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Topic: [HM] Eudoxos
Replies: 5   Last Post: May 25, 2003 8:02 PM

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David Fowler

Posts: 241
Registered: 12/3/04
Re: [HM] Eudoxos
Posted: Jan 11, 2003 6:09 AM
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Dear all,

There seems to be a range of ways of approaching stuff like Greek
mathematicians, and this seems to stretch over a spectrum which
extends between faith that we can deduce a strong indication of when
and where they lived and worked, to those who believe that most of
this kind of assertion is pure guesswork.

Dating like this is a good example: About Euclid, for
example, we know absolutely nothing, but the stories about him range
from saying just that up to making him the founder of the mathematics
department at Alexandria's Museum. Archimedes is another example: we
probably know more about him with some reliability than most, perhaps
all, other Greek mathematicians. His date of birth is usually given
as 287 BC: which comes from the information that he died an an 'old
man' during the Roman siege of Syracuse in 212 BC. Now this
information comes (only?) from Tzetzes, an uncritical and prolific
supplier of all manner of things. Also 'old' is usually taken to be
75, and 212 + 75 = 287. Hence .... (Also the label 'Greek' usually
meant speaking or writing Greek; as far as we know, Archimedes seemed
to have lived and worked in Syracuse, in Sicily. Note also that
Alexandria is situated in Egypt, in North Africa.)

This basic information about Archimedes can be found in
paragraph 2 of Dijksterhuis well-informed book on him (p.9 of the
paperback; see below), but Dijksterhuis does not report how the
conclusion was drawn, and there is no indication of the merit of
Tzetzes' reputation as a source, nor of the reliability of 75 as the
age of an 'old man'. (Nor is there any general information that
Dijksterhuus is accurately reporting his source.)

About Eudoxus as a mathematician, we have only 3 bits of
information: Aristotle, Post Anal 74a17, Proclus in his report on
Elements I, and the first Scholium to Elements V. I don't want to
deny thew conclusion that he was, but only want to know the strength
of evidence for it.

David Fowler

(E J Dijksterhuis, Archimedes, tr C Dikshoorn, Princeton,1987.)

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