By George, I've Got It!

Some may spot a somewhat oblique reference to the wonderful Lerner and Lowe musical, My Fair Lady, when Professor Higgins sings, ‘By George, she’s got it!’ as Eliza smooths over her accent as he wishes to sing, ‘The Rain in Spain stays mainly in the Plain!’ Here, I was using it as an idiomatic, that is to say, very English rendering of Archimedes’ ‘EUREKA’. This wonderful mathematician and inventor is something of a hero of mine. He was quite brilliant and nearly took out the Romans at the siege of Syracuse during the Hannibalic War. The great, but brutish, Roman commander Marcellus said that Archimedes was ‘turning his ships into wine ladels’ with his phenomenal catapult that was sinking the Roman fleet. But here, I wish to give an overview of one of tis more enduring inventions, the Archimedes’ screw. A good, but quite likely apocryphal, tale relates that Archimedes conceived of the idea of the screw when he observed the raising of water in his bathtub due to displacement. Whatever the truth of the moment of discovery, Archimedes discovered a technique of extracting water and irrigation that is still visible in modern engineering. I remember seeing an article praising a new technique for water extraction, but it was none other than Archimedes’ gift to humanity.


Brilliant also in geometry, the suffering general Marcellus was a great admirer of Archimedes. When Syracuse eventually fell, Marcellus asked for Archimedes to be brought to him alive. It all went a bit wrong. A solider who asked an unknown man, examining geometric diagrams at the time, to state his name, was incensed at the lack of response. Poor Archimedey was far too absorbed in more pressing intellectual matters than the fall of his city. The soldier, not knowing who this disobedient shape-gazing weirdo was, slayed him. Marcellus was so upset when he found out about the untimely demise of Archimedes ordered the impetuous soldier to be flogged.


Archimedes was an incredible ancient thinker. He is worthy to be remembered and taught.


A lovely invention that he was alleged to have discovered, was a means of deflecting sunlight onto the Roman ships and burning them. Quite possibly a glamorous apocryphal tale. But even if this were mere fabrication, it by no means diminishes the importance of Archimedes as ancient inventor and mathematician.

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