Archimedes
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Archimedes The Life and Work of Archimedes - Page 3

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One other device attributed to Archimedes in conjunction with the siege of Syracuse is a burning mirror that set the Roman ships on fire once they were within bowshot. Recently referred to as Archimedes Death Ray , it is believed that such a device was made by Archimedes although it was not used as a defensive weapon. (Such a device was used to defend Constantinople in 514 A.D.). 1112

In his death, history relates, Archimedes was absorbed in mathematical contemplation. After a two year siege of Syracuse , the Romans temporarily withdrew their forces creating an air of overconfidence amongst the Syracuse population. During a religious festival, Pro-Roman sympathizers led the Roman forces to the weak points in the defenses, enabling them to overrun the city. Marcellus gave specific orders to spare the life of Archimedes, but in the confusion of the sack of the city, he was slain by a common soldier. 11  It is here that many different accounts of Archimedes' death are given. 

Death of ArchimedesPlutarch provides a number of versions. In his first, he states that Archimedes was so involved working a solution to a problem with a diagram that he did not noticed the invasion of the Romans. When a soldier took him by surprise and requested that he follow to Marcellus, Archimedes told the soldier to wait until he arrived at his solution. This so enraged the soldier that he killed Archimedes on the spot. 

The other versions of the story are similar with the most colorful quoting Archimedes as saying, “Stand away, fellow, from my diagram," causing rage in the soldier. In his grief for the death of such a noble person, Marcellus erected an elaborate monument in Archimedes' honor and directed that he be honored with a burial. As requested by Archimedes, his friends and relatives placed on his tomb a representation of a cylinder circumscribing a sphere within it and an inscription stating the relationship between the two bodies (the volume of a sphere is equal to two thirds that of the circumscribing cylinder). From this, it can be inferred that Archimedes considered this his greatest achievement.

Centuries later,  Archimedes's tomb was found in a neglected state and identified because of the inscription by the Roman orator Cicero. Cicero restored the tomb stating in disgust “And thus one of the noblest cities of Greece, once indeed a very great seat of learning, would have been ignorant of the monument of its most brilliant citizen, except that it was revealed by a man of  Arpinum.”  12

Archimedes: A Biography excerpted by permission from "The History of Mathematics" by John C. Blewett © 1992

References   << Back

1.  T.L. Heath, The Works of Archimedes, with a supplement The Methods of Archimedes as discovered by Heiberg, (New York: Dover Publications, 1912), p. xv

2.  Justus Schifferes, "The Alexandrian School," The Book of Popular Science, September 1956, p.355

3. Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor in Chief, Great Books of the Western World, II. Euclid, Archimedes, Apollonius of Perga, Nicomachus, (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1952), p. 399

4. Heath, p. xvi

5. Marshall Clagett, “Archimedes," Collier s Encyclopedia, Volume 2, 1988

6. "Archimedes," Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., Volume 2, 1972

7. Clagett, p.479

8. Heath, pp. xix, xx

9. David M. Burton, The History of Mathematics, An Introduction, Second Edition, (Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1991), p. 206

10. Heath, p.xvii

11. Burton, p. 206  

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Invented in Egypt by the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes , the Archimedes Screw , or water screw , as it is commonly known, was used for irrigation and lifting water from mines and ship bilges.  The water screw works wonderfully for science and history class assignments and science fair projects.

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Inspired by the great war machines and siege catapults of Leonardo da Vinci , this all Red Oak hardwood trebuchet features an open counterweight cabinet for range and trajectory adjustment. 

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