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How to Get a Better Understanding of Mathematical Cuneiform Texts 0.1. On Avoiding Anachronisms in Translations of Mathematical Terms The terminology used in modern elementary mathematics has a mixed origin, which may be characterized as Greek/Latin/early modern. The terminology used in Babylonian mathematical cuneiform texts, on the other hand, is pre-Greek. Therefore, the use of Greek and Latin words in a discussion of a mathematical cuneiform text is in itself an anachronism. If one wants to convey a proper understanding of the essence of Mesopotamian mathematics, one should try to avoid anachronisms by using literal translations of technical terms in cuneiform mathematical texts, whenever possible. A clear example is the seemingly self-evident term triangle. It is derived from the Latin word triangulum which, like its Greek predecessor τργωνον, means ‘three-cornered’ or ‘three-angled’. However, the idea of an angle between two sides in a rectilinear plane figure can be traced no further back than to classical Greek geometry. More specifically, in classical Greek geometry, a triangle was referred to as ‘the triangle ABC’ where A, B, C are the three corners of the triangle. In Old Babylonian geometry, on the other hand, a triangle was always specified in terms of
Published: Jan 1, 2007
Keywords: Original Text; Relative Place; Decimal Number; Literal Translation; Mathematical Text
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