The world as seen through the clarifying lens of the 9th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875-1889).

Saturday, 6 September 2008

28. (ii)Ingenious mechanical contrivances

La Machine's spider was by no means a disappointment, but neither was it an AUTOMATON
"a self moving machine, or one in which the principle of motion is contained within the mechanism itself. According to this description, clocks, watches, and all machines of a similar kind, are automata, but the word is generally applied to contrivances which simulate for a time the motions of animal life.

[...]400 years B.C., Archytas of Tarentum is said to have made a wooden pigeon that could fly ; and during the Middle Ages numerous instances of the construction of automata are recorded. Regiomontanus is said to have made an iron fly, which would flutter round the room and return to his hand, and also an eagle, which flew before the Emperor Maximilian when he was entering Nuremberg. Roger Bacon is said to have forged a brazen head which spoke, and Albertus Magnus to have had an androides, which acted as doorkeeper, and was broken to pieces by Aquinas.

[...]No notice of automata can be complete without at least a reference to Kempelen's famous chess player, which for many years astonished and puzzled Europe. This figure, however, was no true automaton, although the mechanical contrivances for concealing the real performer and giving effect to his desired movements were exceedingly ingenious."

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