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Archimedes' Machines - As Imagined by Others

In the absence of written records, artists and illustrators have tried to depict Archimedes devices and mechanisms.

800 years after Archimedes' death, In 1600 Giulio Parigi painted several pictures which are displayed in the "Room of the Mathematicians" at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. They include the "Iron Claw" featuring an absurd giant metal arm with a clenched fist at the end but no visible controlling mechanisms, the so called "Death Ray" directed by a single planar mirror, and a painting showing a man hauling a large boat onto a beach by means of a metal worm drive reduction gear. They represent how the artist imagined the devices to be and "imagine" is the appropriate word since what is depicted would be totally impractical and anachronistic and nothing like what Archimedes was capable of.

Archimedes no doubt conceived machines to fulfil the tasks described below, but he would have recognised the limitations of the materials at his disposal and his designs would most likely have been much more practical than those illustrated here. He would not have approved of his reputation being tarnished in this way.


Comments ( What would Archimedes think? )

Archimedes Iron Claw

Archimedes' Iron Claw - Giulio Parigi (C. 1600)

"Room of the Mathematicians" Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Archimedes' Iron Claw to Destroy Enemy Ships

The ship would have to be immediately in front of the claw to be captured or the claw mechanism would have to be portable.

There's no visible way of raising or lowering the arm.

There's no visible way of operating the grip of the claw mechanism.

The claw or hand could not have picked up the prow of the ship from the water with the grip as shown

The casting for the iron beam would probably not have been available in Archimedes' time

Archimedes Death Ray

Archimedes' Death Ray - Giulio Parigi (C. 1600)

"Room of the Mathematicians" Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Archimedes' Death Ray

A planar mirror, as shown is unable to focus, or concentrate the sun's rays on a small target sufficient to ignite a fire on the wooden ship.

Furthermore the rays are shown as diverging which makes them even less likely to start a fire.

The size of the mirror is insufficient to capture and reflect enough of the sun's rays to start a fire.

Archimedes Endless Screw

Archimedes' Endless Screw- Giulio Parigi (C. 1600)

"Room of the Mathematicians" Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Archimedes' Endless Screw to Drag a Ship Ashore

A metallic worm gear mechanism as shown would probably not have been available in Archimedes' time.

Despite the mechanical advantage of the gear mechanism, considering the friction of the ship on the ground, the operator would have had to apply superhuman force to drag the ship on to the shore.

The cable pulling the ship over the ground is rather slender.

With such flimsy foundations of the winch, its operation would have pulled the lighter winch mechanism towards the heavy load of the ship, rather than pulling the ship towards the winch.

Archimedes Gears and Pulleys

Illustrations of Gears, Pulleys and Scew Pump

From Gian Maria Mazzucchelli's 1737 biography of Archimedes

Archimedes Gears, Pulleys and Screw Pump

The Archimedes screw shown (I) is an external helix, not an internal helix as Archimedes envisaged it and would have been very difficult to make.

The first stage of the pulley mechanism (II) has no mechanical advantage

The wooden gear teeth in the gear train (IV) would not have been able to sustain the forces necessary to pull a ship out of the sea and on to dry land as claimed.

The worm gear in the first section of the gear train (IV) would not work in the alignment shown.






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