One of the accomplishments of the Persian mathematician Omar Khayyam was to give geometrical constructions for the roots of a cubic as the intersections of two conics. Of course, this approach had been used earlier by Menaechmus and others to solve certain special cubics (notably in relation to the problem of "duplicating the cube"), but Khayyam generalized it to cover essentially all cubics (albeit with many individual cases so as to avoid negative numbers). It's usually said that Khayyam erroneously believed the cubic could not be solved algebraically, but I think we need to be careful about assuming that Khayyam was referring to the modern idea of what constitutes an "algebraic" solution. One of his most famous quotes is "...no attention should be paid to the fact that algebra and geometry are different in appearance. Algebras are geometric facts which are proved." This is usually cited as evidence of how Khayyam contributed to reconciling the two fields of geometry and algebra, that had been so assiduously separated by the Greeks, and thereby casting Khayyam as a forerunner of Descartes. There is certainly truth in this view, because Khayyam was definitely far more inclined than the Greeks to treat his geometrical line segments as numerical quantities rather than strictly as spatial magnitudes. In fact, he developed a numerical version of Euclid's (Eudoxus') theory of proportion that comes very close to Dedekind's definition of irrational numbers. However, I think it's worth noting that he also said with regard to cubic equations "This cannot be solved by plane geometry, since it has a cube in it. For the solution we need conic sections." Here we might credit Khayyam with anticipating the eventual proof of the unsolvability of the Delian problem (duplicating the cube) by straight-edge and compass, but it seems to me this comment may also shed some light on his statement that the cubic cannot be "solved algebraically". Remember that, to Khayyam, "algebras are geometric facts which are PROVED", and he was still strongly influenced by the Greek insistence on straight-edge and compass constructions as the only valid "proofs" in a certain strict formal sense. This is evidenced by the three ancient problems of squaring the circle, trisecting the angle, and duplicating the cube, each of which was known to be easily done by various geometrical methods, but those methods were not strictly in conformity with Euclidean construction, and so were regarded as logically inferior, i.e., they were "mechanical constructions" (similar to what we might view as "plausibility arguments") and didn't constitute demonstrations from the only existent system of strict logical axioms. Thus, it seems conceivable that when Khayyam said the cubic cannot be "solved algebraically" he was using his definition of "an algebra" as a geometric fact that is PROVED, and he was adhering to the Greek notion that the only theoretical proof of a geometric fact is on the basis of Euclid's axiomatic system (i.e., straight-edge and compass). Of course, with this interpretation his statement was perfectly correct, and in fact was simply another way of expressing his assertion that the Delian problem cannot be solved by straight- edge and compass.

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