The Beginnings

  • Winfried Scharlau
  • Hans Opolka
Part of the Undergraduate Texts in Mathematics book series (UTM)


The first work devoted to topics from the history of mathematics of which at least a few fragments survive is by the Greek mathematician Eudemus of Rhodes, a member of the school of Aristotle. It begins as follows (quoted from Proclus:

Next we must speak of the development of this science during the present era... we say, as have most writers of history, that geometry was first discovered among the Egyptians and originated in the remeasuring of their lands. This was necessary for them because the Nile overflows and obliterates the boundary lines between their properties. It is not surprising that the discovery of this and the other sciences had its origin in necessity, since everything in the world of generation proceeds from imperfection to perfection. Thus they would naturally pass from sense-perception to calculation and from calculation to reason. Just as among the Phoenicians the necessities of trade and exchange gave the impetus to the accurate study of number, so also among the Egyptians the invention of geometry came about from the cause mentioned.


Sense Perception Rational Solution Accurate Study Greek Mathematician Proper Divisor 
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  1. Proclus, A Commentary on the First Book of Euclid’s Elements, translated with Introduction and Notes by Glenn R. Morrow, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 1970.Google Scholar
  2. Edwards, Chap. 1.Google Scholar
  3. Th. L. Heath: Diophantus of Alexandria, Dover, New York, 1964.zbMATHGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Winfried Scharlau
    • 1
  • Hans Opolka
    • 1
  1. 1.Mathematisches InstitutUniversität MünsterMünsterWest Germany

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