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Nicolo Fontana (Tartaglia)


Nicolo Fontana He was born in 1499 in Brescia, Italy, and died on December 13, 1557 in Venice, also in Italy. His nickname, Tartaglia (which means "stutterer"), has a curious story, which he himself tells in his book “Quesiti et inventioni diverse" In 1512, when Brescia was sacked by French troops commanded by Gaston de Foix, Nicolo took refuge with his mother and sister in the town's church, believing it to be a safe place. But the soldiers find him and he was wounded with blows to the face and head.

The mother, widowed and unable to pay a doctor, treated her wounds with her own saliva. Nicolo was saved, but always had great difficulty speaking. For this reason, he got the nickname Tartaglia ("stutterer" in Italian). This name was a reminder of his misfortune, and later he decided to adapt it to his name, Nicolo Tartaglia.

From a very humble background, only at the age of 14 he learned to write, but this was no obstacle to becoming an engineer and teaching mathematics in Italian cities such as Verona, Venice, Piacenza and Brescia. In addition, he has done important work where he has demonstrated a great deal of knowledge in arithmetic, geometry, algebra, ballistics and static. As the only mathematics teacher in Venice, Tartaglia gradually gained a reputation as a promising mathematician due to his successful participation in various debates. In 1537, his first work was printed, “New scientia invents”Which refers to ballistics.

In 1546 he published “Quesiti et inventioni diverse”, Which has a dialogical form and numerous general autobiographical notes. Most concerned engineering and military art, but they also addressed mathematical issues. One of these questions led to a 4th degree equation, which was later solved by Ferrari. Other of his historically important references are to the resolution of the cubic equation. Finally, his dispute with Fior and his encounter with Cardano appear in his work, in which Tartaglia handed him the “Tercetos” with the solution of the cubics.

Cardano invited him to go from Venice to Milan to expose his solution (1539), under the patronage of his protector, the governor of Milan, Alfonso d'Avalos. He accepted the invitation but demanded that Cardano not reveal the formula. But from this formula Cardano and his assistant Lodovico Ferrari have made great strides and reached the solution of the quartics. After learning about the Scipione del Ferro notebook in Bologna, they decided to publish their findings in "Ars Magna " (1545). This made Tartaglia furious that he had been betrayed in his commitment to secrecy, and it was there that he published the work. Quesiti et Inventioni, where he gave his version and detracted from Cardano.

Cardano didn't bother, but Ferrari did, and responded by challenging him to a debate. Envisioning Ferrari's victory, the master returned to Venice, leaving the moral victory for the challenger. Lost the honor of discovery and full of resentment against Cardano, he began teaching in Brescia and devoting himself to other areas of mathematics. However, to this day he is remembered with the name of the formula for cubic solution, called Cardano-Tartaglia.

In addition, Tartaglia owes the first Italian edition of theElements”By Euclides, as well as editions of works by Archimedes and Jordanus Nemorarius.

* photo taken at MacTutor History of Mathematics archive (//www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk).