Site Search

Like and Share Us!

Click Yellow Button below to Bookmark this Page!




ArchemedesArchimedes, the celebrated Greek mathematician, was born at Syracuse, in Sicily, about 287 B.C. He was not only the greatest geometer of antiquity, but be was well versed in hydrostatics and mechanics, and had a great genius for the invention of machines. He is supposed to have been a pupil of Conon, of Egypt, and a relative of Hiero II., King of Syracuse, by whom he was patronized. He enriched geometry, mathematics and mechanics with important discoveries. His knowledge of the doctrine of specific gravities is proved by the story of his discoveryof the mixture of silver with gold in King Hiero's crown, which fraud he detected by comparing the quantity of water displaced by equal weights of gold and silver. The solution of this problem occurred to him when he entered a public bath and perceived that his body must displace a volume of water equal to its bulk. According to the common story, naked as he was, he ran out into the street, exclaiming, "Eureka" I have found it". As a result of this discovery he established the general fact that a body immersed in a liquid loses a portion of its weight equal to that of the liquid it displaces.


Archimedes, in practical applications of mechanics, rude much use of the lever, and bis appreciation of its power is shown by his famous saying, "Give me where I may stand and I will move the world." He possessed an extraordinary talent for investigating abstract truths and inventing demonstrations in the higher branches of geometry. Nearly eighteen hundred years elapsed after his discoveries before any further progress was made in theoretical mechanics. He possessed," says Professor Donkin, "in a degree never exceeded, unless by Newton, the inventive genius which discovers new province; of inquiry, and finds new points of view for old and familiar objects i the clearness of conception which is essential to the resolution of complex phenomena into their elements, and the power and habit of intense and persevering thought. 


Yet the general fame of Archimedes rests on his practical applications of scientific principles. The greatest demonstrations of his genius for applied science and the invent.ion of machines appeared during the siege of Syracuse. This city, then one of the great commercial emporiums of the Greek world, was attacked by sea and land by the Roman general Marcellus, 214 B.C. King Hiero had persuaded Archimedes to construct a variety of engines and machines which could be used for attack or defense. According to Plutarch his engines shot against the land forces all sorts of missiles, weapons and stones of enormous size, which overturned and crushed whatever came in their way, and spread terrible disorder through the ranks of the besiegers. On the side towards the sea were erected vast machines. The statement that he burned Roman ships by means of mirrors or lenses is discredited, as none of the historians, Livy, Plutarch or Polybius, mention such a thing.


Marcellus, baffled by the ingenuity of the philosopher, gave up all hope of taking the city by assault, and turned the siege into a blockade. About three years after the beginning of the siege, Syracuse was taken, in 212 B.C. Archimedes was killed by a Roman soldier, who came upon him while he was engaged in some mathematical researches. It is said that the soldier ordered the geometrician to follow him to Marcellus, and he refused to go until he had finished his problem.


Archimedes," says Plutarch, He had such a depth of understanding, such a dignity of sentiment, and so copious a fund of mathematical knowledge, that though in the invention of these machines he gained the reputation of a man endowed with divine rather than human knowledge, yet he did not vouchsafe to leave any account of them in writing.




For he considered all attention to mechanics, and every art that ministers to common uses, as mean and sordid, and placed his whole delight in those intellectual speculations, which, without any relation to the necessities of life, have an intrinsic excellence arising from truth and demonstration only." Eight of his works are extant. Among them are treatises on the Sphere and the Cylinder, on Spirals, and the Measurement of the Circle, in which he proves that the circumference is to the diameter nearly as 22 to 7, or 3-1428 to 1.




Archimedes, at a time when all things were in confusion at Syracuse, shut up in his closet like a man of another world, who had no regard for what passed in this, was intent upon the study of some geometrical figure and not only his eyes, but the whole faculties of his soul were so engaged in this contemplation, that he had neither heard the tumult of the Romans, busy in plundering, nor the report of the city's being taken. A soldier came suddenly in upon him, and ordered him to follow him to Marcellus. Archimedes desired him to stay a moment till he had solved his problem and finished the demonstration of it. The soldier, who cared for neither his problem nor the demonstration, enraged at this delay, drew his sword and killed him. Marcellus was exceedingly afflicted when he heard the news of his death. Not being able to restore him to life, he applied himself to honor his memory to the utmost of his power. He made a diligent search after all his relations, treated them with great distinction, and granted them peculiar privileges. He caused the funeral of Archimedes to be celebrated in the most solemn manner, and erected a monument to him among the tombs of those who had distinguished themselves most at Syracuse.


Archimedes, in his will, had desired his relations and friends to put no other epitaph on his tomb than a cylinder circumscribed by a sphere, and to note below them the relation which those two solids have to each other. He might have filled up the bases of the columns of his tomb with relieves, wherein the whole history of the siege of Syracuse might have been carved, and himself appearing like another Jupiter thundering upon the Romans i but he set an infinitely higher value upon the discovery of a geometrical demonstration, than upon all the celebrated machines of his invention. He chose rather to do himself honor with posterity, by the discovery he had made of the relation of a sphere to a cylinder of the same base and height, which is as two to three.


The Syracusans, who had been in former times so fond of the sciences, did not long retain the esteem and gratitude they owed a man who had done so much honor to their city. Less than one hundred and forty years after, Archimedes was so perfectly forgotten by his citizens, notwithstanding the great services he had done them, that they denied his having been buried at Syracuse.


It is from Cicero we have this story of the discovery of his tomb: At the time when he was quaestor in Sicily, his curiosity induced him to make a search after the tomb of Archimedes-a curiosity that became a man of Cicero's genius. The Syracusans assured him that his search would be to no purpose, and that there was no such monument among them. Cicero pitied their ignorance, which only served to increase his desire of making that discovery. At length, after several fruitless attempts, he perceived without the gate of the city, facing Agrigentum, among a great number of tombs, a pillar almost entirely covered with thorns and brambles, through which he could discern the figure of a sphere and cylinder. Those who have taste for antiquities may easily conceive the joy of Cicero upon this occasion. He also cried out, "Eureka, I have found what I looked for." The place was immediately ordered to be cleared, when they saw the inscription still legible, though part of the lines were obliterated by time so that, says Cicero, the greatest city of Greece, and most flourishing of old in the studies of science, would not have known the treasure it possessed, if a mall, born in a country considered almost as barbarous, had not discovered for it the tomb of its citizen, so highly distinguished by force and penetration of mind.


We are obliged to Cicero for having left us this curious and elegant account; but we cannot easily pardon him for the contemptuous manner in which he speaks at first of Archimedes. It is in the beginning, where-intending to compare the unhappy life of Dionysius the tyrant with the felicity of one passed in sober virtue and abounding with wisdom-he says "I will not compare the lives of a Plato or all Archytas, persons of consummate learning and wisdom, with that of Dionysius, the most horrid, the most miserable, and the most detestable that call be imagined. I shall have recourse to a man of his own city, a little obscure person, who lived many years after him. I shall produce him from his dust, and bring him into view with his rule and compasses in his hand." Not to dwell on the high birth of Archimedes, since his greatness was of a different class, as the most famou geometrician of antiquity, whose sublime discoveries have in all ages been the admiration of tile learned, why should Cicero have treated this man as little and obscure, as a common artificer employed in making machines, unless it be, perhaps, because the Romans, with whom a taste for geometry and such speculative sciences never gained much ground, esteemed nothing great but what related to government and policy?


Let others better could the running man Of metals, and inform the breathing brass, And soften into flesh a marble face; Plead better at the bar, describe the skies, And when the stars descend, and when they rise. But, Rome, 'tis thine alone with awful sway To rule mankind, and make the world obey; Disposing peace and war, thy of majestic way." Dryden's Virgil. C. ROLLIN.



Would you like Affordable Service Repair Manuals as PDF download?

Starting from Only $1 to $9.95

Affordable PDF Download Shop Manuals Here!

Render time: 0.02 seconds
169,720 unique visits