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This article is about the Greek scholar of the third century BC. For the crater
named after him, see Eratosthenes (crater). For the ancient Athenian statesman of
the fifth century BC, see Eratosthenes (statesman).
An etching of a man's head and neck in profile, looking to the right. The man has a
beard and is balding.
Born 276 BC
Died 194 BC
Known for Sieve of Eratosthenes
Eratosthenes of Cyrene (?r?'t?s??ni?z; Greek ??at?s????? ? ?????a???, IPA [eratost?
n??s]; c. 276 BC[1] c.?195194 BC[2]) 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.[3]

He is best known for being the first person to calculate the circumference of the
Earth, which he did by applying a measuring system using stadia, a standard unit of
measure during that time period. His calculation was remarkably accurate. He was
also the first to calculate the tilt of the Earth's axis (again with remarkable
accuracy). Additionally, he may have accurately calculated the distance from the
Earth to the Sun and invented the leap day.[4] He created the first map of the
world, incorporating parallels and meridians based on the available geographic
knowledge of his era.

Eratosthenes was the founder of scientific chronology; he endeavored to revise the

dates of the chief literary and political events from the conquest of Troy.
Eratosthenes dated The Sack of Troy to 1183 BC. In number theory, he introduced the
sieve of Eratosthenes, an efficient method of identifying prime numbers.

He was a figure of influence in many fields. According to an entry[5] in the Suda

(a 10th-century reference), his critics scorned him, calling him Beta (the second
letter of the Greek alphabet) because he always came in second in all his
endeavors.[6] Nonetheless, his devotees nicknamed him Pentathlos after the
Olympians who were well rounded competitors, for he had proven himself to be
knowledgeable in every area of learning. Eratosthenes yearned to understand the
complexities of the entire world.[7]

Contents [hide]
1 Life
2 Measurement of the Earth's circumference
3 Father of geography
4 Achievements
5 Prime numbers
6 Works
6.1 Titles
7 See also
7.1 Eponyms
8 References
9 Further reading
10 External links
The son of Aglaos, Eratosthenes was born in 276 BC in Cyrene. Now part of modern-
day Libya, Cyrene had been founded by the Greeks centuries earlier and became the
capital of Pentapolis (North Africa), a country of five cities Cyrene, Arsinoe,
Berenice, Ptolemias, and Apollonia, Cyrenaica. Alexander the Great conquered Cyrene
in 332 BC, and following his death in 323 BC, its rule was given to one of his
generals, Ptolemy I Soter, the founder of the Ptolemaic Kingdom. Under Ptolemaic
rule the economy prospered, based largely on the export of horses and silphium, a
plant used for rich seasoning and medicine.[3] Cyrene became a place of
cultivation, where knowledge blossomed. Like any young Greek, Eratosthenes would
have studied in the local gymnasium, where he would have learned physical skills
and social discourse as well as reading, writing, arithmetic, poetry, and music.[8]

Eratosthenes went to Athens to further his studies. There he was taught Stoicism by
its founder, Zeno of Citium, in philosophical lectures on living a virtuous life.
[9] He then studied under Ariston of Chios, who led a more cynical school of
philosophy. He also studied under the head of the Platonic Academy, who was
Arcesilaus of Pitane. His interest in Plato led him to write his very first work at
a scholarly level, Platonikos, inquiring into the mathematical foundation of
Plato's philosophies.[10] Eratosthenes was a man of many perspectives and
investigated the art of poetry under Callimachus.[11] He was a talented and
imaginative poet. He wrote poems one in hexameters called Hermes, illustrating the
god's life history; and another, in elegiacs called Erigone, describing the suicide
of the Athenian maiden Erigone (daughter of Icarius).[12] He wrote Chronographies,
a text that scientifically depicted dates of importance, beginning with the Trojan
War. This work was highly esteemed for its accuracy. George Syncellus was later
able to preserve from Chronographies a list of 38 kings of the Egyptian Thebes.
Eratosthenes also wrote Olympic Victors, a chronology of the winners of the Olympic
Games. It is not known when he wrote his works, but they highlighted his abilities.

These works and his great poetic abilities led the pharaoh Ptolemy III Euergetes to
seek to place him as a librarian at the Library of Alexandria in the year 245 BC.
Eratosthenes, then thirty years old, accepted Ptolemy's invitation and traveled to
Alexandria, where he lived for the rest of his life. Within about five years he
became Chief Librarian, a position that the poet Apollonius Rhodius had previously
held. As head of the library Eratosthenes tutored the children of Ptolemy,
including Ptolemy IV Philopator who became the fourth Ptolemaic pharaoh. He
expanded the library's holdings in Alexandria all books had to be surrendered for
duplication. It was said that these were copied so accurately that it was
impossible to tell if the library had returned the original or the copy. He sought
to maintain the reputation of the Library of Alexandria against competition from
the Library of Pergamum. Eratosthenes created a whole section devoted to the
examination of Homer, and acquired original works of great tragic dramas of
Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.[13]

Eratosthenes made several important contributions to mathematics and science, and

was a friend of Archimedes. Around 255 BC, he invented the armillary sphere. In On
the Circular Motions of the Celestial Bodies, Cleomedes credited him with having
calculated the Earth's circumference around 240 BC, using knowledge of the angle of
elevation of the Sun at noon on the summer solstice in Alexandria and on
Elephantine Island near Syene (modern Aswan, Egypt).

Eratosthenes believed there was good and bad in every nation and criticized
Aristotle for arguing that humanity was divided into Greeks and barbarians, and
that the Greeks should keep themselves racially pure.[14] As he aged he contracted
ophthalmia, becoming blind around 195 BC. Losing the ability to read and to observe
nature plagued and depressed him, leading him to voluntarily starve himself to
death. He died in 194 BC at 82 in Alexandria.[15]
Measurement of the Earth's circumference[edit]

Illustration showing a portion of the globe showing a part of the African

continent. The sunbeams shown as two rays hitting the ground at Syene and
Alexandria. Angle of sunbeam and the gnomons (vertical pole) is shown at
Alexandria, which allowed Eratosthenes' estimates of radius and circumference of
Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth without leaving Egypt. He
knew that at local noon on the summer solstice in Syene (modern Aswan, Egypt), the
Sun was directly overhead. (Syene is at latitude 2405' North, near to the Tropic
of Cancer, which was 2342' North in 100 BC[16]) He knew this because the shadow of
someone looking down a deep well at that time in Syene blocked the reflection of
the Sun on the water. He measured the Sun's angle of elevation at noon on the same
day in Alexandria. The method of measurement was to make a scale drawing of that
right triangle with the vertical rod and its shadow as its legs and to measure the
acute angle subtending to the shadow. This turned out to be about 7, or 150th of
the way around a circle. Taking the Earth as spherical, and knowing both the
distance and direction of Syene, he concluded that the Earth's circumference was
fifty times that distance.

His knowledge of the size of Egypt was founded on the work of many generations of
surveying trips. Pharaonic bookkeepers gave a distance between Syene and Alexandria
of 5,000 stadia (a figure that was checked yearly).[17] Some[who] say that the
distance was corroborated by inquiring about the time that it took to travel from
Syene to Alexandria by camel. Carl Sagan said that Eratosthenes paid a man to walk
and measure the distance. Some claim Eratosthenes used the Olympic stade of 176.4
m, which would imply a circumference of 44,100 km, an error of 10%,[17] but the
184.8 m Italian stade became (300 years later) the most commonly accepted value for
the length of the stade,[17] which implies a circumference of 46,100 km, an error
of 15%.[17] It was unlikely, even accounting for his extremely primitive measuring
tools, that Eratosthenes could have calculated an accurate measurement for the
circumference of the Earth. He made five important assumptions (none of which is
perfectly accurate)[17][18]

That the distance between Ale