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Words From Adelaide: Ancient Greeks

John Powell, writing with great gusto and good humour, considers the debt we owe to those ancient Greek thinkers - Mr Archimedes, Mr Pythogaras, and that ilk.

John's entertaining words will now be appearing fortnightly in Open Writing. Do watch out for them.

Mankind owes so much to the legacies left to us by the ancient Greeks.

Let us consider, for example, Mr Archimedes, who, after enjoying a rather heavy lunch and letting out a few baritone belches took a bath, and floating there in a semi-somnolent stupor, realized that he had filled the bath to the brim causing an overflow. It was a moment of revelation in which he wished to reveal all. He did so, literally, as completely naked, he suddenly leapt out and galloped through the Acropolis, abandoning all sense of decorum, screaming to anyone who would listen, even to those who wouldn't, of his incredible discovery; that when a body is totally or partially immersed in a liquid or a gas there is an upthrust on it equal to the weight of the liquid or gas displaced.

To this day it does leave one wondering, does it not, on how he could work it out? I mean, the liquid part is logical, sitting in all that bath-water, but how did he work out the gas bit? Where did the gas come from? What a genius! Mind you, as he did his streaking act he was also shouting, ‘Eureka! Eureka!’ which means, I am told, ‘I’ve found it; I’ve found it!’ Who would have believed him? After all, if today somebody ran completely starkers through your city shopping center, shouting unintelligibly for example ‘I’ve found it; I’ve found it! It works when the main reticulated, anterior, return spring catch, attaches itself to the forward undulating, pulsation fulcrum' either the men in the white coats would carry him off, or the coppers would arrest him for Indecent Exposure.The mothers would have had to shade hastily the eyes of their daughters. Today the daughters would be shading the eyes of their mothers.

There was also Mr Hypotenuse, who applying considerable initiative, natural talent, advanced applied mathematics, originality of thought, unsurpassed perception, and completely unaided, designed and constructed the complicated structure that he gave to posterity -- the triangle. Just think of the amount of employment this has created in all the Philharmonic and Symphony Orchestras, for all those little blokes who stand at the back, a look of intense concentration on their faces, triangle aloft, waiting for that moment of spectacular solo glory when, in the middle of Beethoven's 5th, he gives his little triangle a hell of a whack with a kitchen spoon, then sits down. Exhausted.

Mr Pythagoras, not to be outdone, grabbed the opportunity to do a bit of one-upmanship on Mr Archimedes and Mr Hypotenuse, by declaring that in a right-angled triangle the square on the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares on the other two sides. Mind boggling stuff!

Mr Isosceles, who thought that these three loud-mouths were sounding off a load of codswallop, gave a long speech in the Pantheon announcing the stupendous news that he had designed a triangle having two sides of equal length. Mr Hypotenuse swore and said it was only he, himself, a genius, who had invented the complicated, intricate design of the triangle, not somebody of lesser intelligence like Isosausages, or whatever his name was, trying to steal his intellectual copyright. A real put-down it was!

Mr Pythagoras, a little piqued that his square on the hypotenuse contribution had been ignored completely by the others, counterattacked, declaring that the area of a circle was to be for evermore, ‘Py R squared’. When asked what ‘Py’ meant, he commented that everybody, apart from completely ignorant fools, knew what 'Py' meant. Then, wondering himself what on earth Py meant, replied in desperation, baffling everyone, that Py is 22 0ver 7. This has baffled schoolboys ever since. As he was a grumpy old man nobody ever dared to contradict him in case he, like Mr Archimedes, galloped through the streets without a stitch on; not the prettiest of spectacles.

It was not only inventions for which the ancient Greeks are famed. Mr Socrates proclaimed that virtue was based on knowledge, which was attained by a dialectical process that took into account many aspects of a stated hypothesis.

Feeling slightly upstaged by the exuberance of the man's verbosity, the others ganged-up on Mr Socrates, announcing that if he really wanted to make his point in explanation of the concentrated gobbledegook he was nattering about, he should join Mr Archimedes for his full-Monty nature-club jog, then his attributes would be easy for everybody to see.

We have much to learn from ancient Greeks.


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