Re: martyrdom

From: Matt Jensen (
Date: Thu Mar 22 2001 - 11:08:27 PST

On Thu, 22 Mar 2001, Robert Harley wrote:

> >Abel comes to mind (martyrdom of poverty).
> Dying of tuberculosis is martyrdom?

"Abel ignored the doctor's warnings [in the belief] that the yoke of his
family's dependence gave him little choice but to continue teaching pupils
while waiting for a professorship to materialize." [1]

True, Norway was poor and good jobs were scarce. But it was Abel who
decided to stick with math, even though the chances of him getting a
professorship were weak, and to keep his family in Norway.

It was Abel who decided to "scrape enough money together to finance a
limited printing of his proof"[2]. That was money his family needed,
spent on a paper that Cauchy lost and that Gauss dismissively threw away.

It was Abel, more than anyone else in the early 19C, who insisted that all
of mathematics be made extremely rigorous, a standard we accept today but
that baffled and rankled the (mostly French) community he was trying to

His life was in part a martyrdom to mathematics, in part a series of
ironic tragedies, in part the failure (except posthumously) of a
"mathematics entrepreneur" whose startup (his academic career) ran out of
cash before the IPO (professorship). Plenty of business owners carry on
with their vision long after it's "prudent", and are thus martyrs in a
small sense.
> >If you consider Copernicus a mathematician, that's a classic.
> Dying of a haemorrhage at the ripe old age of 70 is martyrdom?

You think that haemorrhage was an "accident"? How naive :-)

Seriously, mea culpa, I meant Galileo. Copernicus was an anti-martyr, in
a sense, sitting on his theory until near his death, out of fear. I'm not
putting him down, just saying that you're right, he wasn't a martyr.

-Matt Jensen

[1] Motz & Weaver, "The Story of Mathematics", 1993. p. 194.
[2] Ibid, p.192.

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