Archimedes and the Syracusia
It’s All About Dreaming

In my recent article, I mentioned feeling like Archimedes after watching Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture. It was as if I was Archimedes finally understanding my dances with death. It was a eureka moment for me. This essay is about Archimedes’ mindset. He declared 2500 years ago, “Give me a place to stand, and I will move the Earth!”

Interestingly, Bobby Kennedy used that quote in his speech at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, in 1966. He addressed the parallels between America and South Africa, which rattled whites in the US and SA. However, Bobby spoke out against apartheid while it was the norm in South Africa in the 60s.

Bobby Kennedy giving his Ripple of Hope Speech.

That speech is often called the Ripple of Hope Speech, which was perhaps Bobby’s finest speech. Interestingly, he tied great world leaders, like Archimedes, to the ordinary person with these words.

It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice. He sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance.

However, that was a half-century ago. While Bobby was correct, we need to discover what made Archimedes great. By doing so, we can create more and larger ripples in our world. When we think of Archimedes, the first thing that floats into our mind is of him sitting in his bathtub.

Archimedes doing math in his bathtub prior to his eureka moment

There is a scholarly debate about whether Archimedes was working on his theory of the physical law of buoyancy while in the bathtub. Regardless, he was a dreamer like Bobby. Instead of shouting “Eureka” like Archimedes, Bobby said, “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.”

Archimedes dreamed dreams about designing arguably the largest boat over two millennia ago. He lived in Syracuse, Sicily. The king in Sicily gave the task of building this seagoing vessel to Archimedes. It was to be a gift to Ptolemy III, the ruler of Egypt. The ship’s name in Greek was Syracusia, which is the name of Syracuse, the Sicilian city where it was built.

According to stories written about the Syracusia are beyond the pale. This is what some nautical scholars imagined what it looked like. It had eight lookout towers on the ship’s top deck where archers would use in a battle. There was a catapult located at the bow of the vessel.

According to records, the Syracusia was well-stocked with food and water. The ship was said to carry a thousand passengers and half again that number of soldiers and a couple dozen horses. It had all the accruements of a luxury liner like a swimming pool, library, bathhouse, and a temple to Aphrodite.

The Syracusia

Now, historians are split on the issue of where Archimedes came up with his eureka moment. Some historians think that the ancient writers confused the Greek word for Archimedes’ crown, or corona, in Latin. The keel of the Syracusia is krone in Greek.

While historians battle over the genesis of where Archimedes had his eureka moment, he was a dreamer. There is one thing, which isn’t debatable; he was a dreamer. Archimedes became great due to his dreaming. Therein lies a lesson for all of us. Dreaming changes the dreamer, and in the process, the dreamer changes the world.

Dream on.


This is part of Bobby Kennedy’s Ripple of Hope Speech.

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