Quotation for the week: Euclid

A revealing but apocryphal story about the great Greek geometer Euclid of Alexandria, as related by Carl Boyer in A History of Mathematics (Princeton University Press, 1968):

Evidently Euclid did not stress the practical aspects of his subject, for there is a tale told of him that when one of his students asked of what use was the study of geometry, Euclid asked his slave to give the student threepence, “since he must needs make gain of what he learns”.

(Simon Singh tells the same story in Fermat’s Last Theorem, but adds a postscript claiming that having been given his money, the student was promptly expelled.)

Something tells me that Euclid would never have been allowed to teach at Strathclyde.



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