Algebra Explained

Who was the first to write and solve general algebraic equations?

French mathematician François Viète (1540-1603; also known as Franciscus Vieta, his Latin name) is often referred to as the “founder of modern algebra.” He was not a professional mathematician, but contributed a great deal to the understanding and spread of modern symbolic algebra. Although some of his work paid tribute to ancient mathematical traditions, Viète created a kind of “new math.” It was not one based on the traditional geometric visualizations, but rather expressed as abstract formulas and general rules. But Viète still divided algebra into distinct branches partially derived from Greek mathematics: zetetics (translating a problem into an equation), poristics (proving theorems through equations), and exegetics (solving equations). He also was the first to combine algebra with geometry and trigonometry. (For more about Viète, see “History of Mathematics” and “Geometry and Trigonometry.”)


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