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Mello, Francisco De


(b. Lisbon, Portugal, 1490; d. Évora, Portugal, 27 April 1536)


The son of a nobleman, Manuel de Mello, and Beatriz de Silva, Mello was a protégé of the Portuguese king Manuel I, who sent him to Paris to study. Mello graduated in theology and mathematics; his teacher was Pierre Brissot, who gave him a thorough grounding in the works of Euclid and Archimedes. On his return to Portugal, Mello was appointed tutor to the king’s children. He may have served in an official capacity in navigating the Atlantic in order to determine the boundaries of the Spanish and Portuguese territories as defined by the Holy See. He was also to some degree involved in Portuguese politics, and shortly before his death was rewarded with the bishopric of Goa (it is not known whether he actually accepted this post, although it is certain that he never went there).

Mello enjoyed considerable fame as a scientist; as such, Gil Vicente dedicated to him some verses in the introduction to the Auto da feira. He was also firmly within the humanistic tradition of his time; his friends included Nicolás Clenard, Juan Luis Vives, and his fellow mathematician Gaspar de Lax. Many of his own works were destroyed by the fire that followed the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Among his mathematical writings are “De videndi ratione atque oculorum forma,” a commentary on Euclid’s Optica; “De incidentibus in humidis,” a commentary on Archimedes’ hydrostatics; and an “Elements of Geometry,” which would seem to be derived from Jãbir ibn Aflaḥ. His nonscientific writings included translations from Latin authors and funerary poems.

Mello should not be confused with the great historian Francisco Manuel de Mello (1611–1667), who also wrote on mathematics.


On Mello and his work see M. Bataillon, “Erasme et la cour de Portugal,” in Études sur le Portugal au temps de l’humanisme (Coimbra, 1952), 49–100; Diego Barbosa Machado, Bibliotheca Lusitana (Lisbon, 1747), 197–198; Felipe Picatoste y Rodriguez, Apuntes para una biblioteca cientifica española del siglo XVI (Madrid, 1891), 167; Antonio Ribeiro dos Santos, Memoria da vida e eseritos de Don Francisco de Mello, Memórias de literatura portuguesa publicadas pela Academia Real das sciencias de Lisbon, VII (Lisbon, 1806), 237–249; and Inocencio Francisco da Silva, Diccionario bibliografico portugues, III (Lisbon, 1859), 8–10.

Juan Vernet

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