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Mathematical Treasure: Ratdolt's Euclid's Elements

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

Erhardus Ratdolt (1442–1528) was a German printer working in Venice during the years 1476 to 1486. In May of 1482, he published the first printed edition of Euclid’s Elements, Euclid Liber elementorum in artem geometrie. Its contents were based on the medieval translation of the work from Greek to Latin by Campanus (circa 1220-1296). In the process of producing this book, Ratdolt solved the problem of printing geometric diagrams. He is considered the first printer of scientific works and was known for his innovative typography. This edition of Euclid’s Elements remains today a masterpiece of mathematical printing.

Ratdolt Euclid

The image above shows the preface and the opening page of this work. The images below are of each of these two pages individually.

We now turn to Book III of Ratdolt’s Euclid’s Elements ...

from Ratdolt Euclid

The image above shows two pages from Ratdolt’s Euclid’s Elements, Book III, listing propositions 22-25. Note the clarity of the corresponding diagrams in the margins. The images below are of each of the two pages individually.

The images above are provided courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. You may use them in your classroom; all other uses require permission from the Beinecke Library. The Mathematical Association of America is pleased to cooperate with the Beinecke Library and Yale University to make these images available to a larger audience.

Additional images from a copy of this book in the Thomas L. Fisher Library at the University of Toronto are available here.

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Ratdolt's Euclid's Elements," Convergence (August 2012), DOI:10.4169/loci003904