The Language of Numbers

“The difference between the poet and the mathematician is that the poet tries to get his head into the heavens while the mathematician tries to get the heavens into his head.”

G.K. Chesterton


Mathematics is defined as the abstract science of number, quantity, and space.  Algebra falls into that part of mathematics where letters and other symbols are used to signify numbers and quantities in formulae and equations.  For many, the language of numbers is steeped in imagery and ambiguity.  For others, it is an efficient and objective way to express ideas and give order to our environment.  The stories of the brilliant men and women behind the numbers are as dramatic as they are poignant.  They too, were forging new thoughts and philosophies,  many of which were rejected because they were untried and defied the status quo.  Today, I was thinking of the young man, Évariste Galois, who is considered the “Father of Modern Algebra.”

Évariste Galois was a French mathematician born on October 25, 1811 in Bourg-la-Reine, a commune in the southern suburbs of Paris.  His fascination with math was equalled by his passion for politics. His two attempts to enrol in École Polytechnique, the renowned school for mathematics, were rebuffed because his answers on the entry examination were strange, even odd.  His time at the École Normale was cut short when he attacked the director in a letter to the press. It was a time of political uncertainty and turmoil in France; as a loyal Republican he was involved in protests which led to his arrest and short imprisonment. During this time he worked on his theories.  Some of his work was published for there were those who believed in him.

Évariste Galois did not live to see the fruition of his ideas. He was involved in a disastrous love affair before being challenged to a duel by a political enemy.   It has been said that he spent the night before the duel writing out his mathematical equations, frequently noting in the margin “I have not time” to prove them. More likely, he penned out the cornerstones of his scientific life in a long letter to a friend so that his ideas would be remembered. He was 20 years old.

Twenty-four years after Évariste Galois’ death, the mathematician Joseph Liouville confirmed the accuracy of his advanced algebraic theorems.  It is now known as the Galois Theory.

“Ne pleure pas, Alfred ! J’ai besoin de tout mon courage pour mourir à vingt ans ! 

(Don’t cry, Alfred! I need all my courage to die at twenty.)”

Évariste Galois’ last words to his brother.

Published by Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

25 thoughts on “The Language of Numbers

    1. It is a tragic end, a reminder that many of our most brilliant have had difficult and short lives. When people resent growing old, I remember that it is a privilege denied many. Every year demands that we embrace our age. On my last birthday, I took this quote as my motto for the year.

      “With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”
      ― William Shakespeare


    1. A very good question! From what I read, there is no certainty whether the love affair and the duel were linked. In his last letter, Galois referred to the end to a love affair, but other than that is is all speculation. What I found interesting was that no one knows who the other duelist was. Dueling was illegal – King Louis XIII of France outlawed dueling in 1626 where they remained illegal from that time forward. Given the status of women at that time, it is not surprising that no one was interested in her feelings or even thought to ask. E.T. Bell who was very interested in Galois said,

      In all the history of science there is no completer example of the triumph of crass stupidity over untameable genius than is afforded by the all too brief life of Evariste Galois.”


      1. very insightful — perhaps it could also have been –

        the folly of a young man knows no bounds.

        What a great loss. Reminds me of the time in school two farm boys fought over a girl. They were big farm strong young men and the blows were fierce and the sound of them striking still upsets me.

        I remember how she was so excited, she literally glowed. I never liked her after that.


      2. We all seem to have our share of folly, but it is disheartening when we see glee over conflict and rejoicing over discord. A very sad day for you…


  1. Oh my gosh, what a life he led. Math & symbols (computer programming, etc) are the bridge to a different reality and vise versa. I really enjoy your post so much. Wishing you a beautiful weekend. Enjoy the doggies while you have your cuppa. 🙂


    1. I remember watching the movie “A Beautiful Mind” when he wrote all of the numbers on a library window. And then shortly thereafter I actually studied Nash’s theories in economics. There is greatness and tragedy in life. Thank you for your visits – much appreciated.


  2. I am sending this to my mathematically genuisly inspired spouse (I love to make up jabberwocky). He already reads your blogs. I am resonating with the photo! You are so talented~


    1. We are a mutual admiration society! I keep wondering how you can make hummingbirds stand still!!! Do pass along this quote to your “mathematically genuisly inspired spouse” – I think that he will smile at this one! I did!!

      “Since the mathematicians have invaded the theory of relativity I do not understand it myself any more.”
      ― Albert Einstein


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