The Natural Philosophy of Archery

Quintus Claudius, in the nineteenth of his Annals, was describing a town being assaulted by Metellus and the attacks down from the walls by the townsfolk, and wrote, “The archers on both sides, along with the slingers, shot very powerfully and with great enthusiasm; but when you fire an arrow or a stone downwards versus upwards, there is a difference. It is not possible to fire either one accurately in a downward direction, yet it is much better to fire either one upwards. This is why fewer of Metellus’ soldiers were wounded, and what is most important, they easily repelled the enemy from the wings.”

I asked Antonius Julianus, the rhetorician, why it happened in the way that Quadrigarius had said, that shots are closer and more direct if you fire off either a stone or an arrow from below rather than above, since a shot is sharper and easier from a high point to a lower one than from a low point to a high one. Then Julianus, after the line of questioning was praised, said, “What he said about an arrow and a stone could be said about almost every projectile weapon. Now, it is more easy to throw, as you have just said, if you throw downwards—and if you want to throw more so than strike. But when the direction and movement need to be measured and moderated, then, if you are throwing downwards, that moderation and measurement is ruined by the very downward movement of what is thrown and the weight of the falling projectile. But if you are firing upward, and line up your hand and your eye to strike something higher up, then the projectile that you have thrown will go right where the motion you gave it carries it.

Quintus Claudius in undevicesimo annali, cum oppidum a Metello proconsule oppugnari, contra ab oppidanis desuper e muris propugnari describeret, ita scripsit: “Sagittarius cum funditore utrimque summo studio spargunt fortissime. Sed sagittam atque lapidem deorsum an sursum mittas, hoc interest: nam neutrum potest deorsum versum recte mitti, sed sursum utrumque optime. Quare milites Metelli sauciabantur multo minus et, quod maxime opus erat, a pinnis hostis defendebant facillime.”

Percontabar ego Antonium Iulianum rhetorem, cur hoc ita usu veniret, quod Quadrigarius dixisset, ut contigui magis directioresque ictus fiant, si vel lapidem vel sagittam sursum versus iacias quam deorsum, cum proclivior faciliorque iactus sit ex supernis in infima quam ex infimis in superna. Tum Iulianus comprobato genere quaestionis: “quod de sagitta” inquit “et lapide dixit, hoc de omni fere missili telo dici potest. Facilior autem iactus est, sicuti dixisti, si desuper iacias, si quid iacere tantum velis, non ferire. Sed cum modus et impetus iactus temperandus derigendusque est, tum, si in prona iacias, moderatio atque ratio mittentis praecipitantia ipsa et pondere cadentis teli corrumpitur. At si in editiora mittas et ad percutiendum superne aliquid manum et oculos conlinies, quo motus a te datus tulerit, eo telum ibit, quod ieceris.”

—Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae 9.1.1–6

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