The Greek Legacy: How the Ancient Greeks shaped modern mathematics



A two-minute animated adventure to Ancient Greece and back again – voiced by Numberphile’s James Grime!

Often called the “birthplace of civilisation”, Ancient Greece heralded numerous advances in philosophy, science, sport and also mathematics. Over six centuries from 600 BC a group of revolutionary thinkers — from Thales, Pythagoras, Democritus and Aristotle to Euclid, Archimedes and Hypatia of Alexandria — formalised the rules and language of modern mathematics.

For Greek thinkers, maths wasn’t simply a means of calculating amounts but a way of testing reality and understanding the true nature of the world around them. Indeed, Pythagoras is believed to have coined both the words “philosophy” (“love of wisdom”) and “mathematics” (“that which is learned”). In turn, Euclid came to be known as the “father of geometry”.

At the heart of this new understanding, was the concept of “the proof”, developed by Euclid in what is commonly regarded as the most important and successful mathematical textbook of all time — the “Stoicheion” or “Elements”. Built upon the axiomatic method, mathematical proofs were a way of testing assumptions by building up a mathematical argument using self-evident or assumed statements (or, “axioms”).

It is this methodology that formed the foundational language and logic of modern mathematics throughout the world. Indeed, Euclid’s Elements was widely used as the seminal maths textbook right up until the start of the twentieth century.

Many thanks to James Grime for his expert help on the script and recording the voice-over. Follow him @jamesgrime or find out more at http://singingbanana.com.

Thanks also to the wonderful 12foot6 and Phoebe Halstead for bringing our ideas to life in animated form: http://12foot6.com. Music by Bedřich Smetana: Má Vlast Moldau

This film was made with the generous support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation http://www.snf.org

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