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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

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

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,

where

Sl =d1 = 1;

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

passage.

* 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

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

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].

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

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

by

Sk+i = ask + bdk,

4+1 = 2bsk + adk,

where

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.

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 :

has to a number.

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

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

[1,1,21, 1,1] = 88: 45), and

71755875: 61735500 > 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.

[5, 5, 10] = 265 : 51, and [5, 5, 10, 5] = 1351 : 260.)

From these approximations Archimedes deduces that

223:71<jr<22:7.

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,

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

[1,2,2,2,...]:

Í2:' 12 2 2

dk 0 1 1 3 7 17

sk 1 0 1 2 5 12

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.

ure 1, and then use anthyp

and so is, in fact, periodic.

/ / / ¿X7 / ' ' ^^^ /

/ f L^7 ' ' ' ^^^ /

hr^

Fig. 2

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

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

when d is the shorter diagonal.

grams are similar is immediate

AC = AB + BC = bd + as = S:

and

CE = CD + DE = pas + pbd = pS.

We now evaluate the diagonal of the longer parallelogram:

and, by an application of II, 12 to the obtuse angled triangle ABF,

GH = (n-p2 - l)bs.

Hence

D = AE = nbs + ad.

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

then

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,

/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

generalisation, that I shall

appear to have

sk+2 = 2sk + dk,

dk+2 = 3sk + 2dk,

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,

then

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

.d* 0 1 2 3 5 8 37 45 82 127 590

sk 1 0 1 1 2 3 14 17 31 48 224

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,

then

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

a2-nb2=±l,

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

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

m

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

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

were filled with their multitud

number of black and while bul

leads to the equation

a2 - 23.3.7.11.29.353.46

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.

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

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

reasoning18.

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

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

'PkJ

<lk

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

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

need:

Proposition. Let ^4 = 1 I

where r € Q) if, and onl

and where the entries of A

and b such that det A =

tion

y* - nx2 = ± 1

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

b

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

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208 D. H. Fowler

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

Fowler, Ken Meyer, Mike Pater

Waerden, and, especially, Tom Wh

ofthis article.

References

New York, 1964.

H. Davenport, The Higher Arithm

L. E. Dickson, History of the The

1952.

E. J. Dijksterhuis, Archimedes, M

Euclid, The Thirteen Books of Euc

second edition, Cambridge Univer

1956.

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

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

1979.

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

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