of Everything we meet several ancient mathematicians. Although people know all about their brilliant discoveries involving shapes and numbers, hardly anyone realises what a groovy gang of mad-for-it dudes they all are. But now, for the first time in history, the Murderous Maths Organisation is pround to present four of our favourite ancients as you've never seen them before!

Introducing from left to right:
  • Eratosthenes of Cyrene 276-195 BC
  • Thales of Miletos 624-546 BC *
  • Pythagoras of Samos 580-500 BC *
  • Archimedes of Syracuse 287 - 212 BC

(* these dates are approximate. Pythagoras used to say he was born in 572 BC, but as BC stands for "Before Christ" and he didn't even know that Christ was going to arrive for nearly 600 years, everybody knew he had to be lying.)

Here the lads have all popped over to Pythagoras's beach hut on the Island of Samos, and they're all togged up and ready to ride some serious waves.

It's probably while he was getting into his wet suit that Archimedes came up with his calculations for his famous sand reckoner. He was working out how many grains of sand it would take to fill the universe. At the time the biggest number anyone was using was the myriad which was 10,000. He decided to beef the myriad up by multiplying it by itself to get a myriad miriads which is 100,000,000. He then multiplied a myriad miriads by itself a myriad miriad times, and then multiplied the answer by itself another myriad miriad times. He ended up with a number that was a 1 followed by 80,000,000,000,000,000 zeros. After that he'll have done a bit more surfing and then got started on the barbecue because he was that kind of guy.

Eratosthenes - Thales - Pythagoras - Archimedes

Sadly the gang didn't meet up very often. There are two reasons for this.

  • They all lived a long way from each other. (See map)
  • By the time Eratosthenes and Archimedes were born, Pythagoras and Thales had been dead for over 200 years.
Don't despair. When you're a maths genius, you're not going to let little details like those stop you from getting down with your mates and having a good time.
Here's a nice one of the boys taken at Thales 300th birthday party in the Burning Bull Club, Miletos.

(The club got its name after Thales proved that the angle inside a semicircle is always a right angle. He celebrated by having a bull dragged to an altar, then it was chopped open and a fire was lit inside it. You'll can find more jolly details like this in MM: Guaranteed to bend Your Brain. )

You can see they've had a long night boogie-ing and although they're looking a bit the worse for wear, it's amazing that they can still stand at all bearing in mind that two of them are dead and the other two haven't been born yet.

There's no stopping those crazy party dudes!

Although Pythagoras is best remembered for his theorem involving right-angled triangles, he also did lots of other cool stuff. He was the first person to find out that if you have a set of tight strings and divide them into fractions such as 1/2 or 2/3 you get a nice mix of musical notes. You can see more about this at How do guitar strings make different notes? From there it was just a short step before Pythagoras was laying down some neat licks and driving the ladies wild.

Rock on Pytho!

Archimedes and Thales hit a musical cool factor of 100% when they appeared together in the original version of The Blues Brothers produced by Minus 3rd Century Fox. Approximately 200 chariots were smashed in the chase sequences and the legendary Cab Calloway is the only artist to appear in both the ancient Greek version and also the 1980 re-make.

Classic hits like "Everybody Needs Somebody", "Minnie The Moocher" and "Rawhide" never sounded so good until you've heard them belted out by these two mathematical wizards.

Speaking of cool, here's Eratosthenes earning a bit of extra pocket money by selling ice creams on the beach near Alexandria where he also held down a job as the third chief librarian. As you can see, trade was sometimes a bit slow but thankfully it gave him time to work out things like the circumference of the earth (see The Murderous Maths of Everything) and also invent his amazing Sieve of Eratosthenes for finding prime numbers.

After Eratosthenes had had a hard day selling ice creams and pondering the tilt of the earth's axis, what better way could there be to unwind than invite Pythagoras to join him swimming with a dolphin?

Unfortunately for Pythagoras, even though he could do wonders with the square on the hypotenuse, he could never remember the difference between a dolphin and a shark.


Find all about Pytho's Theorem in The Murderous Maths of Everything or Vicious Circles.

Meanwhile over in Sicily, Syracuse Albion have met Samos Rovers in a pre-cup friendly.
It looked like Samos were about to go 1-0 up if it hadn't been for this cracking save by Archimedes. It was probably while lining the ball up for a goal kick that he realised its volume would be exactly 2/3 rds of the smallest cylinder that would contain it. There's a lot more about Archimedes in The Perfect Sausage MM Guaranteed to Bend your Brain and Desperate Measures.
This one shows a slighly awkward moment at the top of Mount Olympus when Pythagoras
can't quite remember what he did with the keys to the gang's skiing chalet.

Thales was a genius with all sorts of shapes and figures - he even predicted an eclipse of the sun in 585 BC. However it wasn't just mathematical shapes and figures that Thales could do wonders with. See how he kept his own figure in good enough shape to come a-slinking down the catwalk during Miletos Fashion Week.

Archimedes hadn't got time for modelling because when he wasn't doing maths he was too busy inventing things including a giant claw for pulling boats out of the sea and the Archimedes' Screw for raising water. Sadly his early Greek sat-nav wasn't deemed a success after it sent his bike off the edge of the cliffs at Syracuse.

It might have been while the nurse was bandaging him up that Archimedes designed a row of giant mirrors and lenses along the cliff top to set fire to enemy ships. This came in very handy during the Siege of Syracuse in 214-212 BC.

Although it's usually Archimedes who is remembered as the greatest of the ancients, maybe things would have been different if more people knew that Eratosthenes was the first person to spot the Loch Ness monster by creeping up on it unawares on a space hopper. You can bet that Archimedes wished he'd thought of that!

So what's the secret of being famous for ever?

Be a big footballer? A rock star? A politician?

Not really. How many entertainers or rulers can you think of that lived 2,500 years ago? The trick is to come up with some new maths that nobody else has thought of. That's what these four guys did and that's why they will still be remembered long after we've all been forgotten!

But even though they are some of the greatest people to have ever walked the planet, it's nice to know that underneath it all, they were a set of cool fun-loving dudes who could chill out and party just like the rest of us.

The Murderous Maths of Everything

Murderous Maths Home Page

Did you notice anything strange about the photo with the surf boards?
The Murderous Maths Organisation believes that most of the originating images used in these pictures are in the public domain. Where possible we have sought permission from the copyright holders of the other images and we would like to express our sincere thanks to the following people and companies:
Jane D Scott, Mrs A Murray, Tonto Images, Newpoint Partners, Sally Wilkinson, The Alan Ashby Estate, Huntingford Library Collection, Res21 Archives, Dyfrig Ellis, Tegwin Ellis, Professor Richard Jennings, Saughton College, Jack Winrow
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