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Agnesi, Maria Gaetana

father mathematics cubic bologna

an yay zee] (1718–99) Italian mathematician and scholar: remembered in the naming of the cubic curve ‘the Witch of Agnesi’.

Born in Milan, Maria was one of the 24 children of a professor of mathematics at the University of Bologna. With his encouragement she spoke seven languages by the age of 11, and by the age of 14 she was solving problems in ballistics and geometry. Her interests covered logic, physics, mineralogy, chemistry, botany, zoology and ontology; her father arranged her public debates. From this time she suffered a recurring illness in which convulsions and headaches were symptoms. Her father agreed that she should in future lead a quiet life free from social obligations. Maria thereafter devoted herself to the study of new mathematical ideas. Her Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventù (1748, Analytical Institutions) was published as a teaching manual. In 1750, she was appointed to the chair of mathematics and philosophy at Bologna. Maria Agnesi’s work was one of promise rather than fulfilment: she made no original discoveries and her major work was written as a guide to students. The cubic curve named the Witch of Agnesi was formulated by . A mistranslation caused the use of ‘witch’ for ‘curve’.

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