11R P8l.

B nOrOllE
o)Q¡Ç[#H lllAPûI1Hª
v. omí|gu
T,Qlottd from ,h. Run/a"
Ceo, Yankov.kv
ÎÜ 513.81(021) ¯ Ò
a:-~from the 19 nu!Sian Edition
Uº PmvIuko.u Q@¿
1. Before Euclid-Prehistoric Timu . 7
2. Euclid. . . . . . . 26
3. The Fifth Postulate. 57
4. The Age of Proof •. The Beginning 81
5. Omar KhaY!lam. . µ . . . . . ø 92
6. The Age of Profs. Contiled. . _ 129
7. N on·Eu.clidean CtIIt/r!l' The SOI'I'
tion. _ . . . . . . . . . . .
8. Nikolai Tvanovich Lbehevky 198
9. Non-Eulidean CeorMtry. Some /1-
lutrations . . . . . . . . . . . 230
10. New Ideal. Riemann. Non-contra
dictorin . s. . . . . . . . . . . 246
11. All U M:�ted FiTle. The Central
Theory of Relativity 269
12. Einstein . ø ¶ ø ø y y q y 4 . . 31
LÞogfzr ¡
lru bginning of this story goe back to
M immemorial.
Where was it, when and how did geometry
Æ into being? Where, how Dlld when did it
tL sbape nnd become a science? Who was the
ery frst to propos the axiomatic structure 01
We do not know, and most likely never will.
It i generally believed that he was 8 Greek.
But perhap tbo glori led pric ts of Egypt or
lh renowned chaldenl1 magi are tbe true fath­
r of sience.
However all that may b, geomotry arrived
in Greee in tbe seventb century before tbe
Christian era.
It wos tbere and then that the Greeks, admir-
ers ot cold logic and the cxqul ite elegance of
pore intellect, lovingly polisbed to a brilliance
(or perhaps originated) one of the most beauti­
ful creations of hum6l tbought-geometry.
Elegance indeed, yet actually tbe matter was
far more involved and intriguing. One thing is
certain, and that is tbat geometry sprnlll from
practical needs.
Tbe development of logic (nod consquenLly
geometry as woll) 'as.Ouonced 1.0 �om utenl
by tie. Greeks' dovoLion to law and lratQry,
But in Egypt, too, geometry was important t
m8n 0Ρh8 Qtac\ÍcaÌW0tÌd¬V8t§ ÍmQ0t¡an¡. Ànd
a8 Î0t 8ndÌ8 8 ÌÍ\Íga¡Í0Ð8 and c0ut¡ QtdÍD
¡h8 Lt88K8 W8t8 Îat D8hÍnd \h8 c0uD\t§ 0Í \h�
a W0td ¡h8n¸ a $tÍ0u8 ana̧8Í8 0Î ¡hÍ8
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Q8c\8d Du¡ haQQ§ 8ndÍng.
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8ch00Ì. Å0 D8 m0t8 Qt8cÍ8Ø Í¡8 Î0uDd8t W&5
�haÌ88 0Î MÍÌ8¡u8 Wb0 Wa8
D8ÌÍ8V0d !0 haVð
ÏÍVØd cÌ088 ¡0 a hundt8d §8at9 [8Í1h8t Ît0m 60
¡0 50 0t 60 ¡0 546 B.C.).
Y8 d0д¡ 8Ø8m ¡0 Kn0W V8r§ much aD0D¡ hÍm.
Y8 KÐ0W Î0t 8ut8 hØ had ¡b8 \Í18 0Î 0n8 0Î
�hð b8V8Ð bag88 0Î Lt88c8¦ W8 aÌ80 KÐ0W ¡ha¡
1u acc0tdaucØ WÍ¡h ¡bØ Ø8¡&DÌÍ8h8d tØcK0nÍng hØ
a8 ¡h8 ût8¡ QhÍÌ00Qh8t¸ ¡h8 ht8¡ ma¡hØma¡Í~
¡bØ 0t8¡
a8\t0Ð0m8t aDd¸ g8n8taÌ̧, ¡h8
frt 1n RÌÌ 8CIBnc88 În Lt8ø8. Y8 mÍgh¡ 8a§
\ha¡ h8 Wa8 ¡0 ¡hð Lt8ØK8 Wba¡ )0m0D080V Wa8
¡0 ¡h8 ÜuæÍau8. Å1Ï ÏÌÍbÅ.
À8 a §0ung man h8 m08¡ ÌÍK8ϧ mad8 hÍ8
a§ ¡0 Ïg§Q¡ 0Ð aÛaÍt9 0Î \tad8¸ Î0t h8 b0gaÐ
hI8 ca88 a8 a m

tcha�¡. ÎØt8, ¡h8 Qbata0h
8amm8chu8 had]u8¡ Í1Ρ8d ¡hØ "Ít0n cut¡&ÍШ
aÐd Wa8 D8gÍnuÍDg \0 aÌÌ0W Î0t8Í@nðÆ into hÍ8
D tðmðÍD8d 1n Ïg§Q¡ Î0t & g00d numD0t
W 5udy Ín Åb8D88 and M8mQhÍ8. )a-
U W uMØd ¡0 LtðØc8 and Î0und8d a 8ch00Ì
ÌæQh§, ÔDYÍ0V8̧¡ D8 aQQ8at8d m0t8 a8
•• ���0Î Ï@§Q¡Íau WÍ8d0m ¡haÐ a8 aÐ
¥ÍØw Í8 ¡ba¡ bØ Dt0ugh¡ WÍ¡h bÍm g80-
aud a ¡t0n0m§.
2 t au§ ta¡8, ¡h8t8 Í8 0Ð8 ¡hÍÐg ¡ha¡ aÌÏ QhÍÏ0-
�c&D Ì8atn Ît0m hÍm¬&Dd ¡ha¡ Í8 c0D-
. LPg0Dd ha8 Í¡ ¡ha¡ hÍ c0mQÏP¡Ø W0tK8
Þ11ch uatutaÌ̧ W8t8 aÏÏ Ï08t| c0n5Í8!8d 0Î 0nϧ
abut 20 Qmm8.
\ Ø can 0nΧ c0n¿8c¡ut8 Wha¡ h8 acc0mQÌÍ5h8d
in Mm8¡t§, ¡h0ugh Lt%K au\h0t8 a\¡tÍDu¡8d &
&t d8aÌ ¡0 hÍm.
Ï0t Ín8¡anc8¸ tt0cÌu8 ÌÍad0chu8 [W8 WÍÏÏ b
1Íng hÍm ug Íu| cÌa1m8 \ha¡ Í¡ Wa8 1ha-
-no 0\h0t¬¡ha¡ QtuS8d \hØ thPot0µ8
{&| V8t¡ÍcaÌ aDgÏ88 atð 8qua̦
{D| ¡h8 angÌ08 a¡ ¡h8 Da80 0Î aI| Í8oM8Ì08 ¡tÍ-
8ngÌ8 atð 8qua1;
[c| a dÍam8¡8t dÍVÍd88 a cÍtcÌ8 Ín baÏÎ . . ..
ÀÐd 80m0 0¡h8t8.
À88umÍng ðV8n \ba¡ ¡h8 hÍ \0tÍaD8 0Î MÍ8nc8
Wt0¡8 ¡h8 8Xac¡ ¡tu\b¸ W8 8¡ÍÌÌ d0 n0¡ Kn0W Wb8-
¡h8t ÅhaÌ08 hÍm98ÌÎ attÍV8d a¡ the K ¡h80t8m8
0t 8ÍmQ̧ t8Q8a¡8d Íd8a8 0Î tho Ïg§Q\ÍaD8.
Ï8thaQ th 0uϧ d8uuÍ¡8ϧ æ\a¡ÌÍ5h8d Îa|¡
0Î ¡h8 8ch0Ïat8hÍQ 0Î ÅhaÌ88 0Î MÍÌ8¡u5 Í8 hÍ8
QtØdÍc1Í0Ð 0Î ¡h8 80Ìat 8cÌÍQæ 0Í 55 B.C.
Üu¡ Ì8g8ud8 gt8W uQ at0WDd hÍm ÍÐ b08¡8.
Ànd ¡hÍ8 Ín Í¡MÏÎ Í0dÍca¡88 lb&¡ 10 W&8 a Mh0~
Ìat 0Î 8¡a¡ut8.
One of �be stories is particularly dear to men
of learning. It is Aristotle who relat"s it:
"When Thales was reproached Cor his poverty,
since, as they said, stndies in philosophy do
not create any proft, it is said that ThaJes,
foreseing a rich harvest of olives on the hasis
of astronomical fndings, advanced during win­
ter a small sum of money he had accumulated
to tho owners of all the oil-presses in Miletus
and on the island oC Chios. He waS able to eo­
gage the oil-prB cheaply, for there was no
competition from anywhere. When harvest time
arrived, there was a sudden demand by many
people for the oil-preses. Thales then rented
out the oil-presses at prices that he himself
''Thales thus accumulated a great deal of mo­
ney and proved in this manner that it is not
diffcul� for philosophers too to bcomo rich,
the only thing is, however, tha� lhat is not �be
subject of their interest. s."
We do not know what Thales did with tho
money he made in this snccesful practical ap­
plication of astronomy. We hope he spent it
as a true philosopher would.
His pupiJs and followers apparently paid pro­
per attention to geometr in their philosophic

deliberations. However, the Cntrai mathematI­
cal shool of the 6th and 5th Cn�uries B.C.
was the Pythagorean school.
The authentic biographical iniormulion about
Py�hagoras boils down, in ".sence, to a {Q\
s�ories. In tbis respt, he is mucb like Thales
of Miletus. The obsurities bin wilh his origin.
R�rtrand Rusl sums the maUer up by %y·
¢ me blieve him to he �he SOn of 8
µycUten named Mnesarch, others the 500
g Apollo, and adds that the reader
h pick.
further believed that Pythagoras lived
long a life as Thales-something in tho
_ .�of one hundred year (perhaps 569 to
.\n Tbales, he spent some twenty years
Egypt imbibilg wisdom, but later (here he
_. Thales) ho lived about ten year in
ylonia adding still more to hIs store of
ledge. It is also claimed tha� he travelled
India, but nobody seems to believe it.
Boxers claim tbat Pythagoras took boxing
laurels in the Olympic games, but the source
of ueh claims is nover indicated. I have ooth-
10 support them either. M in the cas of
al , the exciting thing is �he unexpected
mbination of philosopher, mathematician and
Pythagoras may not have done much in box­
ing, but in politics he did, and very actively,
though not at all successfully.
The cititeos of the Sicilian tOW 01 Crotona,
where he fouoded his shool after his wande­
rings in distant lands and also go� the town
involved in an exhausting war, finally asked
him to leave together with his school. Which
he did in rather much of a hurry, which was a
reasonable thing to do.
A a mathematician and scholar he was a
giant, bu� nevertheless he do no� call forth
grat admiraUon. His Pythagoran order of phi­
lospbers and mathematician is Buch too O-
1 1
mioisent of a barracks and Pythagoras bimslf
suspiciously resmbles a fUhrr, tbough much
mOre cultured than any of those of the twen­
tiet, h century.
It is precisly Pythagoras himslf-most likely
in a campaign to build up bis authority-who
built up and popularized the idea that his lov­
ing father was the fair-haired eIulgent Apollo.
Actually he became the true rather of tbe pre­
sotly popular custom of attributing to himself
the scientiOc results of his pupils. Thero, the
matLer was quite official. There existed a lat
according to which the author of all the mathe­
matical studies of tbe school was to be named
Though one might ropeat that such things Me
done right aod left loday, the pas ago of 25
centuries has greatly soltened and civilized tbo
customs. The eSence is the same, but tbo form
bas become enobled.
Pythagoras is tbe unsurpassd leader bere b
cause be handled matters so tbat his faithful
pupils claimed him author of work done long
after his death. Quite undertandably then-that
bing the state of afairs in the Pythagorean
school-that the mo t cogent of all argumonts
was a simple reference to The Authority Him­
Tbat is exactly how the wording went: "He
said so Himscll". After which any disussion
was totally out of place-evon dangerous.
He and his dear pupils also held in seret
their methods for solving mathematical prob­
lems. Too, ho compiled lor the membrs of
his order a long list of taboO! .
1 2
qlole Irom the rule of good manner of
gntlemen of the �ythagoreS
&1. Retrain from UlDg beans ID your food.
·. Do not pick up what has fallen.
3. Do not touch white roosters.
-4. Do not take a bite from a whole bread.
a;. Do not walk on a highway.
M. When removing a pot from
the lre, dg
Bt leave trace in the a hes, but ID'X the asbes
The list could b extended. IL was this bun

that rO K to Iower in one Greek town, then "'
another, implanting the cult ol

ras ao�,
accordingly, demanding compliance WIth their
tatutes. With melancholy, Bertrand Rusel re­
Ísu tbat those wbo were not reborn in the new
laith thirsted for beans and so sooner or later
ro W up in arms.
It is also told that he preached to the arumals,
for he made little distinction betwen them and
human beings.
But the Pythagorean scbool advanced geo­
metry and mathematics in general. Very much
in fact. All of this taken togetber is not a
bd illustration of the danger 01 idealizing rep­
resntative of the exact sciences and of the
intellect generally.
Incidentally, to us, Pythagoras is
mainly a
mathematician. Yet he himslf and h,s contem­
poraries look the view that his profesion w

that of a prophet. That was of coure thelf
busines, they were closer to ev

nts. But,

we know, every prophet must b ID part mag'-
cian, demagogue and charlatan.
Pythagoras was apparntly past master '? each
leld. The pupils tried hard too. AccordlDg to
One stor
, one of his hips was 01 gold, to another
tbat rehable people saw him at two diferent
place at the same time, to a thlrd that when
he was wading across a stream, the water over­
flowed the banks crying ºLong Live Pythago­
True, the Greeks had a goodly number of reasonable people.

ophalles, the well-tr»-elled, realistic, free­ thl
n.mg and malicious-tongued philosopher and writer,
spoke of Pythagoras in a rathor difer­
ent vew
of his epigrams went: Pytha­
goras witnessing a
I)UPPY being beaten said·
"oo not hit him, it is the soul of a f riend oi
mIne. I reco

ni:ed it when Ì heard it cry out."
The teach::lg of transmigration of souls is one
of the basic elemenls in tho overall con­
coptlon of Pythagoras, and Xenopbanes, 8S the
reader can see, had a pointed thing Or two to
say On that score.

s wa

very trict in his portrait of Py_
thagoras, multlJlle knowledge without reaSOn ".
1 4
leave Pythagoras, but before do�ng so,
ne more curious story by one of hiS hOD­
admirers. How devious indeed are tbe path­
of %ience. Quite naturally, geometry, like
braches of knowledge, was most carefully
ealed from the com moo people by tbe Py­
reaos. Who knows, perbaps to tbis day no
would know of geomet ry (outside the Py­
greaos) if it weran't for ....
But here is lhe legond as to how the Pythago­
.. ans account for the spread of geometry. One
of them is to blamc, for he lost tho money of
the community. After that calamity, the com­
munity permitted him to carn the money by
teaching geometry, and geometry waS given tho
name "the legend of Pythagoras".
A curious thing is that there sems to have
ben a geometry textbook by that name.
As to the story itsolf, if there is a grain of
truth in it at all, then, though I do not consider
mysell a malicious peron, 1 would bo p
to lear tbat the truant Pythagorean had not
lost the moncy alter all but had spcnt it in a
spree in the local port tavcrn s\

i�ling wino,
eating a while roostor With bans, bl tl lg a whole
roll of whi te hread and si nging drunken ongs
on the high way.
Another man contributed greatly to geometry,
and again to my taste he was an anpleasant
Ris namo was Plato (428 to 38 B.C.).
I n his views, in his methods of setti

g up a
sehool and in his love of slf-advertisement,
|lato much resembles Pythagoras. But befo

I S8Y why I do not like him, let me elplaJD
t . mot signifcant contribution to geo­
_u i.
He i considered-and perhaps justly so, for
I am not a specialist il the field-one of the
gatet philoopher of Greece. Indeed he did
a geat deal for the development of mathema­
tic and valued it highly. At the entrance to
his Academy he had, hewn in stone, the inscrip­
tion: "Let no one destitute of geometry enter
my doorl" The point is that Plato helieved
that "the study of mathematics hrings us closer
to the immortal gods", and educated his pupils
in this spirit, adding mathematic where it Was
needed and where it wasn't. Some of his pupils
bcame brilliant geometers. Plato bad numerous
pupils and they naturally spred numorollS
stories praiSing the teacber.
It was apparently Plato who frst made the
explicit demand that mathematics generally and
geometry in particular b constructed in deduc­
tive fashion. To put it diferently, all the pro­
positions (theorems) must b rigorously logi­
cally deduced from a small number of basic
statement callod axioms.
This was a momentous step forward.
By tho time Plato arrived on the scone, geo­
melry had developed extonsi voly.
A multitude of extromely complicated pro­
blems had been solved and highly involved theo­
rems proved. What was apparently lacking was
a clear-ut general scheme of construction. As is
froquontly tbe cas in science , tho developmcnt
of geometry was spurred tremendously by three
problems that adamantly refused to suc­
:: we have gone this fur, I will staLo tbe
reqUired, witl, lhe aid
of compass a�d
.M-edge alone (no olher lostruments -
I, �i'

�de a given anglo into thre equal
(trisecting the anglo);
h :) construct Û s!Juare of afea eq

al to t e
of a given circle (squaring the

f (3) construct a cube of volume tWice t��t O
a given cube (duplicating the cube, the Del
phian proIJlem ").
til H Was only at tho end of the Ulneteen cen­
tury that i t was proved that, thus ]oed
, n�¡
of tbo pl'ohlems is sOlvable, thoug l
I ��æaro readily rosolvable if othor gcomt"I C�
e instruments are omployed. Thoy
call a so
h�ndled by utilizing arcs of a ellcle or lOI
dilerent from a straight Iille.
But the Greek rules only permitted compass
and straight-dge.
. .
t b Plato even substantiated Ihls reqw
.t� some sort of reference ÍO the authon ty 0
�Ìat is why not one of the problems �_s
solved, but in tbo elort geomotry was grea y
1 1
expanded. Too bad we have no place or time
for the numerous exci ting stories that go alollg
with these problems. But we will recall a legend
to show that we are objective in onr attitnde
towards Plato. Qne of tbe versions of this story
makes him out a very reasonable man.
Eratosthenes relates tbat once, on tho island
01 Delos an epidemic 01 plague broke out. The
inhabitant. s of the island naturally turned to
the Delpbian oracle who orderod to duplicate
tho volume of the golden cubical sacrifcial
repository to Apollo withont altering its shape.
Plato was asked to advis.
He did not resolve the problem but interpre­
ted the oracle as meaning to say that the gods
were angry with the Greeks for tho endless
internecine wa.s and deired that tho Greeks
should give up warfare and engage in the scion­
ces, particularly geometry. The plague would
then vanish.
Legends or no legends, Plato as philosophc,
and man is in my opinion extremely unpleasant.
It is not even the fact that he was supporter
of tho 1Il0st rabid idealism and on every occa­
sion appealed to the gods. What is wors, he
built up a thco,'y 01 the state taking as his mo­
del nearby Sparta-a real haven of fa <ism.
Too, tho bnsic planks 01 his utopia fully con­
form to the demands of nazism.
He spent his whole life fghting tooth aud
nail against democlacy in political life and
against materialism io spiritual life.
He not onJy scourged the materialist-thinking
philoophers abstractly io his philosophical writ­
ings, but, demonstrati og a very practical ap-
1 8
O matters, olten employed political de­
l W0D~B beloved weapon io all ages-to
!ientifc opponents.
i eVOD a story that be bought up the
of hi bitterest enemy Democritus so as
oy them.
Doritus is a special topic of discussion.
U one agres that the source of our modern
'cs is to b sought among the Greeks (and
is most likely the case), then the distaoce
C ered is great ltldeed-something like two tho-
d years. From Aristotle to ewton. The
i primal elements of Aristotle-air, water,
h and fre-marked ooe of the frst attempts
defne the concept of the "elementary partic­
of physics,
True, the Greeks did not know physics in
& modern snse of the word, At the heart
.f matters wore spculative argumonts, oot ex­
primont. But this is not so important to us
Perhaps it is the almost total absnce of ex­
priment tbaL brings out the utteriy amazing
conjecture of tbe sly philosopher Democritus of
Roughly half a century before Aristotle, he
blieved that all substances consisted of minute
indivisible particlos-atoms-and that tho diffo­
rent properties of ubstances were determined by
lhe dWerent qualities of the atoms themslves.
In a given substanco, however, all atoms were
identical and devoid of any individuality,
These views are so clos in spirit to modern
conceptions that one of the founders of quan­
tum mehanics, Erwin Schrodinger, took great
1 9
pleasure in startling his listeners with tho ele­
gant parado : ''1'he frst quantum physicist was
not Max Planck bllt Domoritus of Abdora."
Most Iikoly, Demoritu would hav been most
amazed to hoar this fattering comment, yet one
must agree that Scllridinger surely has certain
rights when it com to discussing quantum
The fate of Demoeritus
viow is remarkable
in yet another two ways. FirsLly, not a single
one of his writings has come down to us. Ei­
ther Plato inded succeeded in his neat IitLio
methods of sciontifc discussion, or simply tho
books woro lost througb tbe age; at any rate.
to our misfortune, the idea of one o[ tbo fr t
materialists in the world can be judged only
on tho basis of extract and later retellings.
econdly, the frst Iopillar-scionce treatise (and
Iopularizers 01 cience should never forget this)
waS devoted to a di cussion o[ his ideas.
What is more, the book in question st a
world record, lor the pom is of extreme length.
I am of cour�o alluding to tho pom 0" the
Nature 0/ Things (D fffRÆ natura) by Titus
Lucretius CartlS, which was wrilten somo threo
hundred years after tho death o[ DemocrHus­
two thousand years ago.
By tho way, J)cmoritus had it ralher good
neverthel ,because traces of many otber scho­
lars (particularly among tho materialists) have
been I t completely. For in tance, thero is still
great doubt about whother DemocriLus' teacher
Leucippu over livod. Then o[ course iL is en­
tirely conjecture whether Leucippus was eo-au­
thor Or author of the ideas of atomism.
we have the version that the teaching
oriLus was borrowed from some ehaldean
. granted to hi father by the Perslan king
And if we may permit ourselves a bit of mora­
,it is worth noting that in science ideas
incomlarably longer-lived than the memory
. tb who ongnder tbem. Incidontally most
nti t in any brauch of knowledge can
. t anything oxcept this not-too-unexpected
But whover was tho founder of tho atomi tic
ery, and wbeth r quantum mecbanic has its
U ill DemoriLu or tbo cbaldeans the views
f the atomistic school aro roughly �s [ollows.
The world consist of atoms and void. The
atoms are unitary and indivisible. Thoy B
elementary and qualitatively invariablo. Atoms
do nol succumb to aoy kind of out ide actiOn


. they �re not generated and they are
lndestructlble. r ÎÌmordial distinctions exist bet­
W% atoms, and theso di tinctions dotermine
the variety of proportie of all thing.
What we today regard as elemontary particles
represents entitie that are far removed, as to
properties, from the atoms of DemocrHus.
They appear and disappear, they eon vert from
one into another, and they are readily acte
upon-in a word, wo must say that the Greeks
were much more logical iu their concopt of an
elementary particle than are the physicists of
the twentieth century.
There is a reUable statement made by Archi­
medes which strongly suggests that Democritus
was a marvellous geometer. It would som that
bo was the One who computed tho volume of a
cOne (IUd a pyramid. That was a brilllant achieve­
ment, but unlortunately Dot m(lny (letHi Is are
known. Be that as it may, of the forerunners
of tho integral calculus tho frst was apparently
Demori tus.
Another complieating eircumstance is tbo fact
that practically our only ourco is a book by
Proelus Diadohu. Sinco Proelus was a follow­
er of Plato, ho hardly made any mention of
hls sholarly opponent.
Quite naturally, Domocritus was enemy num­
ber one and was first to bo banished from his­
The picturo is praetically tho ame wi th re­
gard to Anaxagoras. We know hardly anything
about the geometrical studies of that remarkablo
philosopber who was one of the frst materia­
lists. The only thing We do know is that in
the dungeon whoro he ro idod beause of bis
views, he investigated the problem of the squa­
ring of the circle. His pruloophical views do­
fnitely merit a good word.
laidentally, this was best done by Plato.
O of hls works we lnd a dialogue b\won
W thenian (Plato himslf and a Spartan. This
OW Plato handle Anaxagoraa.
Athenian: "When we sek to obtain proof of
existence of the gods and refer to the sun,
mOn and the stars and the earth as divine
cature, the pupils of thos new sages objet
t all tbes thing aro only tho ground and
Æ stones and thoy (th.e stonos, that is) are
quite unable to take eare of the afairs of human
Obvious, then, that Anaxagoras and rus pu­
pls 8W simply a product of murky Tartarus.
The Spartan straightway perceives the heresy
and cries out with indignation: "What awful
harm is this for the family and for the stat
Ihat fows from sucl attitudes of the yoang
pople! "
That is Plato and discussion.
T would be very pleasd if his contribations
IO tho development of geometry tarned out M
b greatly exaggerated.
But as thing stand today we must admit
that bis school bronght forth a galaxy 01 brlli
liant matbematicians, and hls is the frst men­
tion of the axiomatic method.
To summarize then, in the fourth and thlrd
centuries B.C. geometry was a fully developed
sience. With traditions, with fully elaborated
methods of solving problems, mighty achievo­
mcnts and even a number of textbooks and
schools of thought.
Thero is no ned or plac to go into tho story
of all the geometers of the pro-Euclidean period.
Sulfee it to give a list of the ma�hematical
giants of that period that preceded Euclid­
Thales of rliletus, Aouimander, Amerist, Mand­
riat, Eonipidus, Aoaximedes, Democritus, Ana­
xagoras, Pythagoras, Hippias, Archytas, Hippo­
crates of Chi O (no relation to the physician),
Antiphon, Plato, TheaeteLus, Eudoxus of Cnl­
dus (thes last two are Lowering fgures, especi­
ally Eudoxus, who lived between 40 and 337
B.C. and is believed to have also been an astro­
nomer, physician, orator, philosopher and geog­
Menaechmus, Leodatus, Deinostratus, Arista­
eus, Eudemus, Theophrastus, Theudius and yet
another couple of dozen names.
And also Aristotle.
Aristotle, beyond any doubt, is ono of the
greatest minds in the history of humankind.
True, when balanced, the harm done by hs
works almost tips the scales against tho good.
Aristotle is hardly at all to blame for this,
bnt in the Middle Ages, his works, pared down
and purifed to the point where they could nO
longer engender freh thinking, bcame tbe prin­
cipal"weapon of reaction.
But an appraisal of his works is a whole
history in itself. The only thing tbat need bo
said here is that he was defnitely and deeply
Interested in geometry. Note tbat be paid spe­
cial attention to the theory of parallel lines.
What is moro, be contributed two extremely
important propoitions to this field. True, they
do not appear in the works that havo como down
to us, but all succeding mathematicians unani­
mously attribute the statements to Aris_olle.
-_ping out ahead of our story, we may
. that tbe cleverest proofs of Euclid '5 ffth
nulate are based on Aristotle's "principle".
..w come back later to what Aristotle said
t the properties of parallel lines. In tbe
�time ....
LÍ|oþlm X
Enough about forerunners let us begin the
count with Euclid.
He Ii ved and worked in a ti me that is curious
In the oxtreme.
III tho year 323 B.C., as a result of an acute
fover Or of immoderate drinking, or simply due
to a
oodly portion of poison, the king of mOr­
tal �:·.g, Alexander of Macedonia, though a
Ielatlvely young man of thirty-three years yet
orn and weary, departed for a meeting with
hIs father Zeus.
The demigod was hastely disposed of, Cor aHairs
of stal
demanded attention. The empire had
to be divided, and this was no ordinary empire
Within a mattor of ten years, lands had �
conquered that exceeded the tiny poverty-strick­
en Macedoma by hundreds of time.
How and why this came abont is not of great
Interest to us here. There were many reasons.
One of which, as it will be recalled, was that
Aloxander of Macedonia was a hero.
Bo that as it may, tho world had changed
¡O ten years. Its boundaries had expanded four

ver, and !lOW came the time to digest
the spOIls .
Ono tblng was cloar, it was too much
for one hell. And it would ha vo been ridiculous
to have givon it all to the infant SOD of Alexan­
der who was born sveral months aCter the fath-
.' death, or to tho seond heir, Alexander's
ile step-brother, And 50 It came about
l the empire was ripped to pieces by those
ove geoerals that Alexander had not had
to exeute.
Tey concluded an eternal pelCo,

e� lust
eternal a friendship, drank h avlly reJoICI?g,
cd each other's hand in a frm
'e and went their ways . .
to hogm slaugh-
& and lghting among themslvo.
Tho Limes were exciting. Kings grow up like
anshrooms alter 8 rain und wore wiped out
jut as quickly, The lawful heirs, with n

guilt than thoir Ol'igil

, wer by the begtnntng
of tho second decade olther cut down or strang­
led. The dynastic wars and slaughter continued
for a few more decades.
That was bow the extremoly intel'osting era
of Hellenism got under way.
In this fracas, luck was on lhe side of the
circumspect Ptolemy, who sliced off Egypt as
his share,
He rather successfully inlelfered in the quar­
rels of the Diadohi (hoirs) , more or les reason­
ably held in rein (within the confines of E
his desperate Macedonians whose sword-polO Is
kept bim in power. He did not oppos lhe wor­
ship of black cats and crocodiles so dear to the
hearts of the local scholars, and he himslf
became a god in accord with the position he
hald (after all, he was a pharaoh)
He plUJldered
the country, and bo plundered effCiently. True,
nothing could roally surplis the EgyptIans. Ho
encouraged trade, killed or-on small s"!e­
those disatisled wilh the way tlung s were gOlDg,
and he pampered tho bUaucratic 8
�e got to liko tho banks of tho Nile�������.ii,
o tow
to Whl

h Al0lander gave tho novel uame 0 exandna.
His heir gradually settled down and the d nasty took frm root. What is hl ore it av

¡�e _orld C
leopatra, alld literature had a
o e�c��
�� °PIC or two thousand yean
Iho very frst Ptolemy, called' Ptolemy So­
er, and .11 succ0eding Ptolemys stand out

trons Of
Ibe siences. I t is hard ÎO say tOda
w It motl\'OS lay b b' d I'
tbat Ib Pt
C ¡D
t lis sudden intorest
e . 0 emys took 111 tho sciences.
I t
PerhPs t Was a .kJDd of intelletual coquetry.
mIg t that In attract ing mathematic'
and philosophors, Ptolemy r was aping Al
d h
er _. oxander was a pupil of Aristotlo an 0 va ued men of learning (Iruo his Iiki
look Very peculiar forlllS) 'J'h
' ni

. en 0 cours it ra}
even be asumed that ther wa 10 e of puttlOg .Ihe wism0n ÎO some killd of pra"Ucal nse, ThIS was rathol' doubtful tho h
us put aside guc work an+
n�te facts
on y
10 the third and econd cenluries B.C., Ale­
Bdria had become the pl'inciral ceotr� or learn-
of the Hellenistic world. And tho most
Q&gnifi cen! institution of learing was the cel­
Hrated M U ur of Alexandria ,�th i famous
library. Unfortunately, it was plundered many
times, and to complete matter, all 70,00 scrolls
prished in a fre started i n the s\enth century
by some furiou8 Ara bian caur.
I ncidentally, it sems that the calif \as rally
Dot sO much to blame. The frst one to hllve a
band in it was the great Caesar-Gains lulius
Caesar, a fairly decent writer of pros and al 0
and mainly a general and political demagogue
with boundless ambition.
Too, there 8W 0Xtremely w0ighty reasons to
blinve that in the main the work was that of
the early Christian church (at that time, extre­
moly tolerant of other faiths), which got out
ahead of the simpleton calif by about two bund­
red or sO year . All the calif bad to do was clear
away the remain
However that may be, the
very hest work of the Ptolemys awaited an
unpl0a ant fate
At any rale, if we are to remember tho Plole­
mys for what good lhey did, it is for their
patronage of learing.
Human history has known many kingdoms
and more kings. It may be that historians will
trace the relationships of the doings of one and
another salrap and subsquent evonts. But the
living memory of tho people carrie along a neg­
Iigiblo percentage of all tb is crownbaring horde.
And what memory there is, is mo t often bad.
Those that sIand out most-lheir luck-are
cut-throats and adventutists like TamerlaDe or
But tho role thoy play today in Our lifo is
practically nil.
Since I bave delved ralher deep in thes an­
cient varations on the topic of the frail ty of
earthly kingdoms and their glory let me COn-
clude with a parable.
Some few deades prior to the invasion of
Mexico by tho Spanish, a certain Aztec leader
wi lh � totaily
unpronounceable name (let us
call hln X) uUlted all the tribes into a king­
dnm, thus to Some exlVnt eliminating lhe feu­
dal fragmentation of tho land. It Was naturally
thought that tho kingdOÆ and bis dynasty
would last for long centuries. X hinlsell rulud
long and happily.
But Moxico was 8Oon visited by the gangsters
of Crtez, and all that was left of the Aztec
empire was the ruilS of what were onco magni­

t cities. But
lbat is only half tho story.
KlDg X (the caslka, to b pl'eeise) quito natu­
rally had a harem, for King X adored lhe fe­
male %X.
as inded an extraordinary man, a lalen­
ted Il�"lcal poet. Most naturally, he wrOle potry
for his nu�0roIls wives in between allcniling
the a(als of State. It is his ongs that can
stIJJ-today-be heard in Lho viUages of Mexico.
We may rejoice onco again that genuine works

rt ð0 always more lasting than aoy
emp1 re.
I t is probably worth recalling the name of
tho pot, but ala I only romember lhat it is
very long and hard 10 pronounce.
Ptolemy the First, Soter, invited Euclid
Aexandria. There Euclid wrote the Elements,
'q book unp8ralleled in human history.
. r have \0 ad mit that practically not­
I fnite is known ahout Euclid lhe man.
�@¡ a couple 01 apocrypha we have.
Il i said that at lrst Ptolemy hiDlSel[ wanled
.aster the intricaeie of geometry. But he
found that the Sludy of matbematics was
onerous a b¾rd II for a pbaraoh+ Then he
"t d Euclid and asked him (oh, surely, as
gentleman would anothor): "Is there nob
Æ0 easier way of grasping all the secrets of
Irillg?" To which Euclid, the slory goes, r p­
l proudly and 1I0t sa politely. "There is no
ryal road to geometry
" We do not know wheth­
er Ptolemy continued studying geometry. Most
likely he found comfort in the busine s more
nitahle to kings (recptions, hunting, drinking
and his harem).
The other story is that Euclid was approached
by one youog pragmatist, who asked: "What is
the practical U of studying 1110 Elements?"
Whereupon Euclid, toucbed to tho quick, called
a slave and said: "Give him threpence, since
he JOust make gain of what lie l0ar¡W".
True, one is not inclined to believe either
story if one bar in mind the vi w tbat Lhe
Greeks took of wi Wmen and mathematics.
The frst story may be very pleasont to the
modern ear, but tbe %cond is rather objectio­
nable. One has to take into coo ideration that
the Greeks thought ... well, all the otbe, hand,
I guo Ø I just dOD't know what the Greks re­
ally thought. Some, 1 'm afraid, thought one
way, and othels another. We know (that is,
we t hi n k wo know) that they dY5pi%d nil IlI'acti­
cal application of mat homatics. And i t would
indeed 8m that the philosophical works of
thos age (particularly among the followers of
Plato) corroborate as much. Repeatedly, in fact.
That may be. Aud i t may be true. But tho grea­
test genuis 01 matbematics of antiqui ty-Archi­
medes-was a phy.ici t, an experimenter and
not a theoretician. There is more. He was also
a urst-class military engi neer who spent many
years and much energy in building an i mpreg­
nable fortress out of his home town 01 Syracuse.
01 course, pl utarcb, taking upon himslf to
justify Archi medes, explained shamefacedly that
all thes thi ngs wer tOys, intellectual bau­
bles of the phi losophor. One however docs not
need to be perspicacious to realize that to pl an
the delence of your town oquippPd¯wb8t is
more-wi th weapons of your own invention is
more than imple recreation. 1 relleat, an ab 1^
lutely-for t hos ti mes-impregnablo system of
delence. Just One little aside: Archi modes and
his work is a bautiful iRtanO demonstrating
tbat in th0 distant naive Li mes physics and
otber sciences played just as i mportant a role
i n alair of war as they do today.
As to the actual attitude of tbo Hellenistic
world to tha pract ical utilization of mathemati­
cal knowledge, we are not sure.
Generally speaking, sweeping statements abollt
that long-past epoch are always a bit irritating.
We know 0 l i ttle; far too Iragmentary and
accidental are the facts of that past for W to
speak definitely about the psyche and the cus-
• or �hose people. I fonr I am wal ki ng on
i ice myself taking np a di scllssion of mat­
ith which I am not so very familiar. But
rturning to geometry and Euclid, 1 will
Î my elf just one remark, i t is so tempting.
M sem to be two extreme trends in ap­
'"Is of the ancients.
Either the Gr oks (the Helleni tic world, i n
'cular) are idealized, and the protagonists
this view lament hitterly the decline of mo­
over the past 2,50 years and the forever­
_t days of tbe childhood of mankind when
�ple wero pure, nai vo and devoid of guile
l is very popular among sophisticated intel­
letuals with a humani tal'inn slant}.
Or-to take the other exL ,olllo-one ned only
";tcb on the vacuum eleaner Or tolevision at
to realize modern man's total moral supremacy
over roprc entati ves of any earlior civilization.
That often is the reasoni ng of technologists,
the military and other exact professions (you
wi l l excu K me fOr not including physicists i n
this group).
As is so ofton the cas, the disciples of the
oppo i ng camps are, essntially, at 000 in their
lack of any desire to i nvestigate tho matter
eriously, and tbey rely al most completely on
haphazardl y 3ma sd i mpresSions.
There is i n addition a sceptical shool of
thought whos adherents claim that human be­
ings have been tho same over Ihe ages and that
man's intellect and moral qualities have not
changed substantially duriog tbis measly period
of only 2,50 years.
The anthor sides more with this latter view,
though j udging by hat he-the author-has
read, bumankind bas, ovcr the pa t 2,500 years,
beon improving slowly but surely. One would
like the advance to be somewhat more acth'�.
But that is a dif!(cnt question
It is now probably lime to �xplain to the
tired reader why a book devoted to geometry
digre5s time and again into discu sions about
everything bllt geometry.
I will do that and then we will return to Eu-
This is in lieu of 8D introduction.
Y $¿ what follows is going to bo about non­
Euclidean geometry Ind about th general the­
ory of relativity, th origination of wbich ma

without stretching tho point very far, be consI­
dered the logical culmination o[ the whole story
of the ffth po tulate.
But what strikes me as most mtercsltn
this story, is nOI geometry or t�e relatiVIty
theory. Ultimatel), the entire ep

c about the
lfth postulate is jut as m

c� wltn to the
power of human tbought a It IS to tbe remar­
kable almo t fantastic narrow-mindedne of
math�maticians. No wonder, incidentally, that
fax Planck permitted himself tho perhaps ove­
rly categorical but, generally, correct stateme

that "in comparison with the theor

of relatl­
vi ty, the construction of
n-Eucl\{ean geo­
metry is nO moro than cblld s play
Let us,
howover, not be too juhilant. The i mportant
thing is somulhi ng olse.
The most important thing, tho most in t

clive thing, and if you l i ke,
tho most touchl
thing is that this slory, whIch we nOw bgIn,
It is an i l I ustralion o[ one of the
qualities that mark 01 human beings from
other primales and unite all races inlo a
Ie species. The reader has guessd whnt tho
or is about: he sings the praiss of the endeav­
to fnd out what the world is like in which
live, how our univers is constructed. And
. fnds that the internationalism of earthlings,
t internationalism of epochs, countries and
pples will et roally sland against lhe just as
teral coalition of narrow-mindednes, the broth­
ehood of satraps, go-getters, conquerors, clim­
b, grabbrs, and the worst portion of sports
I f one could imagine for a momont the fan­
tastic picture of Euclid, Omar Khayyam, Gaus,
Lobachevsky and Einstein al l in One room to
gther, it is hardly likely that ikolai Loba­
chevsky would feel the need to sek out acquain­
tances or, {or lack of a topic of conversation,
to say, "bow about a couple of jokes. "
But on the other hand, one has to admit,
albeit grudgingly, that the jokes of Euclid's
time (with slight modi lcations for loal colour,
of conrse) al most fll l l y exhaust the spiritual
arsnal of very many of OUI' cOlllcmporal"ies.
I ncidentally, i t is nOL worth ideal i zing eiL Io�r
learning or the priests of learning. Hundred
upou hundreds of brilliant minds have turned
out to be quite amoral personages.
And perhaps one ot tho most attractive fea­
tures ot this whole story is that just as non­
Euclidean geometry l ogical l y cul minated in the
general tboory of relativity, so the galaxy of
mathematicians-as a rule, not only remarkably
talented but bumanly i nteresting people-onds
with Einstein.
But let U5 return to Encli dl
To begi n with, a few words-t. he stronger,
the botter-about all the beasts that liqUidated
the Alexandrian l i brary. If it had not ben des"
troyed, we would now know scores of ti mes mor
about tho Greok and Roman worlds than We do.
We would probably know abont Euclid as
well. But, unhappily, as of today practically
the most flmdamentai sonrce on Euclid is Pro­
cl U Diadochus of Constantinople, a geometer
who wrote Õ exceedingly detailed Commntary
00 the lrst book of tho Elements. Si tlce we are
rMerring to sources, a slight remark will not
bo amiss.
When we turn to tho history of antiquity,
the effect is somewhat l i ke that of regarding a
chain of mountains from an aeroplane. Every­
thing is smoothed over, distances contract, and
small features vanish. Only the general overal l
picture remains.
Involuntarily we look upon all Greek mathe­
maticians as almost contemporaries. ote, then,
Plus (412-85 A. D. ) lived sven hundred
after Euclid, a span 01 lime much greater
I &t which sparates us from Ivan the
-Lle. Quite obvious then that the facts at
Pl' disposal concerning the life of Euclid
fragmentary and haphazard.
r i another author who Ii ved a few deca­
bfore Proclus. He was tho Alexandrian
ematician Pappus. He wrote of Euclid des­
ail him as mild, modest and, at tho same
, independent. Both relate the incident with
lemy. "Exact" biographical daLa are mostly
on the remarks 01 an unknown Arabian
@thematician ot the tweHth century: "Enclid,
of Naucratus, tbo SOn of Zenarchus, known
lhe namo of GeolneLo', a sCholar of olden
Æ , of Greek origiu, lived in Syria, born in
y . . . .
That is all.
The man disolved ill tho ag without a trace.
What remains is his work.
We repeat, the E lemnls is a book wi thout
parallel. For over two thousand years it \a
t prinCipal and practically solo manual 00
geometry lor sholars of boLh the Occidont ani
tbe Orient. As late as tho end of the 19th cen­
tury, many English schools taught geometry OD
the basis of an adapted edi tion of Euclid's
E lemen/so There can hardly b a more el oquen'
witness to its popularity. In this sens, only
the Bible can compete with tbe Elements 01
Gmetry. But unlike the Bi ble, tbe Element.
are a rigorous system of logic. To b mOre pre­
cise, Euclid ever stlived towards such a system.
We can presuDle tbat Euclid was a fol lower of
Plato and Aristotle. Plato, as you real l , deman­
ded a strictly deducti ve construction of matbema­
tics. A t tho fOlmdation were axioms: tbe basic
propositions that were accepted without proof;
from thon on, everything had to follow with
utmost rigour from these axioms.
Tbat was the ideal that Euclid attempted to
accomplish. Attempted, becaus from the view­
point of today l i teral l y his whole axiomatic" i s
unsa tisfactory.
But that is elY to say now, after 2 centuries
of investigations. I n its day, Euclid's logic left
an overwhelming i mpression.
Attempts had ben made before Euclid to
describe geometry on the ba is of an axiomatic
method. Not bad attempts, eitber. But we can
assuredly say that Euclld's work was the most
succesful, as witnes the unprecedented popu­
larity of bis book already i n aneient li mes-a
popularity that brought the book down through
the ages to us.
000 can say all kinds of harsh (a.ad truo) thi ngs
about Euclid's axiomaLics. But one should ne­
ver forget that the scheme i lsolf boca me, since
WE, the canonical model for COllStrllcting
branch of mathematics. And of cours
It nevor forget that the E lents prosent
elIent piece of writing by a ski l led mast�r,
icacious scholar and a magni lccnt tea­
That explains and justi fes the univeral
.: : lion of mathematicians for Euclid and
Ints. Let Il8 add tbat tbis book brought to
6ld of mathemat.ics scores of yolmg men who
bame the world 's greatest mathomaLi-
T elet of Euclid bl been amazing througb­
tbe ages and throughout the worl d. Take
of tbe most prominent mathematicians of
Renaissance, Cardauo, who, it mu t be add-
• was a rabid adventurist (not to say scOun­
) but thore is no getting around bis mathemn­
talent and cul ture. Here is how he admired
Enlid's Elements.
"he irrefutable strengtb of their dogmas and
their perfection are so absolute that not a single
ork can justifi ably b compared with tbem.
• a consequence. thore is such a light of truth
rncted i n them that, lpparently, only he is
capable of distinguishing tbe true from tbe false
in the intricate problems of geometry who has
mastered Euclid. "
I n the middle of tbo 19th century an outstan­
ding geometer had this to say: "There bas never
ben a system of geometry, which, in its esn­
tials, has difered from the plan of Euclid;
and until I see such wi th my OWll oyes, T wi l l
not believe that such a system can exist. "
True, i t must b said that in the middle or
the 19th century, that geometer could hn vo rea-
soned more progresi vely and tbes words, 8 id8
from worship of Euclid, demonstrate tbo au­
thor's 0wn hid8bouDd c0nsrvat ísm.
Ý8 c0uld go on citing numerous 0ther w­
iugs in the sam8 vein, but we will confine our­
selves to what is probably the m08t brilliant
demoWstratioD of the er ct tbe Elements had On
literall y al l felds of thought. Bonedict Spí noza,
celebrated philo opher 0Îthe Western world, bor­
rowed tbe entire plan of his basic work, Ethics,
from Euclid.
Perbaps tbo autb0ri ty of Spinoza is not con­
vincing en0ugh to some readers. I f it isn't, let
100 menti0n Isaac ewton.
His fundamental work, tho Prillcipla (Th
Mathatical Prillclpies of Natural Philosphy)
copi 8s Euclid botb i n title and 0ul Ì íD8.ÀXí0m8
Î0tm the startiDg point from Whícb all els
ÎuÌÌ0W . Åh0 simi laIity may bo conti nued b
cause N8wt0Ds axiomatics tured out to b
j ust as epbemeral as did Eucl i d's.
Ono fnal Qí8c8 0Î i nformati0n. By the y8ar
18, tbe Elemelts had appeared í n 46 edi­
Perhaps a word is in order, at this poi nt,
about the axiomatic method itslf.
It was only at the begi nning 0Î this twentioth
century that we achievod a perfectl y clear and
rigorous understanding of deductive shemes. In
the maio, m0tÍt Î0t tbis goes to tbo great Ger­
man mathematician Hi l bert.
I n a rough and greatly Si mplified form, tb8
matter stands as follow5. We confine ourslv8s
í n what follows to the concrete material of
g80metry so as to avoid too many abstractions.
Stago 1. A List of the Basic Concepts
F0undat ioD¯Basic Concepts (basic clements).
Tbese arc the r"sul L of a prolonged experimen­
tal study of nature, a study bolh i ntri cate and
confusd and nebulous and more.
Stemming therefrom is a certain abstract t8-
fection of actualit.y, resulting in the Basic Cn­
cepts. NOlhing at aU is said uÎ them in Ihe rdo
malic •. They como ready-made, as §0umight 8a§.
Tbis is nalural enougb. Å0 defne tbe BaSic
Concepts or notions, one needs otber, fresh nO­
l ions, whicb i n turn with tbe aid of. . . and so
on ad i nfnitllm. Lu8 has l0 st art somewhere.
As tbo French say, "in order to mak8 a dish
0Î rabbit stew, 0lI8 at leasl has to find a cat".
So we have the Basic NOlions. Mal homalicians
havo a delightful way of putling il : these are
8l8mentary entHies thaI are 1101 defned, they
are si mply stated. A sligbt supplomont, by tbe
way. I n tbo modern axiomatics of geometry,
the Basic Cncpls al'o djvided inlo Iwo groups:
(a) basic i mages;
(b) basic relations.
General ly speaking, loday there are at Jeast
two essenLially di ferent axiomatic schemes. In
what follows we wi l l use the scheme in which
the Basic I mages 8 as follows:
(1) point, (2) straight lioe, (3) plano.
ow Jet us see what tbe Basic Rolltions are.
They arc formulated as:
( 1 ) to belong to, (2) to lie between, (3) moLion.
The Hasic Concepts have been established.
We can now slart the second stage.
Stage 2. Basic Axioms.
For our Basic Concepts we make a st of
a srtions tbat arc accepted without any proof.
Thos are axioms. Speaking in strictly formal
fashion, i t is only tho axioms that fll our Ba­
sic Concepts wi lh li vi ng content. Only they
i mpart life. Wilhout the axioms, the Basic Con­
cepts are devoid of any con lent. They are noth­
i ng. Amorphous ghosts. The adoms defn� the
rules of the game for these "ghosts". They out­
line a logical ordor. The malhematician call say
only one thing about his Basic Concepts, that
they obey such and sucb axioms. That and noth­
ing elsl And al l bcaus tbe mathematician
does not know what be is talking about. He
demands only ono tbing: that his axioms bo
That and nothing elsl
Whon the axiomatic method has ben elabo­
rated to perfection, geometry, speaking formally,
is converted into an abstract game of logic.
Tho notions of point, straight lioo, plane,
molion can mean anytbing, any entities.
Let us constroct a geometry for them. We
will then call our goometry Euclidean geoWet ry
i f the axioms establislled [or the "Ioul " geo­
metry of Euclid are fulllled.
For example, one, and only one, straight line
call be draw" through two distinct paints. This
is nn axiom formulated in ordi nary languago.
I f we were to adhoro trictly to tbe termino­
logy just introduced, we would have to make
the statement:
only on. straight line ciln belong to two dif­
rent point •.
And so on i n the same spirit. On the basis
of this axiom, a good exercise is to prove tbe
theorem: 'Two straight lines have only one
pOint in common.»
At the presnt ti me, lve groups of axioms
aro disti nguished i n Euclidean geometry. They
( 1) axioms of connetion;
(2) axioms of order;
(3) axioms of motion;
(4) the axiom of contionity;
(5) the axiom of parallel Ii nes.
There can hardly b any use i n enllerating
ali these axioms, we wiII put them i n the appen­
dix, for, 85 Herodotus Once said, nothing gi

such weight and dignity to a book as an Appendlx.
We sball have occasion to return to the axioms
a number of times. Meanwhile, we take up
Stage 3.
Stgc 3. Th. Basic DejnWons Enumerate.
With llle aid of the Basic Concepts wo con­
struct moro complicated ones. For in laoce, an
angle is a fgure formed by two hal/-lines (rays)
ema/MUng from a single point.
A careful reading of this phrase will make
it clear at once that one complox concept (na­
mely, ray, Or halI-lino) is used in the defnition
o( an angle.
Obviously, we should have given the defni­
tion of this notion earlier with the help of the
Basic Concepts. This is rather easy to do. The
reader cau check to see how much he is now
i mbued with the spirit of deducti on SlId
armed with a list. of axioms, can try t�solv�
the problem.
II it turned out that i n employing the Basic
Concopts, it was i mpossiblo to defne a ray,
thon One would have to place t bis notion i n the
category of Basic Concepts.
In general , all remaining notions and defni­
tions aro introduced wHh the aid of the Basic
Concepts, and also (take note I) of those axioms
which are estabU hed by U (or the Basic Cou­
There remains the last,
Stage 4. Statement 0/ Theorems. Pro% / The­
With regard to our concepts (basic and non­
basic) we express propositions, theorems, which
wo prove.
That, properly speaking, fOl'ms the subject
malter of geometry.
[ should like to repeat onco again that when
stated in thos terms, geometry is converted
into an ahsolutely abstract game, like, say,
'rhcre, too, we have Basic Concepts, called
chessmen. The axioms are t he coll ection of
rules o[ t he gamo. Finally, t be.'e are theorems.
Actually, only One theorem: bow to checkmate
the opponent.
In solving this "theorem", a player proves
dozens o[ lemmas (auxiliary theorems) i n the
course of a game, each time slecting the bt
(in his opinion) move in a givon position.
Incidentally, there is a di ference botwoeD
games and g ometry. It consists ill the lact that
the partners very often produce incorrect proof.
In chess, (or example, no strict logical criteria
for evaluating every movo or posi tion have yet
been evolved. I n geometry they have. Here, i t
i s always possible to establish whether 8 newly
formulated theorem rontradicts earlier theorems,
and hence runs countor to still earlier ones,
aud consequently . . . Unravelling the roll to the
end, W arrive at two possi bilities: either we
have erred in our reasoning, or the theorem
just formulated is erroneous.
The formar possi bility is of little intarest to
scionce: the only thing it shows is that we have
handled the mathomatics poorly. "ut i o the
latter cas there is o(teo a definite and very
i mportant result. I f we have bcome convi nced
that our !lypotbe is (theorem) is wroug, then
other theorems are right, namely tbos which
contradict our OWII. I f thero is only one sucb
contradicting theorem, then wo have proven i t
by our reasoning.
This last paragraph, though perhaps rather
nebulous and abstract ill form, is an explana­
tion of a scheme tha� is very common in geo-
metry (and mathematics generally). I t go by
the name oC reductio ad absurdum, Or indiret
Coming down to earth again, lel U8 lake a
speci fc cas to prove.
Let there be two perpendicular dropped onto
& straight l i oe. Using radian measure of angles
aod writing � in place of 90 degrees, wo lnd
two, and only two, varianlS: either they meet
al some point C or they do not intersct at all.
Let U prove that the scond theorem is correct.
We do so by the mothod of reductio ad ahsurdum.
Asume that tbo first supposition is ful flled
and that the two porpeodicular l i nes intersect.
Then wo have a triangle ABC (for trianglo we
will U the symbol 6, Cor aogle the symbol L).
The remarkable thing hore is that the exterior
L B is equal . to lhe ioterior LA. And of cours
tbe exterior LA is equal to the i ntorior LB.
But there exists a t heorem (we will take it
to b true): "An exterior angle of a triangle is
always greater thnn any interior aogle not ad­
jacen t to i t . "
Our triaogle dos not satisfy this theorem.
Hence there can b no such triangle. Consequeot­
Iy, wo are in error.
A check of the reasoning shows that everything
is correct. I 1ence, the error was made at the very
bginning, when i t was asumed tho perpendi.
cular lines intersect.
Thus, perpendicular lines do not intersct.
That has bon proved rigorously. Euclid called
nOniotersctiog lines parallel lines. For the time
being wo too wl U tnis terminology.
To summarize, then, we have foulld lhat two
straight lines perpendicnJnr to a common straight
line are parallel. We shollld also prove that
the straight lines do oot intersct in the lo­
wer haH-plane either. But that would simply
bo repeating the preceding proof, and our time
is limited.
r n carrying Ollt the proof we relied 00 the
theorem of the exterior angle of a triangle.
The alert reader will of COII1 se thal tho whole
example is very i mportant for what is to fol­
low, and so without any more digressions we
will prove this theorem too. I t is oC ullimat
importanco to u, and to the entiro story invol­
ving the flth postulato.
True, the postulate i tslf has not yet beeo
formulated in any way, but tho whole story
of the ffth postulate started with this very
Let thero h a 6 ABC. Lookl The exterior
angle C" is clearly indicated by tbe arc. We
�hall provo th.L it is greater than any interior
angle not adjacent to i Í] that i� lo say, @UdÍvl'
lhan LA and g/ealer than LB, We slart wilh B,
Divide side BC by the point D into two equal
parts and draw a straight line through A and D,
On this line, mark of a segment DE equal
to AD and conned points E and C by a straight
The triangles A BD and DEC aro congruent.
Indeed, segments AD=DE and BD=DC as gi­
von in the COD truction. The anglos CDE and
ADB are equal because they are vertical anglos.
Hence, tho triangles 0D congrUent on tho
basis of a familiar critorion.
But then LB (or angle ABC) is equal to
angle BCEI And notel Angle BCE is only a
part of angle C,,,.
Thus, the entire angle C , is greater (natu­
rally greater, for the whole is always greater
than One of its parts) than angle B.
Some doubt remains about angle A. It i s
immediately felt that our construction will not
b of any particular help, since i n the fgure
angle A is cut into two parts. I t would be good
to put it in the position of anglo B. Perhaps
we should draw a straight line from the vertex
B and repeat our construction and proof. But
then angle C , will be located othemise.
A complete analogy would result if we pro­
longed the side BC and regarded the new angle
Angle N is of cours greater than angle A .
Wo have jut proved as much.
An inspirationl Angle N equals angle Cm
becaue they are vertical angles.
That is all.
An exterior angle of a triangle is greater than
any Interior angle not adjacent to it. We havo
proven this and we can now cros out the
doubt we had on page 46 about the validi ty of
the theorem.
I f we go over the path traversd with excee­
ding care . . . And if we check to see which axioms
have been utilized in the proof of the theorem
of the exterior angle. . . To do this we would
of course have to verify the axioms that were
usd in proving tho theorems of the congruence
of the triangles and the equality of vertical
Now if all that were done, we would find thaL
W have utilized practically all of the axioms.
But nowhere have we taken advantage eilher
of the very nolion of noninterscting (parallel)
straight lines, nor (all the more sol) of theo­
rems Or axioms concering such straight lioes.
The reader can ea:ily veIify this by taking
the list of axioms and analyzing all the Con­
cepts that are needed for the theorem of an ex­
terior angle aod for all auxiliary theorems.
Our detour has been too long and it is ti me
to return to the axioms.
First, let us fgure out what logical require­
ments tbey must satisfy.
Only two: (1) completeness and (2) indepen­
The frst signi 6es tbat tbere must be a suf­
fcient number of axioms to prove or disprove
any possi ble a srtion concering our pri mary
Basic Concept or the more Complex Concepts
built up from tbem.
The scond implies that we did not take too
many axioms. We have just exactly the number
we need. And Dot a si ngle one of Lhe axioms cno
be proved or disproved with the aid of the
Both these demands may be formulated in a
sIngle statement. The axioms must be necessary
and suffcient.
Nosi ty is a requi rment of completenes.
y is a requirement of independence.
To put It very roughly, the requirement of
necesity and suffciency signify that there must
be exactly the number of axioms as is needed
neither more nor less.
Now [or one very important refnement.
From the independence of the axioms ther
foUows straightway their consistency. I ndeed,
if in our development of geometl'y we at Sme
stage arri ve at a theorem that contradicts the
rest, this "ill be a clear unpleasant indication
that there is something wrong in the foundation.
Namely, that one axiom (or sveral) contradicts
the rest. And if there is an inconsistency that
R0ð they are not independent.
Actually, all thes logical arguments ar ex­
tremely simple. But i n a lt reading they may
appear rather I nvolved. My Sugstion is for the
reader to go over them once more.
For tho present I would emphasize once again
!hat the rquirement of independence of axioms
¡S stronger and mor rigid than the requirment
of consistency.
The axioms may be consistent but fom- this
consislency it dos not yet c1ea�ly lollow
One of them might not be a corollary of the
other. Perhaps it is a theorem. Naturally when
a mat�ematician proposs a system of geoametri­
cal axlOIS, be IS obliged to prve their indepen­
dencel Let us stop our chain of rea oning at l itis
paint. There will be time and opportunity to
retllrn to them again. We will not mis the op­
porttmity and will not los time either, of that
I am certain.
Although everything that has iu
ben wrIt­
ten is rather simple, and I am posItive the rea­
der thinks 8 tOO, Ellclid did not know any of
it. Intuitivaly ha felt it all, �ut he could not
formulate it in a clear-cut logical sheme.
Now a rigorous statemant of the

the independence of axioms or tho flgorou l l1~
trod uction of tho Basic Concepts was generally
beyond the ken not only of the Greeks
but of
mathematicians in all ages and peoples fight up
to the f9th century.
Both the axiomatics and tha proofs provIded
by Euclid are actually a rather varkol
mixture of intuition and logical lacunae-If ona
regards them from tho standpoint of today.
Yet on the otber hand, Euclid advanced s
far aad s crucially along the road to rigorous
logic that all othe

text�oo�s, and all other
"elaments" current I n antIquIty palad comple­
tely when compared with the E lemn/so
When the Greeks spoke 01 Homer they sImply
said the "pot", and when the Greeks recall��
Euclid they said the "maker of the E lemenls .
All �redecessors on the deductive pathway of
gemetric constructions were forgottn .
There remained the Elements and their crea-
tor Euclid.
Although the thirteen books writtn by Euclid
are believed to contain mainly the

ults of
others, and lor this reason the questIOn IS often
debated as t whether ho may be clasd

s one
of the greatest mathematicians, ho was WIthout
doubt a t<acher of tho Irt magnitude
We may
also add that he was apparnLly an inspird and
veraLiIe scholar, for in addition to the Ele­
ments he also wrot E ilnl of Music, Optics,
Catoptrica, Data Phaelorn (a work on astro­
nomy), Introuctio haonica; then also works
that came down to us aod disappeared: the Po­
rlsms (in three boks), Conics (in four books),
Pesti v (in two books) , Sur/acLoci, On di­
vision and a Bok 0/ Fallacies.
A very impressive list.
Most of the books, it is true, make no original
contributions, but the output of work is tremen­
dous. Incidentally, the Data was highly valued
by Newton, which is a rather solid recommen­
dation. Euclid apparntly advanced substantial­
ly the highly complex and exciting division of
Greek geometry devoted to the teaching of co
nic stions. Howover, he did not include thes
results in the Elemnts, since there was a cnr­
rent view that this branch was unworthy of
"pure mathematics, whos aim is t bring man
closr to god o
It was again Plato who decided why precisly
the theory of conic sctions did not bring one
closr to the divine. The point was that Plato
viewed as heresy the W in geometry of any in·
struments other than tho compas and the
straight-dge, or-what is Iho same thing-the U
of loi other than the circle and the straight line
(which loci were neded in the study of conic
sctions). Plato pasionately denounced the bril­
liant geometrician Monaechmus (incidentally his
friend), who demonslrated that the slution of
the notorious problom of duplicating the cube,
also thaI of tristing an angle, is found rather
simply if U is mado of new geometrical instru­
PlalO maintained that all of that "spoils and
destroys the good of geometry, for geometry thu
strays away from incorporeal and mentally per­
ceivable things and moves towards the snsorial ,
making U of bodies that are needed i n the ap­
plicatioo of instruments of vulgar handi­
Obviously this rbuke frightened poor Euclid,
and his work on conic sctions vaoished without
a trace.
There would sem to be smething in the E I
mnt. dealing with regular solids (polyhedrons)
that blongs to him. I n the thirteonth bok it is
proved that there exist only fve diferenl types
01 such solids. This is a brilliant, unexpected,
celebrated . . . clasical result.
Generally speaking, there is much in the Ek
mnts other than geometry. They contain certain
esntials of the theory of num brs and the geo
metrical theory of irrational quaotities. The thre

s��oo�arc devoted to solid gometry. Every
di VISion ¡8 preceded by axioms and postulates.

ly speaking, plane geometry is ex­
plained IR the frst six books, the very frst he­
ginning with axioms and post ulates.
Mathematical historians B still not in agree­
ment as to how Euclid distingui hed between
axioms and postulates.
Generally, to Euclid, axioms (which he calls
"general attributes of our mind ") are truths that
refer to a

y en�ities (oot only geometrical). For
example, I f A I8 equal to C and B is equal to
C, theo A is equal to B. Here, A and B may be
number, sgments of lines, weights of hodies
tria ogles, etc.
On the

ther hand, 8 purely geo­
metrical aXioms. For I nstance, Euclid's frst pos­
tulate: "A llllique straight l i nc can be drawn
from any point to any other point. "
Euclid also has Basic Concepts (common no­
There i hardl y any reason to gi vo his entire
system of axioms-we have said that a dozen
ti mes if once-beaus it is quite unsatisfactory.
There are, properly speaking six axioms in
s plane geometry, and �
e shall not men­
tion them. But the postulates are worth noting.
Here are tho frt four.
I t must be required:
I . That a straight line may be drawn between
any two points.
I I . That any terminated straight line may be
produced indefnitely.
I I I . That about any point as centr a circle
with any radius may b deribed.
JV. Tbat all right angles b equal.
For the timo being we shall not stro what is
bad in thes postulates. As Nikolai Lobachevsky
once sid, forgi ve Euclid and the Elemnts all
their "primitive shortcomings". The important
tbing for us at presnt is that all (our postu­
lates B very elementary in content. Her Eu­
clid postulated absolutely natural, comprehen­
sible truths that B part and parcel of our con­
sciousness and our intuition. All is well and
good, and . . . then we come to the ffth postnJate.
LAoplw ð
Tho ffth postulate reads:
If N lines ar ct by a transvrsal aM th
su of the Inteior angles on one side of lhe Irans­
vsl Is less than a straighl angle (2d, or 180°),
th two lines will met if pro aM will
met on that sid of th transvsl.
That's a formulation for youl First of all,
what a lot of words. Secondly. what a lot of
geometrical concept. A persn poorly familiar
with the fundamentals of geometry will fnd it
hard to understand anything. The postulate dif­
fer radically from all tho others. I t sunds mOre
llke a theorem. And not a simple one either.
There Is quite obviously smething strange here.
Before we go any farther, allow me to bow Ì
Though I myslf have no proof, naturlly. J
am convinced that the ffth postulate was pur­
posly formulated i n this extremely undesirahle
form. Therein lies the great wisdom of the
f· O0"
tor of the Elements".
Of al l possible stalements of the ffth postu­
late, Enclid chos the most i ntricate and cum­
brome one. 'Vhy? To answer, let U se how
he conslructs geometry.
After tbe axioms aod postulates, Euclid na­
turally proves theorems. He proves 2 theorems
straight 01 without once using tbe fth postu­
late. I t is ool nceded. All 2 8 indifferent to
tbe ffth postulate, lor, B they sy, they rofer
to absoluto geometry.
Among tho twenty-.ight there is also a theo­
rem of the exterior angle of a triangle. In Eu­
clid's list it is No. 16. The list terminates with,
as you can easily i magine, No. 21 aod No. 28.
Thes theorems contain the so-alled "diret the­
ory" of parallel lioes. We shall prove them to­
Let two straight l i nes b intercted by a
third at points P and P ,.
It is assrted that il angl A eals angle A "
the straight lines are parallel.

• ,¯
�¯ .

• ¯
Working hy the reductio ad absurdum method,
we frst asume that the straight lines interct
at poin t C. Then we get a triangle P P, C, whos
exterior angle A , is equal to the intrior angle
A not adjacent to it. But this is impossible.
The theorem "An exterior angle of a triangle is
always greater than any i ntrior angle not ad­
jacnt to W' dos not allow this to ocurl
I lence, tbo straight lines cannot i ntersct when
produced LO tho right.
There is a sond posi bility. The straight li­
nes i ntorst at point C ,. Then we get the trian·
gle PP,C, for which angle B is an exterior ang­
le and B _ is an interior angle not adjacent to
But LB=LA; LB, =LA " they being ver­
tical angles.
But LA =LA , (by hypothesis); benco, LB=
Actually that complets the proof.
For the hypothetical triangle PP ,C g¡ angle B
is an exterior angle and B, is an i nterior one
not adjacent to it. And tboy ar equal. Which
is i mposible. Cnsquently, the triangle PP,C,
cannot exist. Henco, tbo straight lines do not
intert i n point C; eitber.
That completes the proof of the theorem .
It is obvious to tho roader that B and B g
were introduced so that for the hypothetical trian­
gle PP,C, we could completely duplicate the
situation that immediately aros for triangle
P PI C (tho lrst triangle).
Now, so as to completely repeat Euclid, let
u introduce four more angles into our drawing.
A glance at the fgure will indicate which ones.
From the equality - A = LA there straight­
way follow a whole family of equalitie.
1 . LB=LA ,; LC=LD, ; the angles ar
called "oppo ite exterior angles".
2. LA =LB,; LD=LC,; thes a called
"opposite interior angles".
. LD=LD, ; LC=LC, ; LB=LB, and,
naturally, LA = LA _. All thes angles afe
called corresponding angles.
LDt LB, =",
A LC, = ",
C LA, =1,
LD, �".
Her, we have interior and exterior agls on
On si.
Obeying the generally accepted order of things,
I listed�all twelve equalities and now regrt it.
So many can easily obscure a clear matter. Any
single ooe would suffce. Tha other eleven are
immediately obtained if even one is valid. We
startd with the equality LA = LA . But any
other ooe would ba ve beo perfectly suitable.
We proved that i f aoy one of the twelve equa­
lities is ful flled, then the straight lines B pa­
rallel. This is the esnce of Euclid's two the­
orems, No. 27 and No. 2.
Jncidentally, it is worth rcalling at this
point that the theorem about tbe parallel oature
of two lines perpendicular to a common straight
line-tha frst theorem proved in this book-is
a special cas of Our theorem of parallel lines.
Upoo proviog a theorem, the geometer always
investigates the convers. In tha convers, one
proces from that which is proved in the dirct
theorem, aod, naturally, the attempt is made to
prove what is already given in the direct theorem.
One of the most common logical mistakes of
bginners is conneted wiLh direct and conver
theorems. It Is casually thought by many that
the conver of a theorem lollows diretly from
the theorem itslf.
To disprove this, let me cite the familiar rea­
sning of Captain Wrungal of child.ood fame
which I have kept in my memory all thes
years lor just such a cas.
ÜÌt6cf ÍÞ60tc.m
Any bering is Õ 6sb
LÞYðÆ theem
(Tbe tberm 0Í Capin
Any fsb W a bering
In keping with certain traditions of popular­
sience literature, one adds at this pOint that
the above example is just a joke. But I won't
bother to do that.
Example taken from geometry (Euclidean):
ÏÍr% tht0tf0
I . If ÎB '·be lri.ngle
ABC and A,B,C, the
,ide AB=A,B,:
AC -Aiel and
LA = LA,. the.
" ABC = "A,B,C,.
I I. Two linos perpndi.
cular to M common
stright lino æ g-
I l l . II " ABC i. similar
to b A, D,C •¿ then
L0DVtÆ0 lhf0tfm6
Ì . If " ABC=" A,B
lu0n lb0 side
AC =A,C, and
LA=LA, .
I I . Îl two Q!lel M·
Ìgbt liDO Õ cut by
a trnsveral. tboy
arc prpndicular t.
H. ÏÍ l hð [uQHluu
AB w
hold. lor lb0 triang·
then the triangle
ÛT simi lar.
In Example IV, ¾0 shall co1ebrate by combi·
ning lour difcrn� theorems into one.
IV. If " ABC l8 an i m• I . II in " ABC
elo trianglo
, LA = LC:
(AB - BC), Ihen: 2) lb. a1li1udes or
· · L
the mediaD •• or Ibe
2) tbe altitude or bitor 01 I bo aug·
Lhe medians. or tho les A and C Ö m-
bietor of Lbo ang- m. then Lbe ltmugÎe
les w and C Ü Bg- ABC Î& .n isosceles
aI triangle (AB = BC)
In thes examples, al l the direct theorems are
correct. I t is lelt to the reader to fgure out wheth­
er the convers theorems are also valid.
It is a curious Iact, incidentally, that vory
olten, though the COn vers is qui te correct, it
is Iar more complicated to lnd its proof than
the proof 01 the direct theorem. Naturally,
there is such 8 cas in our examples as well.
Theorm 2 (Example IV)-the equality of bi­
sctors i n an isosceles triangle-has a simple
prool, whereas the convers (which is an absolu­
tely correct theorem) is somewhat 01 a tricky
geometrical problem.
With the theorem 01 parallols Ilroved, lot us
try the convers. We lormulate it as lollows:
Dlr ••t Mmm 0Î
1/ tt U"�I Ö cut bv Ý
thid 4I d the Tend, il
.A + .C, _ W (or a.v
one Df th� JZ eqUlittt.
gfven <arller ts fulflled) ,
lh�n. lh Unu au parallel.
Con,",* tbeore" 0Î
II two Unc. dre prallel,
Ü thIr 1M ,"terud".
them will
LA +LC, =l (oranv of
the JZ equalitie, liven
.arller will m ''' l'f.d).
The convors theorem of parallel lines was
laken by Euclid os the Fiflh Postulato, though
Euclid's lormulation 01 tho fIth po tulate is
somewhat different.
Recall tho defnition given at the start of this
chapter. I t is well worth the trouble. Here it is.
Postulate V. 1/ tw lines ae cut by a trans­
vrsl and the sm 0/ th illtelor angles on ole
sid 0/ the transvsl is less thn a slraight an­
gle (thaI is, the sm LA+LC1 is less lhal
2" (180,, t t lins will met i/ pr
a will met on Ihat sid of Ih Iransvrsl.
Both the purposfully cumbrsme way in
which Euclid introduced the ffth postulate and
the fundamental 2 theorms which preceded it
and which were proved quHe independently of
it, all go to demonstrate the amazing intuition
of Euclid or of the one he borrowed the idea
frOOl (if that persn existed).
I shall try to explain myslf and suhstantiate
my claim. This is all the more pleasant a task,
since it will be quite impossible to refute what
I have to say. There are no facts at all, thus
opening wide all opportunities for an historico­
psychological investigation.
Let us examine the initial data.
By the time the Elemnts were writteo, geo­
metry had already grown int a mature, well­
elaborated science.
Behind it lay thre hundred years of develop­
ment and dozens 01 intricate problems solved,
aod sveral tough uoresl ved ones like the du-
plication of tho cube. Thanks to Plato and Aris­
totle, the deductive scheme was established, had
gained recognition and was lourishing.
The historian or geometry could already revel
in two %M names of celebrated mathematiciaJ.
1 give this numbr meaning thos scholars whos
names have come down to us. For each one
of them there ar undoubtedly at least ten go­
melers of lesr magnitude whos names never
roached us.
Practically all were in agreomont that geomet­
ry shoud develop 00 the basis of axioms. Ob­
viously, the majority were io full accord with
Aristotle in that axioms and tho basic notions
should satisfy the requirement of being obvious.
As Aristotle put it, the formulation of the axi­
oms themslves is a matter of too grat a res­
ponsibility to entrust to mathematicians. I t is
the supreme problem.
Naturally, then, only the most worthy were
admitted to resolve it.
Philosophers, in other words.
Whether tbo geomelers belioved Aristotle or
not, is not tho point; the point is that with Aris ..
totlo ono agres.
There can bo no doubt that before Euclid 8
lime attempt bad bon made (and numerous
one) to provo the convrs 0/ t therem 0/ pa­
allel lines. And 1 personally think tbat by Eu­
clid's time it was clear that two solutions exis­
1 . To prove the convs therem of paallels
on the bais of the remaining postulates of geo­
metry, and, by the rule of the game, wi thout
the intrduction of any additional potulates.
The adherents of tbis shol mu.�t have pr
sumed that the conver theorem of parallels
was nothing more than a complicated theorem
that followed unavoidably from the other pos­
2. To the (our postulates it is posible to add
a ffth such that the cnvers threm of paal­
lels would readily be obtained with its aid. And
this additional postulate might be formulated
in such manner that it would appear natural and
obvious in the extreme.
It is hard to believe that the predeesor Md
contemporaries of Euclid-all brilliant geome­
tricians of the age of fourishing learning-could
not conjure up a whole galaxy of equivalent and
"obviou" statements of the fftb postulate. It
is bard to blieve for the simple reason that
some of them pracLically beg to be stated.
Taking the Grst path, it is quite natural that
nO succes was acWaved either at that time or
during the two thousand years following Euclid.
Today, thanks to Lobacbevsky, we know that
success was out of the question. But that is what
we know today.
All the more aUuring was, most apparntly,
the scond posibility: to propOso an equivalent
but simple and natural postulate-to smear over
and co\'er up the unpleasant spot and cal m down.
Numerous commentators of Euclid who dealt
with tho ffth postulate did jut that explicitly
or in veiled form.
I t is imposihle to beliave that such an out­
standing mathematician as Euclid who pro!ound­
Iy resarched the problem of the ffth postulate
(and tho entire construction of the frst book of
tho Elements is witness to this particular atten­
tion with respect to the ffth postulate), it is
imposible, I insist, that he did not come ac­
ros a number of equivalent and rather natural
formulations 01 the ffth postulate. For instan­
co, if We combine the dirct theorem on paral·
lels and the flth postulate in Euclideao lorm,
we immediately get:
A now formulation of the filth pstulate,
Through a paint C lying outsid a straight lin
A B in a plaM A BC, it is possible to daw only
One Une tht ds not met AB.
TWs statement is usually attributed to the En­
glish mathematician Play(air (18th century), but,
naturally, it was proposd by very many com­
montator of Euclid many centuries before Play­
fair's time.
"Playlair's axiom" dos look much more na­
tural and attractive than Euclid's postulate,
dosn't it?
Here is another formulation. It is usually at­
tributed to Legendre, though it too was emplo­
yed earlier by Eu.ropean and Oriental geometers.
Legendre's postulate. A ltn perpnicull to,
an a line incline to, a common scant AB, lo­
cate In th 80 plan, dnitely met. (Natu-

rally on the side of the seant where the
inclined line Jorms an acute angle with the 8º
Again a very pictorial assertion. I n place of
lhe Euclidean postulat� we have a special cas.
It wil l readily b seen that this is quite sltffi­
cient to provo the fftl! postulate in the Eucli­
dean form (the convrs theorem of paral lel
lines). I ncidental ly, for thos who 8 making
their frst acquaintance with gometry, tltis is a
worthy and rather involved problem that merits
ome attention. I will gi ve a few hints and leave
the rest to the reader.
Thos who are not particularly excited about
this proposition can simply skip the mathematics.
But wo will accpt the Legendre postulate-a
line prpendicular to, and a line inclined to a
common scant met-and will prove the ffth
postulate in the Euclidean form, which is the
convs of the thorem of parallels.
First let U prove an auxiliary theorem, a
Let two straight lines 1 and 11 be interscted
by a third so that ¿a·¸and the sum ¿a+
+¿c_¯¯« Then, by the direct theorem we know
that these li nes do not met, for they are pa­
Lt W again investigato the proof of the di­
rect theorem.
From point cdrop a perpendicular onto tho
straight line 1.
This can always b done. The appropriMo te
orom was proved witbout a word about parallel
Prove, given our condition (¿a,
), that the
perpendicular ce is located as shown in tbe
�rove by moans of reductio ad absurdum and
ullllze the theorem on the exterior angle of a
We thon have ¿o+¿u=¿c •. uis tbe un-
Tben we have ¿a+¿o+¿u÷-.
(Recall the hypothesis!)
Now consider ¡+ec
There are three posibilities for the sum of
its angles.

Note: we cannot us the theorem that the sum
of the angle of a triangle is equal to T. This
theorem is a corollary to the parallel postulate.
First examine the hypothesis: ¿++¿o+�
� ��


Compare this inequality with the equality
LA+LD+LN=r and obtain LN<¿
Now employing Legendre
8 postulate you get
tbe straight Ii oe I and II meeting on the right
of point B. This contradicts the hypothesis. Cn­
squently, the hypothesis is wrong.
Consider the hypothesis LA + LD+ LN<".
Tn exactly the same way sbow tbat in this
case the lines I and II meet to the left of poi Rt
B; then reject this hypotbesis as well.
You have proven two i mportant theorems at
1 . The sum of the angles of the triangle ABC
is equal to T+
2. The a ogle N is equal to 90.
Now prove the convers parallel theorem by
employing the following auxiliary construction.
Gi ven: wben I and II are cut by a third line,
let LA +LC,<" and LA<�.
1 . Drop a perpendicular onto the line I from
point B.
2. Draw through B a line parallol to II that
is a straight line that satisfes the "diret
rom of parallels". Prove that i t will pas as
shown in the drawing.
Think for a moment and then again make us
of Legendre's postulate to prove that the line
II will intersct I.
You have thus proved Euclid's postulate. But
do not forget that you made us of an equiva­
lent postulate.
If you were somewhat embarrassd by the cOn-
dition LA < ¸, convince yourslf tbat i t does
not restrict the generality of your reasoning.
Now check through to b sure tbere are no
errOr in your roasning.
The above proof has at least two noteworthy
First of al l , we prove i n pasing that as SOOn
as we took Legendre's potulate (the equivalent
of Euclid's postulate) we found a triangle the
sum of whos angles is equal to ".
Secondly, I have never rcad about this proof.
I thought it up in a couple of minutes. I write
this not beaus I 8Æ ambitious and hope to
gain the admiration of the reader for my mathe­
matical talent.
The equivalence of the postulates of Legendre
and Euclid can be proved much more simply
and elegantly, in just two lines. All one needs
to do is take the fifth postulate in the form of
Playfair's axiom. (Through a given point only
One line can be drawn parallel to a given
straight line.)
So, as you se, our theorem is unwieldy and
unneeded. Its sole justifcation is that it suggests
another one which is inded an important theo­
rem: If the sum of the angles of a Iriangle is
equal t«T. then the jf Ih postulate is valid. What
is more, it is useful for exercis. Still more im­
portant-most important-in my opinion is the
fact that such "investigations" demonstrate how
the very !rst naive steps take us diretly to
ever new equi valents 01 the fftb postnlat .. And
of cOW's there can be no doubt tbat our simple
chain of arguments was tried out by any numher
of commentators of Euclid.
But now convinced bow easy it is to simplify
tbe statement of tbe fltb postulato, we unwiL­
tingly ask: why did not Euclid do tbis himslf.
I ' m sorry hut ! cannot help my el!. Tbe situati·
on demands a series of rbetorical questions, like:
Can it be that Euclid did noL try ÎO prove his
Is it possiblo thnt a scholar of tbat magni­
tude, sucb a perspicaciou analyst could not
ohtain a lew elementary corollaries and choos
for the po tulate tho more Datural and obvious
How can i t be Ibat be, a follower of Aristotle
and Plato, let such an opportunity pass by?
How is it possible tbat be ruined tbe whole
harmony of geometry Ibus bri nging upon
himslf the ire of tbe immortal god of Olym­
Can i t be that any one of a hot of commenta­
Lors was able to penetrate deper and better into
tho problem than he?
The absurdi ty is so obvious. . . The most
likely verion is tbe following.
Euclid. like bis predecessors, undoubtedly did
attompt to elevate tbe ffth postulato to the
rank of a tbeorem and prove it without invol­
ving any supplementary asumptions.
Taking into account tbe exceptional position
of the ffth postulate In the Elements and also
the notorious 2 tbeorems that preeded it, one
can conclude with . urance tbat tbis problem
worried Euclid and that be paid very special
attention to it.
Recalling that all the methods 01 elementary
geometry were fully elahoraLed in Euclid's day,
recalling for instance tbat studies in the tbeory
of conic sclions were i mmeasurahly more com­
plicatd than most of the reasoniog involved in
t.he fltb postulate, recalling (once again) tbat
tho fiftb postulate-in the form that Euclid in­
veted it-is a challenge to tbe demands of PIa·
to and Aristotle, outright efrontery, recalling
that Euclid, judging by everything we know.
was a truo follower of. . . . and, fnally. recalli ng
that Euclid was a brilliant geometrician . . . Re­
calling all Lhis, we arrive at one and only ooe
In the pres of ,'ain attempts to prove tbe
rutb postulate. Euclid most likely found sve­
ral equivalent formulations. Simple ones. Ob­
vious ones. But Euclid knew wbere to
On the one hand, he clearly understood that
it would b imposible to prove the postulate
without i nvoking some equivalent asumption.
On the other band, not one of the equivaJent
forms of the ffth postulate satisGed-to his li­
king-the requirement of being slf-vident. And
s he concluded that the situation was very sad
and the problem remained unrsolved. And, like
an honest geometer, he decided to emphasize the
lact that the fltb postulate was a rjeted, despi­
cable monster i n the closly knit family of axioms.
That being the cas, there is every justi fcation
for choosing the most complicated form. It is
as i l Euclid purposly nudged his colleagues: do
not cberisb any vain hopes, do not sek consola­
tion i n the pleasanter equivalents of my postu­
late, do not attempt to hide the blemish. You
will never allah the desired slf-vident nature
that we require 01 axioms. This postulate is no­
thing other than tbe "convers of the parallel
theorem ". It bas to be proved with tbe aid of the
other postulates, OI the bauty and harmony of
geometry will be ruined. I could not demote
this postulat to the rao. of a tbeorem. You try.
To put it brieDy, I presume that Euclid had
a more profound grasp of the situation tban did
mot of bis commentator. Eitber they were hy­
pnotized by their OWR analyss and convinced
tbemselves tbat tbe postulate was proved, or
they attempted to formulate some equivalent
and "more natural " postulat. Now Euclid most
likely ciearly understod that he bad not ben
able to resolve tbe Grst problem, and to sek
slf-videot statement would mean simply to
aggravate the illness.
10 this ratber balanced version of matters
tbere is a weak spot (01 cours). I f tbere were sme
kind of investigations, tben why didn' t Euclid
publish them? That is Dot clear to me. Posib­
ly be lelt some inconvenience i o putting forth
theorems that did not lead to any result. Per­
haps, like many grat sientist, ho did not like
to make public uncompleted studies. Take
Gaus, who did not publish his invetigations into
non-Euclidean geometry I But mayb there was
a manusript altr all.
That is my strong point: there is very little
information to prove or disprve anything i n
this matter.
Actually the bst surce of antiquity on the
history 01 the flth potulate is Prlus' commen­
tary on Euclid. This, as the reader sbould bear
in mind, was in the flth century A. D.
Here we take leave of Euclid. In parting, al­
low me to say a few warm words.
Euclid was a good, a brilliant, mathematician.
He was a great teacher. One wants to believe
that he was just as good a man and that he lived a
long and happy life in his sunny Alexandri a, drin­
king wi th friends the sweet wine of Co or the
pungent wine of Cyprus-diluted of cOur b­
caus i nebriation is a sin of tbe Scythians but
not of the Greeks-joking tolerantly about Pto­
lemy, instructing his pupils, rading Homer and
working to the vory end of his days. We hope
that he praisd tho gods of Olympus for making
him a geometer.
Tbat is tho accopted way of thioking, aod
since, for lack of facts, no one can disprove it,
wo will thlok s loo.
And with that, farowel l to you, Euclid.
Tho problom has been posd.
Lt us se what bappend then.
The Appendix Tbat I Prmis. A List of the
Axioms of Plane Geometry
Six Basic Concepts are considered, namely,
Three Basic Images (entities): point, line, plane.
Thre Basic Relation: belonging (incidence),
lying betwen (for points), motion or coincidence.
I. Axioms of connetion.
1. OM and only OM straight liM can b
drawn thugh two point •.
2. A straight 11M cntains at lest t points.
3. Thee exist at least th • paints not loate
on OM .traight line.
II. Axioms of ordeI.
1. Among any thre paints of a straight line,
thre is always one an only one that lies be­
twen the othr tw.
2. If A and B a disltnet points 0/ a straight
line then there is at least UR point C lht lies
betwen A and B.
8. 1/ a liM intst. On sid of a triangle
(that Is, contains a point lying betwen two v­
tics), then it either pas •• through the �tex of
th opposite angle, or intests arwther side of
the triangle.
By employing tho axioms of order it is pos­
sible to defne vcry i mportant notions that will
b neded later 00. Namely: the concpts of
"line-gmont", "balf-line" (or ray), and "an­
gle" .
Ill. Axioms oC motion.
For ma�hematieians, motion is a basic (pri­
DIary) concept. The properties of mathematical
motion are defned by the following axioms.
1. For a gi vll trans/ormation 0/ mOlioll (call
it D) any point A of t p lane undrgoing trans­
formation passs into a single denite point A' .
2. For a gi !n trans/ormation 0/ motion D,
a certain point A 0/ our plaM passs into any
point A' .
3. For a givn transformation of motion D,
distinct points A and B 00 carie into distinet
points A' and e.
Thes thro axioms demonstrate that motion
is a one-to-one transformation of a plane into
4. A suential exution 0/ any two trans/or­
mations 0/ motion D _ an D. is als a trans­
formation of motton. We sll call It D" D,.
5. Evry motion D h an invrs motion D-I,
s that the prouct D-l
D is a mt/on tht leave.
all point. 0/ th plane uncange, that I., it i.
a salle Itntieal tranI/ormation.
J n view of Axiom 4 it is obvious that an iden­
tical transformation (rest) should be regarded a
a special cas of the transformation of motion.
The are followed by axioms which demon­
strate tbat in motion there dos not ocur any
"deformation» of tbo plane.
6. J / nwtion trans/arm. the end. 0/ a lin-sg­
ment A B into th endl 0/ t line-sgment A' B',
then any inteior paint 0/ A S I. carrie Into an
interior paint 0/ A'S'.
• ow comes a most i mportant axiom, without
which i t would be imposible to establish the
concept of the congruence of fgures.
7. J / A, B an C ae te point. 0/ lme
fgure that d not l on a sing I straight line,
thn this figure may b tran.late M that:
(a) point A coineU. with any preaSlign
paint A' 0/ the plane;
(b) ray A B coincis with ¬g preassigne
ray A' B' emanating from point A ;
(c) point C colnelt. with sme pOint C' in
any prea18lgne half-plan resting on t rai
A' B' (the ae naturally two rwh half-plans).
Following this, Q furth nw�ment 0/ t fgure
Is possible.
And, fnally, an axiom which shows that m­
ror refetions 8 a special cas of the transfor­
mation of motion.
8. The are motions that cary sgment AB
Into BA and angle AOS into angle BOA.
Thes eight axioms defno all tho properties
of motion, and it is now possible to i ntroduce
rigorously the notion or the equality, or, to b
sientifc, the congruence of fgures.
"Figure S is congruent to fgure S' i f i t can
b made to coincide witb fgure S' by means of
motion. »
I t is nOW easy to prove tbe following theo­
1. Figlre S is equal to itsel1.
2. If S is equal to S', then S' is also equal to
3. I I S is equal to S', and S' is equal t S",
then S is eq ual to S".
The axioms of plane geometry are Dearly ex­
hauted .
What remains are:
tv. Axiom of continuity (Oedekind's axiom).
I I all lh points 0/ a straight LIM are partitio­
n into two classs-I and II -such lhat any
point 0/ Class II lies to the righl 01 any point
of Class I, thn either In Class I there is a right­
most poinl and thn in Class II there is N /el t­
most point, or cnvrsly, Clss II has a le/l­
most pOint, and thn Class I I does IWI ha v 0
rtghtmost pOint.
To put it crudely, this axjolD implies that
there are no gaps or empty spots in the straight
ft is necsary to introduce lhis axiom so as
to bo able to construct a rigorous theory lor mea­
suring line-segments.
And lnaUy:
v. The parallel axiom.
Only OM lin (all b dawn paallel to a gi­
vn line though a gl t"" poillt 10t on this lin.
We might jump ahead in our tory for a RD
mont to sy that lho axiomatics of Lobacbov­
sky's goometry dilOn from Enclidean axioma­
tics solely in this last axiom. All the other axi­
oms of both geometrics coincide.
fhnglrr 4
We begin wilh a short l ist of names. The pro­
blem of paraliel lines was attacked by Aristot­
le, Posidoniu., Ptolemy, Prclus, Simplicius,
and Aganis in the ancient world; by Al-Hasan,
at.usi Ah-Shanni, an-Nairizi, Omar Khayyam,
Ibn al-Haisan, Nasir-ud-Din, in the East.
By Clavius, Wallis, Leibniz, Descartes, Play­
fair, Lagrange, Saccheri, Legendre, Lambert, Ber­
trand, Fourier, Ampere, d 'Alembert, Schwei­
kart, Taurinus, J acobi in Europe.
And b) scorcs of known and sveral thousands
of nameles mathematicians as well .
The problem of the ffth postulate wrecked s
many minds it would be possible to fll a good­
sized psychialric hopital.
That is no exaggeration either. Many spnt
thoir whole life in vain attmpts at a proof, win·
di ng up in mystical terror or a psychiatric ward.
One of the most unexpected indicatious of the
exceding popularity of the problem lies in a
rmark made by St. Thomas Aquinas.
St. Thomas Aquinas was a mot prominent
theologian 01 tho chrislian world. In one of his
rsarches he found it nees ary to solve a pro­
blem of exceptional di ffculty: "Wbat is beyond
the capability of God?"
He pointed out a number of items in this
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, God cannot
drastically upst the fundamental laws of na­
ture. For instance, he cannot turn a humao b
ing into a donkey. ([t might be worth adding
that most people handle that problem daily with­
out any divine aid.)
To continue, God cannot tire, b angry, sad
or take away man's soul, and the like.
The list also contains an item that states
that God Cllnnot make the snm o[ the angles o[
a triangle les th8n two right angles.
J am almost cOnvinced that this example is
not accidental. St. Thomas Aquinas could have
. chosn any other more seH-vident theorem. It
is very likely that he chose this One [or the sim­
ple reason that bo was famiUar with vain 3t­
tempts to prove tho f!th po tulate and with
the fact that the assrtion that "the sum of the
angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles"
is equivalent to the ffth postulate.
I t is ordinarily supposd that this theorem
beame knoln in Europe in the 1 8th centDrY.
St. Thomas Aquinas l ived i n the 13th centDry.
But wo nlnst als sy that Arabian mathema­
!Jciens fundamontally invetigated the problem
of paraliel liDO and, among other thing, ob­
tained that result as well.
Many works might have ben knOIO in
the early Middlo Ags that were subsquently
Today it is hard to realite just how hopelessly
confusd was tho wholo theory of parallel lines
prior to Lobaehevsky.
Today any good mathematics major in col­
lege would fleed no more tbal] two or three weks
of cal m work to prove the theorm: if the 8U
o( angles of a triangle is equal to ", then the
ffth postulato holds.
And he would prove it even if ho wore almost
totally unfamiliar wi th non-Euclidean gemetry
and, consquently, formally in the same posi­
tion 8 geometer of the past.
As recently as tI", 18th century this theorem
was considered-aod rightly so-to b ono of the
greatest attainm Dts of science. I do not in the
least wish to defnd tbe obviously pleasant tbe­
sis that "people arc morc talented today". That
is not the point at al l . Simply, in cientifc
work, confidence in the ultimate result, a clear­
cut knowledge that tho approach is correct
proves to be all almost decisive lactor.
An American physicist is reported to have
said that as soon as the atomic bomb was OXI)loded
the production of it ceasd to h a scret. Tlii
m"y b a slight exaggeration, but in principle
it is correct.
I am sure the reader will recall how mucb 5i m­
pIer it is U slve a problem Or to prove a theo­
rem i f the answer is already kno\o.
Now in tho whole prohlem of parallel lines,
only olle guiding idea is neded: tbe ffth potu­
late of Euclid is independent of all the other.
With jut that knowledge, any mathematician
today would readily repeat most of Lobachev­
sky's results i n a very short ti mo. But be would
reman 81 ordinary mathematician. He would
know only one thing: "you have to dig here. "
And that would solve al most everything.
I think a cas from chess caD oller enough
supporting evidence. Take any ches puzzle which
states that white has a winning move. The uSllal
requiremenl in such a position is to find an ele­
gaut cOI.ubination of moves. Any dncent ches­
player can reslve 9 per cent of such problems
in an hour or s. Yet in 9 cass out of a hun­
dred he wouJd never se such a combination in
an actual game.
These remarks ar to forestall any stupid feel­
i ngs of supriori ty Over mathematicians 01 earl­
ier ages. I t is true that most of the theorms in­
volving proof of the ffth postulal< are quite ele­
mentary in their logic, and quil< accessible to
grade-school students. What is more, the logi­
cal errors of thos who thought they had proved
the ffth postulate are also very elementary. But
tbe elementary nature is ovident ouly today. I n
the very same fashion, twenty years hence ma­
ny of the problems that plague sientist< nowa­
days will appear ridiculously simple and naive.
That is wbat SO ofl<n happens in physics.
Alter tbis heavy dos of general discusion, i t
i s high time to rturo to the filth postulate.
I have time aod again repeated (the rader
will have to excus mc-I admit I ' ll havo to do
i t again), th.t aU attempt at a proof wer mo­
tivated actually by a single factor: a certain
lack of elegance, a lack of beauty, as the artist
would say.
I t rankled and i t rulned the aethetic feelings
of scholar by its complexity. Tho reaction to it
was the same in ancient Grce, in Peria and
in Europ.
How delightful was the indignaLion of one of
tho greatest mathematicians of Lhe Arabic worl d,
Omar Khoyyam.
" . . . Euclid thought that the reasn for the in­
tersction of straight lines was that the two an­
gles (iol<rior angle on One side-Smilga) are
les than two right angles.
"I n s believing be was right, but it can be
proved only with the aid of supplementary argu­
ments. (Kbayyam hlieved thaL he had proved
the ffth postulal<-Smilga) . . . But Euclid accep­
Led this prmis and proceded from it without
proof. I swear upon my l i fe . . . that here we Ded
tho aid of reason, and that is it right. .. "
"How could Euclid have permitted himself to
enter this statement in the introduction (which
meaDS choosing i t as ao uiom.-Smilga) whe­
reas he proved far mor simple fact . . .
Lot U % how the struggle went with the ffth
postulal<. There were thr canonical approa­
1 . A postulat equivalent to the Euclidean ono
was opuly proposd. Thes authors formed a
group called the "modest" or "pesmistic" trnd.
2. Reductio ad absurdum is one of the most
elegant and powerful of logical methods of sol-
ving mathematical problems. Here, no new pos­
tulatM were i ntroduced.
A theorem was formulated contrary in mean­
ing to tho fltb postulate or to One of its equiva­
lents; tbis was followed by the elaboration of
diversifed corollaries i n the hope that SOner or
later al l this would lead to a contradiction,
which would ipso facto prove tbat tbe fftb pos­
tulate followed from the other axioms, and tbe
problem would be solved.
This is tbe optimistic, presumptuous trend.
3. And, fnally, we bavo tbe group of "eclectics".
They proved some therem equivalent to the
ffth po tulale. And they proved it with the un­
witting employment of some other equivalent
of Euclid's postulate.
Trend No. 2, the opti mists, had the hardet
timo. They kept stringing out the chain of their
tbeorms, foundering more and more in tho co­
roll aries, and still lnding no contradictions.
From the vantage point of today we realize
that tbis gronp of mathemalicians actually were
proving the initial theorems of non-Euclidean

etry, and tbat they wer on the most pro­
miSlDg pathway, for only in this way one could
come to realize that tho Euclidean postulate was
independent of aU the other. But that did not
make things easier for Ibem. As a rule, they
either lost heart or went over to the eamp of
On� must nol that many of the proof of tho
eelecltc group a magnifcently witty.
To Pllt the actual history in a rather crude
form, ono might say that, i n tho main, attempts
were made to prove two basic varielies of the
fflh postulate:
1 . A perpndicular line and an inclined line
2. The sum of the angles of a triangle is equal
to T,
In this way, sveral very pictorial equi valents of
the ffth postulate were found. At ti mes the author
realized that they had found an equivalent; at
other Hmes they were deluded into thinking bhat
Ihey had proved tbe ffth.
Here are a few erslz· postulates:
j . The locus of points equidistant from a gi­
von straight line is a straight line.
2. Tbe distance btwen two nOninterscling
stright lines romains bounded 9 ••
3. Tbere exist similar fgures.
4. I f tbe distance bolwon two straight lines
ft diminishes upon molion in some direction
• In roronulaling the equivalent or tho nIth g
tuJnte, 1 WÍÌÌ aÌWag9 gMm0 that everything 0cBÆ
in one
l ane <
•• Tb M Õ Ìm 8lIIO 0w¢0 lbau D0. Î .
along tbes straight lines, it cannot begin to io­
creas until tbe straight lines met.
And s 00.
I n all tbere 8 about thirty stch statements.
For the amusment 01 the reado., I give sve-
ral "prof" of tbe ffth postulate without any
critical commentary. If he % desires, he wl h
able to fg out what postulat was usd eacb
time in place of tbo fftb.
1 . Tbe proof of Prolus. One of tho very firt,
one of the simplest and One of tbe cleverst.
Proclus starts out with Aristotles a ertion:
When we prouce two straight lin.s /rom a pOint
01 Interstion, th distance btwen thm In­
ceas withut bound.
He takes tbis to be an axiom+
Actually, it is a theorem. What is more, i t is
a tbeorem that is quit independent 01 the filth
postulate. So wo can rely fully on this theorem.
I t belongs to "absolute geometry" and, benceg
& we understand matters today, it holds true
both in Euclidean geometry and i n the geome­
t r of Lobachevsky. But the postulato-the equi­
valent of ProlU-is diferent.
Here is the prof, actually an outline of the
proof. I will not hold rigorouly to the formal
sheme of any proof. That would b 8 little to
Draw two defnitely parallel straight lines;
that i, such that LA+ LC,="
Draw a third straight line. How? It is shown
i n the f as a dashed line.
The distance btwen the dashed lino and the
uppr lino (when moving leftwards) increass
without bound. Cnsquently, ther 'II come
a time when it will exced the distance between
the parallel lines.
Well, aod then it will b clear that tho
dashed lino will cut the lower line.
We suggest the reader formulate matters io
rigorous form and als state which postulat
Proclus employed implicitly.
2. The proof of Wallis.
We will prove that a perpendicul ar and an
inclined line to a common sant intersct.
From point B drop a perpendicular M a s­
cant, producing a triangle ABC. Take 8 similar
triangle such that its side corresponding to AC
i s equal to AD.
I n view of it importance, make a special
drawing. This is triangle A ID, F, .
Superi mpos the dashed triangle on our tABC
so that A D l ies On A C. 'ben A IF _ win lie
on our inc&ned line and side
,F, will lie on
our perpendicular.
Actually, the proof is complete. there are only
R few formalities Ief. I 108 ve tbem to the reader.
Lt us not got too invol ved in examples. A
more interestiJlg point is the following. Dozen
of mathematicianl, people of farfung cultures,
sparated by centuries of time and frequently
nOL ovon knowing the existence of one another
reasoned i n almost identical fa hion, rpeating
one another in al most the samo words.
Prior to tho 18th contury, proofs of the ffth
pOSLulate via tbe method of rducLio ad absur­
dum did not sIring out the chain of corollaries
too far and did not delve deply in analy,is. At
sme moment they would sy: there it ist ther
is the conLradiction. Actually, the contradic­
tion turned out to be an equivalent of the ffth
But since matter did noL go very lar, there
were more hunters tban rabbits. Ther were more
matb maticiaos working 00 tbe 61tb postulate
than tbere were distinct modes of prool. Almost
all the greatest mathematicians of tbe world en­
gag d tb ffth po tulate. Thero is one about
wbom 1 want to say a bit more. Not becaus
his invetigations into tbe theory of parallel
lines are something exceptional. 0, not at all.
His most intrsting results were obtained in
tho feld of algebra. He did not advance much
beyond any of the others in the theory of paral­
lels. In this sns we will be gi vi og hi m more
than his due of attention. What is mor, we will
noL even speak abouL his proof of tho ffth pos­
tulate. True, the proof he ofors is extremely cle­
ver. Truo, again, his innuonce Oil subsquent stu­
dies of Oriental mathematicians is defnitely felt.
Finally, the techniqu which he employed Wa
extremely suiteble and was in advance of West­
ern mathomatici8 by six hundred year. (We
shall touch on this matter somewhat later.) But,
really, it is not the ffth postulate thaL intersts
U so much in this book.
The exciting thing abont this man is thaL he
is a cas which iIIu trats bautifully how little
ar the diferences between peoplo of all naLionl
and a 11 ages.
J now speak of the mathematician that is
known as tie poL Omar Khayyam.
LÂogtW ð
The full name is Ghiyathuddin Abulfath
'Omal ibn I brahTm al-KhayyamT. To Europeans
he is simply Omar Khayyam.
Tbo East, as we all know, is the East, in con­
tradistinction to the West, which is the Wet.
Tho East, tho Orient-to most people it sig­
ni fes tho usual collection of harems, sultans,
the Islam, califs, emir, mosques, minarets, muez­
zins, burning sun, fountains, Genghis Khan and
tho shade of plano trees. The stifing heat of
the high-noon sun, and lazing in the shade.
That is tho Orient of tho past, at loast, the way
somo peoplo pictnr it.
All thes things could be found, sul tans, ca­
lifs, emirs and the rest. And even many of them
are sti ll found in the East.
Notwithstanding . . . there never was any East.
There wer and still are dozeD of countries
and over a thousand million human beings. Thes
millions upon millioD of people are quite di­
\eri 6ed.
000 might presume that their inner world is
tho smo as that 01 dwellers in tho Wet.
InCidentally, Ki pling, who coined the famous
phrase about tbo East and tho West, thought so.
Such is tho idea that is advanced in his colobra­
ted ballad, of which people usually remomber
only the ist line (such, alas, is the late 01 many
a brilli:nt pot).
Since this chapter will be permeated with the
"atmospbere of potry", let U take a few linos
of Kipling's pom, all the more so that they ar
inded beautiful lines.
"Oh, Eat is East. and \Yet W WOl, aud never tho
twain shall me!,
1ÍÎÎ Earth and þk§ $I&n0 gHnM§ ab L0`8@8t Judg·
ment Sat;
Out there is neither East. nOr Wet Borer nOr Bre
nOr Birth,
. ,
When tW0 8¡t0u@ m6ß 8l�nd l8C8U race, th0 tb6y C0æ6
Ír0m Ua end. 0Í tbð mOÌ ¯
There is no us quoting any further becaus
what follows is pitifully bad. The potry is still
excellent, but the topic and its rosolution is a
trrible let-down, hard.l y better than a routine
Hol lywood flm about tho Wild Wet.
Kipling coo lned himslf t a hymn i n hooour
of the spiritual unity of warrior, heros strong
i n body and spirit. Taken at face-value, thes
warriors a smething in tbe natur of 8 pre­
i mage of the noble bandits of Hollywod. But
if one ignores his choice of boro, he can fully
agre with Kipling. Gangster throughout the
world fnd a common language with just as much
eas as humanist in the world of science.
Unfortunatoly, Kipling sang tbo praiss of the
former aod gave to them his amazing potical
This whole discussion is very much to the
point if 000 recalls that we are speaking of Ghiya­
thuddio Abulfath 'Omar ibn I brahIm al-KhayY3mT
of Nishapur.
Ghiyathuddin means "the help of rait�" n

is a traditional title lor al l scholr, si nce III
thos days the hierarchical ladder of scientifc
knowledge was apparntly not so involved. Abul­
lath means the falher of Falh.
Khayyam was born i o ishaput, which was olle
of the chief cities of glorious Khorassan.
Khayyam-wh:t we have taken as the last
namemeaJl tent-maker. Most l i kely his father
or grandfather was so engaged.
I bn I brahim is Ihe SOn of Ibrahim.
Finally, Omar, is the given namo.
In short Omsr Khayyam, who conquered tbo
West in tae 19th century and conquered it as
a pot.
He was lst translated i nto English and camo
out in 25 edi tions last contury. In England and
America admiration for Khayyam developed i n­
to 3n epidemic. He was quoted and praisd, and
clubs named alter bi m sprang up everywhere.
Willy nilly we shall h3\e t

delve i n�o �he li­
terary side of Khayyam. HIS potry 15 I
beautiful' but his 0 ceptional populanty IS due
to a certai n "marvellous revelation".
It turned out that a thousand years ago, some­
where i n Turkey, or India, there l i ved a man
whos thoughts and emotions excited people liv­
ing in the modern age 01 the 19th century.
More he cast tbe thougbts arid emotions i n mag­
nifc�nt potical form, which was i ndeed ama­
True, ill his home land he was bardly at al l
known as a pot.
Thus aros two Khayyams.
In the West was the pot.
In the Enst, the mathematician, astronomer
and pbi losopher. Oh East is East aud West is
Who is this Omar Khayyam?
Since I lean mor to tho oriental version, let
us bgin our story of the honourable wi ma.n
and i mam Omar al-Khayyam of Nishapur, may
Allah sanctify his dear sul.
"In the name of the gracious and merciful
Allah, prais Allah, the lord of the worlds, and
blesing unto all his prophets. "
Thus did Khayyam, bound by a rigid tradi­
tional form, begin his marvellous "Treatis on
tbe Proofs of Problems of Algebra and al-MuI­
qabalah", a mathematical work tbat was roughly
fve hundred years in advance of the mathema­
tics of the Occident.
This work of the "greatest geometer of the
East", as that remarkable encyclopacdi t of the
Orient, the Arab l bn-Haldun wrote of hi m la­
tor, contains the frst systematic theory of thiro­
degre algebraiC equations. It was well known
among Arabian maLhematicians and undoubted­
ly exerted a tremeudous or cL Oil the develoJ­
ment 01 mathematics in the East. I n EuroJle,
the frst and rather nebulous reference to it U¬
curs only in the year 1 74.
The historian actually only says that it would
sem, by the title of the manusript, which is
in the Leyden Musum, that one may suspect
that it contains something about equations of
tho third degre, but ... "It is such a pity that
none of tbos who know Arabic has 8JY Laste
for mathematics and none of thos who have
mastered mathematics has any taste for Arabian
literature. »
When the treatis of Khayyam wus fnally
road, it was found that his results were repeated
(and in many respects surpassd) by no other
than Descartes. I ncidentally, it is possible tbaL
in yet another tratis that has ben lost irre­
trievably Omar Khayyam woot much fartlior.
Who knows?
We know of yet anotber treatis of Omar
Khayyam, to wit: "Commentaries On tbe Di ffi­
culties in the Introductions to the Books of
Euclid. " Tbis composition of Lhe most glorious
sheikb, imam, Of tho Proof of Truth, of Abnl­
fath 'Omar ihn I brahTm al-KhayyamT is in tllree
Again, this treatis, in the beginning, lacks
originality: U[ n the name of Allah, so gracious
and merciful, Prais Allah, tho lord of grace
and mercy, alld peace be unto his slaves and
in particular unto Muhammad, the lord of tho
prophets, and UJ1to all his pure clan."
All this ritual breaks of suddenly just a
I ine down: "The study of the sciences and the
comprebension of tbem by means of true proofs
is necesary for him who seks salvation and
happiness. "
Tbat's enough. He ''ho was eager to understand
did. Already too much was said. On went th�
soul-slvaging ritual.
"And especially (of cours, most naturally)
this refers to the general notions and laws to
which one resorts io studios of the hereafter,
proof of the existence of tho soul and its eter­
nalnes, comprehension of the quali ties tbat are
neessary for the existence of tbe Al mighty and
Ius magnifcence (Khayyam is worried beyond
reason ahout the magni fcence of Allah), the an­
gels, the order of creation and proof ol the pro­
pheie of the lord, the prophet ( 1uhammad,
that is), to the order and prohibitions of which
bow i n obedience all creatures (incidentally,
tbere was a time-in Medina-when Muhammad
introduced a very rigorous order and the best of
tbo creatures of Allah were ever at attontion)
in accord with the pleasure of the Almighty Allah
and the power of man."
What a Dawless piece of writing, it would
Yes, it would sem, for the entire paragraph
is one solid heresy, extremely dangerous to any
orthodox preacber of I lam.
Let the worshiper of Aristotle smooth over
his writing with hypocritically pious phrass,
for he will be understood by thos 01 the same
views and thos of other views as well.
Omar's luck tbat, in general, Islam was a morc
tolerant religion than Christianity. On tho ave-
rage, that is. There was no burning at tbe st�e.
But one could expoct, wh.n needed,
plUJge of tbe dagger. Very much so, In fact.
Even for just a tiny bit of heresy. On the oth r
hand, one could get around tbat too.
Then follows the treatis p,oper. (We shall
havo moro to say about it later on.) Al l the way
along, however, Omar put i n
the proper pro­
portions of glory to the Al mIghty Allah, and
to his greatest creation, Muham mad, and to tbe
whole l ineage of Muhammad, to the great belp
of Allah and more and more.
Prais the LordI
How merry and nice it was ror his creations.
His creatures I mean. ote however that the
merciful srvants of tbe merciful Christ pushed
the morciful AUah into the backgrouud
again We begin "in the name of the gracIOus
and merciful Allah".
We I .. ,OW hardly anything at all about Omar
Khayyam, only a few fragmentaq
bit" here
there. By way of complicated

computations on the basis of lDd

roct rdlDg,
tbe dates of his life are, approXlmately, fed
at 108 and 1 131. Or from 1040 to 1 122. Or
from 1 to 1 1 22.
Ho was born in Nishapur. At that time, the
city was located in the emirat
of Khoras.
Today, Nishapur is on tho terrttory of Ir
Omar wrote his verss i n the litera," PersIan
languag, and his learned studies in Ara�ic.
Since, as linguists explain, both
0dern Per

and Tajik developed out of medIeval PerSIan,
we may justifably say, today, tiat Kbayyam
is a Persian poet and a Taji k poet.
A few years prior to tbe birth of Omar Khay­
yarn, that "egion of tbe "calm and lazing" Orient
was the scene of bitter battles, and the leaders
of the nomad Sljuks (Turk mens) frst routed
the earlier sultans and then st up a collosal
empire alld a nice fresh dynasty of Seljukiall
sul tans.
What followed was rather standurd. Fighting
for the tilrone among tbe aspirants. Tho sultans
fghting feudal lords aud frenzied attempts of
tbe Leudals to rule by themselves, indepeudently.
I R about one hundred and twenty years the em­
pire fell to piees completely. But that period
of time, which to history is minuscule, to a
human being is quite enough.
Khayyam l ived in tie empire of tbe Sljuks
and lived quietly for a long time, for he had
8 patron. A strong protetor.
The great vizier izam-al·Mulk.
Nizam-al-Mulk was possd witb the idea of
a strong state. And he furthered it in many
ways. He apparently believed tlat culture and
learing would strengthen his empire and so,
like thos dear Ptolemys of antiquity, be patro
nized his cholar in many a way.
He himsU was not above l iterary forms and
wrote a ratier srious, fundamental and very
interesting-to historians-work entitled the Book
oj Gvmmellt-a srt 01 handbook ror sultans
who neded training (thoy certainly did). In this
10rk of popularization be engaged the srviceS
of his sholars and in particular thos of Omar
BuL before Omar enterd into tbe srvice of
Nizam-al-Mulk ho had endured much indeed.
When a sullBn is stting II» all empire, tbe inlla­
hiuots do not havo it easy at all .
There is practically no information about tbe
youth of Omar, other than that he may have
studied in 'ishapur.
The tory gos that "at the age of sventeen
years ho allained profound knowledge in al l fields
of philosophy".
It is said that ho was "a proroundly I. "ow­
lodgeable man in li nguistics, Muslim law and
history" and was a rollower or Aviconna (Abu­
Ali ibn ina).
It is also rolated that he had a marvellous
memory and that on one ocasion he learned a
whole book by heart after reading i t sven 1lR0S.
Some said that he was a " ago with extensive
knowledge in all felds or philosophy, especially
mathematic ".
I n 0 word, then, all surce (and al 0 the
writings of Khayyam himslf) describo a man
wilh encyclopa die knowledge and a mind of
exceptional gifts and per picacity.
At the bginning, however, al l thes good
points worked mor against him than for him.
He wa compelled to leave Rhors n, and we
lnd Omar Khayyam i n Samarkaud.
Qui te naturally, a patron was neded. And
Omar found him. We do not know how, but
he did. This "marvellous and incomparable judge
of judges the i mam Abu-Tahir, may Allah con­
tinue his ris and may Allah ca t aside thos
who are envious and wish him evil".
To put it simply, this was lhe chief judge of
Samarkand, a high-placed official. But only Al­
lah realJy knows whether he po8 d evon a
1 0

ute porlion of the merils that Omar 8 pains­
taklDgly and sweet-singingly desribd i n his
algebraic treatis. A bit earlier, in the introduc­
tion to the sme treatis, Omar wrote sullenly
and bitterly:
" . . . I was deprived of the opportunity of en­
gaging regularly in my studies (of algebra-8m;l­
gal and I could not even coneen trat on med i l­
tion about it beaus of the reverss of de tiny
that plagued me.
"We wer wilness to the death of learned mon
of whom there remains a small and suferin,
group. The harshnes of fate in the ti mes pr
vents them rrom giving themslves wholly to ref­
ning and depening their learing.
"Most of thos who today have the aspect of
a sholar drc truth in falshood, without going
beyond imitation i n science and only pretending
to knowledge.
"The knowledgo which they havo amassd is
usd for bas purposs of the Desh. I f thoy en­
counter a man that sek the truth and loves
the t

uth, if ho attempts to reject fal hood and hy·
pocnsy and gi ve up boasti ng and d ceil, they mao
ke him tho object of their contempt and mockery. "
When reading an excerpt liko this, one no

wishes to relate the story of Omar Khay­
yam In tho cool and slightly irOnical tone of the
objetive ob rver. There is nO place for words
about the great and merciful AlJal. Here lifo
is harsh and cold. Thes bi tter Ii Des were wriLLen
by a very young man. At that lime he was hard­
ly more than twenty-fve years of age. Such a
desire vanishes completely WhOD wo recall that
four centuries latcr al most the vory same thing
was writt<n by GaliIeo, and within another fve
centuries by Ei nstein.
I am not sure what Omar wanted to say, but
tbe next sntence ("Allah helps us i n all ca!! s,
he is our refuge") followed by an extremely long
paragraph prai ing tbe henourahle judge of Sa­
markand reads l i ke a savage, vicious, rlor­
sharp taunt.
Let W not stray. Omar was lucky. He found a
patron. What is more, one "whos . . . presnce
opened up my chest and wbos sciety levated
my glory, my work expanded due to his Iigbt
and my back was strengthened becauso of his
good deeds".
So you 8 how wonderful everything was.
Yet that was only the beginning. Allah is never
grudging i n his generosity.
Omar Khayyam is honoured (glory be unto
Allahl) by tho friendship of the khakan of Bukha­
ra himslf. What this title signi fes, I do not
know, nor have I tried to lnd out. At any rat,
be was sme kind of minor king of sorts. And an
historian (a contemporar of Khayyam) reports,
with an undortandable Ung of envy, that
" . . . khakan Shams-al-Mulk ol(vated hi m greatly
and sated tbo i mam Omar on his tbrone".
But the good deeds of Allah are inded inex­
haustible. And in the year 1074 Malik-Shah him­
self (tho khakan is only a va al of the hab)
sllmmonod Omor to his court i n Isfaban and­
rejoice oh ye faithfnll-makes hi m his nadim.
You would probably liko to know wbat a oa­
di m IS.
A ratber strange po t. A sultan is always
In need of i nterlocutor, coofidalts, body-guards.
Thos are tbe duties of the oadi",. He has his
meals witb the ruler, converes with him and
engags hi m, thinking up all kinds of things
i n order to ki 1 I t i me. A nd of cours he shows
his admiration ror the wisdom of tbe ruler, the
courag, the bauty, the potical gilts of tho
sultan, for his steed , his eagles and his concu­
bines. Trn , I do not know whether be demon­
strated the most beautiful Dowers of his harm
or not, buL . . . .
o ned [or this amateuri h talk, we give the
noor to the radiaot patron of Omar Khayyam.
NiZm-al-Mulk himslf.
We quote from the Bok 0/ GtVnment (Sia­
"The benefts of the nadim oro %ver8l ¦ One
is that h is 8 clos friend of tho svereign,
another is that since he is wi th tho sovereign
day aDd night, ho acts as a body-gnard, and i
cas of necesity-do not allow i t , oh, Allah-If
there is �omo kind of danger, he sacri fces hi
1 03
body by using it as a shield against that danger;
and fourthly, a thousand kinds of words can
be said to the nadim rather than to those who
perform the duties of the amils and the ollci­
als of the sovereign; the ffth beneft is that
they report, l i ke spies, on the afairs of the kings;
tbe sixth, that they convers i n all manners
without compulsion about good and evil, wheth­
er inebriate or sober, thus bringing about much
lhat is useful and purposeful . "
o you see, six distinct benefts. Few indeed
can occupy such an honourable post. Very
"I t is necessary that the nadim be gilted by
nature, virtuous, good-looking, of pure laith, a
guardian of screts, well-mannered; he must be
a narrator 01 stories, a reader of what is merry
and what is sriOUS, he must remember many
legends, he must always be ready with a good
word, a reporter of pleasant news, a player of
nardy and cbes, and if be can play some musi­
cal instrument and band Ie arms, all the beUer.
The oadim must be in accord with the sovereign.
To everything that takes place or that lhe so­
vereign utters, he must answer: "Excellent, mar­
vellous"; he may not instruct tbe sovereign with
words "do tbis, do not do lbis, why did you
do this? " He must not so speak because the
sovereign will tben be depressd and will reject
him. It is proper ror the nadim to arrange all matt­
ers pertaining to wine, recreation spectacles,
friendly congregations, hunting, tbe playing 01
chougan and tbe like, for that is what they are
needed lor. "
Tbat is all.
1 04
Thus preached iz:m-al-Mulk, who presnted
Kbayyam to hlik-Shab as nadim.
Without donht, an amazingly pleasant post.
Historians console us somewhat. One group
thinks it bigbly improbable that Kbayyam was
honoured so greatly, and they believe that the
biographer exaggeraled. Perhaps he wished to
elevate a scbolarly colleague in the eyes of tho
reader and allowed lor some exaggeration, a bit
of boasting. Others feel that Khayyam was in­
ded a nadim but, tbey say, of a somewhat
dillerent kind.
For Nizam-al-Mulk conlinues: "Many sove­
reigns havo made pbysicians and astrologers
their nadims so as to know the opinion of eacb
01 tbem as lo what should be done by them,
what by the sovereign, wbat needs to be done
to presrve naturo and tbe healtb of the sOve­
reign. Astrologers obsrve the ti me and the hour;
lor every matler lhat is pleasant thoy gve nO­
tico and slect . favourable hour. "
1 05
In general , then, there is a faint hope Lhat
Khayyam did not have to arrange the drinking
spre of Malik hah and loate concubi nes for
hi m. But who know ? On thing we can bo sur
of is that he had to do everything that came
into tho head of tho rulor.
At any rate, he defi nitely delved into astro­
logy, though just as defnitely he believed H
to be nonsns .
As astrologer, Omar Khayyam was an indispu­
table authorHy, but it is his scret how it came
And with what professional skill one had to
cringe i n the courts of the East! Ti me wHhout
On the whole, then, this l i fe which to mauy
was so pleas�nt, was thoroughly disgu ting to
Omar Khayyam.
There were a lew things i n oxchange, though.
Firstly, the court sag of Malik-Shah, his
confdential agnt, almo t pal, was inacc ible
to all srvants of the Koran, who were, oh, so
cager to make Omar toe the Ii ne.
ccondly, Omar was wen provided lor. True,
he did not have a family, but the position of a
sholar in thos days was precarious, 8 much
% i n fact that it was i mposihlo to exist without
a patron. 0 better 8 shah than smo kind of
smal l fry.
Thirdly, perhaps mo t i mportant of al l was
the po ibility to work. Omar had at his dis­
posal what at that time was a frst-cla obser­
vatory, the I lahan Observatory. And probably
the shah reasonably as umed that his wi man
should have sme pare timo for meditation. At
1 06
any rato, Khayyam did a great doal during hi
years at court. Three years alter hi arri val hore
he had already completed his "Commentarie to
the Difficulties in t he Introduction to tho Book
of Eu l i d ", whero among certain other correc­
tions he proved-so ho thought-the flth postu­
Ho wo busy in the obsrvatory and obtained
oxcellent result . Actual ly, he was the founder
of the obsrvatory, for which he constantly rque­
stod monoy of Malik bah lor building purposs.
Again a routino s tuation .
o ono was i nterested in his a tronomical work.
Ho compiled a calendar that was marvellousiy
accurate, but the calondar was neVer accepted
though his astrological studies were view d a�
undoubtedly valuable.
A numbor of centuries l ater, Kepler, who Va­
luod astrology like Khayyam did, trad Lhe same
. H was solely through astrology that
he ac�eve
d a po ilion i n siety, tho means
for dally hIe and the opportunity to engage in
scientifc studies.
Omar did not believo in astrology. Historians
havo not yet deided what his bliof was. There
sems to b oue and perhaps the most i mportant
symbol of his faith: a person should study scien­
ce and learn about how the world is made. But
ero too tho situation is complicated, 8 it is
�Imo to return to his verss. SI)eaking generally,
I f we knew exactly which verss wore inded
written hy Omar, they would be an extremely
valuablo document.
He did not consider himslf a pot. Most like­
ly ho wrote lor himslf and was naturally Jes
1 07
scretivo than i n his philosophical treatiss, i n
which he always had to be extremely cl"eful,
cautioUl iy interpolating minusculo deviaUons
from orthodoxy. Meanwhilo specialists in li­
terature 8 still fghting over which verss ar
genuinely his.
. . .

Tho canonical text IS clat med to contalD 2;2
rubs'Ts (quatrains). But hore too tho debate con­
tinues. A total of about 1 ,00 quatrains aro &
cribed to Omar.
We shall take it that the ver are genuine.
Novertholes it is rather difficult to dotermino
exactly the philo ophieal world view of Omar
Khayyam. Even the specialist are uoable to
roach a single opinion, which, incidentally, is
how things Uually stand.
Some of the vef1es are magni fcent oven io
translation and IO better in the original, so
they say. 1¬.e, Omar's topics are rather restric­
ted; frankly speaking, twenty to thirty verss
fully exhaust overy thing that Khayyam wanted
to say.
Now so that tbo reader can rest with some
good p�ose and uice poetry, I will give a rather
UOUlual analysis of Khayyam
8 works and then
a fow of his quatrains.
O'flenry, probably irritated by the Omar
Khayyam crate, put the matter in story form
as follows.
The bero of bis slory "Tbe Handbook of Hy·
men» Sanderson Pratt, cowboy, was caught i n a
snow �torm in the mountains and had to sit it out
with another cowboy, Idaho. It was most li ke­
ly a cas of psychological incompatibility: tra­
gedy was averted when tbey found two books.
1 0
One wus R II andbok 0/ Indispnsabl hI/orma­
tion and the other was Omar Kbnyy"m. I n a
card game, Idaho WOn and chos Khayyam, and
anderson got tho handbook. Over tho monoto­
OOUl weks each studied hi book.
At last releasd from the snow, tbe two cow­
boys retured to normal li fo and began paying
court to a cbarming wealthy widow, each dis­
playing his nowly acquired culture and utili­
zing to the fullc t what he had read. Idaho's
potic guide-Omar Khayyam-was defeated
roundly by tho bandbook, and tbe bappy mar­
riage of Sandern Pratt was tbe worthy reward
of the bearer of common sense. As anderson
Pratt put it:
"I sat and read that bok for four hours. All the
wond r of education was compressd i n it. I
forgot tbe snow, and I forgot that me and old Idabo
was on tbe outs. Ho was silting still on a stol
reading away with a kind of pl"tly soft nnd
partly mysterious look shining through his tan­
bark whiskers.
'''Idaho, ' says I , 'what kind of a book is
yours? '
"Idaho mUl t have forgot, too, for he answered
moderat, without any slander or malignity.
"'Why, ' says be, 'this hore sems to be a \0-
lume of Homer K. M. '
'''Homer K. M. what?' I ask.
"'Why, just Ilomer K. 1, ' says he.
"'You're a liar,' ays I , a little riled that
Idaho should try to put me up a tre. 'No man
is going 'round signing books with his initials.
1 1 it's Homer K. M. Spopondyke, or Homer K. M.
McSweney, or flomer K. f. Jones, why don't
1 0
YOIl say so like Õ man instead of biting or I
end 01 i t like a calf chewing 01 tho tall of a shi.·t
on a clothes-line?'
r put it to you straight, Saody, ' says Idaho,
quiet. ' I t's a pom book, ' says he, 'hy Homer
K. M. r couldn' t get colour out of it at lr t, but
Ulere's a viow i f §0Hfol low it up. I wouldn' t have
mised this book for a pair of red blankets . . .
The new Omar Khayyam conv •• t, T dabo, t hen
gives an analysis of the poet.
, ... . . He sems to be a kind of a wine agent.
His regular toast is "nothing dOing", and he
sems to havo a grouch, but he kops i t so well
lubricated with boz that his worst kicks sund
like an invitation to split a quart. But i t 's po­
etry, ' says Idaho, 'and I have
sensations of scorn
ior that tn.ck of yours that tnes to convoy sns
i ll fot and inches. When it comes to explaining
the instinct of phi losophy t hrough the art 01
nature, old K. M. has got your man heat by
drills, rows, paragraphs, chet mea uremenL, and
average annual rainfal l . ' "
Pratt wasn' t 000 t o give i n easily.
"This Homer K. 1. , from what leaked out
01 his l ibretto thrugh Idaho, semed to me to
b a kind of a dog who looked at life
like it was
a tin can tied to his tail
After runntng h. mself
half to death, he sits down, hang. his tongue
out and looks at the can and says-
'oh well sioce we can' t shake the growler,
let's ,t it
filled at the corner, and all have
a drink on me. '
"Beides that, it sems he was a Persian; and
never hear of Persia producing anything worth
1 1 0
mentioniog unless it was Turkish rg and Mal­
tes cats. "
Though Jovers of Omar Khayyam will be in­
dignant, we must admit that the hasic topic
was grasped "ather "eatly by the two cowboys.
True, one never knows what exactly O' Henry
is driving at.
H might woll b Uwt as a true admirr of
Omsr Khayyam, he sim]lly wished to illustrate
the ancient but sad theme: forget potry if you
want to acbieve success with a charming lady,
forget or give up al l hope. EspeciaUy if the
woman is the owner of a two-storey hOUM ill
a neat little provincial town.
Now for Omar Khayyar's verss. Crudely, we
might divide them into three group : ( I) tho
love and wine cycle; (2) tho philosphical cycle;
and (3) civic lyrics, th.e quatrains in which Omar
decribs more or les straight forwardly his at­
ti tude towruds his surround i ngs.
1 1 1
Since I have boon cons�antly balancing on the
brink of siving psychological enigmas, let uS
tbis time try to fgure out to wbat extent Omar's
verss convey tbe true i mage of the writer him­
Perhaps in tbis sns the most mealli agfnl are
tbe verss of the third cycle: irritated, fuji of
gall, defini tly vicious.
Of al l 252 verss, tbere is not a single one
that says smething decent abut the thinking
croations of Allah. Everyone gets it in tbe nek,
but Omar is particularly bitter towards tho cler­
Oh C0m6 wi th 0ld Þb8gg8m, 8nd lCR''o the Wis
talK¦ 0t¡B lblp@ Í8 c0tlaÎ0, lha¡ Lire
Onc tbíu@ is crl8Îu- and Lho ÜæI l8
Tbe Flower that 0nCB bas blown for ever 0ìW.
It is quite natural now to go on to tbe merci­
ful Allah himslf. Omar does not get along s
well with tho Lord in verses as he dos i n treati­
Ub ¯h0u Vb0 didst V:ll8ÎÌ 8ad witb Gin
Bmt Lh� Ü0a0 Î was U N&0BÎ Îu,
¯ü00 WH n0l WÌlü VtmÝt1û 0 ÏV:Î t0uD0
| ameah, aad H\0u ÍmguU m§ FaH t blPÍ
Ü0 1000, Wh0 Man 0Í 0aæt Earth 0l08t m8k8,
and ev'n with Î8tBdÍ$B 08YlM tho þ0aK8*
t0t aIl te ÜÎ0 wberewith lbB Face 0Í Man
Is blackeo'd-Man's forgivenes ive-aad t«ke|
This entire cycle may very logically be con­
cluded with quatrains in which Omar explains
the situation in which he is compelled to live
and work.
One M0mchl in Anllihilal ion'8 Wasl�.
ooe Momoll", of tbe ¼eÌl 0Í lÎ0 to IMlð¬
1 1 2
Tbo Ülam ar &llÎng alld the L8r8V8u
Sar Í0r tbð Dawn of Nothi

-Oh, mak6 ba8l6¡
M0w θou@, how long, Îu Îu0mW Yumutl
Of Th,. ah0 Tha� M06aY0ut au0 0Í9

aotlr b m8tt§ WÎlb to ÍÎHul taB
¯w $a00c0 æt6t u0u6, 0t 0Îll<t, ttuÍl.
The writer of such "radiant" verss is defnitely
not a man with an optimistic turn of mind.
Cmplet spiritual isolation and nO breaks i n
the gloom.
Åo0 tb8t ÍuY0t¡0 Ü0WÌ W6 caÌÌ The þk§,
ÝBHu008t crawling cop's W6 liYo an0 0Í8
)Íl 00t

0t han08 t0 Ït Î0t holp-for It
Å9 Îm


t0ÎÎ8 @ §0u or I .
'Tis all a uB 00aW 0Î NÍ@bl& a00 Dais

WÍlb M8u Î0t VÍ0 gÎ8¿8.
H te Lhiter move, and H&LW &n0 slays
Ån0 0n6 0y 0nð DaCK in ¡Ð6 Clot Ìa,.
Again, not 8 single bright spot, not evon 8
hopeful hint. In tho frst cycle thel appear to
b cerlain preriptions for arranging l i fe O' Hen­
ry's beros ( I can repeat) grasped tbo
gist of
the maller qnite preisly. Incidentally, the frst
English translation by Fi lzgerald paid special
and exceptional aUention to this particular trend.
l!lt Lis Uni.\cr, a00

hy 00t k00wiug,
D0t vÂrmr, hko ¼at8t wtlly-aihy oi
Å00 0ut 0Í Íl, M WÍm aÌ00

Ì kB0w 00l Uhtt

r. "iUy-nilly b¡0iog.
X00 KH0W, my Itteoda,bow l0o@aioæÎn m§ Houae
For & new M8trÍð@0 ¡ 0Í0 mÔK6 Carue:
ÜlY0Æ% 0Î0 Dattun Ü88M0 Ít0m m§ ÜM,
À00 took tho naughter 0Î tbo Vine t bg0u&.
A, fl lU6 Lu

.~W08I 00M it t Hµ08l
J0W Tie I& slipping u»de¬eath 0l1t Ï % �.
Q0Dt0 20·m0tHW, a00 00a0 Y%L8ma§,
Why ÎÆ 800ut U0m ÎÎ ¯0¬8§ 00 sweetl
1 1 3
And fioally
Ah with tho Grape mg rading ÎÎu provide,
And wash my Bay whence the Lire hI die.
And Ì8j me. shroude in thð living L.
By some B0l unfrequent Garen-ide.
That P¥u my burie Ahe 5uch a Snare
Of PerÍÖe sall Ding up Into the Air.
A 00l Ñ True Believer pasiJlg by
But M8ÌÌ b overtaen unaware.
Not so cherlol , I would say. Bot there isn't
so much to buoy up onc's spirits.
For lack of any other hypothess, let US take
it that the writer of these quatrains waS inded
Omar Khayyam. At least half of them, that
will be enough.
The portrai t of the man who wrote thes verss
would sem to be clear. A clover, giftd skeptic
aod misanthrope. Defnitely cultured, but to­
tally lackiug i o any kind of i ntellectual i nter­
ests all his days and nights spent with COnCu­
bin�s and wine, in the company of drinking
revellers; and in a rare sber moment he writes
marvellou , but deply pessi mistic verss. He
values nothing more i n this world than the
opportunity to carouse, and doe 8 to the l i mi t
of his strength and money.
An indigestible blend of a Byron hero, a low­
class patrician or Rome, Goethe's Mephistophe­
les, the debauchery of a Russian merchnnt or
a French aristocrat.
Omar's ideas are by no meanS new.
There have boen skeptics and Iesimists thro­
ughout the ages, and their Weltanschauung dos
not call for admiration.
Omar, at times, appeals clos to spontaneous
matrialism. At any rate, he abuss Allah often
1 1 4
enough. But on tbo other hand thero are a goodly
numbr of partly mystical quatrains; and, what
IS there to ad mire in them?

8¥e and period of buman history,
matrial! lie Ideas have i nspired many think­
In the cas of Kbayyam tbore is nO need, how­

r, to make allOwance for tbe i ntellectual
n,8lvete of that ago compared with our OWn.
No ned at all to pat past conturies On the back
1 (, however, we speak as equals and judge
by ve

ss alone, tho i mago of Omar Khayyam
thinker loss much of i t lustre. There re­
maI ns a magnifcent poet, but not a very like

or profound persn. We can understand and
lustlfy but we cannot agree.
Literary critics do not speak so frankly, per­
haps, becaus tbe potry of Omar Khayyam is
frmly placed along with the greats of world
cuI ture and s also is Khayyam the man-canon­
But if I

oJy knew Khayyam the poet, I lould,
alter a perIOd 01 enthusiasm fol' his pessimism,
botwoon the agos of 15 and 25, agree with 0 'Hen­

y, tho
ugh paying full due to his supremo poet­
Ical skll.
However, the charm lies in the iact that our
ypothetical image is but a caricature, and lop­
SIded at that. Becaus Khayyam was not a

by profesion. He was a scholar. His
buslOes was learning. Verss? Only for Iecrea.
Houris and wine? If Omar had but i mbibed
a hundredth part of tho wine that fows through
1 1 5
his verss. I f his harem had contained 8 lenth
of tho beauties whos praiss he sang-he would
not have strength left for anything els.
Yet all his contemporaries-well-wishers a

ill-wishers alike-are of one opinion: the ha
imam Omar was one of the greatest of learned
men of the East.
J ust what was he?
He was a-
. •
Mathematician. Probbly the g�eatest In
. �
ontal history. That, at any rate, 15 the oplru

of many mathematical historians. Tre algebr

works of Khayyam l-no harm In repeatlDg
it-brilliant. Ho made a thorough study

f the
mathematical legacy 01 the Gre ks. That , n It­
slf is quito sme llldertaking requiring year
of work. .
Astronomer. Recall the years he spent sttlOg
up the Isfahan Obsrvatory. You remem�er the
constant prolonged astronomical obsrvatIOns he
carried out, the rform of the calendar and the
newly devisd system of chronolog
Part physicist. He produced a hIghly cunous
treatis on Archimedes' celebrated problem of
King Hiero's golden crown, the problem that
gave ris to Archimedes' law and the tradem

of th( Soviet Union's "Molodaya Gvardla
("Young Guard") publishing Hous
. .
Yet that is not al l . From Omar s works It IS
evident that he had a fundamental knowledge
not only of Arabian philosphy but Gr
eek as
well , particularly the philosphy of
Khayyam was oven too openly e

lfa\lshed WIth
Aristotle. This is most evident In �hc
ay he
refers to Aristotlo-brieDy and lacking lD any
1 1 6
emotion. In place of the name, he writes "phil­
Philospher and no oriental compliments.
Omar cO�d
us epithet
whon he wanted to.
But he didn t here. Ho did not want emblllsh­
ments, the inOation of which he felt s kenly'
he did not want falsly honeyed phrass to sLics
to lamcs that wer rally dear to him.
The philospher was enough.
Generally, wbon Omar gets down to busines
t�e potical, wurtier, oriental style \'anishc�
WIthout a trace. Between the traditional bows
to Allah,
M�ammad and tho current patron
at the beglomng and end of each piece of writing
we fnd a restrained and resrved text.
ferences, arguments, draWings, formulas.
Euchd is simply Euclid, and not the prince of

Or the beacon of knowledge
ApolloDlus IS SImply Apollonius. Ptolemy jusL
Ptolemy. A touch of editing here and there and
the style is that of the twentieth century. Aris­
totle is the philospher.
We have strayed a bit. What is interesting
hero is something els. Rocall that "Tho phil­
wrote in a very turgid confusd style.
�ny detailed study of his writings is an excep­
tionally diffcult job. I ' m sure that today there
are not many specialists i n the histor of phil­
osphy that have worked through al\ of Aris­
totle '5 le�acy in the original Grek. Perhaps only
8 few phtlosphers specializing in the l i fo and
work of Aristotle. ow thore is no doubt that
ar Khayyam studied aU of the works of the
phIlospher. Yet Aristotle is ouly a small part
of tbe philosophical legacy of Lhe Occident and
1 1 7
Orient that Omar studied, as is s eloquently
witnesd to by references to dozens of divers­
ifed fundamental writings.
Speaking of tho volume of digsted literature,
Khayyam is tho envy of any academiciau in
philosphical scionce.
Phi losophy does oot exhaust Omar. He was
als knowledgable in the Koran and fuslim
This is not al l .
He was also an astrologer. We have already
said that Omar knew the true value of astrol­
ogy, but a good dos of information has to be
absrbd in order to gra p its rules.
By the way, one of the stories of Omar's
astrological feats makes one think that he was
familiar with the essntials of meterology.
The recolletion is that of an- hami as-Sa­
markandi :
" . . . the Sultan snt to Merv to the great hajji
(tbis is followed by a tremendously long name)
to ask the i mam Omar to predict lhe weather
and find out, if they g hunting, whether there
will bo snow and rain on thos days."
Khayyam thought for two day , i ndicated tbe
time, and tben "wont and put the Sultan On
horsback" .
From then on, the action in an- hami 's story
develops liko a standard movie. 0 sOner was
the Sultan ol, than ''black clouds appeared over
the land, the wind blew and snow bgan to fall,
and a fog enveloped the eartl. Thero was geo­
eral laughter, and the Sultan wanted
to return,
but tho bajji i mam (Khayyam, that IS) told the
Sultan not to worry, for tbere would b no mois-
1 1 8
ture (n the cours
of fve days. The Sultan went
on hiS hUntIng triP, the clouds dispersd, and
[or lve days there was no moisturo, and no one
saw any elouds. "
At the end, the narrator adds that Khayyam
as far as be, the narator, knows had no faita
whatsoever in astrology. But e had to b
able to forast tho weather, bcaus that was
one of t�e s�andard demands made by sultans
upon tbelf wlsmen. Consqucntly, he had some

ge of meteorology. (I suppos this would
tbe rIght place to draw some parallels between
orlOntai sages and 20th century weather bure­
aus, but I won't.)
So let us add meteorology to the list.
as, tnally, a physician. His biographers
tlme and again poi nted this out.
es, Omnr busied himslf with the theory
of musIC.
d �sides all els, he translated from the
ArabIC I lltO Persian.
Last o�al l , rcal l tbat it was llis duty to per­
�orm, dally, a host of minor dntie for the Sbah
III the nature of forecasting the woather or in­
terproting dreams.
O� yes|We al most forgot, he was als a poet,
a brllhant pot.
Now comes
the question of whon be found
hOle for dalliance with his beauties.
About women I am not suro but about wine he
defnitely was in the know. suffce it to recall
t�e highly profeSional analysis of a variety of
WIDes that Omar gi ves in tho treatis uNauruz_
amah "
ow i f all his duties are Iccalled, one is forced
t 1 9
to the conclusion that he had mUe time indeed
t indulgo i n the worship
of Ba

chus. �h, ho
sinned of course, no quesllon 01 It. He smned,
but not excessively.
In any eas his interests arc immeasurably
broader than one might think it one focuss
only on his quatrailS.
The amazing thing, howevor, IS that Omsr
never says allyl.hiog about science in his verss.
He wrote an autobiography in lyrics, a confes­
sion, you might say, yet not a w



was truly the most important thing In his Ille.
One might think tbat such themos were o

side the traditioDs of oriental poetry. Yet WIS­
dom and sges were "ery of ton praisd. x|

in poetry Omar did Dot care much lor tradltl·
ons if he haudled the almighty merc(ful Allah
in such rough fashion. The only thiog lH h,s
poetry that can b regarded as rferring to sien­
ce is sma skeptical remarks OD att<mpts at
1 20
learning tho meaning 01 being. Omar Khayyam's
world view is by 00 meanS s misrable and
Tho only way to tie things together is to pre­
sume that Omar was simply showing of to llim­
sl[ by rojocting all and everything and by not
Inding a Single good word even for mathematics.
Such coquotry is encountered much more f­
quently than sme are inclined Lo think. Partic­
ularly in tho cas of poets. There is nO reason
to b teo trustlng when i t comes Lo skepticism.
Perhaps more credence can be given to his
third cycle of "civic lyrics". Omar sems to
have been somewhat of an irritable type, with
a rather low opinion of thos about him. But
try to he calm and gOd-natured when surround­
ed by knaves, mountebanks, money-grubbers . . .
i f overy single day you lear for the future, i f
i L is only your high po i Lion at the court that
holds in check a pack of thick-skulled scholast­
ics ready to devour you in a moment 01 weak­
nes, if the position you hold can disappear at
any time becaus 01 a simple slip of the tongue,
or an uncalled-for smile.
Try to bo merry and respect those about you
if every moring you are not suro how tbo day
will ond, if you cannot be like others and if
you have to lio every minute, every sond and
watch others round about you doing the sme
with ovident pleasure. Try all this, and note
too that you have nO one ill whom you can cOn­
ldo, for to share such thought is tantamount
to a slf-imposd exile at bst. Try all thes
things, and if YOll have the talent of a poet,
jUlt se wbat kind of verss you will produce.
1 21
But If, while clearly D allting all thes thjngs,
you can continue working i ntensly, remailing
a pesimis�, a cyiic and a drunkard only i n
poems, hut i n real l i le spending your time,
energy and oerves i o bili ldiog an obsrvatory,
iovestigating equations of tbe third degree. writ­
ing commentaries on Euclid, studying Aristotle
and working wHh pupils... If you are capable
of doing all tbis, �heLl I will read your verss
with pleasure. E pccially i f they arc written i n
your ol d age and i f loving pupils remain after
The year 102 was the bginiling of hard times
in the life of Omar Khayyam. In tbat year,
Nizam-al-Mulk-his main patron-was kjlled.
The killing was probably carried out by feu­
d.l lords. The murderer was a membr or one
of tbe darkest, most fanatical and strange scts
i n human history: the Ismailians. I recall this
for tbe reasn that th ro is a very curious bllt
obvionsly unauthentic legend to the effect that
Kbayyam, Nizam-aJ-Mulk and the founder of
tbe Ismailisn Sect Hasan Sabbah all studied at
one school and were childhood friends.
I n the same year, Malik-Shah with whom
Omar had been s close also died.
The situation was very had undor the succes­
sors, but lalor he was able to arrange his I i le.
A good deal of money was neded for lho ob­
srvatory, but tho subsidies were stopped. s
Omar had to Dlake requests her and tbere. Ho
even had to wrile a historico-didaclic lratis,
"Nauruz-Nameh @ whtw, illnong a host of anec­
dotes and tale. of eagles, heautifni visages,
steds, aod wino i lbe persistent refrai n that
1 22
"MaIik-Shab provided the money for the ob­
srvatory, and he patronltcd Dlen of I aang".
But. 1 repeat, things worked out alter all.
First the soo and then tho nopbow of iu,m­
al-Mnlk beame viziers. Probably by force of
habit they continued lO support Omar.
Meanwhile. the clergy wer keping B ken eye
0R Khayyam. That he had strayed very far from
orthodox Islam was long since evident. Occasion­
ally. the sullen hostility cooled of, but it in­
variably boiled up anew. Omar bad to g io
for writing smi-loyal treatiss, but that did
not help very much.
At ti mes he was i ntolerant. When he should
have kept quiet, he entered into discussions
and told sheikhs and imams to their face what
he thought of them. Towards old ag his temper
grw wors, ho was sharp-tongued, and still,
despite hjs glory and high-placed patrons, be
had to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, the hajj.
"And from bis hajj he returned to his home town,
where morrung and eveiling be vi ited the placo
of prayer, hiding his scret which will inevit­
ably come to light. He had nO equal in astronomy
and philosophy; in thes felds he was prover­
bial. Oh, i f only he had been given the gift
of avoiding i oobedienco to god. "
Thu did tho loyal muslim Djamal ad-Din
ibn al-Kifti write regretfnlly in his Histortes
0/ tM Sages.
I t i s likewis said that towards old age he
ceasd laking pupils and "grudged writing
books" .
Doring the last teo to fiften years he no longer
J i ved at tbe court. He smehow displeasd the
1 23
new Sul tan and ei ther was asked to resign or
was simply dismisd. Perhaps he left of his
Own accord DOt wishing to be asked to go. He
bad no family. The old man was lonely, and
the gratr part of his gloomiest verss were
apparenlly written during this period.
His pupils were, as belore, glad to M hi m,
but he did not sem inclined to receive ther.
To aU this add the fact that Khayyam was
concoited, and "�lh the years his conceit grew;
for people of that srt, old age, particularly a
luckless old age, is bard to endure.
That he had a very high opinion of himslf
is acknowledged by his biographer. And his
own treatiss tell the sara story. Evon by orient.
al standards, he would appear to have overdono
the selI-lovation of his persn.
This is how one of his treatiss bgins: "Thes
are the rays that emanat from the throne of
the king of philosophers and the all-inundating
pure light of wisdom of the enlightened, skil­
led, outstanding, elevated, sagacious great ce­
letial, glorious, worthy lord of the
Pro�r of
Trulh and Conviction, the victor of philosphy
and faith, the phi losopher of both worlds the
10ld sage of bolh Orients Abulfath
Ora: ibn
I brlhYr al·KhayyarT . . . "
Fourten titles, slf-imposd. After that the
beginning of anothor treatis is a model of �od­
esty: " . . . the honoured lord, Proal of Truth
philosopher, sholar, sat of faith, king of phil:
osphers of the East and West . . . "
A rather decent description, title-wis, is given
at th bginning of the treatis " anruz-Namch"
whicb was writtell, as you recal l , for the succo-
1 24
sors of Malik-Shah: ..... the learned hajji, phil·
osopher of the ago, chief of investigatol, king
of scholars . . . "
But i t is curious to not that all "special"­
mathematical and phy�ical-treatiss of Khay­
yar begin in a restrained, dry ranner.
Glorifcation appears i n treatiss of a general
nature. It may b that, 10 put i t into modern
lingo, for purposs of publicity he tried to build
up his imag when the treatis could b read
by those that held the strings of power. Natur­
ally, such stratagems added yet another humilia­
tion to the long list of thos that Khayyam had
to bear. All the more unpleasant to him was this
slf-advertisment. The last piece of ill luck was
that towards the end he experienced real money
It is doubtful whether he actually lived i n
poverty, as some of his moder biographers
write. Over th& years he held high olls and
most likely had some rsrves. And even t
the very end, despite all tho attacks of the c1er-
1 25
gy, be remained the recognized "king of learned
men". Also, his numerous pupils could uJlport
him i f the necessi ty were real.
So my view is that Omar did not starve and
probably l i ved as prosperously as any small
trader. But expendi tures had to be cut. At any
rate, he complains in a number of quatrains
of poverty and of tbe hard time l i fe was giving
A, L0VB! c00Ì0 §00 au0 J WÍl0 MÍm C0n8QÍtB
¯0 88 I0Í8 Mtt§ ÜcDtm8 0Î ¯bÍ0g8 8l¡lÍt8,
0 DuÍ ¾Ü NalUt it t0 0Íl8-&ud tbBu
Üem0uÎd Íl u08Æt tD l08 M88tl9 Î08ÍÆÎ
The aged �mar was apparently not very happy,
the only thing that remai ned were books. It is
said tbat be died wi tb 8 book of his beloved
Abu Ali ihn-Sina in hi hand.
One need not tbink that he Was always sigh­
ing and grioviJlg, but he was a broken man. Ap­
parently he did not work during tho last twenty
years of his l i fe, either beaus he had no
strength, or no d0i re. Life was at an end.
He died in 1 128 and even this dato was hit
upon by accidont, thanks to a story reIn ted by
his pupil an- izami 8 amarkandi. I give i t
here i n full, for it is far mOre important for an
understanding of Omnr tbe man than all the
conjetures of bis contemporaries.
An-Nizami 8 amarkandi relates:
"I n 5 ( 1 1 12-1 1 13 A. D. ) the hajji imam
Khayyam and tbo bajji Muzaffar IsfazHri wero
al the court of the Emir Abu a' da i n the quar­
ter of slave-trader in Balhn. We met at a merry
meeting. There ( heard that the Proof of Truth
Omar said: 'My tomb shaU b in a spol where
1 26
the north wind will twice e�ch y ar scatter
fowers upOn i t' .
"I wondered at tho words he spake, but I
kJew that his wer no i dle words.
"Whon in 530 ( 1 1 35/36 A.D. ) 1 arrived in
ishapur, sveral years had already pa sd since
thal groat man covered hi vi ago with the cur­
tain of dust, the world was without him. He
was my teacher. On Friday 1 went to his grave
and took a man with me to show me it. He led
me lo lhe graveyard of Hira. 1 turned to the
left and at the foot of the garden wall I saw the
grave. Apricot and pear trees of the garden
tretched their branches over the wall and sprink­
lod his grave with so many of their nOwers that
the ground was completely covered. Then J re­
called the words tbat I had heard hi m speak in
Balha and I weeped, for nowhere in the whole
world, from One end to tho oth0r, have I sen
the equal of bi m. "
We may be quite Slro that au-Niz8mi was
absolutly sincere. H woul d be hard to believe
tbat thus recalling Omar Khayyam he desired
to elevate his reputation in the eyes of the min­
isters of J lam. But when a man is thlts remem­
bered by hi pupi ls, olle believes that be was a
good man. That apparently was the most im­
portant tbing. One must believe an-Nizami, for
of all tho stories of Khayyam. this one is the
story of a friend. Only i n tbis way can we judge
tbe attitude of thos who spiritually were clos
to him.
Very gen rally, Omar strikingly resmbles Ga­
l ileo in temperam nt, in views and in many
features of his l i fe. It is as if two clos relatives
1 27
lived at di lorent corners of the world sparated
by an int rval of 50 yenrs.
r shall oot try to justify this parallel. Anyone
with a litlle pains can do it fOt himslf. As for
me, they are as of one kin. With Kipling r can
repeat that East is East ç q •
Unlike the West, which is the West.
ÜhoQfcr ð
They wefe many. Very many. No les than
a tboosand.
One way or another, earlier or later, fortune
throw them into company witb the fth postul·
ate and they plunged into the luring labyrinth
of theorems.
Not 8 single one found a way out.
Some were confusd from the start, others
ad vanced some distance, but the end was in­
variably the same.
Some spent their entire l i ves, others retreated
early. Still other went on until nervous break­
down, mysticism, despair overtook them, and
yot others philosophically dispatched their sheets
of sribbled paper to the wasto basket. The end
was invariablo.
A number followed the mirage aod they were
happy in the eonviction that they had escapd.
But the end was still the same.
They had covered the ground of thes that came
before, without knowing that they were travers­
ing the same fals pathways. Hope would Da
up at times, and Ooe decisive thust would sem
U have hn enough. But again tbe end was
the same.
Dilettantes, profesionals, naive medioeri ties
and hrilliant mathematicians; Gre.s, Arabs,
Perians, Europoans; thos that stumbled after
1 2
the first few steps and thos that fought on pers­
istently and inventively-ror UY0¡ two thousand
years. They all met the same fute.
The fifth po t\llate was invincible. It was one
of thos problems that semed too hard for tho
human mind to resolve.
It would appear that mathematicians follow­
ed to the letter the moUo cut on the grave of
Captain Scott:
To StriW, to Sek,
To Fin an Not to Yiel
Like the snowy wasles of the north, the ffth
postulate devoured one after the other.
Most left no traces after them. But there were
Bore who perished nohly, leaving much to rem­
emher them by.
In tbe graveyard of victims of the "ffth" there
is one of exeeptional bonour, Henri Logndre.
Legendre was probably the greatest of tbe
matbematicians hypnotized by tbe ffth postul­
ate. He was engagod in the problem for many
long years, attacking the monster from one side
and from anotber. He found evidence and then
had to reject it, he proposd proef after proof,
pasing from confdence in suC to depair,
still hoping fer luck, but at tbe end he had to
admit tbat no exact solution had been found.
The acknowledgement is found i n the very title
of his summarizing work tbat he published at
the eud of his life (1 83 ) "Meditations on Va­
rious Methods of Proof of the Theory of Parallel
1 30
Li noS or the Tbeorem of the Sum of the Angle
of a Triangle".
A often happens io science, this cautious,
extensive, and ultimately pe intistic investi­
gation appared when a sol ution had already
been found and published in the Vestnik Ka­
zansk uni Wsiteta ( TM Heral 0/ ti Kazan
UnI Wsity)-tbe frst published work of Lo­
bache" kyo
Actually, ther should h no caus for sur­
pris. But the fact that exactly twenty years
later, the Russian Academician Bunyakovsky,
who at aoy rato should have beon acquainted
with tho works o[ Lobachevsky, published a
similar study . . . this is inded a sad com montary.
Note-I wish to stres this once again-note
the ridiculous oature of this event. But we will
come to that a bit later.
In his numerous attempts through Lbo year
to prove the GlLh potulate, Legendl displayed
both persistence and remarkable ingenui·
Firstly, he proved jn eleant fashion a numbr
of theorems of "abslute geometry". Secondly,
in proviog the ffth po tulate via reductio ad
absurd U he actually found a sries of theorms
in Lobachevskian geometry. He did not attempt
to prove tbe fftb directly, but rather an equi­
valent, or "lhe sum of tho angles of a triangle
is equal to
He frst tried to pro\'o the equivalence.
Even in our home-grown tbeorem, when the
postulate "a perpendicular and inclined line
met" is investigated for equivalence with the
"ffth", one could already feel how closly tied

1 31
in the ffth was with the theorem of the sum
of angles of a triangle.
We of course di d not give proof of the equi­
valence of this theorem and tbe flth postulato.
The complete proof of tbe equivalence of any
two assrtions contains two part.
1 . One frst proves "if asrtion + is asum­
ed, then asrtion B lollows from i L" .
2. Then One proves the convers: "If asser­
tion B is assumed, then from i t follows assr­
tion + ·.
.H our case we have to prove that if tho ffth
bolds, tben the sum of the angles of a triangle
is equal to ".
This first part of the proof is a familiar theor­
em found i n all shool textbooks of geometry.
Tbo scond balf of the problem was solved by
Legendre, and solved with a fawless techniquo.
Let us M bow ho operated. First be proved
(1) The sum 0/ tie angles 0/ a triangle cannot
b greater than ".
The proof is rigorous. And of COurs does not
involve tbe ffth postuJate. fie even gives two
1 32
verions of the proof. Both a correct. Tho
method is the tried and tested reductio ad abs­
urdum. It is asumed that thoro oxist a trianglo
the sum of angles of which is <"+() and it is
demonstrated that in this cas W invariably
arrive at a contradiction. The proofs 8 rather
I do not repeat them, for lovers of geometry
wiII then have the pleasure of obtaining the res­
ult themslves.
Then follow a few auxiliary theorems and he
proves a very i mportant proposition:
(2) l/ tie sum 0/ t angles In any one triangle
is eual to " tin /I Is the sme in any othe ti­
angl as well.
AJI proof is given without inveking the ffth
postulate. By means of absolute geometry.
Now everything has been read ied for the last
tbeorem of this sries-proof of equivalence:
(3) J / the sum 0/ tie angles 0/ a triangle Is
eual to ¯g tien Euclid's postulate hl. Gener­
ally speaking, if we accept the fst two assr­
tions, then the equivalence is i mmediately prov­
able with lhe aid of "our" theorem. I leave i t
to the reader to verify this by himsU. Incident­
ally, tbat is roughly the way Legondre himslf
proved it. There is only one thing left t obtain:
(4) Tie sum o/ the angls of a triangle cannot
b less thn ¯+ This, nothing moro and tho ffth
postulate is provedl
Legondre thon proceeds to prove it.
The proof he offers is magnifcent.
Elegant. Simple. Unexpected.
h contains everything that makes U admire
mathematic. With one sole exception.
1 33
I t is not correct I
Still and al l , i t desrves our attention.
The metbod is again tbat of reductio ad abs­
urdum. We bave a triangle ABC. This is tbe
most important thing and Our starting pOint.
Aod tbe sum of it� angles, by bypolhe is, is
equal to (,-a).
Produce tbe sides of angle A to infnity (sme­
thing wo shall need 8 bit later).
Now 80 auxil iary construction. On tbe side
BC construct one �ore triangle, an exact copy
of the frst one. I t is depicted i 0 tbe fgure­
this is triangle BCD. It is so built that BD=AC
and CD=AB. It is easy to se that tbis can al­
ways b done. S far tbe tbeory of parallel lines
dos not come into our reasoning in tbe least.
Now from pOint D draw a straight lino. We make
only one demand: that lh lin/ shuld illtest
blh arms of the algle A . I t would sem to b
quite obvious that we could fnd uot one but
many straight li nes Lilat would satisfy tbat con­
'bat is enough. The problem is solved. Tbe
ffth postulate is proved. 'he rest is simply a
1 34
matter of uncomplicated tehnique. Take a look
at the fgure. The Sum of t.he angles of tbe tri­
angles CDF and BED is invariably les than ".
Inded, Theorm 1 prohibits i t from exceding
¯g while Theorem 2 plus tbe existence of trian­
gle ABC precludes tbe possi bility of its bing
equal to ".
How much smaller is quite i mmaterial to U.
More, the only thing wo aclually ned is that
the sum of tbe angles in thes triangles should
not exced ¯o What remains 8 tri fes. Take
a lok at the larg trianglo AEF. Find tbe sum
of its angles. Tbis can bo done in a rather cir­
cui toIlS way.
We bave a tolal of fOllr small triangles. Tbe
sum of al l their angles is equal: 2("-C)+("-r)
+("-0) �41-2a-T-a.
Ow note that the same sum may be writlen
smowhat di ITerently. Out of the angles of tbe
small triangles, at points C, B and D thre
angle cao b arranged that equal " i n each
cas. Tben tbere are angle at the vertices A,
E and F. But tbe 8UO of these angles is preis­
ely the sum of tbe angles of the triangle AEF.
And so: tho sum of the angles of triangle
And so the sum of tbe angles of the triangle
AEF +3,=4r-2-r-o.
This is followod by a chain reaction. Repeat­
ing in l i teral fashion ou construction for tbe
triangle AEF, we bui l d R triangle with tbe sum
of its angles Ie M than (,-40). Tben we con­
struct a triangle with tho sum of its angles les
than (,-S). I n short, no matter how small V
is, we can build a triangle such that tbe sum
1 35
of its angle is negativo. But this is an obvious
absurdity. Our asumption has led U ad abs­
urdum. Which completes tho proof of tho theor­
em. Tbe sum of the angles of a triangle cannot
be less than ". The proof is indeed bautiful.
I n profesional terms, it could be witten down
in three lines. And ooly two operations in the
auxiliary constructions.
But to presume that through a point inside
an angle i t is always posible to draw a straight
line that mets both sides signi fes that in place
of the ffth postulate we have introduced it
eqnivalent. And Legendre realized that. But i t
i s such a pity to give up a beautiful solution.
So, quite humanly, and somewhat plaintively,
he explains that the angle chosen for LA is
that which is less than æ·¡ _¡ Then i t is easier
to believe his premis. I t certainly is easie.
to believe, but that dos not alter matters be­
caus it is not po sible to prove the asrtion
without invoking the ffth postulato. So in the
end Legendre had to give up his proof.
'here is nlore.
Let LA b arbitraril y small. Less than aoy
preasigned number. Less than, for Instance,
~¡ 0
10-1 0 scond of nrc. Evon in this cas i t would
be i mpossi blo to provo Legendre's assumption.
I f that were possible, the flth postulate would
be proved straightway. I t is of cours possible
to prove Legendre's bypothesis rigorously for
points i nside angles tbat are suffciently clos
to the vertex. But only for clos-lying points,
whereas now, in our construction, a contradic-
tion is obtainable ooly when we g farther and
farther away from the verto�.
If tho analysis is continued I In Legendre, nu­
merous curious eqnivalents 01 the ffth postul­
ate come to light.
Actually, it is thus posible to obtain a larg
number of tbeorems of oon-Euclidean geometry.
Hero is a problem for rereation. I n an analySiS
of Legendre's premise, demonslrato the follow­
ing: let L C be an angle at the vertex of a fam­
ily of isosoles triangle ACB, A'CB', A"CB"
and so forth.
A ssum/ng that in this faily Ihee will always
b a triangle with altitude greater thn any prens­
signe number, K will pral I ffth postulate.
A rather unexpected-weuldn't you say-and
quito nalural, at frst glance, equivalent of tho
ffth I It emerges rather simply in analysing
Legendre's proof. Running ahead 01 our story,
i t may be ooled that in Lobacbevsky's geolll­
etry the opposite theorem is correct.
1 37
Most of the other workers did not go so far as
Legendre. They bcame entangled at the very
But tbero were also more i nteresting works.
In tbe year 1 8, the Italian geometer Bel­
trami found a forgotten work of his compatriot,
the lesuit Girolamo Sac cheri , who as early .
1 73, anticipated and surpad al l tbe results
of Legendre.
Up to that Lime i t was blieved that namely
Legndre had demonstrated that:
(i) Witbout resorting to the 61th postulate
of Euclid, by mealls o[ tbe remaining axioms,
it is possible to provo that the sum of the angles
of a triangle cannot be g.'eater than two right
angles (greater than 1 8, >,).
(2) I f tbe ffth postulate holds, then the sum
of the angles in one triaugle at least is exactly
equal to 18" (to 1).
'hence the conclusion:
If the ffth postulate is not true, then tbo sum
of the angles in al l triangles is les than 18"
« 1) .
Legendre wanted to believe that he had ref­
uted this posihility a well, but-well , we have
already spoken about that.
It turned out that Saccheri had obtained al l
t hes results much earlier. What is more, his
investigation, his chain of theorems stretches
much Carther thall tbat oC Legendre. True, his
starting point was somewhat diferent. He b­
gun with a quadrilateral, not a triangle, just a
Omar Kllayyam had done a Cew centuries be­
Tho construction was ü follows:
1 38


� t
§ c, M
1. Take a line sgment A B.
2. Erct perpendiculars at tbe extreme points
A and B and lay off On them sgment AA'
nnd BB' of equal length.
3. Cnnect A ' and B' with a straight Une.
The resul t is a quadrilateral.
4. Take the midpoints of the bass C and C'
and join them with a straight line.
5. Take the "scond identical copy" of the
quadrilateral AA 'B8' the quadrilateral
A ,A' . B,B' , and superimpos it on the lrst s
that tho side 8,B' , l ies on the side AA ' .
I t i s then casy to prove that angle A ' i s equal
to angle B' , and the straight line CC' is pr­
pendicular to both bass. Tbe reader can fnish
the rigorous proof of trus theorem, nnd he can
also obtain tbis resul t in a sligbtly diferent
way-by proedi ng on tbe basis of symmetry.
1 39
For angle a and angle B' tbere are three pos-
(i) tbey are equal to 9'
¯ jj
(2) tbey & acute, that is les tban 90' ¡ ,¸],
(3) they 8 obtuse, that is great<r than 90'
First of all, Saccheri demonstrates that iI
aoy of thes posibilitie a realized in any
quadrilateral, then it will he accomplished in
all possible quadrilatorals of this type.
He then submit proof that:
1 . If tbo "hypothesis of the obtus anglo"
holds, then the sum of the angles of any triangle
is greater than T,
2. If the "hypothesis of the right angle" holds,
then the sum of the angles of the triangle is
equal to T+
3. If the "hypothesis of tbe acute angle" holds,
then the sum of the angles of the triangle is
les than ".
He then proceeds to prove that the "hypothes­
is of the right angle" is equivalent to Euclid's
Consquently, in order to prove the frth pos­
tulate it is necessary to refute the other two
Sac cheri handled the "hypotbesis of the ob­
tus angle" with speed and Cmplete rigour.
Thore remained tbe "hypotbosis of the acute
angle." It tben transpired that all this was only
an introduction, for the real story only nOw
1 40
On over a buncrd pages Saccheri invostigated
the consquence of this truly titanic "hypothos­
is of tbe acuto aoglo".
He ohtai ned one theorem alter the other, each
more terri ble than the preceding one, but he
clearly understod that so far tbere was no inner
contradiction. Then he thought he had it, the
proof, the divine spark that would reduce this
hypothesiS to ashes.
,ufhe hypotheis of the acute angle is absolut­
ely fals, for it contradicts tho nature of the
straight line. "
Here it was that the enemy of humankind
caught Girolamo SaccherL He was in error. Crud­
But no, do nOL hurry witb conclusions. Sac­
cheri was sti M unsur. He fol t something out
of order and wrote:
"I could calmly stop at this poiot, hut I do
not want to give up the attempt to prove that
this adamant hypothesis of the acute angle tbat
I have already uproted is io cootradiction with
itslf. "
The game was thus resumed.
Saccheri again sought proof, hut tbis time in
another dirction.
He wished to prove that if ono accopted the
"hypothesis of the acute angle", it would turn
out that tbe "lous of points eqnidistant from
a given straight line is a curved line".
And this is rigorously proved. Note that tbo
conclusion would appear to h so absurd as to
compel One to halt. But Saccberi rali!e that
this was not yet suIncient.
At this point let u take leave of Saccherl aDd
1 41
recall our honourable Ghiyalhuddin Abulfath
'Omar ibn I brahTm al-KhayyamT. I t is time Lo
deliver the goods we promisd and relate what
ho did in attempts to prove the fth postulat.
Omar began his proof of the ffth postulate with
a critique (as was usual with all others) of all
predeesors. He disproved the eforts of Hero,
Eutoxis, al-KIasan, ash-Shanni an-. airizi. Als
he refuted Abu Ali ibn-al-Khaisam who had
taken an extremely curious and novel pathway.
Ali ibn-al-Khaisam proeeded from tho hy­
pothesis that 8 l i ne doscrib d by tho upper end
of a prpendicular of given length is al K B stra­
ight line H tho lower extremity is moved along
the given straight line. (The fgure shows a stick
On a roller and a dotted straight line. That is
how I attempted to portray the postulate of
Abu Ali ibn-al-Khaisam. )
Abu Ali ibn-al-Khaism himsU tried to sub­
stantiate this asertion by reasoning about tho
properties of motion.
1 42

That i precisely what causd certain indig­
nation on the pari 01 Omar Khayyam. He at­
tacked Abu Ali [or introducing motion into
geometry. This is where Omsr was mistaken.
But Abu Ali was l ikewis in error, Actually,
in his proof bo utilized an equivalent of the Euc­
lidean postulate, to wit "the locus 01 points equi­
distant from a straight line is also a straight
line.» But he had hoped to prove it, not postul­
ate it.
Howevor KIayyam was also punished by Allah
for his arrogance. It was here that he fnally
fumbled the problem. UnWittingly, he too em­
ployed the very same equivalent of the flth
po tulate that Abu Ali llnd. We shall not go
into Omar's proof, for it doe not stand out
among the others. Wo ned only say that all
this was included only to permit ollrslves a
tiny lyrical interlude-sfter all, mathematicians
reason rather wel l , whother in Greee, in KIo­
rassan or in Italy; no matter that tbey sek
belp from Zeus, Allah or Jesus Christ-tboy
strive towards nawlcss logic and i f they err, it
is On a very high level. And many o( them fully
realized that tho assertion that "tho locus of
equidistant points fom a straight l i no is a
straight lino" had to be proved.
The 0110 ite vorsion may sound strango, but
there do not om to be any inner contradictions
in i L ; tho bypothesis will be reluled only when
its consquences are reduced to an absurdity.
So Saccheri renewed the slruggle.
He analysd the "curve of equal distances"
with extreme care, quite rigorously, until-that
moment came-the devil led him astray and
ho . . . found the proof. A straight line. And again
ho was mistaken. But Saccheri did not se the
trap and he was Sllre lhe proof was at last ac­
That would have semed to be all, tho work
was fnished, the fillh postulate was proved, and
the book could go to lhe pres.
I t did. That is, the book appeared 8 few months
after his death (1 733) under the snsational title
o( "Euclide. ab omni naevo vindicatus . . . " ("Euc_
lid ,indicatd o( all flaws, or nn experiment
establishing the very frst principles o( a uni­
vorsal geometry").
But the concience of the scientist was, appar­
enLly, still agitated. He wrote in conclusion:
"I cannot help but pOint to tho di ference here
between the above-given refulatiolls of both hy­
pothess. I n the case of the bypothesis of the
obtuse angle, tho matter is as clear as day . . .
while 1 have ben unable to disprove the hy­
pothesis of the acute anglo otber than by prov­
ing . . .
In a word, then, Sacchcri was not satisfed.
That is clearly felt.
The las� !rick the dovil played with him was
vicious indeed. His work remained practically
unlnown until t8, at which time it was of
puroly historical interest.
Actually, Girolamo Saccheri had brilliantly
proved sveral dozen theorems of non-Euclidean
geometry, but his starting pOSitions failed him,
for he was always certai n that he wouM soon
prove the filth postulate.
Without knowing of the work 01 Saccheri,
the German mathematician Lambrt (t72-t777)
went deeper. He can by rights be considered
a direct precuror of non-Euclidean geomolry.
Lambert began his analysis by employing a
somewhat di fferent quadrilateral. I refer you
to the drawing. In it lh O are three right an­
gles-A, A ' , and B: ncgarding angle B' thero
can be three hypothess. That it is aCllte, right,

1 45
Lamhert rather simply liquidated the "hypo­
thesis of the obtus angle." We have no time
to say how this is done.
But that is not all. Lambert realized this
and statod t.hat the "hypothesis of the obtus
angle" was justi fied on a sphere, if one ascribe
to circumferences oj great circles the role of
straight lines. This is an excedingly interest­
ing aod profouod ob ervation.
The point is that both Saccheri and Lambert
refuted the "hypothesis 01 the obtus angle"
by rigorously proving that if i t is accepted the
straight lines aa and BB' arc found to in­
tersct in two points.
But this runs counter to a familiar axiom:
one and only one straight line can be drawn
through two diferent points.
I ncidentally, it suIfces to prove that aa and
BB' intrsct in one pOint lor one to reject the
"hypothesis of the obtus angle".
The reader can amus himself by verifying
the latter assrtion.
Now On 8 sphere wbero tbe arcs of a great circlo
intersct at two poi ut the "bypothesis of the
obtus angle" holds true.
After this slight departure, Lambort returned
to tho plano. Ho demonstrated tbat tbe "bypo­
thesis of tbe rigbt angle" is oquivalent to Euc­
lid 's postulate. Once agai n i t is necessary to
verify and refute the "hypothesis of the acute
Lambert began the analysis in the hope of
arriving at absurdity and he extended his chain
of thoorems beyond the point rached by Sac­
1 46
He proved one of the most rmarkable and
strange (at frst glance) theorems of the geom­
etry of Lobachevsky.
The area 01 any triangle is proportional to
the difrenc betwen 180· and the sum 01 Its
S =A (,-1)
Here, A is a numbr that remains constant for
all triangles, and 1 is the sum 01 the angle
of a triangle.
From this it i mmediately follows that tho
area of allY triangle cannot exceed
Smo ¯ A *
Tho optimal cas for us is when the sum 01
the angles of a triangle is zero. In turn, it tben
follows i mmediately that one has only to as­
sume the exist nee of a triangle of arbitrarily
large ara and the postulate of Euclid is prov­
It is again clear at once that given the "hy­
pothesis of the acute angle", or, simply, given
Lobachevsky's goometry, there are no similar
triangles, bcaus thor cannot be two incon­
gruent triangles with equal angle .
So tho theorom that Lambrt proved may be
usd to propos two new formulations of the
fifth postulate.
1. There eists a triangle whos area is greater
than any pressigne numbe.
2. There exist at least two similar triangles,
that is, triangls such that the areas are difer­
ent and all t angles are correspondingly equal.
1 47
(True, as you will recall, this equivalent 01
the ffth postulate was employed much ear­
Iier. ;
Both stalements are extremely natural and
Thoro can be no doubt that the elemenlary
consquences of the theorom on areas were clear
to Lambert. However, he did not succumb to
the sly aod delusi ve charm of the obvious. Quite
the contra, he was enticed by the unmanago­
able "hypothosis of lhe acute angle".
"I am even inclined to think tbat tho third
hypothe is ("the hypothesis of the
g|e" q
öm:iça; holds truo on some kind of , ma­
ginary sphere, for tho,'o must b. s

mo reason,
as a resul t of which on the plane I t I8 so obdur­
ate to refutation, wheroas tho sond hypothesi s
i s so amenable."
That is absolutely correct. Indeed, consider­
ing Eucl i d' s geomotry to hold on th

one can i ndicate sucb surfaces that Will fully
accommodate tho p|ane geometry of Lobachev­
Thes go by the name of psudospheri

al sur­
facos and wero discovered by BeltramI . (We
shnll have occa ion to oxamilo such surfaces,
but meanwhilo let us so what else Lambrt
has to say.;
- ,
His princi lal task is Lo prove that Euchd s
geometry holds true On th
e plane.
be remark
concerning psudospheres IS a subs,d,ary con­
And Lambrt fluly real iÃed¨one simply must
admire the logic of t.his man-that he had not
pÎoved 8nythi ng.
1 48
"Tbe proofs of Eucl id's postulate can be car­
ried sO far that what appafeotly remains is but
a tri ne. However, a thorough analysis domon­
strates that the whole eseoce of the matter l ies
io this apparent trife. It ordinarily contains
either the proposition being proved or the pos­
tulate equivalent to it . "
That is his conclusion, and it is a fawles,
preis one.
Without a doubt he disntangled tbe problem
better than any of his prdecesor, be carried
the analysis farther and enumerated a number
of absurd (from the viewpo|nt of Euclidean in­
tuition) conclusions to which tho "hypothesis
of the aCllte angle" le, but he did not find a logic­
ally fawless proof. And "argument called forth
by lovo or ill-wil l " as he clasi fed them ar not
tbe arguments of a geometer.
What is-more, deep wi thi n hi m Lambert ne­
bulously snspected that perhaps the ffth pos­
tulalo was, in g-neral , unprovable. He discus-
1 49
sd the posible truth of the "hypothesis of the
acute angle".
In his enthusiasm for the unwinding chnin of
bis theoroms, he unwittingly broke away from
his academic style. "Ther is smething enchant­
ing here that even makes one wish that the third
hypothesiS b true.
"And still, despite such B advantage, I sho­
uld like this not to be, for i t would involve a
whole sries of other i nconveniences.
"Trigonometric tables would then become in­
fnitely extended, similarity and proportionality
of lguros would di appear al together, not a
single ugulo could thon be represented other than
in nbsoluto magnitude, and astronomy would
find matters very di llicult .
Tho words "despite such an advantage" refer
to a remarkable conclusion of oon-Euclidean
geometry-the existence of an absolute unit or
As we se, Lambert was in posssion of this
concept too. (We shill come back to the absolute
unit of length later on.) Unfortunately, the work
of Lambert was l i kewis overlooked by mathe­
maticians. To the very end of his days, Lobach­
evsky knew nothing of it.
lt is not clear, however, whether one should
regret this or not. I f Lobachevsky had known
about Lambert 's work, i t might have saved him
a couplo of years or work, but it also might have
quenched tho interest in the problem, for he
might have convincod himslf that all the initial
results had boon already achieved.
Be that as it may, ho did Dot know of this
1 50
There was very little distance to cover for
Lambert to become the author of non-Euclidean
geometry. Actually, only one thing had to be
And that was to state frmly that the "hypo­
thesis of the acute angle" stood equivalent to
the fth postulate.
Neither the ffth postulate nor Its countersta­
temeot (tho "hypothesis of the acute aogle" in
Lho terminology of Lambrt) 101l0w from the
other axioms. Tbey 8 quite independent. Which
ooe is accomplisbed in our univers is simply
a question of experiment.
One had only to formulate clearly these, one
would think, simple thoughts and believe Lhat
that is exactly the way things stand, and the
rest would have ben a simple matter of teh­
nique, so to speak.
A mathematician with the endowments of
Lambert could have rolatively simply proven
a few dozen mOre theorems and could have, with
just a little efort, systematized them and thu
constructd tbe entir system of non-Euclidean
Lt W stop hero for a moment.
The laws of sientifc crativity aro hazy in­
deed. Discoveries aro made in a variety of ways;
sme accidentaUy, others appear to crown the
efforts of year of exc.uclaUngly intens work.
Aoything is posible. But one law is unalter­
able. Any ultra-brilliant provision �hat is in­
compreheosible to contemporaries, appears after
the pasage of f.ty years (8 hundred, at
the mot) natural, simple and al most !i·
\ I "
I n order to apprais a piece of wOrk properly,
one has to attempt to shed onesff of the range
of knowledgo tbat bas since accumulatd and
mentally picturo tho epoh under study.
Let us try to conjure up a pictur of a geometer
of the end of the 18th century or the beginning
of the 19tb century i nvestigating the ffth po -
From an early age we are told that the geom­
etry of Euclid is tho most perfect creation of
Ihe human mind. We are not only taught that
but we ourslves. as the years pass, succumb
more and moro to the enchanting logic of the
proofs, sinking deepr and deeper into the cold
beauty of the draWings, the lem mas and the
theorems, into tho illusive kingdom of the in­
We live in a closd world, and the only laws
governing our thinking proesss a the laws
of this world. Geometry has long since changed
1 52
from what it was in ancient times-"the science
of the measwing of the land". The problem
of it reality, of its practical accompli hments
in our world was solved so long ago tbat today
not a person give any tbought to it any more.
Geometry has so long since risn from the
sinful earth to the mountain peaks of tbe ideally
abstract . . .
The very idea that geometry still can and
must b veri led by experiment, that geometry
is actually only ono of the di vision of physics
cao never enter our mi nds, for at the very b­
ginning of our days at school we leared tbat
geometry has ben in man·s faithful srvice for
svoml thousand yeBIS.
True, in reent L i mos the entire system of
axioms has ben undergoing a Certai n critical
1rue again, the notorious ffth postulate is a
shok to our aesthetic felings. But that is al l .
There can b 00 doubt wbatsover of the truth
of tbe Ith postulate. The only thing we 8
doubtfnl about is whether it is 8 postulate or
not. We simply suspect that a theorem has found
its way ioto the axioms.
To suspct the ffth postulate a. such, would
mean to put the whole of geometry in doubt.
A od if tbat were so, tben there would be just
as many grounds to suspect, say, the axiom that
"one and only one straight line can b drawo
tbrough two pOints". Or any olber axiom. Then
one would have to revise tbe notion of l i nes.
And the axioms of arithmetic. Then tho ideal
structure of ancient proportions will turn into
a shapeles conglomeration of fragmonts. That
1 53
is posible. But that is the work of a barbarian,
a vandal, not a mathematician.
Tbere is nothing more perfet in the world
tban geometry, and hero there is only one min­
ute blemish that embarrasss us-the Ith po t­
As for the other axioms, tbey ar so obvious
tbat no srious problem could ever aris. Sligbt
modi fcations and more polished formulations?
Yes, those are possible. But of no interest, when
One comes down to it. That is how we think,
that is how mathematicians have thought for
the past 25 centuries. To give up this faith is
to give up everyUling we bave.
We strive towards beauty and harmony in
our Euclidean geometry, and to,ards ao ultim­
at fnish to tbe edifco it is. Least of all do we
contemplate destruction.
And we aro convinced thut to think one could
chango a single axiom in Euclid's geometry
without arriving at a horrible absurdity is to
explode the whole system.
l ust OnO thought is neded, one phrase, but
that thought is such that will change our entire
world view.
ÜhoQfcr Ï
In 191 1 the bibliography on non-Euclidean
geometry totalled 4,20 works. Today, that num­
ber has risn to betwen 20 and 25 thousand.
Not less than a thousand of thes are studies
of an historico-biographical nature.
This is only an esti mate, of cours, but it is
basd on such definite data that the actual numb­
er of works should b substantially greater. We
shall take it to be one thousand. Probably at
least two hundred books and articles have ben
d(voted exclusively to Lobachevsky.
So why put out one more? That is exactly tho
question tbat bas plagued the author since he
began-even before he began his work-and it
still stood after the book was fnished. One conso­
lalion of cour is that such problems aris in any
feld. Just about in the year 196 B.C., a forgot­
ten aocient Egyptian pessimist and skeptic com­
plained bitterly: "I f I could only sy something
that has not already ben said many times bfore' "
That i s slight comfort, al l the more so since
tho amount of writing done in tbe past foU
thou aod years has nearly drowned humanity,
though if we ar to believe the cIa iCB, a truly
gr at book is wriLten once in a hundred years.
But a rcasonnbl( person of middle ag( (the autbor,
by the way) cannot think in such terms. S we
are left with the question I Why?
l S5
Indeed, what can J add to the many many
volumes devoted to the Ilistory of geometry i n
general and non-Eucli dean i n particular and to
the general theory of relativity in still more
First of al l , we can say that the book is su­
perfcial. I t is, and could not b otherwis.
Even aside (rom purely special questions, about
two years of hard every-day work would have
to be spent in spading up and lOOking through
the more i mportant hiograpWcal sources. But
that i n i t<e1f i s not yet suffcient. A conscien­
tious biographer has to make a tborough study
of all tbe works of the person in qu ti on and
investigate Jlainstakingly the r pon% of t he
scienti fic col leagu 5 that were acquainted with
Wm and/or his works. He should. . . there is
even mOre that he should do.
Incidentally, Lobachevsky has such a biogr­
apher. It is Academician V. F. Kagan. He wrote
a magni fcent and profound hiography of Lo­
bachovsky. A Ii ttle too profound, perhal . It
i s not very easy to understand.
As a dilettante i n mathemati0s (and for a va­
riety of otber r 8ns) I reaHzed that I could
not comp te in thos respets with Kagan. Nei­
ther could I compete with many other biograph­
ers and investigators of Lohachevsky and of
other scientists that have ben and wi l l bo ment­
ioned in this book.
That brings us straight back to why I wrote
tbis book. I t is imQottant to know, otherwis
tb s pag S would not have ben wri tten (maybe
tbaL would have been tbe best version).
1 56
y idea was lhaL nobody had yet \riLten ahouL
Lhes heros as human bei ng, not as outstand­
ing mathematicians, mon of genu, buL as norm­
al (or almost normal) people.
That is what I set out ÌO do-wi te a r al hook
ahout real men. About strong men, brilliant
men, celebrated men, great mel,-but more im­
portanL ahout the human-interest down-to-earth
doings of thes peoplC, as people.
o to me and yon, they are-here-ordinary
people and not genius . The very novel idea
tbaL J bave up my slÐv0 is that a person
should, abOve all, be a persn, a man, a human
being. And even such a triO as a bad tempr,
a disagreable disposi tion and a di fcul t nature
can di porse any kindly feeli ngs stemming from
his work.
Starting in tWs key, I lnd i t hard to decipher
my own feeling with respect to JOnos Bolyni.
His gi£ts were amazing. An inoxplicably hril­
Iiant talent. His style alone proves thaL he was
a mathem tician by tho grace of God. I t was
only later, in the 20th cenLuy thaL works On
mathematical logic bgan to b written ill his
style. NOL a si ngle exira word, ultimately com­
pact, fawless logic, exceptional clarity of reas­
oning. I n tbe cenlral pl'ohIem-that of tho cons­
istency of non-Euclidean geometry, he advanced
farther than Gauss and Lobacbevsky. Actually
be was very clos to the basic idea of proof.
l Ie did not find it, but he clearly realized the
direction i n which iL was to he sought.
nero he was ahead of al l the rest.
It is quite possible that, for hi mself, he form­
ulated the ideas of non-Euclldean geometry s-
1 57
mewhal earlier than did Lobachevsky. A bout
True, his work was published two years later
than the frst work of Lobachevsky (t81).
But, generally speaking, let lovers of prior­
ity debate that issue.
For that matter, still earlier a German lawyer
(at One time profesr of law at Kharkov Uni­
verity), Ferdinand Schweikart had mastred
the basic elementary conceptions o[ non-Euc­
lidean geometry. True, he never published any­
thing, but his nephew, Taurinus, whom he got
i nterested in this problem, put out a booklet.
Though an incomparably weaker mathemati­
cian than any in this story, Taurinus came very
clos to a solution. He developed non-Euclidean
geometry in rather sme detail, solved a large
number of subtle problems, but he did not bave
a clear notion of the matter. In the end he arrived
at tho same point tbat investigators of tbe filth
Jlostulate had-an attempt to prove i t and, COn­
squently, the truth of Euclidean geometry.
This is all the more surprising since at the
same time he would seem to havo an excellent
grasp of the consistency of hi non-Euclidean con-
structions, yet. . .
We have already mentioned the fact that ac­
tually only one single idea was neded for the
construction of non-Euclidean geometry. Any­
one who stri ved to prove the ffth po tulate by
reductio ad absurdum invariably camo to theo­
rems of non-Euclidean geometlY. Lobacbovsky
himslf, writing of Legendre, said:
"I fnd tbat Legendre ti me and again took the
pathway that I had so luckily chosen. "
1 58
But it was the basic idea that Legendre la­
cked. It was this sale idea that was absnt io
mathematics for over two thousand years.
I t was rU'st expresed, but was not ful l y reali­
ze, by Lambrt; it was stated nebulously by
Schweikart and Tanrinus; Gaus had ben incli­
ned in tbat direction for a long time without
actually mentioning it. I t las only Bolyai and
Lobachevsky wbo formulated it clearly.
A to rigour and profundity, the frt (and
only) work of Bolyai exceded ali otber .
Later O¡\, working intensly, Lobachevsky in­
vestigated non-Euclidean geometry much more
hroadly and in far greater detail, hnt i f we com­
pare the frst works, the more brilliant is tbat
of Bolyai.
The brilliance of his talent WIS evident iu all
He was not only a mathematician of genius,
he was an extremely gifted musician. At the age
of ten he had already written a numbr of com­
positions. Later he b

amo an accomplished vio­
This doe not exhaust the talents that Bolyai
pos d. Apparent ly, he was one of the bst
fencer of the country. This is no i mple matter
in any country, but particularly so in Hungary.
Finally, his social view make him closer to
us tbaD any of the otber persouages. Ue waS ho -
Lile to al l nationalism; In ardent supporter of
the Hungarian revolution of 1 848, he thought in­
tensly and profoundly on problems of social
being. His ideas were akin to those of utopian
communism. Towards the eDd of his lifo ho got
tbe idea of constructing a mathematical model
1 59
of an ideal state with tho aim 01 fnding a per
let blueprint lor univeral happines.
The "thery" was called "The teaching of uni­
versal good".
In mathematics he combined the cold reason­
ing of the fencer with the poetry and i nspira­
tion 01 the musician.
But there i one thing that hopelessly spoils
this charming i mage. Bolyai had one lUIldamen­
tal faw-his jealou , touchy, egotistical ambi­
tion coupled with a very UIpleasant tempera­
ment. That is what d termined the cour 01
his life. In the end it ruined him.
Trne, I am afraid to b too categorical i ll such
cass, and quite naturally all that has nothing
whatsoever to do wilh any aplllalsal of his work,
but it is important when discus ing his attitude
towards his lellow men. And Bolyni , 1 believe,
blongs to that category of people who apply es­
sntially different criteria to th mselves and to
other about them. That i why 1 do (lot finrl
him very pleasant. 1 would like nothing better
than to learn that I am wrong.
A to mathematics, his place in mathematical
history is clear. Together with Lobachevsky he
1 60
enjoys full rights 08 the creator of non-Euclidean
True, there was yet a tbird person.
And here it is that we enter upon that arduous
pathway of priority litigation, though, in my
opinion, such questions merit hardly a hun­
dredth of the attntion that tbey so often claim.
But the history of non-Euclidean geometry is
01 exceptional interest from a puroly human
The frst to como to the ideas of a non-Eucll:
dean geometry was the GOttengen genius, the
prince of mathematicians, the colosu, the tI­
tan, the frst mathematician of the world, no
other tban Crl Fliedrich Gaus (1 777-1855). Tho
se were only a few of the numerous titles that
ho boro during his liletime, and-tbere 8 no
two ways about i t-they are al l derved.
Gaus was unique among geniuss. A a ma­
thematician he was, without any doubt, far abo­
vo Bolyal and Lobachovsky. He was simply a
scientist 01 a diferent category.
So it was Gaus who wrote time and again
that the basic ideas of non-Euclidean geometry
were clear to him oven at the ond 01 the 18th
I am positivo that he wrote the pure truth.
But he did not publish h reuIts elther at that
time or at any time later. The result Gaus ar­
rived at can only b conietured from his letter
and diaries that were published aftor his
Why did he not publish his invetigations?
Tho reasn sems to b known, for he himsll
gi ves it a number of ti mes.
1 61
For example, an excerpt Irom a letter to the
celebrated German mathematician Be I. It was
written Blter Lobacbevsky had published his
work. True, Gall had not yet heard 01 it.
"Most likely 1 hall not be able very son to
propare my exten ive invesligations into this
problem so as to hav them published. I t may
even b that I hall relrain from doing so lor 1
fear the "Geschrci der Bootier" (tho cries of the
Boothian ) that ,,�ll ris up when I expres my
views .
So erl Fri drich Gau was afraid 01 tho "cri­
Ø 01 tho Boothiaos".
I n this day and age, cia icism has to b de­
ciphered. Whether justly 0 or not, I do not
know, but th inhabitant 01 Boothia were con­
sidered i n ancient Grece to b the most dull
and thick-skulled 01 all, and in tho age of Gaus
and Lobachevsky, tho age of cIa icism, quota­
tions from the clasics were much in vogue.
1 havo always ben rather disatisfed with
Gaus' explanalion
It very well may b that he stated one 01 the
reasns, perhaps 0Y0D the basic ono. But there
wer undoubtedl y otbers.
Gauss waSl't the kind to hush up a discovery
of such exceptional, unparalleled signi fcanee for
foar of loing his authority. All the moro SO tbat
bo was risking very littlo, lor his authority was
so bigh i n the world 01 matbomaticians that if
Lobachevsky's memoir bad appeared with his
signature, all the "Boeothians" woul? have ac­
clai med it and applaudod non-Euclidean geo
metry, bo"�ng once moro i n reverence to tbe g­
ni us of Gauss.
1 62
Incidentally, sometbing ot tbat nat uro actu­
ally took
J laco. Lobacbcvsky's works attract d
attontion only after Gau ' death, when Gaus'
attitude towards non-Euclidean geometry bca­
me known. The n w ideas th n in tantaneously
bcame under tood and recognized. I t tho writ­
ing had ben that of Gaus thero would havo ben
no doubts whatsover.
I t was quite obvious tbat Gall did noL in tbe
least underestimate hi po ilion in tho commu­
nity of mathematicians. I •Æ
UD that, l i ke tbe
prince of matbematiciaus tbat he W8S, he could
call bis vassal to rdcr if there Were any unrest, so
that tbe "Geschrei der Bootier" taken all by itslf
could hardly havo frightened Gaus that much.
Tho crux of the matter lies et where.
Whether Carl Friedl-jch Gaus was a good man
or bad has ben under d iSCll ion by hi s biogra­
phers lor a full century, but one thing is certain:
Gaus gave his whole Iile to mathematics.
To him, mathematics was aLI. It was just as
necesary for hi m to solvo problems as to breathe,
eaL and drink. I t was an in tinct. Ther were
no sucb things a unat tractive problems to
Gauss. He could spend months on tbo most rou­
tine, monotonous computational job. He could
compile table for weeks On end, and with tbe
greate t 01 plea ure he would do work that in
tbis enlightened age is handled by technicians,
l i ke listing weary colum or fgllres-Ior Gaus
they wero apparently ini mitably alluring.
There i not a di vision 01 mathematics tbat is
witbout certain fundamental contributions made
by Gau . A simple enumeration would cover %
veral pags of texL
1 63
He is amazingly like Isaac Newton in tempra­
ment, tY
IO o( clIO racIer MId way of life, and iL
seems no accidont that Newton was his favourite
hero. Like Nowton, Gau was xlromely am­
bitious. Yet this was not the ambilion that burnt
up Jnos Bolyai.
The frst requirement was that ho hi mslf must
appraiso his work, he must be positive, and he
must be able to say to himslf: "Gaus, that is
good. "
So i t was that numerous studies awaited publi­
cation for tbe sole reason that they were not fni­
shed, and there was much to do. Gaus elimina­
tod from his Ufe everything that could in any
way distract him from his work. Gaus prayed
i n the temple of a cruel god, he believed with
(anatlcal intensity and, like every fanatic, ho
was limited.
He was barsh, even cruel, in his attitude to
people, though from bis own standpOint he was
just. But this freeziog condeension is quite jus­
t i fably perc ived as indiference hordering on
rudenes. His was a complicated nature, a try­
iog person, such that can call forth one's admira­
tion, worship, but never love.
Abel, Jacobi, Bolyai a some of the brilliant
mathematicians cruelly hurt by Gaus.
But he did not try to ofend, and there is no
reasn why people write that he was a consumma­
te egotist and that he sllfered when sm One el­
s obtained outslandiag results. Tbat is not so.
I t is defnite slander. Gaus always paid full due
to the genJus of bis brothren. But it was not his
fault that their result so often simply coincided
with what he himslf had achieved but had not
1 64
yot pllblishod, and he had not yet published them
for tbero was much still to be done-tho work
was so ofton not fnished.
Gauss has ben reproached, and srely so for
his review of tho \ork of Abel. Why?
�e wrote: ''The works ef Abel are above my
praIs, fer they are above my own studies. »
How can i t bo that people think that Carl
Gaus simply lied? That he never took up simi­
lar problems and did not obtain similar results?
Or is he supposd to play the part of a noble
father? Is it not enough that teos of fllodameo­
tal therems which he had proved but, for a va­
riety o( reasons, had not published, were pllb­
Iisbed, by others so that the fame of disovery had
to be divided?
Gaus did not read the papers sent to him (or
roview aDd did DOt allow his friends to give him
the memoirs of other sientist to read.
He wished Î srve his god in such (ash ion
that no oDe (aDd above aU, he him If could
entertain the slightst suspicion of otber people's
phras io his teachings.
His love (or mathematics was insparable fom
jealollSY. This was the lovo of a man the love
of a 1usl i m. And he was cruelly huri f One o(
his many "conclihines" should s much as smile
at aoyone els. But he also knew that only the
desrved entered his harem, and this consoled
him somewhat. He was always ready first to r­
cognize the merits of a rival. But it did not givo
him jey.
Thus Gaus lived an even, quiet, monotonous
life, while in his brain thero continuously ro
up and vanished marvellouly magnJfcent, im-
1 65
measurably more beautiful worlds than that i n
which be existed.
I t is wortb repeal i ng tbat Gau desrvos wor­
ship, hut i t is very hard to love him. I n fact, if
it wero not for Archimedes and Einstein one
might have to accept the fact that a g.ni
us of
mathematics cannot be other than tbat.
A hundred or so years ago, I think it was
Emerson who said a very curious thing to the
efect that each may take what ho wants and
pay the full price.
The price of Gau s and Newton was extremely
high. Ei nstein and, as far as I can judge, Archi­
medes, too, reei vod everything that thos two
had, and got around paying for it.
Another mau of the same mould was Nikolai
Lobachevsky. Al though he was brilliantly gif­
ted, he was a scientist of a diferent clas than
this quartet, but to my mind ho was much more
ploasnt than Gaus.
I must repeat that I would helieve Gauss to b
a superior being, a man of tbe future or a descen­
dant of a Martian sage, if i t were not for Eins­
One of Gauss' loves was non-Euclidean geo­
metry. What was i t that disatisfed Gauss and
wby did he Dot publish his studies? Here W
again enler onto the slippery path of psycbo-de­
tectivo analysis, but it is too late to give Ul
!irs! 01 all, the lacts.
1. Gauss wrote in Ws private letters-and thoro
is no reaSOn to douht that what he wrote was
the truth-tbat tho basic ideas of non-Enclidean
geometry were clear to him as early as the end
of tbo 18th ceutury. At that time Lobachevsky
1 6
had not yet begun studying i n the gymnasium
(scoodary shool), and Bolyai hud not oven beon
2. The exceptional signi fcanco of the problem
itsU is obvious. I t is inconceivablo tbat Gaus
could have underestimated it.
3. I t is a fact-and we shall come back to this
again-tbat Gauss made several attempts to mea­
sure tbe sum of the angles of a triangle formed
by tbe vertices of three mountain peaks. Cons­
quently, he allowed for the posibility that the
geometry of nature might b non-Euclidean.
4. An investigation of Gaus' archives after
his death revealed only very meager sketches,
and nothing i n the way 01 a systematic conside­
ration of non-Euclidean geometry.
5. After reading the works of Lobachevsky
and Bolyai, Gauss-in both cass-stresd the
fact that thore was nothing essntially new that
he could fnd for hi msl f.
True, there is a slight complication here. The
point is that Lobacbevsky gave an incomparab­
ly broader view of tbe posible consquences of
non-Euclidean geometry tban Bolyai di d. In tbis
snse, their works cannot be compared.
For i nstance, Lobacbevsky carried his inves­
tigations t a stage that demanded the apparatu
of mathematical analy is. One of his works is
specially devoted to the application of "i magi­
nary geometry to the computation 01 defnite in­
In tbe fragments tbat Gauss left, there is not
even a bint that he had reacbed such problems.
Nevertheless, one is led to think that Gauss was
perfectly si ncere in his letters. I f he did not de-
1 67
velop non-Euclidean geometry s fully as Loba­
chevsky, there can b no doubt that he could
have very easily . . . if he had wanted to.
He of cours foresaw, in principle, all the
routes of non-Euclidean geometry into analysis. It
is very likely that he could have, without any
trouble, doveloped the scheme of non-Euclidean
geometry much more profoundly and fully be­
cause his genius and matbematical range were
This last statement is beyond the shadow of
a doubt.
6. Be that as it may, Gaus did not invest
his ideas in any kind of fnished form and did
not publish anything. It is only his JeLrs that
show he possssd a great deal.
Let us try to fgure out WHY.
We reject Gaus' ov explanation, which is
about as convincing as the statement of a ship's
1 6
commander to the efet that he failed to carry
out an imporant assignment for fear of the ad­
vers rtion 01 some fshing boat that might
be lingering on the horizon.
Well, that may be going too far, but uno SPOC­
M could have pursued Gaus. To accus bim of
mediority, as Lobacbevsky was accud, is out
of the question. No ono would have dared to.
But the suspicion that Gauss might simply have
gone mad is a posibility, lor One should not un­
derestimate the consrvatism of mathematicians
(sientist in general , for that matter).
The whole story of non-Euclidean geometry is
the best instance of this nature. Even so late as
the sventies of last century, when it was al­
ready clear and the noncontradictorines of non­
Euclidean gometry had ben proved, when i
ideas had sen brilliant development and were
support"d and strengthened by the authority of
all the greatest mathematicians of the world,
there were sWl profesional mathematicians,
some in the rank 01 academicians, that continued
to propos all manner 01 proofs of the ffth pos­
tlllata and even refud a sriou and objective
consideration of the geometry of Lobachevsky.
Jncidontally, one of Lho most consistent, im­
placable opponents of the now ideas was Buuya­
kovsky, who in 183 completely ignored the
works of Lobachevsky.
However, there is no ned to overemphasize
the consrvatism of mathematiciao . Gauss rea­
lized full well that the best scientists, tbe yOIlIl­
ger ones frst, would grasp and properly apprais
the new ideas. Too, he was not the kind to re­
treat in the lace of posible unplen antnes.
Firstly, the most prominent featufo of his b
ing was a striot, demanding pride, even arro­
gance. Seoondly, ho never betrayed mathematics,
for he worshipped it with the frigid passion 01 a
puritan. He would do anything for mathematics,
so no speotres would have stopped hi m.
The next suppo ilioo, to the efect that "Ga­
IISS did not coo ider the problem so very signi f­
cant and for tbis reason he simply di d not have
the ti me to investigate non-Euclidean geometry
further" is just as absurd.
But that would i mply that Gaus was just a
mediocre mathematician devoid 01 much 01 what
is called mathematical culture.
'VIlat is more, Gauss' numerous leUers that
bring in the topic of non-Euclidean geometry,
constantly treat i t as a problem of the frst rank,
central to all mathematics.
So why indeed did Gaus not turn his energies
and his amazing unparalleled talent to this pro­
blem? Why did he remain silent for so many
years allowing, in the end, Lobachevsky and Bo­
Jyai to outstrip him?
To get thi ngs illto better perspetive, let me
give a picture of the whole problem of nOn­
Euclidean geometry.
As you recal l , when speaking of axioms and
axiomatics, we agreed that only two demands
are impo cd on the axioms of any mathematical
theory-completeness and independenco. Thecom­
pletenes of a system of axioms implies that
any conceivable assrtion relative to the primary
notions can be Iroved with their aid.
Axioms permit i nvestigaUng everything. Let
U not g too far into abstract logic, a few con-
1 70
crete examples will better srvo our pur­
Suppos two chess players have studied the
game fom a textbook that by accident failed
to mention a situation in which one of the pla­
yers cannot make a move without infringing the
rules and his ki og is not under attack. This si­
tuation is conveyed by a Single ches term-sta­
lemate. Our players would not know what to
do. The game could not go on, and they would
simply have to introduce another rule, another
axiom. In ches this sitnation repre ents a draw,
in checkers the side that ini tiates the stalemate
But some new axiom has tu b chosn.
Their system of axioms proved to be incom­
plete, for it did not provide for ali posible situ­
ation .
One could t.ake football with its elements of
1 1 player, the ball, the referee, goal, feld, etc.
And agai n the axioms (rules of tbe game) have
to be fOmulated 8 as to be able to judge unam­
biguously about any possible situation of tbe
elementary enUties.
That accounts for the constant arguments and
fghts that break out in sruh games where the
partici pants do not I'ave a full code of rules­
hellce the dangr of neglecting axiomatics.
Though, as a rule, the teams frst come to certain
modifications of the terms about the game as
applied to the loal field; stling up a complete
system of ax ioma tics eVen concerning such a
simple game as footbal l is by nO means an
easy matter. Whence, agai n, al l the trage­
1 71
Or, to take 0 final cas, the criminal code
should in principle provide a complet system of
axioms governing all possible situations hazar­
dous to society.
The requirement of completeness would sem
to b clear enough now. Would seml If only
things wore as simple as I have pictured them
here, mathematicians would b in ecstasy.
If I may be allowed a few naive suggestions . . . .
A s)stem of axioms relative to 0 given group
of basic (primary) notions is complete if for any
general propos! tion A (any theorem) relerring to
the given primary motions, We can resolve the
following quetion on the basis of thes axioms:
"Is A true or fals? "
Now think over what has just boon sid. To
verify the completenes of the axioms we must
do no le than prove or refute evry cnci vbl
thre. If that is done, then any mathematical
disipline would be exhaustd to tho end. Ex­
hausted in the same way that the game tic-tac­
toe has ben.
Our demand is obviously unrealistic.
Even in such a comparativoly simple system
as chokers, we cannot precisly investigate the
basic therem and answer the question: what re­
sult should an ideal game gin?
Still les do we know of the situation in ches.
And less still can we provide for and analys
all the theorems of gometry, arithmetic and, in
general, any mathematical discipline.
'l'hat is the reason why the whole problem 01
the completeness of «¯ system of axioms must be
formulated quite dil!ol"ently.
We cannot her delve too deeply into tbe
1 72
depths of higber mathematical logic and so wo
sball not give in full the problem of the comple­
teness of a system of axioms. Perhaps a beautiful
and incomprehensible phras will suffce: a sys­
tem of axioms is complete if any two intrpre�a­
tions of it containiog real content are isomorphic.
Let us now examine this splendid statement.
The idea of isomorphism was introduced by
Hil bert, and is one of the most elegant Inds of
thi� century.
But we will not spe(k about ismorphism.
An int(nco in which a system of axioms wa
incomplete has already ben given, and most
likely the reador can thillk up a few more
The requirement of independence (or lIoncon­
tradictoriness)· would at Irst glanc sem to b
clearer. Let us phrase the independence require­
ment rigorously.
Let there b a group of axioms 1 (this letter,
called sigma, is ordinarily usd to designate a
Let there b sme kind of assrtion A.
And the opposite asertion is i . ••
• ¡u LB. 3 Wo Wt0L0 tbat U0 øuÎ0m8nt oÍ u0B-
co|¡8lM ðucgj oÍ aXÍoIm Í8 a 8gwÍa¡
caæ oÍ tbat oÍ íu c
yøudcnce. þmo toXtbks, bowc¥ct§
8I4U Uat a 8g8Iw oÍ aÎ0m8 must 88tÍ8Íg btb lb8 Ï
uÍmmcut oÍ c0u8í8louc§ aud tbal ol Îudcgendcucc. Ãbe
goÍut Î8 tb8t wbal Í8 u8oog gactÍcal¡g QakÍu@, Í8
cou8Í8teucg oÍ tha a1Îom8. lt Í8 eV8u couVeuÎcut 0t
¡Ímæ to cbo 8omo ol tbc a11om8 @ Íudcgoudcut
a1Îoæ . Åb08Íoto, lDo æ

uÍmm oÍ cou8Î8lcncg aud
Íud8g8udcuce 88 8uug aa.
•• 1be b8t ou tog oÍ lB0 ctt0 Î8 a malbcmatÍca¡
sÿmb¡ L0 deuote tbocoutratgaætÍou.
1 73
Then A is independent of the group of axioms
1 if neither A nor l contradicts tbe group of
axioms. In other words, both the assrtion A
and the contrary assttion } are compatible with
the group of axioms r.
Al l of this i s rather elementary logic, though
i t is probably a bit unusual , and s appears to
be complicated. That is why we shall explain
everything for the case o[ the flth postulate.
We wish to prove that tho fifth postulate is
independent of all Lbe other axiom o[ Euclid's
geometry (here, the lIth postulate is aD example
of Our asertion A). We expre an assrtion that
is contrary to lhe ffLb postulate (assrtion }).
For instance, we state that through a given
pOint al least two parallel straight lines can be
drawn to a given trnight line. (To simplify mat­
ters, we shall writo the postulate, which is con­
trary to the ffth, up ide down, like this
A 91uID1sod).
We now prove that A 01U
nl od does not con­
tradict the remaining axioms of geometry. This
means that no matter how far and wide we de­
velop the Ilossi ble conse" uence, we shall never
come to a logical contradiction.
So far so good. Now be careful. How is One
to be sure that Lbere will never b any contra­
Suppos we have proved twenty noncontradic­
tory theorem . This is nO gnarantee that a con­
tradiction may not appear in Lbe twenty-frst.
A[ter proving One hundred, we can expect a fai­
l ure in the OIl0 hundred and frst. The same gos
for the thousandth. It is quite clear thal i n this
way wo will never obtain a rigorous proof of
1 74
consistency. But we mlt, [or otherwis the pro­
blem will remain unsolved. It would seem to be
a hopeless task. There do not appear to be any
concei vable pathways, other than what we have
desribed. Absolntely hopeless.
Let us stop here again and cOllcentrate for a
[n the laLlor balf of the ninetenth century,
rougbly 2 year after tbe deaths of Lobachev­
sky and Gauss, a rigorous proof was gi ven of the
noncontradictorincs o[ !lon-Euclidean geometry.
The proof was unexpected, improbable. We will
relate it a bi t later.
The point is that neiLber Lobach vsky nor
Gauss even sllSpected possibili ties o[ this nature.
Remember one thing: the very posi bility of fun­
damentally new ideas tbat would belp to prove
the noncontradictoriness of non-Euclidean go
metry was in tho days just as inconceivable as
tbo po ibility of determining the chemical com­
position of a star. I ust as inconceivable as over­
throwing tho mechanics of Newton. I ust as nn­
thinkable as a thermonuclear reaction.
There was, at tbat timo, still nO clear concep­
tion of axiomatic •. Ther was complet chaos i n
all defnitions and axiom o[ geomotry, the di­
sarray that was tho legacy of Euclid.
Mathematicians had not yet formulated for
themslves practically anything of what has just
been written.
It was only the brilliant Bolyai who was gro­
ping in the right direction. f am afraid that even
Gauss was not ful
y recepti ve to his ideas. There
was only a semi-intuitive conception about
tbe notions of independence and consistency.
1 7S
But then- Well , then it i. clear that it is
al together i mposi ble to prove logicnlly tho "in­
dependence of tbe ffth postulate". 0 matter
how long the cou is tent chain of theorems obtai­
ned by meaus of A 01\
" 1sod, there will always
be the posibility that the contradiction is con­
cealed stiU deeper. There wil l be a feel ing that
we simply have not yet reached it.
' n despair, of cours, One could resrt to ma­
uipulations that are totally alien to mathema­
tics-experiment. For if it were found-sme
place in the univers-that oon-Euclidean geo­
metry is accomplished, theo the problem of non­
contradictorines would ipso facto b resolved.
You recall that Gauss allempted to verify
what tbe 8¡lI0 of the angles of a triaogle is equal
to. Quite independently of him, Lobacbevsky as­
ked tbat similar measurements be carried out.
Lohacbevs1 y chos a better object. At his re­
quest, astronomers at Kazan obsrvatory measu­
red the angles of a triangle whos vertices were
three stars. i n hoth cass, the sum of the angles
proved equal to pi (r.) to within experimental
This result did not refut anything becaus even
if Euclidean geometry were not accomplished in
our world, any deviatioo from pi might be very
As to proof, thero was even les of that; noth­
ing in fact.
S what havo we? Reasning in accord with
rigorous logic, 000 thing remained, and tbat was
to conclude that tho question was open. And will
probably remain so fer ever. 'fhat, in erect, is
what Gaus once said. (In a private letter, na-
1 76

turally.) Here is what he wrote: '" incline 1ll0r
nnd more to tho conviction that the necesi ty of
our geometry cannot b proved rigorously. At
any rate, by the human mind for tbo human
mind. "
This is open to tho following interpretation.
I do not se any cooceivable posibility of pro­
viog tbat a postulate cootrary to the ffth postu­
late (
n1sod) does not contradict the other
axioms of geometry. And although intuition of
cours hints to Gauss that tho correct anSwer is
"oon-Enclidean geometry is just as consistent as
Euclideao", there is no prof.
The prohlem remains Ulved.
And if that is the way things stand, it is en­
tirely i n the spirit 01 Gauss not to publish his
resul Is. He could not risk his reputation and
publish a paper of wbich he was not one hund­
red per cent positive. Ho did not possss the idea
that would permit cutting the knot and resl­
ving the matter. So what next? At this point,
1 77
factors enler whicb a,'e not di rect l y conn�clcd
with pUl'e science.
One a fter the ot her, bis correspondenls (. chwe­
ikart, 'Paurinl l s, Bol y"i) snt hi m let tN which
contained a more 0I les b"oud hint lhut it was
imposible to prove the Wtb postulate and that
the contrary postulate di d not run counter to
the other axioms of Euclid.
As far as Schweiiart and Taurinus were con­
cerod, the idea was Qebulous ariel staled in un­
wieldy faShion. Gauss saw the matte, in a clearer
li ght .
Picture Gauss for a moment. I t is not s easy
to give a direct and honest answer. I t is not so
easy to presnt one's ideas to a Schweikart and
give up completely tbe hope, in one's beart of
hear�s, to reslve that accursd problem, o�pl.in
the situation, and to advi K! develop your ar­
guments as fully as po ible, and with tho grea­
test posi ble care, for tbe more di versi fed the
corol laries and theorems you get, on Lbe basis
of tbe po5tulate conllary to the ffth, the more
&cure will your inner rai th b tha t it is noncon­
tradictory. Examine non-Euclidean trigonome­
try, try to compute the length of curves in
noQ-Euclidean geometry. Get, for example,
an expression for the length of a ci rcumferen·
. Gaus knew What tbe length of a circumference
would b in non-l"clid an g0metry. He gave
the formula in one o( hjs letters. But our "ideal
Gauss" would o[ cours not write about such a
Ihlug to his correspondent . .
He would keep sil ot about his own results,
:d would outlioe an eXlnsive programme of re-
\ 18
"arch, giving encoUÖgment and suQport lo bis
yoUng colleague. He would writ :
"f myslf wa, attracted to this Idea, hut, alas,
nO matter how far YOII deYel op your theorem�,
the question-ul timately-of the noncontradiclU¬
dness of non-Euclidean geomelry is a question
of fai th. It is impo sible to obtain a rigrous
proof. Ooe can ollly rely On one's i ntui t ion.
"The prDbabil ity of e,,o, wi l l always remain.
You are young. Your name is not eanolIi fed, you
cnn alord to write silly tbi ngs. I insistntly
advis you to devote all your energies to tbis
problem. Awaiting further lotters, . . . ..
Aren 'Í wo oxpecting too mucb of Gau .?
A lot, but not too much.
Science knows of such peoplo and sucb
Tho pbras "you are young enough to Wito
siUy things" was actuaUy wriLten once-by a
remarkable man, teacher aud physicist, Ehren­
fest, to two young men, Uhlonbck and Gouds­
mi t, wben they bad wantd to withhold publi­
cation of a paper tboy bad sut to a journal.
Later, it turned out to b their chief contribu­
tion to %ience. Incidentally, they got the most
fundamental reasning from Einstein, wbo gave
i t unS0l fsbly, caring not a whit about bis own
priority in the matter.
But Gauss was not tho ideal of %ienti fe dis­
interestedne . 1'rue-this wo must say-he ne­
ver permi ttod himslf any improper actions
either. He was always scrupulously honest.
Well, nearly always s.
Beaus i n the cas of non-Euclidean geometry
he never explained bimslf ful ly and neVor gaVe
1 79
the trllO roa on 101 nol wallti Il§ to pu"l is" his
Tn all his ÌeUWl s he childishly io iSled on hi.
lenr of tho "Oeschroi der Bootier". Thes Boe­
otllians, like l i lesa,ers, turn up in almost eve­
] leLÌer dealing with non-Euclidean geometry.
T admi t even lhat Gauss himsl f fnally be­
g," to bl ievo his pet excus. But does tbat
change anything? Nothing at .11. One of tbe
most suhlle, convinci n and wi desprad type.� 01
lie is that which you yourl f have core to b
lieve i n.
Falth is llCeded; that precisly is what COIl­
vinces otbers.
Non-Euclidean geometry is likewis a product
of fai lb.
Bolyai and Lobacbovsky bl ieved. Strictly
speaking, i n tho most hlndamontal problem, tbo
crucial question, tboy reasned as pots reason,
and not as worshippers of rigorous logic.
"This is correct lor it is beauti ful" would
sem to b their chi f argument. f t is worth going
into. I said "reason d as poets reasn". It would
have ben btter and more correct to havo said
"like mathematicians", Or more precisly still,
"like peple endowed with creative tbought".
The nature of the creative process is unitary
i n its basic and decisive features. MaUlOmati­
cians, physiCisLs, poets, artists, engi ners, mu­
sicians difer among themselves to a far smaller
degree than is generally thought.
Incidentally, tbe anciont Grecks reasoned more
exactly i n this matter, for they hardly at al l
distinguished the nature of the different types
of creativily. They may bave overstepped the li-
1 80
mils when they clai med that a musician needed
professional training in philosphy and mat hQ
malics. But this exaggeration grw up on a ba­
sis that wns sunder than that 01 Lhe opposite
True, it mu t b notd that a sharp demarka­
tion btwen tho exact sciences and the al·ts can­
not unconditionally b COn idered the sland of
our century. I t is simply a vcry common view,
One beld mostly by thos who have no contacts
with any ara of crativity.
Quite naturally, to explain to such people tbe
nattlfe of the creat'; vo proces is an extremely
di fficul t task, the diffculty progresively i ncra­
Sing with the offcial standing of the persn
wi th whom you are arguing. It is just as hard
as to explai n to a lover of ballet that a magni fi­
cent footballer is no less worthy of admi ration
tban a bri l l iant prima balerill3. And if one adds
that, esntially, tho artistry 01 our centre for­
ward and of the pri ra is of a si milat nature,
uni tary in its very essnce, in its objecliY s and
rsolls, tho intel lectual ballet lover will most
l ikely walk out of the conversation. I ncidental­
ly, conversing with a football fan, you wOIIJd
get tbe answer: "Football is not ballet", plus
some unprintable varations On your mental sta­
All III mor reasn for w;ping out this dismal,
sttled narrow-mindodness-i t is very wido­
Lt ¡W return to geom Iry. One of the cbieI
cri teria of any lype of art is, as we well know,
bauty. The sarch [or bauty permeated the
whole lifo story of the flth postulate, from Eu-
1 81
cUd to .obachevsky. The ugliness of Euclid's
postulate predetermined Ihe futile two-thousand­
year attempts to provo it.
And the elegance of the constructions of non­
Euclidean geometry WOn the heart of Lambert,
almost coovi uced Gauss and compelled Bolyai
and Lobachevsky to declare: this is s beautiful
that it has as much right to l i ve as the geomotry
of Euclid.
By rights, Bolyai occupies lrst place when it
comes to faith and eflthu iasm. His work ent i t­
led modestly "Appendix containing the science
of space that is abslutely true and independent
of the truth Or falsity of tho XI th axiom of Eu­
clid, which, a priori, can nover be proved . . . .. is
most unconditional.
A curious train of events followod this foria­
ted tille.
The work was pul>1i hod as an appendix to a
toxtbook of geometl'y wrilten by his father, Far­
kas Solyai. As was natural in thos days, the
book was ,witten in classical Latin, tho l aoguage
of scholars and philosophers. Of the long tillo,
only the word "Appendix" remains when tho
work is quoted. That is now the tille we kllow
it by.
I t is curious and symbolical that at the cradle
of non-Euclidean geometry there clashed three
human and scholarly temperaments, and three
scientifc modes of thought.
OppOSite stands were taken by Gau and Bo­
Carl Friedrich Gau s. Gaus the cautious rea­
li t. He was undoubtedly tho mo L logical of the
three. The most academic. To him tho problem
1 82
had noL bcn slved to tho end, and ho could
Qot allow himslf the luxury of following bis
intuition, to have faith without proof; that he
could not do. He had a clear conception of tbe
matter and, given the desire, he would probably
surpa s Bolyai and Lobnchevsky. Ho knew it but
he did not believe in it enough. And he lost out.
[t matters little what historians will write la­
ter. I t matters hardly at all that in all his let­
ters he insistently repeated "I have known this
[or forty years already". Alone, by himslf, Ga­
uss admitted that ho had been left bhind. What
is more, ho was honest enough and soverely
strict i n bi s attitudo towards himslf to admit
this unconditionally. He had lost the game.
Janos B�lyni . Bolyai was a romanticist, struck
hy bauty and elegance, carried away by his
own talont, onthusiastic byond measuro. ''This
was done by Hnos Bolyai". His (aitb was r -
warded. I t was the prime mover of his life. J U
his £r t work he grasped the problem more pro­
foundly than anyone bitherto. I ncidentally, he
never made any more headway. Po ibl y becau­
s for him everything was slved. Subconscious­
ly, perhaps, hut slved.
He achieved his goal , he was a geuius. That
much he had proved.
Nikolai lvanovich Lobachevsky. [n our story
he is clos to tbe ideal scbolar. Combine in equal
measure the scienli le enthusiasm of Bolyai and
tbe skoptical cautiousno of Gauss, and te this
add a por i tence bord ring on stubbornnes, an
almost instinctive inner cOltviclion o! the irre­
proachahlo trulh of his ideas . . . . Also make the
demand that this scientific intogrity IIOt waver
1 83
during twenty years of a complete lack 01 U-
derstauding by his colleagues, a lack of com­
prehension that at ti mes took the form of open
mockery, and you will have an approximate pic­
ture of Lobachovsky creating Lhe foundations of
non-Euclidean geometry.
He blieved nnd he veri6ed his holiefs.
I t is quite fair that tho non-Euclidean geo­
metry of which we are speaking is always called
Lohachevsky '. gemetry.
We shall return to Gnuss and Lobachevsky,
but first let us take up Bolyai.
T have already said that as a persn Bolyai
wa not very pleasnt . That remains my feeling.
But, in brackots, we might add a trivial fact:
he was a brilliantly gi fted mathematician. This
he magnifc ntly demonstrated and there is no
mayb about i t . But apparntly Bolyni the man
was a diffcult cas.
He was of the species of "geniuss". Every
school has two or three "Newtons"-talented
youngsters, sharp-witted, far advanced, towering
Over al l the other childreu, and with sparkling
lightning-fast minds. Al l too ofteu, recognition
of this intellectual superiority speils them and
brings them t a !dnd of iettcheallism. They
are temperamental, intolerant, egotistical, trust
only themslves, and regard all others as the
gray mas, the rabble whos job i t is t hoist
their bero ento a pedestal.
Without a doubt, t h�e arc ti mes wben they
are kind, respensive aod charming, hut subcon­
sciously (aod, later, even consciously) lboir phi­
lo ophy is that of "Ioadrrs" and "masss". Thi
kind of development 01 gifl d children is sd-
1 84
doning, but it i s natural perhaps bause the
education o[ an inner cultul is a much more
lengthy, complicated and subtle process than
oven the Dowering of a talent. And the conDict
b twon a talent and the cultuIe is the moro
acute and lacking i n compromis, the SOOner the
suporiority of tbe child bcomes evident. I f T
may permi� my ,If Sme pbHosphiziug, one is
inclined to think that most ef the tribulations
of mankind are assciated with complacency,
slf-atisfaction, which, alas, is a practically ina­
lienable feature i n most people. And i f a man is
gifted and als ambi tious, life bcomes arduous
either te himslf or to those about 1Jim, or to
Bolyai '. destiny was of a third kind. His ta­
lent appeard early and in a di versi fed fashion.
He was an extreme represntative of the kind of
temperament that is usually descri bd a8 "artis­
tic", "poetical". Elegant, i mpulsive, sciutilla­
The supreme prof of bis mathematical talent
and intuition is that by the age of 21 to 2 he
had already mastered the fundamentals of non­
Euclidean geometry and, what is mo t i mportant,
was apparntly (ully convinced of the truth of
bis ideas. When Farcas, his father and a pro­
minent Hungari an mathematician, and , inciden­
tal l y, a shool-day friend of Gauss, leared that his
eighteeu-year-ld Sn WBS captivatd by the tho­
ory of parallel l i nes, be wrete i n desperation te
his sn, pathetically imploring him to give up
that mad venture.
The let lor is wl'iLt('n in such high-flowing sty­
le as to irritate Lhe moder reader and caus him
1 85
t doubt the sincerity of the writer. Of particular
i nterest, in my opinion, is that it gives an excel­
lent picture of the relatioos that obtaioed in tbo
Bolyai family.
"I i mplore you oot to attempt to surmount
tho thoory of parallel lines; you wi ll waste all
your time On i t aod slill not prove the propo i ­
tione Do not try to overcomo tbo theory of pa­
rallel lines either by tho metbod you speak of or
by aoy otber method. I bave studied all avenues
to tbeir ends and have not eocount rod 3 single
idoa that I have not developed. I bavo pasd
through the wholo hopeless darkoes of tbat night
aod have buried i o it every bacon, every pleas­
ure of life. For God's sake, I i mplore you, leave
tbis maÎer alone, lear i t no less tban sen unl
pasions§ for it is capable of depriving you of
all your time, your health, peace of mind, the
eotire happiness of your Ii fo. Tbis bopeles dark­
nes . . . will nover be clarified here 00 earth and
the miserable humao raco will never wield any­
thing perfect eveo i n geometry. This is a great
aod eternal wound in my sul . . . . ..
Incidentally, Farkas¯i n his youtb-did stu­
dy tbe tbeory of parallels and even snt Gauss
somo proofs of the fftb postulate. Thero cao be
00 doubt that tbe latber was sinceroly upst about
18nos. Strange to say, starting from i ncorrect
premiss bo correctly foresaw the fnal resul t:
the theory of parallels was inded destined to b
the curs of Janos Bolyni's I ile, though for quite
diferent foaSnS than his father suppo%d.
When thero is a d vilisb obsssion, s there
must b an evil spi ri t. Gnu S lVas the evil geni­
us for Janos Bolyui from oarly cbildhood al-
1 86
most to the end of his days, though-suhjecti­
vely-Causs lVas bardl y to blame i n any respeot.
H all tarted when lbe father bgan to harbour
the ambi tious dream of sndi ng his talented Sn
to Giillingn to completo his mathomatical edu­
calion under the guidance of Gauss. Farkas wrote
to his kind old friend asking hi m to rceive
his sn. Ho wa naturally prepared to pay all
the expenss.
The answer was silence.
Caus may have had a variety of reasus, sme
very weighty, to refuse, and he can onl y b
reproacbed for a lack of tact with regard to
Farkas. Admittedly it is " cry diffcult to jud­
g. Farkas' lelter was somewbat impertinent.
Some 01 the questions were reasonable enough, but
000 can easily understand Gau too. "Is your
wife an exception to the whole f malo sx? . . .
Does her mood change like 8 weather¯va no?"
The point was that Hnos would have to live
there in her hous, and s Farkas want t
know how 18nos would get along. Quite natural­
ly Gaus must have winced at such swet inge¯
I am not interested here eitber ill
Gaus or in Farkas Bolyai . As rar as ooe can
gather, Gaus would not have taken an unknown
boy even j[ the letter had been writtn witb the
diplomatic eleganco of a Taleyrand. That is bis
right. AU this go ip is of interest only in thai
i t once again demOllstratos bow IiUle and how
poorly adults undor tand children. Both grown­
up in this story aro to bl3mo.
I magi no a high- trllng fourteen-year-ld by
in wbom his eIusi ve father had undoubtedl y io-
1 87
st i l led great hopes. Tho boy did not know much
about the Iolationship between his [athO and
Gauss. He had nO idea of what could ofend
Gaus and why. The only thing he knew-and
you can b suro the father poke of iL sveral
l i mes 8 day-was that as students, the father
and the great Gauss had ben the best of Inends
and that they had 0vPn slemnly sworn to eter­
nal Iriendship.
So, naturally, the father is convinced tbat Carl
will answer the very next day. Fourteen-year­
olds believe their falber. E p cially i f your
rather is also your toacher and is a talented,
versatile interesting person. One must add t hat
Farkas was 0 profoundly gifted mathematician.
In his textbook of geometry, he clearly formula­
ted for the first time the demand that axioms
b independent. He doubtlessly desrves full CIe­
di t for J anos' deep understanding of problems
of axiomatc. at the age of twenty.
The by could not hel p respecting his fathor.
He was confdent and he waited.
He-a by fr'm a backw'ods provi nce of Eu­
rope-alrandy saw himslf a student of t he great
Gauss, and perhaps, later, hi aSciate i n sien­
ce. F'r months on end bo wailed expectantly
for tb postman cbecking the days, adding 'n
when too lOany went by, waiting for Gaus'
answer, tbinking up frsh reasns for doluys,
again waiting and hopi ng; still hoping when hi s
fatber took hi m t.o Vienna to a military engi­
neering academy, Cor i t had bcome clear that
Gaus wo¼l d 1101 roply. Gauss simply did not
wnot to. Yet t here l i ngered lbe hope that, por­
haps, an unknown mesnger woud cOlOe ri-
1 88
di ng at their heels with the long oveldtte loller+
.�O leU('r e\cr came.
I must say that though I hav absolutely nO
facts to go by and I do not know how al l this
affetd 18nos, I can easi ly % h'W a month
or two of waiting like that could totally derange
the nerv'u system of ¾ hi gh¯stru fourteen­
year-ld boy. Particularly if the b'Y was girtd,
excitable, deply snsitive.
But let U not b overstrict in judging Gaus.
He might easil y ha ve been offended. ADd to
worry about tbe lIerves of some unknown young­
ster, as we so frequently d' today . . . . Let us n't
ask for to' much.
The years as a student and especially, the
years of mi litary srvice i n outlying garrisns of
Hungary were years of d ismnl al'nenes for J a­
nOS Bolyai. True, he had a couple of friends at
the academy, brought together by their love for
mathematics. Nothing morc. Afterwards, there
was no One.
I do not think that provincial offcers offered
bi m appropriate company. Apparently, he not
only failed to conceal his haugMy disdain for
the wh'le crowd, he went to lengths to stres
it. Tbe result was constant quarr lling and du­
els. He saved hi mslf by his skill at wordplay.
He most likely was right i n his attitude to his
"colleagues". Yet during all thos years he could
have found a lew docent fellows, even lhough
smewhat lacking in education and intelligen¯
ce. Of that there can be 110 doubt. He ohviously
presumed that thoy would b of no U to him.
He waS mistaken. But h was uot mistaken when
i t came to the theory o[ parallels. Before his re-
1 89
signatioll (again t he r�. "I t oC .me kind of scan­
dal) he had wrillen up his inv0st igations i n the
form of the celebrated Appendi x .
The work is writt�n in extremely compact
form and makes di l£icuJt reading.
That i n general was the poor luck of non­

Pometry¡ Lobacbevskys papors are
1! llCO baZlly, and I f One judges from the stand­
pOint of a scientific edi tery they aro si mpl y no
good. Numerous essntial ly si mple matters are
t angled uP
beyond measure. For such thi ngs
ma�hemaltclaD have tbe aphorism. "the repu­
tallon of a mathomatÍcian is determined by the
number of unwiel dy proofs thnt he has concoc­
td ".
Tho poi nt eems to be tbat path-makors as a
rule, do not fnd the simplest and most elegant
pathway. They slash through the trees culting
a road becauso tbey bave to advance. Thos who
come later bring elegance, beauty and polish.
�here are exceptions, but they are truly excep­
Be al l Ihat as it may, Farkas Bolyai did not
understand the work of his On at al l . Since i t
1 90
was tbought to be publ i hcd as an appendix t M
the geomelry t(xtiJook which farka had wri t­
t�n, tho conniÍt reachpd its ap�x.
I t i s h�r�, "flrr rfl ��n §I'Bl. , 1 hoL Farkas agai n
wroto to GauS asking hi m 10 act as judge.
(This was in 1 832). "My son lespects your opi­
nion lIlore than that of tl,o whole of Europe",
he wrote.
Tlus ti me Gaus replied. True, B month l ater,
But he read l8nos' paper careful ly and favourab­
ly. What ever els may b said of hi my he va­
lued talent. And i n others too. Al most the next
day he wrote to a friend of his: A few days ago
I recei ved from Hungary a small (laper on non­
Euclidean geomelry; in it I fouRd all my own
resulLs carried out with marked elegance. "
Well? Such wor0 tho facls. Almosl tbe actual
facts. We havo no right to blame hi m, al most
no right.
Then tbo father and son recei ved his reply.
The u ual i ntroductory remarks and generalities,
and then:
" ow a bil about the work of your sn. I f
[ begin by saying that I ought not 10 prais
his work, you will of COurs be amazed for a
momenl, but I cannot do olherwise, for to pra­
is it would mean to prais myslf. The entire
contents of tbe composition, tho palh that your
sn has t¾ken, and tho results that he bas ob­
tain d al most corpleLly coincide with my own
attainments, which in part are al r0ady 35 year
old. I am indeed extremely amated. My inLcn­
tion, regarding my own work, which incidental¨
ly has but slightly ben (lut to paper up to the
prsnt time, has been not t publish anything
1 91
during my l i fetime. Mo t people do not take the
proper view of lbe Ilroblems di cu cd bere. r
have found only a few peopl that evinc spe­
cial inlere L in what I had to tell them On this
subject. I n order to be i n a tate to master lhis,
One ha to feel with great vitality that whicb
is, properly speaking, lacking here. 'ow this is
not clear at al l to most people. However, my
intention has t--·· to writ all this down, in
good limo, and i n sucb form tbat tbes ideas
should not perish with mo. Thus, I am exceo­
dingly surpri d that this job has been taken
from me, and I am plea cd i n th extreme that
it is procisly the sn of my oId friend who has
anticipated me in this remarkable fasbion."
To sy thot Jno Bolyai was distrs is
to sy nothing. He was nraged, obliterated,
crushed. He was convinced tbat Gaus' whole
leller was one Ii trom the first word to the
last. A lie, the sole purpos of which was to
arrogate Janos' bril l iant idea.
This scond blow from Gaus was heavier
than the frst. Ho, Hnos Bolyai, had racbed
what be bad sught. He had bcome a mathe­
matician. Ho had grasped what hundred of
the gratst geometers had failod to understand
ovor the past two thoUd and more year .
He alone in the whole univers knows the ans­
wer (but he did Ilot know that smewher on
the boundary line between Europo and A ia a
certain Lobacbev ky had already published a
papr). And this arrogant old man wantd, so
bo thought, to snatch 1l[ Ihe work of h wholo
tif , hi glory, and to bury his gnius.
Yet ono should not reproach Gaus overslri·
1 92
ctly. He wrote the truth. Al most the truth.
He dismbled only when he tried to explain
why he had refrained from writing up his W
sulls and publishing them. Too, there can b
no doubt that Gaus sinned both before mathe
matics and bfor Bolyai, and als bfore him­
slf in that he did not expres any opinion
in printing concerning the work of 1 anos, for
in this ho would not ri k his good name, he
risked nothing. This, ei ther consciously or sub­
consciously, was the logic of ambition. Though
Hnos' rage was unjutifed in many ways, he
keenly prceived that Gaus was manouvring
in sme way, that there was an unpleasnt,
fals note in all his reasonillg.
We have some notes that convey lanos' ro­
action to this evont, and we can agre nncondl­
tionally to the wbole toxt. The words about
scienco and the ethics of the scientist ar good
and proper. Here, bis accustions levelled aga­
inst Gauss are fair in full measure.
"I ll my opinion and, i ' m convinced, ill tbe
opinion of any unprejudicod persn, all tho ar­
gument given hy Gaus to oxplain wby during
his IHetime he dos not want to publish any o(
his own works on the subject at hand are com­
pletely impotent and trivial, for in sience, as
in everyday IHe, t he problom is precisly that
of il luminating sufficiently nee sry and gene­
rally usfui things, particularly thos which are
not quit clear yet, and of awakening i n every
posible way the still defcient or even slumbe­
ring awarenes o( the truth . . . . To the general
detriment and misfortune of al l , an understan­
ding of mathematics is unfortunatel y the lot of
1ÅÎW 7
1 93
only a few; and On thos grounds and lor thos
reasons, Gau. could have kept to bim If a
still more sub Lantial portion o( bis plendid
studies . . . . An extrmely unpleasnt i mprsion
is created by the fact that Gau , instead 01
expresing, relative to tho "Appendix" and the
whole ,ul'cntamen", a direct and honest ack­
nowlegment of their bigh value . . . 8 as to think
of means to open the way wide (or a good under­
taking-in place o( al l tbis, Gauss strives to
avoid tho direct pathway and hastens to pour
(orth pious wishes and regret concerning the in­
suffcient education o( people. That, of cours,
is not what life i • . . .
But alone by hi mslf, Bolyai did not reason
8 broadly. He su1ered, aspiring to fame and
recognition. Recognition is what he wanted. He
wanted the whole world to 8 that ho, 1 anos
Bolyai , was a "geometer of genius 01 the frst
rank" (that was how Gauss described him in
one of his leltrs, but nOl in a letter to Bolyai
and not on tbe pages of a journal).
Wbat Gauss' letter resulted in was a nervous
breakdown for 1 anos Bolyai. He even suspected
his own father of btrayal.
I can't sy that I am particularly delighted
with the reaction o( Janos. Ooe caD of cours
understand him, but ono fnds i t hard to agre
with and justify hi m. I f he bad paid heed
to his own words about science, his conduct
and futuro lifo would have been dilerent. Bo
I yai waS then no longer a boy, he was thirty
yoars old and he could have taken all thcs
things l iko a man. He could have. But, too,
leL US noL judge Bolyai harshly. l ie was not
1 94
yet Cf¡ hed. He COnLinued working on the same
problem that, a few thousand kilometers away
from him, Lobache, ky was engaged in. He
was constructng the whole of geometry on a
new foundation.
Bu� the intM
i ty 0
1 bis work had dropped.
Ho stIli took a l I vely Illtere t in a great variety
of prohl ms. Togethor wi tb his father he drea­

d o( constructiog a universal language; he
tned his hand ill other divisions of mathomatics'
he tried other things too, bllt none o( the�
was really normal srious work-only a mor­
bid desire Lo do something out of the ordinary,
to prove to the world that he was indeed a ge_
Meanwhilo his relations with his father had
bcome eXLremely bad. Obviously, Bolyai the
Sn was not capable 01 bing a co·author. Tru •
lyai the latber was lar from a paragon of
WIsdom aod good wiIl. Mutual scientifc jea­
lousy and an asrtmoot of muddled alairs cul­
mi nated most unusually. On one fno day, tho
rovorent sn challenged his father to a duel.
Later still, ]8nos beame a nerve-patieot in the
full clinical sns of the word.
Tho deisivo blow was deal t by that (once
again) accursd Gaus.
III 1 81 , on Gaus' sugg StiOll, Farkas Bolyai
ordered a booklot by Lobachevsky published in
German and olltiUod GTlri In vIl/gallons :a
tu Tleorv 01 Paallels. Recalling 1 aoos in con­
nection with Lobachevsky's work, Gauss was
posibly making amends (or his long disrogard
and, undoubtedly, was guid d by tbe very bost
of intntions.
1 95
But Janos' morbid mind viewed all this 3S
a MachiaveUan intrigu On the part of Gaus •
He was convinced that this mythical Ru. ian
psudonym simply concealed OH0 01 Gauss' myr­
midons, i f not Gaus himslf.
1 anos Bolyai subj cled to analysis every com­
ma of this tiny picc 01 writing; he did it thor­
oughly, punctiliously; with an i l l will he sub­
jected it to a thorough cavilling criticism.
He was sientist eoough to appreciate the
work, but he was glad of every laul t and regar­
ded the author as his persnal eoemy.
He was then thirty-niae. l a his prime.
He was destined to live another twenty years.
But he was already broken and crushed. IIis
il l nes was a form of nervous disas. He was
haunted by the theory of parallels. Thos twenty
years were awful years both for him and thos
clos to him. The rupture with his father was
complete. Their only correspondence las on scien­
tifc topics. They corresponded, though they li­
ved in tho same town. And it was mathematics
that fnally st them at loggerheads. For the
last time, the retired captain, J anos Bolyai,
came to life in 1 8 during the Hungarian M
volution with which Janos sympathisd comple­
tely. But he was ill. That was one thing. The
other was that he did not wish to be a rank-and­
fle participant-only a leader. By the way,
one can believe that he could ha" e been a splen­
did mil itary leador. But he was unknown. And
so he remained at home. The defeat of the re­
volution was yet another blow. His i IIne W
tortured him, and he nO longer worked.
During the remaining years of his l ile be did
practically nothing, only busying himself with
utopian ideas. What a remarkable thing that
the brilliance of his talent continued to shine
even in this production of his afected brain.
One of the last of Bolyai '5 passions was the
construction of an ideal mathematical theory of
the stato and his hope, i n this way, of leading
humanity to universal good. Of course, he was
unable to do anything of real value here, but
the idea itslf was very clos to modern concep­
tions of cy Orneticians.
The end was clos.
He was moros, suspecting, and though he
loved humanity at large, he could hardly got
along with his closst friends. He left his wilo;
his children coasd to interest him. Once moro,
for the last time, he quarrelled with his old
and dying father. But now, at 5 he himslf
was an old man.
He would have ben happier if he had died
He was a brilliant mathematician, no ques­
tion of i t. But what he valued above all els
was not science, but hi msll in science. And
cruel though i\ may sound, I am afraid thaI
he himslf was the maker of his fat.
LhoQlm ð
By tho start of this century, Nikolai Loba­
chevsky had already ben canonized. He was
the pride o�R usia

science. He was the grea­
test talent I R tbe l ustory of mathematics des­
pisd by his compatriots who did not I.nder­
�tand hi m
He was
the victim of a bigoted,
bcaurocrallc academIc clique. He sufered the
whole of his life and died i n poverty, an unre­
cognized genius.
Sucb, i n brief, were the broad outli nes of the
cheap melodrama that so often comes to l i fe
on the pages of popular journals and books.
The most remarkable thing about all this is
that i t i s essentially t rue, t hough exaggerated.
One thing is unquostionably true, and that
is that Lobachevsky is indeed the pride of Rus­
sian cience. The reader would do well to read
V. F. Kagan's marvellously detailed and pro­
found biography of Lobachevsky. I highl y recom­
mend it. For our purpos here, a fow highlights
of his l i fe will suffco.
I n the year 185 and tho month of February,
alter a protracted i l lnes, mathematician Ni ko­
l ai Ivanovich Lobachevsky died. Shortly before,
due to i l l heal th, he had left his post of trusteo
of the Kazan chool Di trict. For many years
he had been Rector of tho I mperial niver ity,
honoured professor of pure mathemalics, Corros-
1 98
ponding Member of tbe Gotlingen Royal So­
ciety, honorary membr of tbe I mperial univer­
sities of {osow and Kazan, and also of many
scientifc sieties, ocupying tbe high post 01
Councillor of State; he was bearer of the orders
of St. Stanislav, Third and First Degrees, St. An­
ne, Second Degreo, St. Anne, First Degree ador­
ned with the Emperor's Crown, and the Order
01 Prince Vladimir, Fourth Degree and Third
Degree, repeatedl y noted for outstandingly zea­
lous srvice and especial eforts by tbe Supreme
Grace of I he Monarch.
Such was hereditary nobleman ikolai Iva­
novich Lobachevsky.
The funeral wa8 slemn and beautiful, for ho
wa8 loved and revered i n the city. The speakor
said: "His noble l i fe was a living chronicle 01
the university, of its hopes and strivings, its
growth and development.»
Tho Kan Gu�ria Veomosti, tbe local
newspaper, gave a brief obituary in moderalely
slemn style as befts such an event.
One apeaks well of the departed or one dos
nOt speak at all. And after a hort enumeration
of bis merits: "l I is work and attainmonts i n
the feld of cienco, which 8O now in the chro­
nicles of tho scientifc world, will without doubt
fnd a worthy judgo. We, for our part, are hap­
py to be able to adorn in tbes fow lines the
m mory 01 the deceased ill laking leave of our
eloquent profe!or.»
One speaks wel l or one does not speak at al l .
The w\'ile. of the obituary most l i kely was
inccre i n congratulating himslf for tho clever
� 99
rhetorical fgure that saved him from the grea­
test danger of all. Everyone i n Kazan knew that
professional people and authoritative critics re­
garded the works of Lobachevsky as the product
of sick mind. For many years, tbe reply to an
enthusiastic student query "Is it not true that
our rector is the frst mathematician of Ru
sia?" was profesrial silence. An awkward, sul­
lenly embarrasd silence in the cas of well
wishers, and a srcastic silence in that of his
The late profesor was, undouhtedly, a most
worthy citizen of the city of Kazan. He was
an excellent administrator. He was paterally
strict with the student, friendly with his col­
leagues, a skilled diplomat with the mighty of
the world, a highly estemed teacher, an oxtre­
mely erudite mathematician, zealous in his run­
ning of t.he university, its founder and its pride.
Yet there was one blemish. His ridiculous
works, the monstrous belief, over so many years,
in thos mad i deas of his. One could only tact,.
fully remain silent.
For those that knew, the obituary /lotice left
open a tiny deply concealed ambiguity" . . . will
without doubt fnd a worthy judge".
Was this not a hint on the part of the writer?
ot a well-wishi.g hint either, for surely eve­
ryone knew the true worth of the deceasd's
works, which had ben appraisd by such out­
standing personages as academicians.
Unfortunately, we must admit that this un­
pleasnt rock still projoctd above the surface.
Neither was Bolich, who pronounced te brief
funeral oration, able to circumvent it. A pro-
fesser of philology. he very properly confned
himslf to a single smooth phras, ". . . It is
not for U here to speak of his independent
sientifc studies ia mathematics that brought
him renOwn and glory . . . . ..
All the rest was said cordially, simply and
well , and the sincere, well-wishing educated spea­
ker concluded in elevated moving words with
even a tuch of potical fervour.
But again all this was equivocal, even unplea­
santly ambiguous, for his renown in the world
of science was of a joking kind. God save me
from such glory.
Nikolai Ivanovich had indeed stumped his
friends, for they had to say smething (after
al l , he was a mathematician, not ju t Sme of­
fcial), but what?
Bulich was simply unl ucky with his speech.
In some marvellously strange way, by some
superior sos, tho archpriest perceived a crime
in the funeral oration, a crime against censr­
ship, against morality-atheism to put i t simp·
How he perceived it is not clear. He was
probably indignant that nO word was sid of
divine afairs, lIot a word about God was men­
And so of cours he was duly reported to the
authorities in very high spheres. Bulich wrotc
to friends i mploring them for help and asuring
them that he had not said anything unlawful
"except the Il'uth rogarding the deceasd, ex­
cept respet for thinking and science that are
s natural tday, and except unavoidable rheto­
rical lgurs".
Luckily, Ihere were benefactors in St. Peters­
burg and Ihe afair was hu hed up.
That was i n the winter of 1856, when, as
BuHch put it, Kazan accompanied their pride
thoir great citizen "10 the de rted road to eter:
Only a year and sme latcr did one of Loba­
ch vsky's pupils, A. F. Popov, write an obi­
tuary and solve tru. diffcult problem in the
b t fashion. And again a single sntence to
cover a l i f lime of work: "The loctures Loba­
chevsky del i veMd for a slect audience in which
ho devoloped rus R foundations 0/ gemetry
mu t in al l truth b termed profound.
AcllIully noHli ng sald, yet no advorse innuen­
does eith r.
One could nOw ceas talking of tho tragedy
of Lobachevsky's life. The atmosphere of his
funeral and the obituarios tbat followed it ex­
plain moro tban dos allY collection of exclama­
tion marks and tragic phrass.
Let liS forgt for a moment that he was a
hrilliant mathematician. Let us apprais the
initial (and terminal) conditions wilh the un­
demanding yardstick of tbo prulistine.
ikolai Lobachev ky was born on ovember
20, 1 792, in a ratber i rnpoverished family of tbe
rgi strar, I . M. Lobuchovsky. Tbis post, in tbe
table of ranks of the RlI ian Empire, wns equi­
valent to that of scond Ii utenant. Wrote One
of rus conlemporaric , with tbe modish romantic
melancholy of tho Ii mes, "Povorty and want
hovered over the cradlo of Lobachovsky. "
There were tbree bey i n tho famil y, and
Ihen, in 1 797, the br adwi nner Ivan Maksimo-
vich died, th still young twonty-fonr-year-old
bardly litorate motber wa on the brink of a
By whaL means Bnd ways she was able to
snd all the to Lho KataÎ Gymnasi um, and
aL government expens to boot, whaL all this
cost her really, what toars and whaL devious
dealings, we shall never know.
All tha t rmains is an application wri Lten for
her either by a kind sul or for a gla of spirit
by some heavy-drinking advocate, of wbom there
wer many i n saintly old Russia. The form
was p rfect, dictated mo t l i koly by an expe­
rienced hand. It contained worthy want, due
respect, the moderated grief of an unlortunate
widol, and iL oncl ud d wi th the mosL loyal
feli ngs for th sovereign, and Ule signaLnre of
Praskovya Lobachevskaya written in two I iDesg
thus exhibiting extra propriety and extreme res­
p ct. But who was this Pra kovya, hol and by
what means did she mako end meet? 0 ono
o i t was that on Novembr 1 7 , 1802, the
three boys, Alexander aged 1 1 , Nikol ai 9 and
Aleksi 7-aU Lobachevskys-were matriculated
at the gymnasium at governmenL expens.
Cers were thus opened Lo the Lobacbev ky
Thero wer not many ill the old Ru ian Em­
piro tbat acrueved as much as ikolai Lobachov­
sky did. Of cours there were brilliant carors
made i n and around the royal family and occa­
sional skyrocketing from peasant to Privy C­
uncil lor despite gnc810gy and, liko under the
Emperor Paul, frolll valet to counL-buL for a
man of science, tbo administrative career of
Lobacbovsky was extremely outstanding, though
not unprecedentd. And i f we add that he pro­
ceded by unsullied pathways, did not dissm­
r sek, hard�y cringed or fattered for pro­
motIOn, he was inded a rarely lucky minion
of fortune.
True, he was no angel. He was a forward­
thinking persn of tho times, nothing more.
There were thi ngs he was ashamed of, and it

as nO easy

ask to srve and still to be morally
lmmac�late in thos days. He lived a compli­
cated l i fo and eared in lull measU what is
al lotted to humankind in this world.
For the most part, ao untroubled carefree

outh, yot there wore grievous loses too. The
JOY of succes and tho delight of creativo work
yet dangerous unpleasantnes in his student
ear •. A radiant, cerulean-to begin with-sieu­
tdle career,
et vici
us, humiliating, taunting
attacks of IllS enemlcs. Varied administrative
and social activities, and the intrigues of his
colleagues. Exalted prais for his administrative
work, and pi n-pricks to his self-esteem. Reco­
gnition by Gaus himslf and the pleasant vani ty

wards, yet the bittrnes of ofences. But
again the love emanating from a happy family life.
At the end, destiny delivered old age, trouh­
les at work, the death of his beloved son, the
nervous breakdown of his wife, illnes, blind­
nes-yet, to the very last days of his life an
incomparable joy derived from his studies
Chronologically, he spent 182 to 1 8 at the

asium with obligatory studies including
R Ulan gram mar and li torature, history and
8ithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry,
mechanics, physics, chemistry, hydraulics, sur­
veying, civil architecture,
logic, practical philosphy,
and the foreign languages-German, French,
Grek, the inevitablo Latin and Tatar as
wel l.
Then came military studies, which included
tactics, artillery sience and fortification.
That was not all. Law, followed by such
required items of society lHe as fencing, draw­
ing, dancing and music.
Such was the cours purued in three years
(not eight or ten I ). ot overyone could cope
with it. The Lobachevskys did. Apparently, they
knew that for them there was nO other way up.
What is more, it was easier for them, for they
were three brothers together.
Nikolai was tho mischievous one. He was
good at his studies. An ordinary capabJe child,
the only diference [rom other, softr, easier­
going boys of the nobill ty bing his harshly
practical approach to aU things. I t might have
ben the adult realization of tho necessity to
get ahead.
Among their teachers were culturd, talent<d
people, sme even outstanding. The mathematics
teacher, KarLashevsky, was excellent, brilliant.
Tbon came January of 187.
AHer some unpleasntness with Latin, Loba­
chevsky was accepted into the university. He
was 14 years of age.
The first heavy blow came in J uly of 187
whon his beloved elder brother Alexander WBS
The result was a nervous breakdown for i­
kolai, hospitalization, and a frm ro olve to
become a doctor. For over two years he studied
medicine. True, he was the lrst in mathematics
at the uni versity, but his frm deci ion was
that mathematics was not his vocation. The
boy wavered btweon "duty" and voation (re­
membr he was only fi[teen), deeply depresd
by the death of his brother. He was obstinate
hard to get along with, though he was quit�
normal, very decent, and rigorously adhered to
the student code of honour. He dolved in all
things that students do: fancy balls, the theatre
lght, and just pranks (for instance, the Um�
he rode up to the university building On the
back of a cow; that is the episde that so many
of his biograph�rs claim indicates a spontaneous
protest against reaction).
Actually, the situation did cbange for tho
wors at the uni versity during thes years, and
Lobachevsky's personal life was poisned by a
capable but raUIOI' unpleasant, unprinCipled and
ambitious Kondyrov.
But Lobachevsky-it must b said-was not
above ordinary boyi h stupidity either, the same
lond so of ton met wilh i n hundreds of thou­
sands of ordinary ilTi table, arrogant, quick-tem­
pered boys & snre of themslve , positive that
they can got out of any fx.
ondyrev nearly ruined him. Lucky that the
foreign profes ors Bartels, Li tlrow and Bronner
who had beon invited to teach at Ihe university,
were able to rescue the boy.
I say 'rescue' bcau K the isue was one of
snding him off to the army as a sldier. I n the
bst traditions of people of that sort, Kondyrev
accusd Lobachevsky of atheism and nlllwst sub­
version of the estahli hment. It is not clear
whether Nikolai was actually an atheist, but
we do know that he never liked hypocrisy and
the clergy.
10st likely, at that timo and later Lobachevsky
was "moderately progre sive", with largely hu­
manitarian views.
To extricate himslf he had to repent. ]'lake
a spech, expres loyal sntiment, ad
it his
mistakes and condemn t. hem, and promIs that
in future he would not . . . .
So much for pranks. But i t was dnring thes
years, that Lobachevsky finally made up bis
mind concering his futuro: he would become a
mathematician. He succeeded greatly i n this
field. He was the fst mathematician of Kazan
University, and Bartols was always glad to
poiut out his attainmenl and talents.
If one recalls that in thos years tbe whole
of Rusia had sveral thousnd students, it isn't
too much to sy that Lobachevsl.y was already
known throughout the country. I t is almost like
Slying today, that Lobachcvsky is the mo

promising young scientist i n the Sibrian DiVI­
sion of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR
( Ka.an Universily was then an i mportant cenLre
o! learing o[ the Hussian Empire).
I n August of the year 1 8' 1, at tbe age of
eighten Lobachevsky received his

as�r' s de­
greo. His frst succs and the beglDDlDg of a
numbr of very good yoars of inten:i ve work.
Socially, too, he was a succes, accepted in the
"best society" of Kazan. A young man of the
worl d, quite a man about town, always well­
The war with Napoleon hardl y touched him.
His youoger brother, Aloksi, tried to ruo away
to the army, but was returned. True, Nikolai
was worried sick uotil they found him. Loba­
chevsky, i t must be said, always had very strong
family fel ings.
His moral code was already st-it waS that
of decency, decency in the moaning of the no­
tions of that time.
Bartels, a very culturod teacher but a mediocr
mathematician made him study the clasics of
sience. Lobachevsky's only srious drawback,
i t would sem, was his excessive excitability
and conceit. He was characteriled once as "ex­
cesi vely slf·centred ". On the other hand, Lo­
bachevsky clearly and sberly saw tbat he was
far behind the bigest mathematicians of his day.
I n March, 1814, he was made junior scientifc
asistant (about equivalent to asciate profes­
sr of today) i n the feld of physico-mathemati­
cal sciences.
l Je bgan delivering his own lectures.
I n July 1816 he was installed as extraordi llat'y
professor. This at the age of 24. His career had
begun. Meanwhile the university was a behive
of i ntrigue with chaDges ocurring constantly.
For a short time, tho reactionaries were on top.
Tben the "progresivists" got the upper hand.
Trustes changed. I n a word, thon, life at tbe
university was on "an even keel".
Lobachevsky had enemies in the reactionary
party and he had i nfuential patrons.
This was the period when Lobacbevsky bgan
to get interested i n the problem of parallel
l i nes. Tho bginning was standard. He attemp­
ted to lnd a proof. I n 1815 at lectures ho even
describd to his students the proofs he had
found. But ohviously he son fouod his mistako.
A rather elementary One too.
A big change came in 1819. This was the
period of reaction throughout the country. I t
afectd Kazan as well. The new truste Magnit­
sky was a clever but unprinCipled, cruel , cold
eli mbr-gegettr.
. Ho waS one of thos people wbo fight their
way U the top elbowing, climbing, pushing
others out of tbe way and trampling on thos
who have fallen. His one and only aim was to
roach the lOp. If reforms were needed, ho would
carry thor through; i f extreme obscurantism
was the word, he would be the extremist. But
he was a rather clever man with a fair for ad­
ministration. He made his frst appearance as
an inspector summing up the situation in thes
words: clos the Kazan University becaus of
the fre-thinking and general moral degradation.
Alexander T , however, decided nol to destroy
but to tP tify lhe si lu"tion, fnd he pUL Magnit­
sky in charge.
Thos wero d,wk days for the I Ini versily, h"t
Magnitsky was kindly disposed towards Loba­
cbevsky at first. He was possibly thinking of
making him one of I,is prolege . During the
year 1819 to 1821 Lobacbevsky was On the
upswing, elected dean, bead of tho l i brary and
membr of the constructiou commi tteo. Posts
and ti tles came one after tho other.
In February of 1822 he was elected professor
in ordinary. Tbes were years when Lobachov­
sky acted against his con cience. True, with a
person li ko Magnitsky there did not seem to
be any otb r way out.
Bear in mind, too, that Lobachevsky was 0
i ndependent· thinking person, q uick-LO III pored and,
simply, a hard person to got along with. Also
his convictions were far removed from tho K of
Magnitb. Tbat is, under tbe situation of that
time, becaus if suddenly Lobachevsky's views
were approved U[1 above, by thos in power,
tben . . . Magnitky would turn out very progres­
sive indeed. All this boils down to tbe fact
tbat in 1822-1823, Magnitsky was nO loogor
kindly disposd.
In 1823 came the frst major trouble in Iino
of duty. His newly "itten txtbook Gometry
was rejocted by Academician fu . I t may be
that �'uss was on tbe wbolo noL righL, although
serious invetigators agro that thero were es­
sential dofects ill tbe book and some of FlSS '
remarks were qui te truo. Lobachevsky was stung
to tbe quick and haughtily refusd to reply to
21 0
any of Fus' rom arks, or Lo correct any 01 tbe
[aulls of the book, Ul even to take tho manus­
cript back. His arrogance ceca ionaJy made mat­
ters wors for hi m. Howe,·er, he continuod to
work i ntensely, alld dl lrng t.hes years he be­
came fully convi nced of the impossibility of
woving the ffth postulato, and fully con inced
of tho equal rights of a non-Euclidean sysLem
of geometry.
A fow pleasant even1 occurred in 1825 and
1826. Lobachovsky was put ill charge of lhe
contruction committee o[ the university, he
was also eleted Chie[ Librarian of tho U Ili ver­
sity. His salary was raisd to [our thousand
roubles a year. Very good money in tho K days.
Then, Decembor 14, 1825, MagniLsky was r -
moved. He had nol ben able to lat.hom the /lew
situation a[ter the death of Alexander I , he
had risked everything OlI a big jump up, fgu­
riog that this was tbo time, but failed. He had
placed everytbing on Konstantin, wbereas Ni­
kolai won out. And then it was that tbe old
memorandum came to ligbt whore ho had, it
turned out, complaiued of the li bralism-no
Ie s-of ikolai Pavlovich, then Grand Prince.
Only in Rusia could a paradox like that take
Quito naturaliy, an invesLigation was ordo­
red. Crtain sums of mODel, i t appeared, had
disappeared. I t wasn't as i f tbe barracks st-up
at the university was alien to the spirit of Tsar
ikolai; simply Magnitsky had overplayed his
hand, and wbM is more important, he had sim­
ply not ben able M guess the events of Decm­
bor 1825. He bad lost. First discharged from
21 1
an posts and then exilod to nevel with ao ad­
ditional investigation asigned into the money
that had vanished.
Of cour, the uni versi ty, and Lobacbevsky
as wel l , r joiced.
This is ti me to stop. February 23, 1 826.
Up to this point we have wi tnessd the carer
of an introsting, gifood, pleasant provincial
mathematician, though one not devoid of draw­
backs. Wo havo looked kindly on hi clim b.
There bas ben no exciooment, and we bave not
been unduly enthusiastic. A very decent carer,
where the hero was promood from rung to rung
of tbe ladder. He was not indilerent to his
advancement and with the years Ilis worldly
wisdom grew, and tho desperadoes of his youtb,
ridiculous wild protesting 01 the malcontnt, all
remained i n the past. Gradually, bit by bit,
the common sns so usual in succe rul men
accumulated. At the age of thirty-four he was
a moderat man of fashion, a bit condescending
i n manner. Further advancements were i n Sight.
Within a year he would be appointed rector
(J une 3, 1 827) . . .
As of February 2, 182, aU thes had beco­
me mere tri nes of IHe, rather essntial, but not
over much so, and of course not decisi vely s.
That was the day the great mathematician
gave his talk OD Don-Euclidean geometry to an
indiferent, bred audience who understood noth­
ing at all. Of cours, if an angel had appeared
and i f there had b en sme sign from heaven­
"This is the Man "-thi ngs might have ben
diferent. I t might havo ben forgotten even
that two days earlier an i nvestigation at the
21 2
university had begun. But at this junctnr of
events, the very last thing that could have
arousd his audience was undoubtdly a dis­
cussion by tbo very revered ikolai [vanovicb
on the theory of parallel l ines.
Only Lobachevsky himslf realized at that
i nstant that this was the moment of triumph.
Tho lecture was forwarded to a commision
for a reviow to decide on whether it should be
published or not. The commision did not un­
derstand anything and, apparently, did not ex·
press any view at al l . Either they did not want
to endanger the well-being of a colleague, or
tbere was some other reason. Anyway, the work
was not published.
Then came 1827.
The new trusooe was the tyrant and ignora­
mus Musin-Pushkin. But Lobachevsky had long
ben acquaJnted with him, and, judging by al l
thing, semed to be just tbo person to rehabi­
litate the university tbat had fallen s low
under Magnitsky.
On Musin-Pushkin's suggestion, Lobachevsky
was elected rector, which post he ocupied until
He was re-lecood six times, first by slight
majorities and then by overwhelming majorities.
That was something, if one recalls the atmos­
phere of constant intrigue within the university.
There can b no question that he was a magni­
ficent rector, who put a great deal of energy
and love into his work, and a forward-thinking
and very skillful admi ustrator. He actually
foundod tho university. With great IlrOrcsional
8ki I I , be beadod tbe construction work, !t u
21 3
a library, organized the regimo of the students
nnd adjusted relationships betwen the u::uia�
nd German profesors teaching at the univer­
It i
s hard to M whon he found ti me to devote
to Sience. Yet all his hasic scientilc results
were obtained during thes very years of admi­
nistration 88 rctor.
The year 1 82. �he Kazan VI,/nik (Kazan
noa/d publ ished his memoir "On the Princi­
ples ?I �eomotry". :iis Was the lrst systematic
doscnptlOn of non-Euclidoan geometry.
The year 183. In this year Lobachevsky b­
came the hero of Katon. Choiera bit the city.
That was the terri hIe epi demic thaL swept across
L�e whole

f Russia and of which tbe poet Push­
kin, then In Boldin, wrot Th Feast During
the Plague. Later, PusH;n admitted that he
couldn ' t dialingui h between cholera and pla­
gue. The epidemic was extromely sevore. In
thos days no ono knew how to protect oneslf
.gainst the contagion. The common peoplo st
great storo by the "bite of three bandits".
Lobachcvsky arrogatod unto hi mslf tho fu­
thor; ty 01 dictator. Tho whole staf of the uni­
verSIty, to(tber with their families, were is­
lated from the rest oC the world wIthin the walls
tho univ rsity buildings. Food Was deliverod
wILh great �ar. Out of 5 perSns, ouly 1 2
wor t�en III and th

y were immediately iso­
latd. fhe r suIt was J U L over 2 per cent who
conlracted th disase. Bril liantl
Thon came Ihe year 1 832, when ho married
a nico young girl by tho name oC Varya Moi­
sva. Love was mutual, though on his part a
21 4
tiny bit too unrufned and somewhat too ra­
Outwardly, the yoars 1 827-1834 woro very
lucky onCS for Lobachevsky. Fortune was On his
side. Ho was maturo and everything was tur­
ning out the way he wanted it.
} J is activities during the epidomic were mar­
ked by higher titles and by the Tsar himslf.
Lobacbevsky, though a civilian, displayed the
effciency and courage of a military leader; thes
wero things Tsr Nlkolai valued.
He simply must be rewarded. And "his ma­
josty", his "Imperial Iligbne " rewaIded him
for his efort -witb the diamond ring, tbe titlo
01 Cuncillor oC State, the Order of St. Stani­
slav and tb personal gratitude of the svereign
bimslf. Vory good indeed. Tbe persnal enU­
meration 01 ded. of, now, Councillor of State
. I . Lobacbevsky wa brilliant.
The Irst svere blow came in 1832 wben
Kazan University snt Lobachevsky 's memoir
"00 the PrinCiples 01 Geometry" to tbo Academy
of Sciences for a rviow. The oral review was
21 5
LO h given by Academician Ostrogradsky. He
took his time about it, and then stated: "What
is true is not new, what is new is not true. The
memoir is not worthy 01 the a\lention of the
Academ y of Sciences. "
From that time onwards, Ostrogradsky became
a Sincerely vicious and implacable sientifc ad­
versary of Lobachevsky. Timo and again he
gave blistering reviews of Lobachevsky's work,
becaus to him one thing was clear: that Loba­
chevsky was a provincial charlatan who must
b driven out of sience i mmediately.
Ostrogradsky was a good mathematician in
the full meaning of the word, though his merits
have been blown up unduly. He cannot, of
cours, be compared with such Rusian mathema­
ticians of the 19th century as Chebyshev, Mar­
kov, to sy nothing of Lobachevsky. But if he
really had wanted to, he could have mado Sns
out of Lobachevsky's memoir. True, Lobachev­
sky bimsU was partly to blame. The style of
his paper made reading it an arduous task. Not
only is it concis beyond measure, but not clear­
cut in tho least. True, Ostrogradsky should
have ben ablo to grasp the main idea. But bo
didn't, he was enraged and did not conine
himsU to an oral respons.
I n 184, a well-known journal put out by
Faddei Bulgarin, entitled Th Son of the Fa­
thelan carried an article in which both Loba­
chevsky as a sieotist and his work were slashed
to pieces. Today it appears to be frmly estab­
lished thaL this "roviow" was i aspi red by Ost­
rogradsky. Howevor, I bliove that the alUcle
is of 'Illite an indep�ndent alld extremely
21 6
instructive value. It desrves Our clos stu­
Tbe awful thing about it is tbat for the non·
profesional and even for the profesional it
carries great conviction. It would b hard to
fmd a btter instance of tho demoniacal power
of demagogy, the force of conviction not via
logic or reasning but by implication, by into­
nation, sphistry and dishonest tricks of rbe­
Tbe crude, understandable, cheap humour that
permeates tbe article is s convincing, act" s
surely on the suhconscious that it compels ooe
to blieve that this Lobachevsky is an ignorant
slf-stisfed nonentity. It is al most as much
as spelled out in full by the author, who was
without doubt a giIted writer. One lnds it
hard to fnd a more brilliant instanco of the
complete triumph of slf-confdent superfcialHy
and idle twaddle over genius.
How journalistically profesional it sounds,
how ken, how sintillatingl
"There are people who read a book and say
it is too simple, too ordhary, it contains noth­
ing to think about. To uch readers I recom­
mend the Geometry of Mr. Lobachevsky. Here
indeed is smething t think about. Many of
our fIst-rate mathematicians hu,-e Tad it,
thought about it and still do not % tho pOint.
Aftor that I hardly ned say that I , baving
thougbt over this book Ior some time, could
think of nothing to say; in other words, I bard­
Iy understood a singl' idea. It is oven dj[fcult
to uuderstanu hol Mr. Lobachcvsky was ablt
to concoct out of the simrlc"t and cl most chap-
21 7
ter of mathematics that we know geometry U
b-how he could build such an abstrus, murky
and i mpenetrable theory, if it were not that
he hi mself hel ped us by saying that his Geo­
metry differs from the comnI kind that we all
studied and which, most likely, we cannot un­
learn, and is only an tmagin geometry. Yes,
that makes things clear indeed.
"Just try to picture what a lively, yet mOn-
trous, i magination can conjure up! Why, for
instance, not try to i magine black to b white,
rouod to be quadrangular, the sum of al l tho
angles in a right triangle to be less than two
right angles and ono and the sme defnite in­
tegral to be equal frst to ,/4, then to 01 Very
very possi ble, yet to normal reason it is meanin­
gless" .
How subtly journalistic. How neat that "li­
vely yet monstrous i magination". But that was
only by way of introduction, tbe heavy artillery
was to come later. And the most powerful wea­
pon of all-quite naturally-was tho rhetorical
"But one asks why write such ridiculous pban­
tasies, wby bave thor published? I admit tbo
query is hard to answor. The author did not
once even hi n t at why he was publishi ng bis
composition, so we perforce must conjecture on
our own. True, at one point ho states clearly
that, as ho claims, the drawbacks which he had
detcted in the geometry so far in uS compelled
bim to compos and publish tbis nOw geometry;
but thiS, quite obviously, is untrue, and, i n
al l l i kelihood, was said onl y to conceal btter
tbe true aim of his composition."
21 8
After that arti llery barrage of sarcasm, we
are ready for tho direct assult.
"And to this allow me to add a few words
about the man him elf. How can one think that
fro Lobachevsky, profesor of mathematics in
ordinary, would wrile a book of any depth
that could hardly be an honour to the lowest
village shool t acber? Every teacher should have
common sns cven if be dos nol have much
learoing. Yet this new Gemetry is devoid pro­
cisly of common snS. Taking all of this �o­
gether, I Dnd it highly l i kely that the true 81m
of Mr. Lobacbeysky in composing and printing
his Geometry was a joke, or better, a satire on
sholarly mathematicians, or perhaps on all sbo­
iarly writi ngs of tbo presnt time. Thereby I do
not merely assume, with a high degree of pro­
bability, I am fully convincnd that the insane
pasion to write in a bizarre and obsure mannor,
which is s common of late among many of
our writers, and tbe impudent desire of certain
people to discover something new when their
gifts are bardly enough to properly grasp what
is old, 8 the two defect which our author
wished to depict, and which he depicted with
consummate skl l . "
Now that i s what .call real writiog; i n com­
plete keeping "ith tbe style and traditions of
Faddei Bulgarin, himslf a dashing daring "gan­
gster of the pen". But ono should not overdo
it; it is time to display smo kind of scientifc
approach. One should not al low tho reader to
have aoy doubts at the decisive tur in tbe
baUle. The operation begins with a somewhat
risky admision. But the exprienced warrior is
apparently quite Sure of himslf.
"Scondly, the new Geomeh'y, as I have al­
ready had occasion to state, is written s that
the reader cannot understand anything. Wishin"
to get mOre closly acquaintd with this com
posi;ion, I concentrated all my attention, fo­
cusslJlg evory efort on every sntence, every
word, every
letter even, and for all that I dis­
polled so IJttlo the murk that
envelopes this
composition s completely that I am hardly in
a state to relate to you what the matt;r is
about, to say nothing at all about what is
said . . . . º
This is only an appareot retreat, for tho ques­
�Ion comes naturally, "I f you understood noth-
109, thon why do you undertako to reaso and
judge? " Nol He did understand what the maLler
was, but this was simply a manouvre to demon­
strate to bis co-readers how hopeles and mon­
strously disfgured was tbe construction of the
cnemy. And als to show his objective appro
ach. J ust lookl "Would you like to 8 for your­
slf what the original is like?" Then followed a
long quote from Lobachevsky's memoir. He
s how efecti voly precis is this manouvre.
ASIde from the fact that the memoir was
written in a ponderous complicated style to
comprehend Lobachovsky' s ideas required a íugh
level of mathematical culturo and a concentra­
td and unprejudiced efort on tbe part of the
. What is more, no islated quotation
pennlt. one to Judge tho merits of a scient; fe
work. Moro yot, aft",· .lIch a lI.ychologic:01
IJl l d-up, au oxcerpt Jj rted out of contoxt cau 110
completely disarming. That was a sure move
to capture victory. One last offort.
"But I must apologis, I simply cannot copy
every word 01 it, ror I have already said too
mucb. And .cannot relat this matter i n brief,
ror that is where the most incompreilisihio
begins. It would 80m that alter a few dolni­
tions, composd with the sme art and the same
precision as the prec ding ones, the author says
!methi ng about triangles, about the dependen­
ce of tho angles in them upon tho sides-there­
in lies the di ference btwon his geometry
and ours-he then proposs a new theory of
parallels, which-and he admits as mnch-no­
body is capable of proving whether it exists
in nature or not; finaUy, this is followed by a
consideration o[ how, in this i maginary geo­
motry, one determines the magnitude of curved
lines, of areas, of curved surfaces and volnmes
01 solids. And all 01 this, I must repoat once
agai n, is written s that nothing at all can be
understood . . . . "
The amusing thing is that though the author
mastered the titles of Lobacbevsky's theorems,
he was not up to grasping the fact that Loba­
chev ky's geometry "difers [rom ours" slely
ÍR 1M thry 01 paalll lilies. But why
indeed should One ned to understand Rny·
thing? The enemy is il retreat, completely rout·
ed, all that is needed is to conslidate the
... . . Mr. Lobachovsky dosrves to b praisd
for taking upon himslf the labour of explaining,
On the one band, the arrogance and shameless­
nes of psudO-inventors, and, on the otbor hand,
Lhe naive ignorance of the ad ol i rers of thair
psudo-inveuLiolls. However, realizing the [ull
'alllo oE Mr. Lohache\'sky's composition, I call­
not r ºlrain f"om hlaming him slighLly lor not
gi villi his hook a plper litle and compel­
ling uS to cogitato so wastelully for such a long
time. Wby, i nstead of the titJe 0" th Princip­
ls 0/ Gmtry, eOllld he not have named i t,
say, A Satire On Geometry, A Caricature On
Gemetry, or 8mething of tbat nature? Tben
anyone would i mmediately se what tbe bok
was about and tbe author would have avoided
a host of unpleasant i n!rpretalions and argu­
ments. It is lucky that I have been able to penc­
trato to tbe tfllO pupos 01 this book, or heavon
knows what people would think abut it and
its aulhor. Now I think and am evell convinced
tbat the worthy author will fel greatly obliged
to me for having demonstrated the true pOint
of view that ooe Must take wheo reading his
composi tion . . . .
This lampoon is quotd more or les in full
in overy biography of LobacheYsky. However,
though the biographers are indignallt aod abuse
tbe writer in every i magi nable way, they usu­
ally 10 K sight ol the most i mportant thing-tbe
fact that it is a very cogent piece of writing.
I am not in the Jeast i ntrcs!d ill tho one (or
sveral) who wroto it; tbeoretically One can as­
sume that he was Sincerely lghting for tho pu­
rity of cionce.
But, too, olle can readily % what tbe reaction
was of the readel's aod also what tbis article
cost Lobachevsky.
After reviews of that kind, people taka to
their beds, gi vo lip work al together, or even
cormi l suicide.
On the background of t his pamphlet, Gauss'
letl�' 10 Bo')ai is t hlt of a I ndel', loving sol i­
citous ratbur. Taul'inlls-uuother ono of ÍtðH%
uvicLims"-burned his paper (or the ste rea .
Son, tbat Gauss, olTendod, d,ropped the corres­
Outwardl y, this St#ry semed not 1.0 have
involved Lobachovsky at al l . Ho Î eacted wit h
an amazing Jack of spirit. The were a few
questions, and a year later ho published, i n tho
transactions 01 the university, a very calm and
restrained repl y. Too, an extremely cool anS­
wer was sent to the Son 01 th Fathrlall. Fad­
doi 01 cours, never IllLblished it. And Loba­
chovsky seled not to care. He never tried to
i IIsist. That wa� tho cod 01 that.
H would b wrong to think that LobaChevskJ
\as not a man 01 actioo. His wholo lile and
his 19-yoar-long !ouro as rector demonstrated
quito t.e contrary. App8ntly, in this parti­
cular iustance he considered it below his dig­
nity to eoter into a discH%ion. I n general,
\a surprisingly indifferent to any popularIZa­
tion of bis ideas. This is a psychological riddle
becau K i W aU other things bo was an extremely
practical man. What is more, he had it in his
power to put an end to the outpourillgs of his
I n 180 he published one of his works i n
German. And already i n 1 82 be was electd­
ou tbe s|g@stion 01 no otber than Gauss h i m­
seU-to eo Î sponding Membership in the Got­
tingen Royal Society.
Gaus read Lobachev ky's pap r and was car­
ded away by it. True, carried away in bls Own
particular way. There followed opinions fuJI of
admiration expresd ill letters to his friends;
then very sharp replies wi th respect LO a reviow
of Lobachevsky's work gi von in a Germao jour­
nal. Essntially, this review was of the same
nature as the pamphlet pubJi hed in the Son 0/
th Fatlan, and Guass' descriptioll of the
reviewer was very har h. Finally, in letters U
Ws R=ian correspondents he constantly inqui­
red about Lobachevsky and even asked to con­
vey his grets t the Rusian mathematician.
But there was not a word in Lbo pres, not a
single leiter to Lobacbevsky Wmslf, witb the
exception of the strictly official correspondence
pertaining U Ws election. True, he bad wanted
to write aod ask for reprint of Lobachevsky's
works. That is, he was on the verge of doing
it, but he never wrote.
Well, all right, Gaus bad Ws own reasons.
But how are we to account for .Lobachevsky's
Alter being elected Corresponding Membr, be
was of cours quite po itive that Gaus had
read bis paper and approved of it. There can
b no question that such recognition was extre­
mely important to Wm and very beartening.
What would b more natural than to snd Ga­
us Ws papers or at least to write him a letter
asking for an appraisal of his ideas?
And tbis is to say nothing 01 the fact tbat if
Lobachevsky had ever received such a lotter,
then the profesrs of Kazan Uni versity and the
whole Academy of Sciences would straightway
repudiat.o all earlier attacks and would rejoice
in recognizing Lobacbevsky as the greatest ma­
thematician of Rusi a.
Suppos he was totally indiferent to t�e OpI­
nions of thos around bim, though tbat IS ver
hard to imagine. Even s, he himslf should
surely have ben interested in a detailed ap­
praisal of Ws work by Gauss.
He never wrote such a letler to Gauss. Whyl
Modesty? Pride? The fear of appearing to b
importUate? I do not know.
It may h that he was deeply ofended b­
caus of Gaus' altitude, for surely I.he gr

man could have writlen a couple of encouragIng
words to a Corrosponding Membr of the Got-
tingen Society. I t may be. . . .
I simply cannot fod a satisfa

toly vel 10!1,
oven ever s slightly. The only tblng to b saId
is that tbis mysterious chain of events demon­
strates wbat a complex and uncommon man was
Lobacbevsky, for bginning with ovemmr
182 he undoubtedly realized that recogmtlon
as a mathematician in Ru in eould come to
bim at any moment that bo himslf

He did not write. When 8 mattr of Ws hfe !S
at stake be is s chastely restrainedl Lobachev­
sky the
mathematician was quite a diferent
man from Lobacbevsly t.he university loctor.
The mathematician was impractical, resrved,
pbilosopWcally plaCid.
. .
All thes years be worked intensi' Jly str
to fnd a rigo.ous proof of noncontrarll


Qute separatel
y lr�m t�s nowed lI¡5 �utl

at work, Ws famIly hfe, hiS ups and do,ms I n
day-to-day Ii Ie. His wife proved to be 01 • %~
riolls turn o[ mind, and Quibbling and opon
scandals occurred fairly often in Iheir home.
And through it all he was tho model stoic.
"Oh, my dear Varvara Aleksovna . . . " with all
respect-and thon he wonld disappear into his
fortress, b.s study. Or he would sink into si­
lence puffng at his pipe.
Tbero wero a lot of children in the family.
He semed ratber indiferent to the girls but
he loved the boys with a kind of jealous, harsh,
carpiog love. Particularly Aleksi, the eldest.
So capable, s much like himslf in childhood.
Meanwhi Ie lhere was no end of ad ministra Ii vo
duties, which bo porformed in model fashion,
running the uni vorsity o£iciently. And do oot
forget the diffculties of the ti mos. The gover­
ment and the Tsar woro salisfed.
For zealous srvice His I mperial Majesty had
elevated Lobachevsky to his excellency the
Councillor of State. And in the oWng lingered
the still higher post of Privy Councillor.
Money maltrs were nol always in the bost
of order, but he was still full of energy and not
too old.
There wero endles intrigues and smearing and
muck-raking among his colleagues. But s al­
ways is the cas. He took them in his stride,
became svere, reticent, pedantically composd.
But such trails arc commOn to aging men. He
was ordinary in all lhi ngs and habits. His ox­
cellency was a good host and knew a thi ng or
two about cooking.
At the club thero was card-playing-be liked
preference. But his recreation morc oftn COn­
sistd in translating from the Grek and Latin.
He loved his university, and the students loved
hi m. His work occupied him complotely.
Everything waS typically Rusian. His bro�h­
er Aleksi was a heavy drinker. A relatn'e
of his wife was a gambler who lost a large sum
of Lobachevsky's money. His sns wcre grown
up now, students. His favourite one gladdened
his heart, the younger one didn' t; he was s
ohviously no mathematician.
What was On his mind all thes years? What
gave hi m the strength to pursue the study of
his geomol,ry so persistenll)? How was it pos­
sible to carry on with his goometry through all
the vicissitudes of a lifetime and not t turn
i nlO the most ordinary of councillors of slate?
Whence the will power? What buoyed hi m up
all thes years? What were his thoughts whe
he was alone iu his tudy? What were Ius
dreams? And hopes?
I have no answer, and DO one els has either,
[ ' rn afraid. Nikolai [vanovich Lobachevsky ap-
pears to me as ono of the most mysterious men
i n tho whole history of siellce.
I n tho opinion of many of the most cultured
peoplo of that period, Lobachevsky was, on the
wholo, a very respected offcial. He was als
"an eccentric practically out of Ils mind ", "the
mad man from Kazan".
or cours, his real life began behind the doors
of his study. Quite naturally. But what main­
tained him, what concentration or will-power,
what driving forco? What wa ho guided by­
love, batred, bope, uperciliousne , babit tur­
ned to instinct? f cannot say. I ' m afraid no
one can say. Becaus al l tbe riches of the archi­
ves add nothing about this scond life 01 Ills
wbicb was the most i mportant 01 all, the life
that began inside bis tudy when be was alone
,tb Ils computations. Perhaps there is, alter
all, just oue thing tbat opens up a crack.
In tbe y ar 18, bis most dearly loved boy
Aleksei died. Within a fow montbs ikolai Lo­
bacheYSky was a ick man, broken. He bgan
to los bis sight, and the illne progresd ra­
pidly and implacably.
He bad tbree more years to Ii vo. His routine
went on and h sti ll performed his duties, bllt
Ii Ie was already gone.
Let us recall his efforts to mako his Sn study
mathematics; how, thougb sll.ontrolled and
calm 1lI0st of the timo, he would shout abus
when the boy was lazy, or would rejoico majesti­
cally when he camo to his room to fnd the boy
celebrating a successfully pasd exam with his
friends: "Continue, g ntlomen, 1 shall not bo­
ther you. " Recalling all thes tbings, one may
conclude that this harsh, unsociable man was
kept alive by a single romantic dream-that
of his son conti nuing his Geometry.
The death of Aleksei meant that he IlmsH
W8 dead. Misfortuue does not come unaccom­
panied. During tho last the years of Lobacbev­
ky's life, OnO calamity followed another.
Perhaps be was now to some extent Immune,
for the end had already come. Tbero remained
only one thing, his Geometry.
Already blind, with only a few days 01 lile
lolt. he dictated tho last of his works.
LhoQ¡cr ¥
L� us look into the curiosi ty shop o( nOIl­


Our intuition, frmly root­
ed as It is IR Euclidean notions, wl not avail
us (or long and wil l constantly be in connict
with the geometry o( Lobachevsky.
To co
pel our snsations to vote (or t heore­
t lell l eq

lvalcnce of the two geometries, One has
to put Intens and sustained ollorts into the
study of the geometry of Lobachevsky.
Only then, that which at first superfial glance
fl ared absurd, paradoxical will begin to sJlino
Wlt� tho calm cold bauty of logic and truth.
Si nce we speak of bauty, let us recall an
analogy from the arts.
The canvass of the i mpresioni t painters that
ve us such great enjoyment today were derided
WIth gufaws and shouts o( disgust when frst
displayed in th art salons at the end of Ia t
century. This reaction was of the same nature
as that of Lobachevsky's contemporaries to his

rks. Generally, we must not-to our great
misfortune-tho (ollowing simple idea: I t is still
a revelation to most people that one should
"try to understand the isue at hand bfore
giving an opinion".
Too often, fragments of distorted twisted in­
formation that reach ¡W by accide�t are taken
as suffcient grounds for authoritativo asrtions ,
no matter whether they are for good or for bad.
Incidentally, once again the geometry of Loba­
chevsky was l uckles I n a most amusing fa hion.
Quite some number of years ago, I came across
the following phras in the works of a very
well-known writer: "Lobachevsky proved that
lines which according to Euclid are parallel in­
tersct at infnity." This was then followpd by
a round of clever, sweping generalizations.
I don't remember exactly what abOut. Al most
about what I am now writing.
By the sme token of that penchant ror su­
perfcial reasning that I have just noted, T de­
cided that the author bad never really heard
of Lobaehevsky's geomotry. But this same
phras cropped up so constantly in articles and
books by other writers that f realized, one fair
day, tbat the subject was parallels in the mea­
ning of Lobachevsky . . 4 . 1 ust half a psg from
now we shal l se that these lines ar by 110 meanS
Euclidean parallels. They arc relat d, roughly,
like th. % pilot o( a ship of the Middle Ages
and an air pilot of a ship of today. The ingle
term usd to denote two dilerent notions crea­
ted confusion in the minds of p ople removed
from matbematics. Perha
)! they do not desrve
to b harshly censured, yet neil her do they
warrant any encourage mont.
To end the parable, 1 may add that what is
apparently the primary sourco o[ the "literary
version of Lobachevsky geometry" has ben
The culprit Is, it turns out, Fyodor Dostoy­
evsky, who wrote some very remarkable thing
inded. I n his Broths Karamazov, Ivan ex-
plains his moral and phi lospbical crdo to Aly­
osha and, among other things, has this to say:
"Dut you must note this: if God exists and i f
He really did croate the world, then, as we al l
know, He created i t according to the geometry
of Euclid and the human mind wi th Lhe con­
ception of only thre di mensions in space. Yet
tbere have ben and still are geometlicians and
philosophers, and even some of the most dis­
tinguished, who doubt whether the whole uni­
vers, or to speak more widely the wholo of
being, was only crented in Euclid's geometry;
they even dare to dream that two parallel l ines,
which according to Euclid can never met On
earth, may met somewhere in infmity. [ have
come to the conclusion that, si nce I can' t Ull­
derstand evon that T can't expect to under­
stand about God. I acknowledge humbly that
I have nO faculty for settling such quostions,
I have a Euclidean earthly mind, and how could
r slvo problems that alO not of this world? "
I do not think of identifying Oostoyevsky
himslf with Ivan Karamazov, and we are not
hero dealing witb the problem of tbo existnce
of God. But wben i t comes to geometry, tbis
is the reasning of Oostoyevsky himslf. And
tho fact that it is a magni fcent piece of wriLing
just goos to show how a shallow, superficial
intui tion on tbe part of a superfcial dilettanto
is so unwittingly elevated to all absolute prin­
Ciple. Strictly speaking, there is not a singlo
correct idea in tbo wbole passage. Tbis is all
tbe more exciting since tbe magnifcent and
purely analytioal mind of tbe author is also
apparent in every word.
Ivan tben brings his intell<ctual ecentricity
relative to geometry to its logical cuIminat
aud even extends it I tbe real m of PbYSICS:
"Even i f parallel l ines do met and I M i t
mysU, I shall M i t and say that they' ve met,
but still I won't accept i t. "
Quite naturally,
do not intend to draw any
far-reaching conclusions (any at alll) about 00
stoyevsky's witing from the excerpt. Ivan
Karamazov had nO i nter sts i n gometry of
cours. For hi m the wbole thing was simply an
illustration of his ideas.
But for u this can srve as an illustration
of a distorted concoption 01 science and of Iight­
minded reasoning about uncomprehended thi ngs
(and of cours tbe obvious ob curantism of Tvan
One migbt, however, justily Oostoyevsky at
least i n the sus that he did not perbaps make
any actual mistake. The names o( tbe geome­
ters are not given, and s one might hope tbat
Ivan was describing element of Riemannian or
projecti vo geometry.
Howover, since on the one band, the words
"non-Euclidean geometry" are 0iated with
the name of Lobachevsky, and, On the other
hand, all cultured wri ters have undoubtedly
read Dostoyevsky witb care, the words of I van
were consistently oxtrapolated to Lobacbevsky
All thes literary-psychological explorations
are uslul, asde from general ideas of a didac­
tic nature, in that they belp us to grasp the
intellectual courage of 80lya1 and
sJ. -.
Now that we have calmed down, let us retu
to Our Curiosity Shop.
We will naturally confe ourslves to only
a rew theorems and will not at all talk about
slid geometry. Throughout we will agree that
everytWng occurs in a single plano.
First, of cours, the postnlate 01 Bolyai-Lo­
bachevsky-the great antagonist of Euclid's fILh.
"Though a gl ln paint it is possible to dra
to a givn straight lin (in adition U 'Eucli's
parallel') at last on mre straight line tht
dos not met the givn straight line.»
Whence i t foUows immediately that one can
draw an inJnity of such staight l i nes.
Look at the fguro. A perpendicular is drop­
ped from point A to tho straigbt line I. Euc­
lid' s parallol-line EP-is naturally perpendi­
cular to this perpendicular.
The dashed line (LP) dos not interct I.
By means of symmetry reasoning (bnd the
drawing along the perpendicular ABI) it is clear
that there will be another straight lino of exact­
ly the smo kind. I t is also dashod. Further,
i t is clear that any of an i nfinitude of straigbt
lines drawn tbrougb I i nside tbe angle between
the straight l i nos E P and LP will not i ntersct
th! straigbt lino I eitber. We thus have: "Through
a givn point it Is possibl to draw an infnity
of straight lins that d not met a givn straight
But oue can naturally also draw an infnity
of straight l ines wbich do Illoet the givon lino.
They may b drawn to any point (of the straigbt
Iino) arbitrarily distant from tho bas. Let us
take any point B' and join i t by a straight
line to A. TWs can always bo done On the basis
of a familiar axiom.
And s we have a straight lioe pasing tbrongh
bolll A and B'.
nowever, due to the continuity of tbe bundle
of traight lines, thoro must b a boundary line
that sparates tho two classs. TWs is ei tber
the last straight line ("interscting") that met
the straight lino BB", or tho frst "nonmecting"
line. I t is readily sen that thero can b no last
"interscLing" linc. Jnded, uppos i t exist . Let
i t be AB' in our fgure. But then i f we take
B" beyond B' and connect i t with tho point A,
we get a flew straight l i ne lying byond B' and
meeting (i nterscting) the straight lino I.
Consquently, the bOllndary straighl lino is
the frst one that dos not meet the straight
line [.
There are nalmally two such straight lines:
ooe for each direction. Within the anglo formed
by thes straight l i nes, we can draw an i nfnity
of straight lines that do not meet the line 1;
thos wi l l also includo Euclid ' 8 parallel.
IJobach vsky gave tho namo parallel to thes
lwo extreme nonintorscting straight lines.
As you %, thoy do not havo 8DY relation
to the parallel a understood by Euclid.
Stretching Ihe point 8 bit, we may sy thal
they, 8S it were, i ntersct the given straight
line BB" at i nfnitly distant points. However,
i t is not al al l clear what is meant by "infnite­
ly distant points", so it is better Dol to us
that phras at al l .
I n LobachevskJ s terms, al l straight l i nes
within the angle "diverge" from the straight
line I.
To summarizo, then, r lalive to a given straight
line there are three types of straight l i nes that
may b drawn through any poinl.
1 . Contlglng (interscting); thero is an infni­
ly of such line .
2. Paralkl. Thero are two. Of each we say:
parallel 11 is parallel to tho straight l i ne I i n
the dirction BB'; parallel III is parallel to [
in tbe direction B' B. Tho meanillg of thes words
is clear from the fgure.
3. Di veging straight l i nes. Tbes compris
tbe i nfnitude of lines \1thin the bundle, one
of which is the "Euclid's parallel ".
Tbos are Ihe terms. 'ow lot u look into the
With regard to parallels, Lobachevsky demon­
strated tbal they apporoacb without bound a
given strajght line (without ever meting it)
and recede, without bound, On the other side.
So lar, this is nob such a strange resul t.
But the next one is like a thunderbolt.
Two di verging straighl l ines always bave a
com mon perpendicular wllcb is tbe shortest dis­
tance btween them. They recede wi thout bound
on both side of tbe perpendiclllar. Tills naturally
holds true for the special cas of "Euclid's pa­
rallels" a weU.
Thus, a perpendicular dropped from any Iloinl
of the straigbl l i ne II onto tho straight line I
is, frstly, greater tban the mutual perpndicu­
lar AB and, scondly, dnes not form a right
angle with the straight l i ne 11.
This is inded strange. But the prof is i mma­
Accordingly, the locus of points equjdjstant
from the straight line tmlls out to be a curved
l i no.
Thes are only the frst stelS.
� ¨
A t this point, Lobachevsky introduced a new
and very iroportant concept: the paralkl
This is the acuto angle btween the straight
lino parallel to I and drawn through point A,
and the perpendicular AB droppd froro lhis po­
iot onto the straight line I. Thus, the parallel
angle is CA B. According to Euclid it is
naturally always equal t o "-
I t wil l readily b sen that this angle depends
on the distance btween A and the straight l i ne
I, and diminisbes with increasing distance.
Indeed, take a point A' on thQ prolongd per­
pendicular AB and draw froro this point a "Euc­
Ii dean parallel" to tbe straigh t line A C. I t wi l l
inlersct the perpendicular AB at the sare ang­
le as the straight Iino A C.
But we know that from A' it is also posible
to draw B straigbt l i ne A' C' parallcl to AC in
the sns of Lobachevsky.
The angle C' A' B is also obviously less than
the angle DA
I L is obvious tbat if lhe straight lina A 'C'
does not i ntersct A C, it will defnitely not in­
tersct the straight l i ne I. H wi l l either diverge
[rom i t or be parallel to it. (From here onwards
I will no longer say "in tbe sns o[ Lobachev­
sky". We ,�ll adhere to his geometry and to
his defnitions.)
Lobachevsky actually proved tho theorem:
"If tw straight lines are parallel to 0 third
ill one dirtioll, they are paralkl 10 each olher
in the same directioll ". And so tit aogle C'A
is lhe parallel augle to the straight line 1 at
the point A' .
Tbe parallel aogle i s a function 01 the
distance to the straight line. Lobachevsky de­
noted this functiOn as l1(x); x is the distance,
that is, the line sgment A B.
We have already sen that tbis lunction di­
minishes Mth increasing x. Lobachevsky inves­
ligated its bhaviour wilh decrasing distance
x and showed that tbe parallel angle IT (x)
tben tends without bound to a right angle.
Symbolically, scientifcally, this looks like
l imIT (x) � �.But i f we recall that a right pa­
rallel aogle corresponds to Euclidean gomet­
ry, then it is clear that at small distances tbe
geometry of Lobachevsky is practically indis­
ti nguishable from the geometry of Euclid.
Clear so far. What is nol clear, however, i
what we mean by " mall distances".
'fhe words usmalP' or "large" have meaning
only il we know what is beiog compared. Without
that knowledge tbey are devoid 01 any content.
There should obviously b 3OÆB kind of length,
or standard that can be usd for purposs 01
How dos such a standard enter here? I t is
well worth recalling Legendre at tbis point. He
too di covered that the parallel angle de­
pends upon the distance. Actually, al l tbat neds
b done (as We have already mentioned) is ÍU
analys his proof with regard to tho sum of the
angles of a triangle. The very fact tbat a relation­
ship like this appears M med to Legendre so absurd
that at one time he declared it the desired ab­
surdum that proved tbe fltb postulate. Legend­
re's reasning was i ngeniou . lie argued more
l i ke a physicist than a matbematician.
Actual l y, he employed a very strong method
of qual itati ve analysis of pbysical problems cal­
led th di mensional metbod. Brought up to
date, bis reasning might look like tbis.
We se that tbe paral lel angle is a function
of only one line-sgment, tbe di tance from tbe
straigbt li ne. 0 other Lin ar dimensions enter
i nto tbe problem. We wri te ç=| | (z}.
Now let U % what we have writtn_ Any
angle ' is a dimensionles quantity. ( I n radi an
measure, an angle is tbe ratio of tbe arc of a
unit circle to the radius.)
On Lhe lefl Y% have a di mcnslonle m quantity
I t remain tho sme, no matter what units or
measurement Ir usd, whether centimetres, met·
res. inches or whilt h�IVO you.
On the right, however, the [unction is lbat
of a di mensional argument. I t makes DO di fe­
rence what form it has. The i mportant thing
is that no maller what i l is, it' numerical va­
lue wi l l vary wi th the unit of measurment. I f
�ay, r I (z) ~ ¸ ,then for z- I metre, r I (z) Ý 1m-�.
But if the unib is 1 cm, tben
I l [z)
* 10-' em-!
lU� cmª
Tbis is obviously nonsns. The relation we
bave suggo ted is imposible. Consquentl y, the
nfth po Lulato is proved.
The chain of reasning is abslutely correct ,
but tho conclusion i s nOl o The conclusion bas
to be di ferent. From t he same arguments of
di mensionality it is cloar that in our formuJ a
there should be a nondi meflsional quanti ty On the
right in tb argument of the function. This is
what tbe equation should look li ke.
wbere k is some sgment wbicb we sti l l do not
know. Tho question is wbere do we lnd tbe
sgment k? Tho point i thal tho wbolo of our
analysis shows that tbe paral lel angle ' de­
ponds solely on One distlnco, the distance of
the point from the straight l ine.
There is only One way out. We bave LO as­
sume thal i n tho flew geometry ther is a pacifc,
nature-given consl ,"t unH. A kind of constant
length tliat determines all otbor lengths.
This is strange but not entirely absurd. Fu,
i nstanco, the two-dimensional Euclidean geomet­
ry of a sphere has such an islated length. I t
i s the radius of a spherical surfac. And s when
employing the formulas of ordinary Euclidean
spherical geometry for a geodetic mapping of
Mars we will bave to bar in nlnd that sme
of the "constants" of our terrestrial tables wi l l
undergo appreciable change.
Lobacbevsky was not embarrassd by tho ap­
parent paradox and introduced a constant sg­
ment k and found the equation for tho paral­
lel angle. It is so simple tbat wo give i t
! k
' = e
wbero e is tbe bas of natural logaritls.
From tbis equation we immediately se tbat
O b 1 ° 1
d when � , t en cot :'''' ¯ , or
2 '"T
'" �Wben '=90, we bave Euclid's geometry
to a high degree of accuracy.
But ¿ is clos to zero wben xtk.
Now what we said just a momeot ago about
small sgments has taken On precis meaning.
I f the distance from tbe pint through which we
draw a parallel to a given straight line is much
less than the constant sgmeot k. then the geo­
metry of Euclid is ful filled i n -pproxjmate fasb­
I n tbe linilting cas when k= , Euclid 8 geo­
metry is always Iulli.Ued and witb absl ute pre­
Tbe frst que tion that naturally confronted
Lobacbevsky was how to fnd the sgment k.
Aod her i t turned out that his geometry was
in M certain sns "btter" than Euclid's. No
theoretical arguments help to defne k. J t is what
pbysicists td I a constaHt or the theory". I t
can ooly be found experimentally, by means of
concret pbysical measurements.
I t is of cours i mposible to measure the par­
allel angle directly, but it is for instance possible
to measure the slun of angles of a triangle_ The
"defect of tbe sum" i n a given trianglo depends
on the valne of k.
You remembr tbat botb Lobachevsky and
Gaus urged such measurements but nothing
came of tbem.
Generally speaking. Lobachevsky never sid
that it was precisly bis geometry that dcsri-
w ¯"" ¤ fa


bes the world. Qui te the contrary, ho incl ined
tow" .
ds the view t hat in this world, i t is Enc­
l i d's geometry that is accomplished.
But that is not 1 important. The remarkable
thing is that from the very mst steps the new
geometry was clo Iy tied i n wi th physics and
that it was i nconceivable to di%ciate it from
ox peri menlo
This natlrally put forth the salient problem
of the relationship o[ goometry i ll general to
the real world, the possi bility o[ di ferent geo­
metries in the real world.
As we have already said bfore. this WaS sug­
gested earlier but [or two and a half Ulousand
years mathematicians took a di m view of i t,
regarding the whole matter as futile and absurd.
Willy-ni lly nOll-Euclidean geometry generated
tho p" obl m of experimentation. Are we indeed
so sure tbat God made the earth i n accord with
the laws of Euclidean geometry, as Ivan Kara­
mazov would have us believe?
Th.cr is always beauty i n abstract formulas
engineeri ng total ly unexpected ideas, which even
the discoverer never su pee ted whon bo deri vcd
his formulas.
Al l thes couc1usions ar s charmingly elo­
gant that one can understand Bolyai and Loba­
chevsky who had faith in tho logical rigour of
their system.
Ole also that we have di cused here only
ono of the conclusions of Lobachovsky's very
first work, his paper of 182.
Ho immediately developed this sheme in depth
and the other results were no les beautiful . But
in mathemalics, faith is not a decisive factor.
There were no guaranteos that a logical contra­
diction might not pop up in the future.
Lobachovsky spont the OSÎ of his l ife in per­
i tent attempts to fnd tbis pIUof. He strived
to demonstrate witb complet0 rigour that his
system was nawless. On tho way he worked out
a great diversity of tho most unoxl>ecled con­
squences of his geometry, penetrating ever dee­
III this respect, he is without a doubt head
and sboulders above his contemporaries, for nei­
ther Bolyai nor Gauss covered the ground that
he did.
He did not fnd the proof, though he was ra­
ther clos to the basic idea.
Lobachevsky the man, his persistent, never
swerving truggle toward Û single goal is worthy
of our admi ration.
Chap ¡w J0
No, this will not be a chapter about things of
startling beauty. I ,� I l be bonest with tbe reader.
At least the frst half will be rather dry mathe­
Frst about tbe theory of surfaces. Tbe pro­
genitor was again the same old Gau .
Let us imagine that On sme kiod 01 whimsi­
cal l y bent surface there re ide i ntelligent beings
of two di mensions (not thre). Wbat wiU their
gometry be like? Secondly, bow wiU they be
able to % that tbeir surface is curved?
At frst glance, tbe sond qucsUon may ap­
pear quite naive. The reader may b realling
proof 01 the sphericity of tho eartb given i n
grade-shool geography books. Don't hurry, re­
membr that we are three-dimen ional beings li­
ving on a two-dimensional surface.
To rid ourslves or tbe i l l usion that this is
simple, think over the question: How can one
fnd out that our thoi mensional world i. cur­
ved, and what in general doe. this s Irequently
employed phra mean after all?
The tB- and four-di mensional world wiil b
looked into later on, lor tbe presnt let us ro­
turn to surfaces.
Causs bgan by i ntroducing n marvellous quan­
li ly lhal dofn�s t hl' geometry 01 a surface. I t
is called Gausian curvnlurc. Tho fun�8nlCl l l nl
property of Gaussian curvature is: it rmains
constant under any bnding of the surface 8
long as no stretcblng occurs. I t is intnitively
clear what this means, hut a rigrous formula­
tion is btter: if in tbe bendiug of a surfac there
is nO stretching, then, first of all, the lengths
01 all curves drawn on tho surface remain unchan­
god; scondly, the angles btween tbem remain
the same too.
This can be statd somewhat diferently. Take
a sheet of paper. Bend i t. Then measur tho
Gaussian curvature at sme point. ow you can
do wbatever you want to tbis sheet (except
stretching or tearing it), like twisting i t into
tbe most bizarre forms, and the value of the
Gaussian curvature at that point will not change.
The Gaussian curvaturo is so i mportant a eon­
cept that wo will delno it in more rigorus fa­
shion. To do this, we will bave frst to fnd out
what ar radii of curvature at a given point 01
8 surface.
We consider some point of a surface and draw
a line normal to i t. What is a normal? To ex-
plain we will need One more concept, that of a
t angent plane. We give an almo t rigorous def­
tion. We consider all posible curved lines lo­
cated On the surface and pa"sing througb a po­
i nt P.
It turns out tbat the la"geuls Lo all thPs
curves lie C D ODe plane. This is lt0Î evident 'It
frst gl 8uco, but i t CIH1 b proved rigorously. H
is lho ontire coUection of tangent lines that forms
a langent plano.
For the cas shown at tbe bot tom of page 25,
the loation of t he l'ngent plane is rather ob­
vious. But smeti mes the tangent plaue is lo­
cated more i ntricately relat i ve to tbe surface (se
the fgure on page 2/.7).
Now let us defne precisl y tllo notion of a
normal. The normal is a straight line perpndi­
cular to the taugent plane. We can now defoe
tho coocept of principal radii of curvature. Pas a
plane throUgh the normal. There are cloarly an
i nfi nitude of such planes. We take any oDe to
hegi n wi th. A plane curve is formed by the i M"
tersclion of Îho plBno and the surface. One can
al ways choos a circle that is contiguous to this
curve near the point P. I shal l not explain the
exact meani Jlg of thes words in the bope that
your intuitiou will suffce to crate tbe proper
i mage.
The radius of this contiguous (tangent i al) circ-
10 R is called the radius of curvatUre of tbe
plane curve. Since ao infnity of plunes can b
pasd through the normal, wo get an i nfnitely
l argo numbOl o( radii o[ CUI`V8ÎUI'P, 8mOh§ which
t hero is a grPates� and a smal lPst DDI¹ ill i'h:oluto
v"luo. I t ClIlI be proved that pl8no CUI'VOS to
which the least aud grealest radii correspond
are mutually prpendicular at the toint P. Thes
two radii, R, and R., 8 called the pri
radii of curvature of our surface at the pOIDt P.
Likewis we can prove that the centres of tbe
circles are al ways located on Ule ¡lormal .
I f th0 centres of Curv8ture l ie on one side
of the surlace, the poi nt P is called elliptical.
I I lhey lie OJl diferent sides, then it is csUed
hyperbolical. I n this cas, one of tbe principal
radii must b considered negativo.
Finally, there are parabolical points. They 8
points@ where one of the principal ra�ii of cur­
vature is equal to i nfnity. The GauSIan curva­
ture at any point 01 a smlace is defued as:

Now W cao st our fodiogs out io a table:
In Ibe ellipical point
In tbe byprbliel pint
In Ibe plical point
K >O
K < O
K = O
Now let U se what properties the surfac
as a whole can have. I magine sm surface aod
try to cover i t with a piece of closly adhering
cloth. Tho rules of the game &· that the cloth
caonot b cut or stretched, and has to cover
the surface without any folds.
I f a lady co[rootAd a tailor with such demands,
she would b di smissd without further ado, and
he would b right in doing s.
The reader would do well at this pOint to
stop reading and t to picture the proprties
that the fgure of our hypothetical lady of fash­
ioo should pOSSS. After what we have fouod out
about tbe properties of Gaussian curvatur, the
answer is imple. The piece was plane at frst.
Which means the curvature was zero at every
point. Bending without strot.ching dos not chan­
ge the curvature. This means that a plane piece
of cloth may b bent ooly into a surface whos
curvature at every poiot is strictly equal M
A cyli nder is oDe instance. f t is easy to se
that the Gau ian curvature is strictly zere 00
the latAral surface of the cylinder. Or, in other
words, every point of the surface is parabolica!.
If you have mastered the concept of curvature,
then it will readily b sen that the scond examp­
le 01 a suitable surface is the coDe.
ow W cannot bnd the plane onto a sphere
83 required. Tho curvature of a sphere is cons­
Ian t and posi ti ve. I t is preisly this circumstan­
ce that causs cartographers so much trouble.
We must obsrve, rather tardily, that al l along
W¶ have had in view only "good" surface. To
put i t cnldely, "good" surfaces 8 thos that
have nO sharp points or edgs. The vertex of •
cone, for example, is a "bad" point.
Als, when we speak of bnding one surface
onto auother, we have in view, strictly speaking,
the bending 01 a sulijcienUy large piece, but
not tbo whole surlace. To take an example. the
entiro lateral urfaco 01 Ö conc can b developed
onto a plane only i f We make a cut along the
generatri x. The last term we ha,o to ex plain
is a geodetic line. A geodetic is a curved line
drawn On a surface btween two points s tbat
any other curve is longer. Tbis definition is one
of thos "almost rigorous" ones, but I have hopes
that only non-mathematicians will read this
chaptr and s there will b no one to criticize me.
Hypothetical beings of two dimensions who
live 01\ such a surface will sy that the geodetic
line is the shortst distance otween two points.
I ncidentally, three-dimensional beings (like we
are) would say the same thing i f we i mpos the
condition that thol should not leave tho surface.
To uS earth d wollers living On a pbore, the
shortest distance between two points on the earth
is an arc 01 Ö great circle. It is prcisly along
the arc of a great circle that navigators sail
their ships in making the briefest voyags. Now
let us look into a very curious problem. We
said that a plane may b bot olllo 8 surlace
whos curvature is constant nlld equal to zero.
Or-what is tbe same thing-that such a slllface
may be developed OlltO a plane. Any figure drawn
On the plane wi l l turn into a similar fgure 011
"ur surlace. The anglos betweell lines do not
Ch81l�" during tho hellding process. The ghollest
I ioes on the plano-straight lines-wi ll pas inlO
godetic lines on the surface. 'fhere/ore, for a
cylindrical triangle, lor instance (its sides are
naturally formed by curved l ilies). the sum of
the angles remains U,e same as in the plane
triangle. We an go on reasning in the same
vein. To overy gometric concept on the plane
we can conelate a correspondi ng i mage on the
I t is rather easy to M that all the theorems
that hold for the plane can be carried over without
change to the surface. The only tbiug that we must
oar in mind is that thos thoorems now hold
true for "images". I f Euclideau geometry is ac­
complished on tho plano, then it will b accomp­
lished on a cylinder Jor the "images" as wel l .
We have noW tOllched 011 one of the most
rmarkable and bautiful aspects of all mathe­
matics. So long as we are not i nterested i n any
practical applications, i t is all the sme to liS
what ou" theorems speak about. We only want
them to satisfy the demands of logic. What is
more, we do not even know what we ar talking
about. It is only the physicist that has to know
what is "actuall y" taking place, what his world
is rally like.
For the physicist, a straight li ne is a ray of
light. For UIC mathematician, it is one of the
basic undefned concepts. There is nO way of
disti nguishing between the straight lines on a
Euclidean plane and the geoetic lines 01 the
surface of a cylinder i f they are compard slely
from the point of "iew of ax ioma tics.
Let us conjure up a fantast.ic picture. Two
two¬dimeI••ional world�. One plalle, tho other
on the surface of a cylinder. Intelligent beings
I i ". in
both worlds. Suppos they have st up
sme kind of communication. The two-di mensio­
nal "plane matbemalician and the two-dimen­
sional "cylindrical " mathematician would asrt
with great satisfaction Olat their geometries 8
lho same.
I f the sy

tem of axioms were contradictory
On the Eucbdean plane, we would know i m me­
diately that it WaS contradictory on the cyUnder
8S wel l .
One could eXI)lain U tho other the theorems
he bos
and Ole laUer could accept
them w.thout makIng any modifcations. They
could work together without tho slightest ["ic­
tion. Now the physicists in the two worlds would
be in conDict from the very start. They would
claim, each in his Own world, that the laws of
nature ar diferent in the other world.
eotally, eveo if a ray of light in tho
cyhndrtcal world followed a geodetic line, they
would not be able i mmediatly to detect any
The reader has by this time guesd that we
are rather clos to the problem of noncontra­
dictorines i n non-Euclidean geometry. I f we were
able to fnd,
i n ordinary Euclidean space, sur­
faces on which Lobachevsky' s geometry is ac­
complished . . . if thes surfaces could be made
so that the whole of 8 Lobachevskian surface
could be mapped onto them, then the problem
would b sol vo.
The frst "if " is satisfied. Such surfaces (cal-
led p-udospbers) exist. ThoM te surfaces with
a COn tant llvg8llV0 CD¡8ÎUC. But Ihe s'CODlI
condition ha us stumped. The enÎire surface of a
psudosphere cO\fesponds to only Ü piece of M
Lobachev kiall surface.
Let U forget noncontradictori lless for a moment
and sy a few words about Riemann. Tn tho
ycar 18 this morbidly shy youth opened up
fresh vistas in mathematics.
And now let us hurry back to the Gaussian
curvature, this timo invested i o a purely ma­
thematical language¢ We consider two arbitrary
families of ClrVes on a surface. We repeat, the
families can b quite arbi trary. Together tho two
families form a coordinat grid. Now suppos
wo want to fnd the d'stance between two very
clos (otherwis, completely arbitrary) point 7_

Gas considered tho following oxpresion:
6n � gu(x,x.)lx', + 2g .. x,xJtx1tx. +
g .. (
x,) l.
I t is called the basic mtric form. For the oon­
mathematician this formula is rather formidable
in appe8rance. 0 need Lo fear. w wi ll not
lI% i t . Only two remarks.
1 . The physicaL meaning of this e pre ion
is very si mpLe. It is the square of the di tanco
betwen tbe points x, and x,.
2. KI I(x,x,). g,,(x,x,) and g .. (x,x,) naturall y
vary Irom one point of the surlace to another.
We pllt x, and X in brackets s as to sbow
that al l Lhe expr ions K
1 1 °
K" and K" depend
on the po ilion on the surface.
Tbe imporLant thing here is • r sui t that
Gau obtained. Ho demon Lrated that the cur­
vature of R udace is completely definod by tho
numbr KI I (x,x,). Ki t (x,x,). Kn (x,xJ. This
is not all. Ho proved thaL no !Uatter what sy t­
er 01 coordi nates is chosn. tbe curvaturo dos
not change. This i not slf-vident in the least.
Inded. al l the numbers gi l ' gl t. gu. speaking
general lyg change when we switch to a new cord­
inate grid. But the Gaussian curvature is bui l t
up out of thes numbers i n such fashion as to
remain unchanged+ I n other words. the Gaussian
curvature is completely independent 01 the man­
ner of description.
n is an inner proprty of tbe surface. And so
for plane surfaces the entire gometry is determ­
ined solely by tbis relationship or the hasic
metric form. This form depended on two va­
riable . Knowing tbe coffcient , we could com­
pute the Gaus ian curvature of tbe surlace at
any pOint.
Riemann's idea can b conveyed i n jut two
words. [ n a purely lormal fashion let u examine
similar expr ions for three. four and R varia­
bles. We will sy that thes metric forms define a
��omelry oC • lhre-, four-. and n-dimell ional
world. Formal ly, we call compute the Gau ian
curvature for such worlds. We will be a blo to
. ay exactly what gometry will be accompli hed
in each one.
[I the curvature is diferent [rom zero. we say
t hat tbe world i curved. And we would notice
that without eVOD leaving a singlo point. Al l
we have to know i s the curvature at that point.
The geometry 01 11 "worl d" c"n be 01 any kind.
A t this junct ure, i t dos not oven matter very
much what gomet,y is usd. n ioms"n's theory
provide lor 1111 concei vable cass.
That. roughl y spel1 ki ng. is ni l .
I t i simply d g nNal i zutiun of tbo Gau�.ian
theory 01 suÎlaces to I he Clls 01 mony variables.
At the bgi nni ng oC this twclllieth c ntury. i t
t urned out that i t i s precisly niomalll\'s geom­
etry which we need to descri b the actual world
wo Ii,·. in. And not lor three but Cor four di men­
si oh • tbe lourth di 11lcn�ion ooing li l1le.
\ e leavo ni mann.
My ta k llU i to rlrai n from shouling hur­
Througbout tbe wbole of mathematics there
are hardly a dozen ideas equal in sher bauty
to the proof of the non-contradictori ness of
Lobachevskian geometry.
The whole structure re 1s on the fact that tbe
mathematician cares not B whit about what lies
bhind bis Basic Concept -so long as the axi­
oms are satisfed.
Up to a poi nt. geometry is hardly more than
a game in logic. Tbe straigbt l ine. the pOint.
tho plane. molion are i mply pieces usd in tho
game. The only thing tho mathematician knows
about thor is his 8xioms, tho rules of the game
involving the pieces.
At this stage, geometry i just as useless to
tho physicist as che s or dominos. I t is only
wben the physicist fnds out experimentally
that his real straight l i n s, points and 8 forth
Mn b very precisly described by mathematical
abstractions, only when he ses tbat tbe axioms
o[ mathematics do inded describe the behaviour
o[ qui te r(al lines, points, plan s, etc., only
then does geomotry become one of UIO chapters
of phy ics, tbe science whieh tudies the world
about u . p to that point, geometry is a game
of logic.
But it i just this unexpect d ituation that
enables ono to prove the noncontradictory nature
of the geometry o[ Lobachevsky.
Here is tho problem.
Thoro ar two games: Euclid's g ometry and
Lobachcvsky's geometry.
Let US attompt to demonstrate that if in the
rules of OnO o[ thor there is a hidden internal
contradiction, thon it "il l inevitably occur i n
tho rules of the other one.
The rule of the game-I repoat-are the a1i­
You will K that we havo somewhat changed
tbe statement o[ the problem. , e rcaUte that
it is a hopelc s undertaking to attempt to provo
rigorously tho problem of noncontradictorincs.
o matt r how many millions of theorems
we prove, there will nover b complete confdence
that the next theorem wil l not contain a con­
We shall now prove that if the geometry 01
Lobachevsky is contradictory, then the geom­
etry of Euclid is unaVOidably contradictory as
wel l .
At Irst glance there i s no clear way out here
'The rules o[ the game (the axioms) are diUer­
ent. True, they di ffer onJy in one axiom, that
o[ parallel lioes, but fundamentally the situation
remains the saro. The games are diU rent,
and it is not clear at all how one can bridge th
gull btwen them. Still and al l , ther is a
J am afraid that the variety of analogies bro­
ught in to illuminate the problem will only
obscure it the more, and 8 I will start on the
proof directly. The man who gave us this proof
was ono of the greatest mathematicians of the
19th century, Felix Klein. He was an interesting
man, of great complexity, but unfortunately
we cannot go too far into history. J wish to
recall only one striking fact.
Klein lived a long lire. I f we take onJy the
papors he wrote after the age o[ 3-5, he would
b a magnifcent verstile sientist by any stand­
ard. An active, ubtle, fertile mathematician,
and a brilliant expert in tl! history o[ his sub­
ject; he was one of the best toachers in the whole
history of mathematics.
He made a harsh, categorical statment once.
He aid that after the age of thirty, becaus of
a nervous breakdown brought on by tho investi­
gation o[ a certain mathematical problem, he
wa never again capable o[ crative activity.
This was not coquetry, eitbor. It was exactly
what he thought . I like such people. [ t is ((uilO
n di lfcrCIlt. question as lo wbelher t hat makes
theil' lives easier [or them or not.
So here is the proof.
Firs� we play Euclidean geometry. Consider
an ordinary circle. Drllw a chord. 'ake a point
not lying on that chord. It is evident that ono
can draw through the point any numbr (an
infinity) of other chords that will nol intersct
our chord. They will make up al l the chords
that lie between the two chords that i ntersct
UU at tho end-points (where i t cuts tho
Clear s 1a. But what has this circle to do
with the geometry o( Lobachevsky?
Her is the miracle.
Klein's idea was to convert the trivial circle
into Õ model o[ a Lobacbevskian plane. Tbe
point is-we repeat-thnt the mathematician is
quite indiIolnt to wbat his Basic Concepts O
fer. The ultimate thing is that his axioms h
satisfied. Now we can start "laying the double
game. We defne R circle as a Lobachevskian
plane, any chord i n tile circle as a Lobachev­
skian straight line, and a point as a Lobachev­
skian point.
Quite IIll1llrally we have to add some fresh
notions liko "relation", ULo lie between", "lo
belong" and "motion". With lheso new concepts
at our disposal we can pl ay "Lobachevskian
geometry" using tho elements of Euclidean
To b able to do Lhis, we have to check through
our list of axioms and se whether our elem­
ents satisfy the axioms of Lobachevsky's geom-
otry. I t is comparatively easy to M that every­
thing is in order with most o[ the axioms. Even­
marvellously so, in fact-wh the parallel axiom,
which is thO only one that distinguishes Loba­
chevsky's gometry from Euclid '5. "One can
draw through a given point to a given 'straight
lille' an inunity of 'straight l i nes' that do
not intersct i t. '!
r give stlsight line i n 'Iuotes, but all we hav6
to do is prove that for our concepts all the axi­
oms of Lobncbevsky's geometry al fulfilled and
tho quotatioll marks call b removed.
Do not (orgel that we ar playing a double
gamc. All the t i mo we havo to t ranslate
fmm the langllage o[ Euclidean geometl'y i nto
that of Tohach0vskial1 geometry. Aud vice
Everythiug is well with the notions o( "to
blong" and "to lie btweon". They romain
the samo in both languages. The di ffculties
begi n whoo we go over to motion. The concept
"molion" has to satisf� the cnti.
. group o(
axioms o[ motioo.
We have stated that our circle is tho Loba­
chevskian plano. Well and good. We can de­
lne motion in the Lobachevskian plane. Such
motion most satisfy all the required nioms.
(Glance through them. They ar at tho end of
Chapter 3.)
This fts too. But ono thing is not clear: is it
po sible to formulate tho concept of motion of
8 non-Euclidean plane in the language of Euc­
lidean geometry?
I n our case, the non-Euclidean plano is a circle
in Euclidean language. Motion, it will be re­
callod, i 8 ono-to-one mapping (transformation)
of Ü plano into itslf. Tllis mealls that in Eucli­
doan laoguago we must fiod sme kind of trallS­
formation of the circle into itslf.
Ono cIa of such transformations insist ntly
claims our aLl ntion. These are simple rotations
of tho circlo abont its centro. However, it is
easy to se that thes tran formation cannot
b uad as candidates for "non-Euclidean mo­
tion'" .
I n rotations, i t is not po ihle to transfer any
given point of the circlo to any other proass�gned
point. For example, the centre of the clfcle.
I n such transformations, iL is always a fxed
point, pasing into itslf. Now tho axioms de­
fning motion roquiro that, in tho process of
motion, any given point can b transferred to
a diferent point. So rotations cannot satisfy
Yet tho transformations of the circle that wo
need oxist. That is the central and most radiant
part of the Klein schomo. lie pointed out an
i nfnite Dumbr of such transformations of tho
circlo (they are called projecti vo transforma­
tions) which transfer a circle into a precisly
identical now circle, any interal point of the
old circlo pasing into an internal point of tho
now circle. Any point of tho circumferonco of
tho old circle remains on the circumfereoce of
tho now circle. And the chords of the old circle
Jlass into chords of the new cir

Thes transformations 01 the clfcle (proJecltve
transformations, i n EucHdean language) s�
isfy, in non-Euclidean language, all the axioms
01 motion.
For inslance in non-Euclidean languag the
of chords signiles tbat straight
li nes Jlas, into straight l i nes, ctc. Now comes
tile last and deciSive stp. Wo rofer to thes
transformations 8S "motions of a Lobachevskian
Wo cnn summarizo the foregoing in tho form
of Lhe Klein model.
In lbe laoguage of EUClid·'1 I n Ibe langu.do of
gemetry Lobcbovy·. geomolry
Cirle EnUl plane
Stralgbt lioe
Polot Point
"To bloog" "To blong"
"To ÎÌ0 blwen" "To lie WWð0h¯
"Prjelho transformalion "MoLion"
of a cirle inlo itlf"
AU the properties 01 projectlvo trno formatlOos
8 of cours known, but we do not ned to
know them. All we have to do is accepL the (acl
that such transformations exist.
And s-thi is tho minute we ha.e bon waiting
for-i f it is 10 ible to declare the ci rele a Lo
hachevskian plane (this wo have provod). then
the problem is solved.
Indeed. suppos in proving sme kind of theor­
em in the geometry of Lobachevsky. wo arri ve
at a contradiction. But every theorm of Lo­
bachevs.y's geometry is now also sme theorem
of the geometry of Euclid.
Each theorem may b stated in two languages.
H we havo a contradiction in Lobachevsky's geo­
metl'Y, W% als, at the same time, get one i n
Euclidean geometry.
Of cours, in Euclidean language the contra­
diction will look di lerently and ,;1 1 open up
in some other theorm, but that is quite i mma­
terial. Tho important thing is that if io One of
tho geometries there is B logical contradiction,
it will be i n the otber geometry as well.
The geometries are equivalent.
This then proves the independence of the ffth
postulate of aU the remaining axioms ot Euclid's
That is al i i
But i n sience, l i ke ill tbo Arahian igb!s, the
ond of one story is but t he bginning of UIO noxt.
Proof of the noncontldictorincs of tho geom­
etry of Lobachevsky signi fed for mathematicians
the slar� of a colossal cycle of studies in axio­
matics, III creation of a highly intricate, ideally
rigorous and . b ol utely abst"act apparatus of
ma�hematic81 logic, all apparatus lhat was in­
fnitely removed from lhe slightest practical ap­
plication-unt i l it was (oul l d tbat eleet"ollic
computing 1I13cbines . . . . By the wny, lhis is just
the time to concludo our discussion.
Let us return to tbe Klei II model to nole a
very amusing point. Take two points within
our circle. Draw 8 chord througb tbem. I n the
language of Eucli d, the dislnnce h twen thes
points is equal to the length o[ the sgment of
the chord. What is the situation i n Ule language
01 non-Euclidean geometry?
Intuitively, We can 8 that at any rate i t
cannot b equal to the lengU, of the sgment.
I ndeed, distances btween two points on the
i nfnite Lobachevskian plallO can b arbitrarily
gmat, while the "Euclidean dist 'IDces" btween
points of our circlo are restriclcd by i ts diam­
eler. It is clear tbat wo have to defne a "nol)­
Euclidean distanco" in some otber way. But
how? Very si mpl y i f we recall how the concept
of length is in trod uced i lito geometry.
Roughly, i t is done B follows. Take a sale
unit-some sgment-and by means of trans-
form.tion of motion make i t coincide with the
sgment being measured. Its length is dewrm­
ioed by the number of ti mes the scale unit !ts
into it. We wil l not go any further. The impor­
tant thing to now is that the defnition of equal­
ity of line sgments (and consquently of length)
& also, incidentally, the congruence of any geo­
metrical fgures, is detcrmjned by means of the
concept of motion.
That is the situation both in the geometry of
Euclid and i n the geometry of Lobachevsk. But
in Our model, motion in the Lobachevsldan plane
is, i n Euclidean language, a projective traosfor­
mation of a circle. Therofore, it comes out that
in tbe language of Lobachevsldan geometry, two
line sgments ar equal if Ono passs into the
othor in a projective transformation. Recall i ng
that the length should not change during trans­
formation of motion, we realiw that the "non­
Euclidean length" must remain the same in a
projoctivo t ransformation. I must, as mathe­
maticians sy, b invariant to a transformation.
This quantity-tbo invariant-is natural ly
known for projective tran. formati ons of a circle.
I f We also tako into account that the length
of the sum of two line sgments must be equal
to tho sum of the lengths of thes sgment, i t
turns out that tbo "non-Euclidean distance" is
determined uniquoly. And of cours sucb a dist­
anco bhaves normal ly (that is, it becomes in­
fini w) when one o[ the points lies On tho circum­
forenco of tbe circle.
The circumference of a circle corresponds to
infini toly distant points of the Lobachovsldan
Of cours, the somewhat extravagant cbaracter
of "non-Euclidean motion" in tho Klen model
is also e"i dent in the fact that the size of a "non­
Euclidean angle" betwon two straigbt lines is
qmw diferent from tho rustanco betwen two
chords in the Euclidean l anguage. But thes are
only details. They are important hut tri nes ne­
vertheles. Al l the esntials have already ben
And now the last poiot.
To prove tho noncontradictory character of
the solid geometry of Lobachevsky, it suffice
to convert the Kloi n cU 'cle into a spbere.
A fow years of tor Klei n, the French matbemat­
ician Poincon proposd another model of Lo­
bachevskian geometry.
lso on a sphere. I t is
perhaps even moro remarkable. Poincaro Oven
conjectured a marvellous world of pbysical
beings, which, from the Euclidean viewpoint,
would hve IH the restricted circlo of Poincare,
but from their vantage point would clai m that
tbey were l iving in the i nfnit plane of Lo­
In th is wodd, the strai@h I Ii nC" of Lo bachev­
sky are, in Euclidean lauguage, arcs of circles
perpendicular to the surface of the sphere. The
accompanying drawing wi l l give the reader some
idea of Poincarc' model. There are a lot of
attractive featurs i n tho "Poincare sphc,e" but
wo will have to call a hal l at this IJoi nt, for olber
t hi ngs cl aim our n1 tenl i on,
Lh4Qlw ÎÎ
We have now come to 8 ttlrning of tbO ways.
Up to this point, we had boeu talking tho lan­
guage of elementary shool. Wo were able to
sme extent to convey the esnce of proof of
noocootradictorioess of the geometry of Loba­
chcvsby and to i mpart to the reader sme ideas
of Riemann. Thi ngs have nOw become complic­
aledo To get some foling of the content of the
gneral t heory of relativity, one has to iovesti­
gate the special theory. But the anthol' can
hardly expect the reader Î0 h8ve the deol) know­
ledge that this requires and s cannot afford to
dwell in detail on tbe special theory.
The most natural thing would b to say noth­
i ng. The temptation is great. But that would
moan taki'll the whole slmphony of the fifth
postulale and throwing away the triumphant,
purely Bethoven finale.
Obviously, we cannot do lhat. Al l 1 CBI1 do
is warn yon tbat what follows is onl y B bare
ouLline, extremely superfcial.
The general theory of relativity is basd di ­
rectly OH the idea of the "non-Euclidicity" of
space. That is what i ntol'ests us most. And s
let U try to dispons completely with the special
theory of relativity. We wil l confino ourslves
to ollly a word or two.
Gem.lry afte the year 195. The special theory
of relah I ty has already ubstantially alwred
our views concerning geometry. To bgin with,
lel US try to grasp tbe connection btwen geom­
elry and physics i n general and also to se what
s changed i n geometry as a result of the spe­
cl Ul theory of Mlat i Nity.
Befor Einstein, the univ rsal and frm con­
was that Euclidean gometry reigns su­
me I n the real uni vers in which we live.
Ihere were no reasons to think otherwis. The
theoretical possi bility that our world is des­
cribable b
sme kind of non-Euclidean geom­
etry remamed a purely theoretical One, whi le
Lobachevsky' s and Riemann's suspicions DI¡ this
score were nO moro than speculations. Tbe situa­
tion was as if someone said: "The supposi t ion
that so-nnd- K, Mr. X, is a Martian dweller dos
not i n tbe least contradict the laws D1 formal
lOgic. "
"That ma� be," would be the respons, "but
aU obsrvahons and experiments point to so­
and-s being an inhabitant of the earth. "
ow after the advent of the special theory,
there ap

eared real �oubts about the problem
01 the ongln of Mr. X bing so crystal Clear .
We must now look into the camp of physic­
:s�s.. Let us se what geometry means to mathem­
allClons and physicists.
the mathem
atcian, geometry, as we havo
'd LI me and
agaIn, i s essntially a fOImal game
WIlh the BaSIC Concepts and axioms chosn for
them. I t i s nece ary that tho game obey Lho
rules 01 formal logic and at this stago he dos
not care wh ther hi s geometry can aspire to
any relationship with the aclual world i n which
wO live.
True, every person was unequivocally coov­
i nced that Enclidean geometry reOected the pro­
perties of our univers. But that was simply
l8ken for granted. A sort 01 natural property
of the human mind. The [act that geometry
has an experi mental foundation wa somehow
forgotwn. What is 1lI0re, prior to Lobncbevsky
for two thousand years geometry was carelully
guarded against the defling efects o[ experim­
ent; it was kept away from any kind of "elll­
pirical hasis".
Einstein rather maliciously but precisely r(­
marked that what happenod to the axioms and
Basic Concepts was similar to the process 01
converting the beroes of antiqui ty into gods.
In place of a realistic basi s, there aros the "myth
of geometry", a rather hazy conception of axi­
oms as something "intrinsic to the human mind,
to intuition, aud to the spirit"
I t is hard to
grasp the meaning of the last words, possibly
becaus there isn ' t any. However, it mu t b
said that the hypnosis 01 abstraction was so
great that i t held the greawst minds spel lbound.
Physicists were among tlICm. One can eVOn
mention sme outstandiHg names, peOI)lo not
without talent-Isaac ewton, to take one in­
His Basic Concepts that aro given in the open­
ing chapter of the Principia 8 fundamentally
unobsrvable and unknowable. ewton's "ab­
solute space" and ((absol ute t i me nr some­
thing "intrinsic to the human (and perbaps also
divine) consciousness". Ther is no irony here,
none in the least. I t precisly conveys the sub­
stance o( the notions "absolute spacett and uab.
solute time".
So pl
'ysicis!s too wero engaged in "tm'lIillg
heros Into gods". I f we cont i nuo tho di vi llo
analogy, i t wi l l b sen that bcaus of thoir
scat ter-braiuedne V¡ physicists, thollgh theoret­
icaUy recoguizing and preaching the religioll of
the abslule, actual ly paid no attention to it
and did not draw any real conclusions therolrom.
The lirst example was st by ewton himslf.
Ho lormulated 8i l the law of his mechanics
101' "absolutes", but straightway employed them
in tlw solutioll of qui te concrete problems. ince,
0snt¡8lly, the axiOmatics did nOI interlere i n
8lI§ way, no at teWtion was paid to i t.
I n this sns, mathematicians turnod out to
b more consistent in tnair attitude. Thoy had
already fully analysd the problem or axiomat­
ics when phYSicists wero just begioning to take
a srious interest in the foundations or their
science, tho basis of their conceptions concern­
ing sgÎoce and time.
On the other hand, though, they advanced
much farther sud at One step. Here almost all
the credit gos to One man-Einstein.
It was about this time that the attitude or
physicists to geometry hecame clear-ut. In­
tuitively, subconsciously they always believed
that the ent.re problem of interrelationships be­
tween geometry aod phy ics was rather artilcial.
ow tho situation was substantiated with com­
plete rigour. Tbe point was this. The Basic Con­
cepts of geometry are abstractions of our concep­
tions or actual physical objects. For example,
Ei nstein says that rigid bodies with markjngs
on them, realize (gi ven due caution) the geom­
etric concept of a line sgment, a0d rays of
light realize straight lines. He then goes on to
say that i f on0 dos not adhere to this viewpoint
in practice, it i s i mpossible to approach the
theory of relativi ty.
But i f tbat is tho cas, then geometry is 5i m­
ply a chapter of physics! Its lrst chapterl
Practically speaking, what we have just said
dos not change matters much. We have de­
throned the axioms and Basic Concepts, we have
reduced geometry to a gneralization of physical
experiment, and now se that the truth or fals­
it) of geometry is a question of experiment, but
all the specifc assrtions have remained un­
We recall that, essntially, Gauss and Loba­
chcvsky and Riemann al l thought similarly.
They defended the positions 01 the practical
However, if we consistently develop our views,
it will be sen that we have already proved a
few thi ngs. Things that at now aud i mportant.
What is moreg our ,jews suddeli ly lead us to
certai ll doubts as to the actual ,'ealizabi l ity of
geometry. l Iere tbe attack is [rom fresh posi­
One of the principal chapters or any geOIll6try
is tbat of tho geometriC theory of measurement.
In order to dovelop geometry, we have to delne
the concept of length \�th full mathematical
rigour. This was naturally dono by geometers.
Their definition of lengt h is hasd on two "quite
different whale "y
Wo ned:
1 . A lino sgmont whos longth is taken to h
2. A proedllle for measuring, which in geom­
etry amonnts, roughly speaking, to layi ng of
the eale unit Oil the sgment bing measured
and counting the number of ti mes it takes. The
"esUILing f .. actional numbr of ti mes (it may
acCidentally bo an i ntegral numbr of ti mes) is
tbe lellgth of the Une sgment.
I n that way, One can, %§, measure the length
of a si de of a triangle. In doi ng %I, we taci Lly
asume that if the triangl is at rest relativ
to the usale unit Or is ill motion the result
will b the same. Now sinco we said that al l
geornetdeal object a,e an idoali zation of actual
physical bodies, then the words gi ven above
coa to appear s clear.
(f the tdaogle beiog measured is in motion
relati ve Lo the seale unit, our procedure for meas­
uring is no good at al l . I f we stand on the plat­
form of a rai lway slation and wish to measure
the length of the doors of a railway coach of B
train passing by at bigh speed, we callot apply
tho scale uni l . 10 do tbat, wo would have to he
moving along in the same di rection and at the
same sped as the train (with the scale unit i n
our hand). But then both "unit" and "object
bing measured" would be at rcst r lalive to
one nllother, and we " oturn to our origi nal cas.
Obviously some kind of new procedure is ned­
ed for Dlea uring movi fig bdies. But i f our pro­
cedure is new (it mallers li llie wbat kind, W
l ong as i t is new), then we are not posili V0 i n
Hny way that our llew "length" will coincidc
with the earlier ooe.
Actually, we have introduced a total l y new
concept. From the standpoint of formal logic
there ar no grounds to expect that i t will coi nc¯
ido with the earlier one. Only experiment can
,cslve the matter.
LoL U8 stop for ð moment.
A little thinking wi l l make it cleBr that thes
aro very unpleasant words for L1le axioms of
W" asrt �hat our geometrical concept gen­
eraUy speaki ng, can cbange if the aClusl �lids
wbos geometric properties are under tudy are
moving relative to U,
We say, "something cnn change i n tbe proc­
ess". We thus demand that the geometric system
of axioms bo supplemented by fresh axi oms of
a purely physical oatllre.

istently developing our viaws, we become
convllced that there should be a rather large
numbr of such axioms. Indeed, all our sgments
(Including of cours the scale uniL) sr abstrac­
tions of actual solids. But, 8S we know, solids
expand wben heated, their length changs. Meas­
urements with cold and hot scalo units wi l l
change the results we obtain.
Consquenlly, if we want to be absolutely prcc­
is (and that is our ai m) , we must introduce into
geometry a "constant temperature of the sale
unj t".
However, temperature is not the only thing
that aUect . physical properties. Hence, we will
have to specify all the physical conditions. I t
then works out that only i f al l manner of pre­
cautions are taken can we hope that tho axioms
of "pure geometry" ,�U describe our univers
That is the only thing that DOW worries us.
Generally speaking, this work has DOL yet been
done in aU its details. Probably it is noL vcry
much ncedod, though posibly i t is very much
'loded. At least twice it has turned out that
redefning the physicnl conditions in which tho
geometry of tho world was constructed bas com­
pletly overhauled our conceptions of nature.
The !rst ti me this ocurr d was when the spe­
cial theory of relativHy was introduced. It was
fOlmd that the length of a moving sgment difers
[rom that of a sgment at rest.
We will not go into how all that came about
and will confne ourslves to a fow general remarks.
i . We are not abashed by the fact that the
length of a moving sgment comes out dilferent
from that of a sgment at rest. We realize that
determining the length of a moving body in­
vol ves a now procedure of measurement, and
hence, stricUy speaking, it is a new notion. I t
need not coincide "�th the ol d notion.
'. e also realize that the new notion must in
some way or othor be introduced, lor we are no
lon�er playing a game of logic but are creating
a tool \ith which to study the actual world.
Our concepts must b able to describ this world
fully and well . That is the only reasn for their
They appear as a re ult of the study of the
real physical world. But there arc moving bo
dies in the world. One has to be able to describ
them too.
2. It turned out that without employing tbo
concept of time i t is imposible to determine,
logically and well, the "length of a moving
We bcome suspicious at this point.
This is all the mOre disoncerting that a Jlew
and highly important concept-lime-enters ioto
our geometry. Up to now geometry had been
associated slely with Space.
But-we continue to reason-everything will
work out fne and nothing will change if the
length of the moving sgment coincides exaclly
,11h the length of Lhe segment at test. Then tho
notion of Time wi l l in nO way be assciated
wilh that of Space.
Now i t experiment shows lhal Ihe length of
a moving sgment is di ferent, and i f it turns
out that this depends on the velocity of the
scale unit. for example i f i l di mi nishes i n ac-
1 n=twn
cordaoce mtJl the law 1"'1 ~ • / 1-�' where

V is the veloity of the moving sgmont and c is
the veloci ty of light qç• if the veloi ty and, via
tho velocity. Lhe l i mo too enter bl omelry • = . =
then wo will have to say: tim an space lre
interelate. Then i n geometry i t will h i mpos­
sihlo to study space i ndependeutl y of l i mo.
That i s oxactly whal Einstein demonstrated.
The length of a moving body is i ndeed depend­
ent on tho veloily: tim enters gemtry, t
propeties of time turn out dendnt upon t
propeties of space, and al l our earlier views
concerning the univers and gometry provo to
bo only a rather naive approximation. l L is only
when we cOllune oursl ves to sludying cass when
the relative veloit.ios of objects are small that
our old conceptions funclion properly and W
call regard space as boing i ndependent of time,
and time as indepndent of space.
I n Utis cas. the old and true geometry of
Euclid is a le instrument for studying space.
Then we can take it that the properties of space
do not depnd on time.
Such wer the ideas that aros in tho year
195 as a rsult of the special theory of re.ativiLy.
The inner logic alld elegance of Einstein 's
theory were K striking that within thre or
four years aU tho leading thool'etical physicists
were enthusiastic adherents. I n 1 9 Max Planck
exclaimed: "I t ned hardly b soid tbat tho
new-Ei nsloinian-approach to tho notion of
lime d mands of the physicist all ul l i mate ca­
pability of abstraction and an enormous capacity
for i magination.
"I n i ts audacity, this theory surpass every-
thing achieved up to this time. . . .
. .
" on-Euclidean geometry. by compaflsn. I8
8 play. Yet, i n contrast to non-Euclidean
geometry. whos application call sriously b
considered only i n pure mathematics. the princ­
iple of relativity has every right to pretnd to
a roal physical signi /eaoce.
"f n its depth and consequences, the upheaval
wrought· by Iho relati vity principle. . . may �
com Iared only with that effected by CoperOl­
Planck was I'ight but he did not know that
that was ooly tbo bginni ng.
To summarize, then, together with the special
theory of relativity a new concept of four-dimen­
sional space-Lime entered physics. But, as b­
fore, thre-dimen ional space is describd by
the geometry of Euclid. True, in that are year
of 190 a very curious lact came to light. It was
found that the law of composition of speeds in
tho special theory of relativity coincides exactly
with the law of composition of vectors in the
space of Lobachevsky.
In othor words, the formal space of relativistic
veloci ties is Lobachevskian space. But this ap­
peard to b a purely formal coincidence. Nei­
ther at that time nor later was any profonnd
physical moaning found in this analogy.
Still more snsational and startling news fol­
Physics and geometry (a/ter 1916). Planck was
not to blame, bcaus if ono neds an insLance
of the most unexpeted discovery in the history
of science, then this is tho general theory of
For three hundred years tbo foundations of
tho tbeo�y of gravitation were in a state of ab­
solute rest. Newton had given the law. And
that was al l. Actually, there was just one fun­
damental formula that lay at the core of cal­
cwations of the motion of celestial bodies in all
the numbrle Ø volumes of subtle, ele_ant and ma­
gni ficent investigations into celesti a mechanics:
F= T

This states that tho forco of attraction of any
two bodies iu tho uni vers is pJoportional to
the product of their mass and inverly pro­
portional U the squar of the distance btween
The quantity ] is a constant with the dimen­
sions 6.6
10-8 dynes cm' g-2.
The law of universal gravitation is truly mag­
ni fcent! One could go on singing the praiss
of the "Simplicity" of ewton's ideas, but that
is B waste of good lime. The Simplicity lies only
i n tho analytical form of the law. This "naive"
formula summarizes sveral nOHo-obvious, sub­
tle and-what is more-at frst glanco traoge
phySical asumptions. It required a Newton U
produce it. Over one hundred years pasd b­
fore tbe law of gravitation was unconditionally
accepLed. Note too that tlte protests came not
from ignorant peoplo or obscurantist scbolar,
but from tbe g,eatest and most talented sient­
ist- of tho day. And s the talk of simplicity
can reler only to the magnifcent barmony of
nalure, to the beauty and elegance of her basic
Newton told U how gravitation operates. But
no word was said about why it functions in pre­
isly the way it dos.
By tbe bginning of tbe twentietb century,
[ 0
0 had almost reconciled temslves to tbis
situation. I I was as i f looking at tbe s",ooU.ly
polisbed surface of your furnitur you fnd it
diffcult to im(gino tho rough uDworked wood
that lies underneath.
Incidentally, attempts wnro made from time \0
lime t olfer somo mochanism for the law of gravi­
tation, but they "I I i uvariably and rapidly came
Lo nought. Wben science Dourished, physicists
= ^
� .�

had thei

lull of speifc nrgnL problems,
and dllflOg penods of delino and qlliescncc
Lhere was neither the enlhnsiasm flor Lbe moral
energy to risk i nvcstigating sucb a cardinal and
most certai nl y hopeles problom.
1 1 for tho bgi
a NewLon was neces ary,
then for tho COllllnuatlOn an i ntel lect of perhaps
a till greator scale was neded.
Most likoly, one mu L agre wi L h Einstein
that without hi m the theory of gravitation might
noL have bon craled La this day.
r n scienco (in the arts too, by tho way) the
role of a gonius is perhaps greater than in ot her
fields. One man is capable of accomplishing more
thMH huodreds of hugo resarch t 'ams. Tho da­
cisive iactor is not quanti ty but quality.
So between tho years of 195 and 1916 Ein­
stei n stud! d the problem of gravitation. In 1916
the work was completed. Dnring thi s same pe­
rIOd he
was eJ

gaged i n many other thi ngs and,
l H passl ng as I t wore, he obtai ned fundamental
results ill solid-state theory. But al l the time
uppermost in his mi nd was tbe general theory
of relativity. I t continued to ocupy l his central
place to the end of bis days.
Of course, before goil)g to the heart of Lhe mat­
ter wo will, as we have been doing al l along,
tart out wHh a few gencral ideas and a story
or two. When ooe is dcaling with Einstein and
his works this is al l the more neesary . . . .
OnC, reading a hunter's jouÎna|*I can ' t oven
i magine how that ever got into my h.ods-T
came UPOI) an article about snakes. Tbe author,
who bad capLl/rod about 1 ,50 snakes, "eported,
among other things, that not one o[ the snake
had ever a t tacked hi II fst .
Tbis was ama.ing. I read to tho end. The
article was n srious one written by a profes­
sional snake-catcher. He alÌÖl ysd a varieLy of
peCialized problomsq sLressd the value of NM*
nom, criticized the situation i n tbe coutry in
tbat respect , and, what was particularly inter­
esling, one felt that he l i ked all theso poiso(loll
snakes and considered them very lIsful .
The problem of boosting the venom output
of a Cntral Asiao cobra was discusd 88 if one
wero talking abouL Kbol mogory cows. There
comos to mind a descri ption of a remarkable Hindu
lIÌathematiciany the great nnmber,Uleorist Ra­
manujany of wbom it was said that "evoJy po!
i ti ve intger was ono o[ his persnal friends".
I hope the parallel is not Ox tnded to fractions
and tho rptiles.
The article bgall wi tb the statement that
snsational stories abouL snakes do more harm
than good. And he listed a [ow of tbe mistakes
thaL jOllfnalists make. I gathered that he was
truly upst and that be very much wauted
people to got Ö clear picture 01 this complicated
and rather tedious profes ion of snake-catcher,
in place of a1\ srts of "romantic hor­
J recalled this story not bcaus [ wanted to
amus my readers hut becaus I 3m convinced
that people get lar-fetched, highly distorted con­
ceptions about things with which they do not
personally come into contact.
Unfortunately, the peculiarities of the pro­
fession of a scientist (especially that of the phys­
icist) is rgarded On the smo level as the work
of a snake-catcher.
More than anything els, tho theory of relat­
ivity (and of cours Ein tein himsl f sufered
from snsation stories.
I t was his luck he could dismiS with calm
and indi !erent irony the endles uproar around
his namo that continued from 1919 onwards.
One can perhaps only offer prayers of gratitude
that all the publicity had practically no efect
on his good natmo.
But K much nonsns was whipped u(l around
the theory of relativity, both gnoral and spe­
cial, that one feels embarrasd. True, physic­
ists themslves are smewhat to blame to: For
many years, even i n prole sional circles, it was
blieved (and still is prhaps) that the ideas of
rlativity theory are very complicated. Partic­
ularly i f one is dealing with tho general theory.
This was quite natural during the frst years
alter Einstein's work appeared. It is always the
cas. From what you have son in this book,
J hope it is clear that such an elementary (i f
judged wi thout prejudice) idea as that of Lo-
bachcvsky was grasped only with exceptionnl,
unbelievable di ffculty.
But forty odd years havo pa sd since
creation of the general theory and sme sIxty
years inee tbat of the special theery of relativ­
ity. We should have long since put everything
in its place and realized that tbe fundamentals
of ewton's mechanics ar, at any rate, hatier
and, posi bly, more involvod tban the princip­
les 01 the theory of relativity.
Even from the most general reasning it is
clear that it could not b otherwis. In both
cass we deal with the S<me thing-the fun­
damental ideas of space and time. And the farther
we penetrate into the e snce of the
the clearer, simple.r and moro harmOnIOUS do
our conceptions bcome.
. .
I n building bis gene

al theory, �ll

telU P.G
ceded as he himslf said. from a childish, naIve
questi�n that had engaged him ever since his
school days.
"What happens in a falling lift?"
Another cleven years of intensive work, sv­
eral dozen faulty versions that had promisd suc·
cess and a numbr of probing invesligations were
neeaed bfore the problem was reslved in 1916.
However, nO exhaustive result that reslved
the problem, like Newton's law, was yeL ob­
tained. The work was far from completion, but
the foundation had ben defnitely laid.
Crudely speaking. that �as how
things s�od.
An oxcerpt from Chaplin s autobIography glves
U a pic Lure of how all this appeard in the minds
of two people who cannot be suspected of the
slightest desire to twist the truth.
"As Mr Einstein had requested i t should b
a small .r"i Î, I i n"i led onl " two other friends
At dimler she told me the sioly of tho morin,
he conceIved Ihe t hery o[ rel ativity.
''''I'he Doctor caml down i ll his dreSing gown
as lI

ual for hreak[ •• t hut he hardly touched
" t hIng. J thought srething was wrong, so r
wha t WlIS tron hling hi m. "Darli ng", he
saJd, r halO " wouderful idea. " And after drink­
ing his coffoo, he wont to the piano and started
playing. Now and ngaill he woul d stop, making
� few notes theu repeat: " 1 ' 10 got a wonderful
ldea, a marvellous idea. ' ''
I said: ''''llen [or goodness' sako tel l me
what it is, don't keep R10 i n suspens. H'
'''He sai d: "l's di fficul t, I still hal'O t o work
i t out.
"Sho told me ho continued playiug the pi<U0
aud makio

nOles for about ha\ [ an hour, then
went upstaIrs to hs studyg telling her thaL he
did not wish to bo disturhed, and remained
t here [or L wO wek . 'Each day I snt bi m up
his meals. ' she said, 'and i n Ihe el·.,ung he would
walk a l ittle for exelcis, then return to his
work again.
"<Eventually, she �i d, 'he came down from
llis study lookillg very pale. "That'8 i t , " he
told III • wearily ]Juttil)g two sheuts o[ paper on
the table. And t hat was hi theory of reliliv­
i ty. ' H
Most l i kel y soroL lling very much l i ke what is
de 'cribd be"e actually look place. I might b
l iteral l y tnle. Mr. Chapl i " of cours wrote tho
way he s.= things. But this chauges nothing
at al l . I f that i s U,e truth, then it is only a mi n­
ule particle of tho truth.
UW I am about to undertako what r myslf
have % harshly criticized: a very superfcial and
therfore unavoidably distot·ted descri ption of
the goneral theory of rel ativity and it s i nter­
relationships with geometry.
Ei nstein had two gui di ng ideas. One di d not
sem, at rrst glance, to have allY relation what­
sver to gmetry. That was the l ift. Or, to
put it otherwis, the question of the equality
of an i nert mas and a gravitational mas. That
was the one and only experimental fact upon
which the On tire theory was cooslructed.
There is nothing more amazing in the whole
history o[ science.
Let U try to fgure out what the i nert 1a
and gravitational mas mean. Everyone should
know ewton's scond Jaw. However, I suspct
that most readers do not have a ful l grasp of
either that law or of the other laws aod, i n gen-
eral , of �be fundamontals of clasical mechan­
ics. UnIOl'tunately schol physics only Ilor[orms
a few formal manipulat ions with Newton's laws
and does not demand much understanding on
tbe part of tbe student.
Yet-and I am prepared to repeat this with­
out end-to grasp thoroughly the fundament­
als of classical physics is tantamount to fully
preparing onesl( for an understanding of the
theory of relativity, becaus as SOn as the nO­
tions of space, lime, force and mass ceas to
exist as nebulous and pmoly intuitively perceiv­
ed enti ties, as son as their exact meanings have
ben elucidated, then any physical theory will
appear ns 8 consquence of a defnite system of
axioms. Now any choice of axioms is determi n­
ed by experiment.
I admi t tbat this is my sore spot, and since
we havon' t silace enough to give a clear analysis
of the basic notions of physics, my suggestion
is that the reader con ult a book or two on the
For the pre nt, suppos that the reader is
familiar with Nowton's scond law and oven
has fully mastered it.
The proportionality constant betwon a force
and the acceleration of Ö mas Æ determines the
inertnes of tho given body. We shall call i t
the inort mas """ , .
Newton's law of uuiversal gl'avitation relers
to the gravitational intraction of bodies.
A priori, ther ar abslutoly no gl"Ounds to
blieve, not the slightest hint, that the formula
wWch determines the force of interaction must
smehow b dependont on the inert mass. For
classical physics, this is a still more unexpected
and inexplicable fact tllan, sy, the depend­
ence of the numbr of weddings in Vladivostok
on the weather i n the Antarctic. I n the l atter
cas, we at least have a logical link-up i n that
the Soviet whaling feet is basd 8t Vladivostok.
Now in the cas of the gravitational and the
inert mass there was no clarity up to the time
of Einstein.
'bere WR8 a rmarkable exprimental fact, and
everyone, Newton frst, made not of the mar­
vellous coincidence. Many experiments were car­
ried ont over the years up to the bginning of
the twentieth century. The last experiments­
thos of Roland Eitviis-were ama.ingly accur­
ato. The idea bWnd al l the experimont. was
extremely simplo and we hall now examine it.
First we wil l write down the law of gravitation.
We will write tho masss ð5 0þqpg, for we
do not know whether thes masss are the S8H0
as Ælnerl . We want to fnd 8U expel"i menl, that
will demonstrate tbis. So wo have
Let us examine the concrete cas of a freely­
falling body. The force compelling it to fall
(the force of graVitational interaction) is tho
lorco of gravity.
On the other hand, if we kl)ol the accelera­
tion and the inert mas of the falling body, sy
a small ball, we can fnd the force by moans of
ewton 's scood law. We thus have two equations:
( 1 ) F-
"heeey"he •••
- T

Af ¿ is the gravitational IMS of the earth,
and T is tho distance from our ball to the centre
of the earth. Newton established that a massi.o
sphere attracts with a force such as i f its entire
mas wero concentratd in the centro. That was
a purely mathematical problem.
(2) F = min."
is the acceleration 01 fre fall.
Cmbi ning the two equations wO get
¯inrr( "'hrmµ
ow if PmºÆq¢g for all conceivable bo­
dies; if they are equal in the cas of steel , wood,
gass, Uquids and radioactive elements and po­
Iymers and s on and on, then
In other words, the acceleration of tbe earth's
graviLy is the same for all bodies.
This was frst established by Galileo. The
equality of the inert and gravitational masss,
as we have already notd, had ben frmly establ­
ished in dozens of eX]lcrirents.
Wi Ih the ad vent of the special theory, when
it beame clear that every kind of energy pos­
M53 an inert mass, experiments wore perform­
ed with radioactive substances.
It turned out tbat in their cas too the ioert
and gravitational masss were equivalent. Tbat
is to say, energy possss heavy mass as well,
which is tbe same B the inert mass. In short,
precis experi monts demonstrated the identical
equivalence of the inert mass and the heavy
mas. However it was One thing to know and
quile another to understand. Einstein st out
to prove why they are equal.
It may not yet b clear wbat al l this has to
do with geometry, but nevertheless this sle ex­
peri mental fact plus the special theory of rlat­
ivity, plus one more requirement of a purely
theoretical character was enough for Einstin
to bring about a complete change in our concept­
ions of tbe geometry of the univers-the gen­
eral theory.
OI abut the theoretical requirement. We
can even formulate it in strictly technical lan­
guage: "the laws of nature must b generally
covariant", or, more simply, "all systems of
rference must b equivalent".
J fully realize that this is not much of an ex­
planation, I gave the statements mOre for my
Oln conslation. 'Ve simply do not have the
neCe sry time to go i nto the origin of tbe gen­
eral thery of relativity. I do not Wish to give
only 0 smblance of an explanation, though that
wou.ld b fairly easy to do. The only thing I
ask you to take On trlllt is that tho "equivalence
of reference systems" is a demand which largly
stems from aesthetics. The i nner logic and the
beauty of a physical theory were to Einstin One
of tho most decisi ve factors.
I t may b that he ocasionally overestimated
the relative signi fcance of such arguments, but
he blieved that the laws of the univers should
in principle be very natural and logical, and
that theoreticians often distort tbem perceiv­
ing things in a crooked mirror. One can, of
cours, fnd fault with sucb reasning-no thing
exist that do not have weak spots-but tbe fact
tbat this mode of reasni ng was good is proved
by the re ults he achieved.
"Tho theory of gravitational felds construct­
ed on the bnsis of the theory of relativity bars
the namo of the general theory of relativity. I t
was crated by Ei nstein (and formulated in final
form by bi m in 1916) and is perbaps tbe most
bautiful of existing theories. The remarkable
tbing is that it was constrncted by Einst i n
i n a purely deductive fashion and only subs­
quently corroborated via astronomical obsr­
vations. " Tblll wrote Landau and Li! hils in
their fundamental cours of theoretical physics
wWch is considered to be the world's b t i n
tbat feld. I t i s the only place i n all their ix
volumes where tbe autbors display any omotion.
That fact alone speaks volumes.
But let U get back to apocrypha.
In Wply to the query of bis nine-year-old sn,
"Papa, wbat is i t tbat makes you s famous? "
Einstein is reported to bave said quite sriously
that wben a blind bug crawls over the surfaco
of a ball, it dos not notice that th path trav­
ersd is curved. Said Einstei n, "I , On the con­
trary, had the good fortune to notice that."
TWs pasag is often quoted, but don't think
that it exhausts the content of the gneral theory.
I t is obvious that Einstein himslf believed
that the basic result of bi work was a fundament­
al cbange i n our conceptions of tbe geometry
of the univers.
We have already said that the sllecial tbery
lUlled the idea of the geometric properties of
pace being indopendent of timo.
Time bad bcome a part of geometry.
But the properties of lime only aleeted the
geometry of moving bodies. For bodies at rest,
the gometry of Euclid h Id true.
A new pbysical factor app arcd in the general
theory of relativity that detormined the geom­
The old resul t-the mutual dependence of tbo
properties of space and time-was naturally ro­
tained. But lWs was not nU. I t tured out tbat
tbe gemetrical properLes of the world � 8
given point at a given instant of time are deter­
mined by tho gravitational feld at that point.
Thls last phras probably dos not mean very
much to tbe reader, and s we shall give a few
precis statement and then a crude analogy that
sbould domonstrate certain tbings.
In the general theory of relativity, the world
is describd by the geometry of Riemann. Here,
when speaking of tbo world and its geometry.
we all the time have i n view the four-di mension­
al world. Time is i nextricably woven into tbe
geometrical properties of space.
A you recall, both Gaus and Riemann reg­
arded the curvature of space at a given pOint
85 tbo detrmining cbaracteristic. Als docis­
ive was the Uilltrinsic characteristic of spaceJ_
the properties of tbe sbortst l ines (geodesics).
Thes lines are physically determined by tbo
trajectories traversd by material particles f
of tbo action of forco.
According to Einstein, both the curvature at
a given point and the properties of geodesics
ar determined by tho gravitatIonal feld. In
the general theory of relativity, gravitation oc­
cupies an exceptional place of honour. Roughly
speaking, it is tho most important of all inter­
I t determines tho gometry of the univers.
We cal put It diferently: gavitation is detrm­
ined by the gometry. But no matter bow W
word it, tbe result is that t gemtrical pro­
perties of the world are detemine by the distri­
bution of gra vttating msss.
We repat again: whenever we speak of geom­
etrical properties, wo have i n view a four-im-
ensional world, so tbat in ordinary parlance one
ought U sy:
TM gemetrical propeties and tM propeties
01 time are compltely determine by the distri­
bution of masss in tM uni vs.
And just like the geometry of the plane is
approximately fulfilled for small areas of a two­
di m nsional curved surface, s small regions of
the four-dI mensional world may be approxim­
ately rgarded as regions i n whlch the curvature
is tero.
Physically, this means that in small spatio­
temporal regions One can exclude the gravita­
tional feld and pass over to the special theory
of rlativity.
According to Einstein, gometrical properties
appear in space and Limo only when there are
rnaterial bodies in the univers.
That, very roughly spaking, is tbe gist of the
ideas of tbe general theory of relativity.
Two remarkable circumstances stand out in
the story of the development of this theory.
1 . At frst Einstein was not even acquainted
with Riemann's ideas. He had wanted to ex­
plain the equality of the inert and heavy mas$
and found i ll bis sarch that Riemann's geom­
etry was the necesary mathematical form for
a desription of his purely phYSical reasoning.
2. The general theory is probably tbo only
instance of a pbysical tbeory created in a purely
deductive manner. There was only one exprim­
ental Iact underlying the whole theory.
Today, the general Uleory has been corrobor­
ated experimentally B numbr of ti mes and was
lust recently verifed under laboratory conditions.
Now the analogy which I promisd.
I magine a piece of cloth stretched taut. This
is a plane. The geodesics On it are straight lines.
The curvature is zero. A fre material particle
ch a surface will move in a straight line.
ThlS lS an analogue of the space-time of tbe spec­
wi tbeory of relativity. Now throw B stone into
!bo middle. The cloth sinks in the vicinity of

The sbape will he distorted. The geod­
?S1CS wl
1I no longer b straight Unes. A particle
ID motIOn on such a surface, Oven in the absnce
of forces, will b defected from a straight-line
The farther away from the stone, the les the
curvature, and at infnity, the cloth is again
lat. Tbe portion of curved cloth is a rough model
of space-time in the presnce of gravitating mas­
And now tbo last question. What is the actual
geometry of the world we live in?
Experiment has shown that at least in our
part of the univers tbe curvature of space-time
is positive; crudely speaking, that is, becaus
the question of tho true geometry of the uni­
vers is a very touchy one. Physicists have
to U their imagination. This is a realm where
hypothess abound.
Pormally speaki ng, the whole problem' cons­
i sIs solely in determining tbe coffcients in tbe
formula that defnes the square of the distance
i n a four-dimensional world: space plus time.
That is all!
As of today we have a number of models 01
the world. Several hypothetical Ulli vcrss. But
we still do not know for sure which one flS tho
world in whicb we Jj ve. The portion of tho uni­
vers accesiblo to tbo most powerful telesopes
(only a paltry len thousand million light years)
is far too small.
Of cours tbe local geometry of space-timo va­
ries from 'oint to point and cbanges very fanc­
ifully near gravitational mass.
Let 's try another analogy. Cmpare our situa­
tiOD with a dweller of a mountainous region
of the earth attempting, with the aid of geodetic
obsrvations, to establish that the earth is a
sphere. His region of obsrvations is of cours
very restricted. Only a Iew kilometres. Quit
obviously such a physicist is in no easy posi­
Even if be is able-uing his measurement­
to fnd tbaL Lhe meaD radius of curvature of
his portion of the surface Is 6,40 IQIQ!etres
(the approximate radius of the earth), he will
not bo one hWldred per cent confdent that the
surface of the planet has the same curvature in
regions outside his view. And then be ,�u inev­
itably have to do what Isaac Newton s disliked.
He will have to frame hypothess.
That is the actual situation of down-to..arth
physicists when they ar asked ahout the geom­
etry of the world in tho large.
Let's stop for a moment at this exciting point.
[t is time W did some summing up.
There ar two main pOints to b summarIzed;
both ar a dirct consquence of non-Euclidean
The lrst is the creation of axiomatics and,
subsquently, of mathematical logiC. This w.s
accomplished by Hi! brt. We have already had
ocasion to mention him, but ollr story was very
crude and approximate. Particularly as regards
the problem of the completenes of the axioms.
I could have done a btter job, but only at tho
expense of drawing out our story. Anyway, when
I sat down to write this bok I had no idea of
how to tell th story of ax ioma tics precisly,
concisly and comprehensibly. Too little has
been sid oE axiomatics, and most of tbat was
not very accurate. The only conslation is thaI
I can now add a bit of advertisment.
The whole range 01 problems involving axlo­
matics is amazi ngly elegant. Even the state­
ments of many of the problems 8 totally unex­
pected. This is particularly truo of tbo problem
of completeness. One rcsul� will sulfce as an
illustration. Already in the Hl?,o's the follow­
ing theorem had ben proved.
Suppos you have a cerl.ain logical system.
I ts loundation consist. of tho Basic Concept
and the axioms. Say, Euclidean geometry. I f
this logical system i s "suffciently powerful"
(the meaning of this is of cours over our heads),
then it will always b possible to formulate
theorems which, within the framework of tho
system, cannot b proved or disproved.
At /rst glance it would sem that the trouble
lies in a lack of axioms. Tbat is not s. 0 mat­
ter how many axioms aro taken, no matter how
we supplement our system, there will always
remain certain assrtions about which nothing
defnite can be said.
Alter this marvellous theorom was proved,
tho whole problem of noncontradictori ness took
on a diferent aspect.
Wo were silent on this poinl, just as we did
not so much as touch OD the totally wlexpected
application 01 mathematical logic in comput­
ing machines.
We spoke in smewhat more detail about the
scond line of development that - passs through
iiemanroian geomotry to the general theory
of relativity.
One more thing. The whole history of the dev­
elopment of non-Euclidean geometry appears a.
one of the most brilliant instance. of unexpeted
turns in tho history of science.
WI.at appeared to b the ult- imate i n abstract
speculative and theoretical meditations of mathe­
matiCians was in sme marvellous way trans­
mutd into thi ng. of extreme i mportance to
practical phy ici.ts and even engi ners.
Lhdÿlrr ÎZ
The esnce and nature of any extraordinary
talent are mysterious. That is a trit statement.
But the bitter truth is that the mechanlsm, even
the rough operating scheme, of that remarkable
computing device that is our hrain remains a
mystery to science. We cannot make out how,
ill the brilliant scheme of evolution, nature fash­
ioned sme 14 to 17 thousnd million element­
ary units called neurons into what is known as
the human brain.
We do not even have a suitable answer t the
question: "In what way dos the human brain
difer from that of some other animal?" Wo eithor
conine ourslves to the general phenomenolog­
ical reasning of the biologist or to the scint­
illatingly clever but, alas, trivial paradoxes of
the writr.
There is even les to b sid about how the
brain of a genius difers from that of a common­
place earth dwoller. More, we do not even have
any gronnds to claim thM there are sme kind
of organic diferences of that nature.
I t may very likely b that in every persn
some exceptional talent wasts away unbeknown
M the world. It is a very entiCing and consling
idea, and was developed at One time w th tbo
greatest pleasur by Mark Twain.
Thero is of cours smething very suspicious
about it aU. But thore are no objective facls in­
dicating any absurdity. I t would perhaps be
hard to fnd a btter illustration 01 tho level of
our knowledge about the mechanism and bio­
logy of thinking. We hardly know anything nnd
can only take note of the purely external charac­
teristics 01 talen t.
Tho oft-repated phras that "talent is work"
d le s one such characteristic. Thes words are
commonly misunderstood to actually mean smo­
tlllng; this is done all the more eagerly since
the gilted, out of 0 tentatiou modesty and with
due r peet lor tradition, though at times quite
sincerely underestimating themslves, point to
work as the main sluce 01 tbeir excoptional at­
lai nments.
Slatements of this kind arc many, but only a
portion (and 8 small one at thall) is the truth.
Paganini claimed Ils wizard playing came
from a supremely xhausting labour Ihat en­
abled him to master the potentialities of his in­
He was wrong 01 cous.
The writer Lev Tolstoi liked to say that his
gill as M writer wa not at all so great or signi­
ficant, tho truly important and valuable tngs
being the moral ideas he preached that were s
natural and simple.
I do not think that Tolstoi sid what he
Einstein, speaking 01 hi gnius, said a remar­
kable thing. and we shall come back to it again.
But I think ho had in mind smething quit
diflerent and simply was compelled by circum-
slancos (energetic newsmen) to throw • bono to
the public.
So my id a is that wo hould not blieve ge­
nius on this point. The eternal, mournful in­
dignation of Pushkin's Salieri (a talonted prson,
by the way) prsnts a better and mor accurate
picture of what a geniUJ really is.
I L is smething incomprehensible.
When dealing with a normally endowed per­
sn, we can analys and decipher a fow things.
We can then pick out, mor or les clearly, tech­
niques, experience, tast-all that comes as the
reward of arduous, exhausting labour.
For example, one can al most alway und r tand
what is god and what is bad in Balzac's bok.
But wh n you are imperceptibly charmod by
the endle , rather clumsy and at limes (hor­
rible dictul) imply grammatically incorrect phra-
85 of Tolstoi ; when you ceas to watch the style,
the techniques, the images and only follow the
story of Ih piebald hors HoI tomer, learniug
how ho lived and died, and how many herss
there were i n the herd of his la t owner . . . . Whon
you call ld dOleos of moro or less suitable ex­
planations 01 why uch and such a paragraph
was wri ttell and what relative Iitorary merits i t
has etc., but canuot grasp how i t could hav
come to Tolsto; ' s mind to write that way and
why you ar lolt with that inexplicable convic­
tion that that was precisly the way it should
have ben written . . . .
Then w say that this is an anomaly which
can b r corded as such but cannot b accounted
The curious thing is that quite olten B prsn
who is a gnius i n one feld is by no means 8
harmoniously endowed personality.
There & paradoxical instances galore. Per­
haps tho bst one is Tol toi. Tolstoi the philoso.
pher was a narrow-minded, biasd and capricious
We enn bring this disusioll of genius to a
by adding that the very conception of ge­
HIU IS oxtremely hazy and subjective, particu­
larly when one deals with art, whero objecti ve
criteria are still mor nebulous.
In sience too, ulti matly, the deciding fac­
tors (or, to b more oxact, their absnce) are tbe
sme as In art, and tbat is why very often a
frst· magnitude star of today bcomes noticeab­
ly faint tomorrow.
Some cass, incidentally, are unque tionable.
One is that of Al brt Einstein.
As far B we can judg [rom reminiscences, the
childhood years of Einstein did not in the lea t
sugg st that he would be 3D Ei nsteiD.
He was a quiet, reticent child. Usually chil­
drn are full of I ile and energy, noisy, ill a hur­
ry, in a hurry to toll the world what th y aro.
But in overy dOZOD there ar one or two of
the quiet kind. Thoy do not take part in games
and kep to thomslves. They %m to b occu­
pied more by their inner world tban by tho
world around them. I t may b that smething
bas stirred up mistrust in tbeir minds and tbey
simply cautiously avoid people, in tinctively be­
lieving that it is safer tbat way. Children of
this kind ar not li ked in the rather merciless
kingdom of childhood. Tboy aro continuaUy b­
Ing teasd.
"Si sy", "mamma '5 boy", uwcakling" are
SOme of the international terms lhat often caus
more anguish than, in later l ifo, a raking down
by ono's superior. At any rato, the mark tbey
leave in tho person's l i re is deper.
Ein tein was of the timid kind.
His rolati ves recall that he was called "mam­
ma's boy" for his morbid love of tbe truth and
lair play.
Another thing. 1 did not l i ke sldiers. Nei­
tber tho real Ones marchi ng along in bright new
uniforms aDd helmet stamping in unison down
the quiet stroets of the towns of I,is Fathorland,
nor tho pretty tin sldiers that come in nice
boxe. He did noL like sldiers.
True, honesty and fair play are not so rare in
children. The question, rathor, lie in the age
at whicb it ordinarily disappoars.
Now as to thi in Linctivc dislike o[ sldicrs­
that i indeed strange.
There ar not many children like tbat, and
one might su pet smething out of the ordinary
in such a child. But no, there do not sem to b
the slightost indication that this "smething"
will, in fften years, Dower iota the theory of
There were other things that worried Einstein
at this age.
I do not know whethor the people around
him noticed that at the ago of ten or eleven this
boy of well-to-do parents was going through a
crucial internal drama, which i n many ways de­
termined the wbole of bis future life.
At least Einstin himself rememb red; at too
age of 67 he wrote:
"Even when I was a fairly precocious young
man lhe nothingness of the hops and strivings
which chass most men restlessly through Ii fo
came to my consciousness with considerable vita­
lity. Moreover, [ son discoverd the cruelty of
that chas, whicb in thos years was mnch
more carefully covered up by hyporisy aud glit­
tering words than is the eas today. By the mere
existence of his stomach everyone was condem­
lled to participate in that chas. Moreover, i t
was posible to stisfy the stomach by such par­
ticipation, but 10t man in so far ashe is a thinking
alld feling being. As the frst way out there was
religion, which is impl anted into every child hy
way of the traditional education-machine. Thus
I came-despite the fact that I was the sn of
entirely irreligious (J e,�sh) paronts-to a deep
religiosity, which, howevor, found an abrupt end­
ing at the age of 12. Througil tbe reading of
popular scientifc books I soon rachod the con­
viction that much in the stories of the Biblo
could /lot b true. The consquence was a poitive-
I y faoatic fl'othillkiog coupled with the imprs­
sion that youth is intentionally boiog deceived
by the state through lies; it was a crushing i m-
11ossion. Suspicioo against every kind 01 autho­
rity glew out of this expel'ience, a skeptical aLti­
tude towards the conviction which were alive
in any spei foc scial euvironment-an altitude
whieh has never again left me, even though laler
0lI¿ bcaus of a b tlcr insight into the causal
connectiollS, it lost sme of its Oiginal poig­
nancy. "
This smewhat heavy pasage demands more
than a hasty reading. It is worth a most de­
tailed analysis.
Note, frstly, that Einstein wrote his autobio­
graphy as a scientist striving to extract from his
inner life with complete honesty ouly what de­
srves attention. He 01 cours realized that this
was no easy task at al most 70 years of age. He
was eveo academically cautious in the title:
"Autobiographical Notes". Mostly he wroto about
what he considered to b the ouly intresting
thing in his lifo-the formation of his scienti fic
outlook. His work.
There is no place for allY tiing els in this slf­
obituary. There is no attempt to appear better,
no ostentatious display of any kind. Actually i t
i s a Sientifc paper. I n overy lIne one fols the
desire to b as truthful and objective as posible
in decribing how he, Eintein, reasned.
Such was the lile of tn-year-old Einstin.
He did not like school. He recalled school,
picturing his teachers as army srgeants; and tho
gymnasium where the instructors wero, to him,
lieu tnant.

Here we have tbe 6rst riddle. One fairly orten
mets people who, irrespective or tbeir culture
and education, never reach the idea that a per­
sn needs smething more than simple well-b­
ing. Some arrive al that conclusion at a mature
age, or even at the end o( their l ives.
To one degree or a"other, this striving to­
wards the mysterious "smething els" is found
in aU children, but mostly in a very intuitive
way of which they 8 not aware.
Einstein, On the contrary, reasoned with rigo­
s logic. As a result he arrived at religion,
wblch was quite understandable, taking into ac­
counl the conditions nnder whicb he lived.
So rar there is nothing mucb Ollt of the ordi­
The amazing thing is thaI alter reading a num­
hor of popular-science books the boy quito in­
dependently canied out a purely logical analy­
sis and took a sharp turn away from religion,
as a doctrine that is unsatisfactory. He even
gos farther, arriving at a clear-cut conclusion of
great social i mport: " . . . youth is intentionally
being deceived by the state through lies . . . "
That was at the ag of twelve.
And that was the conception that he carried
with him throughout his l i Ie. If that is so, then
whetin lies his, AI bert Einstoi n's, "some­
Very very cautiously, fearful of distorting tbo
trufh, he writes that partly conSCiously and part­
ly subconsciously he came to the conclUSiOn tbat
for him life would b happy if he devoted him­
slf to science. "The road to this paradis was
not as comfortable and alluring as tho road to
the religious paradis; but i t has proved itslf
as trustworthy, and I have never regrettod ha­
ving chosn i t. �'
You cao blieve him, ho was indeed One of
the happiest people of our ag. Perbaps ho would
have boon just as happy even if we imagine tbat
his work 'as not understood, not rocognized and
if he bad to die an unknown eccentric engineer
of the Swis Patent Bureau at Berne, where, as
a twenty-fve-year-{Id youth he created the theo­
ry of relativity. InCidentally, at tbe end oi his
l i fe he exprienced smething of this kind once
again, i n a sns.
Not in the sns of bei ng famous, of cours.
He was the most reognized and most popular
scientist in tbe world. He was al most as well
known as Marilyn Monro or the footballer Oi
Stefano. His name had bcome a symbol of the
human inteliect.
But phYSicists did not take much interest i n
the works written towards the end of his l i fe.
Yet i t was only their opinion that carried any
woight with Einstein.
Actually, not to much weigbt, bcaus tbe
decisive factor was always tbe opinion of Albrt
Why did be choos sieoce?
Perhaps if a cartain modical student. had not
suggested tbat be read poplllar-sience IitoratllO
be would have ben a god musician instead of
a brilliant physicist. Einstein played tbe violin
from the ago of six and was sriously and sin­
cerely in love witb music throughout bis life.
Then again he might bave gone into inventing­
another one of his pasions. But sucb musings
are idle.
Ei nstein himslf, in later life, always sid that
if a person was born to be a physicist, if it was
in his blood, tben he would b 8 physicist 110
matter how his l i le turned out.
It's hard to say, be most likely was judging
by himslf. Tnle, on one occasion, recalling his
youth, be ox presd the opposit viow.
Be all this as it may, the existence of all the
popular-science literatlltC of the time would b
justi fed by the single fact that it had some in­
Duence on tbe deeply tinking youngster of
twelve who roamed the pictlltCsque outskirts of
tho provincial Swabian town of 1m i n 1891,
Soldiers' fet rc.'unded on the streets of Ul m.
They were the heirs of the victorious warriors
of Mol tke who twonty years bfore had routed
The military traditions of Ul m, it sems,
went deeper still. I n 1 85-Ul m was then a lrs\­
clas lortress-a wondorfully equipped Austrian
arlTlY surrenderetl to Napoleon ill a most suda­
lous lashion, virtually without lghtil1g.
31 0
But, frst of all, the army was Austlinn, which
means, formally speaking, not German, and this
consquently implies "not at all German".
Secondly, tbe sldiers did not remembr the
defeats, for their beads wore fled with victo­
Defeats wer simply rgrettable accidents,
th. t 's all.
So they marched.
That was probably when to the child Ein tein
caDlO hate. A restrained, calm, smewhat cold
and rational hatred. A hatred that invariably
stayed with him his wholo Ii Ie. He could not
stand militarism, war and slaughter. He viowed
i t all as the supreme concentration of human stu­
Thl bcame clear to him in his early years,
alld his viow never changod.
The year was 1 891 . Fascism was a long way
or. The crematoriums of Oswiecir and Maida­
nak were not yet built. They came later.
Germany was still to face the Schliefen plan.
The First World War. Marching armies. Exalted
wepi ng WOmen throwing 10wers to their menfolk.
Trainloads of soldier. Eratz lood products. And
the sme women weping, difer�ntly, over tbo
endles stream of casualty telegrams from tbo
Eastern and Western fronts. Tho final rout, the
o,orlhrow of the Kaisr, tho Treaty of Versilles,
io nalion, rnin, hunger, and the epidemic of fu
would al l come iate, to tho Gormans. All thes
thin!s wUltld come bofolo tho Fiihrer came.
Truo, L hero were a low tbing . For example,
tho hright uniforms lIII,1 the P"usian gneral
31 1
slaff, antismitism, and patriotic military mar­
ches, and fraternities, and-probably most i m­
portant of al l -an unquestioning reverence of
Ci vil.an or mi l i tary, it makes no diference.
"Herr Privy Couucillor! Ohl Indeed!. . .
Tho great Olympian hi mslf, Gothe (aod a
volume of Gothe could of cours b found in
every rospectable family), even Golhe, ladies and
gentlemen, was just as preud of his ministerial
post in the misrable Weimar prinCipality as,
perhaps, he was of his potry.
And Hegel? The great "Privy Councillor" He
gel, remember? And his doctrine of the Prusian
In short, tbe German stato was consistent in
,is strivings to wip out lhe very capability
of independent (hence, critical) thought that is
part and parcel of every normal human being,
Hnd to put in its place ready-made slogans,
rules and traditions.
And they did a good job, one mnst admit.
The system was polished to per[octiou by true
cra ftsmen i n the art.
The "Wacht am Rhein", the sntimental "Lie­
der" of blue�yed girls, and Wagner's operas,
and gymnastics at school, the tales of ancient
ordic heros at the history lesson, and tradi­
tional of-colour humour in cbeap editions, and
pedantic neatnes instilled from early childhood,
and abslnte obdience to the bead of the smal­
lest unit of the state-the family.
And, finaUy, the end Ie mlll liplicity and di­
versity of ollicial , sm i-official aud Jlon-offcial
hierarchy of t i tles and r.nks.
31 2
The hierarchy i n the family, i n tho beauro­
cracy, i n tho mil itary srvice; the beirarchy of
numbrles Veroins, fraternities, llnions in sports,
at the factory, in music, the arts, the siences,
ill li teratur and religion; unions of lovers of
hunting, lovers of song birds, unions of be
kepers, yachtsmen, and s on and on.
Al! this craled and cherished a convontionali­
ty that was both slf-satisfed and humblo; i t
created people that forgot that they were capab­
le of thinking, people for whom a dictatorship
appeared to be the most natllral form of power
i maginable for tho reaSn that each in himslf
was a dictator on a microscale.
The remarkablo thing about the i nfi nitely poi­
snous character of tllis whole demoniacal ma­
chino was that it fed On v ry decent felings and
aspirations-patriotism, rspct for one
8 ei­
ders, sports . . . .
But what of the people themslves?
The same. Whether at the begi nning of the
IHtcnlh century or the beginning of the twen­
tieth, or evon during the year. of fascism, they
did not dilfor in any way from any other people.
There can b no quetion tht a hllndred thou­
sand scoundrels can b found in any large coun­
try. The historical situation i n Germany at the
end of the 192's was such tbat precisly this group
came to power. Possibly, accidental circumstan­
ces played an appMiable role here.
Trne, the prerequisites for this accident
wer already prepard. Incidontally, J would not
b saying a"yt hing original OI H0W j[ I added
l hat roughly tho SalUo prerequisi tes were avai­
I Öble in auy of tho largo i 0IporiaHst states.
31 3
This had boo made cloar many timos in the
boks of such wri ters as Sinclair Lewis and H. G.
WeUs, where the po sibility of fascism develop­
i ng iu tho Uuited States or in England was des­
cribd in science fction. Perhaps tho greatest
dangr of tho domagogy of fascism lies in tho
fact that i t is not new or exceptional in any way.
I I fascism is a disas of the human race, it
is an ancient affiction. States of the fascist typ
exi ted in all ag . Egypt, Sparta, Rome-all
the ancient regimes preachod just about the
smo ideology as the 'azis. So Hitlor did not
have to concoct anything particularly new. True,
ho added a goodly portion of scial demagogy,
which Egypt got along without but which an­
cient Rome found it n ce a to includo.
And of cou.rs ono of the ba ic axioms of tbe
system was nationalism.
otbing very origi nal about tbat eitber. From
time immemorial, fattery, Oven of tho crude t
kind, ha alway ben excellont bait to lure tho
bearts of members of th human race. I t is al­
ways nice to hear that you are bett r than tho
next man. Al l tho more 8, whon you yoursll
are not s sure of th fact.
ow if the Dattery is kept up in iatontly
enough, ooe bgins to helievo.
Every empir huilding state since tho pbaraohs
of Egypt bas brought nationalism into play as a
means of attracting and uniting tho peoplo.
Tho idea is simple and naive, a truism.
The emperors of Rome, Genghis Kban, apo
Icon, Hi tler have all employed tbe saro tech­
lIique, just as tried al¿d te ted as compli menting
the woman 0ll0 wants to sduce. Towards the
31 4
end o[ bis life, Einstein gloomily remarked that
people lear but little from the Ie ons of his­
tory bcaus ach new act of stupidity appears
to them in a Ire h light.
That this sy ter produces results eVOD in our
"enligbtened" age was, unfortunately, demonstra­
td in tbe cond World War. But we must re­
p at: tbe fact tbat most o[ the G rman people
accepted fascism in one form or anoth r do
not, of cours, imply that tbo Germans as such
ar les responsi ve to tbo generally accepted mo­
ral norms than the Rusians or tbe F nch.
ow if the question of the re ponsibility o[
tbo German people as a whole for tbe ris of
fascism comes up, then wiLb just a mncb justi­
fcation the qu tion could be addresd to aU
tho capitalist states of our planet, whicb with
comparative calm watch d Hitler advance from
the Ber Hall putsb in Bavaria to tbo furnaces
o[ the concentration cam ps and the mass sboot­
ings in Ru ia, Poland, yugoslavia . . . .
Tbo logic of noni nterference wa just tbe
same . . . -
Today, twenty odd years after the end of the
war, today wben i t is posible t judg with r­
lative objectivity, onO shonld hardly throw all
tbe horrible blame onto the German people.
All tho more s since that nation too paid a
suffciently dear price. Among tbo victims of tbe
ads wore al 0 thos B rlin youngsters who du­
ring tbe last April days of 194, crying from
sheer frigbt, wenl at Ru ian tanks with Faust­
Patronon sincer(ly believing that they w re fgh­
l i ng alld dying for their Fatherland.
Thes urgullIonlg ar IÌroiÌahly just 88 true as
31 5
the fact Utat the acti vo SS men aod the "crea_
tive" and initiative Hitlerites of the punitive
expeditions and d ath camp should b judged
and exterminated today, too, twenty and mor
years aftor tbe war's ond; they should be shot
calmly and with a elear consience, "without all­
ger and bias", on the basis of tbo very same rea­
sooing that profesional murderers and recidi­
vists are wiped out.
Wo may rcal l that onco upon a time one of
them got the idea of writing "10dem das sino"
on the gatos to the Buchenwald concentration
camp-to each his duo.
Why do . writo this here? Becaus tha t was
approximat Iy the way Einstein thought. He ba­
ted fascism his whole life.
Humanism and the al l-permeatng kindness
that was Einstin's do 1I0t appoar to link up
with sntimental al l-forgivi ngnes. which. as a
rule, stems from indifferonce and gets along ve­
ry well with stone-ol d egotism.
This is nicely and precisly described by Le­
pold I nfeld i n his recollections.

rtunately, in recollections and biographies,
Emsleln very often appears a kind of eccen­
tric emanating an endl 8 stream of gnUenes
and far removed from any thought that there
can be meannes, deceit and wickedn s in the
ordinary day-to-day world. Such writings are
mostly irritating, for, whether intentionally or
not, the authors make Einst in out to bo unori­
ginally stupid.
31 6
We will do btter to quote I nfeld:
"I learned much from Einstein in the real m
of physics. Bul whal I value most is what I Was
Laught by my conLact with him in the human
raUter than the scientifc domain. Einstein is the
kindest, most wlderstanding and helpful man in
the world. But again this somewhat common­
place statement must not b taken literally.
"The feling of pity is One of the surccs of
human kindnes. Pity for the fate of our fellow­
men, for the misry around us, for the sufering
of human bings, stirs our emotions by tbe re­
snanco of sympathy. Our own attachments to
life and peple, the tie which bind us to the out­
side world, awaken our cmotional respons Lo
the struggle and suffering outside ourslves. Bul
there is als another ontirely diferent surco of
human kindnes. It is the detached feling of
duty basd on aloof, clear reasning. Good,
clear thinking leads to kindness and loyalty b
caus Utis is what make life Simpler, fuller,
richer, diminishes friction and unhappine Ø in
our environment and therefore also in Ollr
lives. A sund scial attitllde, helpfulnes. friend­
lines, kindne , may come from both thes dH­
forent scurces; to expre it anatomically, from
heart and brain. As the years pa d I learned
to value more and more the scond kind of de­
cency that ariss from clear thinking. To of Len
I have sen how emotions unsupported by cloar
thought are usle if not destructive."
I am only srry Utat 1 did not writ this pas­
sage myslf. Without sntimentality and pas­
sion, witbout melodrama and tragedy and a
sul-ivesting slf-analysis. with the calm logic of
31 7
tho physici�I I nleM has hero formul ated tho best
towards which every POrOIl slri ves.
But, as w know, tbe road 10 hell is paved
with good i ntent i ons. Tn stfivo does not mpa" 10
That is not aU. I nfeld wriLs furtber.
"Here again, as r se it, EinsUin represnts
a li miting cas. I had never encountered s mucb
kindnes tbat W8S M completely detacbe.
Though only sientifc ideas and phy ics real l y
matter to Einstein, he has nover rfusd t help
wben he lelt that his help was needed and could
b efective. He wrote thou Iwds 01 letLers 01
r0ommendation, gave advice to hundreds. For
hours h talked with a crank becaus the family
had written that Einstein was tbe only one who
could cltre hi m. Einstein is kind, smiling,
undorstanding, tal kative with people whom
he meL, waiting patiently for the moment
when he wil l b left alone to retltrn to his
work. "
I t is hard to helieve that Einstein found any
pleasure in talking to this pyclical\y unbal­
anced man. I t would be iust a naive to think that
Einstein hoped, through such an encountr, t
heal the man. But he probably believed, after
weighing and analysing the cas, that he might
bring about 8 slight and temporary i mprovement
in the state of the patient, and thus alleviate
the lifo of the lamily. It was with tbis purely
hypothetical posibility in mind that he consi­
dered it necesary to Lear himslf away from hi"
work-his only god.
And when Einstein arrived, inw8rdly, at sme
conclusiong he did not 1ea\0 it as some specula-
31 8
tive rlogmn; lor bi m, thought signifed, obove
al l , action coordinaled with thought.
Here I am writing smething in the natUl'e of
a biography, yet all the time I hear Einstein '$
own cal m rem0rk in his "Autobiographical
otes" that he hi mslf could 1I0t bop to convey
exactly his oln t.houghts and his i nnPr world.
QuiLe naturally, a biographer would succed
even les.
Even when oDe is deal i ng witb a ratber com­
mon personage, this is an i nsurmountable pro­
blem. I t bcome ab.olutely unreslvablo when
one attempts to write about a mao the stature
of Einstein.
Note too that Ei nstni n's own writings on this
matLer are natural ly very often contradictory,
whilo a biographer's writings are Ullavoidably
Yet in the cas of Ein Lein, it appears, para­
doxical l y, that sme things are si mpler than even
in tho biograpbies of some of the long since for­
gotten i mmortals" of tie French Academy of
Tbis may b due, again, to tho fact that i o
his omotional life too he followed with purely
German pedantism the clear"cu� logical criteria
of a consistont and realistic humanist tbat be
bad worked out for himslf in his childbood and
early youth.
I t was more difficult to shake his convictions
here than in his genor8l theory of relativity,
though he hi msl f.ld not in the least oversLi Æal
his virtues.
31 9
The calm and sddening skeptici m of a mil d,
clever and kind sholar made completely and
uncondi tionally i mpossible any sort-so com­
mon in people o[ that character-of !larrow-min­
ded slf satisfation of the righteous man who
has learned the truth and is communicating it
to the lot world.
Shortly bfore his death he wrote to Max Born
that what every man has to do is be a model of
purity and have the courage gravely to maintain
etWc convictions in 0 sciety of cynics. He add­
ed that he had strived for a long time to act
in this mannor and had succeeded-to some ex­
Tbes sad and wearied words wero spoken by
a man who was-evoryone said-always cbarged
witb a natural inner and invinciblo cherfulness.
They indicate that Einstein prpetually felt a
beavy i nner awkwardnes thronghout his COD
cious life. He was constantly worried 01 bing
too speculative and too pasive in the struggle
against basncss and absurdity that stood out
so conspicuously i n tbe surrounding world. Above
all, he was oppressd by the obvious absurdity
of what was happening in the world.
How it was and why Einstein decided that
social worK was not his busines, I do not know.
Perbaps be did not se any real ways out. I t
may be that emotions and felings were decisi vo.
To sme extent Uconsciously, obying tbe oX­
hortations of Ws heart, he found Ws identity in
Perhaps some role was played by the i nn0r O
ticence and individuality of Ws thinking. And
after the choice was made, nil els waS [lusbed
a ide and into the background by the cbief pas­
sion of bis l i fe.
But the surrounding world wa never for a mo
Illent ·witched out of his mind. III actual l i fe
he was constalltiy encountering political intri­
gues, malice and human paSions-he could not
stalld aside from thes thi ogs, for he clearly and
fmly Iealized tbat a human bing has no right
to do S.
This idea is simply a repetition of what wa
said carlier; tber ' .1 K I wrote sme sbaq) words
about the "Gel' man pedantry" of Einstein. The
point here is not one of a defnition of pedantry,
it ned hardly be sid lhat by pdantr here
was meant a kind of integri ty and ulti mat logi­
cality of characler. Since thes featurs are com­
mouly tbought to be iutrinsic to the national
character of GermanM, I usd the adjecli vo "Cor­
Howevcr, I do IIOt i ntu1Id to justify my defL-
1Ii lion bWcau-and 1 believe it is wel l wortb
sayi ng-Albrt Einstein, t hough boI a J ew, bad
an Amcdcan passport, nod was a consistent and
uncolldil i onal i utnl'lIalionalist in his c§ÎI victi·
ons, an internationalist i n both mind and heart,
was al }ays, all his life, a German, f German in
language, in cul ture, in customs und in I ho hard­
ly porceivablo habits, eccentrici ties and minutiao
that, ul t i mately, g to Il1nke Ul a nation, patrio­
tism, and love of olle's motherland.
He was a German in his rather hCavy (particu·
la"ly in hls youth) academically dry humow. I n
later years, the ponderousnes retreated nnd hi�
pronouncements bcame polished and aphoris­
tic, t hough again thls was tbe humour 01 Heine
rather than that of Mark Twain Ol' the R llSiall
Shebedri n .
He was 81 W a Gurman i o his somewhat con­
templativo love 01 Quiet Jlature anol walking in
the countryside, in his houshold habits, in bis
pasion for Mozart, his penchant for analysing
philosophical problems, and his love of hls mo­
ther tongue.
Tho last word be pronounced were i n the lan­
guage of hls childhood, GermalJ, and thoy were
nOI understod by the nur wbo was the only
one wi Ih hi m wben he passd a way.
After twenty years of l i fe in A merica-it i
hard to imagine anything mor paradoxical-he
was just reachlng the point (sid oue historian
of pbysics) wbere he could bandle Ibe English
language "tisfacto" i I
But ev0n dW'ing the latle" years of his Iile be
preferred to speak Genna .. i f his companion
spoko that language.
l ie was homesick just like any ordinary bwg­
hor wbo might bave come to Iho Uni ted States
011 busines '''HI sttled down for t be rest of bis
life. For-all d I bis illcidentally was the crdo
of Einstein himslf-thel'e 8 thi ngs and concepts
common to all people i rrespectivc of their intel-
lot and culture
ow in RRÎÍPfF of etbics, in
the aspect of norms of hunwn conduct, Einstein
was 8 fully convicted democrat wbo recognized
both in word and in ded the compl to ìl priUi
equality of human being.
I fel I mu t stray again and relate a story,
which, though it al most sounds like a joke,
gi ves a very accwate picture of Biostei D
8 stand
and style ill bis dealings wi th people.
Tbere semed to be a vacancy opon at a certain
institution, and four dilerent a
lplicants came
to hlm one aftor the otber for letters of recommen­
dation. Einstein gave letters to all lour.
To the surprisd questions of his friends bo
replied calmly that he saw nothing strange or
extravagaot in what he bad done, for in each
cas he gave di fferoot reasns for his cboiCe of
caJldidate and it was, be said, up to the employer
to do tho cboosing.
Let us return to 1 891 , to the town of Ul m and
to tbe twelve-year-old boy who was exporiencing
a wonder. I I wa contained in a book on Eucll­
dean plane goometry. Euclid was a revelation
to Einstein, and it remained 8 to the end of his
life. Shortly bfore hls death he said words to
tbe efect that if Euclid's work could not fo
one's enthHia m i l youtb, then that person was
not born to b a tbeolelician.
Einstein's recollection of this wonder on tbe
fourth or ffth
lage of ltis "Autobiographical
Notes" is just about the ltlst purely autobiogra­
phical recolletion.
A few words follow about bis education at
tho Polytechnic [n titut of Zuricb, then just
in passing 8 remark or two about the syslem 01
instrllction and . . . rougbl y fifty pages of Ein­
stein's idea concerni ng modrs of thillki ng, epis­
lemology 81 1 d, of COllr�, phy�ic�, W nl ways.
Hut one bfluld lIot get the idea tbat this way
of cOllstructing an autobiography is another 0µ0
of thos cuto absurd absnt-minded ways of tho
a.hetic monk. Don' t ever try to represnt Al­
bert Einsleill as a kind of J acl
ue Paganel of
A few pages later h. give a clear-cut and
ealm explanat ion of his somewhat extr.vl'gant
manner of presnting thi nW!.
"And this is aD obituary?" asks t he puzzled
rcader. I feel l i k answering: "Why yes, of cour­
s. " Becaus the most i mportant thing i n the
I i! of a man of my make-up is what be thinks
and how he thinks and not what he dos or exp
rienccs. "
That i why Ei n lein "ecalls tb wonder of
geometry and docs not even mention his Nobl
This idea of a "wonder" a of something that
tho human mind encounters Ulot contradicts "I I
established notion , i "ery persistentl y repeated
by Einstein throughollt his I i le.
l u reply to a reporter's question as to how i t
happened that Ei nstein and not smebody els
discovered the special theory of rel ativi ty, Ein­
stein remarked that ho \a rather late in deve­
loping mentally and that for this r'Rn h sti l l
relroined tho perception 01 a child at the lOge 01
20-25. And so wbell, unencumbered, be medita­
ted on the situation o[ t hi ng in physics, be ua­
turally was surprisd l i ke any normal chil d
would be, but ince bo was at that lime twenty
years of age, his i ntel l et was mor develop d
(this he admi t ted) thron throt o[ Ü normal ten­
ycar-old boy and so he wa. able to obtai II re­
Si l l ts tha t COIllIII'isd t he special t heory of re I 8-
ti vi Ly.
Penotrnting to the kerel of mallers here, we
Ond t hat t here is an i mportant and very esntial
idea behind i t al l , tltat lhe % ientist should con­
tantl y experience 8 fel i ng of wOllderm nL and
rgard al l the phenomena of nntILre i n au unpre­
judiced manner; he should rej ct al l dogmas and
authorities . . . . I n shorL, h should thi nk UJld not
quote. 1'ru , Lhis wa IIOt an original thought.
Plato had al ready put th idea neatly when Ito
aid: ,\ onder is tho mother of scionce. "
Today this i s such a trui m lbat no sel f-res­
petllg wriler risks repeal i ng i t, yet t hero is no
scond Ei nstei n. Obviously, there must be some­
thing more. But, s.,d as it is to admi t , w0 ar
rather i n the po i t ion of a eunuch being tol d the
mealling of lov .
o young Ein.stein ex pri nced One wonder .r­
ler another. Betwen lhe ages of twelve and si x­
toon he discovered mathematic , 8nd the purely
emoLional i mpresion that this new world, UIO
world of 11I'ecis logic and unbridled imagination
made on him, was exceptional.
At about this l i me Einstein experienced yeL
another wonder, purely psychological.
"Til fact thal [ neglected matbematics to 8
certain extont had its cause noL merely in my
stronger i nlere t in Ule natural cienc.s than i u
mathematics buL also i n Lhe followiog strango
experience. I saw that JIatematics wn split up
into nUllerous speci al itie , each of wWch coul d
easily absrb the short l i fetime granted to us . . .
my intuition was not strong enough i n the field
of mathomatics in order to di Uerentiatc clearly
tho fundamental l y i rpo.tant, that which is real­
l y basic, [(om the [·st of the more or less dispen­
sable erudition. Beyolld this, however, my in­
torst i n tbe knowledgB of nalure was also unqua­
Ii ficdly . trongr; and it was not clear to me as
a student that the approacb 10 a more profound
knowledge of the basic principles of physics is
tied up with Ihe most i ntricato mathematical
methods. This dawned upon me only gradually
aftr years of i lldopcudent scientific work. 'rue
enough, physics als was divided into sparate
fiolds, each 01 which ¾ as capable of devouring
a hort lifetime of work without baving satis­
fied tbe hunger for deper knowledge. The mas.
of insuffciently connected exprimental data waS
overwhelming bere als. I n this fiel d, bowever, J
soo learned to sceot out that wbich was able
to lead to fundamentals and to turn aside from
everythi ng els, from the mul titude 0/ t hi ng
which cl utter up the mind and divert it from
Ute e ential . "
This i s amazing. I t is not so important whether
Ei nstein, at tbe age oJ si xten to twenty had for­
mulated to himslf thes tbi ngs or whethCr tbe
decision was to sme extent not consciously relt
in his own mind.
The amazing thing is the maturity of such a
cboice+ ucb lucid critical thinking in gneral is
very rar0, and i s smelhing practicaUy unheard
01 at tho ag of sixteen to eighteell years.
Indeed, takB a look at what we have. Here is
a young boy 01 si ÃtØon caried away by mathe-
lIIalic •. The intQgral , tho fundalllontais of ana­
lytic glometry fre a great surce of pleasure, 01
such jOy that nOlbillg els call COlli pare. He of
cours real izes that he is gifted and that his ta­
leot slands Ollt on the general backglound.
He bad every posi bi l i ty of a [ro choice (aud
this is most essntial). nO circumstance. of l i fe
cOlIJ pelled hi m. Even moro, i f Olle takes into Re­
count tho purely exteral i nDuences, lhen there
were mor points i n favour of mathematics. The
Polytechnic I II t i t uto of Ziirich had a oumber of
bri l liant mathematicians such a Minkowski.
Thore wcre no outstanding physicists though.
Einstei n hi mslf said l ater that up to Ihe age of
thirty he had nevel" sell a real tneorelical phy­
sici t .
Given statting conditious l i ke thes, i t i s bard­
I y posi ble to concei ve 01 a young man giviug up
matbematic [or the cognate ubjoct of theoreti­
cn I pbysics.
A cballg over 10 potry or, say. music would
have ben, psychologic!tl l y speaki ng, more UD~
J fel that tbe problem was reslved hy an
amazing featur of Einstein 's character, which,
obviously, was already fully matnre in thos
years, and that is a total absnco of intel lectual
cOllcei t that is so natural among gifted young
He al ways appraisd both bis potent i ali ties
and his results obrly and cal mly. He never
played at ostentatious 1I0desty and he knew-he
said i t openly-that his works rpmsnt the glea­
t0t D ul t of twenlietb-ccnt\ll"y science«
At Ihe sme time he knew (01" he thought he
knew) tJ .. t be would not become an outstanding
And so bo gave I¡] matbematics.
Througb!)ut his lifetime, Einstei n's rlation­
ships with mathematics W0IT ratiler complica­
ted. On the one hand, i n later Iile, ho timo and
agai l l regreUed his loutblllJ sl f-conudent COn­
clusion tbat physics required onl y the lundamen­
tal s of mathe",atics and that tbe more sphisti­
cated matters coul d be left to p"o[e ional ma­
thematicians. Ho became 'onvincod of tbi error
when he hgan working OlI the general theory
or rol ativity. During tbo f"5t stages, he bad to
ask the help of his frielld Marccl G"ossmanu in
the mathematical port ion.
In later years, Ei nstei n 's views changed. His
main works-at least outwardly-aro works or
a mathematician.
Neverthcl :M, he Illway' remai ned a physicist
in modo of t lJougbt Hud in bis approach to pro­
1 shall not dsk getting into a di cussion "bout
the similarities and dilerencos of the tbeornti­
cal physicist aud the pm. JJ1 athematician. Suf­
lice it to sy that there is a dilfe,·ence. And a
raU.er essntial ono, as wi tness tho fol/oling
amUlling exchange 01 wit botween Einstiu and
I II 1\)15, Hilbrt took a l i ki ng to tbe theory of
,elati "i tl and deidod to try his hand at physics
blieving iliat substantial progl'e�s wouJd not b
made wit hout malh omaLicirulS.
As he ralho. clevOJly IIUt i t without excessive
modesty, "physics is aCLual ly too dimcul t lor
tbe physicist". His work was nlturally at tbe
ultimaln mathematical level but smewhat
lacking in pbysical content.
In a letter to Ehrenf st, Ein tein rather spi­
telully replied for the pbysicists when he descri­
bd Hilbrt `ð work as the tricks of a suprman.
Towards the end ol his life, Einstein remarked
to the efect that mathematics is tbe only per­
fect way of leading yourslf around by the nOs.
We will not attempt to draw any moral bere,
but will simply rpeat that no matter how ma­
thematical Ei nstein's works were, he always re­
mained a physicist.
It is now time for u to note one import.ant
lactor. Tbough Einstein repeatedly said that the
respons of the community-recognition On the
part of his colleagues-was extrmely i mportant
to hi m, and this was of cours true, his own ap­
praisal of his work was the decisive factor.
To tbe very end of his days he could not re­
concile himslf t o the basic ideas of quantum
mechanics (which h relegated to the class of
ephemeral physics) and t bough he remained
alone he never .hangea his opinion.
I n the sme way, he was the only physicist i n
the world who, without any external prerequisi­
tes and alter having earned fame and recogni­
tion, worked for ten years (between 195 and
1916) On the problem of the gravitational feld.
Standing quite out ide the rang of interests
of tbe phYSics ol that priod, be created the g­
neral theory of relatb'ity.
Perhaps duo to a nriety of accidental circum­
stances he bcame the trlost famous sientist in
the world. Calmly aod omewbat sardOnically
he withstood a virtual avalanche of bonorary
awards, medals and distinctions (including the
title aod attire of honorary cluef of an Indian
lrib). And then fol' another 3 years he worked
intensly on the general theory of relativity. W
maining practically alone, actually without any
recognition or moral support and appearing i n
the eyes of the new generation of quite slf­
confident theoreticians of the 193'5 to 195's
something in the nature of an aging monument.
Incidentally, he once mentioned to his wife
that tbe resnIts he obtained in the 40 's were I he
biggest contributiou that he had ever made.
Who knows whetber he was right, a he almost
al ways waS when Iho subject matter was physics?
The only thing to b said is Ihat t here has ben
an ever increasing i nlerest in Ihe general theory
of jolativity and, in particular, iJl the i nvesti­
gations of Einstein carried ont dl ll'ing tbe last
year of his life.
But perhaps tbat too i just a fad which phy­
sicists are pro lie to follow like women do fashi­
ons. Or it may simply b 8n expression of a cer­
l ai n disppointmen�, a crisis in modern tbeore­
tical physics,
Yet perhap the foundatiolls of the physics of
the future are indeed to be sought i n Einstein's
wOk O¡I tho unifed field t heo,"y, At any "ate,
the scienti le ca,er of Einstill, bginning from
his general theol'Y of relativity, is an unparal­
leled anomaly in tbe bisto 1 § of science.
Alld if one speaks of the purely pr onal as­
pect of the ma�ter. tbe wbolo story is a miracle
that causs more respect than the purely mat he­
matical gi ftednes of Einsteiu, wbich ultimalely
scoms beyond tbe scope of human kind.
I II passing let us add tbat on the side (even if
we count from 1920 onwards), Ein tein carried
out a range of rsarches totally unconnectd
,ith relativity theory, but of t hemslves quite
suffcient to split up among a nnmbr of workers
alld fl five or six vacancie at all election to the
Academy of Sciences,
We may agai n add that his resnIts ill the tbeo­
ry of Brownian motioll and the photlectric efect
(this was in 195) were i n themslves suflcient
to have ensured the author all exceptional
in Ihe history of pbysics.
We migbt also recall tbat the most fashionable
and promising trend today in quantum statistic
has as its source the theory of the thermal ca­
pacity of crystals, which just by the way was
proposd by Einstein in 1908,
Finally, Einstein '5 rejection of quantum me­
chanics, his paradoxes, yielded so much mate­
rial for an el ucidation of the fundamentals of
that feld that in themsh'es tbey can b consi­
dered Ir t-magnitudo works of cionce. Then, too,
he obtained a numbr of very i mportant resnIts
after 1916 in various parts of the quantum the­
But for him al l of tbes were onIy a mental
game and a pleasnt recreation from the main
thing-the unifed feld theory,
So we have Einstein at the ZUrich Polytechnic
I nstitute majoring in phySics and neglecting ma­
t hematics. He even skipp d lectures-not to spend
his time idly but the belle" to utilize it. Before
arriving at Zurich together with his fa

i l y, he
had already visited Mil an and had expertenced a
nnmber of small unpleasntne , such as bing
told to leave the gymnasium at Munich for un­
healthy skepticism. Als he failed once in an
examination i n zology and botany at tbe Po­
lytechnic Institut.
But thes events, which for another person
mIght have played a decisive role, wore for Ein­
stein merely unpleasnt trivia.
Tho die was cast, and his natural bubbling­
over cherfulnes and clear-thinking head dismis­
sd al l
thes and other bumps and scrapes that
came his way. He wrote that he was nevor in a
gloomy mood unless he bad a stomachache . . . .
J udging by his letters and the recollections of
relative , Ei nstein at 2025 years of age was a
strong lifo-lOVing young man with a pasion for

ainting, literatur, hiking, with a gift
for the Joke, thongh, honestly speaking, his hu­
mour was not always up to the mark. He was a
i t extravagant, a
!riio forgetful (like forget­
IIDg the �eys to his nat after hi wedding or
uSIDg a dOlly for a scarf. But this was all natural
�or it stemmed from 8 strhiog towards grate:
Inner freedom, though-and tbis is i mportant-
¯¯ ¯.

c wa

Dever any hint of tbis constant urgo
for IUDcr lIldepndence ever bnilding up into ego­
tism and a disregard for thos about him. This
was precluded by an inbor culture and a con­
sciously developd mildness .
I n a word, he was a nice well-mannered young
man, broad-minded, without a trace of conceit
Or morbid reOections. Ooe could radily fors
his future as 8 school prinCipal or a top-clas
expert in the patent bureau, where a� that time
he WaS only rated third-clas. One could se
hi m a great lover of music and literature, Icading
ophocles, Racinc, Srvants, disusiog tho trea­
tLss of SplUoza and Hume, whicb he was then
reading with a group of friends. One could pic­
ture Einstein on a mountain hike animately dis­
cusing Mozart, Alexander of Macedonia, Aeschy­
lus, Beethoven, Kant, Archimedes, Cleopatra,
ewton, Cuvier. Confucius, Anatole France .. . .
Later, we might M hi m the author of progres­
Stve articles on the history of science, or music
or pedagogy . ¤ « +
I n shorl , his letters and the recollections of
people who knew him draw a picture of a very
nice young man disturbiogly ordinary.
One lnds it hard to blieve, then, tbat this
was Einstein and oot jut some pleasnt, educa­
ted well-mannerd, clever young man.
Perhaps there i s one thing, Eistein 's ability
to dispens with all externals when the discus­
sion turns to philosphy or physics. But no, this
was not Ö vcry oxceptional feature among the
young people of thos days.
Actually, bowever, an explosion was in tho
And it came in 1 95.
J must repeat that any one of three works of
Einstein that appeared i n that year-the theory
of Brownian motion, the theory of the photo­
electric elfect, and the theory of Olati Yi ty¯
would elevat the author to the rank of exlra-cla8
th ortician.
It remains a psychological mystery wbether
Einstein himslf fly resliwd what he had ac­
co Rp Iished.
If ho did-and everything about Ein tein and
his latr pronouncements on this score suggest
that that was the cas-then we must admi t tbat
i ntellectually he must have ben very much
alone, and the pleasnt people about llim did not
even notice anything out of the ordinary, while
Einstein himslf, tact£nUy reticent, tried not to
suppress his fiends whom he liked in a \'ery humsn
way. Otherwis how 8ro we to expl ain his letter
to Habicht, one of hi friends of the Ber priod?
This uniqne epistlo begins "Dear Habicht, th
ilence btween us is sacred and tho fact that r
am i nterrupting i t with lÎÎere twaddle lIIay sem
a profanstion. " And s on in Einstein '5 old­
fashioned ponderous play!ul style, call i ng l Ia­
bicht a "frozen whale" and fanCifully upbraidi ng
hi m for not snding his di rtation, which Ein­
stein W8 eagr to get and read "with plea uro
and intere t".
Bul tbe b t joke of all, one quite worthy of
Heinrich Heine, i bidden at the very bgin­
ning of the letter, bcans what is bei ng ofered
as mere twaddle is tho fOllOWing:
"I n r turn (for Habicht's dissrtation.-Smii­
gal I promi% you four papers, the fir t of whicb
J will snd oon b caus I am expecting tbe all­
thor S copies.
"It is deyoted to radiation and light en rgy
and is very re^olutionaryg 8S you yourslf wi l l
KØ, i f you frst snd me your work.
"Th scond papr contains a determination
of the true i�o of atoms by m 3nS of studying
difusion and internal friction in liquid solutions.
ovl'he third demonstrate that in accordanco
with the molecnlar th ory of heat, particlª 01
th order of 10-' mm suspended in a liquid x­
perience apparent chaotic motion due to the ther­
mal motion of the molecules. Biologists have al­
rady ob. rved such moLions of suspnded par­
ticles; th ir term is Brownian molecular moLion.
"The fourth paper is basd On th olectrodyna­
mics of mO\'i ng bdies and mod i fes tho concop­
tion of space and tim : yon will be i ntersted
in tb purely kinematic part 01 the work . . . .
IIabicM certaillly did not los out i o thi ex­
change¢ I wonder how much is i nbred mode ty­
Ei o tei n's appeal to a scientists of equal stan­
ding-and how mucb is merly traditional cour­
t y. I t i hard to take sriously the rather ti­
mid hope that i n a paper where, in pa i ng as
i t were, our conceptions of li me and Öpace 8IY
overtbrown@ there Æight b ometiling of i nte­
rest to Habicht. I f re W get a picture of Binst in
verging on that of tho vil lage simpleton.
Yet on the otber hand-and tbis is evident
from all future lellers, from Einstein' s whole
life-there is the incel'e lwaren , confdence,
cOllviction (wbat have you) thU Habicht is a
O1an, a p r%nality and ha tho same valu as
he, Albrt Ein tei n, and is not different before
any law. Above all, before the inner law that
Einstein obyed in his youth, in maturity and
in old ag.
Most likely the imprc ion of a certain ordina­
rines in the prsn of Einstoin (I speak purposly
of his youth wben hi associates and companions
could not yet know that he was tbe greatst pby­
icist in tho world) was largely due to Einstein' s
overriding feling of democracy, ani an egali 13-
rianism just 35 natural to him as his desire to
study theoretical physics.
I have already spoken of this, but I want to
repeat bcaus to people of the twentieth cen­
tury this trait of an outstanding persn is pro­
bably the most cherisbed; one is espcially at­
tracted to a man who, when placed in an excep­
tional situation either due to his own merits Or
to a more or les accidental st of circumstances,
remains democratic and humanistic not only in
form but in e snce to.
And not tbat for a scientist of Einstein' s
stature, there were not less but prhaps more
grounds and conditions to become, at least in the
communHy of his asciates and pupils, a more
unhridled and cruel dictator in the sphere of the
inwllect than any actnal dictator has in the
spher of JolHcaI life.
Self-COnfdence, which expands into capricio­
usne , intolerance, and conceit, unfortunately
often attends ontstanding (3nd mediocre) scien­
tists, who in this respect only fall short of pots
and prima donnas.
Such thing are not usually written in books
yet that is the cas.
True, I can judge Einstein only on the basis
of biographical material, but tbis cas appears
to b absolutely clear. Einstein did not have a
single one of thes traits to even the slightest
That is yet another psychological enigma 8
sciated w th the name of Albrt Einstein, and
by far not the last in signi fcance.
EinsteIn stood the test of fame i n just as easy­
going a (ashion-hardly noticing it-as he did
his failure at the exams at the Polyl chnic I n­
stitute of Zurich.
That, approximately, is the picture I have of
One thing remains. It is vcry important.
It is the attitude of Einstein to violence and
Wi Uy-nlly, from about the 1920's onwards,
when he had bcome world-famous, and the na­
tionalistic, antismitic fasist scum of Germany
had bgun victimizing him and his works, to
the end of his life he was closly assciated witb
political afairs at large.
One cannot sy tha t he tried to evade hur­
ning political i ues of tbe day. He clearly rea­
lized that, frstly, such a thing was simply im­
posible (whetber be liked i t or not is a diferent
question), and scondly, he felt that he simply
had to interfere wherver he blieved that
SOme good could result.
But here he found himslf in a sphere where,
from his point of view, very many things were
unpredictable, uncontrollablo, and unexplain­
Becaus Einstein was extremely perceptive, he
could probably picture to hi msl [ and account
lor the I ychology of olfcers of the Prussian
general staf, but to conceive of a human bing
reasoning and acting l i ke the commandants of
extermination camp , like tho men in punith'e
expeditions and the hundreds and hundred of
thousands of mcn, or to understand how i t
came about that tbe leaders of quite a few coun­
tries could b morally and i nt lIectuall y about
on a level wi th thos very same S men was
something beyond the capacity of Einstein. This
wa bcaus he unwittingly OYN timated the
human intellect.
In the '93' he who wa a convinced and
con i tent
lacifist had to say "now is not tbe
time for paci fist ideas", for (this was a natural,
immediate conclusion) the only way to halt the
spread of fascism is by us 01 mili tary lorce.
I n what followed ho was witno to an i l1\'ol­
ved, stupid and dirty political game. H saW
poli tician of I he twentieth ccntury adhering to
the old-Ia hioned, nah'o criteria 01 humanitaria­
nism to al most the same degre as onghis
K118n. He "itnessd the cond World War, and
he ShW evonts altel' the war build up into W
rre h threat of yet another war. He wa to some
extent reSIOnsi ble for the making of the atomic
bomb, for he had written bis famous letter to
Roosvel t.
I n reminisconces of Einstein, wri lers often
speak of the so-called "Bi n teiniltn tragedy of
the atomic bomb".
To my mind, i t was not the bomb.
From the standpoint of reason and logic (and
thes lactors were al ways decisive for Ein tein)
he was irr I)roacha hIe.
He wrote the lotler i n August, 1939, whon
there was a direct and i mmediate danger of Hit ler
making the bomb and when the only reasonable
solntion was to get i t bforo fasi m did.
He fulJy roalized that he had bad nothing to
do with tbe cold-blooded sosle s murder of
tens of thousands of Japanes in Hiro hima and
'agasaki, all the mOr so siJlce in 1945 he wrOle
Roosvelt a king bim not to al \ow the military
us of the bomb.
To Einsteing the atomic bombardment of thes
cities was in tho way of the last act of hUlllan
barbarism, fnal proof of the hopele posi tion
of the sciontist, the absurdity of tbe scial struc­
ture, the unconditional abnormality 01 buman
being in sats of government.
Of cours, this gloomy conclusion was aggrava­
t d by tbe purly emotional realization that he,
Al bert Einstein, was connected with the explo­
Sion, bowever indirectly. But tbis was only an
i ncidental factor. More depresing still was the
fact that during tho years he at ti mo lost
faith i n the possi bility of any social and moral
progre , yet tbis ran count r to everything Ein­
stein stood for. However, bere loo be remained
true to hi msll, to his manner of outwardly dis­
pasionate, calm analysis.
lIe learned of the explosion by radio. Einstein' s
first reaction was one of griof and de pondency.
Y"l h aU"d tlml the tragedy bad nothing
to do with tho di covery of tbe chain reaction.
Hi s viow that the discovery of the 6 ion of
urani um dos not represnt a threat to civiliza­
tion any more than tbe discovery of matches
dos, that tbe futur development of humanity
d pends on it moral code and not 00 the level
of technol ogy, was repeated many times.
He Vte that the worl d was 00 the varg of a
crisis, the whole signilcance of which was not
prce. vod by thos who have the power to de­
cide betwen good and evil, that the nowl y W~
leasd atomic energy had chaed everything,
I aving unchaed only our mode of thinkingq
"The slulion of this problem lies in the
hearts of the people. "
But the fact that he sw all this s clearly
did not make things easier. Towards tho end of
his li!e his supply of natural cheer was running
out, and his depressd state of mind only aggra­
vated the mercilesly critical view he took in
appraising himsl f and bis work.
"Tbere is not a Single idea wbich I am cOllV in­
ced will 8 tand the test of time. At times I am
in doubt about the correctnes of the path I have
taken. My contemporaries se i n me at ooce
a rebl and a .eactionary who, to put it fgura­
l ively, has outlived himslf. That is of cours
a pasing fad causd by nearsightednes. The fee­
ling of di satisfaction comes, however, from
within. "
Einstein' sventieth anniversary was bing
celebrated when ho wrote this letter to an old
friend. Honours never moved him, and now
sliLi les. He sadly concluded: "The best that life
bas given me is a few real friends, bright and cordi­
al, who understand Olle another like you and me. "
One year bfore his deatb, when he declined
the invitation to be presnt at th fiftieth anni­
versary of the cration of the special thoory of
"elati vi ly, he wrote in the same spirit:
"Old ag and illness do not prmit me to take
part in such ceremonies. And [ must admit that
in pat I am grateful to fate, for everything that
is in the least asociated with the cult of tbe per­
snality bas always ben a tortur to me . ( . . In
my long life I have come to undersland that we
a a great doal farther away from a real under­
standing of the proce S of natur than most
pople today realize.
Thero may have ben more optimistic notes
at other moments, but in gneral the last 01 his
years were sd. Nsvertheless he continud to
work. His cher at times Ie It him, but never his
clear analytical mind, which functioned fawless­
ly to the end. He never changed his views or
convictions in the least. They merely took On
more sombre tones .
As bfor he was always ready to respond to
a lettr or to deline hi ideals, though more of­
len One would hear hi m say, "pople have gone
mad", "the world is on the brink of a catastro­
phe". During thes years 01 the "cold war the
situation in the Unitd Stats was grave. At
such times extremists always come to the surface.
The notorious Anti-A merican Activities Com­
mitte was active. Tho slightst deviation from
offcial political views was dangerous. Natural­
ly, tho intl lectuals-the most Wide-awake por­
lion of the nation-were frst to come under sus­
Cn Einstein's letters and spe che of this p
riod, one ses more and more a bitter yet coura­
geous stoicism. Not a drop of sntimentality.
As bfore he was \ery far a way from a ny kind
of complacent all-forgivingness.
I n reply to an American teacher, he wrote:
"Frankly, I can only se the "evolutionary
W(IY of noncoopration in the sns of Gandhi 's.
Every intellectual . . . must b prepared for jail
(Iud economic ruin, in short, lor tho scrifce of
his personal weUar in the i nterest of tho cul­
tural welfare of his country.
"If enougb peopJe are ready to take this grave
step they will b succesfll l. I f not, then lhe in­
tellectuals of tbis country desrve nothiRg bt­
ter than the slavery which is int nded for them. "
I s not this the same as sying "Yes, tbe people
of u country desrve the government that they
ha vo"?
He continued to receive letters and no matter
what he tbought , what his mood was, be consi­
dered it his duty to belp by writing to lhos
wbo lelt they neded his aid. His work sufored
of cour. , but what was there to do.
As he put it with a bit of irony just a year b­
fore his death, "the time 1 need for meditation
and work I have to steal like a profesional
thief". And yet for all that, he continued t
work to the end, whether he was disappointed
in humanity or in the level of human knowledg.
Now I call se how poorly I have succeded i n
wri ling about Ei nstein. '0 say nothing of other
things, 1 realize that Einstein appears here un­
real, 1mblievable, too good.
But tbat wðs what he was.
Perhaps his greatest weaknes was a somewhat
c" uel irony. He acutly saw the weak sides of
people and at time ho· overindulged in his hu­
ll,our. Of cours he was nO saint and would get
ini tsted over purely persnal mi ltters. And pro-
babl)' at times unnecessarily S. Particularly i n
his yonth.
He was not ashamed of wri ting very bad po­
try, even l i ked to, and he would snd his vc,ss
to his friend . He gave concerts eagerly though
his violin playing was far from brilliant.
Finally,-true, this is only a su picion I have,
basd on circumstantial evidence-l think he
Was inclined to courting ladies i ll a rather old­
fa hioned srt of way. That would sem to com­
plete tbe list of his si n .
Hi s most slient trai t \Va that in hi pri vate
l i fe he strictly adhered to thos beautiful prin­
ciples that he espousd publicly. People of this
kind are rare and the more 0 tbe higher their
standing. Naturally, a mall is best tested in the
face of death.
From 194 onward Ei nstein knew lhat at .ny
moment his l i fe mighL end uddeuly bcaus of
a stroke. He had said a numbr of t i mos that he
was not .[raid of death, that the expectation of
death would not change anything i n his l i fe,
and now be proved i t.
It did not, except perhal)S his diet which he
tried to obsrve. J ust as thirty years earlier,
he was calmly srcastic when speaking about
hi posible departure to a beller world and wben
in Apt'il 1955 his time came, he remained tbe
way he had al ways ben.
ELnstein su(ared greatly, and he knew that
be would die. But whenever there was any im­
provement he reverted to his bloved irony and
stOically awaited events. He died in his sleep.
Einstein was probably One of the most l i keable
persons i n the hi story of humankind.
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