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Mathematical Treasure: Pell Debunks Longomontanus

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

John Pell (1611-1685) was an English mathematician and noted linguist. Much of his work in mathematics concerned the developing field of algebra and the theory of equations. He became actively involved in a controversy concerning the claim of a Danish astronomer, Longomontanus, to have achieved a quadrature of the circle. Longomontanus’ formal name was Christian Severinsen. In his efforts to discredit Severinsen, Pell secured evidence and testimonials from other leading mathematicians of the time, including Cavalieri, Cavendish, Descartes, Hobbes, Mersenne, Mydorge, and Roberval, denying Severinsen’s claim. In 1647, Pell published Controversy with Longomontanus concerning the Quadrature of the Circle.

Title page of Pell's refutation of Longomontanus.

Pages 50 and 51 contain a contribution by Thomas Hobbes.

Page 50 of Pell's refutation of Longomontanus.

Page 51 of Pell's refutation of Longomontanus.

The images above are presented courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Pell Debunks Longomontanus," Convergence (August 2016)