Euclid of Alexandria
born around 325 BC
The Father of Geometryby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
"It is possible to draw a straight line between any two points." Such an obvious statement, yet around 300 BC statements like these were only first written down and the subject of geometry was truly formed. This statement is the first postulate of "Elements" written by the great Greek mathematician, Euclid of Alexandria, around 300 BC. Little is known about Euclid's life for a couple of reasons. For one, very little of the works from back then have survived up to this point. Euclid was also a common name for his time period, and thus any reference to "Euclid" does not necessarily mean Euclid of Alexandria. However Euclid modernized geometry when he wrote "Elements". The rest of this report will look at the man and the book that made geometry what it is today.
Euclid was probably born around 325 BC in Greece. He first studied under the great philosopher Plato in Athens. He clearly showed some talent as later on in life Ptolemy I invited him to teach in his university at Alexandria in Egypt. It was there that Euclid founded his school of mathematics. At this school he tutored such people as Archimedes - one of the greatest mathematician who ever lived. All accounts of Euclid refer to him as a kind and just man who was always willing to help. He was very thorough in his writings and would often prove things everyone else just accepted for fact.
It was while teaching in Alexandria that Euclid wrote Elements. This book is a massive collection of 13 volumes which explore many different aspects of geometry and mathematics. Much of the work in Elements was written by various mathematicians other than Euclid, but Euclid was the first to compile all of these into one giant work. This books include works on triangles, squares, circles, magnitudes, number theory and irrational numbers, written by such people as Euxodus, Thales, Hippocrates and Pythagoras. Elements remained the basic building block for all of geometry for over two thousand years.
Other than Elements Euclid wrote many other books. His "On Divisions" deals with contraction and dividing figures into different parts. "Optics" talks about perspective, and "Phaenomena" which discusses astronomy. Other works, such as "Surface Loci", "Porisms", and "Conics" have all been lost over the years. These works help make it clear than Euclid was no fluke who simply copied the works of others. He was a brilliant mathematician.
Today, Euclid has lost much of the status that he had even two hundred years ago. There are holes in his work. The most notable being his 5th postulate, which causes some modern day mathematicians and scientists to doubt him. Euclid‘s fifth postulate says that there is one and only one line, passing through a given point, parallel to another line. For years this was accepted as fact, however no one could prove it. Thus in the 19th century people chose to disregard Euclid's 5th and create "hyperbolic geometry" in which there can be many different parallel lines through one point to any given line. From there many different "non-Euclidean geometries" sprouted up, all of which had different rules regarding parallel lines differently. Thus, because of the holes in his 5th postulate and in other areas of his work, Euclid has lost much status in the eyes of many prominent mathematicians. He is still referred to as "The Father of Geometry," however, doubt arises about how much of Euclid's work was actually his. Because of the lack of facts regarding his life, some people even question if he really existed.
Still, many other philosophers and mathematician of Euclid's day referred to him in their writings, and thus it seems rather certain that he was a real person. Although his works contained many pieces taken from other scholars, there is still a large portion that was most likely his own work. The elements themselves have been one of the longest surviving and most influential books written before Christ - second only to the Bible. Thus it seems clear that Euclid was one of the greatest geometers and mathematicians who ever lived.