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One feature which will probably most impress the mathematician accustomed to the rapidity and directness secured by the generality of modern methods is the deliberation with which Archimedes approaches the solution of any one of his main problems.
Thomas Little Heath
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Once the first principles are disposed of, the body of doctrine contained in the recent textbooks of elementary geometry does not, and from the nature of the case cannot, show any substantial differences from that set forth in the Elements.
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The most probable view is that adopted by Nesselmann, that the works which we know under the three titles formed part of one arithmetical work, which was, according to the author's own words, to consist of thirteen Books. The proportion of the lost parts to the whole is probably less than it might be supposed to be. The Porisms form the part the loss of which is most to be regretted, for from the references to them it is clear that they contained propositions in the Theory of Numbers most wonderful for the time.
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It is a defect in the existing histories that, while they state generally the contents of, and the main propositions proved in, the great treatises of Archimedes and Apollonius, they make little attempt to describe the procedure by which the results are obtained. I have therefore taken pains, in the most significant cases, to show the course of the argument in sufficient detail to enable a competent mathematician to grasp the method used and to apply it, if he will, to other similar investigations.
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Dr. James Gow did a great service by the publication in 1884 of his Short History of Greek Mathematics, a scholarly and useful work which has held its own and has been quoted with respect and appreciation by authorities on the history of mathematics in all parts of the world. At the date when he wrote, however, Dr. Gow had necessarily to rely upon the works of the pioneers Bretschneider, Hankel, Allman, and Moritz Cantor (first edition). Since then the subject has been very greatly advanced... scholars and mathematicians... have thrown light on many obscure points. It is therefore high time for the complete story to be rewritten.
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It is... the author's confident hope that this book will give a fresh interest to the story of Greek mathematics in the eyes both of mathematicians and of classical scholars.
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Eudoxus was perhaps the greatest of all Archimedes's predecessors, and it is his achievements, especially the discovery of the method of exhaustion, which interest us in connection with Archimedes.
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If one would understand the Greek genius fully, it would be a good plan to begin with their geometry.
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The problem of doubling the cube was henceforth tried exclusively in the form of the problem of the two mean proportionals.
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Menæchmus, a pupil of Eudoxus, and a contemporary of Plato, found the two mean proportionals by means of conic sections, in two ways, (α) by the intersection of two parabolas, the equations of which in Cartesian co-ordinates would be x2=ay, y2=bx, and (β) by the intersection of a parabola and a rectangular hyperbola, the corresponding equations being x2=ay, and xy=ab respectively. It would appear that it was in the effort to solve this problem that Menæchmus discovered the conic sections, which are called, in an epigram by Eratosthenes, "the triads of Menæchmus".
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The actual writers of Elements of whom we hear were the following. Leon, a little younger than Eudoxus, was the author of a collection of propositions more numerous and more serviceable than those collected by Hippocrates. Theudius of Magnesia, a contemporary of Menæchmus and Dinostratus, "put together the elements admirably, making many partial or limited propositions more general". Theudius's book was no doubt the geometrical text-book of the Academy and that used by Aristotle.
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Hippocrates... is said to have proved the theorem that circles are to one another as the squares on their diameters, and it is difficult to see how he could have done this except by some form, or anticipation, of the method [of exhaustion].
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Archytas of Tarentum found the two mean proportionals by a very striking construction in three dimensions, which shows that solid geometry, in the hands of Archytas at least, was already well advanced. The construction was usually called mechanical, which it no doubt was in form, though in reality it was in the highest degree theoretical. It consisted in determining a point in space as the intersection of three surfaces: (a) a cylinder, (b) a cone, (c) an "anchor-ring" with internal radius = 0.
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Hippocrates himself is an example of the concurrent study of the two departments. On the one hand, he was the first of the Greeks who is known to have compiled a book of Elements. This book, we may be sure, contained in particular the most important propositions about the circle included in Euclid, Book III. But a much more important proposition is attributed to Hippocrates; he is said to have been the first to prove that circles are to one another as the squares on their diameters with the deduction that similar segments of circles are to one another as the squares on their bases. These propositions were used by him in his tract on the squaring of lunes, which was intended to lead up to the squaring of the circle. The latter problem is one which must have exercised practical geometers from time immemorial. Anaxagoras for instance is said to have worked at the problem while in prison.
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Diophantos lived in a period when the Greek mathematicians of great original power had been succeeded by a number of learned commentators, who confined their investigations within the limits already reached, without attempting to further the development of the science. To this general rule there are two most striking exceptions, in different branches of mathematics, Diophantos and Pappos. These two mathematicians, who would have been an ornament to any age, were destined by fate to live and labour at a time when their work could not check the decay of mathematical learning.
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Almost the whole of Greek science and philosophy begins with Thales.
Thomas Little Heath
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The best history of Greek mathematics which exists at present is undoubtedly that of Gino Loria under the title Le scienze esatte nell' antica Grecia (second edition 1914...) ...the arrangement is chronological ...they raise the question whether in a history of this kind it is best to follow chronological order or to arrange the material according to subjects...
I have adopted a new arrangement, mainly according to subjects...
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Euclid's work will live long after all the text books of the present day are superseded and forgotten. It is one of the noblest monuments of antiquity; no mathematician worthy of the name can afford not to know Euclid, the real Euclid as distinct from any revised or rewritten versions which will serve for schoolboys or engineers. And, to know Euclid, it is necessary to know his language, and, so far as it can be traced, the history of the "elements" which he collected in his immortal work.
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An edition is... still wanted which shall, while in some places adhering... to the original text, at the same time be so entirely remodeled by the aid of accepted modern notation as to be thoroughly readable by any competent mathematician, and this want it is the object of the present work to supply.
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Of Archimedes:
In illustration of his entire preoccupation with his studies, we are told that he would forget all about his food and such necessities of life, and would be drawing geometrical figures in the ashes of the fire, or, when anointing himself, in the oil on his body.
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For the mathematician the important consideration is that the foundations of mathematics and a great portion of its content are Greek. The Greeks laid down the first principles, invented the methods ab initio, and fixed the terminology. Mathematics in short is a Greek science, whatever new developments modern analysis has brought or may bring.
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Archimedes is said to have requested his friends and relatives to place upon his tomb a representation of a cylinder circumscribing a sphere within it, together with the inscription giving the ratio (3/2) which the cylinder bears to the sphere; from which we may infer that he himself regarded the discovery of this ration as his greatest achievement.
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The efforts of a multitude of writers have rather been directed towards producing alternatives for Euclid which shall be more suitable, that is to say, easier, for schoolboys. It is of course not surprising that, in these days of short cuts, there should have arisen a movement to get rid of Euclid and to substitute "a royal road to geometry"; the marvel is that a book which was not written for schoolboys but for grown men (as all internal evidence shows, and in particular the essentially theoretical character of the work and its aloofness from anything of the nature of "practical" geometry) should have held its own as a schoolbook for so long.
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Take the case of a famous problem which plays a great part in the history of Greek geometry, the doubling of the cube, or its equivalent, the finding of two mean proportionals in continued proportion between two given straight lines. ...if all the recorded solutions are collected together, it is much easier to see the relations, amounting in some cases to substantial identity, between them, and to get a comprehensive view of the history of the problem. I have therefore dealt with this problem in a separate section of the chapter devoted to 'Special Problems,' and I have followed the same course with the other famous problems of squaring the circle and trisecting any angle.
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It is true that in recent years a number of attractive histories of mathematics have been published in England and America, but these have only dealt with Greek mathematics as part of the larger subject, and in consequence the writers have been precluded... from presenting the work of the Greeks in sufficient detail. The same remark applies to the German histories of mathematics, even to the great work of Moritz Cantor...
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Thomas Little Heath
Born:
October 5, 1861
Died:
March 16, 1940
(aged 78)
Bio:
Sir Thomas Little Heath was a British civil servant, mathematician, classical scholar, historian of ancient Greek mathematics, translator, and mountaineer. He was educated at Clifton College.
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