1902 Encyclopedia > Algebra > Introduction of Algebra into Europe by Leonardo Bonacci (1202 A.D.)

(Part 5)


(iv) Introduction of Algebra into Europe by Leonardo Bonacci (1202 A.D.)

Writers on the history of algebra were long under a mistake as to the time and manner of its introduction into Europe. It has now, however, been ascertained that the science was brought into Italy by Leonardo, a merchant of Pisa. This ingenious man resided in his youth in Barbary, and there learned the Indian method of counting by the nine numeral characters. Commercial affairs led him to travel into Egypt, Syria, Greece, and Sicily, where w e may suppose he made himself acquainted with everything known respecting numbers. The Indian mode of computation appeared to him to be by far the best. He accordingly studied it carefully; and with this knowledge, and some additions of his own, and also taking some things from Euclid's geometry, he composed a treatise on arithmetic. At that period algebra was regarded only as a part of arithmetic. It was indeed the sublime doctrine of that science and under this view the two branches were handled in Leonardo's treatise, which was originally written in 1202, and again brought forward under a revised form in 1228. When it is considered that this work was composed two centuries before the invention of printing, and that the subject was not such as generally to interest mankind, we need not wonder that it was but little known; hence it has always remained in manuscript, as well as some other works by the same author. Indeed it was not known to exist from an early period until the middle of the last century, when it was discovered in the Magliabecchian library at Florence.

The extent of Leonardo's knowledge was pretty much the same as that of the preceding Arabians writers. He could resolve equations of the first and second degrees, and he was particularly skillful in the Diophantine analysis. He was well acquainted with geometry, and he employed its doctrines in demonstrating his algebraic rules. Like the Arabians writers, his reasoning was expressed in word at length; a mode highly unfavourable to the progress of the art. The use of symbols, and the method of combining them so as to convey to the mind at a single glance a long process of reasoning, was a much later invention.

Considerable attention was given to the cultivation of algebra between the time of Leonardo and the invention of printing. It was publicly taught by professors. Treatises were composed on the subject; and two works of the oriental algebraists were translated from the Arabian language into Italian. One was entitled the Rule of Algebra, and the other was the oldest of all the Arabian treatises, that of Mahommed-ben Musa of Corasan.

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