Tuesday 15 February 2011

The Origin of "Read Euler..."

Some years ago in my high school class I quoted the famous "Read Euler" quote with the preamble, "As a great mathematician once said, ... and then the quote."..

A couple of days later a student mentioned laughingly that another student had thought the quote was created by me (???a great mathematician???).  The student paused for a minute and then responded, tentatively, "You didn't..(long pause)....did you?".

I was reminded of this because I have recently been learning more about Euler reading articles by Professor Ed Sandifer.. and especially enjoyed a footnote about the origin of the phrase on his article on Euler as a Teacher.

Let us start with the Great Quotation, dubiously attributed to Laplace by Guglielmo Libri about
Lisez Euler, lisez Euler, c'est notre maître à tous.
We traditionally translate this as
Read Euler, read Euler. He is the master of us all.
This gave Bill Dunham a title befitting his most excellent book, [Dunham 1998] but there are
other ways to translate it. Because maˆ itre =   master, teacher
and "notre … à tous" can mean "of us all" or "notre" can be assigned to modify "maître", leaving "à tous" to mean "all things", other valid translations include:
Read Euler, read Euler. He is our master in all things.
Read Euler, read Euler. He is the teacher of us all.
Read Euler, read Euler. He is our teacher in all things.

The footnote is about the quote at the beginning:
 Libri was a scoundrel, a forger, a book thief and an indifferent mathematician, [Rice 2003] but he did write a decent history of mathematics. In Libri's defense, note that he claims that he heard these words "de sa propre bouche", from Laplace's own mouth, not that Laplace actually wrote them down. [WikiQuote]

1 comment:

Arjen Dijksman said...

Professor Sandifer's column "How Euler Euler did it" is a great source to learn about Euler.

Sandifer's alternative translation of "à tous" is however linguistically incorrect. "A tous" means "of us all".

"He is our master in all things" would be "C'est notre maître en tout" or "...en toutes choses" in French.