Thomas Heath (classicist) -

Thomas Heath (classicist)

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Sir Thomas Little Heath

Born5 October 1861
Died16 March 1940 (aged 78)
Ashtead, Surrey, England
EducationClifton College
Alma materTrinity College, Cambridge
OccupationBritish civil servant, mathematician and classical scholar
Notable work
Archimedes: Works
The thirteen books of Euclid's Elements (translation)
A History of Greek Mathematics
(for full list, see below)
Spouse(s)Ada Mary Thomas
ChildrenGeoffry Thomas Heath
Veronica Mary Heath
Parent(s)Samuel Heath
Mary Little
AwardsKnight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order
Fellow of the Royal Society

Sir Thomas Little Heath KCB KCVO FRS FBA (/hθ/; 5 October 1861 – 16 March 1940) was a British civil servant, mathematician, classical scholar, historian of ancient Greek mathematics, translator, and mountaineer. He was educated at Clifton College.[3] Heath translated works of Euclid of Alexandria, Apollonius of Perga, Aristarchus of Samos, and Archimedes of Syracuse into English.



Heath was born in Barnetby-le-Wold, Lincolnshire, England, the son of a farmer, Samuel Heath. He was educated at Caistor Grammar School and Clifton College before entering Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was awarded an ScD in 1896 [4] and became an Honorary Fellow in 1920.[5] In 1884 he took the Civil Service examination and became an Assistant Secretary to the Treasury, becoming Permanent Secretary in 1913. He left the Treasury in 1919 for the National Debt Office, holding a post there until he retired in 1926. He was honoured for his work in the Civil Service by being appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1903, Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1909, and Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1916.[6] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in May 1912.[7]

He died in Ashtead, Surrey. He had married professional musician Ada Mary Thomas in 1914; they had a son, Geoffrey Thomas Heath, and a daughter, Veronica Mary Heath. Heath's son Geoffrey went to Trinity College, Cambridge, before becoming a teacher at Ampleforth College and had 6 children.


Heath was distinguished for his work in Greek mathematics and was author of several books on Greek mathematicians. It is primarily through Heath's translations that modern English-speaking readers are aware of what Archimedes did. His translation of the celebrated Archimedes Palimpsest, however, was based on a transcription that had lacunae, which scholars such as Reviel Netz have been able to fill in to a certain extent, by exploiting scientific methods of imagery not available in Heath's time.

When Heath's Works of Archimedes was published in 1897, the Archimedes Palimpsest had not been extensively explored. Its significance was not recognised until 1906, when it was examined by Danish professor Johan Ludvig Heiberg. The palimpsest contained an extended version of Stomachion, and a treatise entitled The Method of Mechanical Theorems that had previously been thought lost. These works have been a focus of research by later scholars.

Translations and other works

Note: Only first editions are listed; many of these titles have been reprinted several times.


  1. ^ Densmore, Dana (2013). Euclid's Elements. All thirteen books complete in one volume. The Thomas L. Heath Translation (5th ed.). Santa Fe, NM: Green Lion Press. pp. xix–xx. ISBN 978-1-888009-18-7.
  2. ^ O'Connor, J.J. "Thomas Little Heath" . MacTutor Archives. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  3. ^ "Clifton College Register" Muirhead, J.A.O. p 58: Bristol; J.W Arrowsmith for Old Cliftonian Society; April, 1948
  4. ^ Densmore, Dana (2013). Euclid's Elements. All thirteen books complete in one volume. The Thomas L. Heath Translation (5th ed.). Santa Fe, NM: Green Lion Press. p. xix. ISBN 978-1-888009-19-4.
  5. ^ Densmore, Dana (2013). Euclid's Elements. All thirteen books complete in one volume. The Thomas L. Heath Translation (5th ed.). Santa Fe, NM: Green Lion Press. p. xx. ISBN 978-1-888009-19-4.
  6. ^ "Thomas Little Heath" . Retrieved 17 November 2010.
  7. ^ "Library and Archive catalogue" . Royal Society. Retrieved 17 November 2010.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ Smith, David Eugene (1909). "Review: The Thirteen Books of Euclid's Elements Translated from the Text of Heiberg by T. L. Heath" (PDF). Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 15 (8): 386–391. doi:10.1090/s0002-9904-1909-01778-1 .
  9. ^ Smith, David Eugene (1923). "Heath on Greek Mathematics" . Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 29 (2): 79–84. doi:10.1090/s0002-9904-1923-03668-9 .

Further reading

External links

Online texts of Heath's books
Excerpts from MacTutor
About T.L. Heath

Categories: 1861 births | 1940 deaths | British classical scholars | Historians of mathematics | Historians of science | People educated at Clifton College | Fellows of the British Academy | Fellows of the Royal Society | People educated at Caistor Grammar School | Alumni of Trinity College, Cambridge | Knights Commander of the Order of the Bath | Knights Commander of the Royal Victorian Order | 19th-century British mathematicians | 20th-century British mathematicians | Amateur mathematicians | Scholars of ancient Greek literature | Euclid

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