Chapter 5 Halley’s Dialogue with the Past
Given Halley’s attentiveness to Apollonius’s text, his attentiveness to those “certain concrete vestiges,” as he puts it in his epistolary introduction, which hint at Apollonius’s thought regarding the book of determinate problems, given his apparent desire to enter Apollonius’s mind, Halley’s project, contrary to what was said above, begins to look purely historical after all. And one could even accept this identity as a historian without denying Halley’s identity as a mathematician. For, certainly, while his reconstruction demanded a considerable degree of mathematical ingenuity, such as one might expect from the new Savilian professor of geometry, one need not assume the reconstruction was only a pretense for Halley to exhibit his mathematical prowess or to explore new mathematical themes, Apollonian or not, that might flow from Conics, Book VII. Yet the fact remains that Halley did come to the project as a mathematician and scientist and did so willingly, as I have already stressed. So the truth is, while Halley’s project should not be viewed as purely mathematical, it should not be viewed as purely historical either: we must look for the character of Halley’s relationship with texts of the past, like Apollonius’s Conics, in the middle ground between historical sensitivity and rigor and mathematical insight and interest.