Killing Archimedes

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Bill O’Reilly and his researchers probably do not have this title on their book plan.  But the death of the great mathematician Archimedes in 212 BC reveals much about human nature and history.

Works of Archimedes, the “Palimpsest,” discovered in 1906.  Wikipedia

Archimedes was a Greek who lived in Syracuse, Sicily, for most of his 75 years.  He was born in 287 BC, schooled in Alexandria by followers of Euclid.

The story most of us have heard is that while taking a bath, Archimedes was hit with the theory of displacement, immediately crying, “Eureka!” and running through town before thinking to put his clothes back on.  If this is true, he had probably been taken forcibly to the tub by people who couldn’t stand his lack of hygiene.  It’s been said that he forgot to eat and take care of himself while working on problems.  He was the world’s first absent-minded professor.

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Plutarch (46-122 AD), who wrote double biographies contrasting Greeks and Romans, said that Archimedes was a relative and friend of King Hiero. who himself lived in comfort and isolation.  They shared a fondness for  “mathematical amusements.”  Archimedes  began writing about parabolas, circles, spheres, cylinders  and floating bodies.  He invented the water screw which dried out mines and would irrigate the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Everybody’s favorite: the parabola.  Wikipedia

When the Romans began their two-year siege on the port of Syracuse, Archimedes’ inventions were applied to its defense.  Catapults heaved darts and spears at the enemy.  Compound pulleys swung their galleys ridiculously high out of the water, flinging sailors to the sea below and dashing the boats on the rocks.

Marcellus, the general, had a standing order to capture Archimedes alive.  Who wouldn’t want him on their side?  There are a couple of versions of his death not reported by Plutarch.  One was that a Roman soldier came upon him drawing in the sand, told him to come along with him, and when he failed to receive an answer ran him through with a sword.

Another story was that Archimedes was working on problems at his desk when soldiers entered his house.  Thinking his instruments were weapons (which they could have been), they killed him as he remained silent.

He had planned a cylinder within a sphere for his gravestone, with the ratio of one to the other inscribed on it.

At any rate, ignorance killed Archimedes.   The world will never know what else “the wise one”  might have added to calculus and engineering classes of the future and to the betterment of mankind.  A great mind was silenced by a subservant of the conquering realm.

Sources:,,,,  First time for me to reference the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.  Thanks, guys.

2 Replies to “Killing Archimedes”

  1. Interesting — smart people have to keep creating and keep doing. They can’t help it. Good for Archimedes, keeping on keeping on … until he couldn’t anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

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