Mathematician:Archimedes of Syracuse

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Mathematician

Greek mathematician, physicist, astronomer, engineer and general all-round inventor.

Perfected the method of exhaustion.

Considered by many (with some justification) to be the greatest mathematician, inventor and physicist of the ancient world.

Other achievements:

  • Discovered the principle of the lever
  • Originated the concept of the center of gravity, and found them for several plane figures
  • With his machines, he held off several attacks by the Romans under Marcellus


Nationality

Greek


History

  • Born: c. 287 BCE in Syracuse in Magna Graecia (in Sicily, now part of Italy)
  • Died: c. 212 BCE in the Second Punic War. Supposed to have been by a drunken Roman soldier because either:
    • He was contemplating a problem in geometry and was unwilling to be disturbed to answer a summons from the Roman general who had captured the city;
    • He was killed trying to surrender to the Romans, and a soldier killed him to plunder his mathematical instruments, which the soldier thought were valuable.


Theorems and Definitions

Results named for Archimedes of Syracuse can be found here.

Definitions of concepts named for Archimedes of Syracuse can be found here.


Inventions

  • Archimedes Screw
  • A hydraulic mechanism modelling the solar system against the background of the fixed stars


Writings

These works of Archimedes have survived in some form:


The following works appear no longer to exist:


Notable Quotes

Give me a place to stand on, and I can move the earth.


Eureka, eureka!


Do not disturb my circles.


I do not want to be thought to have uttered vain words, but equally because I am persuaded that it will be of no little service to mathematics; for I apprehend that some, either of my contemporaries or of my successors, will, by means of the method when once established, be able to discover other theorems in addition, which have not yet occurred to me.
-- from the preamble to The Method


Critical View

From this day forth Archimedes is to be believed in everything he says.
-- King Hiero II of Syracuse


He who understands Archimedes and Apollonius will admire less the achievements of the foremost men of later times.
-- Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz


Archimedes will be remembered when Aeschylus is forgotten, because languages die and mathematical ideas do not.
-- G.H. Hardy


The death of Archimedes at the hands of a Roman soldier is symbolic of a world change of the first magnitude. The Romans were a great race, but they were cursed by the sterility which waits upon practicality. They were not dreamers enough to arrive at new points of view, which could give more fundamental control over the forces of nature. No Roman lost his life because he was absorbed in the contemplation of a mathematical diagram.
-- Alfred North Whitehead


The treatises are, without exception, monuments of mathematical exposition; the gradual revelation of the plan of attack, the masterly ordering of the propositions, the stern elimination of everything not immediately relevant to the purpose, the finish of the whole, are so impressive in their perfection as to create a feeling akin to awe in the mind of the reader. ... There is at the same time a certain mystery veiling the way in which he arrived at his results. For it is clear that they were not discovered by the steps which lead up to them in the finished treatises.
-- T.L. Heath: A History of Greek Mathematics


... only praise is due Archimedes for not appreciating the old-maidishness of Plato's rigidly corseted description of what the muse of geometry should be.
-- 1937: Eric Temple Bell: Men of Mathematics


Also known as

Archimedes has been given a number of soubriquets throughout the ages, for example: the old man, the wise one, the master, the great geometer.


Sources