|A New Biography||Timeline||Achievements||Uncertainties and Errors||Bibliography|
ISBN 1-591601-93-2, Xulon Press, available at www.amazon.com
The 360 pages of this book presents, for the first time in English, the biography of Copernicus written in the 17th century by Pierre Gassendi, completed with annotations and additions from the latest pieces of information found in the archives.
Copernicus' main achievement is the presentation of the triple motion of the earth:
- the daily motion around its axis;
Copernicus knew that Aristarchus of Samos and Jean Buridan already thought of the motion of the earth, but the work of Aristarchus has been lost, and Buridan rejected this idea, beause he did not dare go against the authority of Aristotle. Copernicus convinced the scientific world of the seriousness of his idea by the earnestness of his study, and the credit he gained by the great probity of his life.
Copernicus have also imagined that the planets and the sun are linked by the force of gravity, rather than by a would-be natural tendency to a circular motion of objects beyond the moon, as it was thought by Aristotle and others, or rather than by the magnetic force, as it was thought by William Gilbert and others.
Copernicus was a very good physician, compared to the other physicians of his time. He cured or alleviated the pains of many people.
Copernicus' work on the reform of the Prussian coinage was certainly very positive.
Copernicus, with Giese, and other moderate clergymen of Warmia, contributed to ease the tensions in the region between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants.
Copernicus was a relatively good administrator.
Copernicus' translation of the aphorisms of Theophylactus was not a success, since very few people read his book.
Copernicus did not succeed in improving the Alfonsine tables of the stars and planets. Owen Gingerich and Jerzy Dobrzycki have shown that there is no clear winner between the Alfonsine Tables, the Copernican Tables, and the Prutenic Tables of Reinhold. Astronomers will have to wait for the Rudolphine Tables of Tycho Brahe and Kepler in order to see a significant improvement over the Alfonsine Tables made in the Middle Ages.
Uncertainties and Errors
His date of birth is not known with certainty.
- 19 February 1473 (Julian Calendar) is the date proposed by Paul Eber (1511-1569) in Calendarium historicum. He is followed by Michael Maestlin (1550-1631), Gassendi, and the vast majority of modern biographers. This date appears also on the copy of the drawing of an horoscope which was found at the end of the 19th century by Birkenmajer.
The date of his death is not known with certainty.
The date usually retained is 23 May 1543. This date was noted by Giese in a letter to Rheticus. But Giese was not near his friend when he died. Besides, on 7 May 1543, Gaspar Hoge, provost of the parish church in Frauenburg, as attorney of Johannes Loitsch, asked the chapter to grant him canonship and prebend on the basis of a papal letter. On 21 May 1543, the chapter allowed the coadjutor, Johannes Loitsch, to replace Copernicus as a canon, as if he was already dead on May 21 (see the biography of Jürgen Hamel).
The date of the death of his father is not known with certainty.
Copernicus' father died some day, between 18 July 1483 (see Regesta Copernicana, record #18) and 19 August 1485 (see Regesta Copernicana, record #19), not necessarily in 1483 as it is often said.
His father may not have been replaced by his uncle Lucas.
There is not a single evidence showing that Lucas Watzenrode, Copernicus’ maternal uncle, was the guardian after the death of his father. In 1483, Lucas was very busy with his job, he was younger than the other two uncles of Copernicus, and unlike them, he did not live in Torun. Therefore I believe it was somebody else who took care of the children, either the semi-brother of Copernicus' mother, uncle Johann Peckaw, or the husband of the sister of Copernicus' mother, the mayor of Torun, uncle Tileman von Allen. Besides, a letter of Copernicus' brother has been found where the brother used a signet ring showing the arms of Tileman von Allen.
It is unknown whether Copernicus stayed at Rome for just one day, one week, one month or more.
The only report we have of the travel of Copernicus to Rome is given by Rheticus in a single sentence: Also, at Rome, around the year 1500, aged approximately 27, he was professor of mathematics in front of a large audience of students and an eminent circle of specialists in this branch of knowledge.
Copernicus may not have studied medecine in Padua.
At the end of 1501, Copernicus was back in Italy with his brother. They will stay until the summer or the autumn of 1503. It is said that Nicolaus studied medicine at Padua, although there is not a single document from the University of Padua attesting his presence. The only documents about Copernicus in these years are a proxy for the scholastry of Breslau/Wroclaw signed on 11 January 1503 in the episcopal chancellery of Padua, and a line in the registry of the episcopal notary of Ferrara where is recorded the obtention of the degree of Doctor decretorum of Copernicus, on 31 May 1503.
The date of the Commentariolus is unknown.
The Commentariolus is Copernicus' first written account of his revolutionary theory of the solar system. This manuscript of six leaves bears no date. Koyré said "Commentariolus is in a state of maturity which is the despair of historians". Rosen said almost the same thing: "Actually, in its admirable compactness, without a superfluous word, Commentariolus gives every sign of being the end product of much reflection, careful planning, and superb organization." Here is a list of Copernican scholars with the date they suggest for its redaction: M. Curtze, the modern discoverer of Commentariolus, between 1533 and 1539; Fred Hoyle, 1533; J. L. E. Dreyer, author of an history of astronomy, a short time before 1533; Jean-René Roy, 1530; Avram Hayli, of the observatory of Besançon, France, between 1512 and 1514; Edward Rosen and Olivier Thill (the author of this web page), between the latter half of 1508 and early 1514; L. Birkenmajer, who discovered Miechow's list, 1512; Noel M. Swerdlow & Otto Neugebauer, ca. 1510; Jan Adamczewski, Jerzy Szperkowicz, and the web page of Frombork's museum, 1507.
It seems that Copernicus worked on the reform of the calendar in 1515, rather than in 1513.
In De revolutionibus, III, 16, he declares: "I have devoted my attention to investigating these topics [length of the year], and in particular in 1515 A.D.", and elsewhere the year 1515 is mentioned five other times in relation with his search for the exact length of the year. The president of the commission for the reform of the calendar, Bishop Paul of Middelburg, mentioned the name of Copernicus among those who wrote to him in his Secundum compendium correctionis calendarij which is the second version of a treatise printed earlier at Fossombrone in 1513, Paulina sive de recta Paschae celebratione where the name of Copernicus does not appear.
Copernicus was not an isolated astronomer.
Although, Copernicus himself complained of living in the most remote corner of the earth, he was not the lonely scientist who is sometimes depicted. Copernicus had big astronomical instruments that he could not hide from his colleagues, e.g. a triquetrum which is a triangle made of three sticks, 2 meters + 2 meters + 1.5 meter. Some of his fellow canons were astronomers like him. His best friend, who was a canon, and then a bishop, Tideman Giese was also an astronomer. Rheticus reports "From England had been brought to him [Giese] a gnomon really fit for a prince". His bishops knew his passion for astronomy and encouraged him, e.g. Dantiscus praised Copernicus' works to the astronomers of Belgium. Copernicus, himself, exchanged numerous letters with several astronomers.
It is a mistake to believe that Copernicus' theory would not have been known without Galileo.
Here is a list of persons who knew Copernicus' theory before 1615 and who were "Copernicans", or at least, not opposed to his system if a proof could be brought to them: Bernard Wapowski, Tiedeman Giese, Johannes Dantiscus, Nicolaus Schönberg, Johann Albertus Widmanstetter or Widmanstadt, Georg-Joachim Rheticus, Heinrich Zell, Andreas Aurifaber, Achille Pirmin Gasser, Johannes Petreius, Erasmus Reinhold, Johannes Angelus, Petrus Ramus or de la Ramée, Omer Talon, Robert Record or Recorde, John Feild or Field, John Dee, Pontus de Tyard, Leonardo Botallo, Petrus Pitatus, Johannes Stadius, Regnier Gemma Frisius, Cyprianus Leovitius, David Origano or Tost, Nicodème Frischlin, Nicolao Zoravio, Brunone Seidelius, Christian Urstitius or Wursteisen, Erasmus Oswald Schreckenfuchs, Thomas Digges, Nicolaus Neodomus, Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Valentin Steinmetz, Diego Lopez de Zuñiga or Didacus a Stunica, Giovanni Battista Benedetti, Francesco Patrizio, Bartholomäus Scultetus, John Blagrave, Jonas Petrejus Upsaliensis, Duncan Liddel, Jean-Antoine de Baïf, Bartholomaeus Keckermann, Christoph Rothmann, Joseph Juste Scaliger (the son of Jules Cesar), Paul Wittich, Valentin Otho, Jacob Christmann, Johannes Amos Comenius, William Gilbert, Giordano Bruno, Tycho Brahe, Michael Mastlin, Johannes Kepler, Joseph Gaultier, Nicolas Fabri de Peiresc, Pierre Gassendi, Pierre de Bérulle, Elia Diodati, Matthias Bernegger, Marin Mersenne, René Descartes, Nicolaus Mulerius, etc.
Here is a list of persons who knew Copernicus' theory before 1615 and who were "anti-Copernicans": Paul Eber, Philip Melanchton, Martin Luther, Jean Calvin, Giovanni Maria Tolosani, Jules Cesar Scaliger, Jorgen Christoffersen Dibvardius or Dybbard, Francesco Maurolico, Jean Bodin, Guillaume de Saluste du Bartas, Wilhelm Misocacus, Francesco Barozzi or Barocius, Thomas Blundeville, Johannes Laurentius Gevaliensis, Lambert Danneau, Jacopo Mazzoni, François Viète, George Buchanan, Giulio Cesare LaGalla, Giovanni Antonio Magini, Jean-Baptiste Morin, Christopher Clavius, etc.
Some errors in biographies of Copernicus come from Galileo.
Galileo boldly and erroneously declared that Copernicus was only a theorician and did not make observations or experiments (he expressed the same wrong crticisim against Descartes and others).
Some other errors in biographies of Copernicus come from Jan Czynski's Kopernik et ses travaux, Paris, 1847.
After having taken part in the ill-fated Polish insurection of 1830, Jan Czynski took refuge in France. In order to earn some money, he talked and wrote about Copernicus, mainly using his imagination. He inspired at least 3 French scientists, who wrote soon after a few pages about Copernicus: François Arago, in Oeuvres complètes, Paris, 1854, vol. III; Joseph Bertrand in Les fondateurs de l'astronomie moderne, Paris, 1865; and Camille Flammarion, Vie de Copernic, Paris, 1872.
Errata in my book.
Page 46, read "On 11 January 1503, in Padua" instead of "On 11 January 1503, in Bologna"
Copernicus, Theophilacti scolastici Simocati epl'e morales: rurales et amatorie interpretatione latina, Cracow, 1509.