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Ctesibius
This nOde last updated August 14th, 2001 and is permanently morphing...
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Approximately 300 BCE: Ctesibius of internal linkEgypt discovers some of the basic principles of hydraulics....utilizing them to construct a musical water organ and water clock.

The earliest organ, developed by Greek inventor Ctesibius in the 3rd century BC, was used in ancient Rome and Byzantium. It used a chamber of internal linkwater to maintain constant air pressure. Bellows-type organs, which also had been known to the ancient world, reappeared in Europe in the 8th and 9th centuries.



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Very little is known of Ctesibios. No works by him exist and the only references are by ancient historians. From these references, we can get brief idea of his life. Ctesibios started life as a barber in Alexandria. He was also a mechanical genius, the first to use and understand the power of air and water. He invented pumps and musical instruments, and a clock not bettered in accuracy for over 1500 years. Now, some writers have suggested that a barber couldn't also have been one of the greatest inventors of ancient times, and that there must have been two people of the same name living at the same time. Since his first invention happened in his father's barbers shop, some  believe that the barber and inventor were one and the same. The first invention was very simple - a counter-weighted mirror.

The mirror was on one end of a pole, a lead weight which weighed the same as the mirror to counterbalance it on the other. The idea presumably was that the mirror would adjust easily to the height of different customers. But Cstebios noticed something strange. He had the lead counter-balance weight running inside a tube - perhaps to stop it swinging about. But when the weight went up  and down, it sometimes made a strange whistling noise as the air escaped.This got Cstebios thinking - both about the power of air, and about musical instruments.



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The Water Organ

Ctesibios had invented a sort of pump and wanted to connect it to a wind instrument to make the first organ. But there was a problem. Ctesibios wanted continuous sound, but with his pump, the organ only played a sound when the piston was moved in the cylinder and the pump takes as long to breathe in for just as long as it breathes out. Ctesibios solved the problem with the power of water.

Ctesibios placed an upturned bucket in some water and pushed down on it.  When he pulled the bucket out, he noticed it wasn't completely wet inside.   Some people have suggested that Ctesibios was the first to notice this - proving  that the air is really something. He certainly realised that air was being stored in the bucket under pressure. So instead of connecting the pump to the organ, he  connected it to the bucket. As air is forced into the bucket, water rises in the  bowl. The organ is also connected to the bucket. This device came to be called  the Hydraulis, or water-organ.

Usually, the pump can only  produce air under pressure  while it is pumping. But by using the air to raise water in
the bowl, the air is kept under pressure by the water even when the pump is breathing in.   Of course the pump has to supply all the air the organ uses in the end, but if you can  build a big enough pump, then a that isn't a problem. The amazing thing is that if you think about it, Ctesibios invented the  organ itself. His machine was played by keys operating valves to let air into the organ pipes, and was powered by a pump  with this water chamber - giving a continuous sound. That is by definition an organ, and such an instrument couldn't have
been made without Ctesibios.



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The Water Clock

Measuring internal linktime hasn't always been as important as it seems to be to us. Partly that's because, in the past, people's lives were governed more by nature - and partly because there simply wasn't the technology to accurately measure time.  Ctesibios changed all that by transforming a legal gadget into a clock so accurate it wasn't surpassed until the 1500s. In the courts in Alexandra, you were allowed to speak for a certain regulated time when internal linkdefending yourself, although the time varied - less for parking your chariot on a double-yellow line, more for murder and so on. The device they used to ensure  fairness was the Klepshydra. The name means 'captured water' and it is very simple - a jar with a hole. You put the  measured amount of water in, and the defendent could speak until the water ran out. Very simple, very fair - but not, Ctesibios realised, very precise. He clearly wanted to transform the Klepshydra from a device for indicating the end of a  given time, into a continuously working clock. The idea of water dripping through a hole appealed to Cstebios. But the  problem is this: the water drips out faster when the jar is full, than when it is empty. So although each parking ticket defendent gets the same time in the dock, the Klepshydra wasn't any good for displaying time during the day. Ctesibios had a simple solution: make sure the jar is always full.

He introduced a second container with a bigger hole, that dripped faster, making sure the Klepshydra was always full and so dripped at a constant rate.  Of course a Klepshydra that never emptied was pretty useless, so he had to find a way to count the drips, or at least measure the water that came out, and he  used a float with a pointer, in a third container. Of course eventually there was a more accurate clock. Mechanical clocks using falling weights instead of water  appeared in the 14th century, and when internal linkGalileo described the pendulum in the 16th century, the ingredients for the modern clock were in place. But it wasn't until 1657 that Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens showed how a pendulum could be used to regulate a clock. And his was the first mechanical clock more accurate than that of Ctesibios - invented about 1800 years before.

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