A History of Science
Tome I
Tome II
Tome III Tome IV

Book 1, chapter IX
Greek science of the alexandrian or hellenistic period
Euclid (about 300 B.C.)
Our present concern is with that first wonderful development of scientific activity which began under the first Ptolemy, and which presents, in the course of the first century of Alexandrian influence, the most remarkable coterie of scientific workers and thinkers that antiquity produced. The earliest group of these new leaders in science had at its head a man whose name has been a household word ever since. This was Euclid, the father of systematic geometry. Tradition has preserved to us but little of the personality of this remarkable teacher; but, on the other hand, his most important work has come down to us in its entirety. The Elements of Geometry, with which the name of Euclid is associated in the mind of every school-boy, presented the chief propositions of its subject in so simple and logical a form that the work remained a textbook everywhere for more than two thousand years. Indeed it is only now beginning to be superseded. It is not twenty years since English mathematicians could deplore the fact that, despite certain rather obvious defects of the work of Euclid, no better textbook than this was available. Euclid's work, of course, gives expression to much knowledge that did not originate with him. We have already seen that several important propositions of geometry had been developed by Thales, and one by Pythagoras, and that the rudiments of the subject were at least as old as Egyptian civilization. Precisely how much Euclid added through his own investigations cannot be ascertained. It seems probable that he was a diffuser of knowledge rather than an originator, but as a great teacher his fame is secure. He is credited with an epigram which in itself might insure him perpetuity of fame: "There is no royal road to geometry," was his answer to Ptolemy when that ruler had questioned whether the Elements might not be simplified. Doubtless this, like most similar good sayings, is apocryphal; but whoever invented it has made the world his debtor.




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© Serge Jodra, 2006. - Reproduction interdite.