Projective harmonic conjugate

In projective geometry, the harmonic conjugate point of an ordered triple of points on the real projective line is defined by the following construction:

Given three collinear points A, B, C, let L be a point not lying on their join and let any line through C meet LA, LB at M, N respectively. If AN and BM meet at K, and LK meets AB at D, then D is called the harmonic conjugate of C with respect to A, B.[1]

The point D does not depend on what point L is taken initially, nor upon what line through C is used to find M and N. This fact follows from Desargues theorem.

In real projective geometry, harmonic conjugacy can also be defined in terms of the cross-ratio as (A, B; C, D) = 1.

Cross-ratio criterion

The four points are sometimes called a harmonic range (on the real projective line) as it is found that D always divides the segment AB internally in the same proportion as C divides AB externally. That is:

If these segments are now endowed with the ordinary metric interpretation of real numbers they will be signed and form a double proportion known as the cross ratio (sometimes double ratio)

for which a harmonic range is characterized by a value of 1. We therefore write:

The value of a cross ratio in general is not unique, as it depends on the order of selection of segments (and there are six such selections possible). But for a harmonic range in particular there are just three values of cross ratio: {1, 1/2, 2}, since 1 is self-inverse – so exchanging the last two points merely reciprocates each of these values but produces no new value, and is known classically as the harmonic cross-ratio.

In terms of a double ratio, given points a and b on an affine line, the division ratio[2] of a point x is

Note that when a < x < b, then t(x) is negative, and that it is positive outside of the interval. The cross-ratio (c, d; a, b) = t(c)/t(d) is a ratio of division ratios, or a double ratio. Setting the double ratio to minus one means that when t(c) + t(d) = 0, then c and d are harmonic conjugates with respect to a and b. So the division ratio criterion is that they be additive inverses.

Harmonic division of a line segment is a special case of Apollonius' definition of the circle.

In some school studies the configuration of a harmonic range is called harmonic division.

Of midpoint

When x is the midpoint of the segment from a to b, then

By the cross-ratio criterion, the harmonic conjugate of x will be y when t(y) = 1. But there is no finite solution for y on the line through a and b. Nevertheless,

thus motivating inclusion of a point at infinity in the projective line. This point at infinity serves as the harmonic conjugate of the midpoint x.

From complete quadrangle

Another approach to the harmonic conjugate is through the concept of a complete quadrangle such as KLMN in the above diagram. Based on four points, the complete quadrangle has pairs of opposite sides and diagonals. In the expression of harmonic conjugates by H. S. M. Coxeter, the diagonals are considered a pair of opposite sides:

D is the harmonic conjugate of C with respect to A and B, which means that there is a quadrangle IJKL such that one pair of opposite sides intersect at A, and a second pair at B, while the third pair meet AB at C and D.[3]

It was Karl von Staudt that first used the harmonic conjugate as the basis for projective geometry independent of metric considerations:

...Staudt succeeded in freeing projective geometry from elementary geometry. In his Geometrie der Lage Staudt introduced a harmonic quadruple of elements independently of the concept of the cross ratio following a purely projective route, using a complete quadrangle or quadrilateral.[4]

To see the complete quadrangle applied to obtaining the midpoint, consider the following passage from J. W. Young:

If two arbitrary lines AQ and AS are drawn through A and lines BS and BQ are drawn through B parallel to AQ and AS respectively, the lines AQ and SB meet, by definition, in a point R at infinity, while AS and QB meet by definition in a point P at infinity. The complete quadrilateral PQRS then has two diagonal points at A and B, while the remaining pair of opposite sides pass through M and the point at infinity on AB. The point M is then by construction the harmonic conjugate of the point at infinity on AB with respect to A and B. On the other hand, that M is the midpoint of the segment AB follows from the familiar proposition that the diagonals of a parallelogram (PQRS) bisect each other.[5]

Projective conics

A conic in the projective plane is a curve C that has the following property: If P is a point not on C, and if a variable line through P meets C at points A and B, then the variable harmonic conjugate of P with respect to A and B traces out a line. The point P is called the pole of that line of harmonic conjugates, and this line is called the polar line of P with respect to the conic. See the article Pole and polar for more details.

Inversive geometry

In the case where the conic is a circle, on the extended diameters of the circle, harmonic conjugates with respect to the circle are inverses in a circle. This fact follows from one of Smogorzhevsky's theorems:[6]

If circles k and q are mutually orthogonal, then a straight line passing through the center of k and intersecting q, does so at points symmetrical with respect to k.

That is, if the line is an extended diameter of k, then the intersections with q are harmonic conjugates.

Galois tetrads

In Galois geometry over a Galois field GF(q) a line has q + 1 points, where ∞ = (1,0). In this line four points form a harmonic tetrad when two harmonically separate the others. The condition

characterizes harmonic tetrads. Attention to these tetrads led Jean Dieudonné to his delineation of some accidental isomorphisms of the projective linear groups PGL(2, q) for q = 5, 7, and 9.[7]

If q = 2n, then the harmonic conjugate of C is itself.[8]

Iterated projective harmonic conjugates and the golden ratio

Let be three different points on the real projective line. Consider the infinite sequence of points where is the harmonic conjugate of with respect to for This sequence is convergent.[9]

For a finite limit we have

where is the golden ratio, i.e. for large . For an infinite limit we have

For a proof consider the projective isomorphism



  1. R. L. Goodstein & E. J. F. Primrose (1953) Axiomatic Projective Geometry, University College Leicester (publisher). This text follows synthetic geometry. Harmonic construction on page 11
  2. Dirk Struik (1953) Lectures on Analytic and Projective Geometry, page 7
  3. H. S. M. Coxeter (1942) Non-Euclidean Geometry, page 29, University of Toronto Press
  4. B.L. Laptev & B.A. Rozenfel'd (1996) Mathematics of the 19th Century: Geometry, page 41, Birkhäuser Verlag ISBN 3-7643-5048-2
  5. John Wesley Young (1930) Projective Geometry, page 85, Mathematical Association of America, Chicago: Open Court Publishing
  6. A.S. Smogorzhevsky (1982) Lobachevskian Geometry, Mir Publishers, Moscow
  7. Jean Dieudonné (1954) "Les Isomorphisms exceptionnals entre les groups classiques finis", Canadian Journal of Mathematics 6: 305 to 15 doi:10.4153/CJM-1954-029-0
  8. Emil Artin (1957) Geometric Algebra, page 82
  9. F. Leitenberger (2016) Iterated harmonic divisions and the golden ratio, Forum Geometricorum 16: 429–430
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