Lincoln and Equality
When I was a Fulbright Fellow in Germany back in 1989-90, I read Euclid's Elements because I had time, and I tried to understand them, even resorting to straight-edge and compass to assist my effort, but the going proved rough, and in grinding my way through that particular text, Ptolemy's Almagest, and a modern textbook on astronomy, I eventually ran out of time, as well as grant money, and just focused on John's Gospel and Gnostic texts instead of trying to master all of classical antiquity, my ultimate aim.
I wasn't as smart as Lincoln.
As I know from my reading on the man, the self-educated Lincoln taught himself Euclid . . . and understood it with clarity. In Stephen Spielberg's recent film, Lincoln, the screenwriter Tony Kushner understands that Lincoln understood Euclid, and has him state:
Euclid's first common notion is this: Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other. That's a rule of mathematical reasoning. It's true because it works, has done and always will do. In his book, Euclid says this is self-evident. You see, there it is, even in that 2,000-year-old book of mechanical law. It is a self-evident truth that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.Kushner, however, who put these words in Lincoln's mouth, didn't quite understand Euclid, for the Elements was not about mechanical law. It was about geometry, mathematical law. It also wasn't about that assertion in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." But none of that matters to inspired creative writing. Kushner can connect them to make a point, that white men were men, as black men were men, and both being equal to men were equal to each other.
I'd also have made the same, creative links using the word "equal" that Kushner made if I'd been writing the screenplay.
If I were as smart as Kushner . . .