Who was Euclid? - Greek Geometry
Welcome to Quatr.us Study Guides!

Who was Euclid?

Euclid papyrus
An Egyptian papyrus from about 100 AD
which is a piece of one of Euclid's books

April 2016 - Nobody knows much about Euclid's life anymore - it is all forgotten. We only know that he worked at the University of Alexandria, in Egypt, for a while. There are no pictures of him. We can't even be sure he existed; Euclid could be a made-up name for a committee of mathematicians all working together.

Either way, Euclid (or the people who called themselves Euclid) must have lived around 300 BC, in the Hellenistic period. He (or they) seems to have studied at Plato's Academy in Athens, where he learned some of the mathematics that is in his books. He probably knew Aristotle there. But Euclid didn't always agree with Aristotle; unlike Aristotle, Euclid thought that when people used their eyes to see, invisible rays of "seeing" came out of their eyes and hit the things they saw. Euclid, who probably knew Aristotle, used the camera obscura to show that light always travelled in straight lines.

Like Anaxagoras before him, Euclid (YOU-klid) wanted to prove that things were true by using logic and reason. We still have copies of Euclid's books today, and they begin with basic definitions of a point and a line and shapes, and then go on to use geometry to prove, for instance, that all right angles are equal, that you can draw a straight line between any two points, and that two things which are both equal to the same thing are also equal to each other.

Euclid's later books teach more advanced math, including how triangles and circles work (Euclid proved that the area of a circle had to be πr-squared), irrational numbers, and three-dimensional geometry. Euclid's interest in proofs is probably related to the interest of Jain mathematicians in India in logic and proofs about the same time, though we don't know enough to say which came first.

Euclid is famous because his books were so easy to understand that they were used as the main math book in all schools in Europe, West Asia, and America for two thousand years, until the 20th century. The geometry book Anne of Green Gables hates so much is Euclid. There are still mathematicians working today who began studying geometry from Euclid's books.

Learn by doing: the area of a sphere
More about Central Asian mathematicians

Bibliography and further reading about Euclid:

Greek and Roman Science, by Don Nardo (1998). Nardo has written a lot of good books about the ancient world for kids; this one is no exception.

Ancient Science: 40 Time-Traveling, World-Exploring, History-Making Activities , by Jim Wiese (2003). Activities, as the title says - how to make your own sundial, and so on. The author is a science teacher.

Early Greek Science: Thales to Aristotle, by Geoffrey Lloyd (1974).

History of Greek Mathematics: From Aristarchus to Diophantus, by Thomas L. Heath (1921, reprinted 1981). A lot of Euclid, but also describes who the other major Greek mathematicians were and what they did.

Episodes from the Early History of Mathematics, by Asger Aaboe (1997).

More about Central Asian mathematicians
Hellenistic Egypt
Quatr.us home


Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in Quatr.us' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Check out our new ebook: Short and Simple: Ancient Greek Myths! - just out! Twenty-five easy to read, illustrated stories, from Pandora to Medea, Icarus, and the Trojan Horse (you can read these online as samples). Get it this week for just $14.99, five dollars off the regular price of $19.99.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Quatr.us Study Guides
  • Publisher: Quatr.us
  • Date Published:
Did you find what you needed? Ask your teacher to link to this page so other people can use it too! Send it in and win a Quatr.us "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in Quatr.us' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article
Quatr.us is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Quatr.us Study Guides, . Web. 29 May, 2017
ADVERTISEMENT