## A history of Greek mathematics

The Greeks laid down the first principles, invented the methods initially, and fixed the terminology. Mathematics in short is a Greek science, whatever new developments modern analysis has brought or may bring. The interest of the subject for the classical scholar is no doubt of a different kind. Greek mathematics reveals an important aspect of the Greek genius of which the student of Greek culture is apt to lose sight. Most people, when they think of the Greek genius, naturally call to mind its masterpieces in literature and art with their notes of beauty, truth, freedom, and humanism. But the Greek, with his insatiable desire to know the true meaning of everything in the universe and to be able to give a rational explanation of it, was just as irresistibly driven to natural science, mathematics, and exact reasoning in general or logic.

This austere side of the Greek genius found perhaps its most complete expression in Aristotle. Aristotle would, however, by no means admit that mathematics was divorced from aesthetic; he could conceive, he said, of nothing more beautiful than the objects of mathematics. Plato 'delighted in geometry and in the wonders of numbers.

Indeed, seeing that so much of Greek is mathematics, arguable that, if one would understand the Greek genius fully, it Avould be a good plan, to begin with, their geometry. The story of Greek mathematics has been written before. 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, Auman, and Moritz Cantor (first edition). Since then the subject has been very greatly advanced; new texts have been published, im- portant new documents have been discovered, and researches by scholars and mathematicians in different countries have thrown light on many obscure points. It is, therefore, high time for the complete story to be rewritten.

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, by considerations of space alone, 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, who treats the history of Greek mathematics in about 400 pages of vol. i. While no one would wish to disparage so great a monument of indefatigable research, it was inevitable that a book on such a scale would in time prove to be inadequate, and to need correction in details; and the later editions have unfortunately failed to take sufficient account of the new materials which have become available since the first edition saw the light.

Author: |
Thomas Little Heath |

Publication date: |
1921 |

Keywords: |
Math- mathematics - History of Maths -Greek - mathematics |

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