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Everyone is familiar with the famous interjection “eureka”, which is often used to celebrate a new discovery to this very day. As you may well know, the word is really just a transliteration of an exclamation that is attributed to the Ancient Greek inventor Archimedes. The thing is that many of us have actually heard the wrong story regarding this particular historical event. Contrary to what many people believe the moment in question really concerned a wooden boat, not a golden crown. Unbeknownst to many, the Syracusia was an ancient battleship that was commissioned by Hieron II of Syracuse, designed by Archimedes of Syracuse, and built by Archias of Corinth circa 240 BCE.

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The common version of the story has Archimedes running naked through the streets exclaiming EUREKA, dripping wet and clutching a cheap alloy crown after realizing something utterly profound about the density of gold. Granted although the Latin word “corona” does mean crown, the Greek word “korone” really means keel. This is incredibly significant to the facts because a keel is a longitudinal structure along the center line at the bottom of a vessel’s hull, on which the rest of the hull is built. So, what Archimedes truly realized is that if the weight of the water displaced by a vessel below the keel is equivalent to the vessel’s weight, then whatever is above the keel will remain afloat above the waterline.

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So, as the story should really go, one day while in a bathhouse Archimedes noticed that an object partially immersed in a fluid is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object. At that point, the renowned mathematician came to understand that a 2,000-ton boat would just barely float while a 1,000-ton version would sink. So, he reckoned that 4,000 tons would be the most ideal weight for the Syracusia. Of course, that would make the enormous boat about fifty times larger than a standard ship at the time, but they built it regardless. Archimedes had cracked the code!

As a royal gift from Hieron II to Ptolemy III, the first and only voyage of the Syracusia from Sicily to Egypt was an absolute triumph. The people of Alexandria flocked to the harbor and marveled at the arrival of a mysterious floating palace in excess of 350 feet long. The enormous boat had been ingeniously packed full of cargo and more than one-thousand passengers, including four-hundred tons of grain, ten-thousand jars of fish, seventy-four tons of drinking water, six-hundred tons of wool, and twenty horses housed in separate stalls. There was even a temple to the goddess Aphrodite on-board, making the ship unlike anything before or since.

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An Autodidact Polymath

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