Hipparchus of Nicaea

Hipparchus was born in Nicaea in Bithynia, but spent much of his life in Rhodes. He is
generally considered to be one of the most influential astronomers of antiquity, yet very
little information available about him survives; his only extant work is his commentary
on the astronomical poem of Aratus (third century B.C.), the Commentary on the
Phainomena of Eudoxus and Aratus. Other works by Hipparchus (now lost) included an
astronomical calendar, books on optics and arithmetic, a treatise entitled On Objects
Carried Down by their Weight, geographical and astrological writings, and a catalogue of
his own work. The Almagest, written by Ptolemy (second century A.D.) is the source of
most of our knowledge about Hipparchus, who Ptolemy considered to be his most
important predecessor. In his own astronomical work, Ptolemy made extensive use of the
work of Hipparchus, building on the foundation laid by him. Ptolemy described
Hipparchus as 'industrious' and, repeatedly, as a great 'lover of truth'. That Hipparchus
continued to be held in high regard is demonstrated by the various depictions of him on
frontispieces of astronomical works published long after his death.
Hipparchus' many important and lasting contributions to astronomy included practical
and well as theoretical innovations. He employed geometrical models, including the
deferent-epicycle and eccentric previously used by Apollonius (flourished ca. 200 B.C.).
One of his contributions appears to have been the incorporation of numerical data based
on observations into the geometrical models developed to account for the astronomical
motions; Gerald Toomer has credited Hipparchus with the founding of trigonometry.
Hipparchus was very interested in observation; his recorded observations span the years
147 to 127 BC. He used an instrument described by Ptolemy as a dioptra and may have
invented the planispheric astrolabe. Hipparchus made extensive observations of star
positions, and is credited by some with the production of the first known catalogue of
stars. He turned his attention to a wide variety of astronomical questions, including the
length of the year, the determination of lunar distance and the computation of lunar and
solar eclipses. He developed theories for the Sun and Moon demonstrating (as Ptolemy
explained, Almagest, 421) 'that they are represented by uniform circular motions'.
Ptolemy noted that as far as he knew, Hipparchus did not establish theories for the five
planets, 'not at least in his writings which have come down to us'. But Hipparchus did
compile the planetary observations to which he had access into a more useful
arrangement, and demonstrated that the phenomena were 'not in agreement with the
hyotheses of the astronomers of that time'. Hipparchus' discussion of the motion of the
points of solstice and equinox slowly from east to west against the background of the
fixed stars is perhaps his most famous achievement; he has been therefore credited with
the discovery of the precession of the equinoxes.
Perhaps most intriguing for historians of astronomy is Hipparchus' use of Babylonian
astronomical material, including methods as well as observations. Many questions remain
regarding the relationship between Babylonian and Greek astronomy, but Hipparchus'
work provides a clear link. Toomer has argued that Hipparchus was responsible for the
direct transmission of both Babylonian observations and procedures and for the
successful synthesis of Babylonian and Greek astronomy.
Claudius Ptolemy

Claudius Ptolemy was an influential mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, geographer
and also a poet. He was a Greek-Roman citizen and lived in Alexandria, Egypt. Ptolemy
was famous for a number of discoveries, out of which the most famous was a theory
which expounded that the earth was the center of the universe. The term “geocentric”
came to being from this theory. According to him, the earth was the orbital epicenter of
all the celestial bodies and that sun, moon, stars and other heavenly bodies revolved
around the earth. His achievement was considered paramount during his time and quite a
number of astronomers followed it religiously (especially the Greeks), until the 17th
century. Later on, the works of Ptolemy evoked more controversies and arguments than
any other mathematician or geographer. Many of his theories were proven to be incorrect.
However, one must admit he was among the early astronomers and mathematicians who
contributed a great deal to mathematics, geography and astronomy.
Most of the facts pertaining to Ptolemy’s life are shrouded in mystery and there is no
definitive record regarding his date of birth. Till today, whatever little is known of him
comes from his works and some other historical findings. One thing is for sure that he
was Greek by birth and was a citizen of Rome and therefore the name, Claudius (Roman),
Ptolemy (Greek). He lived in Egypt during a time when the Romans ruled Egypt.
Moreover, he is believed to have been born in the town of Ptolemais Hermiou in Thebaid.
Several efforts to find the chronicles of Ptolemy’s personal life have gone futile.
Ptolemy lives only through his works. Studies reveal that he spent most his life in pursuit
of knowledge.
Ptolemy’s major astrological text is the ‘Tetrabiblos Syntaxis’, meaning four books.
In this book Ptolemy’s efforts to draw a more rational picture of the astrology of his
days are evident. He offered a detailed framework on the subject which helped the
practitioners of his time to be able to understand astrology both on scientific and religious
grounds. The ‘Tetrabiblos’ is known to have "enjoyed almost the authority of a Bible
among the astrological writers for a thousand years or more". It is more of an explanation
on the art of astrology and the compilation of astrological beliefs which existed in the era
of Ptolemy. It does not delve deep into the details of the practice of astrology. Ptolemy
avoided illustrations in the book and mentioned only that information which was both
reliable and believable. Basically, he wanted to prove that astronomy is not quite an
abstract genre as the general conception was, by outlining its philosophical and explicable
sides. The contents were gathered from earlier sources, but what Ptolemy did was he tried
to make them seem more logical by putting them in an organized manner. He explained
the limits of astrology in a precise manner. He was of the opinion that the circumstances
in which a person was raised is more likely to determine his future deeds and even his
personality is also affected more by his upbringing than the position of the stars, moon
and the sun. Hence, he concluded that astrology is useful in our lives to some extent but
should not regulate the course of our lives.

Francois Viete
François Viète's father was Étienne Viète, a lawyer in Fontenay-le-Comte in western
France about 50 km east of the coastal town of La Rochelle. François' mother was
Marguerite Dupont. He attended school in Fontenay-le-Comte and then moved to
Poitiers, about 80 km east of Fontenay-le-Comte, where he was educated at the
University of Poitiers. Given the occupation of his father, it is not surprising that Viète
studied law at university. After graduating with a law degree in 1560, Viète entered the
legal profession but he only continued on this path for four years before deciding to
change his career.
In 1564 Viète took a position in the service of Antoinette d'Aubeterre. He was employed
to supervise the education of Antoinette's daughter Catherine, who would later become
Catherine of Parthenay (Parthenay is about half-way between Fontenay-le-Comte and
Poitiers). Catherine's father died in 1566 and Antoinette d'Aubeterre moved with her
daughter to La Rochelle. Viète moved to La Rochelle with his employer and her daughter.
This was a period of great political and religious unrest in France. Charles IX had become
king of France in 1560 and shortly after, in 1562, the French Wars of Religion began. It is
a gross over-simplification to say that these wars were between Protestants and Roman
Catholics but fighting between the various factions would continue on and off until
almost the end of the century. In 1570 Viète left La Rochelle and moved to Paris.
Although he was never employed as a professional scientist or mathematician, Viète was
already working on topics in mathematics and astronomy and his first published
mathematical work appeared in Paris in 1571. While Viète was in Paris, Charles IX
authorised the massacre of the Huguenots, who were an increasingly powerful group of
French Protestants, on 23 August 1572. This must have been an extremely difficult time
for Viète for, although not active in the Protestant cause, he was a Huguenot himself.
Charles did not live very long after this event, the massacre apparently haunting him for
the rest of his life. However, on 24 October 1573 Charles appointed Viète to the
government of Brittany which was based at Rennes.
Viète moved to Rennes to take up his position of counsellor there. He remained at Rennes
until March 1580 when he returned to Paris. Charles IX had died on 30 May 1574 and, on
Charles' death Henry III became king. Henry made concessions to the Protestant
Huguenots in 1576 and the Roman Catholics formed the Holy League to look after their
own interests by military actions.

Leonhard Euler

Euler was born in Switzerland, in the town of Basel, on the 15th of April 1707, in the
family of a pastor. At that time, Basel was one of the main centres of mathematics in
Europe. At the age of 7, Euler started school while his father hired a private mathematics
tutor for him. At 13, Euler was already attending lectures at the local university, and in
1723 gained his masters degree, with a dissertation comparing the natural philosophy
systems of Newton and Descartes. On his father's wishes, Euler furthered his education
by enrolling in the theological faculty, but devoted all his spare time to studying
mathematics. He wrote two articles on reverse trajectory which were highly valued by his
teacher Bernoulli. In 1727 Euler applied for a position as physics professor at Basel
university, but was turned down.
In his study of colour effects, Euler hoped to make use of the observation of the
conjunction of Venus and the moon, due to take place on the 8th of September 1729.
However, no such effects were observed during this conjunction, and Euler was forced to
wait for the eclipse of the sun which would take place in 1748. He observed this eclipse
in Berlin, where he moved in 1741. Here he worked in the Berlin Academy of Sciences
and was appointed as head of the Berlin Observatory, and was also tutor to the nieces of
King Frederich II of Prussia.Observations of the eclipse of the sun made by scientists of
the day led them to believe that the moon did not contain sufficient atmosphere to provide
the effects of diffraction or refraction. Only Euler was able to detect the moon's
atmosphere. And in 1761, when Venus passed over the face of the sun, he detected the
atmosphere of Venus.Euler's works were not devoted solely to the natural sciences. A true
renaissance man, he also involved himself in the philosophical debates of the day, and
triumphantly declared himself a firm believer in the freedom of the will. Such views won
him few friends in Germany, and the book in which he thus expressed himself was
published for the first time in Russia, where Euler returned in 1766. Here he found many
who agreed with his views, among them enemies of the views of Leibnitz and Voltaire.
In 1763 Catherine II came to the throne. She carried out reforms in the Academy of
Sciences and aimed to make it a more prestigious institution. When Euler returned to
Petersburg with his two elder sons they were given a two-storey house on the banks of
the Neva and Euler given a position at the head of the Academy of Sciences.
At the time of his return to Petersburg Euler had already reconsidered his views on the
atmosphere of planets. The work of Lomonosov and Bernoulli in this field led him to
conclude that the atmosphere on the Earth and on other planets must be considerably
more transparent than he had thought. Euler took a very active role in the observation of
the movement of Venus across the face of the sun, despite the fact that at this time he was
nearly blind.
Abraham de Moivre
Abraham de Moivre was born in Vitry-le-François, which is about halfway between Paris
and Nancy, where his father worked as a surgeon. The family was certainly not well off
financially, but a steady income meant that they could not be described as poor. De
Moivre's parents were Protestants but he first attended the Catholic school of the

Christian Brothers in Vitry which was a tolerant school, particularly so given the religious
tensions in France at this time. When he was eleven years old his parents sent him to the
Protestant Academy at Sedan where he spent four years studying Greek under Du Rondel.
The Edict of Nantes had guaranteed freedom of worship in France since 1598 but,
although it made any extension of Protestant worship in France legally impossible, it was
much resented by the Roman Catholic clergy and by the local French parliaments.
Despite the Edict, the Protestant Academy at Sedan was suppressed in 1682 and de
Moivre, forced to move, then studied logic at Saumur until 1684. Although mathematics
was not a part of the course that he was studying, de Moivre read mathematics texts in his
own time. In particular he read Huygens' treatise on games of chance De ratiociniis in
ludo aleae. By this time de Moivre's parents had gone to live in Paris so it was natural for
him to go there. He continued his studies at the Collège de Harcourt where he took
courses in physics and for the first time had formal mathematics training, taking private
lessons from Ozanam.
Religious persecution of Protestants became very serious after Louis XIV revoked the
Edict of Nantes in 1685, leading to the expulsion of the Huguenots. At this time de
Moivre was imprisoned for his religious beliefs in the priory of St Martin. It is unclear
how long he was kept there, since Roman Catholic biographers indicate that soon after
this he emigrated to England while his Protestant biographers say that he was imprisoned
until 27 April 1688 after which he travelled to England. After arriving in London he
became a private tutor of mathematics, visiting the pupils whom he taught and also
teaching in the coffee houses of London.
By the time he arrived in London de Moivre was a competent mathematician with a good
knowledge of many of the standard texts. However after he made a visit to the Earl of
Devonshire,
carrying
with
him
a
letter
of introduction,
he
was
shown Newton's Principia. He realised instantly that this was a work far deeper than
those which he had studied and decided that he would have to read and understand this
masterpiece. He purchased a copy, cut up the pages so that he could carry a few with him
at all times, and as he travelled from one pupil to the next he read them. Although this
was not the ideal environment in which to study the Principia, it is a mark of de Moivre's
abilities that he was quickly able to master the difficult work. De Moivre had hoped for a
chair of mathematics.

Hipparchus of Nicaea

Claudius Ptolemy

Francois Viete

LeOnhard Euler

Abraham de Moivre