Archimedes is living in Syracuse on the island of Sicily. Many legends about Archimedes stem from his early years working for King Hieron, a tyrant. Many of us know the story about when he yelled “Eureka!” Many of the details are vague, so in my novel, I tried to fill in logical details. Enjoy.
Chapter 4—The Gold Crown (255 BCE, in Syracuse)
Archimedes walks into the throne room of the palace. “You sent for me, sire?”
“Ah, Archimedes. Yes, I have work for you.” Sniffing toward Archimedes, “When was the last time you took a bath? Really, Archimedes, this is no way to present yourself to your king. Did not your father teach you anything about court manners? Even the gods in heaven would be offended.”
“Yes, sire. My father was very thorough. However, I seem to get absorbed in my work, and I forget about everything else. Sometimes I even forget to eat.”
“Well, I do not care if you don’t eat, but I would appreciate it if you took a bath more frequently, and use some ointments or perfumes.”
“Yes, sire. Is that the nature of our business today?”
“Archimedes, don’t forget your place! Here is the problem,” holding up a beautiful crown of gold. “To celebrate my victories, and being crowned king, I had commissioned to have this gold crown made. It is intended for the temple of Zeus to thank the god for supporting me. However, I have reason to believe that I have been cheated.”
“Interesting. Why do you think you have been cheated, sire?”
“Well, I commissioned a certain goldsmith to make this crown, and supplied him the gold. The work is exquisite. But I have been informed by some of his other clients that he frequently removes some gold for himself, and replaces the weight with an equal weight of silver. Can you tell me if any of the gold is missing?”
“Do you know exactly how much gold you gave him?”
“Yes, it was a gold bar like this one,” pointing to a bar of gold on the table. "Exactly the same,” handing the gold bar to Archimedes.
“Well, sire, if you melt down the crown, the silver will separate from the gold, and you will know.”
“No, Archimedes. This is a work of art. Look at it! What if we destroy it and it turns out to be solid gold? No, no, it must not be damaged in anyway. That is the problem. I want you to tell me if this is solid gold without destroying it. Can you do it?”
“I do not know, sire. Let me think on it. Lend me this bar of gold to study, and I will try to figure out a way.”
Hieron dismisses him with a wave of his hand. Archimedes bows, and starts to back out of the room.
“I have another bar exactly like that one and I expect to get every bit of that gold back.”
“Of course, sire. Your word is law.”
Archimedes returns to his workshop, and studies the bar of gold for several hours. He weighs it many times, scratches it, heats it, and conducts other experiments on it. Just before supper, Lagus, his personal servant, enters the workshop.
“Sir, you must take a bath tonight before supper. I heard you offended the King today with your body odor. I must insist.”
“Not now, Lagus. I am in the middle of looking for a solution to a problem for the King.”
“I knew you would say that so I have figured out a way for you to continue to work while you bathe.”
Now showing some interest in the conversation, “Oh? What have you done?”
“I had a square box made, filled it with fine sand, and set the box next to the bath. You can draw your designs and calculations in the sand while I scrub you. Later, if you want, I will copy whatever you design in the sand.”
Picking up the gold bar up from his workbench, “This I have to see.”
Together, Archimedes and Lagus march down the street to the public baths. They make an odd sight as they go. Lagus carries a basket filled with the soaps, oils, brushes, combs, and towels that he needs to clean Archimedes and a change of clothes. Archimedes walks with the bar of gold in his hand. Lagus pretends not to notice a stir in the crowd as they pass. He has grown used to the stares and rumors that his master causes every time he goes out in public. Archimedes is earning a reputation as some type of genius but a slightly eccentric person. He does not bathe for months at a time. He wears the same tunic for weeks without washing it. His beard and hair are always unkempt. But today, Lagus is going to bathe Archimedes even if he has to tie him up. At least for a while, he is going to look like the Royal Engineer. Then Lagus will not have to endure the snickers and laughs behind his back from the servants of the other wealthy families in Syracuse.
As Archimedes and Lagus enter the public bath, the master of the bath waddles over. Snickering, “Ah, Lagus, I see it is that time of year again. I have followed your instructions word for word. Right this way.”
He leads them to a smaller bath in a private section normally reserved for wealthy clients. Next to the bath, the bath Master has set up a type of sand box. The box is close enough to the edge of the bath for a man to stand in the bath, and draw in the sand.
“Great!” says Lagus.
Archimedes studies the sand box for a moment, “Interesting! I think this will work.”
END of Part 1 of Chapter 4
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