Monday, 29 December 2008

Viete on Pythagorean Triples

Reading The Analytic Art by Francois Viete, or at least the T R Witmer translation, and came across an interesting way of combining the legs of any two Pythagorean triples to create two others. Viete calls the two methods synaeresis and diaeresis, which seem to be language terms Viete appropriated. Synaeresis is cramming two vowel sounds together to make one... like the way people in New Orleans say "Nor"leans. I think the official term is diphthong, but check with an English major for confirmation. The actual Greek roots mean “a joining or bringing together" or something similar Diaeresis is stretching one vowel out into two....and you can find your own example...

To illustrate Viete's approach, we can take two simple right triangles, say a 3-4-5 and a 5-12-13 as examples. Viete's method would produce two triangles whose hypotenuses( hypotenii?) were both 5x13 = 65 units. Viete distinguished between the legs calling them base and the perpendicular, so in the 3-4-5 triangle the base is 3 and the perpendicular is 4. It doesn't matter which is called what name, of course except that it reverses the outcomes of the two methods. The Synaeresic method would be to add the products of each base with the perpendicular of the other triangle; 3x12+ 4x5 = 56. This would give one leg of the new triangle. To find the other leg take the difference of the products of the two bases from the two perpendiculars; 4x12 - 3x5 = 33. This completes a triple of 33-56-65.

The second method, simply reverses the signs of conjunction. Subtract the two perpendicular x base products and add the two products of a common part. The crossed terms gives 3x12-4x5 = 16 for one leg, while the products of like parts gives 4x12+3x5=63 for the other, completing a 16-63-65 right triangle.

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