Janos Bolyai
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Basic Information

János Bolyai was a Hungarian mathemetician and military officer, who lived from 1802 to 1860. Ahead of his time, he made breakthroughs in the field of non-euclidean geometry that were never properly recognized during his lifetime. Carl Friedrich Gauss considered Boyai a genius, but unfortunately wrote him a discouraging letter that gave him the opposite impression. When Bolyai died, he left more than 20,000 pages of unpublished writings on geometry and math.

Bolyai was a true polymath with multiple talents. In addition to his mathematical genius, he spoke six languages, was a skilled duelist, and a performing violinist. He was however kind of hard to get along with, which resulted in him once being challenged to 13 duels on the same day by his fellow officers. He arranged to fight those 13 swordfights on the same day, with the provision that he be allowed to take a short break to play his violin after each fight. He proceeded to win all 13 duels.

If any portraits of Bolyai were painted in his lifetime, they did not survive to the modern era. There are some paintings and sculptures that were made after his death.

Several institutes and universities have been named in his honor, as has a crater on the moon, and the minor planet 1441 Bolyai.


1. Veritasium video about geometry - shares the duel anecdote, and the Gauss anecdote

Game and Story Use

  • A fun historical character to insert into any game set in the Victorian Era / 19th Century. With his many skills and talents, he could find a place on many a League of Extraordinary Whatevers.
  • The fact that all the pictures of him come from well after his death makes him a great Julius Beethoven DaVinci type character. Narrate that he faked his death, and have him show up at any point on your timeline. He's certainly got the hallmarks of a man who has accumulated several lifetimes worth of experience.
  • Non-euclidean geometry works great in Call of Cthulhu games, thanks to H.P. Lovecraft's Dreams In The Witch-house. You only have to wave your hand a short distance to get to Alien Geometries. Bolyai is from several decades before the setting of most Cthulhu games, but he's the sort of revolutionary thinker whose work might be cited by some doomed researcher or protagonist of a Lovecraftian tale.
    • If we're bringing Cthulhu into it, consider the violin playing - Eric Zahn style, the connection between music, mathematics and magic is never far from the surface in mythos works.
  • His 20,000 pages of unpublished notes could be a macguffin holding the secrets of the universe, or even akin to a grimoire or spellbook for those who understand the abstract maths contained within.
  • The moon crater and minor planet named for him could have some sort of clue or mystical import. The place where non-euclidean monsters come from, or a place with some unique astrology significance, like doorways to other dimensions only open when the spatial relationship between the earth and 1441 Bolyai is at a particular angle.
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