Printing Euclid, Part 3

Following the 1570 Billingsley edition, today we made a trial print of the first block of text of Proposition 47 in Book 1, i.e. the Pythagoran theorem. We are happy with the results so far though more experimentation will be needed to get an even distribution of ink on the page.

The first rough draught of the diagram, however, turned out more modernist (cf. German expressionism) than early modernist! Now that we are more aware of the challenges involved in working with linoleum, we will be giving it another try.

Printing Euclid, Part 2

In the next instalment of our experiment we began to consider the issue of illustrations. As we sat down to take a stab (rather literally) at the Pythagorean diagram, it soon became obvious just how difficult it must have been to print relief drawings with intersecting lines.

Using linoleum rather than wood for our trial, and lacking the fine skills of an experienced woodcut artist, this seemed an almost impossible task. However one need only to consider Albrecht Dürer’s Rhinoceros (1515), or to give more geometric examples, Renaissance architect Sebastiano Serlio’s architectural illustrations (e.g. in Regole generali di architetvra, 1537) to realise that great precision in woodcutting is indeed possible. But the cost of producing the 400-odd diagrams in Euclid’s Elements by this method would necessarily have been high, making the economics of mathematical printing this period something of a puzzle.

Pythagorean diagram

MS. D’Orville 301 @ the Bodleian

While our research concentrates on printed editions of Euclid up to 1700, it bears mentioning that the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford is home to some spectacular Euclid manuscripts. Among them is MS. D’Orville 301, written in 888 by the scribe ‘Stephanos the clerk’ with annotations added between 10th and 14th centuries. It is based on the Elements edited by Theon of Alexandria in the 4th century. Here is a detail of the Pythagorean theorem on the verso of folio 31; click to view it on the Digital Bodleian website.

Bodleian Library, MS. D’Orville 301, detail of fol. 31v