The same book on Emperor Nero, but with a new cover and title

This book was written by Girolamo Cardano (1501-1577?). The original in Latin was first published in Basel as Neronis Encomium in 1562  by the printer Henric Petri. The first English edition was issued in 2012 as Nero. An Exemplary Life in Hong Kong by Inkstone Books, in a limited edition of 200 copies. The translation from Latin to English is due to Angelo Paratico.

A new trade edition was published in 2019 by Gingko Edizioni of Verona, Italy, and it is available in Amazon in format kindle and POD (Print on Demand). Here is the link:

It is the same book, with a few necessary amendments, and provided with a jollier title and cover,  as Girolamo Cardano  Emperor Nero: Son of Promise, Child of Hope.

This book has been quoted by Joshua Levine on the Smithsonian Magazine for his deep and extensive review of the book written by British historian John F. Drinkwater Nero. Emperor and Court Cambridge University Press, 2019.


Why they offered Coca-Cola to Jesus on the cross


Jesus on the cross received a sponge with some water and vinegar, I remember this episode of the Passion, retold countless times in the church. It struck to me as an additional cruelty inflicted on our Saviour and it was as such explained by the priest. This vivid episode appears in all four Gospels in slightly different forms.

Matt.27 [34]
They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.

Matt. 27 [48]
And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.

Luke.23 [36]
And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar

Mark.15 [36]
And one ran and filled a spunge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down.

John.19 [29]
Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.

John. 19 [30]
Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

According to Matthew the vinegar was first offered to him mixed with gall but he refused it. Perhaps it is true, as it is explained, that the first vinegar laced with gall (animal bile) was offered as a sort of anaesthetic. According to old traditions, respected women of Jerusalem provided a narcotic drink to those condemned to death in order to decrease their sensitivity to the excruciating pain. It may well be but I believe that it was just a pot of liquid which was there as a drink for the soldiers and the executioners. Gall, that is bile secretion, is used also in Chinese traditional medicine, taken from various animals and even humans. It is very bitter but it possess anti-oxidant and astringent properties, it is also a sedative and a powerful defence against pathogenic attacks. Not only that: it is a strong natural hypnotic, giving you a kick like a glass of whisky.

A sour drink with vinegar is mentioned in the Bible as a refreshing drink (Numbers 6:13; Ruth 2:14), and in Greek and Roman literature as well. It was a common beverage appreciated by labourers and soldiers because it relieved thirst more effectively than common water. Therefore, the sponge with the vinegar offered to Jesus was not a hostile gesture or a jest, but it was simply the standard drink of the Roman soldiers and of the common people.

Even if the soldiers on the Golgotha were almost certainly not career Roman soldiers, but local auxiliary troops, perhaps from Greece or Syria, they were still using such drink instead of water. Some of those soldiers tried to help him in his sufferings by offering their drink, to alleviate his pain and ease his way out of this unjust world. That day was most probably Friday, April, 3rd AD 33 on the Julian calendar, or April 1st, 33 on the Gregorian calendar. Why can we be sure of the date? Because of a partial moon’s eclipse in Jerusalem on that night at 6:20 PM, as mentioned by Peter (Acts 2:20).
Girolamo Cardano (1501-1577?) mentioned this drink as one of the possible causes of Roman prowess: because of it they were better protected from infections. Cardano, an historian and a physician, was the first in his Neronis Encomium to make a connection between Roman drinking habits and their military might.

This type of drink was called Posca and was vinegar mixed with water and spices. For centuries was their standard drink and if honey was added, it was heated to dissolve it, making it even more safe and in addition to that,  because of the acetic acid it contained, it possessed mild disinfectant properties.

Posca could be compared to Coca-Cola and it was tasting, at its best, like the famous American drink: slightly acidic and bitter if mixed with gall or with special herbs, plus honey.

Is math boring?

galois[1]Mathematic may be a boring subject, but often it is so just because some teachers don’t know the thrilling history hiding behind the numbers, or they don’t know how to tell to their students. Take for instance the claim made by the Greek mathematician Proclus (410 -485) that politicians and rich landlords were cheating common people, not familiar with geometry and math, by convincing them that plots of land with a longer perimeter translates into a larger area. Just think of a flat 100 feet long and 10 feet wide. It has a longer perimeter than a flat of, say, 50 feet long and 40 feet wide. In fact the first has a perimeter of 220 feet, the second 180 feet but the surface of the first will be 1.000 square feet, while the second will be 2000.

In prehistory the most advanced mathematicians were the Sumerians. There are surviving baked clay tablets, some dating four thousand years before Christ, which are mainly concerned about “real estate” problems. In fact they were not yet able to handle square roots, for that we have to get to the Egyptian, the Chinese and the Greeks, but they knew how to handle simple quadratic linear equations.

There is a famous book by Muhammad Ibn Musa, the Kithab al-jabr wa al-muqabalah, where the second word shows the origin of the term algebra. The Arabs saved some of the old inventions for the modern world, transmitting them down to the mathematicians of the Renaissance.

The Tuscan algebrists of the fourteen century were convinced that the solution of cubic and quadratic equations was a mission impossible. In fact Luca Pacioli (1445-1517) a friend of Leonardo Da Vinci, in his popular treatise Summa de Arithmetica concluded that there was no possible solution. In spite of such conclusion the brightest mathematical minds of the time struggled to find it. The first to crack it was a mathematician from Bologna, Scipione Dal Ferro (1465-1526). He did not publish his findings but disclosed them to some of his pupils. One of them leaked it out, after his death, to Tartaglia (the stammerer in Italian) from Brescia (1500 – 1557). He boasted aloud about it, claiming to be the inventor. Here enter another odd character: Girolamo Cardano (1501 – 1576?) a physician, astrologer, historian and many more things. His autobiography had been translated in many languages and it is still a classic in his genre. He tried in vain to get the magic formula out of Tartaglia, but without success. He then tried flattery, inviting him to Milan, paying for all his expenses. Tartaglia took the bait and in 1539, perhaps due to generous offerings of fine wine and the introduction to some powerful political figures, he unveiled the secret to Cardano using a poem. He then demanded him not to publish and keep the secret. Few years later Cardan discovered that the real inventor had been Dal Ferro not Tartaglia. Then, together with his gifted student, Ludovico Ferrari (1522-1565) who will die prematurely murdered by his own sister, in 1545 Cardan published in Nuremberg a book which constitutes a milestone in modern algebra, its title is the Ars Magna. Besides the cubic equations also the solution of the quadratic equations is elegantly given there, but it is probably due to Ferrari. He mentioned Tartaglia as the man who disclosed the formula to him but despite that the answer of Tartaglia was red hot rage. A series of public letters ensued, called cartelli full of insults and with a final public showdown in Milan. The European scientific community was holding its breath, waiting for the verdict. Ferrari made mincemeat of poor Tartaglia, who had to back off. After that even the solution of quintic equations seemed close at hand, and all the most brilliant mathematical minds set to work on it. But for three centuries they did not get results.In fact the equations in X3 and X4 could be resolved by a system of scaling down them by one degree but when the same system was applied on the X5, things went wrong.

The first to have understood that there was no standard solution possible was Lagrange (1736 – 1813) from Turin, but was Paolo Ruffini (1765-1822) from Modena, who spent all his life on the quintic and finally proved, in a rather convolute book which went unnoticed, that a solution of X5 by using only additions, subtractions, multiplications, divisions and extractions of roots, will never be found. To solve them an elliptic approach was needed, and it is still used today.

The final words on such millennial problem are those of two whiz-kinds. Norwegian Niels Abel (1802-1829) and Frenchman Evariste Galois (1811-1832). Abel died in obscurity, with his diary which went lost but then resurfaced in Florence in 1952. Abel introduced the concept of reduction ad absurdum in algebra, that is, instead of looking for proofs on the solvability it is better to concentrate on the contradictions. To atone with such neglect, in 2002, the Norwegian government created the Abel prize for mathematic, a sort of Nobel.  Also Evariste Galois was a tragic figure: short tempered, a school dropout for having sneered at his math professor, a revolutionary who was shot mysteriously in a dark alley of Paris for unknown reasons. He tackled the problem by using symmetry and creating, out of nowhere, a new branch of algebra, known today as Galois Theory he remains to this day one of the most beautiful minds ever existed.