Menelaus of Alexandria

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Menelaus of Alexandria (c. 70–140 CE) was a Greek[1] mathematician and astronomer, the first to recognize geodesics on a curved surface as natural analogs of straight lines.

Contents

Life and Works

Although very little is known about Menelaus's life, it is supposed that he lived in Rome, where he probably moved after having spent his youth in Alexandria. He was called Menelaus of Alexandria by both Pappus of Alexandria and Proclus, and a conversation of his with Lucius, held in Rome, is recorded by Plutarch.

Ptolemy (2nd century CE) also mentions, in his work Almagest (VII.3), two astronomical observations made by Menelaus in Rome in January of the year 98. These were occultations of the stars Spica and Beta Scorpii by the moon, a few nights apart. Ptolemy used these observations to confirm precession of the equinoxes, a phenomenon that had been discovered by Hipparchus in the 2nd century BCE.

Sphaerica is the only book that has survived, in an Arabic translation. Composed of three books, it deals with the geometry of the sphere and its application in astronomical measurements and calculations. The book introduces the concept of spherical triangle (figures formed of three great circle arcs, which he named "trilaterals") and proves Menelaus' theorem (an extension to spherical triangles of a previously known result). It was later translated by the sixteenth century astronomer and mathematician Francesco Maurolico.

The lunar crater Menelaus is named after him.

Bibliography

The titles of a few books by Menelaus have been preserved:

  • On the calculation of the chords in a circle, composed of six books
  • Elements of geometry, composed of three books, later edited by Thabit ibn Qurra
  • On the knowledge of the weights and distributions of different bodies
  • He may also have written a star catalogue.

Notes

References

  • Ivor Bulmer-Thomas. "Menelaus of Alexandria." Dictionary of Scientific Biography 9:296-302.

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