Henrik Kragh Sørensen’s lecture Narrating Abel, at last year’s Mathematical Cultures conference in London, traces the evolution of Nils Henrik Abel’s image as a Norwegian cultural hero. In its outline it is consistent with the picture of the “romantic” mathematician analyzed by Amir Alexander in Duel at Dawn, and the lecture is well worth watching. For my present purposes, however, I want to draw attention to a fact I hadn’t realized when I submitted the book’s manuscript, namely that Abel belongs to the select group of mathematicians to have been represented in the nude. A black and white reproduction of the 12.1 meter Abel Monument by the Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, including an eight-meter-high granite pedestal, can be seen on the Abel Prize website. Other images available on the web show the Abel Monument under a more revealing light, and in various stages of completion in Vigeland’s workshop; this last series of images leaves no doubt as to the mathematician’s state of undress. The monument has even been reproduced on a 3.50 Kr postage stamp.
Because I am not sure of the images’ copyright status I will not include them here; instead, here is a photo of Thompson Dagnall’s statue of Archimedes in Manchester.
I am returning to the apparently frivolous issue of mathematical nudity because I have come in for some (mild) criticism for reproducing two images of nude women in the book (three, if you count the seal of the Institute for Advanced Study) to illustrate the history of mathematical love formulas. The problem is not nudity as such but rather the implications of my failure to observe gender parity. My answer was that I couldn’t find any mathematically appropriate images of male nudity; but I obviously didn’t look hard enough. I hope to remedy this omission by including an image of the Abel Monument in the paperback edition.