Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Nicomachus of Gerasa (c 100 CE)

Nicomachus of Gethisrasa is mentioned in a small number of sources and we can date him fairly accurately from the information given. Nicomachus himself refers to Thrasyllus who died in 36 AD so this gives lower limits on his dates. On the other hand Apuleius, the Platonic philosopher, rhetorician and author whose dates are 124 AD to about 175 AD, translated Nicomachus's Introduction to Arithmetic into Latin so this gives an upper limit on his dates. One of the most interesting references is by Lucian, the rhetorician, pamphleteer and satirist who was born about 120 AD, who makes one of his characters say: You calculate like Nicomachus. Clearly Nicomachus had achieved fame for his arithmetical work! Nicomachus was a Pythagorean. This is obvious from his writings on numbers and music, but we are also told this by Porphyry who says that he was one of the leading members of the Pythagoreans School. Nicomachus wrote Arithmetike eisagoge (Introduction to Arithmetic) which was the first work to treat arithmetic as a separate topic from geometry. Unlike Euclid, Nicomachus gave no abstract proofs of his theorems, merely stating theorems and illustrating them with numerical examples. However Introduction to Arithmetic does contain quite elementary errors which show that Nicomachus chose not to give proofs of his results because he did not in general have such proofs. Many of the results were known by Nicomachus to be true since they appeared with proofs in Euclid, although in a geometrical formulation. Sometimes Nicomachus stated a result that is simply false and then illustrated it with an example that happens to have the properties described in the result. We must deduce from this that some of the results are merely guesses based on the evidence of the numerical examples (and in some cases perhaps even based on one example!). - from Malaspina Biography

Books from Alibris: Nicomachus

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