Long long ago, purely practical math gave the day to sow, to harvest, the value of crops and land. Powerful numbers were pressed into clay, reeds, bamboo, stone, or simply scratched in the sand. Not merely practical, but spiritual - the keys to the universe - preached Pythagoras, father of Western thought. He was rewarded with his triangle, but punished when knowledge of irrational numbers left his faith distraught. For blasphemy against Helios: “It’s bigger than Greek islands, made of rock, so hot it glows,” Anaxagoras sat in jail. While there, to occupy his mind, he tried to convert a circle to a square, but at his math game he did fail.Elementsshowed the way, Euclid was its author. They changed the game of math forever, infusing it with vigor. Discipline made solid, trust backed with proof, from then on, math would flourish only, when rooted in hard rigor. After crying “Eureka!” on floating bodies, perimeters were easy. Most brilliant of the ancients, Archimedes turned to Geometry. The more edges on a polygon, the more it’s like a circle, but he couldn’t use an infinite number of sides now, could he? Twenty centuries later, Newton took the ball; at infinity he looked afresh, had beautiful insights to discuss. Hard problems around circles, spheres, curves, areas, and volumes could easily be solved, thanks to his Calculus. We tend to think of fame and fortune as the products of success, but in its heart, it’s to do good work, to contribute, to try and try. Penniless, William Jones said “the-ratio-of-the-circumference-of-a-circle-to-its-diameter” one too many times, then “Let’s just nickname it pi.” Approximation is just boring numbers, what’s the deeper meaning of this pi? Gentle Euler poured forth knowledge until blindness was his fate. But then, like deaf Beethoven, he kept pouring transcendental thinking! Neither of his bosses Frederick, nor Catherine, was nearly as Great. Finally, we can bring this tale to the present stage. Lambert proved pi is irrational, putting Pythagoras to rest. And Lindemann proved pi is transcendental, Anaxagoras’ game was impossible, could never be solved even by the best. Who knows what’s yet to come? Only that the direction will be new. The truth silently awaits discovery. The next great mathematician could be you.

Check out the illustrated version of this math poem about pi.

You might also like our Pi Day page which has materials and activities that can be used in the classroom, after-school, or at home.