1
$\begingroup$

I am Korean, and I thought I can understand majority of english sentences, but this is really hard to translate literally for me. Even though I asked it to my English teacher, he did not know either. Although it is English question, I think it is way better to ask in math forum, because it is about math. Here is my sentence.

Euclid Element VII def 1 (Heath edition) An unit is that by virtue of which each of the things that exist is called one.

  1. Why he used 'an unit' rather than 'a unit'? I thought 'a unit' is more grammatically right, but this is not so important question anyway.

  2. How should I interpret this? Of course, I know what that sentence means because there are also Korean version of Euclid. But it was liberal translation. We use 'by virtue of~' simillar as 'because of'. Then, there should be consequence in front of 'by virtue of'. For example, 'I won first prize by virtue of my father'. Like this sentence, 'won first prize' this is consequence. But that Euclid text, there is no consequence in front of 'by virtue of'. Please let me know how should I interpret it. (For literal translation. As I told, I know what it means as liberal translation)

$\endgroup$

closed as off-topic by Alexandre Eremenko, Joel Reyes Noche, José Carlos Santos, Mauro ALLEGRANZA, Danu Aug 28 at 10:17

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about history of science and math, within the scope defined in the help center." – Alexandre Eremenko, Joel Reyes Noche, José Carlos Santos, Mauro ALLEGRANZA, Danu
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "An" is a typo, see Clark University's translation, and there is not much mathematical content to this "definition". It is a leftover of Pythagorean philosophy, native English speakers who are non-philosophers would have trouble understanding it too. "Each of the things that exist is called one by virtue of being a unit" is a more colloquial rephrasing. It says that unit is the name for what makes an individual thing individual. $\endgroup$ – Conifold Aug 24 at 4:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Conifold You are so erudite. Does Heath's sentence has more philosophical meaning than yours(Each of the things that exist is called one by virtue of being a unit)? I can understand your sentence very easily, but I wonder why Heath translated so hard to understand. $\endgroup$ – Vito Aug 24 at 4:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The order of words is rearranged to fit the form of a definition, with "a unit", which is being defined, at the beginning. Plus, it makes it sound more... solemn and archaic. The device is called anastrophe, it is often used in poetry and old literature. $\endgroup$ – Conifold Aug 24 at 6:37
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I do not agree that "an" is a typo. (Since the distinction "a"/"an" is not from the original Greek.) You will find "an unit" in English writing from long ago, but "a unit" more recently. So maybe "an unit" was still common in Heath's day; or maybe Heath copied that definition from a translation done further in the past. $\endgroup$ – Gerald Edgar Aug 24 at 12:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DaveLRenfro It reminds me a famous example of this sort, the Eudoxian definition of equal ratios from book V:"Magnitudes are said to be in the same ratio, the first to the second and the third to the fourth, when, if any equimultiples whatever are taken of the first and third, and any equimultiples whatever of the second and fourth, the former equimultiples alike exceed, are alike equal to, or alike fall short of, the latter equimultiples respectively taken in corresponding order." Makes one appreciate algebraic notation. $\endgroup$ – Conifold Aug 24 at 23:50
1
$\begingroup$

The "an unit" is an antiquated spelling based on an old pronunciation of unit which is no longer used. The translation should read "A unit is ...".

Your confusion over the definition is nothing new. Even in ancient times, philosophers and mathematicians used to argue about how to interpret this definition.

Heath's translation is somewhat obscure. A more modern interpretive translation might be:

A unit is that by which each thing exists in and of itself.

$\endgroup$

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