Roman antiques history tell us how Archimedes was the original absent minded professor. I was first he who ran naked through the streets shouting Eureka, I have found it.
And he had indeed found a complicated mathematical solution giving an answer to the question put to him and other scholars by the King of Syracuse: how to prove if the goldsmith had added any impurities to what was to be solid gold in his crown.
Syracuse and southern Italy have Greek columns, but since the time Archimedes this has become an integral part of Rome, and eventually after many centuries, modern Italy. But this was not so through the life of Archimedes, he who runs from his baths naked, shouting in the streets.
In Syracuse was a wise and kind king, but in Rome this activity, no matter how noble and over achieving from any small background science to build upon, might cost a life. And so it came to be when Rome finally conquered Sicily, even though it was the last thing they wanted to achieve. They wanted Archimedes alive for his genius: some soldier brought him his head.
Observers later noted that Archimedes had entered the baths slowly as if deep in thought, and only after a series of slowly plunging into and rising from his bath, had he jumped up and ran from the baths, shouting Eureka as he ran into the streets. At the palace of the king, hopefully Archimedes was supplied with a robe.
And then he could report his discovery to the king, in great excitement that he had noticed, by his lifting and then sinking in the baths, his body displaced an equal volume of water.
Through this Archimedes was able to walk through a series of complex conclusions and allow his king to conduct likely the first scientific experiment in history. He was soon the talk of the town as word got around that alchemist Archimedes was the only citizen allowed to run shouting naked through the streets.
All because he babbled in antique books learning. Rare Roman antiques come out of hot baths brought to you naked: this one did. Roman antiques books tell the truth as known in antique times, and how so typical of natural scientific genius.
It was the pure mathematical nature of an unknown that drew Archimedes to write in books: not the routine mechanics of solving a personal problem, even if it came to the amazing devices he created to held off Romans for over three years.
In their attempt to take over the Kingdom of Sicily, the Roman General Marcellus had orders to take Sicily, and the capital, Syracuse, or not return to Rome alive.
And as usual, Rome would triumph, but in these early days of the Roman Empire, triumph was not yet always a given.
The lifetime of Archimedes (287-212 B.C.E) was a period when the growing empire of Rome, fading Greece and ancient, rich, glorious Egypt were still all more or less equal powers. But Egypt was the great civilization, where the great scholars were awarded scholarships.
Educated in Alexandria, Egypt, Archimedes had made his name by inventing the Archimedes Screw, which is still in use today to pull water, or grain upward. This was like an early Ferris wheel and could lift water out of the Nile into the channels created to roll water through the desert nearby.
When back home in Syracuse, Archimedes was most content, like Newton almost two thousand years later, to sit and observe, write notes, only to relent to help build machines to irrigate or make work reluctantly. Even at this, he often left some of his most amazing achievements out of his antique science books.
Archimedes unintended death came after the Romans were forced to starve out, then rely on betrayal as Archimedes’ giant cranes were picking Roman galleons out of the sea. He created giant levers for shooting balls of burning tar at the Roman ships, articles of war unseen before, and picked up by Romans as their own, after their flawed victory.
However, when Marcellus entered Syracuse, although all other civic leaders appeared to Marcellus and bowed before their new leader, Archimedes was on a beach nearby, scratching an equation into the sand. And here is one of those ironies of life that could have happened yesterday, and neither you or I would be surprised.
Marcellus was eager to offer his tribute to their great catch the genius Archimedes, and to begin to use his talents. But, he was also a bit annoyed that Archimedes was not there. So while all praised Caesar, Marcellus perhaps grumpily sent for Archimedes so they could talk. And as these instructions passed from officer to sergeant to common foot soldier with a large sword the message became blunter. He understood that he was to bring Archimedes to the Marcellus.
Caesar on Sicily now, to the General at once. The foot soldier found Archimedes on a beach. He was scratching an equation in the sand, which would have been duly entered into his next science books. The soldier informed his orders to Archimedes, who must have waved his hand, said in effect, wait a moment, I must finish writing this down or I may forget.
The soldier took this as impudence from an old fool with a stick on the beach, who has been told to come and bow before his Caesar. He has waved his hand in arrogance to me.The soldier did as Roman soldiers did when they meet resistance. He raised his sword and brought the head of Archimedes to a horrified Marcellus and his advisers from Rome.
Upon this, Marcellus was furious, embarrassed; he knew that Rome knew he had lost a brilliant mind. The soldier did not get a promotion, Archimedes family were honored all their lives by Marcellus. More on Archimedes, he produced an extraordinary series of mathematical theories and principals, many form the basis of modern mathematical knowledge and have come forward from the first, and finest scientist in the history of the earth. Archimedes achieved more, and we will talk further about that soon.
There is such an amazing feeling to read old manuscripts and sense the moments of aha in the life of a scientist, and how soon others are proving and building on each scientific move forward, sometimes in cooperation, sometimes in fragile ego battles. Some of these stories in our steps forward are included here.