Eratosthenes

276-194 B.C.

Eratosthenes of Cyrene was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, geographer, philosopher, and poet, whose varied talents earned him the epithet "pentathlete." Educated in Athens, he was called to Alexandria (about 245 B.C.) by Ptolemy III to serve as tutor to Ptolemy's son, Philopator, and as librarian at the Museum. He died in Alexandria.

Although he was a prolific writer, his work survives only in fragments and in reports by other writers. He is best known for his ingenious measurement of the earth's circumference. Having determined that the noon sun at the summer solstice stands almost directly overhead at the town of Syene (now Aswan) , he measured the angle between the sun's rays and a perpendicular line at the same time in Alexandria. Assuming that Syene and Alexandria lie on the same meridian and that the sun's rays are parallel, he reasoned that the angle, which measured approximately 1/50 of a full circle (7° 12'), corresponded to the angular distance (difference in latitude) between the two towns. Hence, the linear distance between them, established by direct measurement to be 5,000 stadia, represented 1150 of the earth's circumference. To the resulting value of 250,000 stadia he added another 2,000 to account for various inaccuracies, giving a total circumference of 252,000 stadia (probably about 24,500 miles or 40,000 kilometers). Eratosthenes' method is theoretically highly accurate, but uncertainty regarding the modem equivalent of the stadion makes it difficult to judge his actual accuracy.

Eratosthenes also attempted to measure the distances of the sun and moon from the earth and wrote a Geography that served as a model for subsequent authors. In mathematics, he wrote a long treatise on Platonic mathematics and devised an instrument, the mesolabon, for determining two mean proportionals between two given magnitudes. The numbers x and y are mean proportionals between a and b if and only if a:x = x:y = y:b. He also established a procedure for systematically determining all prime numbers less than a given value. Called the "sieve of Eratosthenes," the procedure essentially eliminates all multiples of the successive primes beginning with 2.

More by this Author

  • Greek Philosopher Socrates
    5

    Socrates was a Greek philosopher and moralist. He wrote no philosophical works himself, but the discussions he held with the young men who gathered round him af­fected profoundly the subsequent development of...

  • What is Idealism?
    11

    Idealism is the philosophical theory that reality is essentially mental or spiritual. Idealism is opposed to materialism, the theory that reality is physical. In philosophy there are two schools of idealism. The older...

  • What is Inhibition?
    3

    Inhibition, in psychology, is restraint on an otherwise natural and spontaneous thought or action. In physiological psychology, inhibition is a normal regulatory function of the nervous system. Walking, for example,...


Comments

No comments yet.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working