Who is Euclid? - Biography, Contribution & Theorems

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  • 0:01 Euclid
  • 0:27 Euclid's Background
  • 1:03 Elements: Euclid & Geometry
  • 3:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you'll explore the life and achievements of the Greek mathematician Euclid, and test your understanding about Ancient Greece, early math, and the principles of Euclidean geometry.

Euclid

Euclid was an ancient Greek mathematician who lived in the Greek city of Alexandria in Egypt during the 3rd century BCE. After Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, he set up Alexandria as the political and economic center, and many Greeks lived or worked there. Euclid is often referred to as the 'father of geometry' and his book Elements was used well into the 20th century as the standard textbook for teaching geometry.

Euclid's Background

There is a lot about Euclid's life that is a mystery, including the exact dates of his birth and death, and in many historical accounts he is simply referred to as 'the author of Elements'. This is not a reflection of his importance, just a testament of how hard it is to maintain good records over 2,300 years. Euclid seems to have known, worked with, or influenced other major Greek figures, including Plato and Archimedes. There are at least six major works attributed to Euclid. Most of them deal with mathematical formulas, but also delve into things like the math of mirrors and reflections, astronomy, and optical illusions.

Elements: Euclid & Geometry

The most famous work by Euclid is the 13-volume set called Elements. This collection is a combination of Euclid's own work and the first compilation of important mathematical formulas by other mathematicians into a single, organized format. Thus, it made mathematical learning much more accessible. Elements also contains a series of mathematical proofs, or explanations of equations that will always be true, which became the foundation for Western math.

Among these are Euclid's theorems, or statements proven by compounding different previously proven statements. Two of Euclid's theorems form foundational understandings about arithmetic and number theory. The first theorem is that every positive integer greater than 1 can be written as a product of prime numbers. For example, 21=3x7 or 31= 31x1. Euclid's second theorem states that there are an infinite number of prime numbers. These theorems may sound basic, but Euclid had to develop formulas to prove them. In fact, these are some of the fundamental concepts of arithmetic and had to be proven before more advanced theorems could be built upon them.

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