The Evariste Galois Archive

'Tout voir, tout entendre,  ne perdre aucune idée', Evariste 
    Galois, 29/Oct/1831

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Evariste Galois Biography

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Strokes of Fate

As a simple pupil of the Mathématiques préparatoires, Galois - completely on his own - for the entrance to the École. Galois wanted to go to this school under all conditions, because it garanteed him the best possibilities in mathematics. It had been hardly ten years ago that the École had drastically modified their statutes: No longer militarilly oriented and they changed their uniformes for civilian. But the major task remained the same: to train young scientists the government service. In June 1928 Evariste appeared there for the entrance examination, although he had not taken part in another special course in mathematics for another year. The fact that he flunked was for Galois one of the injustices, regardless if real or imagined, which poisoned his life. The two heavy strokes of fate, which overtook Galois in July 1829, were surely catalysts for the tragic course of his further life. Did they have a triggering effect or did they just accelerate what had started with his experiences at the Louis-le-Grand. The year 1829 was a time, in which the clerics resisted with king Charles X' consent the liberal decrees of Martignac. Edicts which didn't allow anymore certain religious orders (e.g. the jesuits) to teach. These tensions prevailed also in Bourg-la-Reine, where at the beginning of the year 1829 a young priest took over the parish and soon banded together with the Ultras. Together with a member of the town council he intrigued against the liberal mayor Nicolas Nicolas-Gabriel Galois. They spread falsified vulgar poems and let him appear as the author. Due to the scandal resulting from thereof, Evaristes' father left Bourg-la-Reine and moved to Paris, where he rented an apartment in the rue Jean de Beauvais, close to Louis-le-Grand. In this flat he committed suicide on the second of July. His funeral became a triumphal procession of the liberals and in the end the priest was offended and some stones were thrown at him. Just a few days after the unexpected death of his father, Galois took the the entrance examination to the École Polytechnique for the second time. It became a legend in the history of mathematics. He was aware that a refusal would be final this time, if he would flunk again. The examiners, though being recognized mathematicians, were not capable of detecting the mathematical genius of Evariste Galois. One of the two examiners asked the fatal question: He should describe the theory of the arithmetic logarithms. Galois criticized immediately the question, and mentioned to professor Dinet that there are no arithmetic logarithms. Why didn't he simply ask for the theory of the logarithms? Thereupon Galois refused to explain some propositions concerning logarithms. He said that it was completely obvious! This was apparently the dot on the i: He failed the examination. According to the biographer Bell the course of events was different and more dramatic: Galois, used to unfold his mathematical thinkung completely in his head, had a serious disadvantage before the board. The chalk and the sponge irritated him until he found a suitable application for one of the two things. One of the examiners had discussed both falsely and stubbornly a mathematical fact. In a fury and despair he hurled the sponge into the face of his tormentor. Twenty years later we find In the Nouvelles Annales Mathématiquesthis: "a candidate of superior intelligence was ruined by an examiner of minor intelligence. Barbarus hic ego sum quia non intelligor illis!"

Written by Bernard Bychan; Last Modified: July 10, 2011

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