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Euclid of Alexandria

Born around 325 BC and died about 265 BC in Alexandria, Egypt. This is the most usually presented idea - that Euclid was an ordinary mathematician/scholar, who simply lived in Alexandria and wrote his Elements - a book which was as popular as Bible until the 19th century.

The real identity of Euclid is however not certain at all. The situation is best summed up by a historian of mathematics, Itard, who gave three possible hypotheses with regard to Euclid's identity:

  • That Euclid was a historical character, known as Euclid of Alexandria, born about 325 BC and died about 265 BC in Alexandria, Egypt, who wrote the Elements and the other works attributed to him.
  • That Euclid was the leader of a team of mathematicians working at Alexandria around 300 BC, who all contributed to writing The Elements, even continuing to write after Euclid's death.
  • That Euclid was not a historical character and that The Elements were written by a team of mathematicians at Alexandria who took the name Euclid from the historical character of Euclid of Megara who had lived about 400 BC.

Euclid's achievement was so great that even in the Middle Ages, when mathematics was all but forgotten, and only handful of copies were preserved by the Arab mathematicians and later translated to Latin and even later to vernacular languages, myths were circulating among the masons and builders in England.

In some mediaeval manuscripts Euclid was described as someone who not only wrote the book in which all knowledge of mathematics was preserved, but also as someone who founded the craft of building.

"And the lords of the country (Egypt) grew together and took counsel how they might help their children who had no competent livelihood in order to provide for themselves and their children, for they had so many. And at the council amongst them was this worthy Clerk Euclid and when he saw that all of them could devise no remedy in the matter be said to them "Lay your orders upon your sons and I will teach them a science by which they may live as gentlemen, under the condition that they shall be sworn to me to uphold the regulations that I shall lay upon them." And both they and the king of the country and all the lords agreed thereto with one consent.

It is but reasonable that every many should agree to that which tended to profit himself; and so they took their sons to Euclid to be ruled by him and he taught them the Craft of Masonry and gave it the name of Geometry on account of the parcelling out of the ground which he had taught the people at the time of making the walls and ditches, as aforesaid, to keep out the water. And Isodoris says in Ethomologies that Euclid called the craft Geometry.

And there this worthy clerk Euclid gave it a name and taught it too the lord's sons of that land whom he had as pupils."



Lots to see and do on Euclid!

First see about where he lived (if he did at all!).

See about his Elements.

See Book I of Euclid's Elements.

Learn about the different between Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries.

See the foremost interactive site on Euclid's Elements.

See Euclid's proof on the inifity of PRIMES.

See some other famous mathematicians here, or even a page where some of them appear when they were kids.


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