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Cataldi, Pietro Antonio

1. Dates
Born: Bologna, 15 April 1552
Died: Bologna, 11 February 1626
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 74
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
The only information is that Paolo Cataldi was a citizen of Bologna.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Italy
Career: Italy
Death: Italy
4. Education
Schooling: Bologna, Ph.D., M.D.
Cataldi began teaching mathematics in 1567 at the age of seventeen. I assume that there had not been any university degree by that time and probably no university study. Note that he insisted on teaching in Italian.
When he return to Bologna in 1584, he took doctorates (sic) in both medicine and philosophy that same year. To say the least, this is perplexing. (As I later found out, this was the standard Italian practice.) There is no trace of the medical degree either in his publications or in what is known of his life.
I assume, as always in such cases, a B.A. or its equivalent.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics
Subordinate: Astronomy
Cataldi is particularly remembered for the Trattato del modo brevissimo di trovar la radice quadra delli numeri, published in 1613. This work represents a notable contribution to the development of infinite algorithms--to wit, continued fractions.
Cataldi also has a place in the history of the criticism of Euclid's fifth postulate. In his Operetta delle linee rette equidistanti et non equidistanti, he attempted to demonstrate the fifth postulate on the basis of remainders.
In all, Cataldi published more than thirty works on mathematics.
In his will be left a bequest to establish a school in Bologna, in his house, for the study of mathematics and other sciences. Fantuzzi says that the school was never in fact established.
Cataldi was to teach both mathematics and astronomy in Bologna. One of his works (1613) was tables on the rising of the sun and midday for Bologna.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Academia
Secondary: Schoolmastering
Although both Fantuzzi and DBI have Cataldi starting his career in Perugia from 1569-84, he himself states explicitly that he taught in Florence in the Academy of Design in 1569- 70.
Taught mathematics at the University of Perugia, also at the Academy of Design in Perugia, 1569-1584.
Taught mathematics and astronomy at the Studio di Bologna, 1584-1626.
8. Patronage
Types: Aristrocrat, City Magistrate, Eccesiastic Official, Court Official
He dedicated Practica aritmetica, 1606-17 (in four parts) to the Senate of Bologna (although one source says that Cataldi had to print it at his own expense). He also dedicated a number of other works to the Senate, in all about half of all those he published. I suspect that a number of the aristocrats mentioned below, to whom he also dedicated books, were members of the Senate. I assume that these dedications could not have been without some relation to his appointment to the university.
He dedicated books to Giacomo Boncompagna, Marquis of Vignola (1577), Pierfranceso Malaspina, Marquis of Edificio [this is what Fantuzzi prints] (1604), and to other similar people.
He dedicated one book to the city of Lucca.
He dedicated one book to Don Antonio Crosino, canon of the Cathedral of Brescia.
He dedicated his Transformatione geometrica, 1611, to the Grand Duke Cosimo II.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Military Engineering
The book of 1613, on roots, was (according to its extended title) specifically directed to military operations, to problems of the range of artillery.
Operetta di ordinanze quadre, 1618, was explicitly concerned with the application of algebra to military formations, bizarre as this sounds.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Cataldi tried to organize an academy for mathematics in Bologna, but it ran into political opposition (which I find difficult to imagine) and lapsed almost immediately.
  1. G. Fantuzzi, Notizie degli scrittori bolognese, (Bologna, 1781- 94), 3, 152-7. P. Riccardi, Biblioteca matematica italiana, (Modena, 1870), 1, 302-10.
  2. Dizionario biografico degli italiani.
  3. E. Bertolotti, "La scoperta delle frazioni continue", Bollettino della mathesis, 11 (1919), 101-23, 14-29, 152-62, and 157-188.
  4. (Something seems to be wrong or missing in the volume and page numbers above, but I cannot tell what it is in the xerox copy available to me. The volume number appears to be right for all of them, and the page numbers are right. There must be issues within the year that start new paginations.)
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. "Cataldi, P.A.," in Enciclopedia Italiana Treccani, 9 (1931), p.403.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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