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ca 100 __ Automaton Theater — ΠΕΡΙ ΤΩΝ ΣΤΑΤΩΝ ΑΥΤΟΜΑΤΩΝ
Hero (or Heron) (10-70)
Comment : Used in Greek theater to announce the entrances and exits of the gods, the original thunder-making machine was invented by Heron of Alexandria in the first century CE. Pulling the lever opens a trap door which allows numerous brass balls to cascade down a series of shelves and onto a tin sheet. Originally made on a larger scale than the one shown here, Heron's thunder-making machine resonated with deep bass tones when the balls were released.In his treatises Hero of Alexandria describes a range of devices for producing spectacles and generating wonder that have frequently been treated as marginal by historians of technology and science - probably a continuation of a work that already Philon of Byzantium started around 280 BC writing a chapter "On Automatic Theaters". Thunder-making machine.Used in a theater to announce the entrances and exits of the gods. Pulling the lever opens a trap door which allows numerous brass balls to cascade down a series of shelves and onto a tin sheet. Heron's thunder-making machine resonated with deep bass tones when the balls were released. The sound of thunder was produced by the mechanically-timed dropping of metal balls onto a hidden drum. Heron's work The Automaton Theater describes theatrical constructions that move by means of weights on strings wrapped around rotating drums [the mechanical theatre in which pneumatic and hydraulic forces propelled figures into movement, performing small scenes].With this power source, Heron constructed an automatic theater that presented Nauplius, a tragic tale set in the period after the Trojan War. As (presumably) amazed playgoers watched, the doors to a miniature theater swung open, and animated figures acted out a series of dramatic events, including the repair of Ajax's ship by nymphs wielding hammers, the Greek fleet sailing the seas accompanied by leaping dolphins, and the final destruction of Ajax by a lightning bolt hurled at him by the goddess Athena. Perhaps inspired by Hephaestus's obedient moving tables, Heron also made wheeled stands and used an ingenious trick to move them, apparently self-animated, around the theater. A weight rested on a hopper-full of grain, which leaked out through a small hole in the bottom. As the weight gradually sank, it pulled a rope wound around an axle of the stand to turn its wheels and make it move. Along with the power of falling weights, these figures used the basic mechanical resources of wheels, pulleys, and levers to create a variety of motion, but there were drawbacks. While a weight resting on slowly leaking grain delivers power over a relatively long period, it is not very compact, or usable on demand. And beyond repetitive actions like hammering, a system based on simple machines gives little scope for flexible and responsive motion. But better techniques to provide and control power came along, although only long after Greek times.The new power source was the coiled metal spring, and the new means of control was clockwork. We do not know who first noted that a flexible piece of metal could store energy, but we use the method daily; for example, in the common safety pin. Early Greek artisans such as Philon and Heron understood that a "springy" material could act as a power source. Philon even designed a crossbow that used bronze springs to fling missiles. But these early springs were too weak to be useful, and it was not until the fifteenth century that good-quality coiled springs came into use. In their time, springs played the role that electrical batteries now do in powering devices. They animated the next wave of artificial beings, once ways were found to control their stored power through their use in clocks.
French comment : « Chap. 1.Les Automates de Phylon de Byzance.[...] 3. En outre, Philon avait promis que la foudre tomberait sur le personnage d’Ajax, avec un bruit de tonnerre. Il a omis ce détail. Parmi les nombreuses combinaisons décrites dans son livre, nous n’en trouvons point de trace. La malveillance dira que, par esprit de dénigrement, nous accusons Philon d’avoir été impuissant à exécuter sa promesse. Il n’en est rien. La multiplicité des jeux de scène de sa pièce lui en aura fait sans doute oublier celui-là. Il est facile, en effet, de remplir un vase de grains de plomb; puis, par un orifice ménagé an fond du vase, de les lâcher à point nommé. S’ils tombent sur une membrane tendue, sèche et épaisse, ces grains reproduiront le bruit du tonnerre. Dans les théâtres, pour imiter ce roulement, on vide ainsi des récipients remplis de corps lourds qui, frappant comme ci-dessus contre une peau sèche, épaisse et tendue en tout sens, à l’instar d’un tambour, engendrent le bruit en question. ». (V. Prou)Le théâtre constitue une autre partie très importante du Traité des Automates de Héron d'Alexandrie. Le premier livre s'occupe des personnages « à siège mobile». Les figurines y fonctionnent sur une sorte de caisson roulant se déplaçant devant les yeux des spectateurs. Le second livre étudie les automates « à siège fixe ». Ici le caisson renfermant le mécanisme est fixe et ce sont les spectateurs qui se déplacent pour assister au déroulement de l'action. [...] Le bruit du tonnerre est obtenu en laissant s'échapper d'une trappe quantité de boules en bois qui tombent à grand fracas sur une série de plans inclinés disposés dans une colonne. De l'oeuvre entière de Héron d'Alexandrie et de ses émules, il ne reste aucun objet. Fort heureusement, on a pu en étudier une grande partie, surtout d'après les traductions arabes et persanes, retrouvées à l'époque de la Renaissance et qu'ont utilisées nombre de savants et d'artistes. En particulier, une grande partie des constructions mécaniques qui ornèrent de pittoresque façon certains jardins seigneuriaux d'Italie, de France et d'Allemagne, s'en inspirèrent directement. Dans maints domaines de la mécanique, les Alexandrins avaient été d'admirables précurseurs. (Les Automates d'Alfred Chapuis et Edmond Droz, Editions du Griffon)
Source : Perkowitz, Sidney (2004), “Digital People: From Bionic Humans to Androids”, Joseph Henry Press.
Source : Héron d’Alexandrie, “De la construction des automates à théâtre fixe — ΠΕΡΙ ΤΩΝ ΣΤΑΤΩΝ ΑΥΤΟΜΑΤΩΝ”, In “Les Théâtres d’Automates en Grèce au IIième siècle avant l’ère chrétienne” de V. Prou, Mémoires de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 1874.
Urls : http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/HeronAlexandria2.htm (last visited ) http://remacle.org/bloodwolf/erudits/heron/theatre.htm (last visited ) http://www.worldtempus.com/fr/encyclopedie/index-encyclopedique/histoire-de-lhorlogerie/histoire-des-automates/des-arabes-a-la-renaissance/loeuvre-dheron-dalexandrie/ (last visited ) http://www.smith.edu/hsc/museum/ancient_inventions/hsc19b.htm (last visited )

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