Colossus of Rhodes: A colossal mistake?

I read about this engineering mistake about 15 years ago, but I don’t remember where. Is it true?

It was presented in the book I read as a story told by an engineering professor to his first-year students. He told them about the guy who won the contract to build the Colossus of Rhodes (about 280 BC). His bid was so low that the town fathers, who were paying the bill, asked him how much he would charge to build the statue the same shape, but twice as tall. The builder foolishly quoted a price twice as high.

Now, if the statue was solid, the bigger version would use eight times as much material, not twice as much (and if a shell, it would use four times as much material). The amount of work needed to lift that material to its proper height would be (I think) 16 times as much (8 times for a shell). And the engineering difficulties would be infinitely more difficult than with the smaller statue. But the town fathers held him to the agreement and he was ruined financially by it. He ended up committing suicide, but only after finishing the statue.

Does anybody else remember hearing or reading this story. I was almost sure I had read it in a non-fiction book by Asimov, but I have since looked through all of his books that I own, and I didn’t see it. It sounds like the sort of thing Heinlein might have inserted into one of his stories, but that’s not where I remember seeing it.

Work is the curse of the drinking classes. (Oscar Wilde)

I haven’t heard that particular story but it’s the kind of nitpicky thing that have caused scholars to continually call the mere existence of the Colossus into question.

The statue (of Apollo, erected to celebrate 304 BC’s defeat of Demetrius Poliorketes’ siege of Rhodes), remember, allegedly stood straddling the entrance of the harbor so that ships sailed between its legs. There were three harbors at Rhodes, the entrances of which were approximately 330, 660, and 1200 feet wide respectively. Even at the smallest, that’s one big statue.

There was a controversy a few years back when someone had claimed to have found the statue’s fist offshore, IIRC, but it was since debunked.

Contrary to popular belief, the Colossus stood beside, the harbor, not astride it. It was about the size of the Statue of Liberty.

See here, but disregard the fanciful picture.

Your brain-in-a-jar,

Imbibo, ergo sum.

So who was the statue of? RTA says Apollo, the instruction manual to Civilization (computer game) says it was Helios, and the link above doesn’t say. Unless Helios was an epithet for Apollo (I think he had others)…?

Hopefully, I can convince you to accept “hopefully” as a disjunct adverb.
Frankly, I would be lying if I said I were confident.
Perhaps this subject is simply too complex for me to explain.
Unfortunately, I would be lucky to explain my way out of a paper bag.

Yeah, like “Little Harry Sunshine.”

Weren’t ALL (save one) of the Wonders of the Ancient World engineering fiascoes? Except for the Pyramids, they’ve all burned up or fallen down.

Helios (god of the sun) and Apollo (god of music and light–with about a dozen other patronages) were distinct, but Apollo’s standard “title” was Phoebus Apollo. Phoebus means radiant and Phoebus Apollo was often associated with the sun. (You’ve got to remember that the Greeks acquired a lot of beliefs that did not always fit together really well.)


Encyclopedia Britannica says it was a statue of Helios.

I wouldn’t label them “fiascoes”- Firefighting techniques were pretty much nonexistent then (“Let it burn itself out” was the most common one) and there wasn’t much you could do about earthquakes, especially if the oracle tells you not to fix it or the Knights of Malta plunder for parts.

Then again, the Tower of Pisa has lasted through earthquakes and fires and that wasn’t an engineering marvel.

Helios (sun) was just the Rhodians’ regional appellation of the pan-Grecian Apollo.
As we recall from kiddy-time mythology, Apollo drove the sun across the sky in his chariot every day. The name may change, but the song, etc.

No, but I would call it an engineering fiasco, though. Its even angled at the top, when the builders realized it was tilting. Duh.


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