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Robots, clocks and computers: How Ancient Greeks got there first

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Robots, clocks and computers: How Ancient Greeks got there first

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ATHENS (Reuters) – A humanoid figure dressed as a maid holds a pitcher in her right hand and, when hidden gears click and zoom, raises it and spills wine into a cup that a spectator has placed in the palm of her left.

Philon's automatic servant, from the 3rd century BC, is seen at the Kotsanas Museum of Technology of Ancient Greece, in Athens, Greece, on February 13, 2020. Photo taken on February 13, 2020. REUTERS / Costas Baltas

The robot is a recreation of Philon's automatic server, designed more than 2,200 years ago by a Greek engineer and operating through a complex mechanism of springs, weights and air pressure that also allowed the dilution of alcohol in water.

It is the focal point of an exhibition of more than 100 inventions that highlight the vast extent of Ancient Greece's technological legacy and also features an analog computer, an alarm clock and automatic fire doors.

“When you open the hood of a modern car, you will see bolts and nuts, bolts, autopilots. All of these were just some of the (pioneering) inventions … of the ancient Greeks who were the foundation of complex technology, "said exhibition director Panagiotis Kotsanas.

The exhibitions are explained with audiovisual material and detailed diagrams, and many are interactive.

The automatic doors of Heron of Alexandria were considered a miracle of the gods. Installed in a temple, they opened when a fire burned on their altar, to the admiration of the spectators.

Seen as a precursor to the computer, the 2,000-year-old Antikythera mechanism predicts astronomical and calendar events using gears and dials.

The philosopher Plato's alarm clock used a hydraulic system of ceramic jugs filled with water to "play" with a shrill sound at the desired time.

Other recreations include Polybolos, a repeated catapult capable of shooting arrows in succession, examples of cryptography to send coded messages in times of war, and Pyoulkos, a syringe used for injections and removing pus.

The exhibition is on permanent display at the Kotsanas Museum of Technology of Ancient Greece, in central Athens.

Reporting by George Georgiopoulos; written and edited by John Stonestreet

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