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Cattle of the Sun

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Author:Ivars Peterson (MathTrek)
Description: The story goes that Archimedes of Syracuse (287-212 B.C.) was annoyed with Apollonius of Perga (262-190 B.C.), who had criticized Archimedes' work on the multiplication of large numbers. For revenge, Archimedes devised a fiendish computational problem that involved truly immense numbers. He proposed the problem in the form of a 44-line poem, and he sent it in a letter to Eratosthenes of Cyrene (275-195 B.C.), the chief librarian at Alexandria... The poem begins: "If thou art diligent and wise, O stranger, compute the number of cattle of the Sun, who once upon a time grazed on the fields of the Thrinacian isle of Sicily, divided into four herds of different colors, one milk white, another a glossy black, a third brown, and the last dappled."

Levels: Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12), College
Languages: English
Resource Types: Problems/Puzzles, Articles
Math Topics: Equations, Large Numbers, History and Biography, Literature/Poetry

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