Archimedes : biography

circa 287 BC – circa 212 BC

Other discoveries and inventions

While Archimedes did not invent the lever, he gave an explanation of the principle involved in his work On the Equilibrium of Planes. Earlier descriptions of the lever are found in the Peripatetic school of the followers of Aristotle, and are sometimes attributed to Archytas. According to Pappus of Alexandria, Archimedes’ work on levers caused him to remark: "Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth." ()Quoted by Pappus of Alexandria in Synagoge, Book VIII Plutarch describes how Archimedes designed block-and-tackle pulley systems, allowing sailors to use the principle of leverage to lift objects that would otherwise have been too heavy to move. Archimedes has also been credited with improving the power and accuracy of the catapult, and with inventing the odometer during the First Punic War. The odometer was described as a cart with a gear mechanism that dropped a ball into a container after each mile traveled.

Cicero (106–43 BC) mentions Archimedes briefly in his dialogue De re publica, which portrays a fictional conversation taking place in 129 BC. After the capture of Syracuse c. 212 BC, General Marcus Claudius Marcellus is said to have taken back to Rome two mechanisms, constructed by Archimedes and used as aids in astronomy, which showed the motion of the Sun, Moon and five planets. Cicero mentions similar mechanisms designed by Thales of Miletus and Eudoxus of Cnidus. The dialogue says that Marcellus kept one of the devices as his only personal loot from Syracuse, and donated the other to the Temple of Virtue in Rome. Marcellus’ mechanism was demonstrated, according to Cicero, by Gaius Sulpicius Gallus to Lucius Furius Philus, who described it thus:

This is a description of a planetarium or orrery. Pappus of Alexandria stated that Archimedes had written a manuscript (now lost) on the construction of these mechanisms entitled . Modern research in this area has been focused on the Antikythera mechanism, another device from classical antiquity that was probably designed for the same purpose. Constructing mechanisms of this kind would have required a sophisticated knowledge of differential gearing. This was once thought to have been beyond the range of the technology available in ancient times, but the discovery of the Antikythera mechanism in 1902 has confirmed that devices of this kind were known to the ancient Greeks.