The life and career of Proclus represent both a summing-up of classical Greek mathematics, and a throwback to a time—already ancient in Proclus's era—when Greek mathematical study was at its zenith. It is thanks to his writing, particularly a commentary on Euclid's Elements, that modern scholars know of many long-lost works of antiquity.
Son of a prominent couple named Patricius and Marcella, Proclus grew up in the town of Xanthus on the southern coast of Lycia in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). His father intended him to study law in Alexandria, but on a visit to the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire at Byzantium or Constantinople (now Istanbul), he decided instead to pursue a career as a philosopher.
By that point Proclus had already been pursuing his legal education in Egypt, but he returned to Alexandria with an entirely...