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Incorrect informal assumptions | The Renaissance Mathematicus

Incorrect informal assumptions | The Renaissance Mathematicus

2023-09-26 13:53:49

No, she bleedin’ weren’t!

That was my buddy the HISTSCI_HULK expostulating while he was indulging in his annoying behavior of peering over my shoulder while I’m studying.

She by no means was! That’s merely improper!

Hulky was getting his nickers in a twist concerning the following declare:

Hypatia was by all accounts, a nice astronomer and a primary rank mathematician…[1]

He bleedin’ weren’t both! Exploded Hulky as he learn additional on:

…her father, an equally formidable mathematician…

Hulky is, after all, completely right. Hypatia’s father was Theon of Alexandria and though such judgements are to a big extent subjective, within the regular run of issues no one would classify Theon as a formidable mathematician or Hypatia a nice astronomer and a primary rank mathematician.

We begin with Theon from whom Hypatia seems to have learnt and inherited all the pieces. Theon was the pinnacle of a (observe, not ‘the’) Neoplatonic faculty in Alexandria the place he taught philosophy, arithmetic and astronomy. The latter two being a part of a primary Neoplatonic curriculum. Right here Theon is a trainer of astronomy and arithmetic not in any approach a formidable mathematician. 

Theon is most well-known within the historical past of arithmetic because the editor and commentator of an version of the Euclid’s Parts. In reality, the one recognized Greek version till a distinct one was discovered within the nineteenth century. He additionally produced commentaries on Euclid’s Knowledge, his Optics and Ptolemaios’ Mathēmatikē Syntaxis. All of those are works of elucidation for college students and it’s extra right to name Theon a textbook editor. 

Theon of Alexandria is greatest recognized for having edited the prevailing textual content of Euclid’s Parts, proven right here in a ninth-century manuscript Vatican Library through Wikimedia Commons

Turing to Hypatia, she seems to have studied underneath her father after which went on to take over his place as head of his faculty, additionally educating Neoplatonic philosophy with astronomy and arithmetic as subsidiaries. As soon as once more, a trainer not a nice astronomer and a primary rank mathematician. In contrast to Theon there aren’t any recognized surviving publications by Hypatia. 

The Suda, a tenth-century Byzantine encyclopaedia of the traditional Mediterranean world listing three mathematical works for her, which it states have all been misplaced. The Suda credit her with commentaries on the Conic Sections of the third-century BCE Apollonius of Perga, the “Astronomical Desk” and the Arithemica of the second- and third-century CE Diophantus of Alexandria. Alan Cameron, nevertheless, argues convincingly that she in reality edited the surviving textual content of Ptolemaeus’ Helpful Tables, (the second merchandise on the Suda listing) usually attributed to her father Theon in addition to a big a part of the textual content of the Almagest her father used for his commentary.  Solely six of the 13 books of Apollonius’ Conic Sections exist in Greek; historians argue that the extra 4 books that exist in Arabic are from Hypatia, a believable assumption[2]. So as soon as once more, what we now have is that Hypatia was like her father a textbook editor.

The MacTutor article on Theon accommodates the next judgement:

Theon was a reliable however unoriginal mathematician.

Though we now have no direct proof in her case, the identical can virtually definitely be stated about his daughter, Hypatia. Each of them are Neoplatonic philosophy academics, a philosophical course that features a primary quantity of astronomy and arithmetic. They each produced textbooks for college students by enhancing present normal texts and including commentaries to help understanding. There may be completely no proof that their mathematical competence went past this pedagogical degree.

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As a result of they each function pretty prominently within the historical past of arithmetic, folks, and sadly, not simply the quoted creator make the lazy, unfounded assumptions that they’re “a nice astronomer and a primary rank mathematician” and “an equally formidable mathematician.” Assumptions which have completely no basis within the recognized historic information. Theon is legendary due to his version of Euclid’s Parts and Hypatia as a result of she was brutally murdered, and never for his or her mathematical skills.

I’ll, nevertheless, add, as a kind of footnote, that textbook authors and editors play an important position within the historical past of a scientific self-discipline, a task that sadly, all too usually, merely will get ignored in the usual accounts of the historical past of science. 


[1] I’m not going to say the supply on this event as a result of the idea made right here turns up repeatedly and has by some means change into gospel. I’ll nevertheless be reviewing the guide in query sooner or later.

[2] This paragraph is borrowed from an early weblog put up about Hypatia that I wrote.

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