Archimedes' last words

Often quoted as : “Wait till I have finished my problem” ( though there are other versions).

What is the source of the quote? Is it known what problem he was working on at the time?

<joke + hijack>

“I’m screwed?”

</joke + hijack>

(in reference to the Archimedes screw, which can lift water along it)

I know, bad joke… but… :cool:

I’ve heard that the problem involved calculating the volume of a wedge-shaped section of a cylinder, but that was second-hand from an unreliable source. It is, however, similar to many problems which he did tackle, so it’s plausible.

I’ve always heard it translated as “Man, stand away from my diagram!”

AFAIK, the diagram in question was destroyed before it could be looked at by anybody who might understand it.

For those who don’t know the story-

The city Archimedes was living in was conquered. The leader of the invasion wanted Archimedes brought to him, as the man’s knowledge and inventions were famous. The soldier sent to retrive Archimedes found him sitting by the door of his house and working some problem through scratching a diagram in the ground. The soldier told Archimedes to get up and follow him. Archimedes did his best to ignore the man and became annoyed when the soldier blocked his light. The soldier found Archimedes behavior insulting and killed him. Upon learning what happened, the city’s new ruler had the soldier killed and had Archimedes buried with honors under a tombstone illustrating the relationship of the volume of a sphere to the volume of a cylinder. Archimedes had been very proud of that discovery.

Whatever happened to the tombstone? I recall reading that the story surrounding it is true.

I recall hearing that the tombstone was discovered in the 1960s during the building of a new hotel. I’m not sure that what was found has been generally accepted as the real tombstone; a quick google only found this and some references to the “fact” that the stone had been discovered.

The way I’ve always heard the story, the city in question was Syracuse, Sicily; and the invading army was Roman. So the “new ruler of the city” would have been whatever governor the Romans installed – would he have ordered the execution of a Roman legionary?

He died about 212 BC. The oldest written record is 150 years later, from Cicero, who doesn’t mention anything about his dying words. Livy seems to be the next oldest source, and he also mentions nothing about dying words but does offer the story of being absorbed in drawings as he’s killed by a Roman soldier.

If you read the stories about his death on the link given by Peter Morris, you’ll possibly see how stories get embellished and changed over the years. I doubt that anyone knows his final words save the soldier who killed him.

And not even him, if he spoke no Greek.

I always thought he had died after contracting a fatal disease. Which is why I assumed his last words were: “Eureka, I’ve got it!”


Looked it up Charles Panati’s Extraordinary Endings Of Everything And Everybody. He also gives the location in Syracuse. The ‘guy in charge’ I couldn’t remember was a Roman general named Marcellus. Being a general, there would be no question that Marcellus had the right to execute a legionare for disobeying orders and screwing up so badly.

[Mr. Peabody voice]
Of course, the Roman soldier, at his trial, said, “It’s all Greek to me.”
[/Mr. Peabody voice]

Thus endeth today’s lesson. :slight_smile:

Saith Archimedes

“When come back bring pi!”

I don’t recall where, but I’ve heard that Archimedes designed the war machines that defended Syracuse, which killed many Roman soldiers. The soldier, recognizing him as the killer of his comrades, killed him. There may not have been any last words.

His last word was, “Ahhhhhhhhh!” and perhaps he was dictating?

Wonderful people the Romans…

Nametag Panati also credits Archimedes with inventing better catapults etc for the city. However, this would be one of the reasons he was to be taken alive.

As you might expect, there’s a review of the various sources for accounts of his death by Heath in his introduction to The Works of Archimedes (1897 and 1912; Dover, undated, p xvii-xviii). This confirms that the main sources are those quoted in the original link: Livy, Plutarch, Tzetzes and Zonaras. Unlike the link, Heath includes some of the Greek:

(Note that I’ve dropped the accents from the Greek.)

You can’t imagine how helpful it is to know that.

Well, the vB coding for just the letters was fiddly enough. :slight_smile: