What is “Euclid” ?



Euclid” is the anglicized version of the Greek name Εὐκλείδης, meaning “Good Glory”.

Little is known about Euclid‘s life, as there are only a handful of references to him. The date and place of Euclid‘s birth and the date and circumstances of his death are unknown, and only roughly estimated in proximity to contemporary figures mentioned in references. The few historical references to Euclid were written centuries after he lived, by Proclus and Pappus of Alexandria. Proclus introduces Euclid only briefly in his fifth-century Commentary on the Elements, as the author of Elements, that he was mentioned by Archimedes, and that when King Ptolemy asked if there was a shorter path to learning geometry than Euclid‘s Elements, “Euclid replied there is no royal road to geometry.” Although the purported citation of Euclid by Archimedes has been judged to be an interpolation by later editors of his works, it is still believed that Euclid wrote his works before those of Archimedes. In addition, the “royal road” anecdote is questionable since it is similar to a story told about Menaechmus and Alexander the Great. In the only other key reference to Euclid, Pappus briefly mentioned in the 4th century that Apollonius “spent a very long time with the pupils of Euclid at Alexandria, and it was thus that he acquired such a scientific habit of thought.”

Although many of the results in Elements originated with earlier mathematicians, one of Euclid‘s accomplishments was to present them in a single, logically coherent framework, making it easy to use and easy to reference, including a system of rigorous mathematical proofs that remains the basis of mathematics 23 centuries later.

There is no mention of Euclid in the earliest remaining copies of the Elements, and most of the copies tell they are “from the edition of Theon” or the “lectures of Theon”, while the text considered to be primary, held by the Vatican, mentions no author. The only reference that historians rely on of Euclid having written the Elements was from Proclus, who briefly in his Commentary on the Elements ascribes Euclid as its author.

Although best known for its geometric results, the Elements also includes number theory. It considers the connection between perfect numbers and Mersenne primes, the infinitude of prime numbers, Euclid‘s lemma on factorization, and the Euclidean algorithm for finding the greatest common divisor of two numbers.

The geometrical system described in the Elements was long known simply as geometry, and was considered to be the only geometry possible. Today, however, that system is often referred to as Euclidean geometry to distinguish it from other so-called non-Euclidean geometries that mathematicians discovered in the 19th century.

In addition to the Elements, at least five works of Euclid have survived to the present day. They follow the same logical structure as Elements, with definitions and proved propositions.

Other works are credibly attributed to Euclid, but have been lost.

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