Thursday, June 12, 2014

Incidental learning is so fun

While reading the section on the area of a circle in a chapter on mathematics in Mesopotamia, I kept coming across things like this:

The ratio of the [blah blah blah] is given as 1;40 . . .. For the hexagon and the heptagon, the ratios are expressed 2;37,39 and 3;41 respectively. In the same tablet, the scribe gives 0;57, 36 as the ratio of the [blah blah blah] . . ..
[A History of Mathematics, Merzbach and Boyer, p. 35]

I've never seen notation like that before and don't know how to read it, so I decided to read the beginning of the chapter, which I had skipped over, it not being concerned with circles, and found this interesting sentence:

In modern characters, this number can be written as 1;24,51,10, where a semicolon is used to separate the integral and fractional parts, and a comma is used as a separatrix for the sexagesimal positions.
[op. cit. p. 25]

Did you catch that word separatrix?  Do you know what that means?  It means that commas are feminine.

The rest of the afternoon was spent browsing the dictionary and an online Greek grammar.

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