Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/117

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109
MATHEMATICAL CURIOSITIES.

find in Paris Pierre de la Ramée (better known by bis Latinized name Ramus) occupying at the Collége Saint-Gervais a chair of Mathematics which he had founded and which was subsequently made illustrious by Roberval. Ramus was born in 1515, at the little village of Cutry, and, a simple domestic at the Collége de Navarre, he found time to study all alone. He had the audacity at one-and-twenty years of age to sustain in the open Sorbonne, which swore by Aristotle alone, that all that the Stagyrite philosopher had said was false. Stranger still, "he seems to have convinced his judges, who conferred the degree of Master of Arts upon the bold innovator. Teaching philosophy, he continued to decry Aristotle. The Sorbonne was moved by his course to bring him before a tribunal, which declared him rash, arrogant, and impudent for having presumed to condemn the course and art of logic received by all nations." He was prohibited from writing and teaching contrary to Aristotle, "under penalty of corporeal punishment." He translated Euclid; and his Scholæ mathematicæ, in thirty-one books, was long used as a guide in the teaching of mathematics.

A mathematician of far superior merit to these was Viète, who expounded for the first time some of the most profound and most abstract theories that the human mind has ever invented. Born in 1540, in Poitou, he was appointed in 1580 maître des requétes in Paris. His time was thenceforth divided between the duties of his office and the study of mathematics. He had an extraordinary power of labor. De Thou, his historian, relates that he sometimes spent three days in his study, taking no more food and rest than were absolutely necessary, and not leaving his chair or desk for them. He was commissioned by Henri IV to decipher some dispatches which the court of Madrid had sent to the Governor of the Low Countries. He acquitted himself very well of this difficult task so well, indeed, that the Spaniards accused him of sorcery. He also solved in a few moments and in the presence of Henri IV a problem that had been proposed by Adrien Romain to all the mathematicians in the world. It was a problem extemporized as a diversion—an equation in the forty-fifth degree. The great analyst demonstrated that the equation depended upon the division of an arc into forty-five parts. He was the one who first in equations represented all the quantities by letters, with which all operations were performed which it had been usual to perform with numbers.

Viète published trigonometrical tables, in which he enunciated for the first time the law according to which the series of multiple or submultiple arcs increase. An enumeration of all his labors would require more space than we can spare. By his learned labors of analysis this man, the creator of mod-