Thomas Little Heath

British civil servant, mathematician and classicist (1861–1940)

Sir Thomas Little Heath (5 October 1861 – 16 March 1940) was a British civil servant, mathematician, classical scholar, historian of ancient Greek mathematics, translator, and mountaineer. Heath translated works of Euclid of Alexandria, Apollonius of Perga, Aristarchus of Samos, and Archimedes of Syracuse into English.

Thomas Little Heath (circa 1910)

Quotes edit

Diophantos of Alexandria: A Study in the History of Greek Algebra (1885) edit

  • Diophantos lived in a period when the Greek mathematicians of great original power had been succeeded by a number of learned commentators, who confined their investigations within the limits already reached, without attempting to further the development of the science. To this general rule there are two most striking exceptions, in different branches of mathematics, Diophantos and Pappos. These two mathematicians, who would have been an ornament to any age, were destined by fate to live and labour at a time when their work could not check the decay of mathematical learning. There is scarcely a passage in any Greek writer where either of the two is so much as mentioned. The neglect of their works by their countrymen and contemporaries can be explained only by the fact that they were not appreciated or understood. The reason why Diophantos was the earliest of the Greek mathematicians to be forgotten is also probably the reason why he was the last to be re-discovered after the Revival of Learning. The oblivion, in fact, into which his writings and methods fell is due to the circumstance that they were not understood. That being so, we are able to understand why there is so much obscurity concerning his personality and the time at which he lived. Indeed, when we consider how little he was understood, and in consequence how little esteemed, we can only congratulate ourselves that so much of his work has survived to the present day.
  • The most probable view is that adopted by Nesselmann, that the works which we know under the three titles formed part of one arithmetical work, which was, according to the author's own words, to consist of thirteen Books. The proportion of the lost parts to the whole is probably less than it might be supposed to be. The Porisms form the part the loss of which is most to be regretted, for from the references to them it is clear that they contained propositions in the Theory of Numbers most wonderful for the time.
  • It may be in some measure due to the defects of notation in his time that Diophantos will have in his solutions no numbers whatever except rational numbers, in [the non-numbers of] which, in addition to surds and imaginary quantities, he includes negative quantities. ...Such equations then as lead to surd, imaginary, or negative roots he regards as useless for his purpose: the solution is in these cases ὰδοπος, impossible. So we find him describing the equation 4=4x+20 as ᾰτοπος because it would give x=-4. Diophantos makes it throughout his object to obtain solutions in rational numbers, and we find him frequently giving, as a preliminary, conditions which must be satisfied, which are the conditions of a result rational in Diophantos' sense. In the great majority of cases when Diophantos arrives in the course of a solution at an equation which would give an irrational result he retraces his steps and finds out how his equation has arisen, and how he may by altering the previous work substitute for it another which shall give a rational result. This gives rise, in general, to a subsidiary problem the solution of which ensures a rational result for the problem itself. Though, however, Diophantos has no notation for a surd, and does not admit surd results, it is scarcely true to say that he makes no use of quadratic equations which lead to such results. Thus, for example, in v. 33 he solves such an equation so far as to be able to see to what integers the solution would approximate most nearly.

Apollonius of Perga (1896) edit

: Treatise on Conic Sections with Introductions Including an Essay on Earlier History on the Subject
  • An edition is... still wanted which shall, while in some places adhering... to the original text, at the same time be so entirely remodelled by the aid of accepted modern notation as to be thoroughly readable by any competent mathematician, and this want it is the object of the present work to supply.
  • Any satisfactory reproduction of the Conics must fulfil certain essential conditions: (1) it should be Apollonius and nothing but Apollonius, and nothing should be altered either in the substance or in the order of his thought, (2) it should be complete, leaving out nothing of any significance or importance, (3) it should exhibit under different headings the successive divisions of the subject, so that the definite scheme followed by the author may be seen as a whole.
  • There is perhaps no question that occupies, comparatively, a larger space in the history of Greek geometry than the problem of the Doubling of the Cube. The tradition concerning its origin is given in a letter from Eratosthenes of Cyrene to King Ptolemy Euergetes quoted by Eutocius...
    "Eratosthenes to King Ptolemy greeting.
    "There is a story that one of the old tragedians represented Minos as wishing to erect a tomb for Glaucus and as saying, when he heard that it was a hundred feet every way,
    Too small thy plan to bound a royal tomb.
    Let it be double; yet of its fair form
    Fail not, but haste to double every side.
    But he was clearly in error; for when the aides are doubled, the area becomes four times as great, and the solid content eight times as great. Geometers also continued to investigate the question in what manner one might double a given solid while it remained in the same form.
Doubling the Cube
the 2 methods of Menaechmus
  • "While then for a long time everyone was at a loss, Hippocrates of Chios was the first to observe that, if between two straight lines of which the greater is double of the less it were discovered how to find two mean proportionals in continued proportion, the cube would be doubled; and thus he turned the difficulty in the original problem into another difficulty no less than the former. Afterwards, they say, some Delians attempting, in accordance with an oracle, to double one of the altars fell into the same difficulty. And they sent and begged the geometers who were with Plato in the Academy to find for them the required solution. And while they set themselves energetically to work and sought to find two means between two given straight lines, Archytas of Tarentum is said to have discovered them by means of half-cylinders, and Eudoxus by means of the so-called curved lines. It is, however, characteristic of them all that they indeed gave demonstrations, but were unable to make the actual construction or to reach the point of practical application, except to a small extent Menaechmus and that with difficulty."
  • The discovery of Hippocrates amounted to the discovery of the fact that from the relation
    it follows that
    and if  , [then  , and]
    The equations (1) are equivalent [by reducing to common denominators or cross multiplication] to the three equations
    [or equivalently...
    Doubling the Cube
    the 2 solutions of Menaechmus
    and the solutions of Menaechmus described by Eutocius amount to the determination of a point as the intersection of the curves represented in a rectangular system of Cartesian coordinates by any two of the equations (2).
    Let AO, BO be straight lines placed so as to form a right angle at O, and of length a, b respectively. Produce BO to x and AO to y.
    The first solution now consists in drawing a parabola, with vertex O and axis Ox, such that its parameter is equal to BO or b, and a hyperbola with Ox, Oy as asymptotes such that the rectangle under the distances of any point on the curve from Ox, Oy respectively is equal to the rectangle under AO, BO i.e. to ab. If P be the point of intersection of the parabola and hyperbola, and PN, PM be drawn perpendicular to Ox, Oy, i.e. if PN, PM be denoted by y, x, the coordinates of the point P, we shall have


    In the second solution of Menaechmus we are to draw the parabola described in the first solution and also the parabola whose vertex is O, axis Oy and parameter equal to a. The point P where the two parabolas intersect is given by
    whence, as before,

The Thirteen Books of Euclid's Elements (1908) edit

  • Once the first principles are disposed of, the body of doctrine contained in the recent textbooks of elementary geometry does not, and from the nature of the case cannot, show any substantial differences from that set forth in the Elements.
  • The efforts of a multitude of writers have rather been directed towards producing alternatives for Euclid which shall be more suitable, that is to say, easier, for schoolboys. It is of course not surprising that, in these days of short cuts, there should have arisen a movement to get rid of Euclid and to substitute "a royal road to geometry"; the marvel is that a book which was not written for schoolboys but for grown men (as all internal evidence shows, and in particular the essentially theoretical character of the work and its aloofness from anything of the nature of "practical" geometry) should have held its own as a schoolbook for so long.
  • There has been a rush of competitors anxious to be first in the field with a new text-book on the more "practical" lines which now find so much favour. The natural desire of each teacher who writes such a text-book is to give prominence to some special nostrum which he has found successful with pupils. One result is, too often, a loss of a due sense of proportion... It is, perhaps too early yet to prophesy what will be the ultimate outcome of the new order of things; but it would at least seem possible that history will repeat itself and that, when chaos has come again in geometrical teaching, there will be a return to Euclid more or less complete for the purpose of standardising it once more.
  • Euclid's work will live long after all the text books of the present day are superseded and forgotten. It is one of the noblest monuments of antiquity; no mathematician worthy of the name can afford not to know Euclid, the real Euclid as distinct from any revised or rewritten versions which will serve for schoolboys or engineers. And, to know Euclid, it is necessary to know his language, and, so far as it can be traced, the history of the "elements" which he collected in his immortal work.
  • The researches of the last thirty or forty years into the history of mathematics (I need only mention such names as those of [Carl Anton] Bretschneider, Hankel, Moritz Cantor, [Friedrich] Hultsch, Paul Tannery, Zeuthen, Loria, and Heiberg) have put the whole subject upon a different plane. I have endeavoured in this edition to take account of all the main results of these researches up to the present date. Thus, so far as the geometrical Books are concerned, my notes are intended to form a sort of dictionary of the history of elementary geometry, arranged according to subjects; while the notes on the arithmetical Books VII.-IX. and on Book X follow the same plan.

Achimedes (1920) edit

Series: Pioneers of Progress, Men of Science, ed. S. Chapman

  • It is to be feared that few who are not experts in the history of mathematics have any acquaintance with the details of the original discoveries in mathematics of the greatest mathematician of antiquity, perhaps the greatest mathematical genius that the world has ever seen.
  • Archimedes is said to have requested his friends and relatives to place upon his tomb a representation of a cylinder circumscribing a sphere within it, together with the inscription giving the ratio (3/2) which the cylinder bears to the sphere; from which we may infer that he himself regarded the discovery of this ration as his greatest achievement.
  • In illustration of his entire preoccupation with his studies, we are told that he would forget all about his food and such necessities of life, and would be drawing geometrical figures in the ashes of the fire, or, when anointing himself, in the oil on his body.
  • Almost the whole of Greek science and philosophy begins with Thales.
  • In geometry the following theorems are attributed to him [Thales]—and their character shows how the Greeks had to begin at the very beginning of the theory—(1) that a circle is bisected by any diameter (Eucl. I., Def. 17), (2) that the angles at the base of an isosceles triangle are equal (Eucl. I., 5), (3) that, if two straight lines cut one another, the vertically opposite angles are equal (Eucl. I., 15), (4) that, if two triangles have two angles and one side respectively equal, the triangles are equal in all respects (Eucl. I., 26). He is said (5) to have been the first to inscribe a right-angled triangle in a circle: which must mean that he was the first to discover that the angle in a semicircle is a right angle. He also solved two problems in practical geometry: (1) he showed how to measure the distance from the land of a ship at sea (for this he is said to have used the proposition numbered (4) above), and (2) he measured the heights of pyramids by means of the shadow thrown on the ground (this implies the use of similar triangles in the way that the Egyptians had used them in the construction of pyramids).
  • The Pythagoreans discovered the existence of incommensurable lines, or of irrationals. This was, doubtless, first discovered with reference to the diagonal of a square which is incommensurable with the side, being in the ratio to it of √2 to 1. The Pythagorean proof of this particular case survives in Aristotle and in a proposition interpolated in Euclid's Book X.; it is by a reductio ad absurdum proving that, if the diagonal is commensurable with the side, the same number must be both odd and even. This discovery of the incommensurable... showed that the theory of proportion invented by Pythagoras was not of universal application and therefore that propositions proved by means of it were not really established. ...The fatal flaw thus revealed in the body of geometry was not removed till Eudoxus discovered the great theory of proportion (expounded in Euclid's Book V.), which is applicable to incommensurable as well as to commensurable magnitudes.
  • By the time of Hippocrates of Chios the scope of Greek geometry was no longer even limited to the Elements; certain special problems were also attacked which were beyond the power of the geometry of the straight line and circle, and which were destined to play a great part in determining the direction taken by Greek geometry in its highest flights. The main problems in question were three: (1) the doubling of the cube, (2) the trisection of any angle, (3) the squaring of the circle; and from the time of Hippocrates onwards the investigation of these problems proceeded pari passu with the completion of the body of the Elements.
  • Hippocrates himself is an example of the concurrent study of the two departments. On the one hand, he was the first of the Greeks who is known to have compiled a book of Elements. This book, we may be sure, contained in particular the most important propositions about the circle included in Euclid, Book III. But a much more important proposition is attributed to Hippocrates; he is said to have been the first to prove that circles are to one another as the squares on their diameters (= Eucl. XII., 2) with the deduction that similar segments of circles are to one another as the squares on their bases. These propositions were used by him in his tract on the squaring of lunes, which was intended to lead up to the squaring of the circle. The latter problem is one which must have exercised practical geometers from time immemorial. Anaxagoras for instance is said to have worked at the problem while in prison.
  • Hippocrates also attacked the problem of doubling the cube. ...Hippocrates did not, indeed, solve the problem, but he succeeded in reducing it to another, namely, the problem of finding two mean proportionals in continued proportion between two given straight lines, i.e. finding x, y such that a:x=x:y=y:b, where a, b are the two given straight lines. It is easy to see that, if a:x=x:y=y:b, then b/a = (x/a)3, and, as a particular case, if b=2a, x3=2a3, so that the side of the cube which is double of the cube of side a is found.
  • The problem of doubling the cube was henceforth tried exclusively in the form of the problem of the two mean proportionals.
  • Archytas of Tarentum found the two mean proportionals by a very striking construction in three dimensions, which shows that solid geometry, in the hands of Archytas at least, was already well advanced. The construction was usually called mechanical, which it no doubt was in form, though in reality it was in the highest degree theoretical. It consisted in determining a point in space as the intersection of three surfaces: (a) a cylinder, (b) a cone, (c) an "anchor-ring" with internal radius = 0.
  • Menæchmus, a pupil of Eudoxus, and a contemporary of Plato, found the two mean proportionals by means of conic sections, in two ways, (α) by the intersection of two parabolas, the equations of which in Cartesian co-ordinates would be x2=ay, y2=bx, and (β) by the intersection of a parabola and a rectangular hyperbola, the corresponding equations being x2=ay, and xy=ab respectively. It would appear that it was in the effort to solve this problem that Menæchmus discovered the conic sections, which are called, in an epigram by Eratosthenes, "the triads of Menæchmus".
  • The trisection of an angle was effected by means of a curve discovered by Hippias of Elis, the sophist, a contemporary of Hippocrates as well as of Democritus and Socrates. The curve was called the quadratrix because it also served (in the hands, as we are told, of Dinostratus, brother of Menæchmus, and of Nicomedes) for squaring the circle. It was theoretically constructed as the locus of the point of intersection of two straight lines moving at uniform speeds and in the same time, one motion being angular and the other rectilinear.
  • The actual writers of Elements of whom we hear were the following. Leon, a little younger than Eudoxus, was the author of a collection of propositions more numerous and more serviceable than those collected by Hippocrates. Theudius of Magnesia, a contemporary of Menæchmus and Dinostratus, "put together the elements admirably, making many partial or limited propositions more general". Theudius's book was no doubt the geometrical text-book of the Academy and that used by Aristotle.
  • Theodorus of Cyrene and Theaetetus generalised the theory of irrationals, and we may safely conclude that a great part of the substance of Euclid's Book X. (on irrationals) was due to Theætetus. Theætetus also wrote on the five regular solids, and Euclid was therefore no doubt equally indebted to Theætetus for the contents of his Book XIII. In the matter of Book XII. Eudoxus was the pioneer. These facts are confirmed by the remark of Proclus that Euclid, in compiling his Elements, collected many of the theorems of Eudoxus, perfected many others by Theætetus, and brought to irrefragable demonstration the propositions which had only been somewhat loosely proved by his predecessors.
  • Eudoxus was perhaps the greatest of all Archimedes's predecessors, and it is his achievements, especially the discovery of the method of exhaustion, which interest us in connexion with Archimedes.
  • The method of exhaustion was not discovered all at once; we find traces of gropings after such a method before it was actually evolved. It was perhaps Antiphon. the sophist, of Athens, a contemporary of Socrates, who took the first step. He inscribed a square (or, according to another account, a triangle) in a circle, then bisected the arcs subtended by the sides, and so inscribed a polygon of double the number of sides; he then repeated the process, and maintained that, by continuing it, we should at last arrive at a polygon with sides so small as to make the polygon coincident with the circle. Thought this was formally incorrect, it nevertheless contained the germ of the method of exhaustion.
  • Hippocrates... is said to have proved the theorem that circles are to one another as the squares on their diameters, and it is difficult to see how he could have done this except by some form, or anticipation, of the method [of exhaustion].
  • Eudoxes... not only based the method [of exhaustion] on rigorous demonstration... but he actually applied the method to find the volumes (1) of any pyramid, (2) of the cone, proving (1) that any pyramid is one third part of the prism which has the same base and equal height, and (2) that any cone is one third part of the cylinder which has the same base and equal height. Archimedes, however, tells us the remarkable fact that these two theorems were first discovered by Democritus, though he was not able to prove them (which no doubt means, not that he gave no sort of proof, but that he was not able to establish the propositions by the rigorous methods of Eudoxes. Archimedes adds that we must give no small share of the credit for these theorems to Democritus... another testimony to the marvellous powers, in mathematics as well as in other subjects, of the great man who, in the words of Aristotle, "seems to have thought of everything". ...Democritus wrote on irrationals; he is also said to have discussed the question of two parallel sections of a cone (which were evidently supposed to be indefinitely close together), asking whether we are to regard them as equal or unequal... Democritus was already close on the track of infinitesimals.

A History of Greek Mathematics (1921) Vol. 1. From Thales to Euclid edit

  • It is... the author's confident hope that this book will give a fresh interest to the story of Greek mathematics in the eyes both of mathematicians and of classical scholars.
  • For the mathematician the important consideration is that the foundations of mathematics and a great portion of its content are Greek. The Greeks laid down the first principles, invented the methods ab initio, and fixed the terminology. Mathematics in short is a Greek science, whatever new developments modern analysis has brought or may bring.
  • Greek mathematics reveals an important aspect of the Greek genius of which the student of Greek culture is apt to lose sight.
  • Aristotle would... by no means admit that mathematics was divorced from aesthetic; he could conceive, he said, of nothing more beautiful than the objects of mathematics.
  • If one would understand the Greek genius fully, it would be a good plan to begin with their geometry.
  • Dr. James Gow did a great service by the publication in 1884 of his Short History of Greek Mathematics, a scholarly and useful work which has held its own and has been quoted with respect and appreciation by authorities on the history of mathematics in all parts of the world. At the date when he wrote, however, Dr. Gow had necessarily to rely upon the works of the pioneers Bretschneider, Hankel, Allman, and Moritz Cantor (first edition). Since then the subject has been very greatly advanced... scholars and mathematicians... have thrown light on many obscure points. It is therefore high time for the complete story to be rewritten.
  • It is true that in recent years a number of attractive histories of mathematics have been published in England and America, but these have only dealt with Greek mathematics as part of the larger subject, and in consequence the writers have been precluded... from presenting the work of the Greeks in suflicient detail. The same remark applies to the German histories of mathematics, even to the great work of Moritz Cantor...
  • The best history of Greek mathematics which exists at present is undoubtedly that of Gino Loria under the title Le scienze esatte nell' antica Grecia (second edition 1914...) ...the arrangement is chronological ...they raise the question whether in a history of this kind it is best to follow chronological order or to arrange the material according to subjects...
    I have adopted a new arrangement, mainly according to subjects...
  • Take the case of a famous problem which plays a great part in the history of Greek geometry, the doubling of the cube, or its equivalent, the finding of two mean proportionals in continued proportion between two given straight lines. ...if all the recorded solutions are collected together, it is much easier to see the relations, amounting in some cases to substantial identity, between them, and to get a comprehensive view of the history of the problem. I have therefore dealt with this problem in a separate section of the chapter devoted to 'Special Problems,' and I have followed the same course with the other famous problems of squaring the circle and trisecting any angle.
  • It would be inconvenient to interrupt the account of Menaechmus's solution of the problem of the two mean proportionals in order to consider the way in which he may have discovered the conic sections and their fundamental properties. It seems to me much better to give the complete story of the origin and development of the geometry of the conic sections in one place, and this has been done in the chapter on conic sections associated with the name of Apollonius of Perga. Similarly a chapter has been devoted to algebra (in connexion with Diophantus) and another to trigonometry (under Hipparchus, Menelaus and Ptolemy).
  • The outstanding personalities of Euclid and Archimedes demand chapters to themselves. Euclid, the author of the incomparable Elements, wrote on almost all the other branches of mathematics known in his day. Archimedes's work, all original and set forth in treatises which are models of scientific exposition, perfect in form and style, was even wider in its range of subjects. The imperishable and unique monuments of the genius of these two men must be detached from their surroundings and seen as a whole if we would appreciate to the full the pre-eminent place which they occupy, and will hold for all time, in the history of science.
  • It is a defect in the existing histories that, while they state generally the contents of, and the main propositions proved in, the great treatises of Archimedes and Apollonius, they make little attempt to describe the procedure by which the results are obtained. I have therefore taken pains, in the most significant cases, to show the course of the argument in sufficient detail to enable a competent mathematician to grasp the method used and to apply it, if he will, to other similar investigations.
  • The work Was begun in 1913, but the bulk of it was written, as a distraction, during the first three years of the war, the hideous course of which seemed day by day to enforce the profound truth conveyed in the answer of Plato to the Delians. When they consulted him on the problem set them by the Oracle, namely that of duplicating the cube, he replied, 'It must be supposed, not that the god specially wished this problem solved, but that he would have the Greeks desist from war and wickedness and cultivate the Muses, so that, their passions being assuaged by philosophy and mathematics, they might live in innocent and mutually helpful intercourse with one another'.
    Greece and her foundations are
    Built below the tide of war,
    Based on the crystàlline sea
    Of thought and its eternity.

Quotes about Heath edit

  • Between the time of the gift of the Portsmouth Papers and the 1930s... there was as yet no real discipline of the history of science and of mathematics. The number of individuals producing lasting historical contributions in the history of science and mathematics was small, including such heroic figures as J. L Heiberg, G. Eneström, Thomas Little Heath, and Paul Tannery.

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