Today we passed the 1000 threshold in our list of pre-1700 copies of Euclid! Our database continues to grow.
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.
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.
Richard Lawrence gave us a crash course in letterpress printing; see Printing Euclid for more information on our collaboration.
Today we officially launch ‘Reading Euclid: Euclid’s Elements of Geometry in Early Modern Britain and Ireland’!
It is a two-year AHRC-funded project led by Benjamin Wardhaugh, Philip Beeley, and Yelda Nasifoglu, and based at the History Faculty, University of Oxford.