I’ve walked on the same streets as Archimedes. I’ve stood at the harbour from the furthest point, where he stood, looking over at the Ionian Sea.
Twenty three centuries ago he was born here, a Siracusan, a man with the greatest mathematical mind of the ancient world. If he were alive today, he would be known as an Italian.
To be truthful, I don’t know much about this man apart from Eureka! and the story of the burning mirrors, so I called in to his Museum, the Arkimedeion, set in the Piazza named for him.
It turns out he was a local hero.
During the siege of Siracusa by the Romans in 212 BCE, he constructed war machines so terrible and so effective that they long delayed the capture of the city.
He designed cranes which were attached to the masts of warships, capable of hurling missiles, and a catapult that could throw weights of 75 kilograms.
It’s said that he positioned mirrors to deflect the heat of the sun to set fire to an attacking fleet of Roman military ships. That’s the story I heard as a child but some historians disagree with the mirrors and say that he invented steam cannon.
Whatever weapons of war he came up with, they were truly horrible.
There was a working model of a ballista although I didn’t feel like giving it a go. Instead I played with a toy screw and pressed buttons to create laser beams. The last exercise demonstrated some mathematical principle but I must have been away from school the day we learned that. Math was never my strong point, quite the opposite.
Of course the ‘Archimedes Screw’ was a helpful invention, it’s still used in developing countries today.
A quick (one minute) demonstration of the Screw. It seems so obvious now but it was a startling device back in Archimedes’ time.
Everyone knows the Eureka story
The street where Archimedes ran shrieking I found it! I found it! was pointed out to me but I took that with a grain of salt (un pizzico di sale). A good tale for visitors anyway.
The Museo itself is set in a beautiful old 17th century palazzo and it’s worth the 6 euro entrance fee just to look at the enormous arched doorways and high vaulted ceilings.
Here’s a blast from the past – Professor Julius Sumner Miller. I was an avid viewer of his television shows some years back. Why am I saying “some” years? Many, many years ago. Molto tempo fa!
Did you watch Julius Sumner Miller?
Why is it so?