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Ancient Greek Scientists

Pythagorean philosopher, mathematician and astronomer, Archytas is sometimes called the father of mathematical mechanics. Aristotle wrote a special treatise on his work, entitled "The Philosophy of Archytas". His theories on the exact sciences are based on two principles: a) that there is no absolute difference between the organic and the inorganic world, and b) that the law of causality cannot interpret phenomena. In mathematics, Archytas was the first to distinguish between arithmetic and geometric progressions; he also found a solution to the problem of doubling the cube. He is thought to be the inventor of the screw and the pulley, and a forefather of mechanical flight. He was a friend of Plato and a teacher of Eudoxus of Cnidus. A valley at the North Pole of the moon has been named "Archytas" in his honour.

The idea of flight had a perennial and passionate fascination for many ancient peoples; this is especially true of Greece, where not only the gods but also an assortment of demigods and mythical creatures were endowed with this gift. From myth to reality, however, is a long step, even though it was partially spanned by Daedalus with his famous airborne escape from Crete. While the flight of Daedalus and Icarus was probably mythical (opinion is divided), the feat of Archytas by contrast was truly revolutionary: in 425 BC he constructed the first flying machine in history. His "pigeon" (as he called it) was powered by a system of jet propulsion, and in one experiment it flew a distance of 200 metres. Once it fell to the ground, however, this machine could not take off again. Evanghelos Stamatis thinks it must have been some sort of jet-propelled craft driven by a compressed air system.

This, then, was an early application of aerodynamics, that is, the harnessing of the force of compressed air; and it is not a legend: Archytas' experiment is attested in literature and is a matter of fact. The inventor of the "pigeon" was an exceptional mathematician and engineer, an avid builder of mechanical constructions, and is held to be the inventor of the screw, the pulley and a child's rattle. He is also credited with an amazing account of a journey around the world in a hermetically sealed sphere! Archytas' "pigeon", which is chronicled by Favorinus and by Aulus Gellius (in his Attic Nights), represents the realisation of the Hellenic passion for flight. The world's first model aeroplane flew- if only for a short distance - in Greece in 425 BC.

Principal works (only very few fragments survive):

"On the Delian Problem": Duplication of the cube by the section of the hemicyclinder (Altar of Delos). Commentaries exist in Eutocius and Vitruvius.

"Proportions": Arithmetical, geometrical, harmonic.

"On Mathematics".


"On the number ten".

"On pipes".

"On mechanics".

"On Agriculture".

"On harmony".

"Description of the circuit of a hermetically closed sphere around the earth" (Concept of the satellite).

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