I read in the Science Times on the way into work an article by Guy Gugliotta about rowing on Greek and Roman ships:
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Consider the galley slave, clad in rags, chained to a hardwood bench and clinging to an oar as long as a three-story flagpole. A burly man with a whip walks back and forth shouting encouragement. You’ve seen the movie.
That galley slave would have known that the rowing stations in the middle of the ship were best, although he might not have known why. That took scholars to figure out. “Think of the oar as a lever,” Prof. Mark Schiefsky of the Harvard classics department said. “Think of the oarlock as a fulcrum, and think of the sea as the weight.”
The longer the lever arm on the rower’s side of the fulcrum, the easier to move the weight. In the middle of the ship, as the rowers knew, the distance from hands to oarlock was longest.
This explanation is given in Problem 4 of the classical Greek treatise “Mechanical Problems,” from the third century B.C., the first known text on the science of mechanics and the first to explain how a lever works. It preceded, by at least a generation, Archimedes’ “On the Equilibrium of Plane Figures,” which presented the first formal proof of the law of the lever.
Dr. Schiefsky teaches Greek and Latin as his day job and reads Thucydides and Sophocles in ancient Greek for fun. He also majored in astronomy as an undergraduate, and about nine years ago, feeling science-deprived, he joined a multinational research endeavor called the Archimedes Project, based at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.
I kept trying to visualize why rowers in the middle of the ship had a longer distance from the hands of the rower to the fulcrum. I still do not see any difference in the distance from the hands to the oar lock for the rowers in front, middle or end of the ship.
Here are some images from Engineering in the Ancient World by J. G. Landels:
[Click on thumbnail to see larger image.]
I think from these images its obvious where an oarsman sits in relation to the front of the ship does not change the length of the effort arm; what can effect a change in the distance of the effort arm is the distance from the side of the ship where the oarlock [the fulcrum] would be.
My only conclusion is that this article is an April Fool’s joke.
Anyway the article did get me to buy:
Engineering in the Ancient World by J. G. Landels
University of California Press