Does Anyone Know About Archimedes?

A twist of mathematics tied into science.

Does Anyone Know About Archimedes?

Laura, Zittlow

When walking down the halls of Southern Door, you don’t hear much about Archimedes. So does anyone know anything about him? After a recent survey that I administered, the results indicated that people know little to nothing about him. Forty-seven of the seventy-five people interviewed admitted that they knew nothing about him. However, to make matters worse, of those who know something about him, mainly said things along the lines of “He’s dead,” “He had curly hair,” “Isn’t he a god?” “Which one?” and “He is old.” Now, you may be asking yourself, why does one care so much about Archimedes? Well, it is a very simple answer. He contributed a lot of mathematical and scientific knowledge. 

First and foremost, Archimedes is not the name of a Greek or Roman god. He is a Greek mathematician, inventor, and rationalist among many things. And there is only one person credited with the name Archimedes, and it is The Archimedes. He is most credited with his discovery of mass (Eureka), the finding of the relationship between the surface area and volume of a sphere and its circumscribing cylinder (Archimedes Sphere), his Principle, and the Archimedes screw. To clarify, Archimedes has been dead for over 2,000 years and according to his artistic busts, he had curly hair. 

Some basic facts about Archimedes that everyone should know include: he was born in Syracuse in 287 BC and died in Syracuse in 212 BC, he studied in Alexandria, Egypt, he had a very accurate measurement of the square root of three and pi among others, and he is quoted as having said “Give me a place to stand and I will move the Earth,” when he supposedly used mirrors to burn ships. Some sources that share that the burning of ships with mirrors is all a story and probably didn’t happen. He has a law of levers that later helped us with mechanics. Archimedes only explained how levers worked. He helped make war machines for his city that delayed a successful attack by the Romans for a couple of years. He was very advanced for his time and it took about 1800 years before anyone could understand what he meant. To many people’s surprise, he was 75 years old when he died which was by murder. 

For me, the most fascinating thing about Archimedes is the way he died. No one truly knows how he died, so people have come up with theories about how he died based on evidence they have found. I know that some sources lead you to believe that the way they described his death is the way he died. However, if you have noticed, the way he died is never the same. Some sources will tell that there are many theories about his death. One theory is that during the Siege of Syracuse a Roman soldier killed him even though the soldiers were given an order not to kill him (Wikipedia). Why the soldier killed him is unknown in this theory. Another theory is that during a siege on the city (most likely Syracuse) he was in, a Roman soldier asked him to leave, but Archimedes refused to leave his mathematical work behind (History of Mathematics Vol. 1). There isn’t much of a difference between these two theories.  Another theory is that a Roman soldier charged him, and wanting to finish his work, Archimedes said that he didn’t want to die yet. Unfortunately, his last words weren’t enough to save him (History of Mathematics Vol. 1). A theory that doesn’t include a siege on a city, is that Archimedes was killed because he was mistaken as a thief. However, Archimedes was just carrying mathematical instruments to measure the distance to the sun and not gold hidden in vessels(History of Mathematics Vol. 1). Lastly, a popular theory among kids after they hear it is that during the Second Punic War a Roman Soldier entered the house sword drawn and ready to kill. To the soldier’s surprise, Archimedes had replied: “Do not disturb my circles.” (Greeka). Now some sources will tell you that he probably didn’t die because he didn’t want to leave his mathematics behind. However, it is up to you to decide. 

Archimedes is one of the more famous rationalists. As a rationalist, he works through scientific problems with known mathematics and reason. They (the Greeks and Romans) didn’t “experiment” scientifically. Meaning that their way of experimenting (which was mostly observations) doesn’t fall in the category of scientific by today’s standards. According to the famous “Eureka” story, he was given the task of finding out if the king’s crown was actually made out of pure gold. In trying to find if the crown was made of pure gold, he discovered the idea of mass. When he was thinking about water displacement and objects mass (also known as stepping into a tub full of water), he came across the idea of buoyancy. The idea became known as the Archimedes principle. When he was in Egypt he invented his famous Archimedes screw that worked as a water pump. It is used to transfer water from a low-lying source to a higher spot like an irrigation ditch. 

In conclusion, Archimedes is a great mathematician that everyone should know about. He was much more than any old guy with curly hair. He was a guy that was very advanced for his time. He is credited with many things that we now take for granted. Also, his death is a great mystery. In case you are wondering, there was a biography written on him by a friend of his, Heracledies, however, this is lost to history.  What facts about Archimedes most fascinates you? His death? His achievements? His hair? Or his quotes?


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