Science in Context

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Observations on Hermann of Carinthia's Version of the Elements and its Relation to the Arabic Transmission

Sonja  Brentjes a1 1
a1 Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin


This paper investigates the affiliation of Book I of the Latin translation of Euclid's Elements attributed to Hermann of Carinthia with the Arabic transmission of the Greek mathematical work. It argues that it is a translation of a text of the Arabic secondary transmission, that is, of an Arabic edition mixed with comments. Two methodological claims are made in the paper. The first insists that the determination of a text whose transmission was as multifaceted and complex as the Euclidean Elements needs to be based on a systematic investigation of entire books rather than on selected theorems or diagrams of global, mostly structural relevance. The second claim starts from the experience that almost all results regarding the place of a particular document in a chain of transmission are conjectural. It acknowledges that individual results are more or less persuasive, depending upon the qualitative status of the argument. It suggests that the quantitative accumulation of similarities, differences, errors, regularities, or peculiarities allows one to recognize patterns and thus improves the reliability of judgment.


1 I thank the Humboldt Foundation, Bonn and the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton for sponsoring the research on the Arabic transmission of EuclidÕs Elements, Books I-IV. This paper is a revised form of a contribution to a conference held in honor of Boris A. Rosenfeld in 1994 at Pennsylvania State University. I thank M. Folkerts, P. Kunitzsch, and R. Lorch for their help.