Tullio Levi-Civita

This article is about the mathematician. For the mathematical symbol, see Levi-Civita symbol.
Tullio Levi-Civita

Tullio Levi-Civita
Born (1873-03-29)29 March 1873
Padua, Italy
Died 29 December 1941(1941-12-29) (aged 68)
Rome, Italy
Nationality Italian
Fields Mathematics
Institutions University of Rome
Alma mater University of Padua
Doctoral advisor Gregorio Ricci-Curbastro
Doctoral students Evan Davies
Mendel Haimovici
Octav Onicescu
Attilio Palatini
Antonio Signorini
Libera Trevisani
Gheorghe Vrânceanu
Known for Tensor calculus
Levi-Civita symbol
Levi-Civita connection
Levi-Civita (crater)
Levi-Civita field

Tullio Levi-Civita, FRS[1][2] /ˈtʊli ˈlɛvi ˈɪvtə/ (29 March 1873 – 29 December 1941; Italian pronunciation: [ˈtullio ˈlɛːvi ˈtʃiːvita]) was an Italian mathematician, most famous for his work on absolute differential calculus (tensor calculus) and its applications to the theory of relativity, but who also made significant contributions in other areas. He was a pupil of Gregorio Ricci-Curbastro, the inventor of tensor calculus. His work included foundational papers in both pure and applied mathematics, celestial mechanics (notably on the three-body problem), analytic mechanics (the Levi-Civita separability conditions in the Hamilton–Jacobi equation)[3] and hydrodynamics.[4][5]


Tullio Levi-Civita

Born into an Italian Jewish family in Padua, Levi-Civita was the son of Giacomo Levi-Civita, a lawyer and former senator. He graduated in 1892 from the University of Padua Faculty of Mathematics. In 1894 he earned a teaching diploma after which he was appointed to the Faculty of Science teacher's college in Pavia. In 1898 he was appointed to the Padua Chair of Rational Mechanics where he met and, in 1914, married Libera Trevisani, one of his pupils. He remained in his position at Padua until 1918, when he was appointed to the Chair of Higher Analysis at the University of Rome; in another two years he was appointed to the Chair of Mechanics there.

In 1900 he and Ricci-Curbastro published the theory of tensors in Méthodes de calcul différentiel absolu et leurs applications, which Albert Einstein used as a resource to master the tensor calculus, a critical tool in the development of the theory of general relativity. Levi-Civita's series of papers on the problem of a static gravitational field were also discussed in his 1915–1917 correspondence with Einstein. The correspondence was initiated by Levi-Civita, as he found mathematical errors in Einstein's use of tensor calculus to explain the theory of relativity. Levi-Civita methodically kept all of Einstein's replies to him; and even though Einstein had not kept Levi-Civita's, the entire correspondence could be re-constructed from Levi-Civita's archive. It is evident from this that, after numerous letters, the two men had grown to respect each other. In one of the letters, regarding Levi-Civita's new work, Einstein wrote "I admire the elegance of your method of computation; it must be nice to ride through these fields upon the horse of true mathematics while the like of us have to make our way laboriously on foot". In 1933 Levi-Civita contributed to Paul Dirac's equations in quantum mechanics as well.[6]

His textbook on tensor calculus, The Absolute Differential Calculus (originally a set of lecture notes in Italian co-authored with Ricci-Curbastro), remains one of the standard texts more than a century after its first publication, with several translations available.

In 1936, receiving an invitation from Einstein, Levi-Civita traveled to Princeton, United States and lived there with him for a year. But when the risk of war in Europe again rose, he returned to Italy. The 1938 race laws enacted by the Italian Fascist government deprived Levi-Civita of his professorship and of his membership of all scientific societies. Isolated from the scientific world, he died in his apartment in Rome in 1941.

Among his PhD students were Octav Onicescu, Attilio Palatini and Gheorghe Vrânceanu.

Later on, when asked what he liked best about Italy, Einstein said "spaghetti and Levi-Civita".[7]

Other studies and honors

Analytical dynamics was another aspect of Levi-Civita's studies: many of his articles examine the three body problem. He wrote articles on hydrodynamics and on systems of differential equations. He is credited with improvements to the Cauchy–Kowalevski theorem, on which he wrote a book in 1931. In 1933, he contributed to work on the Dirac equation. He developed the Levi-Civita field, a system of numbers that includes infinitesimal quantities.

The Royal Society awarded him the Sylvester Medal in 1922 and elected him as a fellow in 1930. He became an honorary member of the London Mathematical Society, of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society, following his participation in their colloquium in 1930 at the University of St Andrews. He was also a member of the Accademia dei Lincei and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Like Vito Volterra, being Jewish and an anti-fascist, he was expelled from the Academy in his country.


See also


  1. Hodge, W. V. D. (1942). "Tullio Levi-Civita. 1873-1941". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society. 4 (11): 151–126. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1942.0013.
  2. Tullio Levi-Civita. Nndb.com. Retrieved on 2011-08-14.
  3. T. Levi-Civita (1904). "Sulla integrazione della equazione di Hamilton-Jacobi per separazione delle variabili". Math. Ann. 59 (12): 383. doi:10.1007/BF01445149.
  4. O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Tullio Levi-Civita", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews.
  5. Tullio Levi-Civita at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  6. C Cattani and M De Maria, Geniality and rigor: the Einstein Levi-Civita correspondence (1915–1917), Riv. Stor. Sci. (2) 4 (1) (1996), 122; as cited in MacTutor archive.
  7. Jackson, Allyn (1996). "Celebrating the 100th Annual Meeting of the AMS". In Case, Bettye Anne. A Century of Mathematical Meetings. Providence, RI: American Mathematical Society. pp. 10–18. ISBN 0-8218-0465-0.


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