The Correspondence of Pierre Fermat

Primary Contributors:

Cultures of Knowledge

Pierre Fermat, by Roland Le Fevre. c.1640–77. Oil on canvas, 70 by 56 cm. (Les musées de Narbonne, inv. no. 851.3.3; image © Jean Lepage, Ville de Narbonne)

Pierre Fermat (1607/8–1665)

A trained lawyer who served first as advocate in the parlement de Bordeaux before rising eventually to the Grand Chamber in Toulouse, Pierre Fermat (or Pierre de Fermat) is one of the finest mathematicians of the seventeenth century.

From early on Fermat developed mutually beneficial friendships with contemporaries such as Jean Beaugrand in Bordeaux and Pierre de Carcavi in Toulouse. It was through Carcavi that Marin Mersenne first became aware of the important work Fermat was doing on spirals and on the restoration of Apollonius’s De locis planis.

Fermat’s correspondence with men such as Gilles Personne de Roberval or Frenicle de Bessy in Paris and with the English mathematicians John Wallis and William Brouncker often characteristically contained problems which he challenged them to solve, having already found solutions himself — a practice which not seldom led to dispute.

Fermat is best remembered for his work on number theory and in particular for the eponymous Last Challenge, which he jotted in the margin on Bachet’s translation of Diophantus’s Arithmetica.

Partners and Additional Contributors

This calendar, drawn from the Paul Tannery and Charles Henry edition, was complied and incorporated into EMLO by Cultures of Knowledge. Thanks are due to Mira Hudson and to EMLO Digital Fellow Katherine Steiner for their invaluable work during the process of metadata preparation and upload to the union catalogue, and Cultures of Knowledge would like to thank Dr Philip Beeley for his contribution of the introductory biographical text.

Key Bibliographic Source(s)

Œuvres de Fermat, ed. Paul Tannery and Charles Henry, 4 vols (Paris, 1891–1912).

Scope of Catalogue

Metadata has been taken from the printed edition and, for each letter, bibliographic details have been provided and include the relevant volume and page number(s), together with a link to a scan of the printed copy of the letter on The Internet Archive. It is hoped in the fullness of time that these letter records will be supplemented with manuscript details.

There is a significant overlap with letters that appear in the Mersenne catalogue (where the metadata has been taken from the de Waard edition); links have been provided between the two catalogues.

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