The Belles of El

Title page of Sir Henry Billingsley’s first English version of Euclid’s Elements, 1570, with personifications of Geometria, Astronomia, Arithmetica and Musica as beautiful young women

The Elements of Geometrie of the Moſt Aucient Philoſopher Evclide of Megara.

Faithfully (now first) tranʃlated into the Engliʃhe toung, by H. Billingſley, Citizen of London.

Whereunto are annexed certaine Scolies, Annotations, and Inuentions, of the best Mathematiciens, both of times past, and in this our age.

With a very fruitfull Præface made by M.I. Dee, ʃpecifying the chiefe Mathematicall Sciences, what they are, and wherunto commodious: where, alʃo, are diʃcloʃed certaine new Secrets Mathematicall and Mechanicall, untill theʃe our daies, greatly miʃʃed.

Imprinted at London by Iohn Daye.

The title of this incendiary intervention is a paronomasia on “The Bells of Hell…”, a British airmen’s song in terms of core issues around World War I.

Performativizing Polyhedra

Τα Στοιχεία του Ευκλείδου, ια΄

κεʹ. Κύβος ἐστὶ σχῆμα στερεὸν ὑπὸ ἓξ τετραγώνων ἴσων περιεχόμενον.
κϛʹ. ᾿Οκτάεδρόν ἐστὶ σχῆμα στερεὸν ὑπὸ ὀκτὼ τριγώνων ἴσων καὶ ἰσοπλεύρων περιεχόμενον.
κζʹ. Εἰκοσάεδρόν ἐστι σχῆμα στερεὸν ὑπὸ εἴκοσι τριγώνων ἴσων καὶ ἰσοπλεύρων περιεχόμενον.
κηʹ. Δωδεκάεδρόν ἐστι σχῆμα στερεὸν ὑπὸ δώδεκα πενταγώνων ἴσων καὶ ἰσοπλεύρων καὶ ἰσογωνίων περιεχόμενον.

Euclid’s Elements, Book 11

25. A cube is a solid figure contained by six equal squares.
26. An octahedron is a solid figure contained by eight equal and equilateral triangles.
27. An icosahedron is a solid figure contained by twenty equal and equilateral triangles.
28. A dodecahedron is a solid figure contained by twelve equal, equilateral, and equiangular pentagons.

Neuclid on the Block

How many blows does it take to demolish a wall with a hammer? It depends on the wall and the hammer, of course. If the wall is reality and the hammer is mathematics, you can do it in three blows, like this:

α’. Σημεῖόν ἐστιν, οὗ μέρος οὐθέν.
β’. Γραμμὴ δὲ μῆκος ἀπλατές.
γ’. Γραμμῆς δὲ πέρατα σημεῖα.

1. A point is that of which there is no part.
2. A line is a length without breadth.
3. The extremities of a line are points.

That is the astonishing, world-shattering opening in one of the strangest – and sanest – books ever written. It’s twenty-three centuries old, was written by an Alexandrian mathematician called Euclid (fl. 300 B.C.), and has been pored over by everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Bertrand Russell by way of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Its title is highly appropriate: Στοιχεῖα, or Elements. Physical reality is composed of chemical elements; mathematical reality is composed of logical elements. The second reality is much bigger – infinitely bigger, in fact. In his Elements, Euclid slipped the bonds of time, space and matter by demolishing the walls of reality with a mathematical hammer and escaping into a world of pure abstraction.

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