Okay, here’s a post I wrote two weeks ago and just sort of forgot, perhaps because I first read about the lump of bronze-discovered-to-be-a-machine years ago in Archeology.
The New Scientist (love that magazine–nicely written, good illustrations, witty photo captions, a bit like The Economist for science geeks) has an article about the antikythera, an ancient (way more than two millenia) mechanical computer:
MARCELLUS and his men blockaded Syracuse, in Sicily, for two years. The Roman general expected to conquer the Greek city state easily, but the ingenious siege towers and catapults designed by Archimedes helped to keep his troops at bay.
Then, in 212 BC, the Syracusans neglected their defences during a festival to the goddess Artemis, and the Romans finally breached the city walls. Marcellus wanted Archimedes alive, but it wasn’t to be. According to ancient historians, Archimedes was killed in the chaos; by one account a soldier ran him through with a sword as he was in the middle of a mathematical proof.
One of Archimedes’s creations was saved, though. The general took back to Rome a mechanical bronze sphere that showed the motions of the sun, moon and planets as seen from Earth.
The sphere stayed in Marcellus’s family for generations, until the Roman author Cicero saw it in the first century BC. “The invention of Archimedes deserves special admiration because he had thought out a way to represent accurately by a single device for turning the globe those various and divergent movements with their different rates of speed,” he wrote. “The moon was always as many revolutions behind the sun on the bronze contrivance as would agree with the number of days it was behind it in the sky.”
Until recently, historians paid scant attention to this story: the description suggests a sophisticated mechanical device, beyond anything the ancient Greeks were thought to have been capable of. Furthermore, Cicero had no technical training, and did not explain how the device worked. He could have made the story up for effect.
Now, however, research on the battered remains of a mysterious ancient device suggests that Cicero was telling the truth.
I know that half of you don’t bother clicking through to articles I link to, so here’s a video explaining how it works:
And if even video is a bother, I’d like to recommend a novel about Archimedes by Gillian Bradshaw, The Sand Reckoner. Bradhshaw also wrote a most marvellous Arthurian novel, Hawk of May, which I can recommend wholeheartedly. Go on, go buy it. It’s perfect for lazy, take-you-away-from-it-all holiday reading.
But the novel I’m really reminded of by the discovery of this machine is Mary Gentle’s Ash: A Secret History. It’s usually sold chopped into four parts (which is how I read it) but really it’s one huge story. Here’s the amazon.com reviewer’s most excellent description of Book #1:
Mary Gentle first came to prominence with the lovingly conceived and beautifully written SF novel Golden Witchbreed. Its sequel, Ancient Light, then took the world and premise built into the first novel and deconstructed it thoroughly. Gentle’s latest plays some of the same tricks with reader expectations.
In a typical fantasy milieu, the mud and blood of a military camp in 15th-century Europe, a scarred and beautiful 8-year-old girl kills her two adult rapists. She is Ash. In unflinching prose, Gentle describes the child’s treatment in a men’s camp, then the teenager’s hard lessons in the art and craft of war, and finally the young woman’s rise to command a mercenary army. Ash, it seems, is not only strong and fast but has the advantage of hearing a voice that instructs her on troop deployment. To the well-versed SF reader, the voice begins to sound suspiciously like a tactical computer.
Just as the reader gets ready to reassign the book to time travel SF, Gentle inserts–in what are purported to be excerpts from a 21st-century scholar’s e-mail conversation with his publisher–hints that perhaps the novel belongs in the alternate history category. By now Ash and her army are embroiled in war and politics up to their fluted breastplates (armor, like all the historical detail, is minutely and accurately described), and if swords and poleaxes were not enough, she now faces golems and the Carthaginian army. Amazingly, Gentle makes this impossible mix believable, and by the end of the novel it is apparent that this is the beginning of a most interesting series. — Luc Duplessis
If you have a gift certificate, go buy this book. It doesn’t flinch from some of the realities of war, nor does it wallow. Enjoy.
9 thoughts on “antikythera”
Antikytheran stuff tickles my fancy– I’ll be following these threads when I have a second (currently, I’m meant to go to the grocers, but I am lazing off on the internet instead!)
Isn’t Archimedes the guy that said,”give me a fulcrum and I can move the world.”? ancient civilizations also invented other technological wonders like the fork. Why not a computer?
That’s the one. Though I believe it was more along the lines of ‘a lever long enough and a place to stand’ and he could move the world. I do think you’d enjoy <>The Sand Reckoner<>.
I ordered The Sand Reckoner and the Ash history, but I have yet to read that article altho I am going to. Actually I have an ever-growing stack of the NS magazine adding to the pile(s) on my coffee table (weird to use that term since I don’t drink coffee) yet to read. I blame this on you, btw, Nicola. I didn’t realize it was a weekly periodical. If it were only monthly, the stack would seem less daunting.
Before I rush off to purchase the Ash book with my coupon, please tell me you have monetized the link.>>Also, you said I should remind you of < HREF="http://booksquare.com/toc-why-you-should-register-early/" REL="nofollow">this event<> for our book publishing group.
jennifer, yep, all my fault :) Just line them up, then pick a topic (music, or sex, or food, or insects–whatever floats your boat) and skim for that, then throw the rest away. After all, there’ll be another next week.>>rhbee1, well, I did a Google/Feedburner thing that is supposed to monetise the links, but I’m not convinced it’s working. Tell you what, buy the books and let’s see what happens.>>As for TOC, yes, absolutely, one of us should go. Sadly, it can’t be me. Thanks for the reminder.
nicola, you need to sign up to be an < HREF="https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/" REL="nofollow">Amazon.com associate.<> You’ll then see < HREF="https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/G/01/associates/network/08-ui-elements/thumb-main-site-stirpe._V265815459_.gif" REL="nofollow">a tool bar<> on every product page, which provides you with linking code. You get some money each time someone buys a book through your links.
I’ve been an amazon.com associate for ten years–or however long they’ve had the programme. But it got screwed up a while ago and I just can’t be bothered to fix it. But (sigh, mutter mutter) I’ll put it on my list…
Yep, put it on The List. That new toolbar thing makes it super easy to link stuff.>>And I read that article. I was thinking that this is sooo unlikely (must be proof of extra-terrestrial activity), but no, I guess it’s real. Amazing the stuff those guys thought up. What would it be like to talk to guys like that back then – how smart were they really? Pretty smart I guess. Must’ve been all of that wine…>>And it turns out Archimedes wasn’t the maker of that particular piece. Interesting stuff.>>The problem with that magazine is that so much of it is interesting, that I always put it down thinking I’ll read the rest — Later.>> I’ve been off of chocolate for awhile, but clearly that is what my aging brain needs – I’m putting it on my shopping list.
Comments are closed.