Oxford University Gazette

Encaenia 1998: Speeches by the Public Orator

Sir MICHAEL ATIYAH, OM, FRS, FRSE

Formerly Master of Trinity College, Cambridge

Philosophorum princeps Plato aditum in Academiam suam illis tantum concedebat qui geometriae studuerant; hunc quem produco libentissime admisisset, qui cum olim Geometriae Professor Savilianus apud Oxonienses fuerit, nonnumquam queritur ad istam artis mathematicae partem parum hodie viros mathematicos animum attendere. qui cum de plurimis illius scientiae provinciis triumphos egerit, (de topologia, inquam, de analysi, de algebra quam dicunt), universam si quis alius mente complectitur, unam esse atque indivisam strenue argumentatur; una autem cum sit, omnes mathematicos qui ubicumque laborent toti disciplinae inservire. cui sententiae quodam modo consentaneum est et quod persaepe cum collega uno vel altero una laboravit, una libellos publicavit, et quod eis praesertim quaestionibus incubuit quas qui solvunt scientias antea disiunctas artiori inter se vinculo coniungunt. hunc scientiae suae elementa prima docuerunt Aegyptii, gens hominum artis mathematicae arcanis iam antiquissimis temporibus dedita; dein Britanniam regressus Cantabrigiam migravit, ubi mox coepit excellere; dein Oxoniam devenit ad cathedram Savilianam; brevi quidem tempore inter Princetonenses contigit considere, id quod Horatius poeta dicit `adscribi quietis ordinibus deorum', sed se philosophum vere Platonicum esse ostendit, qui in speluncam redierit, miseris mortalibus subvenerit, Oxoniam iterum regressus professorum agmini accesserit; postremo Collegi Sanctae et Individuae Trinitatis apud Cantabrigienses Magister creatus, si non otium, dignitatem certe adeptus est. sed vir est minime otiosus, qui Societati Regiae praesederit, Institutum Newtonianum gubernarit, inter consiliarios persaepe illis fuerit qui decernunt quae ratio adhibenda sit in adulescentibus educandis, quae in scientiis sustinendis alendis provehendis.

Virum praesento in primis acutum, mathematicum primarium, praemiis honoribusque plurimis adfectum, Michaelem Atiyah, Equitem Auratum, Ordini Eximie Meritorum adscriptum, Societatis Regiae Sodalem et nuper Praesidem, ut admittatur honoris causa ad gradum Doctoris in Scientia.

Admission by the Chancellor

Ingeniosorum ingeniosissime, mathematicorum sagacissime, cum de academiis tum de re publica optime merite, ego auctoritate mea et totius Universitatis admitto te ad gradum Doctoris in Scientia honoris causa.

Paraphrase

The great philosopher Plato excluded from his Academy anyone who had not studied geometry. He would have been delighted to admit Sir Michael Atiyah, who was for a time Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford, and who has been heard to complain that nowadays mathematicians devote too little attention to that branch of the subject. He has notable achievements to his credit in many areas of mathematics: one might mention topology, algebra, and analysis. He possesses an extraordinarily wide grasp of the whole of the subject, which he insists really is one and indivisible; since that is so, all mathematicians, whatever their special topic, are contributing to the subject as a whole. It is thus appropriate that he is a notable collaborator, many of whose important works have been produced in close co-operation with other scholars, and that he has been especially interested in problems where the solution brings apparently separate branches of science closer together. He received his early education in Egypt, a country famous for its interest in mathematics from very ancient times. Returning to this country, he had a distinguished career at Cambridge, which brought him to Oxford and the Savilian Chair. He then had the chance to work for a time at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, or in the words of Horace `to be enrolled among the carefree ranks of the gods'; but he proved himself a philosopher in the best Platonic sense by returning to the Cave in which ordinary mortals must toil, becoming again a Professor in Oxford. Finally he was made Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, a position which offers, if not quite the Ciceronian ideal of leisure combined with dignity, then dignity at least; and Sir Michael, who seems not to be cut out for a life of leisure, has served also as President of the Royal Society, as Director of the Newton Institute, and as an adviser to the government on many questions of educational and scientific policy.

I present a man of exceptional intellectual power, a great mathematician, the recipient of numerous medals and distinctions, Sir Michael Atiyah, OM, FRS, for admission to the honorary degree of Doctor of Science.

Admission by the Chancellor

Most ingenious amongst the ingenious, mathematician of outstanding creativity, you have also achieved distinction by your services in positions of high academic and public responsibility. Acting on my own authority and that of the whole University, I admit you to the honorary degree of Doctor of Science.

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