the crown of Hiero
Architectura (known in English as The
Ten Books of Architecture) Roman architect Marcus
Vitruvius Pollio has given us the famous "Eureka" story
having to do with Archimedes.
The Sage of Syracuse was charged by King Hiero with
determining whether or not the monarch's golden crown
really had all the original gold consigned to the smith
for the job or whether the artisan had pulled a fast one
by adulterating the gold with silver so he could keep
some of the good stuff for himself. How could you tell?
Not to worry, said Archy.
thereafter in the public baths, Archimedes lowered
himself into the water and noticed the displaced water
flowing over the rim of the bath, whereupon he is said
to have run butt naked out into the streets of Syracuse
have found it!" —obviously
not the changing room, but the principle of physics now
named for him: "A body immersed in a fluid is buoyed up
by a force equal to the weight of the displaced fluid."
Then, in a scene right out of C.S.I. Syracuse,
Archimedes got a tub of water, some gold and silver,
splashed around a bit, and noticed that the crown and a
lump of gold equal to the original amount did not
displace the same amount of water; thus, the artisan had
mixed in some silver, a lighter metal than gold. He had
swindled the king. Vitruvius does not tell us what
happened to ye Royal Crown Maker, but it probably wasn't
single word, "Eureka," is now synonymous with "great
discovery" and is the name of the newest exhibit running
(through Jan. 9, 2006) at the National Archaeological
Museum in Naples. The exhibit is subtitled "The Genius
of the Ancients" and is devoted to the science and
technology of ancient
wrote the brochure starts, amazingly, with, "Few remember that the Greeks preceded us in
many fields of knowledge,
ranging from geometry to
medicine, from optics to astronomy; many modern
theories derive from their studies, as do many
applications considered for centuries real miracles,
used for enjoyment, art, beauty, religion and work."
I don't know that "few remember". I thought everyone remembered. In any event, if you don't, now is the time to do some serious refreshing. The exhibit covers much of the ground floor of the museum, purposefully spilling into an outdoor space meant to simulate the Greek agora, the place of assembly, the market place.
are wall displays, hands-on machines and working
models, extensive descriptions of ancient Greek steam
machinery, watches, musical and astronomical
instruments, as well as exhibits on life at court,
theater, religion, medicine, botany and even a
reconstruction of the Lighthouse at Alexandria, one of
the Seven Wonders of the World (image, left). There is
a section given over to the empire and influence of
Alexander and the existence of the great libraries at
Alexandria, Athens and Pergamon.
To augment the display, the exhibit has some
items from foreign museums, such as a terracotta
oil-lamp in the form of a water-organ from the Louvre,
and has dipped into its substantial collection of
Greek items that are on permanent display in Naples,
anyway, such as the Farnese Atlas
(see that link).
quibble. One thing was missing —any mention of the Antikythera
mechanism, supposedly an ancient mechanical computer
designed to calculate astronomical positions. It was
recovered in 1900–1901 from by sponge divers from a
shipwreck off Point Glyphadia on the Greek island of
Antikythera. The construction has been dated to the
early 1st century BC. Technological artifacts of similar
complexity did not reappear until the 14th century, when
mechanical astronomical clocks were built in Europe.