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Mathematical Treasure: Richard Swineshead's Opus aureum calculationum

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

Richard Swineshead, Opus aureum calculation (ca 1350)

Richard Swineshead (fl. ca 1340–1354) was an English mathematician, logician, natural philosopher, and Cistercian monk. In about 1350, he published Opus aureum calculationum, the Book of Calculation. This was the first arithmetic book published in England and earned him the epithet “The Calculator”. The first page of an Italian edition of his work (copied in 1477) is shown here. Much of the marginalia contained on this page concerns the graphic consideration and understanding of motion, including distance, velocity, and acceleration. In the right triangles drawn, the horizontal bases represent time and the vertical lines, velocity. Thus, the area of such triangles represent distance traveled over a period of time: distance = velocity X time. Accordingly, the slope of the hypotenuse represents acceleration.

The image above was obtained through the kind cooperation of the University of Pennsylvania Rare Book & Manuscript Library (Incunables), Folio Inc S–830.

Index of Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Richard Swineshead's Opus aureum calculationum," Convergence (April 2016)