[Ads-l] Antedating of "Number Theory"

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Sun Nov 13 16:05:52 UTC 2022

number theory (OED 1899)

Jeff Miller's "Earliest Known Uses of Some of the Words of Mathematics" webpage states the following:

Number theory appears in 1853 in Manual of Greek literature from the earliest authentic periods to the close of the Byzantine era by Charles Anthon: "The ethics of the Pythagoreans consisted more in ascetic practice and in maxims for the restraint of the passions, especially of anger, and the cultivation of the power of endurance, than in scientific theory. What of the latter they had was, as might be expected, intimately connected with their number-theory" [University of Michigan Digital Library].

Number theory appears in 1864 in A history of philosophy in epitome by Dr. Albert Schwegler, translated from the original German by Julius H. Seelye: "Not only the old Pythagoreans, who have spoken of him, delighted in the mysterious and esoteric, but even his new-Platonistic biographers, Porphyry and Jamblichus, have treated his life as a historico-philosophical romance. We have the same uncertainty in reference to his doctrines, i. e. in reference to his share in the number-theory. Aristotle, e. g. does not ascribe this to Pythagoras himself, but only to the Pythagoreans generally, i. e. to their school" [University of Michigan Digital Library].

Fred Shapiro

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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