As part of the Seeing Euclid network of exhibitions throughout the UK, the National Library of Wales will display an example of their valuable Euclid collection of books from 7 July to 27 August. The project aims to highlight the legacy of Euclid’s Elements in the early modern period in Britain and Ireland, with displays of books and artefacts from the period. It is curated by the research project Reading Euclid, based at the University of Oxford and funded by the AHRC. The exhibition is a collaboration between nearly thirty institutions across Britain and Ireland.
He compiled the thirteen books of The Elements while working in Alexandria in the third century B.C. His work describes the foundations of Mathematics and dominated the subject for over two thousand years. He developed the concept of logical proof, in which theorems are proved, directly or indirectly, from axioms.
The Library has a large collection of books authored by Euclid. It consists of 270 editions of Euclid’s work which were published from 1484 to 1800. The original collection of 39 volumes was given to the Library by Sir Charles Thomas-Stanford in 1927 and an addition of 11 volumes in 1928. Since then the Library has continued to add to the collection.
The full title of the volume which the Library will put on display is The Elements of the Geometrie of the most auncient Philosopher Euclide. It is a handsome volume with fold-out diagrams of polyhedra and intersecting planes. It is a translation published in 1570 and interestingly contains a preface by John Dee, who was of Welsh parentage. He is said to have had the largest library in Britain and the fact that he was chosen for the task indicates the esteem in which he was held. He was a brilliant and rather strange man – mathematician, astronomer, adviser to Queen Elizabeth the First but also interested in magic and astrology. Mathematics was not as well developed in Britain at the time as it was in Europe and was seen as only necessary for the study of fields such as astrology and alchemy. However, Dee helped to show that it was applicable to a range of useful applications such as hydraulics and engineering. He was quoted as saying “And for these, and suchlike marvelous arts and feats naturally, mathematically and mechanically wrought and contrived, ought any student and modest Christian philosopher be counted and called a conjurer?”