10
$\begingroup$

A full professor teaching the history of mathematics at Masters level recently told a friend of mine that there was nothing of interest left to explore in the mathematics written in Latin over the last 1000 years. Given that a significant part of Euler's work has never been translated into a modern language, and that I recall a recent discovery about Gauss's invention of what is now called the fast Fourier transform (FFT), I was very surprised. I think my confusion is caused by my lack of familiarity with the field. So, how do we explain the lack of activity in the study of Latin mathematics?

$\endgroup$
4
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ This is a subject I study in my spare time. I don't think there's any distinction between "Latin" mathematics and 17th-18th century mathematics, the language is just the medium but the content is the mathematics and that is studied mostly by historians and hobbyists, I'd imagine. I personally am involved in translating Latin works, and there are online journals like Euleriana and prolific translators like Ian Bruce. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 15:51
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Always remember that “full professor” just means the person knows a lot about something — not that they’re an expert on everything that comes out of their mouth. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 10:51
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Maybe with "written in Latin over the last 1000 years " he does not mean "from 1000 AD to 2000 AD" but he mean during Ancient Roman civilization (that wrote in Latin), spanning from founding of the Italian city of Rome in the 8th century BC and the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 11:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ user19422, Can you check with your friend and the professor to clarify what he meant? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 6, 2023 at 10:04

2 Answers 2

12
$\begingroup$

Since the full professor in question certainly hasn't read all of "the mathematics written in Latin over the last 1000 years," one can assert with certainty that he literally does not know what he is talking about. Half of Leibniz's writing has not even been digitalized, although this project has been going on for exactly 100 years. I don't read Latin but some of my coauthors do, and we recently used decisive evidence found in unpublished Latin texts by Leibniz; see this and also this.

A current controversy related to the Leibnizian calculus was summarized in this article in The Mathematical Intelligencer.

To respond to one of the comments: at least one of the sides in the debate is very well funded. Thus, David Rabouin received a 3 million euro grant to pursue his study and interpretation of Leibniz's Latin texts. He has also taken every opportunity to try to sink my work; luckily, without much success.

$\endgroup$
11
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Thank you for the references $\endgroup$
    – user19422
    Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 16:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @user19422, you're welcome. Leibniz scholarship (related to his mathematics) is a very active field today, including some interesting controversies. Most of the relevant texts are in Latin, though some are in French. It certainly cannot be said that there is "lack of activity in the study of Latin mathematics". $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 16:46
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Yes, I do also think the original question is ill-founded. Among other reasons, Latin (of a certain idiomatic sort) was the common language in Europe for centuries, and remained a sort of standard in science until 1850. (The mathematician Jacobi apparently did not finish his degree since he could not defend in Latin.) Analogously, we can wonder whether anyone will be able to read the 21st-century English in 500 years (if we survive...) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 23:49
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @LarsH, No, the issue was "funded". User njuffa asked (in a comment now deleted) whether possibly low levels of activity in studying Latin texts are due in part to difficulty of obtaining funding for this sort of activity. I just fixed the link to the ERC site in my answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 11:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @paulgarrett Jacobi was very adept at Latin; perhaps you were thinking of Dirichlet. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 21:00
2
$\begingroup$

Mathematics written in Latin during the last 1000 years is usually not designated as "Latin mathematics". Contrary to what your professor says, most of mathematical papers of Euler have been translated into English:

http://eulerarchive.maa.org/

Papers of Gauss, Jacobi and other great mathematicians who wrote in Latin are not translated but they were intensively studied, and most mathematicians who study them have no difficulty with reading mathematics in Latin.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.