A Beautiful Korean Water Thief February 11, 2014Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback
The clepsydra or water thief refers to clocks, typically used in ancient times and even the Middle Ages, that measured time through dropping water: e.g. 300 drips in an hour etc etc. By the European middle ages clepsydra were on their way out but in some other corners of the world they were continually refined to greater and greater levels of accuracy and beauty. Here is the best ever seen, though unfortunately it can no longer be seen as it seems to have been eaten up by some Asian horde: the Korean Water Clock of 1434. This marvel is recorded in the Sejong Sillok and was specially commissioned by the then Korean King. So impressive was it that ‘it is really as if the gods and spirits were in charge of it. No one seeing it does not heave a sigh and aver that we Koreans certainly had nothing like this in former times’.
It was built on two stories. On the upper stories were three statues one of which sounded a bell on the hour, one of which banged a drum for the night watch and one of which banged a gong for the different phases of the night watch. On the lower floor was a horizontal wheel with twelve statues attached each signalling an hour: the wheel rotated placing the correct hour before the palace. It was doubtless also produced with medieval Korea’s exquisite sense of proportion and balance.
How did this half-robotic marvel work? Well, first it was fed by two two-man size flaggons full of water. The water dripped out at a controlled rate and moved floating rods that opened holes out of which rolled bronze balls. Small bronze balls would fall into a tube and these balls would, in turn, release larger bronze balls that released a spoon mechanism banging the drum, the gong and the bell. The Romans had allegedly developed a water clock alarm bell, but the Korean version seems to have been, let’s say, more systematic.
There is probably a case for a book of these vanished marvels (where in so many cases we have excellent descriptions) reconstructed as illustrations borrowing from contemporary styles: other mechanical marvels since destroyed? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com