13. Erhard Ratdolt: 1482

Sir Thomas Heath explains, "In this year appeared the first printed edition of Euclid, which was also the first printed mathematical book of any importance. This was printed at Venice by Erhard Ratdolt and contained Campanus' translation" (97). This Latin translation of Euclid's Elements, like many before it, had come partly from hand copies (manuscripts) of Arabic translations of hand copies of the Greek original, and partly from other Latin translations and Greek versions. We generally view printed material as authoritative. Ratdolt's version was far from authoritative. In fact, Heath (History, 78) describes Campanus' translation as a re-written version of Euclid: "Campanus (13th c.) was a mathematician, and it is likely enough that he allowed himself the same liberty" i.e. the same liberty that Arabian translators allowed themselves. Ratdolt made the mistake that many of those who followed him would make by calling Euclid, "Euclid of Megara," thereby confusing him with the ancient Greek philosopher of the same name from Megara.

A copy of this edition is on display at Bryn Mawr College's scientific library. In the dedication, Ratdolt explains that the reason that no mathematical books had been printed up until this time was that printers had such difficulty reproducing the figures. We don't know how he did it, but he claimed that he reproduced them as easily as he could set type.