Page images

tions? Is there not very much beauty in the scientific thought, so proprofound, so comprehensive, and so thoroughly diffused through every part of the work ? The great Kepler was even inspired by this beauty, and was exceedingly enraged at Ramus' attack on Euclid, especially against the tenth book of the "Elements." Ramus said that he had never read any thing so confused and involved as that book; whereupon Kepler answers him thus: “If you had not thought the book more easily intelligible than it is, you would never have found fault with it for being obscure. It requires great labor, concentration, care, and special mental effort, before Euclid can be understood. * You, who in this show yourself the patron of ignorance and vulgarity, may find fault with what you do not understand; but to me, who am an investigator into the causes of things, the road thereto only opened itself in this tenth book.” And in another place he says, “By an ignorant decision this tenth book has been condemned not to be read; which, read and understood, may reveal the secrets of philosophy."

Kepler also further attacks Ramus, for not subscribing to the assertion of Proclus--although it is evidently true-that the ultimate design of Euclid's work, toward which all the propositions of all the books tend, was the discussion of the five regular bodies.* And Ramus has put forth the singularly rash assertion that those five bodies are not forthcoming at the end of Euclid's “Elements.” And by thus destroying the purpose of the work, as one might destroy the form of an edifice, there is nothing left except a formless heap of propositions.

“They seem to think," says Kepler, further, " that Euclid's work was called 'Elements' (050.xsia) because it affords a most various mass of materials for the treatment of all manner of magnitudes, and of such arts as are concerned with magnitudes. But it was rather called 'Elements' from its form; because each subsequent proposition depends upon the preceding one, eren to the last proposition of the last book, which can not dispense with any preceding one. Our modern constructors treat him as if he were a contractor for wood; as if Euclid had written his book to furnish materials to every body else, while he alone should



house." Kepler's estimate differs materially from those first given, in that he does not only praise Euclid's skill in building firm and solid masonry, but the magnificence of his whole structure, from foundationstone to ridge-pole. But later mathematicians have found fault with Proclus and Kepler for bringing into such prominence the five regular * Except those which treat of perfect numbers, Proclus says, in his commentary on the

· Euclid belonged to the Platonic stct, and was familiar with that philosophy, and accordingly the whole of his elementary course looked forward to a consid

first book of Euclid,

eration of the five beautiful bodies' of Plato."

For no

bodies, and finding in them the ultimate object of Euclid's work. Even Montücla and Lorenz do this, although, as we have seen, they agree wholly with Kepler and others in finding that the chain of propositions in Euclid's “ Elements” is a most perfect one, and that no proposition is stated which is not based upon a previous one. But it would have been impossible for Euclid to construct such a chain, had he not at the beginning of it seen clearly through its whole arrangement; had he not, during the first demonstration of the first book, had in his eye the last problem of the thirteenth. architect can lay the first foundation-stone of his building until he has clearly worked out his drawings for the whole.

The most superficial observation will show that Euclid begins with the simplest elements, and ends with the mathematical demonstration of solid bodies. He commences with defining the point, line, and surface; treats of plane geometry in the first six books, and comes to solids only in the eleventh. The first definition in this book, that of bodies, follows on after the former three. Lorenz gives us the reason why Euclid inserted between plane and solid geometry, that is, between the sixth and eleventh books, four other books. “The consideration of the regular figures and bodies,” he says, “presupposes the doctrines laid down in the tenth book on the commensurability and incommensurability of magnitudes; and this again the arithmetical matter in the seventh, eighth, and ninth books."

The five regular solids, in point of beauty, stand altogether by themselves ainong all bodies; Plato calls them the “ most beautiful bodies.” We need not therefore wonder at Euclid for taking, as the crown of his work, the demonstration of their mathematical nature and of their relations to the most perfect of all forms, the sphere. In the eighteenth proposition of the thirteenth book, the last of the whole work, he demonstrates the problem. To find the sides of the five regular bodies, inscribed in a sphere. If this proposition was not the intended object, it is at least certainly the keystone of the structure.

Many things show that the demonstration of the five regular bodies, and of their relations to the cube, was really the final object of the “Elements." The Greeks, from their purely mathematical sense of beauty, and remarkable scientific tendencies, admired and studied this select pentade of bodies, which played a great part first in the Pythagorean and afterward in the Platonic school. But that Euclid, who seems to have been instructed by pupils of Plato, followed Pythagoras and Plato in this respect, if we are not convinced of it by the "Elements,” is clearly enough shown by the quotation given from Proclus, and by the following ancient epigram :

"The five chief solids of Plato, the Samian wise man invented,
And as Pythagoras found them, so Plato taught us their meaning:

And Euclid based upon them renown wide-spread and enduring." This epigram from Psellus furnishes an indubitable confirmation of the views of Proclus and Kepler, respecting the arrangement and object of Euclid's great work.

I observed that, in former times, to study Euclid was to study geometry. This will serve as a sufficient apology for the space

which I am bestowing upon the "Elements."

What was it, is the next inquiry, which caused the later mathematicians to vary so much from Euclid's course, and to omit whole books of his work? We will allow them to answer for themselves.

Of the first six books, and the eleventh and twelfth, Montücla remarks that they contain material which is universally necessary; and are to geometry what the alphabet is to reading and writing. The remaining books, he continues, have been considered less useful, since arithmetic has assumed a different shape, and since the theory of incommensurable magnitudes, and of the regular bodies, have had but few attractions for geometers. They are not however useless for persons with a real genius for mathematics. For these reasons, both Montucla and Lorenz recommend these five omitted books to mathematicians by profession. Of the tenth especially, Montücla says that it includes a theory of incommensurable bodies so profound that he doubts whether any geometer of our day would dare to follow Euclid through the obscure labyrinth. This observation is worth comparing with the expressions of Kepler and Ramus, above mentioned, on the same book.

Of the thirteenth book, which, with the two books of Hypsicles to follow it, treats of the regular solids, Montücla says, “ Notwithstand

" ing the small value of this book, an editor of Euclid, Foix,* Count de Candalle, added three more to it, in which he seems to have endeavored to discover every thing that could possibly be thought of respecting the reciprocal relations of the five regular solids. Otherwise, this theory of the regular solids may be compared with old mines, which are abandoned because they cost more than they produce. Geometers will find them at most worth considering as amusement for leisure, or as suggestive of some singular prolem."

What would Kepler have said to this opinion ? As soon as we consider Euclid's work otherwise than as a single * François Foix, Count de Candalle, who died in 1591, in his ninety-second year. He founded a mathematical professorship at Bourdeaux, to be held by persons who should discover a new property of the five regular solids. The first edition of Candalle's Euclid, with a 16th book. appeared in 1366; the second, with 17th and 18th books, in 1578. It is Latin, "Autore Franc. Flussate Cundalla."


[ocr errors]

whole, we see at once a necessity for modeling the eight“ universally
necessary” books into a new manual, of reorganizing it, and accom-
modating it to a new object. Distinguished mathematicians have
undertaken such a remodeling, mostly including as many as possible
of Euclid's propositions, and even of his groups of them, in their
manuals. But how, it will be asked, can a work, so compactly organ-
ized as Euclid's, be capable of being taken to pieces, and its disjecta
membra be arranged into a new manual? The explanation is as fol-
lows:-Although Euclid set out from one fixed point to reach another,
yet he did not proceed in one straight line from one to the other,
without any divergence. His single propositions, and still more the
groups of them, bave a species of independent existence, such that
they can be recomposed into new manuals, whose arrangement is
wholly different from that of Euclid.

“ It is with the fabric of the thoughts
As it is with a weaver's master-piece;
Where one thread governs a thousand threads,
And the shuttle flies backward and forward,
And the threads fly unseen hither and thither,

And one stroke affects a thousand combinations."
These expressions of Goethe's Mephistopheles are entirely applicable
to Euclid's master-piece.

Shall we now reject these good modern manuals, and use in our mathematical studies the thirteen original books of the “Elements ? Even Kepler, the most thorough-going admirer of Euclid, would object to this. He defended and praised the "Elements as a magnificent scientific work, but not as a school-book. He would never have recommended our gymnasiasts to study the tenth book, although he charged the celebrated Ramus with having fallen into a grievous error in thinking the book too easy, since it required intellectual exertion to understand it. Monticla, although he expressed himself strongly against a false, enervating, and unscientific mode of teaching mathematics, yet says that geometry must be made intelligible, and that many manuals have subserved this end, which he has gladly made use of in instructing; and that he would recommend the exclusive use of Euclid only to those of remarkable mathematical endowments.

But were Euclid's “Elements" originally a manual for beginners ? Shall we compare the learned mathematicians who came from all countries to Alexandria to finish their studies under Euclid, Eratosthenes, or Hipparchus, with gymnasiasts sixteen years old! The Museum at Alexandria was at first, that is in Euclid's time, a mere association of learned men; and only afterward became an educational institu

[ocr errors]


tion.* Euclid therefore wrote his Elementsfor men who came to him already well experienced in mathematical knowledge and exercises. It was because the book was not a school-book that Euclid gave his answer to the king who required him to make geometry easier.

But what was the origin of the book ?

The reader may perhaps apprehend that this question will lead me into historical obscurity, and obscure hypotheses. But there is no danger.

Montücla says that Euclid, in his book, collected such elementary truths of geometry as had been discovered before him. We know, of at least soine of his problems, that they were known before Euclid; such, for instance, as the Pythagorean problems. But, nevertheless, Euclid remains entitled to the credit of having performed a service of incalculable value in the form of the most able and thoroughly artistic editing

We have already stated the idea which guided him in this task of editing; it was to proceed from the simplest elements, by means of points, lines, and surfaces, to mathematical bodies, and finally to the most beautiful of them, the five regular bodies, and their relations to the cube.

But would geometrical studies, commenced at the very beginning on Euclid's principles, have led immediately to an elementary system such as his ? Certainly not. If they would, what occasion would there be for so much admiration of them, and of calling them Elements par excellence, and their author “ the Elementarist?

No man would ever have begun with a point, a non-existent thing, (ens non ens,) and from that proceeded to lines, surfaces, and lastly to solids. Solids would rather be the first objects considered; objects of the natural vision, and the pupil would have proceeded by abstracting from this total idea to the separate consideration of surfaces, which bound solids; lines, which bound surfaces; and lastly of points, which bound lines.

After having proceeded to this ultimate abstraction, to the very elements themselves of the study, Euclid worked out his elementary system as a retrograde course; a reconstruction of solids from their elements. And this reconstruction could only be effected by the aid of precise knowledge and intelligent technical skill; of a full understanding of the laws and relations of figures, solids, &c.

Acute Greek intellects, investigating solids and figures, and subjecting them to actual vision, would of course discover many of their laws at once, and readily. Others, however, could not be perceived by intuition, but could be disclosed to the understanding only at a

* See Klippel, on the Alexandrian Museum, 114, 228.

« PreviousContinue »