where the writers are
The Bronze Serpent (a Brainteaser)

Among the collection of small collections that I’ve accumulated willy-nilly over the years is a group of ancient Roman brooches.



Each item in this menagerie is interesting enough to merit its own blog post. But there’s one brooch that I particularly like because within its contours lies an elegant little puzzle. This puzzle gives a flavor of how Ambrose reasons in Tetraktys.


The brooch, as you see, is shaped like a serpent; the handsome green is a patina that formed over the bronze. Richard Hattatt, a major collector, and writer of four books on ancient brooches, once owned it. On the right is the hand-drawn sketch he published in his Iron Age and Roman Brooches. Hattatt called the brooch a “freak.” It was originally circular or “penannular,” a common shape in antiquity—as with the brooches you see below, which Hattatt sketched on the same page as the “S-brooch.”


Many centuries ago, however, someone bent this brooch from its original, circular shape into a serpentine one. Who reworked it and why this person did so, we’ll never know.

But what we do know is that the S-brooch was refashioned in the ancient world, and not after it was unearthed by someone in the south of England. So here’s the puzzle: How do we know? Here’s one more picture, to help reveal the clue…


To learn the answer, click here!