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Book II of Euclid's Elements and a pre-Eudoxan Theory of Ratio Part 2: Sides and Diameters

Author(s): D. H. Fowler
Source: Archive for History of Exact Sciences, Vol. 26, No. 3 (1982), pp. 193-209
Published by: Springer
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Book HofEucliďs Elements
andapre-Eudoxan Theory of Ratio
Part 2: Sides and Diameters

D. H. Fowler

Communicated by D. T. Whiteside

In Part 1 of this paper1 1 showed how the propositions of Book II of Euc

Elements might be interpreted as adducing the geometrical configurations n
sary for verifying the periodicity of the anthyphairesis of ratios of the f
in'im in the cases where the periods contained no more than four terms. T
account was incomplete in two respects:

(a) It left open the problem of verifying those expansions whose perio
contained five or more terms, and
(b) It failed to provide any satisfactory role for Propositions 12 and 13 wi
the interpretation2.

I shall now describe a further procedure which fills in these two gaps. I
based on a generalisation of the method of 'sides and diameters'; it will suc
fully verify the anthyphairesis of all ratios of the form in'im' and the only no
basic geometrical results it uses are precisely II, 12 and 13. Like the previ
method, it presupposes a preliminary arithmetical exploration of feature
the anthyphairetic expansions of the ratios.

1 Archive for History of Exact Sciences, 22 (1980) pp. 5-36. This (which I will he
forth refer to as my Tart 1 ') and my previous article 'Ratio in Early Greek Mathem
Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (New Series), 1 (1979) pp. 807-846 (w
1 refer to as 'Greek Ratio') should be consulted for the historical and mathematical
ground to the reconstruction of an anthyphairetic ratio theory that will be devel
further here. Full references are listed at the end.
2 In my Tart 1', the presence of Propositions 12 and 13- the 'cosine law' for ob
and acute angled triangles respectively- was excused by arguing that they are gen
lisations, important in their own right, of Pythagoras' theorem which itself is
in Book II and a proof of which, it can also be argued, should be restored af
Proposition 8.

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194 D.H. Fowler

1. Sides and diameters

My starting point is the procedure of sides and diameters described by Theon

of Smyrna and Proclus in their Platonic commentaries3. Both authors give in
detail an arithmetical construction that can be summarised briefly and accurately
by the formulae
sk+i = sk + dk
dk+i =2sk + dk,
Sl =d1 = 1;

and they verify that, for the first few cases,

dČ-2sš = (-l)k.
In addition, Proclus refers to a geometrical construction, but there he is much
less explicit:

The Pythagoreans proposed this elegant theorem about the diameters and
sides, that when the diameter receives the side of which it is diameter it be-
comes a side, while the side, added to itself and receiving its diameter, becomes
a diameter. And this is proved by lines in the second book of the Elements
by him [sc. Euclid]. If a straight line be bisected and a straight line be added
to it, the square on the whole including the added straight line and the square
on the latter by itself are together double of the square on the half and of the
square on the straight line made up of the half and the added straight line.

Proclus clearly underlines the distinction between the geometric and arithmetic
forms, by referring, in the quoted passage, to the way the former is proved "by
lines" (grammikos), while elsewhere4 he says that the latter goes "by numbers"
{dia ton arithmon). Neither author gives explicit details of the role of these con-
structions in Plato's dialogues, but the passages are considered to relate to the
mysterious 'nuptial number' at Republic 546 B-C, where Plato refers to "the ration-
al diameter of five lacking one in each case". Here the rational diameter of square
of side 5 is believed to be the number 7, since 72 = 2.25 - 1; so 7:5 is an
approximation to the ratio ^2:1 = /50:/25 given by the ratio of the third
diameter and side numbers5.
Proclus' reference to "the second book of the Elements" and his quotation
of II, 10 (with slight variations in style) do not really help us in interpreting what

3 Theon of Smyrna, Expositio (Hiller), pp. 42-45, and Proclus, In Rem Publicam
(Kroll), 2, pp. 24-29. There is an almost complete translation of the passage from
Theon in Thomas, Selections, 1, pp. 132-137, and a complete English version of the
whole work by R. & D. Lawlor. The short passage from Proclus that is excerpted
and translated in Thomas, Selections (1, pp. 136-139) will be quoted here (with one slight
adaptation) in its entirety; but I know of no other English translation of the rest of the
* Proclus, In Rem Publicam, 2, p. 24, 11. 17-18.
5 There is a vast literature on Plato's nuptial number. For the text and references,
see Plato, Republic (Shorey), 2, p. xliv, n.a., and Thomas, Selections, 1, pp. 398-401.

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Euclid's Elements and Ratio Theory 195

theorem or construction connected with sides and diameters is bein

To be sure, II, 10 can be used to verify something, as Proclus goes
since D = 2s + d is "a bisected line with a straight line added to it
is "the straight line made up of the half and the added straight l
manipulating these various lines, we can, rather awkwardly, prove t
so D is again the diagonal of a square with side S; but the relations
the smaller and larger squares does not enter into this proof. I h
that the text can be interpreted as an explicit and clear description of t
kind of construction7 (see Figure 1): Start with the smaller oblique
side s and diameter d. Then, following Proclus' description, keep
add to it a line equal to s. Complete the square with side S = s + d
mediately clear that it has diameter D = 2s + d.

5 G/

Fig. 1

The truth of this elegant geometrical construction is evident from elementary

congruence considerations. The figure itself is a variant of the construction of the
geometry lesson in Plato's Meno (82B-85B), and so fits in well with the style of
Platonic geometry; it also resembles the figure for a reconstructed proof of
Pythagoras' theorem that would follow II, 8. I shall now go on here to develop
a different kind of connection between this construction and Book II, and argue
that II, 1 2 and 1 3 are needed in an essential way to establish features of a generalisa-
tion of this construction, special cases of which can be used to verify the periodicity
of the anthyphairesis of any ratio /n: im in a direct generalisation of the following
recursive calculation of the anthyphairesis of diameter to side of a square, based
on Figure 1 :
D - l.S = (D-S) = s,
S -2.s = (d-s).

The second step compared the sizes of S and D - S = s, and the third
will compare s and d - s, so they and all subsequent steps will be equal. H
D:S = [1,2,2,2,...] = [1,2].

6 Proclus' argument is summarised by Heath in Euclid, Elements, 1, p. 400.

7 See my 'Greek Ratio', p. 819 and n. 40; but the reference to diagrams occuring
in Plato's Dialogues in that note should be deleted since none of the manuscripts con-
tain text figures.

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196 D.H. Fowler

Some preliminary numerical

generalisation. We start with
to be found in Table 1 of my T
with this expansion is a sequen
these will be described in the
generalised arithmetical relat
then specifies a geometrical fi
Finally this figure can be used t
ratio and all other details of
The construction embodied i
squares, which can be describ
S = as + bd,
D = 2bs + ad

for any two numbers a and b. (The reader is strongly recommended to sketch
the generalisation of Figure 1 implied by this prescription.) Similarly, we can
define another associated sequence of side and diameter numbers for the square
Sk+i = ask + bdk,
4+1 = 2bsk + adk,
Si = di = 1,

whose ratio does, again, always tend to ]/2: 1 ; but these sequences do not generally
satisfy the relation
d£-2sč = ±l
that is emphasised by Theon and Proclus, and the corresponding figure can
only be used for the verification of the periodicity of the ratio )/2 : 1 for very special
values of a and b. The procedure I shall now describe will determine particular
values of a and b that preserve these important and characteristic properties
of sides and diameters for any given ratio /n:|/m.
In order to demonstrate that the investigation can be carried out within
the spirit of Greek mathematics, these explorations will need to be arithmetical
or geometrical, and any algebraic symbolism that I invoke must be no more than
a convenient shorthand for straightforward and easily understood arithmetical
and geometrical statements. For example, the formulae
D-1.S = (D-S) = s and
S - 2.S = (d - s)

which I used earlier, together with the text that immediately follows t
be expanded as follows: If the side of the big square is subtracted from
onal of the big square, it will leave a remainder that can easily be see
Figure 1, to be equal to the side of the small square; and this remainder is s
than the side of the big square. This is the first step of the anthyphairesis.
second step of the anthyphairesis, we can subtract the side of the sma
twice from the side of the big square to leave a remainder equal to the

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Euclid's Elements and Ratio Theory 197

minus the side of the small square, which then is less than the side
square. Since the ratios of the diagonal to the side of any two squa
the ratios of the side to the diagonal minus the side of any two sq
equal. The second step of the anthyphairesis that we have just eval
that the anthyphairesis of the ratio of the side to the diagonal min
the big square is equal to two followed by the corresponding, and
equal, ratio for the small square; and hence this ratio is an unendin
series of twos. Finally we adjoin the first step, to get that the anth
the diagonal to side of the big (and, therefore, any) square is one, f
unending sequence of twos.
An Appendix will give brief details of the mathematical theory that
the procedures, using modern notations and ideas.

2. Convergents of anthyphairetic ratios

Book X of the Elements starts with eight propositions on anthyp

ratios. Of these X, 2 and 3 characterise commensurable and incom
ratios by their terminating and non-terminating anthyphaireses respec
X, 6-8 are variants of X, 5 :

Commensurable magnitudes have to one another the ratio whic

has to a number.

Hence if any (commensurable or incommensurable) ratio 0 = [n0, n1? n2, ...]

is truncated to [n0, nb ..., nk-1], it will give rise to a commensurable ratio (X, 2)
which therefore (X, 5) will be the ratio of a number to a number. These ratios,
dk:sk, expressed in their lowest terms, are nowadays called the convergents of
the original ratio 0; they alternate around and converge rapidly to 0. We do not
know for certain if or how the nk, dk, and sk were calculated in Greek times, but
we do have evidence that some of their properties were familiar. Here, for ex-
ample, are two celebrated instances in which what would appear to be these kinds
of ratios were introduced without comment8 :

(a) Aristarchus of Samos, in On the Sizes and Distances of the Sun and Moon,
asserts that

7921 : 4050 > 88 : 45

8 The original texts are excerpted and translated in Thomas, Selections, 2, pp. 14-15,
and 1, pp. 316-333. More details of the anthyphairetic interpretation of these, and other
related arithmetical texts, is given in my 'Greek Ratio', pp. 822-826, and 836-845.
(There is a minor arithmetical mistake on p. 844, Example A 5(a), in the analysis of
the first of Aristarchus' examples. The correct numbers are given here.) Many alter-
native reconstructions of Archimedes' procedure for approximating /3 : 1 have been
proposed; for summaries see Dijksterhuis, Archimedes, pp. 234-238, Heath, Archimedes,
pp. lxxvii-xciv and, for a further interpretation, based on a generalisation of side and
diameter numbers using an elaboration of the method of the basic algorithm discussed
in my 'Greek Ratio', see Knorr, 'Archimedes and the Measurement of a Circle'
pp. 136-139.

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198 D.H. Fowler

(or, in terms of the anthyph

[1,1,21, 1,1] = 88: 45), and
71755875: 61735500 > 43: 37

(71755875 : 61735500 = [1, 6, 6, 4, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 6] > [1, 6, 6] = 43 : 37).

(b) Archimedes, in Measurement of the Circle, employs the result that
1/265: 153 <3:1< 1351:780.
(/3 : 1 = [1,ÏÏ2], while [1, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2] = 265 : 153, and
[1, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 1, 22, 1] = 1351 : 780.

An alternative description9 is got by dividing /27 : 1 by 3, since ^27 :1 = [5, 5, 10];

[5, 5, 10] = 265 : 51, and [5, 5, 10, 5] = 1351 : 260.)
From these approximations Archimedes deduces that

(^ = [3,7,15,1,292,...]; [3, 7] =22: 7, and [3, 7, 10] = 2

ratio is an 'intermediate convergent', a step on the way to
convergent [3, 7, 15] = 333 : 106. The evaluation of the th
the next, remarkably accurate convergent [3, 7, 15, 1] = 35
a more extended and elaborate computation than that whic
in fact, a corrupt testimony by Hero that Archimedes did
on the circle that now are lost10.)
The last step of the calculation observes that
6336:2017J > 223: 71.
(6336 : 2017J = [3, 7, 10, 2, 1, 36] > [3, 7, 10] = 223 : 71.)
I showed, in 'Greek Ratio', how elementary algorithms wh
scope and spirit of the numerical proportion theory of Boo
calculate, term by term, the anthyphairesis and converge
'Part I' of this article made reference only to the anthyphai
were set out in Table 1 ; we now will need to know the converg
used to calculate the anthyphaireses will also generally furn
or, for our purpose here, the convergents can easily be evaluat
phairetic expansion by using the relations11
dk+i = Mk + dk-i>
sk + l = nksk + Sk_i,

9 The role of these approximations and other aspects of Arch

is very perceptively analysed in Knorr, op. cit., where it is poi
Archimedes' upper bound, got by taking the twelfth convergen
)/3:l, is needlessly accurate, and that the eighth or tenth c
362:209, would work in its place. This anomaly is accounted for
Archimedes worked from the anthyphairesis of j/27:l, and the
10 For a full discussion of this, with references, see Knorr,
11 Let me emphasise: this procedure is offered here for our c
us to extend Table 1 of my Tart V to include the convergents of
reconstruction would use variations and refinements of the algo
Ratio', pp. 823-825. I hope to discuss this aspect in detail elsewh

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Euclid's Elements and Ratio Theory 199

where d_! = s0 = 0, and s_x = d0 = 1 ; and this calculation can most con
ly be set out in the following kind of table, which illustrates the case
Í2:' 12 2 2
dk 0 1 1 3 7 17
sk 1 0 1 2 5 12

Recall that the objective of

sions of in : im are periodic,
as the period is recognised
the successive convergents ar
lus and, from an inspection
generated by the relations
4+1 =2sk + dk,
Sk+i = sk + dk.

On the basis of this guess, w

ure 1, and then use anthyp
and so is, in fact, periodic.

/ / / / _/^7 I '' ^^/

/ / / ¿X7 / ' ' ^^^ /
/ f L^7 ' ' ' ^^^ /


Fig. 2

3. The generalisation, and some examples

Take a small parallelogram with sides s and ps, and one diagonal d = in s
(so (p - 1) < in < (p + 1)); and take any two numbers a and b. We now
use the prescription
S = as + bd

to describe a larger similar parallelogram, which is constructed by building

up a gnomon around the small parallelogram in the top left-hand corner of
Figure 2, in a generalisation of Proclus' description for a square: Figure 2
illustrates the case where p = 2, a = 6, b = 4, and d is the longer diagonal of
the parallelogram; and a slightly different figure, which the reader is encouraged

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200 D. H. Fowler

to explore for himself (along w

when d is the shorter diagonal.
grams are similar is immediate
AC = AB + BC = bd + as = S:
CE = CD + DE = pas + pbd = pS.
We now evaluate the diagonal of the longer parallelogram:

AF = bs, FG = ad, HE = p2bs,

and, by an application of II, 12 to the obtuse angled triangle ABF,
GH = (n-p2 - l)bs.
D = AE = nbs + ad.

Thus Proclus' prescription for squares generalises to this example of a parallelo-

gram whose longer side is a multiple of its shorter side. When d is the shorter
diagonal of the parallelogram, Proposition II, 13 is needed, in place of II, 12,
to verify the construction.

This kind of construction can be performed for any numbers a and b but,
as with the generalisation of the construction for squares given at the end of
Section 1, only particular values of a and b will give rise to the special feature
of the geometrical construction in which the anthyphairesis of the ratio D : S,
the diameter and side of the larger parallelogram, leads after several steps, to
the verification of its periodic behaviour. These special values of a and b are
the same values that occur in the corresponding arithmetical formula, and they
can be read off from a table of the anthyphairesis and convergents of the ratio
^n : 1, initially by guessing what the coefficients are and then by a more systematic
and simpler observation of the numbers occurring in the table. Some examples
will make this clear.

n = 5
k 0 12 3
|/5: 1 = 2 4 4
dk 0 1 2 9 38
sk 1 0 1 4 17
I start with this example sinc
arithmetical description of sid
sk+i = 2sk + dk,
dk+i = 5sk + 2dk,
and hence a = 2, b = 1. A suit
is provided by a rectangle with
struction furnishes a confirm
anthyphairetic expansion of /
S = 2s + d, D = 5s + 2d,

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Euclid's Elements and Ratio Theory 201

D- 2.S = s, and

S _4.s = (d-2s).

The second step compared the sizes of S and D - 2S = s, and the third st
will compare s with d - 2s, so they, and all subsequent steps, will be equ
since the larger and smaller rectangles are similar. Hence ^5:1= [2, 4].
A similar argument shows that the general case of /(n2 + 1) : 1 = [n, 2n]
can immediately be dealt with by the description

S =ns + d,

D =(n2 + l)s + nd.

/z = 3
/3:1= 1 1 2 1 2 ...
dk 0 1 1 2 5 7 19
sk 1 0 1 1 3 4 11

Here the expansion appears

generalisation, that I shall
appear to have
sk+2 = 2sk + dk,
dk+2 = 3sk + 2dk,

where the initial values

indexed convergents, an
indexed convergents. There
for the geometrical descri
and 120°, or a parallelogram
a diagonal of length ^3 s; a
our general construction, or
anthyphairesis can be appli

S = 2s + d, D = 3s+2d,
D-l.S=(s + d),
S - l.(s + d) = s, and

(s + d)-2.s = (d-s).

The next step will compare s and (d - s), while the second step comp
and (D - S). Therefore these two terms, and then all corresponding subs
terms will be equal. Hence /3 : 1 =[1,1,2].

The procedure is not affected by the length of the period or size of the ter
in the period once the trick for deducing the recurrence relation has been spo
and the form that I have described for this relation (in terms of a's and
a considerable clue to its derivation. Here, for example, is the case of

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202 D. H. Fowler

-TZ = 7

)/7:l 2 1114 111 4 ...

.d* 0 1 2 3 5 8 37 45 82 127 590
sk 1 0 1 1 2 3 14 17 31 48 224

The expansion appears to have a period of 4

appears to be
Sk+4 = 8sk + 3dk,
dk+4 = 21sk + 8sk.
A parallelogram with sides s and 2s and sho
diagonal il s (the proposition that the sum o
parallelogram is equal to the sum of the squ
by Euclid, and is not necessary for our proc
consequence of II, 12 and 1312), and the assoc
process, as follows: If
S = 8s + 3d, D=21s + 8d,
D-2.S = (5s + 2d),
S-l.(5s + 2d)=(3s + d),
(5s + 2d)-l.(3s + d)=(2s + d),
(3s + d) - l.(2s + d) = s, and
(2s + d)-4.s = (d-2s).
The second step compared S and D - 2S, while the sixth step will compa
and (d - 2s); therefore they, and all corresponding subsequent steps, will b
equal. Hence il: 1 = [2,1, 1,1,4].
It should now be clear that the numbers a and b in the generalisation ar
precisely the diameter and side numbers corresponding to the final term of
believed-to-be period of the expansion of in : 1. And it should also have beco
apparent to the attentative reader that the prescription incorporates a solut
of "Pell's" equation
where the sign on the right hand side is positive when the period con
number of terms, and negative for an odd number of terms.13 Furthe

12 The exclusion of this proposition from Book II reinforces the arg

Propositions 12 and 13 are included for more specific reasons than that they
generalisations of Pythagoras' theorem.
13 Strictly speaking, "Pell's" equation is x2 - ny2 = +1, an equa
solved in integers. For particular values of n it was the subject of a chal
Fermat to European mathematicians in 1657, and methods of solution
Frenicle de Bessy, and Brouncker and Wallis. (The name of Pell wa
the equation by Euler in the mistaken belief that Brouncker's method o
-due to John Pell, a contemporary of Brouncker. See Dickson, History
of Numbers, 2, pp. 351-354.) It was eventually proved by Lagrange (see n
that the equation is always solvable; in fact all solutions occur as the e

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Eucliďs Elements and Ratio Theory 203

of the equation arise from the convergents at the end of all subsequen
with alternate signs when the number of terms in the period is odd. This
the behaviour that Theon and Proclus describe so meticulously in
when n is equal to two.
The procedure can be further generalised to deal with ratios of the form
since the anthyphairetic expansions of these ratios exhibit the same

periodic behaviour as /n: 1, and, when the ratios are written as


/(nm) : m, there is no problem in choosing a parallelogram from whic

up the appropriate figure. However I shall leave the reader to explore
other possibilities for himself, though I strongly recommend that, at the
he verify the expansions of ^19 : 1 = [4,2, 1,3, 1,2,8] and Í3 : Í2

4. Discussion

It is at the least a noteworthy concidence that the propositions of Book II

apart from Propositions 12 and 13 can be used to verify the periodicity of the anthy-
phairesis of some of the ratios in: im; that the content of these same Propo-
sitions 12 and 13 fill in an essential step in an alternative procedure that will
complete the verification; and the methods used are based on the construction of
gnomons, a procedure that is well attested in the ancient literature. Is there any
other evidence which might help corroborate the kind of numerical and geome-
trical exploration and proof that these two articles presuppose, over and above
that set out in my earlier articles, and so provide further support for the status of
these proposals as serious candidates for reconstructions of historical procedures?
I have already shown how, in his Measurement of a Circle, Archimedes
employs approximations to ]/3 : 1 which are in fact convergents to its anthy-
phairetic expansion. Let me now adduce the elaborate epigrammatic puzzle,
the Cattle Problem14, which is also attributed to him15. A crucial sentence in
the puzzle reads: "When the white bulls mingled their numbers with the black,

convergents of every period (when the period is of even length) or of every other period
(when the period has odd length, in which case the first, third, fifth, etc., periods end with
the complete set of solutions of x2 - ny2 = -1). There has been much discussion
of the role of "Pell's" equation in ancient mathematics; see, for example, van der Waer-
den, 'Pell's Equation' and, for further references, Dickson, op. cit., 2, chapter 12.
My observation is that the solution of the equation appears here as an incidental by-
product of the algorithm whose behaviour prompts the investigation of these two articles,
and that the present procedure assigns a new role for the equation in the historical
context. I hope to discuss this in detail elsewhere.
14 The text of the problem is given, with an English translation and brief notes about
the solution, in Thomas, Selections, 2, pp. 202-207; and the full solution is described in
a forthcoming article, 'Archimedes' Cattle Problem and the Pocket Calculating Machine.'
15 There is a recent discussion of the authorship of the problem in Fraser, Ptole-
maic Alexandria, 1, pp. 407-409 and 2, pp. 587-590, pp. 242-260, which concludes that
"it may be judged more economical to regard the poem as from the pen of Archimedes
and, in fact, though positive proof is lacking, there seem good reasons for accepting
the attribution".

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204 D. H. Fowler

they stood firm, equal in depth

were filled with their multitud
number of black and while bul
leads to the equation
a2 -
a "Pell" equation which could, i
described in 'Greek Ratio'. This
problem to be 7-760...X1020654
outrageous since elsewhere, in h
of grains of sand that would f
be less than IO63. A more caut
interpret it that the total of ani
since each bull is a deal longer
to a set of equations of the fo
px-qy = 1,
and in this case the eventual solution is a herd of 5 • 917... x 1012 animals. What
is not usually made clear in descriptions of the problem is that the solution of
this simpler version is also connected, in a different way, with properties of the
convergents of anthyphairetic ratios. Note that the text, in the sentence quoted
above and elsewhere, has prepared us for a large solution, though perhaps not
as large as either of these two numbers. It is a notorious fact that anthyphairetic
calculations lead quickly to the manipulation of large numbers, and it may be
relevant that Archimedes also described a technique for expressing enormously
large numbers in his Sand Reckoner. Recent studies16, based on other features
of his surviving works, have brought out the depth of Archimedes' knowledge of
pre-Euclidean mathematics; and so these several examples of material, in his
writings, that find a natural interpretation in terms of the manipulation of the
convergents of anthyphairetic ratios provide further evidence for an anthyphairetic
phase of development.

Another part of my general thesis is that the anthyphairetic phase of develop-

ment would be abandoned, then forgotten, then misunderstood17. This could
have influenced the treatment of sides and diameters that we find in Proclus'
text. We cannot tell whether the phrase "And this is proved by lines" was in the
ultimate text or not, but the citation of "the second book of the Elements" must
have been added after the compilation of the Elements, and therefore presumably
after this original source for the theorem on sides and diameters. Whether an
early version contained this reference to the Elements or not, it would surely seem
obvious to anybody later who knew the Elements that a proposition that talked
of "a side added to itself and receiving a diameter" and "a side added to a dia-
meter" would be connected with either II, 6 or II, 10, the two Euclidean proposi-
tions that deal with "a straight line bisected and a straight line added to it in a
straight line" and which also involve "the straight line made up of the half and

16 See Knorr, 'Archimedes and the pre-Euclidean Proportion Theory.'

17 See my 'Greek Ratio,' pp. 831-832.

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Euclid's Elements and Ratio Theory 205

the added straight line"; thus the citation of II, 10 and its use to verify th
could have been added at any time, together or separately, between the
tion of the Elements and Proclus' text. Alternatively, the cited pr
could have come from the archetype of Book II and, after this text
adapted and compiled into the Elements, the reference to Book II could
added. Now proceeding via II, 10 is not only an unnecessary and comp
obfuscation of a simple and elegant geometrical result, but also it leads
and indeed Proclus' text reverts, without further comment, at the e
geometrical proof, to the discussion of side and diameter numbers. W
ever, side and diameter figures and numbers are set within a restored
anthyphairetic ratios and their convergents they lead, naturally and su
(both adjectives describe accurately my own feelings), back to II, 12 an
two otherwise superfluous propositions of Book II. This leads me to s
further possibility, that the sentence "And this was proved by lines in the
book of the Elements by him" may derive from an earlier reference to an
phairetic role for Book II or its archetype; but that when the anthyphairet
cedures were abandoned, the sentence came to be interpreted as a refe
II, 10. We have no evidence, not even the absence of the geometrical theore
Theon's text, that would help us to decide between these and other po
A general problem connected with ratios in : im remains, to prove that
always have the periodic palindromic form in : 1 = [no,nl5 n2, ..., n2,
and that x2 - ny2 = ± 1 will always have a solution. I have now demo
how to verify any particular example, using methods that would have
cessible to fourth century Greek mathematicians, but I cannot conceiv
way of proving the general result without expert use of sophisticated

18 Although Euler wrote extensively on Pell's equation and continued fra

and described explicitly these general properties of the expansion of in, he
complete a proof of any of them; see especially his 'De Usu Novi Algorithm
Commentarii Academiae Scientiarum Petropolitanae, 11 (1767), pp. 28-6
Omnia, (1) 2, pp. 73-111]). The first proof of the solvability of Pell's equation
by Lagrange in his 'Solution d'un Problème d'Arithmétique' (Miscellanea Tau
4 (1766-1769) [= Oeuvres, 1, pp. 671-731]) and it is worth quoting his lively int
in full. "Etant donné un nombre quelconque entier et non carré, trouver un
entier et carré tel, que le produit de ces nombres augmenté d'une unité soit u
carré. Ce problème est un de ceux que M. Fermat avait proposés, comme un
de défi, à tous les Géomètres anglais, et particulièrement à M. Wallis, qui a ét
que je sache, qui l'ait résolu, ou au moins qui en ait publié la solution (voyez le
XCVIII de son Algèbre et les Lettres XVII et XIX de son Commercium Episto
mais la méthode de ce savant Géomètre ne consiste que dans une espèce de tâto
par lequel on n'arrive au but que d'une manière assez incertaine, et sans savo
si l'on y arrivera; d'ailleurs il faut démontrer surtout que la solution du pro
toujours possible, quel que soit le nombre donné, proposition qui est gén
regardée comme vraie, mais qui n'a pas encore été établie, que je sache, d'un
solide et rigoureuse; il est vrai que M. Wallis a prétendu la prouver, mais par un
ment que les Mathématiciens trouveront bien peu satisfaisant, et qui n'est, ce m
dans le fond qu'une espèce de pétition de principe (voyez le Chapitre XIX de
gèbre). Il s'ensuit de là que le problème dont il s'agit n'a pas encore été résol

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206 D. H. Fowler

Appendix. A matrix descrip

Here is a brief account of the

article, set out using the langua
been able to find, anywhere in th
this approach to continued fracti
or to the generalisations of sid
I hope, justifies the intrusion o
historical context.
Let A be an nxn matrix with
theory of positive matrices19 tel
is simple, positive, and has eigenv
the only other eigenvectors of
Moreover, for every choice of
vectors vk = Akv0 will tend
In the case of a 2x2 matrix, w
and simpler way: the eigenspace c

Akv0 = [ k I can all be describ


sequence of rational numbers - tending to the slope of the eigenspace. Look


manière suffisante et qui ne laisse rien à désirer; c'est ce qui m'a déterminé à en faire
l'objet de mes recherches, d'autant plus que la solution de ce problème est comme la clef
de tous les autres problèmes de ce genre."
The proof of the palindromic behaviour of in was given by Legendre, in his Essai
sur la Théorie des Nombres (Ist ed. 1798; 2nd ed. 1808; 3rd ed. 1830). Part 1 of the book,
comprising a third of the whole, is devoted to a description of continued fraction methods,
and Section V finishes with the required proof. A converse problem is raised in Section X>
entitled 'Comparison des fractions continues résultantes du développement des deux
racines d'une même équation du second degré,' which ends with the following incon-
clusive sentence: "S'il arrivoit que la période qui règne dans le développement d'une
racine fût de la forme ¡i, ¡a' ¡i" ', ... //', /¿', ¡i, k, c'est-à-dire fut composée d'une partie
symmétrique, précédée ou suivie d'un terme isolé k, alors le renversement donneroit
toujours la même période, laquelle par conséquent seroit commune aux deux racines
de l'équation. C'est ce qui s'observe dans un grand nombre de cas."
Galois gave a complete characterisation of those numbers whose expansions are
periodic with a period that starts at the first term, and he described the relationship
with the number got by reversing the periods, in his 'Démonstration d'un théorème sur
les fractions continues périodiques' (Annales de Mathématiques, 19 (1828) [= Oeuvres,
pp 1-8]). From this it is a short step to the proof of the cited properties of the expansion
of in: im and these results seem to appear directly in later text books, e.g. Serret, Cours
d'Algèbre Supérieure, revised third edition (1866). Further details of some of these works
are given in Dickson, History of the Theory of Numbers, 2, pp. 351-166, or H. J. S. Smith,
'Report on the Theory of Numbers,' Part III, § 96 (in Report of the British Association
(1861) [= Collected Works, 1, pp. 38-364]); but I know of nowhere where details of
the history of continued fractions can be found, though the selected references given in
Perron, Kettenbrüchen go some way towards filling that gap.
19 See, for example, Gantmacher, Theory of Matrices, 2, Chapter 13.

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Euclid's Elements and Ratio Theory 207

now at the special case of the matrix I I ; this has eigenvalues

eigenvectors I / ) of slopes + ^2. With the special choice of in

v° = I ) > we 8e* vk = ( j )> w**h corresponding slope - , the quoti

w > 'dkl j sk
original diameter and side
converge to and alternat
the continued fraction exp
approximations, and ther
numbers with denominat
This behaviour can be ge
a 2 x 2 positive matrix A a
of A has slope ir, and Akv
of ir. Since we are interes
and these are unaltered
det A = +1. Then the fol

Proposition. Let ^4 = 1 I

slopes of the eigenspaces

where r € Q) if, and onl

The standard application

and where the entries of A
and b such that det A =

y* - nx2 = ± 1

can be solved in integers by appealing to the properties of continued fractions:

the convergents corresponding to each final term of each occurrence of the period
of the expansion of in (hereafter called 'end-of-period convergents') furnish
solutions, and every solution occurs in this way. If the period contains an even
number of terms, these end-of-period convergents will all be solutions of
y2 -nx2 = +1, and the equation y2 - nx2 = -1 will have no solution in
integers; if the period contains an odd number of terms, the end-of-period con-
vergents will give solutions alternately of y2 - nx2 = -1 and y2 - nx2 - +1.
(This corresponds to the behaviour that Theon and Proclus describe precisely
for the case of n = 2.) It is also well known that these solutions can be generated
recursively by the side and diameter relationship, as follows. (Here the case where
the period of in contains an odd number of terms is described ; the case of an even
period is got by replacing all right hand sides by + 1 .) Let x = b, y = a be the

smallest non-trivial solution of y2 - nx2 = +1, so that - is the first end-of-


period convergent of in and a2 - nb2 = -1. Define (xk, yk) recursively by the

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208 D. H. Fowler

generalised side and diameter r

**+i = QXk + byk,

yk+l = nbxk + ayk.

Then, if x0 = a, yo = b, this w
gents of in.
In fact this result appears to ap
the expansion of in; i.e. the rec
numbers appears to generate su
apart, from the initial correspon
is precisely the behaviour that

Acknowledgements. I would like

Fowler, Ken Meyer, Mike Pater
Waerden, and, especially, Tom Wh
ofthis article.


G. Chrystal, Algebra, an Eleme

New York, 1964.
H. Davenport, The Higher Arithm
L. E. Dickson, History of the The
E. J. Dijksterhuis, Archimedes, M
Euclid, The Thirteen Books of Euc
second edition, Cambridge Univer
D. H. Fowler, Ratio in Early Greek
cal Society (New Series), 1 (197
D. H. Fowler, Book II of Euclid
Archive for History of Exact Sc
D. H. Fowler, Archimedes' Cattle
print, University of Warwick M
P. M. Fraser, Ptolemaic Alexandri
F. R. Gantmacher, The Theory of
T. L. Heath, The Works of Arch
1897; repr. Dover, New York, n
W. R. Knorr, Archimedes and the
Archive for History of Exact Sc
W. R. Knorr, Archimedes and the
nationales d'Histoire des Sciences
A. M. Legendre, Essai sur la Théorie des Nombres, 2 vols., lirst éd. 17^8; lourth éd.
repr. Blanchard, Paris, 1955.

20 I am grateful to J. S. W. Cass
on the theory of quadratic forms.

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Euclid's Elements and Ratio Theory 209

O. Perron, Die Lehre von den Kettenbrüchen, 2 vols., second edition, re

New York (1950); revised third edition, Teubner, Stuttgart, 1957.
Plato, Republic, ed. and tr. G. P. Shorey, 2 vols., Loeb Classical Library,
London & Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1930-
Proclus Diadochus, In Platonis Rem Publicam Commentarii, 2 vols.,
Teubner, Leipzig, 1899-1901.
Theon of Smyrna, Expositio Remm Mathematicarum ad Legendum Plato
ed. E. Hiller, Teubner, Leipzig, 1878.
Theon of Smyrna, Mathematics Useful for Understanding Plato, transla
D. Lawlor from a French translation of J. Dupois, Wizards Bookshelf
I. Thomas (= Bulmer-Thomas), editor and translator, Selections Illustratin
of Greek Mathematics, 2 vols., Loeb Classical Library Series, Heinema
and Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1939-41.
B. L. van der Waerden, Pell's Equations in Greek and Hindu Mathem
Mathematical Surveys, 31 (1976), pp. 210-225.

Mathematics Institute
University of Warwick
Coventry, England

(Received April 7, 1981)

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