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date: 20 March 2023



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Like all other people the Greeks counted, measured and taught such skills to their young. Such practices in the classical Mediterranean were mostly continuous with those of the ancient Near East. The Babylonian base 60 found its way into Greek coin values, the Near Eastern Abacus— probably a Semitic word—was widely used, and mathematical education in Hellenistic Egypt (as seen in papyri) was closely related to that of Ancient Mesopotamia. At the same time, μαθηματική, at the latest from *Plato(1)'s time onwards, came to refer to something different. Midway between the modern terms ‘mathematics’ and ‘exact sciences’, this was primarily a new genre. It was never pursued by more than a handful of experts (even educated Greeks would know very little about the contents of this genre, though many could know about its existence). This genre formed a radical departure, both externally (from the Ancient Near East) and internally (from other Greek genres). It survived throughout antiquity and essentially remained unchanged in Arabic and Latin forms in the Middle Ages, forming the basis for modern science. Its major achievement was the deductive method: reading a Greek mathematical proof, one finds its validity irresistibly compelling. It may be for this reason that Greek culture, with its emphasis on persuasion, was the one to invent the mathematical genre (Lloyd 1990).


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