“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”
The Syracusia, a luxurious ship weighing in at 4,064 tons, sat uselessly on shore, a beached monstrosity. “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Archimedes boldly proclaimed to King Heiron II of Syracuse in Sicily around 260 BC. Impervious to the pressures that an impatient king and a skeptical crowd could bring to bear, Archimedes single-handedly launched the Syracusia, one of the largest vessels of the ancient world. His ingenious arrangement of levers and pulleys did what huge teams of men pulling ropes could not accomplish.
Archimedes was a legend in his own life and is considered, in our age, to be the greatest inventor of ancient times. Sir Isaac Newton was known to be in awe of him. The inventor of the pulleys and levers that could launch a ship also designed the first water pump, called an Archimedes screw which is still used today. He created a planetarium to show the motions of all the planets. When Syracuse was besieged by the Roman fleet, Archimedes used his skill to protect his beloved city. He constructed catapults to bombard the ships with boulders, grappling devices to throw down scaling ladders, and even a hook and crane to lift massive enemy boats out of the water and tip them over. Even so, in many respects, his inventions were the least of his achievements.
Archimedes was the world’s first great Scientist. He went beyond the study of scientific subjects by thinking about problems in the scientific way that we now take for granted. But that is for another post…
“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing up the shoulders of giants.”
Sir Isaac Newton