Archimedes: Quadrature of the parabola

We quote below the Preface to Archimedes' Quadrature of the parabola:-

Archimedes to Dositheus greeting.

When I heard that Conon, who was my friend in his lifetime, was dead, but that you were acquainted with Conon and withal versed in geometry, while I grieved for the loss not only of a friend but of an admirable mathematician, I set myself the task of communicating with you, as I had intended to send to Conon, a certain geometrical theorem which had not been investigated before but has now been investigated by me, and which I first discovered by means of mechanics [as he describes in The Method] and then exhibited by means of geometry.

Now some of the earlier geometers tried to prove it possible to find a rectilinear area equal to a given circle and a given segment of a circle [i.e. they tried to square the circle], and after that they endeavoured to square the area bounded by the section of the whole cone and a straight line, assuming lemmas not easily conceded, so that it was recognised by most people that the problem was not solved [here Archimedes is referring to attempts to square an ellipse - such attempts have not survived]. But I am not aware that any one of my predecessors has attempted to square the segment bounded by a straight line and a section of a right-angled cone [a parabola], of which problem I have now discovered the solution.

For it is here shown that every segment bounded by a straight line and a section of a right-angled cone [a parabola] is four-thirds of the triangle which has the same base and equal height with the segment, and for the demonstration of this property the following lemma is assumed: that the excess by which the greater of (two) unequal areas exceeds the less can, by being added to itself, be made to exceed any given finite area [often known as the Axiom of Archimedes, this is almost certainly due to Eudoxus]. The earlier geometers have also used this lemma; for it is by the use of this same lemma that they have shown that circles are to one another in the duplicate ratio of their diameters, and that spheres are to one another in the triplicate ratio of their diameters, and further that every pyramid is one third part of the prism which has the same base with the pyramid and equal height; also, that every cone is one third part of the cylinder having the same base as the cone and equal height they proved by assuming a certain lemma similar to the aforesaid.

And, in the result, each of the aforesaid theorems has been accepted no less than those proved without the lemma. As therefore my work now published has satisfied the same test as the propositions referred to, I have written out the proof and sent it to you, first as investigated by means of mechanics, and afterwards too as demonstrated by geometry. Prefixed are, also, the elementary propositions in conics that are of service in the proof.


Last Updated August 2006