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Eratosthenes

Eratosthenes

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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).

Eratosthenes

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

Cyrene

Died 194 BC

Alexandria

Occupation

Scholar

Librarian

Poet

Inventor

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.

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.

(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

Life[edit]

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]

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]

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

Earth.

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]

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