Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Omar Khayyam, poet and mathematician

Image from St. Andrew's University

Today Omar Khayyam is well-known as a poet. This 11th century native of the learned city of Nishapur (now in Iran) was an expert in music and geography, and also an astronomer, philosopher, and  mathematician. His math books included Problems of Arithmetic and Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra. 

Omar Khayyam contributed to calendar reform, and accurately calculated the length of a year to 11 decimal places. He also solved a cubic equation using the intersection of a circle with a rectangular hyperbola, a new method. He said this equation could be solved, not by the ruler and compass method, but using cubic sections. Indeed, this claim was proved 750 years later.

The following are probably his most famous poetic lines:
"The moving finger writes, and having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it."

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