Euler Anecdote

From: Lee Corbin (
Date: Sat Apr 26 2008 - 13:32:05 MDT

Stuart wrote

>> In the words of Euler, Monsieur,
>> (a + bn)/n = x, therefore you are wrong!

Supposedly this was addressed to Diderot at the court
of Catherine the Great in St. Petersburg. The story is
that Catherine appealed to Euler to say something to
shut up Diderot and his atheism.

So it was said that he approached Diderot, and when they
had Catherine's (and therefore everyone's) attention, he
uttered the famous words, and Diderot retreated in
stark humiliation.

Only Euler's words were "(a + bn)/n = x, therefore God
exists. Reply, Monsieur!" in the version I read.

Anyway, it's been pointed out that this is an extremely
unlikely yarn for several reasons. One is that Diderot
was the author of a French Encyclopedia (and algebra
certainly was not, in the words of the anecdote "Greek to

> I thought it was e^iPI + 1 = 0 therefore God exists.

No, Stuart was closer. See E.T.Bell's Men of
mathematics for the classic statement of this clearly
apocryphal story.

Off topic, I know, but it's a Saturday and it's fun. :-)


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