Behind Byrne’s Euclid: Unraveling The Making of a Mathematical Masterpiece

Behind Byrne’s Euclid: Exploring the Intricate Process Behind the Creation of Byrne’s Revered Euclidean Geometry Text” The creation of a faithful online version of as one of the most stunning and unique publications ever released is a difficult task. 

The Byrne’s Euclid I am paying tribute to the Oliver Byrne’s popular publication of 1847 that described the mathematical principles that were established in Euclid’s first Elements that were written in 300 BC.

Euclid’s Elements is an assortment of 13 books which are believed to be the work of Greek mathematician Euclid about 300 BC and established the basis for mathematics, geometry, and many of the fundamental ideas of logic and math that are still in use today. 

Also Read: Deciphering Genius: Unveiling Einstein’s First Proof

Over the years the original manuscript as well as copies were circulated, but it wasn’t until just after the introduction of printing presses that it was extensively copied beginning around 1482.

The year was 1847. Irish Mathematics professor Oliver Byrne collaborated together with Publisher William Pickering in London to create his own edition, entitled 

“The first Six Books of the Elements of Euclid with colored Diagrams as well as Symbols are employed instead of letters for a greater accessibility for Learners–or as simply Byrne’s Euclid. Byrne’s book was one of the first printed books with multicolor and is renowned for its unique approach to Euclid’s original work, using vibrant illustrations instead of letters in reference to diagrams. 

The exact application of diagrams and colors meant that this book proved complicated and costly to create. It is not clear the reason Byrne only created 6 out of 13 volumes. However, it could have been because of the time and cost involved.

A geometric proof for the pythagorean theorem, derived from the first edition printed of 1482 (bottom left), Byrne’s vibrant rendition of the proof of the proof in 1847 (right)

Also Read: Unlocking Unity: The Power of Infinite Series in Mathematics

Scans of the first eight propositions in Byrne’s Euclid

The work of Byrne was mostly disregarded and even criticized when it was first published however it has reemerged in attention in recent times in part due to an acknowledgement by Edward Tufte The Envisioning of information and an publication from Taschen.

A more detailed background of Byrne and his version of Euclid’s Elements is available on the Mathematical Society of America’s website by Susan Hawes and Sid Kolpas: Oliver Byrne His Life as the Matisse of Mathematics.


I don’t remember the exact moment I learned about Byrne’s edition, but it could have been from Tufte or a visit to Taschen at a glance. Like many others I was attracted by the beautiful typography and diagrams and have always enjoyed browsing through the scans on the internet. Following the recent popularity of my reproduction of of Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours I had a renewed desire to do something to pay homage to it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *