But in Sicily, at the time of which I speak, his first proceeding, after wrong had been done him by Hippocrates, the commander of the Syracusans (who, to gratify the Carthaginians and acquire the tyranny for himself, had killed many Romans at Leontini), was to take the city of Leontini by storm. He did no harm, however, to its citizens, but all the deserters whom he took he ordered to be beaten with rods and put to death.
Hippocrates first sent a report to Syracuse that Marcellus was putting all the men of Leontini to the sword, and then, when the city was in a tumult at the news, fell suddenly upon it and made himself master of it. Upon this, Marcellus set out with his whole army and came to Syracuse. He encamped near by, and sent ambassadors into the city to tell the people what had really happened at Leontini; but when this was of no avail and the Syracusans would not listen to him, the power being now in the hands of Hippocrates,
he proceeded to attack the city by land and sea, Appius leading up the land forces, and he himself having a fleet of sixty quinqueremes filled with all sorts of arms and missiles. Moreover, he had erected an engine of artillery on a huge platform supported by eight galleys fastened together,1
and with this sailed up to the city wall, confidently relying on the extent and splendour of his equipment and his own great fame. But all this proved to be of no account in the eyes of Archimedes and in comparison with the engines of Archimedes.
To these he had by no means devoted himself as work worthy of his serious effort, but most of them were mere accessories of a geometry practised for amusement, since in bygone days Hiero the king had eagerly desired and at last persuaded him to turn his art somewhat from abstract notions to material things, and by applying his philosophy somehow to the needs which make themselves felt, to render it more evident to the common mind.
For the art of mechanics, now so celebrated and admired, was first originated by Eudoxus and Archytas, who embellished geometry with its subtleties, and gave to problems incapable of proof by word and diagram, a support derived from mechanical illustrations that were patent to the senses. For instance, in solving the problem of finding two mean proportional lines, a necessary requisite for many geometrical figures, both mathematicians had recourse to mechanical arrangements, adapting to their purposes certain intermediate portions of curved lines and sections.
But Plato was incensed at this, and inveighed against them as corrupters and destroyers of the pure excellence of geometry, which thus turned her back upon the incorporeal things of abstract thought and descended to the things of sense, making use, moreover, of objects which required much mean and manual labour. For this reason mechanics was made entirely distinct from geometry, and being for a long time ignored by philosophers, came to be regarded as one of the military arts.
And yet even Archimedes, who was a kinsman and friend of King Hiero, wrote to him that with any given force it was possible to move any given weight; and emboldened, as we are told, by the strength of his demonstration, he declared that, if there were another world, and he could go to it, he could move this.
Hiero was astonished, and begged him to put his proposition into execution, and show him some great weight moved by a slight force. Archimedes therefore fixed upon a three-masted merchantman of the royal fleet, which had been dragged ashore by the great labours of many men, and after putting on board many passengers and the customary freight, he seated himself at a distance from her, and without any great effort, but quietly setting in motion with his hand a system of compound pulleys, drew her towards him smoothly and evenly, as though she were gliding through the water.
Amazed at this, then, and comprehending the power of his art, the king persuaded Archimedes to prepare for him offensive and defensive engines to be used in every kind of siege warfare. These he had never used himself, because he spent the greater part of his life in freedom from war and amid the festal rites of peace; but at the present time his apparatus stood the Syracusans in good stead, and, with the apparatus, its fabricator.2