chapter  6
20 Pages

GRAECO-ROMAN MATHEMATICS: THE QUESTIONS

Even though the two authors were not contemporaries, their statements are connected. First of all, they both set out divides, between practical and

non-practical mathematics, and between Greece and Rome. Second, both Cicero and Plutarch have been immensely influential, and many modern views of ancient mathematics are still tinged by their opinions. Many historians have bought wholesale into the view that Greek mathematics ‘typically’ was pure and speculative, whereas the Romans, that ‘characteristically’ pragmatic people, only cared for concrete applications. The fact that one is talking about mathematics, an objective science, has clouded another important matter: the images of ‘Greek’ and ‘Roman’ knowledge, like all historical images of knowledge, were a construction, not a neutral reflection of reality. That they have been so successful does not indicate so much that they were true, as that they tapped into persistent beliefs about mathematics, knowledge and the world in general.