Theaetetus

Theaetetus (Θεαίτητος) son of Euphronius of Sunium (c. 417 B.C. – 369 B.C.) was a Greek mathematician of Geometry. His principal contributions were on irrational lengths, which was included in Book X of Euclid's Elements, and proving that there are precisely five regular polyhedra.

He was described as having a short nose and protruding eyes. Much of what we know of him comes from Plato.

Theaetetus is introduced as one of the speakers in Plato's Theaetetus and Sophistes, in which dialogues he is spoken of as a noble, courageous, and well-disposed youth; in person somewhat like Socrates ; and ardent in the pursuit of knowledge, especially in tile study of geometry. (Plat. Theaet. pp. 143, 144. et alib.; Sophist. passim; Polit. pp. 257, 258, p. 266, a.) Diogenes Laërtius (ii. 29) mentions him as an example of the happy effects of the teaching of Socrates.

Theaetetus, like Plato, was a student of the Greek mathematician Theodorus of Cyrene. Cyrene was a prosperous Greek colony on the coast of North Africa, in what is now Libya, on the eastern end of the gulf of Sidra. Theodorus had explored the theory of incomensuarable quantities, and Theaetetus continued those studies with great enthusiasm; specifically, he classified various forms of irrational numbers according to the way they are expressed as square roots. This theory is presented in great detail in Book X of Euclid's Elements.

Theaetetus was one of the few Greek mathematicians who were actually natives of Athens. Most Greek mathematicians of antiquity came from the numerous Greek cities scattered around the Ionian coast, the Black Sea and the whole Mediterranean basin. Likewise, most Greek scientists came from the scattered Greek cities and not from Athens. Athens, and later Alexandria were centers of attraction because of the philosophical schools of Plato (the Academy) and Aristotle (the Lyceum), and the renowned Museum and Great Library. The Academy of Plato operated in Athens for almost 600 years, and served as educational center even for some of the early fathers of the Christian church.

He evidently resembled Socrates in the snubness of his nose and bulging of his eyes. This and most of what we know of him comes from Plato, who named a dialogue after him, the Theaetetus. He apparently died from wounds and dysentery on his way home after fighting in an Athenian battle at Corinth, now widely presumed to have occurred in 369 BC.

The Theaetetus crater on the Moon is named after him.

Theaetetus

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From Plato's Theaetetus to Gauss's Pentagramma Mirificum: A Fight for Truth (PDF) by Bruce Director


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