Hippocrates – The Founding Father of Mathematics

Mostly every person who works in the realm of numbers knows the name of Hippocrates, since he had an important role in the history of Math with his understandings and accomplishments.


Hippocrates of Chios (not to be confused with Hippocrates of Kos, the famous physician) was a Greek mathematician, geometer and astronomer, who lived from 470 until 410 BC. In his younger days though, when he was still living on Chios island, his profession was the one of a merchant. It is possible, that during this time he was a pupil of the astronomer Oenopides of Chios. In his work as a salesman Hippocrates was not blessed with luck as it seems, since it is said that he was either robbed by pirates or victim of some kind of fraud, losing much of his accumulated fortune. After this loss he went to Athens, probably for a lawsuit, where he developed into one of the leading mathematicians of that time.

Probably Hippocrates' biggest achievment was the creation of the “Stoicheia Elements”, the first systematically organized geometry textbook. With this book the mathematicians of the ancient times were able to structure a unified network of basic concepts, methods and theories, and exchange their ideas and intellectual approaches, which resulted in rapid scientific progress.

But Hippocrates did not only pioneer the way for other great thinkers like Euclid, he had also theories of himself, like the “Lune of Hippocrates”, a method of how to prove the equal surface area of a triangle and two halfmoons, originating from the overlap of three circles. He also contributed by an approach of deviding a circle into a number of crescent-shaped parts for the “Squaring of the Circle”, which was much later, in the year 1882, proven to be impossible. These, however, are the only fragment of the theories of Hippocrates that survived through the centuries. Other things he is believed to have implied are the use of letters for naming geometric points (like the triangle with the points A, B and C), the problem of how to construct a cube root, and the principal of “reduction” by transforming a difficult to solve problem into a more general problem, which solution can be transferred to the original problem.

With his work Hippocrates of Chios set the foundation for the previously named Euclid and his book “Elements”, which remained the standard geometry textbook for many centuries. Hippocrates was also working in the field of astonomy, though here his research was less groundbreaking and more of speculative philosophy nature.

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