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Book of the Week — Algebrae comendiosa facili’sqve describptio, qua depromuntur magna Arithmetices miracula

title-page with printers device of hen
“Concise Algebra easily described, which brings forth the great wonders of arithmetic”

“[R]omance is a reaction from the algebra” — Booth Tarkington

Algebrae compendiosa facilisqve descriptio, qua depromuntur magna Arithmetices miracula
Johann Scheubel (1494-1570)
Parisiis: Apud Gulielmum Cauellat, 1551
First edition
DR507 V54 1530

Johann Scheubel was born in Kirchheim unter Teck, Germany on August 18, 1494 and died in Tübingen, Germany. Nothing is known of his family – the church register at Kirchheim unter Teck goes back only as far as 1558. Scheubel attended school in his birthplace and continued his studies in Vienna. He began teaching in 1532 in Leipzig and was then appointed Professor at Tübingen, where he became Magister in 1540 and Doctor of Mathematics in 1544. He taught arithmetic and geometry there until his death, leaving his mathematical instruments, manuscripts, and library to Tübingen. His library included works on algebra, architecture, arithmetic, astrology, astronomy, biology, geometry, medicine, music, optics, trigonometry and more by authors such as Girolamo Cardano and Peter Apian. He owned a copy of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus.

This work, Alegebrae compendiosa, was a preface to Scheubel’s translation from Latin into German of Euclid’s Geometry. It contains the first appearance of the + and – symbols in France, which are defined on page 2r.

page with two woocut floriated initials and the symbols for plus and minus

His discussion of integers is much as it is taught today and his word problems are just as tricky as those taught today: “A general has several thousand soldiers under his command. When he attempts to arrange his army in the largest possible square, there are 284 too many soldiers. If he then tries to arrange them in a square with one man more on a side than before, he lacks 25 soldiers. How many soldiers does he have? (p. 14v)”*

spread with word problems and algebraic solutions

Despite its small size, a specialty of printer Gulielmo Cavellat who catered to student preference for lighter and cheaper books, the work is beautifully printed. Gulielmo Cavellat (ca. 1520-1576) established his print shop/bookstore at the “sign of the fat hen” and used this as his printer’s device: “Pingui Gallina.”  The shop was near Cambrai College, University of Paris, where Cavellat befriended astronomers and mathematicians. Upon his death, his widow, Denise Girault, the daughter of a bookseller, carried on with the business.

final page with colophon including date 1551

“In real life, I assure you, there is no such thing as algebra. ”
― Fran Lebowitz, Tips for Teens

Welcome, students!

Come hold your books!

*Answer: 24,000 soldiers

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