In a manuscript note written by Giovanni Poleni (1683-1761) for his mathematical lectures, I found the following remark: "De ideis, quibus imaginari debamus etiam res quas non videamus. Gallus a Cicerone nominatus, geometra coecus. Wallis, Tom. II. pag. 449 et quidem: ubi agit de viribus memoriae satis intentae." (Ms. It IV, 636, Biblioteca Marciana, Venice). Unfortunately, I was not able to locate the reference to a "blind Gaul geometer" in Cicero's works. Does anybody have any suggestions about where Cicero may have mentioned this episode?

p.s. for clarity, I will share only the image corresponding to the passage.enter image description here

  • 1
    Is it possible for you to please add a link for viewing the online manuscript by Joannes Polenus (Ioannes Polenus)? This is for the purpose to read the lines before and after to see if there's more context associated with Gallus, as among other meanings there's also the Roman cognomen Gallus, and there are many references in the Cicero's works.
    – fantome
    Commented May 20 at 14:08
  • Unfortunately the manuscript is not available online. I have a private reproduction but I am afraid it cannot be shared publicly. However, for completeness, I edited the question adding the whole passage where the reference to Cicero appears. It should be pointed out, perhaps, that these are not extensive notes, but sketchy remarks prepared by Poleni for his classes. Moreover, I was not able to find any reference to Cicero in the passage from John Wallis' Opera Mathematica (tom. II).
    – DavideC
    Commented May 20 at 14:54

1 Answer 1


There's a tool called PHI Latin Texts https://latin.packhum.org/ where under 'Word Search' the Latin in Cicero's text can be searched. Under Authors it's possible to click on 'Marcus Tullius Cicero' and see which Texts are being searched. For example, one of the searches used in the tool to associate the word for blind near other words avoiding inflections, is:- #caecus# ~ Gall [Cic], other done on caec, call, geometr, mathemat , Appius, Aquilius solely or in combination with above.

Smith's Smaller Latin dictionary gives the spelling used for blind in the Cicero texts caecus -a -um blind (physically, mentally or morally), unseeing, unseen, invisible, hidden. coecus -a -um blinde was referenced from "An easie entrance to the Latine tongue ... a work tending to the school-masters's eas, and the weaker scholar's encouragement in the first and most wearisome steps to learning / by Charles Hoole ..." In the digital collection Early English Books Online. https://name.umdl.umich.edu/a44384.0001.001. University of Michigan Library Digital Collections. Accessed May 19, 2024.

I hoped content before/afterwards may have given further clues as to source, but nothing additional came from Wallis Tom. , unless it was Wallis, Tom(e). II? In 1657 Wallis published the Mathesis Universalis (Universal Mathematics), on algebra, arithmetic, and geometry.

I thought it possible instead of Galli Gallorum as the Galli or Gauls, Gallus could have been a reference to the Roman cognomen Gallus. Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero) writes to and in respect of several of the cognomen Gallus including his friend M. Fadius Gallus (Marcus Fabius Callus) and mentions several others in his letters. Also featured in his works is his contemporary Gaius Aquilius Gallus (C. Aquillius Gallus), a Roman praetor. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallia_gens says gens Gallia was a plebeian family at ancient Rome. And gallus also has other meanings. gallus as rooster, a gaul, as a priest of Cybele (magna mater) (Pliny the elder mentions it's also the name of a river).

In short, the reference from Givoanni Poleni (Joannes Polenus or Ioannes Polenus) doesn't appear as a direct quote from Cicero (from PHI Latin Texts).

Cicero in De Amicitia m section 54 (http://data.perseus.org/texts/urn:cts:latinLit:phi0474.phi052.perseus-lat1 ) does mention blind (caeca), as in fortuna caeca est, but not geometry or mathematics.

Possibly for their own summation, have you considered rather than one idea in a sentence, there are two points? 1) Gallus a Cicerone nominatus 2) geometra Coecus

If the quote from someone who summarised Cicero, or a quote they think is from Cicero, I have two examples. Boethius had mathematical works (eg De institutione arithmetica https://medieval.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/catalog/work_1127 ) and made commentaries on Cicero, Aristotle and others. Rhetorica ad Herennium, (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/e/roman/texts/rhetorica_ad_herennium/ ) traditionally attributed to Cicero in the middle ages, though this has no mention of blindness, geometry, mathematics.

If rather than a direct quote, it was a summation, the text searches need to be carefully used if key terms aren't present. For example when Cicero talks about his friend Aquilius and omits his cognomen Gallus. Cicero also references Appius Claudius Caecus several times, at least once only as Appius, for his blindness, who made the Via Appia.

Cicero in Pro Quinctio (https://www.attalus.org/cicero/quinctius.html ) pleads in detail the case before his friend Aquilius (Gaius Aquilius Gallus), about property in Gaul, and blindness, but not geometry or mathematics.

Cicero in Pro Caecina (http://www.attalus.org/cicero/caecina.html ) praises Gaius Aquilius Gallus but no direct reference to geometry or mathematics, and references Appius Claudius Caecus for blindness, for not being able to see someone in court.

If interested in Cicero and mathematical (geometria) references, the following may be of more interest than others (there are references to geometria, geometres in other works).

Cicero in De Natura Deorum mentions Geometery in relation to Pythagoras.

Cicero in De Officiis (https://www.gutenberg.org/files/47001/47001-h/47001-h.htm) refers to Gaius Aquilius Gallus (C. Aquilius Gallus) as Gaius Aquilius, and mentions mathematics as a course of study, Sextus Pompey as mathematician, a Gaul, Gaius Sulpicius Galus and Melanippa.

Cicero in De Inventione (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.189092/page/n1/mode/2up) does mention blind (caeca), geometry, his friend Aquilius, but not in combination with each other.

Cicero referring to mathematicians and blindness, the sense of ideas from mathematics and perception, was found within Tusculan Disputations and Academica. Cicero in Tusculan Disputations https://www.attalus.org/cicero/tusc5A.html Book 5 starts Translated by C.D. Yonge (1877). Cicero in Academica (as books 1 & 2 https://www.attalus.org/cicero/academica1.html https://www.attalus.org/cicero/academica2a.html)

  • 1
    Thanks, very helpful! The reference to Wallis is likely the second tome of his Opera mathematica, p. 449 (cf. books.google.mw/…). Wallis narrates how he he was able to calculate the cube root of a number at night in his own bed, a task he wouldn't be able to solve in broad daylight.
    – DavideC
    Commented May 21 at 21:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.