Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences, by Galileo Galilei

Fourth Day

SALVIATI. Once more, Simplicio is here on time; so let us without delay take up the question of motion. The text of our Author is as follows:

The Motion of Projectiles

In the preceding pages we have discussed the properties of uniform motion and of motion naturally accelerated along planes of all inclinations. I now propose to set forth those properties which belong to a body whose motion is compounded of two other motions, namely, one uniform and one naturally accelerated; these properties, well worth knowing, I propose to demonstrate in a rigid manner. This is the kind of motion seen in a moving projectile; its origin I conceive to be as follows:

Imagine any particle projected along a horizontal plane without friction; then we know, from what has been more fully explained in the preceding pages, that this particle will move along this same plane with a motion which is uniform and perpetual, provided the plane has no limits. But if the plane is limited and elevated, then the moving particle, which we imagine to be a heavy one, will on passing over the edge of the plane acquire, in addition to its previous uniform and perpetual motion, a downward propensity due to its own weight; so that the resulting motion which I call projection [projectio], is compounded of one which is uniform and horizontal and of another which is vertical and naturally accelerated. We now proceed to demonstrate some of its properties, the first of which is as follows:

Theorem I, Proposition I

A projectile which is carried by a uniform horizontal motion compounded with a naturally accelerated vertical motion describes a path which is a semi-parabola.

Sagr. Here, Salviati, it will be necessary to stop a little while for my sake and, I believe, also for the benefit of Simplicio; for it so happens that I have not gone very far in my study of Apollonius and am merely aware of the fact that he treats of the parabola and other conic sections, without an understanding of which I hardly think one will be able to follow the proof of other propositions depending upon them. Since even in this first beautiful theorem the author finds it necessary to prove that the path of a projectile is a parabola, and since, as I imagine, we shall have to deal with only this kind of curves, it will be absolutely necessary to have a thorough acquaintance, if not with all the properties which Apollonius has demonstrated for these figures, at least with those which are needed for the present treatment.

Salv. You are quite too modest, pretending ignorance of facts which not long ago you acknowledged as well known — I mean at the time when we were discussing the strength of materials and needed to use a certain theorem of Apollonius which gave you no trouble.

Sagr. I may have chanced to know it or may possibly have assumed it, so long as needed, for that discussion; but now when we have to follow all these demonstrations about such curves we ought not, as they say, to swallow it whole, and thus waste time and energy.

Simp. Now even though Sagredo is, as I believe, well equipped for all his needs, I do not understand even the elementary terms; for although our philosophers have treated the motion of projectiles, I do not recall their having described the path of a projectile except to state in a general way that it is always a curved line, unless the projection be vertically upwards. But if the little Euclid which I have learned since our previous discussion does not enable me to understand the demonstrations which are to follow, then I shall be obliged to accept the theorems on faith without fully comprehending them.

Salv. On the contrary, I desire that you should understand them from the Author himself, who, when he allowed me to see this work of his, was good enough to prove for me two of the principal properties of the parabola because I did not happen to have at hand the books of Apollonius. These properties, which are the only ones we shall need in the present discussion, he proved in such a way that no prerequisite knowledge was required. These theorems are, indeed, given by Apollonius, but after many preceding ones, to follow which would take a long while. I wish to shorten our task by deriving the first property purely and simply from the mode of generation of the parabola and proving the second immediately from the first.

Beginning now with the first, imagine a right cone, erected upon the circular base ibkc with apex at l. The section of this cone made by a plane drawn parallel to the side lk is the curve which is called a parabola. The base of this parabola bc cuts at right angles the diameter ik of the circle ibkc, and the axis ad is parallel to the side lk; now having taken any point f in the curve bfa draw the straight line fe parallel to bd; then, I say, the square of bd is to the square of fe in the same ratio as the axis ad is to the portion ae. Through the point e pass a plane parallel to the circle ibkc, producing in the cone a circular section whose diameter is the line geh. Since bd is at right angles to ik in the circle ibk, the square of bd is equal to the rectangle formed by id and dk; so also in the upper circle which passes through the points gfh the square of fe is equal to the rectangle formed by ge and eh; hence the square of bd is to the square of fe as the rectangle id.dk is to the rectangle ge.eh. And since the line ed is parallel to hk, the line eh, being parallel to dk, is equal to it; therefore the rectangle id.dk is to the rectangle ge.eh as id is to ge, that is, as da is to ae; whence also the rectangle id.dk is to the rectangle ge.eh, that is, the square of bd is to the square of fe, as the axis da is to the portion ae.

q. e. d.


The other proposition necessary for this discussion we demonstrate as follows. Let us draw a parabola whose axis ca is prolonged upwards to a point d; from any point b draw the line bc parallel to the base of the parabola; if now the point d is chosen so that da = ca, then, I say, the straight line drawn through the points b and d will be tangent to the parabola at b. For imagine, if possible, that this line cuts the parabola above or that its prolongation cuts it below, and through any point g in it draw the straight line fge. And since the square of fe is greater than the square of ge, the square of fe will bear a greater ratio to the square of bc than the square of ge to that of bc; and since, by the preceding proposition, the square of fe is to that of bc as the line ea is to ca, it follows that the line ea will bear to the line ca a greater ratio than the square of ge to that of bc, or, than the square of ed to that of cd (the sides of the triangles deg and dcb being proportional). But the line ea is to ca, or da, in the same ratio as four times the rectangle ea.ad is to four times the square of ad, or, what is the same, the square of cd, since this is four times the square of ad; hence four times the rectangle ea.ad bears to the square of cd a greater ratio than the square of ed to the square of cd; but that would make four times the rectangle ea.ad greater than the square of ed; which is false, the fact being just the opposite, because the two portions ea and ad of the line ed are not equal. Therefore the line db touches the parabola without cutting it.

q. e. d.


Simp. Your demonstration proceeds too rapidly and, it seems to me, you keep on assuming that all of Euclid’s theorems are as familiar and available to me as his first axioms, which is far from true. And now this fact which you spring upon us, that four times the rectangle ea.ad is less than the square of de because the two portions ea and ad of the line de are not equal brings me little composure of mind, but rather leaves me in suspense.

Salv. Indeed, all real mathematicians assume on the part of the reader perfect familiarity with at least the elements of Euclid; and here it is necessary in your case only to recall a proposition of the Second Book in which he proves that when a line is cut into equal and also into two unequal parts, the rectangle formed on the unequal parts is less than that formed on the equal (i. e., less than the square on half the line), by an amount which is the square of the difference between the equal and unequal segments. From this it is clear that the square of the whole line which is equal to four times the square of the half is greater than four times the rectangle of the unequal parts. In order to understand the following portions of this treatise it will be necessary to keep in mind the two elemental theorems from conic sections which we have just demonstrated; and these two theorems are indeed the only ones which the Author uses. We can now resume the text and see how he demonstrates his first proposition in which he shows that a body falling with a motion compounded of a uniform horizontal and a naturally accelerated [naturale descendente] one describes a semi-parabola.

Let us imagine an elevated horizontal line or plane ab along which a body moves with uniform speed from a to b. Suppose this plane to end abruptly at b; then at this point the body will, on account of its weight, acquire also a natural motion downwards along the perpendicular bn. Draw the line be along the plane ba to represent the flow, or measure, of time; divide this line into a number of segments, bc, cd, de, representing equal intervals of time; from the points b, c, d, e, let fall lines which are parallel to the perpendicular bn. On the first of these lay off any distance ci, on the second a distance four times as long, df; on the third, one nine times as long, eh; and so on, in proportion to the squares of cb, db, eb, or, we may say, in the squared ratio of these same lines. Accordingly we see that while the body moves from b to c with uniform speed, it also falls perpendicularly through the distance ci, and at the end of the time-interval bc finds itself at the point i. In like manner at the end of the time-interval bd, which is the double of bc, the vertical fall will be four times the first distance ci; for it has been shown in a previous discussion that the distance traversed by a freely falling body varies as the square of the time; in like manner the space eh traversed during the time be will be nine times ci; thus it is evident that the distances eh, df, ci will be to one another as the squares of the lines be, bd, bc. Now from the points i, f, h draw the straight lines io, fg, hl parallel to be; these lines hl, fg, io are equal to eb, db and cb, respectively; so also are the lines bo, bg, bl respectively equal to ci, df, and eh. The square of hl is to that of fg as the line lb is to bg; and the square of fg is to that of io as gb is to bo; therefore the points i, f, h, lie on one and the same parabola. In like manner it may be shown that, if we take equal time-intervals of any size whatever, and if we imagine the particle to be carried by a similar compound motion, the positions of this particle, at the ends of these time-intervals, will lie on one and the same parabola.

q. e. d.


Salv. This conclusion follows from the converse of the first of the two propositions given above. For, having drawn a parabola through the points b and h, any other two points, f and i, not falling on the parabola must lie either within or without; consequently the line fg is either longer or shorter than the line which terminates on the parabola. Therefore the square of hl will not bear to the square of fg the same ratio as the line lb to bg, but a greater or smaller; the fact is, however, that the square of hl does bear this same ratio to the square of fg. Hence the point f does lie on the parabola, and so do all the others.

Sagr. One cannot deny that the argument is new, subtle and conclusive, resting as it does upon this hypothesis, namely, that the horizontal motion remains uniform, that the vertical motion continues to be accelerated downwards in proportion to the square of the time, and that such motions and velocities as these combine without altering, disturbing, or hindering each other,37 so that as the motion proceeds the path of the projectile does not change into a different curve: but this, in my opinion, is impossible. For the axis of the parabola along which we imagine the natural motion of a falling body to take place stands perpendicular to a horizontal surface and ends at the center of the earth; and since the parabola deviates more and more from its axis no projectile can ever reach the center of the earth or, if it does, as seems necessary, then the path of the projectile must transform itself into some other curve very different from the parabola.

37 A very near approach to Newton’s Second Law of Motion. [Trans.]

Simp. To these difficulties, I may add others. One of these is that we suppose the horizontal plane, which slopes neither up nor down, to be represented by a straight line as if each point on this line were equally distant from the center, which is not the case; for as one starts from the middle [of the line] and goes toward either end, he departs farther and farther from the center [of the earth] and is therefore constantly going uphill. Whence it follows that the motion cannot remain uniform through any distance whatever, but must continually diminish. Besides, I do not see how it is possible to avoid the resistance of the medium which must destroy the uniformity of the horizontal motion and change the law of acceleration of falling bodies. These various difficulties render it highly improbable that a result derived from such unreliable hypotheses should hold true in practice.

Salv. All these difficulties and objections which you urge are so well founded that it is impossible to remove them; and, as for me, I am ready to admit them all, which indeed I think our Author would also do. I grant that these conclusions proved in the abstract will be different when applied in the concrete and will be fallacious to this extent, that neither will the horizontal motion be uniform nor the natural acceleration be in the ratio assumed, nor the path of the projectile a parabola, etc. But, on the other hand, I ask you not to begrudge our Author that which other eminent men have assumed even if not strictly true. The authority of Archimedes alone will satisfy everybody. In his Mechanics and in his first quadrature of the parabola he takes for granted that the beam of a balance or steelyard is a straight line, every point of which is equidistant from the common center of all heavy bodies, and that the cords by which heavy bodies are suspended are parallel to each other.

Some consider this assumption permissible because, in practice, our instruments and the distances involved are so small in comparison with the enormous distance from the center of the earth that we may consider a minute of arc on a great circle as a straight line, and may regard the perpendiculars let fall from its two extremities as parallel. For if in actual practice one had to consider such small quantities, it would be necessary first of all to criticise the architects who presume, by use of a plumbline, to erect high towers with parallel sides. I may add that, in all their discussions, Archimedes and the others considered themselves as located at an infinite distance from the center of the earth, in which case their assumptions were not false, and therefore their conclusions were absolutely correct. When we wish to apply our proven conclusions to distances which, though finite, are very large, it is necessary for us to infer, on the basis of demonstrated truth, what correction is to be made for the fact that our distance from the center of the earth is not really infinite, but merely very great in comparison with the small dimensions of our apparatus. The largest of these will be the range of our projectiles — and even here we need consider only the artillery — which, however great, will never exceed four of those miles of which as many thousand separate us from the center of the earth; and since these paths terminate upon the surface of the earth only very slight changes can take place in their parabolic figure which, it is conceded, would be greatly altered if they terminated at the center of the earth.

As to the perturbation arising from the resistance of the medium this is more considerable and does not, on account of its manifold forms, submit to fixed laws and exact description. Thus if we consider only the resistance which the air offers to the motions studied by us, we shall see that it disturbs them all and disturbs them in an infinite variety of ways corresponding to the infinite variety in the form, weight, and velocity of the projectiles. For as to velocity, the greater this is, the greater will be the resistance offered by the air; a resistance which will be greater as the moving bodies become less dense [men gravi]. So that although the falling body ought to be displaced [andare accelerandosi] in proportion to the square of the duration of its motion, yet no matter how heavy the body, if it falls from a very considerable height, the resistance of the air will be such as to prevent any increase in speed and will render the motion uniform; and in proportion as the moving body is less dense [men grave] this uniformity will be so much the more quickly attained and after a shorter fall. Even horizontal motion which, if no impediment were offered, would be uniform and constant is altered by the resistance of the air and finally ceases; and here again the less dense [più leggiero] the body the quicker the process. Of these properties [accidenti] of weight, of velocity, and also of form [figura], infinite in number, it is not possible to give any exact description; hence, in order to handle this matter in a scientific way, it is necessary to cut loose from these difficulties; and having discovered and demonstrated the theorems, in the case of no resistance, to use them and apply them with such limitations as experience will teach. And the advantage of this method will not be small; for the material and shape of the projectile may be chosen, as dense and round as possible, so that it will encounter the least resistance in the medium. Nor will the spaces and velocities in general be so great but that we shall be easily able to correct them with precision.

In the case of those projectiles which we use, made of dense [grave] material and round in shape, or of lighter material and cylindrical in shape, such as arrows, thrown from a sling or crossbow, the deviation from an exact parabolic path is quite insensible. Indeed, if you will allow me a little greater liberty, I can show you, by two experiments, that the dimensions of our apparatus are so small that these external and incidental resistances, among which that of the medium is the most considerable, are scarcely observable.

I now proceed to the consideration of motions through the air, since it is with these that we are now especially concerned; the resistance of the air exhibits itself in two ways: first by offering greater impedance to less dense than to very dense bodies, and secondly by offering greater resistance to a body in rapid motion than to the same body in slow motion.

Regarding the first of these, consider the case of two balls having the same dimensions, but one weighing ten or twelve times as much as the other; one, say, of lead, the other of oak, both allowed to fall from an elevation of 150 or 200 cubits.

Experiment shows that they will reach the earth with slight difference in speed, showing us that in both cases the retardation caused by the air is small; for if both balls start at the same moment and at the same elevation, and if the leaden one be slightly retarded and the wooden one greatly retarded, then the former ought to reach the earth a considerable distance in advance of the latter, since it is ten times as heavy. But this does not happen; indeed, the gain in distance of one over the other does not amount to the hundredth part of the entire fall. And in the case of a ball of stone weighing only a third or half as much as one of lead, the difference in their times of reaching the earth will be scarcely noticeable. Now since the speed [impeto] acquired by a leaden ball in falling from a height of 200 cubits is so great that if the motion remained uniform the ball would, in an interval of time equal to that of the fall, traverse 400 cubits, and since this speed is so considerable in comparison with those which, by use of bows or other machines except fire arms, we are able to give to our projectiles, it follows that we may, without sensible error, regard as absolutely true those propositions which we are about to prove without considering the resistance of the medium.

Passing now to the second case, where we have to show that the resistance of the air for a rapidly moving body is not very much greater than for one moving slowly, ample proof is given by the following experiment. Attach to two threads of equal length — say four or five yards — two equal leaden balls and suspend them from the ceiling; now pull them aside from the perpendicular, the one through 80 or more degrees, the other through not more than four or five degrees; so that, when set free, the one falls, passes through the perpendicular, and describes large but slowly decreasing arcs of 160, 150, 140 degrees, etc.; the other swinging through small and also slowly diminishing arcs of 10, 8, 6, degrees, etc.

In the first place it must be remarked that one pendulum passes through its arcs of 180°, 160°, etc., in the same time that the other swings through its 10°, 8°, etc., from which it follows that the speed of the first ball is 16 and 18 times greater than that of the second. Accordingly, if the air offers more resistance to the high speed than to the low, the frequency of vibration in the large arcs of 180° or 160°, etc., ought to be less than in the small arcs of 10°, 8°, 4°, etc., and even less than in arcs of 2°, or 1°; but this prediction is not verified by experiment; because if two persons start to count the vibrations, the one the large, the other the small, they will discover that after counting tens and even hundreds they will not differ by a single vibration, not even by a fraction of one.

Sagr. On the contrary, since we cannot deny that the air hinders both of these motions, both becoming slower and finally vanishing, we have to admit that the retardation occurs in the same proportion in each case. But how? How, indeed, could the resistance offered to the one body be greater than that offered to the other except by the impartation of more momentum and speed [impeto e velocità] to the fast body than to the slow? And if this is so the speed with which a body moves is at once the cause and measure [cagione e misura] of the resistance which it meets. Therefore, all motions, fast or slow, are hindered and diminished in the same proportion; a result, it seems to me, of no small importance.

Salv. We are able, therefore, in this second case to say that the errors, neglecting those which are accidental, in the results which we are about to demonstrate are small in the case of our machines where the velocities employed are mostly very great and the distances negligible in comparison with the semidiameter of the earth or one of its great circles.

Simp. I would like to hear your reason for putting the projectiles of fire arms, i. e., those using powder, in a different class from the projectiles employed in bows, slings, and crossbows, on the ground of their not being equally subject to change and resistance from the air.

Salv. I am led to this view by the excessive and, so to speak, supernatural violence with which such projectiles are launched; for, indeed, it appears to me that without exaggeration one might say that the speed of a ball fired either from a musket or from a piece of ordnance is supernatural. For if such a ball be allowed to fall from some great elevation its speed will, owing to the resistance of the air, not go on increasing indefinitely; that which happens to bodies of small density in falling through short distances — I mean the reduction of their motion to uniformity — will also happen to a ball of iron or lead after it has fallen a few thousand cubits; this terminal or final speed [terminata velocità] is the maximum which such a heavy body can naturally acquire in falling through the air. This speed I estimate to be much smaller than that impressed upon the ball by the burning powder.

An appropriate experiment will serve to demonstrate this fact. From a height of one hundred or more cubits fire a gun [archibuso] loaded with a lead bullet, vertically downwards upon a stone pavement; with the same gun shoot against a similar stone from a distance of one or two cubits, and observe which of the two balls is the more flattened. Now if the ball which has come from the greater elevation is found to be the less flattened of the two, this will show that the air has hindered and diminished the speed initially imparted to the bullet by the powder, and that the air will not permit a bullet to acquire so great a speed, no matter from what height it falls; for if the speed impressed upon the ball by the fire does not exceed that acquired by it in falling freely [naturalmente] then its downward blow ought to be greater rather than less.

This experiment I have not performed, but I am of the opinion that a musket-ball or cannon-shot, falling from a height as great as you please, will not deliver so strong a blow as it would if fired into a wall only a few cubits distant, i. e., at such a short range that the splitting or rending of the air will not be sufficient to rob the shot of that excess of supernatural violence given it by the powder.

The enormous momentum [impeto] of these violent shots may cause some deformation of the trajectory, making the beginning of the parabola flatter and less curved than the end; but, so far as our Author is concerned, this is a matter of small consequence in practical operations, the main one of which is the preparation of a table of ranges for shots of high elevation, giving the distance attained by the ball as a function of the angle of elevation; and since shots of this kind are fired from mortars [mortari] using small charges and imparting no supernatural momentum [impeto sopranaturale] they follow their prescribed paths very exactly.

But now let us proceed with the discussion in which the Author invites us to the study and investigation of the motion of a body [impeto del mobile] when that motion is compounded of two others; and first the case in which the two are uniform, the one horizontal, the other vertical.

Theorem II, Proposition II

When the motion of a body is the resultant of two uniform motions, one horizontal, the other perpendicular, the square of the resultant momentum is equal to the sum of the squares of the two component momenta.38

38 In the original this theorem reads as follows:

Si aliquod mobile duplici motu æquabili moveatur, nempe orizontali et perpendiculari, impetus seu momentum lationis ex utroque motu compositæ erit potentia æqualis ambobus momentis priorum motuum.

For the justification of this translation of the word “potentia” and of the use of the adjective “resultant” see p. 266 below. [Trans.]

Let us imagine any body urged by two uniform motions and let ab represent the vertical displacement, while bc represents the displacement which, in the same interval of time, takes place in a horizontal direction. If then the distances ab and bc are traversed, during the same time-interval, with uniform motions the corresponding momenta will be to each other as the distances ab and bc are to each other; but the body which is urged by these two motions describes the diagonal ac; its momentum is proportional to ac. Also the square of ac is equal to the sum of the squares of ab and bc. Hence the square of the resultant momentum is equal to the sum of the squares of the two momenta ab and bc.

q. e. d.


Simp. At this point there is just one slight difficulty which needs to be cleared up; for it seems to me that the conclusion just reached contradicts a previous proposition39 in which it is claimed that the speed [impeto] of a body coming from a to b is equal to that in coming from a to c; while now you conclude that the speed [impeto] at c is greater than that at b.

39 See p. 169 above. [Trans.]

Salv. Both propositions, Simplicio, are true, yet there is a great difference between them. Here we are speaking of a body urged by a single motion which is the resultant of two uniform motions, while there we were speaking of two bodies each urged with naturally accelerated motions, one along the vertical ab the other along the inclined plane ac. Besides the time-intervals were there not supposed to be equal, that along the incline ac being greater than that along the vertical ab; but the motions of which we now speak, those along ab, bc, ac, are uniform and simultaneous.

Simp. Pardon me; I am satisfied; pray go on.

Our Author next undertakes to explain what happens when a body is urged by a motion compounded of one which is horizontal and uniform and of another which is vertical but naturally accelerated; from these two components results the path of a projectile, which is a parabola. The problem is to determine the speed [impeto] of the projectile at each point. With this purpose in view our Author sets forth as follows the manner, or rather the method, of measuring such speed [impeto] along the path which is taken by a heavy body starting from rest and falling with a naturally accelerated motion.

Theorem III, Proposition III

Let the motion take place along the line ab, starting from rest at a, and in this line choose any point c. Let ac represent the time, or the measure of the time, required for the body to fall through the space ac; let ac also represent the velocity [impetus seu momentum] at c acquired by a fall through the distance ac. In the line ab select any other point b. The problem now is to determine the velocity at b acquired by a body in falling through the distance ab and to express this in terms of the velocity at c, the measure of which is the length ac. Take as a mean proportional between ac and ab. We shall prove that the velocity at b is to that at c as the length as is to the length ac. Draw the horizontal line cd, having twice the length of ac, and be, having twice the length of ba. It then follows, from the preceding theorems, that a body falling through the distance ac, and turned so as to move along the horizontal cd with a uniform speed equal to that acquired on reaching c will traverse the distance cd in the same interval of time as that required to fall with accelerated motion from a to c. Likewise be will be traversed in the same time as ba. But the time of descent through ab is as; hence the horizontal distance be is also traversed in the time as. Take a point l such that the time as is to the time ac as be is to bl; since the motion along be is uniform, the distance bl, if traversed with the speed [momentum celeritatis] acquired at b, will occupy the time ac; but in this same time-interval, ac, the distance cd is traversed with the speed acquired in c. Now two speeds are to each other as the distances traversed in equal intervals of time. Hence the speed at c is to the speed at b as cd is to bl. But since dc is to be as their halves, namely, as ca is to ba, and since be is to bl as ba is to sa; it follows that dc is to bl as ca is to sa. In other words, the speed at c is to that at b as ca is to sa, that is, as the time of fall through ab.


The method of measuring the speed of a body along the direction of its fall is thus clear; the speed is assumed to increase directly as the time.

But before we proceed further, since this discussion is to deal with the motion compounded of a uniform horizontal one and one accelerated vertically downwards — the path of a projectile, namely, a parabola — it is necessary that we define some common standard by which we may estimate the velocity, or momentum [velocitatem, impetum seu momentum] of both motions; and since from the innumerable uniform velocities one only, and that not selected at random, is to be compounded with a velocity acquired by naturally accelerated motion, I can think of no simpler way of selecting and measuring this than to assume another of the same kind.40 For the sake of clearness, draw the vertical line ac to meet the horizontal line bc. Ac is the height and bc the amplitude of the semi-parabola ab, which is the resultant of the two motions, one that of a body falling from rest at a, through the distance ac, with naturally accelerated motion, the other a uniform motion along the horizontal ad. The speed acquired at c by a fall through the distance ac is determined by the height ac; for the speed of a body falling from the same elevation is always one and the same; but along the horizontal one may give a body an infinite number of uniform speeds. However, in order that I may select one out of this multitude and separate it from the rest in a perfectly definite manner, I will extend the height ca upwards to e just as far as is necessary and will call this distance ae the “sublimity.” Imagine a body to fall from rest at e; it is clear that we may make its terminal speed at a the same as that with which the same body travels along the horizontal line ad; this speed will be such that, in the time of descent along ea, it will describe a horizontal distance twice the length of ea. This preliminary remark seems necessary.

40 Galileo here proposes to employ as a standard of velocity the terminal speed of a body falling freely from a given height. [Trans.]


The reader is reminded that above I have called the horizontal line cb the “amplitude” of the semi-parabola ab; the axis ac of this parabola, I have called its “altitude”; but the line ea the fall along which determines the horizontal speed I have called the “sublimity.” These matters having been explained, I proceed with the demonstration.

Sagr. Allow me, please, to interrupt in order that I may point out the beautiful agreement between this thought of the Author and the views of Plato concerning the origin of the various uniform speeds with which the heavenly bodies revolve. The latter chanced upon the idea that a body could not pass from rest to any given speed and maintain it uniformly except by passing through all the degrees of speed intermediate between the given speed and rest. Plato thought that God, after having created the heavenly bodies, assigned them the proper and uniform speeds with which they were forever to revolve; and that He made them start from rest and move over definite distances under a natural and rectilinear acceleration such as governs the motion of terrestrial bodies. He added that once these bodies had gained their proper and permanent speed, their rectilinear motion was converted into a circular one, the only motion capable of maintaining uniformity, a motion in which the body revolves without either receding from or approaching its desired goal. This conception is truly worthy of Plato; and it is to be all the more highly prized since its underlying principles remained hidden until discovered by our Author who removed from them the mask and poetical dress and set forth the idea in correct historical perspective. In view of the fact that astronomical science furnishes us such complete information concerning the size of the planetary orbits, the distances of these bodies from their centers of revolution, and their velocities, I cannot help thinking that our Author (to whom this idea of Plato was not unknown) had some curiosity to discover whether or not a definite “sublimity” might be assigned to each planet, such that, if it were to start from rest at this particular height and to fall with naturally accelerated motion along a straight line, and were later to change the speed thus acquired into uniform motion, the size of its orbit and its period of revolution would be those actually observed.

Salv. I think I remember his having told me that he once made the computation and found a satisfactory correspondence with observation. But he did not wish to speak of it, lest in view of the odium which his many new discoveries had already brought upon him, this might be adding fuel to the fire. But if any one desires such information he can obtain it for himself from the theory set forth in the present treatment.

We now proceed with the matter in hand, which is to prove:

Problem I, Proposition IV

To determine the momentum of a projectile at each particular point in its given parabolic path.

Let bec be the semi-parabola whose amplitude is cd and whose height is db, which latter extended upwards cuts the tangent of the parabola ca in a. Through the vertex draw the horizontal line bi parallel to cd. Now if the amplitude cd is equal to the entire height da, then bi will be equal to ba and also to bd; and if we take ab as the measure of the time required for fall through the distance ab and also of the momentum acquired at b in consequence of its fall from rest at a, then if. we turn into a horizontal direction the momentum acquired by fall through ab [impetum ab] the space traversed in the same interval of time will be represented by dc which is twice bi. But a body which falls from rest at b along the line bd will during the same time-interval fall through the height of the parabola bd. Hence a body falling from rest at a, turned into a horizontal direction with the speed ab will traverse a space equal to dc. Now if one superposes upon this motion a fall along bd, traversing the height bd while the parabola bc is described, then the momentum of the body at the terminal point c is the resultant of a uniform horizontal momentum, whose value is represented by ab, and of another momentum acquired by fall from b to the terminal point d or c; these two momenta are equal. If, therefore, we take ab to be the measure of one of these momenta, say, the uniform horizontal one, then bi, which is equal to bd, will represent the momentum acquired at d or c; and ia will represent the resultant of these two momenta, that is, the total momentum with which the projectile, travelling along the parabola, strikes at c.

With this in mind let us take any point on the parabola, say e, and determine the momentum with which the projectile passes that point. Draw the horizontal ef and take bg a mean proportional between bd and bf. Now since ab, or bd, is assumed to be the measure of the time and of the momentum [momentum velocitatis] acquired by falling from rest at b through the distance bd, it follows that bg will measure the time and also the momentum [impetus] acquired at f by fall from b. If therefore we lay off bo, equal to bg, the diagonal line joining a and o will represent the momentum at the point e; because the length ab has been assumed to represent the momentum at b which, after diversion into a horizontal direction, remains constant; and because bo measures the momentum at f or e, acquired by fall, from rest at b, through the height bf. But the square of ao equals the sum of the squares of ab and bo. Hence the theorem sought.


Sagr. The manner in which you compound these different momenta to obtain their resultant strikes me as so novel that my mind is left in no small confusion. I do not refer to the composition of two uniform motions, even when unequal, and when one takes place along a horizontal, the other along a vertical direction; because in this case I am thoroughly convinced that the resultant is a motion whose square is equal to the sum of the squares of the two components. The confusion arises when one undertakes to compound a uniform horizontal motion with a vertical one which is naturally accelerated. I trust, therefore, we may pursue this discussion more at length.

And I need this even more than you since I am not yet as clear in my mind as I ought to be concerning those fundamental propositions upon which the others rest. Even in the case of the two uniform motions, one horizontal, the other perpendicular, I wish to understand better the manner in which you obtain the resultant from the components. Now, Salviati, you understand what we need and what we desire.

Salv. Your request is altogether reasonable and I will see whether my long consideration of these matters will enable me to make them clear to you. But you must excuse me if in the explanation I repeat many things already said by the Author.

Concerning motions and their velocities or momenta [movimenti e lor velocità o impeti] whether uniform or naturally accelerated, one cannot speak definitely until he has established a measure for such velocities and also for time. As for time we have the already widely adopted hours, first minutes and second minutes. So for velocities, just as for intervals of time, there is need of a common standard which shall be understood and accepted by everyone, and which shall be the same for all. As has already been stated, the Author considers the velocity of a freely falling body adapted to this purpose, since this velocity increases according to the same law in all parts of the world; thus for instance the speed acquired by a leaden ball of a pound weight starting from rest and falling vertically through the height of, say, a spear’s length is the same in all places; it is therefore excellently adapted for representing the momentum [impeto] acquired in the case of natural fall.

It still remains for us to discover a method of measuring momentum in the case of uniform motion in such a way that all who discuss the subject will form the same conception of its size and velocity [grandezza e velocità]. This will prevent one person from imagining it larger, another smaller, than it really is; so that in the composition of a given uniform motion with one which is accelerated different men may not obtain different values for the resultant. In order to determine and represent such a momentum and particular speed [impeto e velocità particolare] our Author has found no better method than to use the momentum acquired by a body in naturally accelerated motion. The speed of a body which has in this manner acquired any momentum whatever will, when converted into uniform motion, retain precisely such a speed as, during a time-interval equal to that of the fall, will carry the body through a distance equal to twice that of the fall. But since this matter is one which is fundamental in our discussion it is well that we make it perfectly clear by means of some particular example.

Let us consider the speed and momentum acquired by a body falling through the height, say, of a spear [picca] as a standard which we may use in the measurement of other speeds and momenta as occasion demands; assume for instance that the time of such a fall is four seconds [minuti secondi d’ora]; now in order to measure the speed acquired from a fall through any other height, whether greater or less, one must not conclude that these speeds bear to one another the same ratio as the heights of fall; for instance, it is not true that a fall through four times a given height confers a speed four times as great as that acquired by descent through the given height; because the speed of a naturally accelerated motion does not vary in proportion to the time. As has been shown above, the ratio of the spaces is equal to the square of the ratio of the times.

If, then, as is often done for the sake of brevity, we take the same limited straight line as the measure of the speed, and of the time, and also of the space traversed during that time, it follows that the duration of fall and the speed acquired by the same body in passing over any other distance, is not represented by this second distance, but by a mean proportional between the two distances. This I can better illustrate by an example. In the vertical line ac, lay off the portion ab to represent the distance traversed by a body falling freely with accelerated motion: the time of fall may be represented by any limited straight line, but for the sake of brevity, we shall represent it by the same length ab; this length may also be employed as a measure of the momentum and speed acquired during the motion; in short, let ab be a measure of the various physical quantities which enter this discussion.


Having agreed arbitrarily upon ab as a measure of these three different quantities, namely, space, time, and momentum, our next task is to find the time required for fall through a given vertical distance ac, also the momentum acquired at the terminal point c, both of which are to be expressed in terms of the time and momentum represented by ab. These two required quantities are obtained by laying off ad, a mean proportional between ab and ac; in other words, the time of fall from a to c is represented by ad on the same scale on which we agreed that the time of fall from a to b should be represented by ab. In like manner we may say that the momentum [impeto o grado di velocità] acquired at c is related to that acquired at b, in the same manner that the line ad is related to ab, since the velocity varies directly as the time, a conclusion, which although employed as a postulate in Proposition III, is here amplified by the Author.

This point being clear and well-established we pass to the consideration of the momentum [impeto] in the case of two compound motions, one of which is compounded of a uniform horizontal and a uniform vertical motion, while the other is compounded of a uniform horizontal and a naturally accelerated vertical motion. If both components are uniform, and one at right angles to the other, we have already seen that the square of the resultant is obtained by adding the squares of the components [p. 257] as will be clear from the following illustration.

Let us imagine a body to move along the vertical ab with a uniform momentum [impeto] of 3, and on reaching b to move toward c with a momentum [velocità ed impeto] of 4, so that during the same time-interval it will traverse 3 cubits along the vertical and 4 along the horizontal. But a particle which moves with the resultant velocity [velocità] will, in the same time, traverse the diagonal ac, whose length is not 7 cubits — the sum of ab (3) and bc (4) — but 5, which is in potenza equal to the sum of 3 and 4, that is, the squares of 3 and 4 when added make 25, which is the square of ac, and is equal to the sum of the squares of ab and bc. Hence ac is represented by the side — or we may say the root — of a square whose area is 25, namely 5.


As a fixed and certain rule for obtaining the momentum which results from two uniform momenta, one vertical, the other horizontal, we have therefore the following: take the square of each, add these together, and extract the square root of the sum, which will be the momentum resulting from the two. Thus, in the above example, the body which in virtue of its vertical motion would strike the horizontal plane with a momentum [forza] of 3, would owing to its horizontal motion alone strike at c with a momentum of 4; but if the body strikes with a momentum which is the resultant of these two, its blow will be that of a body moving with a momentum [velocità e forza] of 5; and such a blow will be the same at all points of the diagonal ac, since its components are always the same and never increase or diminish.

Let us now pass to the consideration of a uniform horizontal motion compounded with the vertical motion of a freely falling body starting from rest. It is at once clear that the diagonal which represents the motion compounded of these two is not a straight line, but, as has been demonstrated, a semi-parabola, in which the momentum [impeto] is always increasing because the speed [velocità] of the vertical component is always increasing. Wherefore, to determine the momentum [impeto] at any given point in the parabolic diagonal, it is necessary first to fix upon the uniform horizontal momentum [impeto] and then, treating the body as one falling freely, to find the vertical momentum at the given point; this latter can be determined only by taking into account the duration of fall, a consideration which does not enter into the composition of two uniform motions where the velocities and momenta are always the same; but here where one of the component motions has an initial value of zero and increases its speed [velocità] in direct proportion to the time, it follows that the time must determine the speed [velocità] at the assigned point. It only remains to obtain the momentum resulting from these two components (as in the case of uniform motions) by placing the square of the resultant equal to the sum of the squares of the two components. But here again it is better to illustrate by means of an example.

On the vertical ac lay off any portion ab which we shall employ as a measure of the space traversed by a body falling freely along the perpendicular, likewise as a measure of the time and also of the speed [grado di velocità] or, we may say, of the momenta [impeti]. It is at once clear that if the momentum of a body at b, after having fallen from rest at a, be diverted along the horizontal direction bd, with uniform motion, its speed will be such that, during the time-interval ab, it will traverse a distance which is represented by the line bd and which is twice as great as ab. Now choose a point c, such that bc shall be equal to ab, and through c draw the line ce equal and parallel to bd; through the points b and e draw the parabola bei. And since, during the time-interval ab, the horizontal distance bd or ce, double the length ab, is traversed with the momentum ab, and since during an equal time-interval the vertical distance bc is traversed, the body acquiring at c a momentum represented by the same horizontal, bd, it follows that during the time ab the body will pass from b to e along the parabola be, and will reach e with a momentum compounded of two momenta each equal to ab. And since one of these is horizontal and the other vertical, the square of the resultant momentum is equal to the sum of the squares of these two components, i. e., equal to twice either one of them.


Therefore, if we lay off the distance bf, equal to ba, and draw the diagonal af, it follows that the momentum [impeto e percossa] at e will exceed that of a body at b after having fallen from a, or what is the same thing, will exceed the horizontal momentum [percossa dell’impeto] along bd, in the ratio of af to ab.

Suppose now we choose for the height of fall a distance bo which is not equal to but greater than ab, and suppose that bg represents a mean proportional between ba and bo; then, still retaining ba as a measure of the distance fallen through, from rest at a, to b, also as a measure of the time and of the momentum which the falling body acquires at b, it follows that bg will be the measure of the time and also of the momentum which the body acquires in falling from b to o. Likewise just as the momentum ab during the time ab carried the body a distance along the horizontal equal to twice ab, so now, during the time-interval bg, the body will be carried in a horizontal direction through a distance which is greater in the ratio of bg to ba. Lay off lb equal to bg and draw the diagonal al, from which we have a quantity compounded of two velocities [impeti] one horizontal, the other vertical; these determine the parabola. The horizontal and uniform velocity is that acquired at b in falling from a; the other is that acquired at o, or, we may say, at i, by a body falling through the distance bo, during a time measured by the line bg, which line bg also represents the momentum of the body. And in like manner we may, by taking a mean proportional between the two heights, determine the momentum [impeto] at the extreme end of the parabola where the height is less than the sublimity ab; this mean proportional is to be drawn along the horizontal in place of bf, and also another diagonal in place of af, which diagonal will represent the momentum at the extreme end of the parabola.

To what has hitherto been said concerning the momenta, blows or shocks of projectiles, we must add another very important consideration; to determine the force and energy of the shock [forza ed energia della percossa] it is not sufficient to consider only the speed of the projectiles, but we must also take into account the nature and condition of the target which, in no small degree, determines the efficiency of the blow. First of all it is well known that the target suffers violence from the speed [velocità] of the projectile in proportion as it partly or entirely stops the motion; because if the blow falls upon an object which yields to the impulse [velocità del percuziente] without resistance such a blow will be of no effect; likewise when one attacks his enemy with a spear and overtakes him at an instant when he is fleeing with equal speed there will be no blow but merely a harmless touch. But if the shock falls upon an object which yields only in part then the blow will not have its full effect, but the damage will be in proportion to the excess of the speed of the projectile over that of the receding body; thus, for example, if the shot reaches the target with a speed of 10 while the latter recedes with a speed of 4, the momentum and shock [impeto e percossa] will be represented by 6. Finally the blow will be a maximum, in so far as the projectile is concerned, when the target does not recede at all but if possible completely resists and stops the motion of the projectile. I have said in so far as the projectile is concerned because if the target should approach the projectile the shock of collision [colpo e l’incontro] would be greater in proportion as the sum of the two speeds is greater than that of the projectile alone.

Moreover it is to be observed that the amount of yielding in the target depends not only upon the quality of the material, as regards hardness, whether it be of iron, lead, wool, etc., but also upon its position. If the position is such that the shot strikes it at right angles, the momentum imparted by the blow [impeto del colpo] will be a maximum; but if the motion be oblique, that is to say slanting, the blow will be weaker; and more and more so in proportion to the obliquity; for, no matter how hard the material of the target thus situated, the entire momentum [impeto e moto] of the shot will not be spent and stopped; the projectile will slide by and will, to some extent, continue its motion along the surface of the opposing body.

All that has been said above concerning the amount of momentum in the projectile at the extremity of the parabola must be understood to refer to a blow received on a line at right angles to this parabola or along the tangent to the parabola at the given point; for, even though the motion has two components, one horizontal, the other vertical, neither will the momentum along the horizontal nor that upon a plane perpendicular to the horizontal be a maximum, since each of these will be received obliquely.

Sagr. Your having mentioned these blows and shocks recalls to my mind a problem, or rather a question, in mechanics of which no author has given a solution or said anything which diminishes my astonishment or even partly relieves my mind.

My difficulty and surprise consist in not being able to see whence and upon what principle is derived the energy and immense force [energia e forza immensa] which makes its appearance in a blow; for instance we see the simple blow of a hammer, weighing not more than 8 or 10 lbs., overcoming resistances which, without a blow, would not yield to the weight of a body producing impetus by pressure alone, even though that body weighed many hundreds of pounds. I would like to discover a method of measuring the force [forza] of such a percussion. I can hardly think it infinite, but incline rather to the view that it has its limit and can be counterbalanced and measured by other forces, such as weights, or by levers or screws or other mechanical instruments which are used to multiply forces in a manner which I satisfactorily understand.

Salv. You are not alone in your surprise at this effect or in obscurity as to the cause of this remarkable property. I studied this matter myself for a while in vain; but my confusion merely increased until finally meeting our Academician I received from him great consolation. First he told me that he also had for a long time been groping in the dark; but later he said that, after having spent some thousands of hours in speculating and contemplating thereon, he had arrived at some notions which are far removed from our earlier ideas and which are remarkable for their novelty. And since now I know that you would gladly hear what these novel ideas are I shall not wait for you to ask but promise that, as soon as our discussion of projectiles is completed, I will explain all these fantasies, or if you please, vagaries, as far as I can recall them from the words of our Academician. In the meantime we proceed with the propositions of the author.

Proposition V, Problem

Having given a parabola, find the point, in its axis extended upwards, from which a particle must fall in order to describe this same parabola.



Hence it follows that half the base, or amplitude, of the semi-parabola (which is one-quarter of the entire amplitude) is a mean proportional between its altitude and the sublimity from which a falling body will describe this same parabola.

Proposition VI, Problem

Given the sublimity and the altitude of a parabola, to find its amplitude.

Let the line ac, in which lie the given altitude cb and sublimity ab, be perpendicular to the horizontal line cd. The problem is to find the amplitude, along the horizontal cd, of the semi-parabola which is described with the sublimity ba and altitude bc. Lay off cd equal to twice the mean proportional between cb and ba. Then cd will be the amplitude sought, as is evident from the preceding proposition.


Theoremposition. Pro VII

If projectiles describe semi-parabolas of the same amplitude, the momentum required to describe that one whose amplitude is double its altitude is less than that required for any other.

Let gm be a mean proportional between ab and gl; then gm will [Prop. IV] represent the time and momentum acquired at g by a fall from l; for ab has been assumed as a measure of both time and momentum. Again let gn be a mean proportional between bc and cg; it will then represent the time and momentum which the body acquires at c in falling from g. If now we join m and n, this line mn will represent the momentum at d of the projectile traversing the parabola dg; which momentum is, I say, greater than that of the projectile travelling along the parabola bd whose measure was given by ae. For since gn has been taken as a mean proportional between bc and gc; and since bc is equal to be and also to kg (each of them being the half of dc) it follows that cg:gn=gn:gk, and as cg or (hg) is to gk so is to to: but by construction hg:gk=gk:gl. Hence :=gk:gl. But gk:gl=:, since gm is a mean proportional between kg and gl. Therefore the three squares ng, kg, mg form a continued proportion, :=: And the sum of the two extremes which is equal to the square of mn is greater than twice the square of gk; but the square of ae is double the square of gk. Hence the square of mn is greater than the square of ae and the length mn is greater than the length ae.

q. e. d.


The force of rigid demonstrations such as occur only in mathematics fills me with wonder and delight. From accounts given by gunners, I was already aware of the fact that in the use of cannon and mortars, the maximum range, that is the one in which the shot goes farthest, is obtained when the elevation is 45° or, as they say, at the sixth point of the quadrant; but to understand why this happens far outweighs the mere information obtained by the testimony of others or even by repeated experiment.

Salv. What you say is very true. The knowledge of a single fact acquired through a discovery of its causes prepares the mind to understand and ascertain other facts without need of recourse to experiment, precisely as in the present case, where by argumentation alone the Author proves with certainty that the maximum range occurs when the elevation is 45°. He thus demonstrates what has perhaps never been observed in experience, namely, that of other shots those which exceed or fall short of 45° by equal amounts have equal ranges; so that if the balls have been fired one at an elevation of 7 points, the other at 5, they will strike the level at the same distance: the same is true if the shots are fired at 8 and at 4 points, at 9 and at 3, etc. Now let us hear the demonstration of this.

Theorem. Proposition VIII

The amplitudes of two parabolas described by projectiles fired with the same speed, but at angles of elevation which exceed and fall short of 45° by equal amounts, are equal to each other.

In the triangle mcb let the horizontal side bc and the vertical cm, which form a right angle at c, be equal to each other; then the angle mbc will be a semi-right angle; let the line cm be prolonged to d, such a point that the two angles at b, namely mbe and mbd, one above and the other below the diagonal mb, shall be equal. It is now to be proved that in the case of two parabolas described by two projectiles fired from b with the same speed, one at the angle of ebc, the other at the angle of dbc, their amplitudes will be equal. Now since the external angle bmc is equal to the sum of the internal angles mdb and dbm we may also equate to them the angle mbc; but if we replace the angle dbm by mbe, then this same angle mbc is equal to the two mbe and bdc: and if we subtract from each side of this equation the angle mbe, we have the remainder bdc equal to the remainder ebc. Hence the two triangles dcb and bce are similar. Bisect the straight lines dc and ec in the points h and f: and draw the lines hi and fg parallel to the horizontal cb, and choose l such that dh:hi=ih:hl. Then the triangle ihl will be similar to ihd, and also to the triangle egf; and since ih and gf are equal, each being half of bc, it follows that hl is equal to fe and also to fc; and if we add to each of these the common part fh, it will be seen that ch is equal to fl.


Let us now imagine a parabola described through the points h and b whose altitude is hc and sublimity hl. Its amplitude will be cb which is double the length hi since hi is a mean proportional between dh (or ch) and hl. The line db is tangent to the parabola at b, since ch is equal to hd. If again we imagine a parabola described through the points f and b, with a sublimity fl and altitude fc, of which the mean proportional is fg, or one-half of cb, then, as before, will cb be the amplitude and the line eb a tangent at b; for ef and fc are equal.

The amplitudes of two parabolas are equal when their altitudes and sublimities are inversely proportional.

Lemma for the following Proposition

If a straight line be cut at any point whatever and mean proportionals between this line and each of its parts be taken, the sum of the squares of these mean proportionals is equal to the square of the entire line.

Let the line ab be cut at c. Then I say that the square of the mean proportional between ab and ac plus the square of the mean proportional between ab and cb is equal to the square of the whole line ab. This is evident as soon as we describe a semicircle upon the entire line ab, erect a perpendicular cd at c, and draw da and db. For da is a mean proportional between ab and ac while db is a mean proportional between ab and bc: and since the angle adb, inscribed in a semicircle, is a right angle the sum of the squares of the lines da and db is equal to the square of the entire line ab. Hence follows the proposition.


Theorem. Proposition X

The momentum [impetus seu momentum] acquired by a particle at the terminal point of any semi-parabola is equal to that which it would acquire in falling through a vertical distance equal to the sum of the sublimity and the altitude of the semi-parabola.41

41 In modern mechanics this well-known theorem assumes the following form: The speed of a projectile at any point is that produced by a fall from the directrix. [Trans.]

And since dc has been cut at some point a and since cf and ce are mean proportionals between the whole of cd and its parts, da and ac, it follows, from the preceding lemma, that the sum of the squares of these mean proportionals is equal to the square of the whole: but the square of ef is also equal to the sum of these same squares; whence it follows that the line ef is equal to dc.

Accordingly the momentum acquired at c by a particle in falling from d is the same as that acquired at b by a particle traversing the parabola ab.

q. e. d.


Hence it follows that, in the case of all parabolas where the sum of the sublimity and altitude is a constant, the momentum at the terminal point is a constant.

Problem. Proposition XI

Given the amplitude and the speed [impetus] at the terminal point of a semi-parabola, to find its altitude.

Let the given speed be represented by the vertical line ab, and the amplitude by the horizontal line bc; it is required to find the sublimity of the semi-parabola whose terminal speed is ab and amplitude bc. From what precedes [Cor. Prop. V] it is clear that half the amplitude bc is a mean proportional between the altitude and sublimity of the parabola of which the terminal speed is equal, in accordance with the preceding proposition, to the speed acquired by a body in falling from rest at a through the distance ab. Therefore the line ba must be cut at a point such that the rectangle formed by its two parts will be equal to the square of half bc, namely bd. Necessarily, therefore, bd must not exceed the half of ba; for of all the rectangles formed by parts of a straight line the one of greatest area is obtained when the line is divided into two equal parts. Let e be the middle point of the line ab; and now if bd be equal to be the problem is solved; for be will be the altitude and ea the sublimity of the parabola. (Incidentally we may observe a consequence already demonstrated, namely: of all parabolas described with any given terminal speed that for which the elevation is 45° will have the maximum amplitude.)


But suppose that bd is less than half of ba which is to be divided in such a way that the rectangle upon its parts may be equal to the square of bd. Upon ea as diameter describe a semicircle efa, in which draw the chord af, equal to bd: join fe and lay off the distance eg equal to fe. Then the rectangle bg.ga plus the square of eg will be equal to the square of ea, and hence also to the sum of the squares of af and fe. If now we subtract the equal squares of fe and ge there remains the rectangle bg.ga equal to the square of af, that is, of bd, a line which is a mean proportional between bg and ga; from which it is evident that the semi-parabola whose amplitude is bc and whose terminal speed [impetus] is represented by ba has an altitude bg and a sublimity ga.

If however we lay off bi equal to ga, then bi will be the altitude of the semi-parabola ic, and ia will be its sublimity. From the preceding demonstration we are able to solve the following problem.

Problem. Proposition XII

To compute and tabulate the amplitudes of all semi-parabolas which are described by projectiles fired with the same initial speed [impetus].

From the foregoing it follows that, whenever the sum of the altitude and sublimity is a constant vertical height for any set of parabolas, these parabolas are described by projectiles having the same initial speed; all vertical heights thus obtained are therefore included between two parallel horizontal lines. Let cb represent a horizontal line and ab a vertical line of equal length; draw the diagonal ac; the angle acb will be one of 45°; let d be the middle point of the vertical line ab. Then the semi-parabola dc is the one which is determined by the sublimity ad and the altitude db, while its terminal speed at c is that which would be acquired at b by a particle falling from rest at a. If now ag be drawn parallel to bc, the sum of the altitude and sublimity for any other semi-parabola having the same terminal speed will, in the manner explained, be equal to the distance between the parallel lines ag and bc. Moreover, since it has already been shown that the amplitudes of two semi-parabolas are the same when their angles of elevation differ from 45° by like amounts, it follows that the same computation which is employed for the larger elevation will serve also for the smaller. Let us also assume 10000 as the greatest amplitude for a parabola whose angle of elevation is 45°; this then will be the length of the line ba and the amplitude of the semi-parabola bc. This number, 10000, is selected because in these calculations we employ a table of tangents in which this is the value of the tangent of 45°. And now, coming down to business, draw the straight line ce making an acute angle ecb greater than acb: the problem now is to draw the semi-parabola to which the line ec is a tangent and for which the sum of the sublimity and the altitude is the distance ba. Take the length of the tangent42be from the table of tangents, using the angle bce as an argument: let f be the middle point of be; next find a third proportional to bf and bi (the half of bc), which is of necessity greater than fa.43 Call this fo. We have now discovered that, for the parabola inscribed in the triangle ecb having the tangent ce and the amplitude cb, the altitude is bf and the sublimity fo. But the total length of bo exceeds the distance between the parallels ag and cb, while our problem was to keep it equal to this distance: for both the parabola sought and the parabola dc are described by projectiles fired from c with the same speed. Now since an infinite number of greater and smaller parabolas, similar to each other, may be described within the angle bce we must find another parabola which like cd has for the sum of its altitude and sublimity the height ba, equal to bc.

42 The reader will observe that the word “tangent” is here used in a sense somewhat different from that of the preceding sentence. The “tangent ec” is a line which touches the parabola at c; but the “tangent eb” is the side of the right-angled triangle which lies opposite the angle ecb, a line whose length is proportional to the numerical value of the tangent of this angle. [Trans.]

43 This fact is demonstrated in the third paragraph below. [Trans.]


Therefore lay off cr so that, ob:ba=bc:cr; then cr will be the amplitude of a semi-parabola for which bce is the angle of elevation and for which the sum of the altitude and sublimity is the distance between the parallels ga and cb, as desired. The process is therefore as follows: One draws the tangent of the given angle bce; takes half of this tangent, and adds to it the quantity, fo, which is a third proportional to the half of this tangent and the half of bc; the desired amplitude cr is then found from the following proportion ob:ba=bc:cr. For example let the angle ecb be one of 50°; its tangent is 11918, half of which, namely bf, is 5959; half of bc is 5000; the third proportional of these halves is 4195, which added to bf gives the value 10154 for bo. Further, as ob is to ab, that is, as 10154 is to 10000, so is bc, or 10000 (each being the tangent of 45°) to cr, which is the amplitude sought and which has the value 9848, the maximum amplitude being bc, or 10000. The amplitudes of the entire parabolas are double these, namely, 19696 and 20000. This is also the amplitude of a parabola whose angle of elevation is 40°, since it deviates by an equal amount from one of 45°.

In order to thoroughly understand this demonstration I need to be shown how the third proportional of bf and bi is, as the Author indicates, necessarily greater than fa.

Salv. This result can, I think, be obtained as follows. The square of the mean proportional between two lines is equal to the rectangle formed by these two lines. Therefore the square of bi (or of bd which is equal to bi) must be equal to the rectangle formed by fb and the desired third proportional. This third proportional is necessarily greater than fa because the rectangle formed by bf and fa is less than the square of bd by an amount equal to the square of df, as shown in Euclid, II. 1. Besides it is to be observed that the point f, which is the middle point of the tangent eb, falls in general above a and only once at a; in which cases it is self-evident that the third proportional to the half of the tangent and to the sublimity bi lies wholly above a. But the Author has taken a case where it is not evident that the third proportional is always greater than fa, so that when laid off above the point f it extends beyond the parallel ag.

Now let us proceed. It will be worth while, by the use of this table, to compute another giving the altitudes of these semi-parabolas described by projectiles having the same initial speed. The construction is as follows:

70° 6428 20° 26° 1922 71° 8940
71 6157 19 27 2061 72 9045
72 5878 18 28 2204 73 9144
73 5592 17 29 2351 74 9240
74 5300 16 30 2499 75 9330
75 5000 15 31 2653 76 9415
76 4694 14 32 2810 77 9493
77 4383 13 33 2967 78 9567
78 4067 12 34 3128 79 9636
79 3746 11 35 3289 80 9698
80 3420 10 36 3456 81 9755
81 3090 9 37 3621 82 9806
82 2756 8 38 3793 83 9851
83 2419 7 39 3962 84 9890
84 2079 6 40 4132 85 9924
85 1736 5 41 4302 86 9951
86 1391 4 42 4477 87 9972
87 1044 3 43 4654 88 9987
88 698 2 44 4827 89 9998
89 349 1 45 5000 90 10000
Problem. Proposition XIII

From the amplitudes of semi-parabolas given in the preceding table to find the altitudes of each of the parabolas described with the same initial speed.

It will be worth while to add a third table giving the altitudes and sublimities for parabolas in which the amplitude is a constant.

Sagr. I shall be very glad to see this; for from it I shall learn the difference of speed and force [degl’ impeti e delle forze] required to fire projectiles over the same range with what we call mortar shots. This difference will, I believe, vary greatly with the elevation so that if, for example, one wished to employ an elevation of 3° or 4°, or 87° or 88° and yet give the ball the same range which it had with an elevation of 45° (where we have shown the initial speed to be a minimum) the excess of force required will, I think, be very great.

Salv. You are quite right, sir; and you will find that in order to perform this operation completely, at all angles of elevation, you will have to make great strides toward an infinite speed. We pass now to the consideration of the table.

39° 4049 6174 84° 47572 525
40 4196 5959 85 57150 437
41 4346 5752 86 71503 349
42 4502 5553 87 95405 262
43 4662 5362 88 143181 174
44 4828 5177 89 286499 87
45 5000 5000 90 infinita
Proposition XIV

To find for each degree of elevation the altitudes and sublimities of parabolas of constant amplitude.

Here we see, first of all, how very true is the statement made above, that, for different angles of elevation, the greater the deviation from the mean, whether above or below, the greater the initial speed [impeto e violenza] required to carry the projectile over the same range. For since the speed is the resultant of two motions, namely, one horizontal and uniform, the other vertical and naturally accelerated; and since the sum of the altitude and sublimity represents this speed, it is seen from the preceding table that this sum is a minimum for an elevation of 45° where the altitude and sublimity are equal, namely, each 5000; and their sum 10000. But if we choose a greater elevation, say 50°, we shall find the altitude 5959, and the sublimity 4196, giving a sum of 10155; in like manner we shall find that this is precisely the value of the speed at 40° elevation, both angles deviating equally from the mean.

Secondly it is to be noted that, while equal speeds are required for each of two elevations that are equidistant from the mean, there is this curious alternation, namely, that the altitude and sublimity at the greater elevation correspond inversely to the sublimity and altitude at the lower elevation. Thus in the preceding example an elevation of 50° gives an altitude of 5959 and a sublimity of 4196; while an elevation of 40° corresponds to an altitude of 4196 and a sublimity of 5959. And this holds true in general; but it is to be remembered that, in order to escape tedious calculations, no account has been taken of fractions which are of little moment in comparison with such large numbers.

Sagr. I note also in regard to the two components of the initial speed [impeto] that the higher the shot the less is the horizontal and the greater the vertical component; on the other hand, at lower elevations where the shot reaches only a small height the horizontal component of the initial speed must be great. In the case of a projectile fired at an elevation of 90°, I quite understand that all the force [forza] in the world would not be sufficient to make it deviate a single finger’s breadth from the perpendicular and that it would necessarily fall back into its initial position; but in the case of zero elevation, when the shot is fired horizontally, I am not so certain that some force, less than infinite, would not carry the projectile some distance; thus not even a cannon can fire a shot in a perfectly horizontal direction, or as we say, point blank, that is, with no elevation at all. Here I admit there is some room for doubt. The fact I do not deny outright, because of another phenomenon apparently no less remarkable, but yet one for which I have conclusive evidence. This phenomenon is the impossibility of stretching a rope in such a way that it shall be at once straight and parallel to the horizon; the fact is that the cord always sags and bends and that no force is sufficient to stretch it perfectly straight.

Salv. In this case of the rope then, Sagredo, you cease to wonder at the phenomenon because you have its demonstration; but if we consider it with more care we may possibly discover some correspondence between the case of the gun and that of the string. The curvature of the path of the shot fired horizontally appears to result from two forces, one (that of the weapon) drives it horizontally and the other (its own weight) draws it vertically downward. So in stretching the rope you have the force which pulls it horizontally and its own weight which acts downwards. The circumstances in these two cases are, therefore, very similar. If then you attribute to the weight of the rope a power and energy [possanza ed energia] sufficient to oppose and overcome any stretching force, no matter how great, why deny this power to the bullet?

Besides I must tell you something which will both surprise and please you, namely, that a cord stretched more or less tightly assumes a curve which closely approximates the parabola. This similarity is clearly seen if you draw a parabolic curve on a vertical plane and then invert it so that the apex will lie at the bottom and the base remain horizontal; for, on hanging a chain below the base, one end attached to each extremity of the base, you will observe that, on slackening the chain more or less, it bends and fits itself to the parabola; and the coincidence is more exact in proportion as the parabola is drawn with less curvature or, so to speak, more stretched; so that using parabolas described with elevations less than 45° the chain fits its parabola almost perfectly.

Sagr. Then with a fine chain one would be able to quickly draw many parabolic lines upon a plane surface.

Salv. Certainly and with no small advantage as I shall show you later.

Simp. But before going further, I am anxious to be convinced at least of that proposition of which you say that there is a rigid demonstration; I refer to the statement that it is impossible by any force whatever to stretch a cord so that it will lie perfectly straight and horizontal.

Sagr. I will see if I can recall the demonstration; but in order to understand it, Simplicio, it will be necessary for you to take for granted concerning machines what is evident not alone from experiment but also from theoretical considerations, namely, that the velocity of a moving body [velocità del movente], even when its force [forza] is small, can overcome a very great resistance exerted by a slowly moving body, whenever the velocity of the moving body bears to that of the resisting body a greater ratio than the resistance [resistenza] of the resisting body to the force [forza] of the moving body.

Simp. This I know very well for it has been demonstrated by Aristotle in his Questions in Mechanics; it is also clearly seen in the lever and the steelyard where a counterpoise weighing not more than 4 pounds will lift a weight of 400 provided that the distance of the counterpoise from the axis about which the steelyard rotates be more than one hundred times as great as the distance between this axis and the point of support for the large weight. This is true because the counterpoise in its descent traverses a space more than one hundred times as great as that moved over by the large weight in the same time; in other words the small counterpoise moves with a velocity which is more than one hundred times as great as that of the large weight.

Sagr. You are quite right; you do not hesitate to admit that however small the force [forza] of the moving body it will overcome any resistance, however great, provided it gains more in velocity than it loses in force and weight [vigore e gravità]. Now let us return to the case of the cord. In the accompanying figure ab represents a line passing through two fixed points a and b; at the extremities of this line hang, as you see, two large weights c and d, which stretch it with great force and keep it truly straight, seeing that it is merely a line without weight. Now I wish to remark that if from the middle point of this line, which we may call e, you suspend any small weight, say h, the line ab will yield toward the point f and on account of its elongation will compel the two heavy weights c and d to rise. This I shall demonstrate as follows: with the points a and b as centers describe the two quadrants, eig and elm; now since the two semidiameters ai and bl are equal to ae and eb, the remainders fi and fl are the excesses of the lines af and fb over ae and eb; they therefore determine the rise of the weights c and d, assuming of course that the weight h has taken the position f. But the weight h will take the position f, whenever the line ef which represents the descent of h bears to the line fi — that is, to the rise of the weights c and d — a ratio which is greater than the ratio of the weight of the two large bodies to that of the body h. Even when the weights of c and d are very great and that of h very small this will happen; for the excess of the weights c and d over the weight of h can never be so great but that the excess of the tangent ef over the segment fi may be proportionally greater. This may be proved as follows: Draw a circle of diameter gai; draw the line bo such that the ratio of its length to another length c, c>d, is the same as the ratio of the weights c and d to the weight h. Since c>d, the ratio of bo to d is greater than that of bo to c. Take be a third proportional to ob and d; prolong the diameter gi to a point f such that gi:if=oe:eb; and from the point f draw the tangent fn; then since we already have oe:eb=gi:if, we shall obtain, by compounding ratios, ob:eb=gf:if. But d is a mean proportional between ob and be; while nf is a mean proportional between gf and fi. Hence nf bears to fi the same ratio as that of cb to d, which is greater than that of the weights c and d to the weight h. Since then the descent, or velocity, of the weight h bears to the rise, or velocity, of the weights c and d a greater ratio than the weight of the bodies c and d bears to the weight of h, it is clear that the weight h will descend and the line ab will cease to be straight and horizontal.


And now this which happens in the case of a weightless cord ab when any small weight h is attached at the point e, happens also when the cord is made of ponderable matter but without any attached weight; because in this case the material of which the cord is composed functions as a suspended weight.

Simp. I am fully satisfied. So now Salviati can explain, as he promised, the advantage of such a chain and, afterwards, present the speculations of our Academician on the subject of impulsive forces [forza della percossa].

Salv. Let the preceding discussions suffice for to-day; the hour is already late and the time remaining will not permit us to clear up the subjects proposed; we may therefore postpone our meeting until another and more opportune occasion.

Sagr. I concur in your opinion, because after various conversations with intimate friends of our Academician I have concluded that this question of impulsive forces is very obscure, and I think that, up to the present, none of those who have treated this subject have been able to clear up its dark corners which lie almost beyond the reach of human imagination; among the various views which I have heard expressed one, strangely fantastic, remains in my memory, namely, that impulsive forces are indeterminate, if not infinite. Let us, therefore, await the convenience of Salviati. Meanwhile tell me what is this which follows the discussion of projectiles.

Salv. These are some theorems pertaining to the centers of gravity of solids, discovered by our Academician in his youth, and undertaken by him because he considered the treatment of Federigo Comandino to be somewhat incomplete. The propositions which you have before you would, he thought, meet the deficiencies of Comandino’s book. The investigation was undertaken at the instance of the Illustrious Marquis Guid’ Ubaldo Dal Monte, a very distinguished mathematician of his day, as is evidenced by his various publications. To this gentleman our Academician gave a copy of this work, hoping to extend the investigation to other solids not treated by Comandino. But a little later there chanced to fall into his hands the book of the great geometrician, Luca Valerio, where he found the subject treated so completely that he left off his own investigations, although the methods which he employed were quite different from those of Valerio.

Sagr. Please be good enough to leave this volume with me until our next meeting so that I may be able to read and study these propositions in the order in which they are written.

Salv. It is a pleasure to comply with your request and I only hope that the propositions will be of deep interest to you.

End of the fourth day.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55