On a day like today (May 16), 1718, in Milan, Italy, Maria Gaetana Agnesi was born, an important mathematical figure due to her influence in the popularization of calculus.
In Italy, unlike in other European countries, it was accepted that women receive an education, and she had a careful training. She was a precocious and gifted girl, who spoke French at the age of five, and knew seven languages at the age of nine: Italian, Latin, French, Greek, Hebrew, German and Spanish, for which she received the nickname "Oracle of seven languages".
At the age of 17, he pertinently criticized the treatise on conics (Traité analytique des section coniques) by Guillaume François de l'Hôpital, a work that it was never published but widely circulated privately.
From the age of 20, Agnesi abandons all social activity and concentrates on the study of mathematics and religion; her withdrawal would not have been greater had he taken her robes. The great influence that the mathematician monk Ramiro Rampinelli had on her formation emphasizes that scientific-monastic environment that presided over the life of Italian mathematics.
In 1748 Agnesi's most famous work was published in Milan, Instituzioni analítiche ad uso della gioventú italiano, whose edition he had to pay for and perform herself in her family home.
The work quickly acquired notoriety among the mathematicians of the time. The Instituzioni expose concepts clearly through the successful use of multiple examples, and have the virtue of harmonizing the hitherto scattered works of many mathematicians, homogenizing them into a single set and consistent. The 1000 pages of text and 50 pages of illustrations are very familiar to the modern reader, reflecting Agnesi's greatest achievement: creating the first complete text on Calculus, from algebra to differential equations.
The Pope appointed her to the chair of higher mathematics and natural philosophy at the University of Bologna (Bologna belonged to the Papal States at the time). The Pope wrote to Agnesi on September 2, 1750: “In times past Bologna has held people of your sex in public office. We see fit to continue that honorable tradition. We have decided that she should be awarded the well-known chair of mathematics….”
Her career as a mathematician occupied twenty of the eighty-one years of her life. Starting in 1752, Maria devoted herself to the study of Theology, dedicating her fortune to charitable works, ending up in misery, since 1771 appointed by Archbishop Tozzobonelli as director of the Trivulzio Hospice of Milan, concentrating in the care of the needy and sick, especially older women, and she herself died in the institution she directed, on January 9, 1799.
The Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan keeps her unpublished works that occupy twenty-five volumes
As a curiosity to comment that John Colson, a professor at Cambridge, “found this work (by María Agnesi) so excellent that, at an advanced age, he decided to learn Italian for the sole purpose of translating that book and that the English youth could benefit from it, as do the youth of Italy”, so excellent he judged the work.
Since she didn't know too much Italian (she was learning) she made a mistake in the translation.His most obvious mistake was that he confused the term "versiera" ("curve" speaking of the "curve of Agnesi) for "avversiera" which means witch, sorceress, ("witch")
Therefore, historically, María Agnesi has also been known as the "witch of Agnesi"
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- what are you doing Maria?
- I am writing a problem
- a problem?
- yes, math
- then it is true that you are a witch
- Well, that's what John Colson says
- but John Colson doesn't know how to translate
-because he has mistranslated "versiera"
- Is "versiera" crooked?
- and why did you translate as "witch"?
- well, maybe you've read "avversiera" (which means "devil")
- we will have to give Colson some glasses
- and a dictionary