Glimpses of History (mostly Number Theory)

by Martin Huxley

First traces of Maths that we find:
Old bones in a cave left behind
   With a pattern of nicks,
   Babylonian tricks,
And the fruitful Papyrus of Rhind.

We don't have a board game of Thera's,
Chaturanga's from subsequent eras,
   But a race game is known,
   Bets and dice being thrown,
With its punchline "Apekho s'ap'hyeras!"    [I take you off the Sacred Way; Chaturanga gave rise to chess and cards; the drowned city of Thera is one input into the Atlantis story]

PYTHAGORAS' numbers were wholes
With breathable, losable souls,
   And the student who knew
   About square root of two
Was sent down, charged with kicking own goals.

The pentagon HIPPASOS saw
Has a small one inside when you draw
   The diagonal lines;
   Repetition defines
The irrational nature of tau.

Doctor EUCLID the mathematician
Was also a noted magician.
   While hymning to Demeter
   He proved several lemmata,
And almost invented division.

So EUCLID's first proof was acquired
By assumption of what was desired:
   "Either a or else b
   Is a product of p."
There's a modern text equally mired.    [see NARKIEWICZ's book]

"Did they make something fake for a crown
It would take sort of `density' down...
   I've found it! Heureka!"
   He ran as a streaker
From his bath through the town with no gown.    [ARCHIMEDES]

Was bubble bath known to the Greeks?
ARCHIMEDES relaxes and seeks
   An assay for the crown,
   Blowing foam up and down...
He'd've not found the answer for weeks.

The ancient Sicilian Don,
ARCHIMEDES, could be living on.
   When his life should be spared,
   He went: "Halve it if paired,
If unpaired, go to 3n + 1".

"Consider the flocks of the Sun"
Was how ARCHIMEDES begun.
   For counting the fleeces,
   Even ant'hyp'hairesis
Leaves plenty of work to be done.

DIOPHANTUS's book: if you buy it,
Twelve chapters, then everything's quiet;
   HYPATIA's edition
   Cut short by sedition,
With the editor killed in a riot.

When you look for a name for your thesis
On how to take numbers to pieces,
   There's more satisfaction
   From "cut-taker fraction"
Than original "ant'hyp'hairesis".    [BHATTACHARYA, EUDOXUS]

A merchant asleep in his tent
At a halt on the road to Tashkent
   Awoke from his slumbers
   With negative numbers,
So, rather than coming, he went.

He set Algebra off on its way,
But the name AL-GORITHMI today
   Was taken in vain
   As "Maths is a pain",
In Greek, "ho arithmos alge^i".    [AL-KHOWRIZMI]

The story of solving the PELL:
The Greeks had techniques, but they fell.
   BHATTACHARYA was random,
   Then BHASKARA tandem;
Till LAGRANGE, "If it works, all is well".

CHIN CHIU-SHOO fulfilled many goals,
Wrote a Treatise on Maths in Nine Scrolls;
   In his elegant library,
   Furnished by bribery,
He took wine, women, pork casseroles.

Who first combined residue classes?
In a culture where nothing new passes,
   CHIN gave Master SONG
   His inheritance (Strong
'Proximation), and called for the lasses.

A name, all the same, what is in?
Consider what happened to CHIN.
   Although he attained a
   High rank, his Remainder
'S `Chinese', with no credit to him.

The sons of BONACCIO knew
What one pair of rabbits can do,
   Their awful potential
   To spread exponential:
First England, Australia too.    [FIBONACCI]

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