Greek Geometry

  • John StillwellEmail author
Part of the Undergraduate Texts in Mathematics book series (UTM)


Geometry was the first branch of mathematics to become highly developed. The concepts of “theorem” and “proof” originated in geometry, and most mathematicians until recent times were introduced to their subject through the geometry in Euclid’s Elements. In the Elements one finds the first attempt to derive theorems from supposedly self-evident statements called axioms. Euclid’s axioms are incomplete and one of them, the so-called parallel axiom, is not as obvious as the others. Nevertheless, it took over 2000 years to produce a clearer foundation for geometry. The climax of the Elements is the investigation of the regular polyhedra, five symmetric figures in three-dimensional space. The five regular polyhedra make several appearances in mathematical history, most importantly in the theory of symmetry—group theory—discussed in Chapters 19 and 23. The Elements contains not only proofs but also many constructions, by ruler and compass. However, three constructions are conspicuous by their absence: duplication of the cube, trisection of the angle, and squaring the circle. These problems were not properly understood until the 19th century, when they were resolved (in the negative) by algebra and analysis. The only curves in the Elements are circles, but the Greeks studied many other curves, such as the conic sections. Again, many problems that the Greeks could not solve were later clarified by algebra. In particular, curves can be classified by degree, and the conic sections are the curves of degree 2, as we will see in Chapter 7.


Conic Section Pythagorean Theorem Regular Polyhedron Common Notion Similar Triangle 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of MathematicsUniversity of San FranciscoSan FranciscoUSA

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