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An Investigation of Historical Geometric Constructions - Hippias' Attempt to Trisect an Angle

Suzanne Harper and Shannon Driskell

            One of the most famous attempts to trisect an angle has been attributed to Hippias of Elis (born around 460 B.C.E.). He was a statesman and philosopher who traveled around being paid for his lectures on poetry, grammar, history, politics, archaeology, mathematics and astronomy. Plato described him as a vain man being both arrogant and boastful, having a wide but superficial knowledge (Burton, 2003 ). Hippias’ contribution to mathematics was small, but significant. In his attempt to trisect an angle, he created a new transcendental curve which unfortunately could not be constructed with only a compass and unmarked ruler; but the curve can be used to divide an angle into not only three, but any number of congruent angles.