## The discovery of conic section

*“doubling the cube.” According to Eratosthenes of Cyrene (c. 276–190 bc), the people of Delos consulted the oracle of Apollo for aid in ending a plague (c. 430 bc) and were instructed to build Apollo a new altar of twice the old altar’s volume and with the same cubic shape. Perplexed, the Delians consulted Plato, who stated that “the oracle meant, not that the god wanted an altar of double the size, but that he wished, in setting them the task, to shame the Greeks for their neglect of mathematics and their contempt for geometry.” Hippocrates of Chios (c. 470–410 bc) first discovered that the “Delian problem” can be reduced to finding two mean proportionals between a and 2a (the volumes of the respective altars)—that is, determining x and y such that a:x = x:y = y:2a. This is equivalent to solving simultaneously any two of the equations x2 = ay, y2 = 2ax, and xy = 2a2, which correspond to two parabolas and a hyperbola, respectively. Later, Archimedes (c. 290–211 bc) showed how to use conic sections to divide a sphere into two segments having a given ratio.

*Diocese (c. 200 bc) demonstrated geometrically that rays—for instance, from the Sun—that are parallel to the axis of a paraboloid of revolution (produced by rotating a parabola about its axis of symmetry) meet at the focus. Archimedes is said to have used this property to set enemy ships on fire. The focal properties of the ellipse were cited by Anthemius of Tralles, one of the architects for Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople (completed in ad 537), as a means of ensuring that an altar could be illuminated by sunlight all day.

*Diocese (c. 200 bc) demonstrated geometrically that rays—for instance, from the Sun—that are parallel to the axis of a paraboloid of revolution (produced by rotating a parabola about its axis of symmetry) meet at the focus. Archimedes is said to have used this property to set enemy ships on fire. The focal properties of the ellipse were cited by Anthemius of Tralles, one of the architects for Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople (completed in ad 537), as a means of ensuring that an altar could be illuminated by sunlight all day.