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Evariste Galois

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163334.  Thu Apr 05, 2007 10:33 am Reply with quote

Q: What excuse did French lad Evariste Galois have for not handing in his maths homework?
F: Dog ate it.
A: He had to go and fight a duel, during which he was killed.

Galois was a somewhat strange mathematics prodigy. Although he failed twice to get into the École Polytechnique (the ultimate Engineering and Mathematics college in Paris) because of his poor general schooling in maths, he had some rather way-out ideas, which many in the mathematics world just didn't understand.

When he did finally graduate, at the age of 21, he wrote three papers which were the basis of Group Theory (now a major field of mathematics).

Expelled from his graduate school for alerting the media to its director's shortcomings, he also spent six months in prison for wearing an illegal uniform when marching on a protest.

A month after his release, at the age of 20, and while he was working on his next paper on the insolubility of quintic equations using polynomials (that little gem), he became involved in his fatal duel. Wiki tells the story well:
The true motives behind this duel that ended his life will most likely remain forever obscure and there has been a lot of speculation, much of it spurious, as to the reasons behind it. What is known is that five days before his death he wrote a letter to Chevalier which clearly alludes to a broken love affair. Some archival investigation on the original letters reveals that the woman he was in love with was apparently a certain Mademoiselle Stéphanie-Felice du Motel, the daughter of one of the resident physicians in the prison where he was transferred shortly before his release and where he remained thereafter.

Fragments of letters from her copied by Galois himself (with many portions either obliterated, such as her name, or deliberately omitted) are available, and they seem to indicate that he was rejected and took it badly. The letters also give some intimation that Mlle. du Motel had confided some of her troubles with Galois, and this might have prompted him to provoke the duel himself on her behalf. This conjecture is also supported by some of the other letters Galois later wrote to his friends the night before he died.

The last pages in his notebook say:
His fright and arrogance were mixed. The letter was peppered with asides. He wrote: "I do not say to anyone that I owe to his counsel or ... encouragement [what] is good in this work." But he also, desperately, penned in the margins, "I have no time!"


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