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Assessment of Egyptian mathematics

Before you read: Do you think Egyptian mathematics is estimated highly? Give your grounds.

Read the passage and say if your predictions were right. Single out the key information and comment on how Egyptian mathematics is assessed.

The papyri thus bear witness to a mathematical tradition closely tied to the practical accounting and surveying activities of the scribes. Occasionally, the scribes loosened up a bit: one problem (Rhind Papyrus, problem 79), for example, seeks the total from seven houses, seven cats per house, seven mice per cat, seven ears of wheat per mouse, and seven hekat of grain per ear (result: 19,607). The underlying scenario can only be guessed at, but it is probably of the playful “As I was going to St. Ives” type—certainly, the scribe's interest in progressions (for which he appears to have a rule) goes beyond practical considerations. Other than this, however, Egyptian mathematics falls firmly within the range of practice.

Even allowing for the scantiness of the documentation that survives, the Egyptian achievement in mathematics must be viewed as modest. Its most striking features are competence and continuity. The scribes managed to work out the basic arithmetic and geometry necessary for their official duties as civil managers, and their methods persisted with little evident change for at least a millennium, perhaps two. Indeed, when Egypt came under Greek domination in the Hellenistic period (from the 3rd century BC onward), the older school methods continued. Quite remarkably, for example, the older unit-fraction methods are still prominent in Egyptian school papyri, written in the demotic (Egyptian) and Greek languages as late as the 7th century AD.

To the extent that Egyptian mathematics left a legacy at all, it was through its impact on the emerging Greek mathematical tradition between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. Because the documentation from this period is limited, the manner and significance of the influence can only be conjectured. But the report about Thales is only one of several such accounts of Greek intellectuals learning from Egyptians; Herodotus and Plato describe with approval Egyptian practices in the teaching and application of mathematics. This literary evidence has historical support, since the Greeks maintained continuous trade and military operations in Egypt from the 7th century BC onward. It is thus plausible that basic precedents for the Greeks' earliest mathematical efforts—how they dealt with fractional parts or measured areas and volumes, or their use of ratios in connection with similar figures—came from the learning of the ancient Egyptian scribes.

I. Some nouns change their meaning when used in the plural. Look up the italicized words in the dictionary and suggest their translation in the phrases:

1.…the scribe's interest in progressions (for which he appears to have a rule) goes beyond practical considerations.

2. Herodotus and Plato describe with approval Egyptian practices in the teaching and application of mathematics.



3…. closely tied to the practical accounting and surveying activities of the scribes.

 

II. Check up the word "learning" in the dictionary and provide the correct translation of the clause:

…came from the learning of the ancient Egyptian scribes.

 

III. The word "account" is sometimes difficult to translate because it has many meanings. Look it up in the dictionary and suggest the correct translation of the clause:

But the report about Thales is only one of several such accounts of Greek intellectuals learning from Egyptians

 

IV. Check up if you know the Russian couterparts for the following words and phrases and learn them if you don't:

to bear witness to, an interest in, to go beyond practical considerations, to allow for, a striking feature, a civil manager, at least, a unit-fraction method, to some extent, to leave a legacy, at all, an impact on, with approval, to maintain trade and military operations, a fractional part, to measure areas and volumes, similar figures.


Date: 2015-01-29; view: 1101


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