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Carcavi [Carcavy], Pierre de

1. Dates
Born: Lyon, c. 1600 (Index says c. 1603)
Died: Paris, April 1684
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 84
2. Father
Occupation: Merchant
His father was a banker.
Carcavi had enough wealth to purchase an office of counsellor in the Grand Conseil in Paris in 1636. Later he had to sell it to pay his father's debts, but I do not see how to doubt that he grew up in circumstances at least affluent.
3. Nationality
Birth: French
Career: French
Death: French
4. Education
Schooling: No University
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics
7. Means of Support
Primary: Government, Personal Means, Patronage
Counsellor of the Parlement of Toulouse, 1632-1636.
Member of the Grand Conseil at Paris, 1636-1648. (He bought the office in 1636, and was forced to sell it in order to pay his father's debts in 1648.)
Served the Duke of Liancourt, 1648-1663.
Classified Colbert's library, 1663.
Custodian of the Royal Library, 1663-1683.
Member of the Académie from 1666 until death.
8. Patronage
Types: Aristrocrat, Court Official, Government Official
Duke of Liancourt. He was in the service of the Duke for 15 years (1648-1663).
Colbert in 1663 charged him with the classification of his library and made him custodian of the Royal library.
Amable de Bourzeis, a protegé of the Duke of Liancourt, presented him to Colbert.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Cartography
In 1668, Colbert charged Carcavi, along with Huygens, Roberval, Auzout, Picard, and Gallois, to judge the feasibility of the method to determine longitude submitted to the Academy by a German noble.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Académie Royal des Sciences, 1666-1684
He had many friends, including Huygens, Fermat, and Pascal, and carried on an extensive correspondence.
He was probably the first to recognize Fermat's extraordinary scientific abilities. His friendship with Fermat began from 1632 when both were members of the Parlement of Toulouse. After Carcavi went to Paris, Fermat sent him many treatises. In 1650, Fermat sent Carcavi a treatise entitled Novus secundarum et ulterioris radicum in analyticis usus, which contained the first known method of elimination, and asked Pascal and Carcavi to publish his paper. Carcavi tried very hard, through Huygens, to publish this paper and his collection of Fermat's papers, but failed.
After the death of Mersenne in 1648, Carcavi offered Mersenne's correspondence to Descartes. In 1649 he informed Descartes of the publication of Pascal's barometer experiments and also of Roberval's objections to his Geometrie.
He was also a friend of Pascal, who gave him his calculating machine. When in 1658 Pascal sent all mathematicians a challenge, he lodged the prizes and his own solutions with Carcavi, who, with Roberval, was to act as a judge.
  1. Charles Henry, "Pierre de Carcavy, intermediaire de Fermat, de Pascal, et de Huygens," Bollettino di Bibliografia e storia delle scienze mathematiche e fisiche, 17 (1884), 317-391.
  2. Index biografique (Académie des sciences), p. 172.
  3. Dictionnaire de biographie française, 7, 1114-15.
  4. P. Humbert, "Les astronomes françaises de 1610 à 1667," Bulletin de la Société d'études scientifiques et archéologiques de Draguignan et du Var, 42 (1942), pp. 5-72.
  5. Not consulted: Carcavi's letters can be found in the collections of the correspondence of Galileo, Mersenne, Torricelli, Descartes, Fermat, Pascal, and Huygens.
  6. Pierre Costabel, "Pierre de Carcavy et ses relations italiennes," in M. Bucciantini and M. Torrini, eds. Geometria e atomismo nella scuola galileiana, (Firenze, 1992), pp. 35-48.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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