Person: Copernicus, Nicolaus
Copernicus was a Polish astronomer and mathematician whose theory that the Earth moved around the Sun profoundly altered later workers' view of the universe, but was rejected by the Catholic church.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- The original form of his name was Mikolaj Kopernik or Nicolaus Koppernigk but we shall use Copernicus throughout this article.
- University education at Kraków was, Copernicus later wrote, a vital factor in everything that he went on to achieve.
- One should not think, however, that the astronomy courses which Copernicus studied were scientific courses in the modern sense.
- While a student in Kraków, Copernicus purchased a copy of the Latin translation of Euclid's Elements published in Venice in 1482, a copy of the second edition of the Alfonsine Tables (which gives planetary theory and eclipses) printed in Venice in 1492, and Regiomontanus's Tables of Directions (a work on spherical astronomy) published in Augsburg in 1490.
- Remarkably Copernicus's copies of these works, signed by him, are still preserved.
- It was while he was a student at Kraków that Copernicus began to use this Latin version of his name rather than Kopernik or Koppernigk.
- So that he might have the necessary qualifications Copernicus decided to go to the University of Bologna to take a degree in canon law.
- Each student contributed to the "German Nation" an amount they could afford and the small contribution that Copernicus made indicates his poor financial position at that time.
- On 20 October 1497, while in Bologna, Copernicus received official notification of his appointment as a canon and of the comfortable income he would receive without having to return to carry out any duties.
- At Bologna University Copernicus studied Greek, mathematics and astronomy in addition to his official course of canon law.
- In 1500 Copernicus visited Rome, as all Christians were strongly encouraged to do to celebrate the great jubilee, and he stayed there for a year lecturing to scholars on mathematics and astronomy.
- principally because Nicolaus promised to study medicine, and as a helpful physician would some day advise our most reverend bishop and also the members of the Chapter.
- Copernicus had another reason to return to Italy, which he almost certainly did not disclose, and that was to continue his studies of astronomy.
- Padua was famous for its medical school and while he was there Copernicus studied both medicine and astronomy.
- After receiving his doctorate, Copernicus stayed in Ferrara for a few months before returning to Padua to continue his studies of medicine.
- When he returned to his native land, Copernicus was again granted leave from his official duties as a canon in the Ermland Chapter at Frauenburg.
- In 1509 Copernicus published a work, which was properly printed, giving Latin translations of Greek poetry by the obscure poet Theophylactus Simocattes.
- Lucas Watzenrode died in 1512 and following this Copernicus resumed his duties as canon in the Ermland Chapter at Frauenburg.
- This book, usually called the Little Commentary, set out Copernicus's theory of a universe with the sun at its centre.
- Some have noted that 2, 4, 5, and 7 can be deduced from 3 and 6 but it was never Copernicus's aim to give a minimal set of axioms.
- The most remarkable of the axioms is 7, for although earlier scholars had claimed that the Earth moved, some claiming that it revolved round the sun, nobody before Copernicus appears to have correctly explained the retrograde motion of the outer planets.
- Given Copernicus's nature it is clear that he would have liked to have lived a quiet life at Frauenburg, carrying out his (relatively few) duties conscientiously and devoting all his spare time to observing, developing his theories of the universe, and writing De revolutionibus Ⓣ(On the revolutions (of the heavenly spheres)).
- It is equally clear that his fame as an astronomer was well known for when the Fifth Lateran Council decided to improve the calendar, which was known to be out of phase with the seasons, the Pope appealed to experts for advice in 1514, one of these experts was Copernicus.
- Many experts went to Rome to advise the Council, but Copernicus chose to respond by letter.
- The peace which Copernicus wished, however, was not easy to find in a period of frequent wars.
- The fortifications of Frauenburg that formed Copernicus's home had been built to protect the town which had been captured by various opposing groups over the years.
- In 1516 Copernicus was given the task of administering the districts of Allenstein (also known as Olsztyn) and Mehlsack.
- Always keen to make observations, Copernicus returned to his home/observatory in Frauenburg whenever there was a reason to attend a meeting or consult with the other canons, always taking the opportunity to further his researches.
- However when war broke out between Poland and the Teutonic Knights towards the end of 1519 Copernicus was back in Frauenburg.
- After a period of war, Copernicus was sent to participate in peace talks in Braunsberg as one of a two man delegation representing the Bishop of Ermland.
- Frauenburg came under siege but Copernicus continued making his observations even at this desperate time.
- By the autumn of 1520 Copernicus was back living in Allenstein Castle and had to organise its defence against attacking forces.
- As a reward for his defence of Allenstein, Copernicus was appointed Commissar of Ermland and given the task of rebuilding the district after the war.
- As part of the recovery plan, Copernicus put forward a scheme for the reform of the currency which he presented to the Diet of Graudenz in 1522.
- Copernicus returned to Frauenburg where his life became less eventful and he had the peace and quiet that he longed for to allow him to make observations and to work on details of his heliocentric theory.
- Although Copernicus was a canon, he had never become a priest.
- On 4 February 1531 his bishop threatened to take away his income if he did not enter the priesthood, yet Copernicus still refused.
- A full account of Copernicus's theory was apparently slow to reach a state in which he wished to see it published, and this did not happen until the very end of Copernicus's life when he published his life's work under the title De revolutionibus orbium coelestium Ⓣ(On the revolutions of the heavenly spheres) (Nuremberg, 1543).
- Had it not been for Georg Joachim Rheticus, a young professor of mathematics and astronomy at the University of Wittenberg, Copernicus's masterpiece might never have been published.
- In May 1539 Rheticus arrived at Frauenburg where he spent about two years with Copernicus.
- In September 1539 Rheticus went to Danzig, visiting the mayor of Danzig, who gave him some financial assistance to help publish the Narratio Prima Ⓣ(First report) or, to give it its full title First report to Johann Schöner on the Books of the Revolutions of the learned gentleman and distinguished mathematician, the Reverend Doctor Nicolaus Copernicus of Toruń, Canon of Warmia, by a certain youth devoted to mathematics.
- The publication of this work encouraged Copernicus to publish the full mathematical details of his theory which he had promised 27 years earlier.
- While living with Copernicus, Rheticus wrote to several people reporting on the progress Copernicus was making.
- What Osiander did was to write a letter to the reader, inserted in place of Copernicus's original Preface following the title page, in which he claimed that the results of the book were not intended as the truth, rather that they merely presented a simpler way to calculate the positions of the heavenly bodies.
- Some are appalled at this gigantic piece of deception by Osiander, as Rheticus was at the time, others feel that it was only because of Osiander's Preface that Copernicus's work was read and not immediately condemned.
- Copernicus's cosmology placed a motionless sun not at the centre of the universe, but close to the centre, and also involved giving several distinct motions to the Earth.
- Copernicus is said to have received a copy of the printed book, consisting of about 200 pages written in Latin, for the first time on his deathbed.
Born 19 February 1473, Toruń, Poland. Died 24 May 1543, Frauenburg (now Frombork), Poland.
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Tags relevant for this person:
Analysis, Ancient Arab, Ancient Greek, Astronomy, Geography, Geometry, Origin Poland, Physics
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive