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Mathematical Treasure: Adelard’s Translation of Euclid’s Elements

Author(s): 
Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

Shown below is an early 14th century manuscript (Harley MS 5266) containing a translation of Euclid’s Elements by Adelard of Bath (ca. 1075 – ca. 1160). Adelard, a British scholar, was the first person known to have translated the Elements from Arabic into Latin. The text begins on folio 1r, highlighted by an illumination depicting Euclid:

Folio 1r from 14th Century Latin translation of Eucild's Elements by Adelard of Bath

Folio 11r from the same 14th century manuscript discusses the properties of various geometric figures:

Folio 11r from 14th Century Latin translation of Eucild's Elements by Adelard of Bath

An elegantly illustrated 13th century French manuscript (Sloane MS 285) of Adelard’s translation, Elementa geometriae, appears below. The pages are numbered IX and X (folios 28-29):

Pages IX and X from 13th Century French edition of Latin translation of Eucild's Elements by Adelard of Bath

This is an excerpt from another 13th century French manuscript (Arundel MS 84) of Adelard of Bath’s translation of Euclid’s Elements. It is on folio 33v of the manuscript:

Folio 33v from 13th Century French edition of Latin translation of Eucild's Elements by Adelard of Bath

Folio 34r of this same 13th century manuscript contains diagrams that should be familiar to any student who has studied Euclidean geometry:

Folio 34r from 13th Century French edition of Latin translation of Eucild's Elements by Adelard of Bath

An English manuscript from the 12th century (Royal MS 15AXXVII) contains Adelard’s Euclid. Folio 2 contains definitions; however, the construction of marginal illustrations posed some difficulty:

Folio 2 from 12th Century English manuscript of Latin translation of Eucild's Elements by Adelard of Bath

On folio 11v of the 12th century manuscript, properties of inscribed and circumscribed circles are discussed and illustrated:

Folio 11v from 12th Century English manuscript of Latin translation of Eucild's Elements by Adelard of Bath

The images above were obtained through the courtesy of the British Library. Further investigation of the images and their source can be obtained through the online services of the British Library. Where possible, manuscript reference numbers are given for the item being viewed.

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Adelard’s Translation of Euclid’s Elements," Convergence (August 2019)

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