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Il Silenzio delle Sirene: La Matematica Greca Antica

Fabio Acerbi
Carocci Editore
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Enrico Jabara
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Fabio Acerbi is a scholar well known to Italian readers. To him we owe a new translation of the elements of Euclid, conducted with remarkable philological rigor and published in 2014. His book Il silenzio delle sirene. La matematica greca antica (2010) can be seen as an explanation of the criteria by which he was inspired to deal with the Euclidean corpus.

The book is divided into three chapters and a long appendix. The first chapter is dedicated to analyzing the context of Greek mathematics: how was it written, with what purpose, how was it communicated and studied. In the second chapter the author discusses some problems of interpretation and contextualization. He also criticizes a number of historiographical myths, in particular that Pythagoras was a mathematician, and several aspects of the biographies of the mathematicians of the period under consideration, such as, among others, Archimedes, Eratosthenes, Heron, and Hypatia.

The third chapter is devoted to the presentation of some problems treated by Greek mathematics (proportion theory, classification of regular polyhedra, problems of quadrature, theory of conic sections, some special curves, number theory, trigonometry and spherical geometry); the reviewer regrets that no space has been found for a discussion of Archimedes’ cattle problem.

The appendix, more than a hundred pages long, is of a very technical nature and interests the philologist more than the mathematician. It is a thorough survey of the relevant manuscripts, their location, the number of variants, and other aspects concerning the problem of how to establish the text closer to the original after the long incidents due to subsequent recoveries.

The extensive bibliography consists of approximately 450 items, of which only some three quarters are actually used in the text. In addition to the usual subject index there is an index of manuscripts and papyri, an index of names, an index of citations (only from ancient non-mathematical authors) and a useful index of geographical and astronomical names.

Enrico Jabara is at the Department of Philosophy and Cultural Heritage of the Università Ca’Foscari in Venice. 

The table of contents is not available.