Mathematics: Why Math?

Why does Michael include so much mathematics in his manuscript?

There is no doubt that Michael had many practical uses for mathematics. Mariners on merchant galleys were allowed to carry goods to trade on their own account, so he needed math for his own ventures. They needed math to prepare and equip galleys for sea—working out the lengths of masts, spars, and ropes, among other things. Mathematics was also needed to use the marteloio technique of navigation, as well as for time reckoning.

Ambition provides another explanation for Michael's attention to mathematics. To be promoted, he needed the support of his noble officers. The abacus schools formed the foundation of Venetian merchant education and culture. Early in his career, as he began to rise in the ranks, Michael ate at the shipboard table with Venetian nobles engaged in long-distance trade. He may well have realized that they would find him more worthy of promotion if he demonstrated how much of their culture he shared.

Ambition aside, it is clear that Michael was deeply interested in mathematics. His intellectual curiosity is revealed by the problems and topics he chose to cover and by the multiple solutions he provided for problems, which were often far more detailed and complicated than anything he needed either for practice or promotion.

More than any other part of the manuscript, Michael's section on mathematics offers us insight into his character.

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