chapter  4
24 Pages

Harriot on Combinations

ByIan Maclean

This chapter will look at Thomas Harriot’s interest in combinations in three contexts – language, natural philosophy (the question of atomism) and mathematics – in order to assess where to situate him in the range of occult and scientific mentalities associated with the late Renaissance. At his death in 1621, he left many pages of mathematical workings and drafts, but relatively little discursive prose; this fact has been linked to the privacy with which he surrounded his work and his notorious reluctance to publish his discoveries.2 Hilary Gatti has even gone so far as to suggest that his use of symbols and diagrams in his manuscripts reflects a ‘distrust of words’.3 Whether or not this is the case, it means that much has to be made out of a few not always legible gnomic sentences, which are often subject to almost contradictory readings.