From F. Klein's books, It seems that one can find the roots of a quintic equation


(where $a,b,c,d,e\in\Bbb C$) by elliptic functions. How to get that?

Update: How to transform a general higher degree five or higher equation to normal form?

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    $\begingroup$ First you have to reduce it to Bring-Jerrard form. This is the one solvable in elliptic functions. Give me time to get my notes. (The one in Mathworld is missing some details.) $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 3:08
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    $\begingroup$ If you don't know how to transform it to Bring-Jerrard form, ask it in the forum and I'll answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ The combined answer will be too long. Besides, how to transform the general quintic to Bring-Jerrad form will be a good question, and will turn up in a google search for those looking. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ @TitoPiezasIII Thanks! see math.stackexchange.com/questions/542108/… $\endgroup$
    – ziang chen
    Commented Oct 27, 2013 at 22:39
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    $\begingroup$ You may be interested in this post on how to solve the Brioschi quintic. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 15:08

1 Answer 1


To solve the general quintic using elliptic functions, one way is to reduce it to Bring-Jerrard form,

$$x^5-x+ d = 0\tag{1}$$

a transformation which can be done in radicals. (See this post.) To solve $(1)$, define,

$$k = \tan\left(\tfrac{1}{4}\arcsin\Big(\frac{16}{25\sqrt{5}\,d^2}\Big)\right)\tag{2}$$

$$p = i\frac{K(k')}{K(k)} = i\,\frac{\text{EllipticK[1-m]}}{\text{EllipticK[m]}}\tag3$$

with the complete elliptic integral of the first kind $K(k)$ and elliptic parameter $m=k^2$ (with $p$ also given in Mathematica syntax above).

Method 1: For $j=0,1,2,3,4$, let,

$$S_j={u}^j \frac{\sqrt{2}\,\eta(\tau_j)\,\eta^2(4\,\tau_j)}{\eta^3(2\,\tau_j)}$$

$$\tau_j = \tfrac{1}{10}(p+2j)$$

$$u=\zeta_8 = \exp(2 \pi i/8)$$


where $\eta(\tau)$ is the Dedekind eta function, then,

$$x = \frac{\pm 1}{2\cdot 5^{3/4}}\frac{(k^2)^{1/8}}{\sqrt{k(1-k^2)}}(S_0+S_5)(S_1+i\,S_4)(i\,S_2+S_3) \tag{4}$$

with the sign chosen appropriately.

$\color{blue}{\text{Remark}}$: The five roots $x_n$can be found by using $p_n = i\frac{K(k')}{K(k)}+16n$ for $n = 0,1,2,3,4$.

Method 2: For $j=0,1,2,3,4$, let,

$$T_j =\left(\frac{\vartheta_2(0,w^j q^{1/5})}{\vartheta_3(0,w^j q^{1/5})}\right)^{1/2}$$

$$q = \exp(i \pi p_0)$$

$$w = \zeta_5 = \exp(2 \pi i/5)$$

$$T_5 =\frac{q^{5/8}}{(q^5)^{1/8}}\left(\frac{\vartheta_2(0,q^{5})}{\vartheta_3(0, q^{5})}\right)^{1/2}$$

with $\vartheta_n(0,q)$ as the Jacobi theta functions, then,

$$x = \frac{\pm{\zeta_8}}{2\cdot 5^{3/4}}\frac{(k^2)^{1/8}}{\sqrt{k(1-k^2)}}(T_0+T_5)(T_1-i\,T_4)(T_2+T_3) \tag{5}$$

and the sign of $\zeta_8$ chosen appropriately. Note that the two methods are connected via $(S_j)^8 = (T_j)^8$ as can be seen more in the Afterword.

$\color{blue}{\text{Remark}}$: One can also find the other roots $x_i$, but is not as simple as in Method 1. (As one can see, you need much more than radicals to solve the general quintic.)

Example. Let,

$$x^5-x+1 = 0\tag6$$

so $d = \pm1$. Plugging it into $(2)$ gives $k \approx 0.072696$, and $m=k^2$, so $p \approx 2.550572\,i$. Since both methods use a square root, using the formulas one eventually finds,

$$x = \mp\,1.1673039\dots$$

$\color{blue}{\text{Afterword}}$ (Added June 2015): Given the nome $q = \exp(i \pi \tau)$, the two methods involve the function known either as the modular lambda function or elliptic lambda function, $\lambda(\tau)$ which has a beautiful q-continued fraction,

$$\big(\lambda(\tau)\big)^{1/8} = \frac{\sqrt{2}\,\eta(\tfrac{\tau}{2})\,\eta^2(2\tau)}{\eta^3(\tau)} = \left(\frac{\vartheta_2(0,q)}{\vartheta_3(0,q)}\right)^{1/2} = \cfrac{\sqrt{2}\,q^{1/8}}{1+\cfrac{q}{1+q+\cfrac{q^2}{1+q^2+\cfrac{q^3}{1+q^3+\ddots}}}}$$

studied by Ramanujan (who also had his own method to solve solvable quintics).

  • $\begingroup$ This gives just one of the five complex roots, right? It's clear that at most three are real, in which case, is this the largest, smallest, or middle one? $\endgroup$
    – Ryan Reich
    Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 7:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Ryan: As you implied, the Bring-Jerrard quintic has $x_1^2+x_2^2+\dots+x_5^2=0$, hence not all its roots are real. I do not know if Hermite's method always gives the largest root (in absolute value), but you can tweak it to produce ALL five. I revised my answer to include an alternative method using the Dedekind eta function which easily yields all the roots. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 22:51
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    $\begingroup$ @lcv: Thanks. I believe the primary utility of such results is to show connections (and in my opinion, beautiful connections) between different mathematical objects. They are certainly not useful for numerical evaluations better than Newton's method. :) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 7:42
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    $\begingroup$ @TitoPiezasIII thanks for confirming my impression :) PS I agree: beautiful connections $\endgroup$
    – lcv
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 8:13
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    $\begingroup$ Some notes for anyone trying this method, based on my own mistakes. (1) Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha expect the argument of the elliptic integral function to be $k^2$, not $k$. (2) In the formula for $S_j$, the power of $u$ is not doubled but the term in $\tau$ is. (3) Not accounting for their signs, the set of real and imaginary parts of $S_j$, for a given $n$, are simply permuted when $n$ is changed so it is only necessary to calculate them accurately once. $\endgroup$
    – Jam
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 18:10

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