(c. 262 B.C. - c. 190 B.C.)
Quotes by others about Apollonius (6)
It is India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by means of ten symbols, each symbol receiving a value of position as well as an absolute value; a profound and important idea which appears so simple to us now that we ignore its true merit. But its very simplicity and the great ease which it has lent to computations put our arithmetic in the first rank of useful inventions; and we shall appreciate the grandeur of the achievement the more when we remember that it escaped the genius of Archimedes and Apollonius, two of the greatest men produced by antiquity.
We find in the history of ideas mutations which do not seem to correspond to any obvious need, and at first sight appear as mere playful whimsies—such as Apollonius’ work on conic sections, or the non-Euclidean geometries, whose practical value became apparent only later.
He who understands Archimedes and Apollonius will admire less the achievements of the foremost men of later times.
The geometrical problems and theorems of the Greeks always refer to definite, oftentimes to rather complicated figures. Now frequently the points and lines of such a figure may assume very many different relative positions; each of these possible cases is then considered separately. On the contrary, present day mathematicians generate their figures one from another, and are accustomed to consider them subject to variation; in this manner they unite the various cases and combine them as much as possible by employing negative and imaginary magnitudes. For example, the problems which Apollonius treats in his two books De sectione rationis, are solved today by means of a single, universally applicable construction; Apollonius, on the contrary, separates it into more than eighty different cases varying only in position. Thus, as Hermann Hankel has fittingly remarked, the ancient geometry sacrifices to a seeming simplicity the true simplicity which consists in the unity of principles; it attained a trivial sensual presentability at the cost of the recognition of the relations of geometric forms in all their changes and in all the variations of their sensually presentable positions.
I should like to draw attention to the inexhaustible variety of the problems and exercises which it [mathematics] furnishes; these may be graduated to precisely the amount of attainment which may be possessed, while yet retaining an interest and value. It seems to me that no other branch of study at all compares with mathematics in this. When we propose a deduction to a beginner we give him an exercise in many cases that would have been admired in the vigorous days of Greek geometry. Although grammatical exercises are well suited to insure the great benefits connected with the study of languages, yet these exercises seem to me stiff and artificial in comparison with the problems of mathematics. It is not absurd to maintain that Euclid and Apollonius would have regarded with interest many of the elegant deductions which are invented for the use of our students in geometry; but it seems scarcely conceivable that the great masters in any other line of study could condescend to give a moment’s attention to the elementary books of the beginner.
He [Lord Bacon] appears to have been utterly ignorant of the discoveries which had just been made by Kepler’s calculations … he does not say a word about Napier’s Logarithms, which had been published only nine years before and reprinted more than once in the interval. He complained that no considerable advance had been made in Geometry beyond Euclid, without taking any notice of what had been done by Archimedes and Apollonius. He saw the importance of determining accurately the specific gravities of different substances, and himself attempted to form a table of them by a rude process of his own, without knowing of the more scientific though still imperfect methods previously employed by Archimedes, Ghetaldus and Porta. He speaks of the εὕρηκα of Archimedes in a manner which implies that he did not clearly appreciate either the problem to be solved or the principles upon which the solution depended. In reviewing the progress of Mechanics, he makes no mention either of Archimedes, or Stevinus, Galileo, Guldinus, or Ghetaldus. He makes no allusion to the theory of Equilibrium. He observes that a ball of one pound weight will fall nearly as fast through the air as a ball of two, without alluding to the theory of acceleration of falling bodies, which had been made known by Galileo more than thirty years before. He proposed an inquiry with regard to the lever,—namely, whether in a balance with arms of different length but equal weight the distance from the fulcrum has any effect upon the inclination—though the theory of the lever was as well understood in his own time as it is now. … He speaks of the poles of the earth as fixed, in a manner which seems to imply that he was not acquainted with the precession of the equinoxes; and in another place, of the north pole being above and the south pole below, as a reason why in our hemisphere the north winds predominate over the south.