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March 5, 2016

He was known as Eilenberg, the Art collector or Art dealer because he deals with Art ‘aggressively’ when he found something he really wants. I already knew him but I was re-introduced to him again when my brother, an artist, gave me the book “The Lotus Transcendent, Indian and SE Asian Art”.


Here is a passage from Peter Freyd about two people who heard about Eilenberg:

“I don’t know him,” he said. “I know of him, of course. How do you know him?”

“We work in the same area of mathematics.”

“You’re talking about a different Eilenberg.  I meant the dealer in Indian art.”

“Actually, it’s the same person. He’s both a mathematician and a collector of Indian art.”

“Don’t be silly, young man. The Eilenberg I mean is not a collector of Indian art, he’s the dealer in Indian art. I know him well. He established the historicity of one of the Persian kings. He certainly is not a mathematician.

The Eilenberg I knew can from the word of mouth of the professor, John Moore, who taught me “Spectral Sequences”.  It is a very specialized branch of mathematics in Homotopy Theory (which is a specialized topic in a broader area called ‘Algebraic Topology’).  Professor Moore would refer to him as “Sammy” but deep inside us, we would imagine this Mathematical Giant who not only worked and came out with the axiomatic approach to “homology theories”(with Steenrod) to unify many homologies but also gave rise to the topic called “Category Theory” in Mathematics better known to most Mathematician as ‘abstract nonsense’.  He also wrote this important book on homological algebra with Mac Lane.  Sammy is a member of Bourbaki with Cartan, and later wrote another very important book on automata.

During the time when I was a student, Moore would talked about how Sammy preferred to be in SouthEast Asia because of some tropical fish.  Okay, maybe he did say Indian art, but that same art I now have interest in because many of them depict Buddhist Arts and mysticism (e.g. Kinare, Gandha, Garuda, Buddhisattvas).

In Freyd, it was also mentioned:

Forty years ago Sammy hoped to turn the study of Indian bronzes into an equally well-behaved subject. He had already acquired a reputation for being the best detector of fakes in the business, and he believed he could axiomatize the process.

He even had a provisional list of axioms, and it was truly an elegant list.

Earlier, Sammy belonged to the Polish Math group who frequented café to write down theorems, those of the calibers of Banach.  By the time he reached the US from Poland, he was very well-known.


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