The following biography of the historian of Islamic mathematics Paul Luckey (1884-1949) appeared in the edition of Luckey's 1941 dissertation on an Arabic treatise by Ibrahim ibn Sinan (909-946) on sundials,, published by the Institute for History of Arabic-Islamic Science in Frankfurt. The same book contains a bibliography of Paul Luckey.

C. Paul Luckey (1884-1949)

Paul Luckey was one of the foremost historians of Arabic-Islamic mathematics in the 20th century. The following biography has been compiled from the Lebenslauf on pp. 199-200 of his dissertation and from the information which has kindly been provided by Prof. Dr. Anton Schall (Heidelberg) and Frau Dr. Katharina Seifert (Heidelberg), who both knew Luckey.

Christian Paul Luckey was born on December 26, 1884, in Elberfeld near Wuppertal in Germany. He studied mathematics, science and philosophy in Marburg, Berlin and Munich. He became a highschool teacher in his native town of Elberfeld from 1912 to 1924. His teaching career was interrupted by World War I. Between 1915 and 1918 he fought in the German army in various battles in Belgium and he was severely wounded in the summer of 1916. In 1924 he moved to Marburg, where he worked as a grammar-school teacher until his early retirement in 1932. In 1924 and 1928 he also taught applied mathematics and history of mathematics at the University of Marburg.

After his early retirement, at the age of 47, Luckey began to study Arabic in Heidelberg, Berlin, Bonn and Tübingen. He was a pupil of Enno Littmann.

Luckey published a paper ([42] in the bibliography) in the Nazi journal Deutsche Mathematik, and in some of his papers there are statements about the supposed Aryan origin of al-Biruni and other medieval Islamic mathematicians. However, the publications of Luckey are apolitical and he may have added the above-mentioned sentences to facilitate the publication of his papers under the Hitler regime.

Frau Dr. Seifert, who was a good friend of Luckey when he lived in Bonn, told me that Luckey was "one hundred per cent anti-Nazi." She illustrated this with the following story. Between June 30 and July 2, 1934, Hitler ordered his SS-troops to liquidate several hundreds of his political opponents, inside and outside the party. (See D. Raff, Deutsche Geschichte: vom alten Reich zur zweiten Republik, Heidelberg 1986, p. 275.) One of the persons whom Hitler wanted to liquidate was Hansjoachim von Rohr, of Demmin in (then) Pommern, who had the high political position of "Staatssekretär im Reichswirtschaftsministerium." Von Rohr just managed to escape through a window when his estate was surrounded by SS-troops. For several days, he hid in a cornfield, and he then travelled in disguise, as "Dr. Vollmer," to Bonn and arrived at the house of Frau Dr. Seifert, whom he knew to be anti-Nazi. Frau Seifert then found a hiding-place for von Rohr in the house of a botany professor, where he shared an apartment with Luckey. Of course, everybody involved risked their lives by protecting one of Hitler's enemies. Fortunately, Mr. von Rohr survived the second world war.

During World War II, Luckey again served in the German army for a brief time as an officer in a mobile communication unit. He seems to have left the army in June 1940. In 1941 he defended his doctoral dissertation at the University of Tübingen on the subject of Ibrahim ibn Sinan's treatise on shadow instruments.

The last part of Luckey's life is shrouded in mystery. He remained unmarried until the second world war. Frau Dr. Seifert describes him as "a person who lived a solitary life." (Er war ein Einzelgänger, der sehr für sich lebte.) Paul Luckey loved to go for long walks in the woods near Tübingen. The story goes that on these walks he met an elderly widow, who lived in a beautiful villa at the foot of the Rossberg. (The address was: Schillerstrasse 53, Gönningen. After the war, the Schillerstrasse was renamed Auf der Ay, and the numbers were changed; the number of the villa is now 37.) They married in 1942 or 1943, and he moved into his wife's villa. On July 21, 1949, Luckey threw himself into the Bodensee at Immenstaad. Although several of his papers were published posthumously, no obituary was ever written. This introduction can be regarded as an obituary, and the publication of this book is intended as a tribute to the man and his work.

Luckey's scientific work

Luckey's publications have been listed in the bibliography. They fall naturally into three groups, which coincide more or less with the three stages of his career.

1. In the first period of his career, as a highschool teacher in Elberfeld, Luckey became one of the German experts in nomography. This branch of applied mathematics was popular at the beginning of the 20th century but has become obsolete in the computer age. The purpose of nomography is to facilitate practical calculations (in engineering etc.) by means of geometrical diagrams. For example, in the simple case of the multiplication of two numbers a and b, nomography shows how a geometrical diagram can be constructed with three scales; one for a, one for b and one for the product ab. By putting a ruler on the scales for a and b one can read off the product ab as the intersection with the third scale. Many variations on this pattern are possible. In his Elberfeld period Luckey published various papers and a book in two parts ([4] and [6]) on nomography. The book became very popular and was reprinted several times, and the stream of publications on nomography continued while he was in Marburg, until his retirement in 1932. Luckey also constructed a cardboard sundial, copies of which were sold at a bookshop in Elberfeld (see [8]).

2. Luckey was a dedicated teacher and in his Marburg period from 1924 to his retirement in 1932, he published some papers on the didactics of mathematics and on elementary mathematics, mostly in German journals on mathematics education.

3. Already at the beginning of his career, Luckey was interested in the history of mathematics, and one can find historical remarks throughout his articles on nomography, elementary mathematics and didactics. His first publications in the history of mathematics date back to his Marburg period. In a remarkable article [24], Luckey used his expertise in nomography to explain the purpose of the work Analemma by Ptolemy (ca. 150 CE). The Analemma had been edited but it had only been partially understood by previous researchers. Soon after Luckey's retirement, he published a long article on ancient Egyptian geometry [34] in the international journal Isis. Then follows an interval of five years without publications, in which Luckey was busy learning Arabic. Between 1938 and his death, Luckey published six important articles on the history of Arabic mathematics [41]-[46], and three more [47]-[49] appeared posthumously between 1950 and 1953. The value of these nine publications is universally recognized by modern historians. In 1941 Luckey defended his dissertation on Ibrahim ibn Sinan's treatise on shadow instruments. The dissertation was not published at the time, although a very brief summary appeared in [45]. Luckey worked on several other projects, including an edition with a German translation of Al-Biruni's treatise on mathematical geography Fi tahdid nihayat al-amakin li-tashih masafat al-masakin. (See F. Sezgin, Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums (GAS) Band VI, Astronomie, Leiden: Brill, 1978, p. 407 no. 4.)

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Jan Hogendijk <J.P.Hogendijk_at_uu.nl>
2015