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Eratosthenes of Cyrene (c. 276 BC – c. 195/194 BC) was a Greek mathematician, geographer, poet, astronomer, and music theorist. He was a man of learning, becoming the chief librarian at the Library of Alexandria. He invented the discipline of geography, including the terminology used today.



About Eratosthenes

  • [Eratosthenes] ... is a mathematician among geographers, and yet a geographer among mathematicians; and consequently on both sides he offers his opponents occasions for contradiction.
    • H. L. Jones (ed.), The Geography of Strabo (1917), Vol. 1, 359-61.
  • Eratosthenes declares that it is no longer necessary to inquire as to the cause of the overflow of the Nile, since we know definitely that men have come to the sources of the Nile and have observed the rains there.
    • Proclus, Timaeus, Vol. 1, 121.8-11 (Diehl); quoted in Morris R. Cohen and I. E. Drabkin, A Sourcebook in Greek Science (1948), 383.
  • In comparison with the great size of the earth the protrusion of mountains is not sufficient to deprive it of its spherical shape or to invalidate measurements based on its spherical shape. For Eratosthenes shows that the perpendicular distance from the highest mountain tops to the lowest regions is ten stades [c.5,000-5,500 feet]. This he shows with the help of dioptras which measure magnitudes at a distance.
    • Simplicius, Commentary On Aristotle's De Caelo, pp. 549.32-550.4 (Heiberg); quoted in Morris R. Cohen and I. E. Drabkin, A Sourcebook in Greek Science (1948), 160 n.2.
  • Eratosthenes... knew that the Sun was straight overhead in... Syene at noon on the summer solstice, but that it was 7.2 degrees south of straight overhead in Alexandria, located 794 kilometers farther north. He concluded... 794 kilometers corresponded to 7.2 degrees out of the 360 degrees... around Earth's circumference, so that the circumference must be 794 km x 360°/7.2°≈39,700 km... remarkably close to the modern value of 40,000 km.
    Amusingly Christopher Columbus totally bungled this... confusing Arabic miles with Italian miles...
    • Max Tegmark, Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality (2014)
  • Eratosthenes of Cyrene, employing mathematical theories and geometrical methods, discovered from the course of the sun the shadows cast by an equinoctial gnomon, and the inclination of the heaven that the circumference of the earth is two hundred and fifty-two thousand stadia, that is, thirty-one million five hundred thousand paces.
    • Vitruvius, De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 6, Sec. 9; as translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 27-28.
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