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Dead medium: Heron's Nauplius
From: (Bradley O'Neill)

*Ancient Greek Gadgets and Machines* by Robert S. Brumbaugh, Thomas Y Crowell Company, 1966. T16.B87 1966

Will you include this? I do find it refreshingly ancient...

[summary of pages 92-129]

HERON'S AUTOMATED THEATER, *NAUPLIUS*: 2nd century AD. Heron of Alexandria, great inventor and tinkerer of his day, wrote two major treatises on mechanics and automata. The first work, *Pneumatica,* comprises an application of various theories of vacuum, steam, pulleys, siphons, and air, that intrigued both Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. His next work, *On Automata*, fleshed out the applied details of his theories and experiments with early automata, and also contained the plans for his automated theatrical machine, *Nauplius*.

Physically, *Nauplius* was a tall pedestal, not unlike a large grandfather clock. Where we would expect to find the face of the clock, instead we find an expansive facade of a Greek temple with doors that open and close. The theater is completely self-contained and self-operating once it has been wound-up. All action takes place behind a silhouetted screen on parallel tracks. Here is a very brief summary of the five-scene theatrical plot of the automated *Nauplius*:

Scene 1. Doors open, a ship is repaired by twelve figures [Danaids] arranged in three rows. Some saw, others hammer. Great noise. The "actual" sound of working. Doors close.

Scene 2. Doors open. The ship is launched to sea. Doors close.

Scene 3. Doors open. Empty sea. The ships sail across the stage. Dolphins jump. The winds pick up. The ships run with sail close-hauled. Doors close.

Scene 4. Doors open. No more ships. Nauplius stands by Athena with torch and real fire burns above the stage as if cast by torch. Doors close.

Scene 5. Doors open. Shipwreck of Ajax's boat. Ajax swims. A machine raises Athena above the stage. Thunder crashes. Lightning bolt strikes. Ajax disappears. Doors close.


Heron's text, *On Automata*, uses the automated theater as a pedagogical device to explain the physical principles of the machinery he employed. It goes into detail on the greatest effects of *Nauplius*, a kind of "Making Of" behind-the-scenes affair. We get to see how the dolphins swim, how the lightning snaps down and up so quickly, etc.

Unfortunately, poor translations have ruined much. We know that the various technologies existed up to 4 centuries prior to Heron, and were variously implemented by Ctesibius in his lost proto-version of *Nauplius,* circa 2 BC.