The Mathematicall Praeface
The Castle of Knowledge
Marcellus Palingenius Stellatus
The Zodiake of Life
A Perfect Description of the Celestial Orbs
The Ash Wednesday Supper
Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems
Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543)
That Nicholas Copernicus delayed until near death to publish De revolutionibus has been taken as a sign that he was well aware of the possible furor his work might incite; certainly his preface to Pope Paul III anticipates many of the objections it raised. But he could hardly have anticipated that he would eventually become one of the most famous people of all time on the basis of a book that comparatively few have actually read (and fewer still understood) in the 450 years since it was first printed.
Copernicus was bom into a well-to-do mercantile family in 1473, at Torun, Poland. After the death of his father, he was sponsored by his uncle, Bishop Watzenrode, who sent him first to the University of Krakow, and then to study in Italy at the universities of Bologna, Padua and Ferrara. His concentrations there were law and medicine, but his lectures on the subject at the University of Rome in 1501 already evidenced his interest in astronomy. Returning to Poland, he spent the rest of his life as a church canon under his uncle, though he also found time to practice medicine and to write on monetary reform, not to mention his work as an astronomer.
In 1514 Copernicus privately circulated an outline of his thesis on planetary motion, but actual publication of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) containing his mathematical proofs did not occur until 1543, after a supporter named Rheticus had impatiently taken it upon himself to publish a brief description of the Copernican system (Narratio prima) in 1541. Most of De revolutionibus requires a great deal of the modem reader, since sixteenth century methods of mathematical proofs are quite foreign to us; this is evident in the section of Book VI that is included. However, Book I and Copernicus' preface are more readily accessible. It must be noted that the foreword by Andreas Osiander was not authorized Copernicus, and that Osiander, who oversaw the book's printing, included it without the author's knowledge and without identifying Osiander as its author.
Copyright 1999, MATC
Last updated 1 September 1999