Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

The Great Mechanic

Syracuse in Sicily was a Greek colony. Nearly three hundred years before the time of Christ a boy was born in that city, who grew up to be a most wonderful man. It is said that he was a relative of the king of Syracuse, who was very fond of him and whom he helped in war against the Romans.

This boy was named Archimedes. He had a deep love for geometry and became a great astronomer according to the learning of his time. He invented many wonderful machines which were used to protect his city in time of war. Some of these threw darts and stones against the enemies who came by land; others cast huge rocks upon the ships that sailed into the harbor to attack the city.

Marcellus, the Roman general, thought that these machines could only throw a long distance and that, as his vessels came nearer, the stones would fly over them and do no harm. But Archimedes had arranged his engines so that when the ships drew near the rocks crashed upon them, breaking their masts, knocking overboard the rowers, and often sinking the vessels.

It is said that he placed rows of burning-glasses so that they set fire to the Roman vessels when they were far off; and that he made a long arm which reached out from the wall, caught one of the enemy's boats and turned it around like a toy.

At any rate he made Marcellus afraid to come near the city, either by land or sea. The soldiers and the vessels stayed out of reach and watched Syracuse so that nobody could go in or come out. This they did for three years hoping to conquer the people by starvation.

Archimedes did much more than protect the city. He had a very busy mind and wrote books, copies of which are in the great libraries of the world to-day. He found out many wonderful truths and set them down in writing and it was nearly two thousand years before men learned more than he had taught about those subjects.

Here is a story often told in regard to him.

The king of Syracuse had given a jeweler a certain weight of gold to be made into a crown. He did not feel satisfied that all the gold had been used for that purpose.

He called Archimedes and said, "Cousin, I think my jeweler has cheated me. The crown weighs as much as the gold I gave him, but I believe he has kept some of it and put silver in its place. You know many things; can you help me find out the truth about this?"

Archimedes said, "I do not know how that can be done but I will try."

He thought a long time but saw no way to answer the question. One day he was taking a bath and noticed for the first time that his body pushed away just so much water. The thought flashed into his mind, "Gold is heavier than silver and takes up less room. It will then push aside less water. I have found the secret." A few minutes later the people of Syracuse were astonished to see him running through the streets to his home crying out, "Eureka! Eureka!"  which means, "I have found it! I have found it!"

He put the crown into water and noticed how much of the liquid was pushed aside. Then he took the same weight of gold and tried that. The gold pushed away less than the crown. Then he tried silver which displaced more water; and at last he found out exactly how much silver had been mixed with gold in making the crown.

Do you know what a lever is? It is a stick or bar by which men can easily move heavy weights. Archimedes used that tool a great deal and said, "Give me a place on which to stand and I will move the world!" But he never found that place.

He was so busy with his studies that he did not know when the Romans captured Syracuse. After three years of waiting Marcellus entered and took possession of the rich and beautiful city. He did not mean to harm Archimedes, so he sent a soldier to bring the great man to him. The warrior found the student bending over his books and told him that he must go to the general. Archimedes asked him to please wait a little until he had finished his study. The soldier did not know who this gray old man was but he killed him with a blow of his sword.

Marcellus was very sorry. He made a great funeral for Archimedes and built over his grave a monument on which was carved a sphere and cylinder. Archimedes had been greatly pleased with himself for finding out the relation between these two bodies.

One hundred and thirty-six years afterwards the famous Roman, Cicero, went to Syracuse. The chief men of the city said, "What shall we show you first?" He answered, "Lead me to the tomb of Archimedes."

They replied, "We have never seen it. We do not know where it is!"

Cicero went alone, and searched the cemeteries. In one place he found bushes and briers with the top of a pillar showing above them. He cleared away the brambles and there was the grave of Archimedes and above it his monument, engraved with the sphere and cylinder which he had wished should mark his last resting-place.