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Geometrical Solutions Derived from Mechanics; a Treatise of Archimedes   By: (280? BC - 211? BC)

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Gordon Keener


If there ever was a case of appropriateness in discovery, the finding of this manuscript in the summer of 1906 was one. In the first place it was appropriate that the discovery should be made in Constantinople, since it was here that the West received its first manuscripts of the other extant works, nine in number, of the great Syracusan. It was furthermore appropriate that the discovery should be made by Professor Heiberg, \emph{facilis princeps} among all workers in the field of editing the classics of Greek mathematics, and an indefatigable searcher of the libraries of Europe for manuscripts to aid him in perfecting his labors. And finally it was most appropriate that this work should appear at a time when the affiliation of pure and applied mathematics is becoming so generally recognized all over the world. We are sometimes led to feel, in considering isolated cases, that the great contributors of the past have worked in the field of pure mathematics alone, and the saying of Plutarch that Archimedes felt that ``every kind of art connected with daily needs was ignoble and vulgar''\footnote{Marcellus, 17.} may have strengthened this feeling. It therefore assists us in properly orientating ourselves to read another treatise from the greatest mathematician of antiquity that sets clearly before us his indebtedness to the mechanical applications of his subject.

Not the least interesting of the passages in the manuscript is the first line, the greeting to Eratosthenes. It is well known, on the testimony of Diodoros his countryman, that Archimedes studied in Alexandria, and the latter frequently makes mention of Konon of Samos whom he knew there, probably as a teacher, and to whom he was indebted for the suggestion of the spiral that bears his name. It is also related, this time by Proclos, that Eratosthenes was a contemporary of Archimedes, and if the testimony of so late a writer as Tzetzes, who lived in the twelfth century, may be taken as valid, the former was eleven years the junior of the great Sicilian. Until now, however, we have had nothing definite to show that the two were ever acquainted. The great Alexandrian savant, poet, geographer, arithmetician, affectionately called by the students Pentathlos, the champion in five sports,\footnote{His nickname of \emph{Beta} is well known, possibly because his lecture room was number 2.} selected by Ptolemy Euergetes to succeed his master, Kallimachos the poet, as head of the great Library, this man, the most renowned of his time in Alexandria, could hardly have been a teacher of Archimedes, nor yet the fellow student of one who was so much his senior. It is more probable that they were friends in the later days when Archimedes was received as a savant rather than as a learner, and this is borne out by the statement at the close of proposition I which refers to one of his earlier works, showing that this particular treatise was a late one. This reference being to one of the two works dedicated to Dositheos of Kolonos,\footnote{We know little of his works, none of which are extant. Geminos and Ptolemy refer to certain observations made by him in 200 B. C., twelve years after the death of Archimedes. Pliny also mentions him.} and one of these (\emph{De lineis spiralibus}) referring to an earlier treatise sent to Konon,\footnote{\selectlanguage{greek} T\~wn pot\`i K\'onwna \'apustal\'entwn jewrhm\'atwn.} we are led to believe that this was one of the latest works of Archimedes and that Eratosthenes was a friend of his mature years, although one of long standing. The statement that the preliminary propositions were sent ``some time ago'' bears out this idea of a considerable duration of friendship, and the idea that more or less correspondence had resulted from this communication may be inferred by the statement that he saw, as he had previously said, that Eratosthenes was ``a capable scholar and a prominent teacher of philosophy,'' and also that he understood ``how to value a mathematical method of investigation when the opportunity offered... Continue reading book >>

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