mathematician - (1718-1799)

One of her solutions for an algebraic equation is still found in today's textbooks. The solution follows a curve now called the "witch of Agnesi" not because she was thought to be a witch, but because the shape of the curve was called aversiera , which in Italian means to turn. The word is also a slang short form for the avversiere which means wife of the devil. A series of mistranslations over time finally set the name of curve to the "witch of Agnesi". We now present the Living Witch of Agnesi. Watch the curve grow before your very eyes.

She was a child prodigy. By the age of nine she wrote, read and spoke Italian, French, Latin, Greek, German, Spanish and Hebrew, and was known as the "oracle of the seven tongues". When Pope Benedick XIV appointed her to the chair of higher mathematics at the University of Bologna he said

Permit me, mademoisells, to unite my personal homage to the plaudits of the entire Academy. I have the pleasure of making known to my country an extremely useful work which has long been desired, and which has hitherto existed only in outline. I do not know of any work of this kind which is clearer, more methodic or more comprehensive than your Analytical Institutions. There is none in any language which can guide more surely, lead more quickly, and conduct further those who wish to advance in the mathematical sciences. I admire particularly the art with which you bring under uniform methods the divers conclusions scattered among the works of geometers and reached by methods entirely different."

from Women in Science, H.J. Mozans, 1913, D. Appleton and Company.

The book was titled Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventu italiana (Analytical Institutions), a compendium of algebra, analytic geometry, calculus, and differential equations, praised by many for its completeness, precise organization, and original contributions.

More information about this remarkable lady may be found on UK history project listing on Maria Agnesi or from Agnes Scott College section on Maria Agnesi. Just a note about the Agnes Scott site; the first equation they give for the Witch of Agnesi curve is for an orientation of axes where X is vertical and Y is horizontal. This was the reference frame that Maria Agnesi used. Reference frames today use X horizontal and Y vertical. The curve in this reference frame can be found directly in "Standard Mathematical Formulas" from CRC Press. This is the form used in the Living Witch of Agnesi shown on this site.

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