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Mathematics of Ancient Greece

Date: 3/25/96 at 12:11:42
From: Beth Zumot
Subject: Mathematics in Ancient Greece

Dr. Math,

I am a 6th grader at Bonny Doon School in Santa Cruz, California 
currently working on a report on mathematics in ancient Greece.  
My last report was on mathematics in ancient Egypt.  In my research 
I was able to find how the ancient Egyptians did place value, addition, 
subtraction, multiplication and division.  I would like to find out the 
same information about the people of ancient Greece.

I have been looking for some information and have found some but 
it is difficult for me to understand.  If you can help me or tell me of 
a book that would give me information that I need in a format that I can 
understand it would really help me a lot.

   Can you tell that I like math??

       Sincerely, Marcus Sosa

Date: 3/25/96 at 20:33:22
From: Doctor Jodi
Subject: Re: Mathematics in Ancient Greece

Hi there Marcus! 

I'm glad to hear about your interest in math. :)

I found a few interesting web pages about the history of Greek 
mathematics.  The Clark University History of Mathematics has a 
web page on Greece which includes some maps and links to 
biographies about mathematicians from ancient Greece.

If you're interested in a specific mathematician whose name you 
know, you can search for biographies at   

Some of the most famous Greek mathematicians are

Euclid - who wrote a few books of proofs on plane geometry - my 
college still studies his books!

Ptolemy - who wrote several books, is best known for the Almagest, 
which explained the apparent motions of the stars.  Ptolemy is often 
ridiculed because his system suggests that the sun moves around the 
earth.  Copernicus, a later mathematician, simplified the mathematics 
of astronomy by having the earth move around the sun.  (But today, 
astronomers know that even the SUN isn't at rest.  The Milky Way, our 
galaxy, rotates constantly.  Some of the great work in relativity, done 
by Einstein and others, discusses the fact that REST (as in staying 
still) DOESN'T EXIST!)

Hypatia - a great woman who edited one of my favorite Greek math 
texts, Apollonius' conics - thus ensuring its survival - and invented the 
astrolabe and the planesphere

Apollonius of Perga - who wrote about the conic sections (these are 
slices of a cone)  To see what conic sections look like, make a filled-in 
model of an ice cream cone (maybe with play-dough or something 
similar, and see how many ways you can slice it.  (Write back if you 
want to hear more about this!)

Archimedes - a REALLY ingenious man who did lots of great work in 
mechanics and solved lots of problems.  Here's one that maybe you and 
your class would enjoy.  The king of Syracuse (no, not Syracuse, NY, 
silly, it didn't even exist back then!) came to Archimedes with a 

"I'm worried that my goldsmith is cheating me," the king said
(except it was in Greek, not in English!)  "I need to know if this crown 
is pure gold, Archimedes.  But since it will be a gift to the gods, you 
cannot break it or destroy it in any way."

Can you solve the problem of the crown?

Aristotle and Plato, mostly known for their work in philosophy, are 
also known for work in mathematics.

These are just a few, but definitely something to get started with.

Another is the Vatican exhibit on the history of mathematics.  
The words are a bit big, but it's really cool anyway.  Give it a shot 

I hope this helps! Good luck with your report and let us know if we can 
answer specific questions.

-Doctor Jodi,  The Math Forum

Associated Topics:
Middle School History/Biography

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