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Euclid

Updated on November 2, 2009

Euclid was a Greek mathematician born in about 323 B.C. Euclid is believed to have been educated by pupils of Plato. Over the period 306-283 BC, he taught geometry in Alexandria, Egypt, and established a new school of mathematics. Alexandria had been founded not long before but was quickly growing into a great city which would soon rival Athens. Books that have been attributed to Euclid deal with a variety of subjects, including optics, astronomy, music and geometry, although in recent years scholars have questioned his authorship of some of them.

Euclid was the author of the most famous of all books on mathematics. The book, called The Elements, was a systematic collection of most of the mathematics known in the early part of the 3rd century B.C. In The Elements, Euclid showed how the theorems of geometry could be deduced from a single set of postulates, or assumptions. The book also contains geometrical explanations of the theory of numbers and algebra.

The Elements consists of 13 books, first translated into Latin from an Arabic edition in 1120. Books 1-6 are on plane geometry, books 7-9 are on the theory of numbers, book 10 is on irrational quantities, and books 11-13 are on solid geometry. Euclid's work was a codification of most of the mathematical knowledge of the Greeks up to that time. It superseded the works on mathematics by his predecessors, such as Chios, Leon, Eudoxus and Thedius, and became the standard treatise on mathematics throughout Europe. Its thoroughness in dealing with certain areas, such as plane geometry, and its rigorous method of analysis exerted an immense influence on the development of mathematics in Europe, probably more than any other single work on the subject.

Euclid wrote several other books, including one on optics. In spite of his importance very little is known of Euclid's life. It seems likely that he was trained at the Academy that had been founded by Plato in Athens. During the time of Ptolemy I, who reigned from 306 B.C. to 283 B.C., Euclid founded and taught at a school in Alexandria.

Euclid died in about 285 B.C.

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