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Nicolaus Copernicus is the Latin version of the famous

astronomer'snamewhichhechoselaterinhislife.Theoriginal
formofhisnamewasMikolajKopernikorNicolausKoppernigk
Hisfather,alsocalledNicolausKoppernigk,hadlivedinKrakw
before moving to Torun where he set up a business trading in
copper.Hewasalsointerestedinlocalpoliticsandbecameacivic
leaderinTorunandamagistrate.NicolausKoppernigkmarried
Barbara Watzenrode, who came from a well off family from
Torun,inabout1463.TheymovedintoahouseinStAnne'sStreet
inTorun,buttheyalsohadasummerresidencewithvineyardsout
oftown.NicolausandBarbaraKoppernigkhadfourchildren,two
sonsandtwodaughters,ofwhomNicolausCopernicuswasthe
youngest.
WhenyoungNicolauswastenyearsoldhisfatherdied.Hisuncle
LucasWatzenrode,whowasacanonatFrauenburgCathedral,
becameguardiantoNicolausandBarbaraKoppernigk'sfour
children.
NicolausandhisbrotherAndreasremainedinTorun,continuing
theirelementaryeducationthere.In1488Nicolauswassentbyhis
uncletothecathedralschoolofWloclawekwherehereceiveda
goodstandardhumanisteducation.Afterthreeyearsofstudyat
WloclawekheenteredtheUniversityofKrakw(situatedinwhat
wasthenthecapitalofPoland).BythistimeLucasWatzenrode
wasBishopofErmlandandheenvisagedachurchcareerforboth
ofhisnephews.Andreas,Nicolaus'sbrother,enteredtheUniversity
ofKrakwatthesametime,andboththeirnamesappearonthe
matriculationrecordsof149192.
UniversityeducationatKrakwwas,Copernicuslaterwrote,a
vitalfactorineverythingthathewentontoachieve.Therehe
studiedLatin,mathematics,astronomy,geographyandphilosophy.

HelearnthisastronomyfromTractatusdeSphaerabyJohannesde
Sacroboscowrittenin1220.Oneshouldnotthink,however,that
theastronomycourseswhichCopernicusstudiedwerescientific
coursesinthemodernsense.Rathertheyweremathematics
courseswhichintroducedAristotleandPtolemy'sviewofthe
universesothatstudentscouldunderstandthecalendar,calculate
thedatesofholydays,andalsohaveskillsthatwouldenablethose
whowouldfollowamorepracticalprofessiontonavigateatsea.
Alsotaughtasamajorpartofastronomywaswhattodaywewould
callastrology,teachingstudentstocalculatehoroscopesofpeople
fromtheexacttimeoftheirbirth.
WhileastudentinKrakw,Copernicuspurchasedacopyofthe
LatintranslationofEuclid'sElementspublishedinVenicein1482,
acopyofthesecondeditionoftheAlfonsineTables(whichgives
planetarytheoryandeclipses)printedinVenicein1492,and
Regiomontanus'sTablesofDirections(aworkonspherical
astronomy)publishedinAugsburgin1490.Remarkably
Copernicus'scopiesoftheseworks,signedbyhim,arestill
preserved.
ItwaswhilehewasastudentatKrakwthatCopernicusbeganto
usethisLatinversionofhisnameratherthanKopernikor
Koppernigk.HereturnedtoTorunafterfouryearsofstudyat
Krakwbut,aswascommonatthetime,didnotformallygraduate
withadegree.HisuncleLucasWatzenrodewasstilldetermined
thatCopernicusshouldhaveacareerintheChurchandindeedthis
wasaprofessionwhichwouldallowsecurityforsomeonewanting
topursueleaning.Sothathemighthavethenecessary
qualificationsCopernicusdecidedtogototheUniversityof
Bolognatotakeadegreeincanonlaw.Intheautumnof1496he
travelledtoItaly,enteringtheUniversityofBolognaon19
October1496,tostartthreeyearsofstudy.AsanativeGerman
speakerhejoinedthe"GermanNationofBolognaUniversity".
Eachstudentcontributedtothe"GermanNation"anamountthey

couldaffordandthesmallcontributionthatCopernicusmade
indicateshispoorfinancialpositionatthattime.
Whilehewastherehisuncleputhisnameforwardfortheposition
ofcanonatFrauenburgCathedral.On20October1497,whilein
Bologna,Copernicusreceivedofficialnotificationofhis
appointmentasacanonandofthecomfortableincomehewould
receivewithouthavingtoreturntocarryoutanyduties.At
BolognaUniversityCopernicusstudiedGreek,mathematicsand
astronomyinadditiontohisofficialcourseofcanonlaw.He
rentedroomsatthehouseoftheastronomyprofessorDomenico
MariadeNovaraandbegantoundertakeresearchwithhim,
assistinghiminmakingobservations.On9March1497he
observedtheMooneclipsethestarAldebaran.
In1500CopernicusvisitedRome,asallChristianswerestrongly
encouragedtodotocelebratethegreatjubilee,andhestayedthere
forayearlecturingtoscholarsonmathematicsandastronomy.
WhileinRomeheobservedaneclipseoftheMoonwhichtook
placeon6November1500.HereturnedtoFrauenburg(also
knownasFrombork)inthespringof1501andwasofficially
installedasacanonoftheErmlandChapteron27July.Hehadnot
completedhisdegreeincanonlawatBolognasoherequestedhis
unclethathebeallowedtoreturntoItalybothtotakealawdegree
andtostudymedicine.Copernicuswasgrantedleaveon27July
1501[13]:
...principallybecauseNicolauspromisedtostudymedicine,and
asahelpfulphysicianwouldsomedayadviseourmostreverend
bishopandalsothemembersoftheChapter.
As this quotation indicates, the Cathedral Chapter liked his
proposaltostudymedicineandprovidedthenecessaryfunds.He
setoffagainforItaly,histimegoingtoPadua.Copernicushad
anotherreasontoreturntoItaly,whichhealmostcertainlydidnot
disclose,andthatwastocontinuehisstudiesofastronomy.
Paduawasfamousforitsmedicalschoolandwhilehewasthere

Copernicus studied both medicine and astronomy. At that time


astronomy was essentially astrology and, as such, considered
relevanttomedicinesincephysiciansmadeuseofastrology.Inthe
spring of 1503 he decided formally to obtain his doctorate in
CanonLaw,buthedidnotreturntoBolognabutrathertookthe
degreeattheUniversityofFerrara.Afterreceivinghisdoctorate,
CopernicusstayedinFerraraforafewmonthsbeforereturningto
Paduatocontinuehisstudiesofmedicine.Thereisnorecordthat
heevergraduatedfromPadua.
Whenhereturnedtohisnativeland,Copernicuswasagaingranted
leavefromhisofficialdutiesasacanonintheErmlandChapterat
Frauenburg.Thiswasallowhimtobephysiciantohismaternal
uncleLucasWatzenrode,theBishopofErmland,buthecarriedout
far more duties for his uncle than medical ones becoming
essentiallyhisprivatesecretaryandpersonaladvisor.Forabout
fiveyearsheundertookthesedutiesandduringthisperiodhelived
at Heilsberg Castle, a few miles from Frauenburg, the official
residenceoftheBishopofErmland.
In1509Copernicuspublishedawork,whichwasproperlyprinted,
giving Latin translations of Greek poetry by the obscure poet
Theophylactus Simocattes. While accompanying his uncle on a
visit to Krakw, he gave a manuscript of the poetry book to a
publisher friend there. Lucas Watzenrode died in 1512 and
following this Copernicus resumed his duties as canon in the
Ermland Chapter at Frauenburg. He now had more time than
beforetodevotetohisstudyofastronomy,havinganobservatory
intheroomsinwhichhelivedinoneofthetowersinthetown's
fortifications.
YoucanseeapictureofCopernicus'sobservatoryinFrauenburg.
Around1514hedistributedalittlebook,notprintedbuthand
written,toafewofhisfriendswhoknewthathewastheauthor
eventhoughnoauthorisnamedonthetitlepage.Thisbook,

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usuallycalledtheLittleCommentary,setoutCopernicus'stheory
ofauniversewiththesunatitscentre.TheLittleCommentaryisa
fascinatingdocument.ItcontainssevenaxiomswhichCopernicus
gives,notinthesensethattheyareselfevident,butinthesense
thathewillbasehisconclusionsontheseaxiomsandnothingelse;
see[79].Whataretheaxioms?Letusstatethem:
Thereisnoonecentreintheuniverse.
TheEarth'scentreisnotthecentreoftheuniverse.
Thecentreoftheuniverseisnearthesun.
ThedistancefromtheEarthtothesunisimperceptiblecompared
withthedistancetothestars.
TherotationoftheEarthaccountsfortheapparentdailyrotation
ofthestars.
Theapparentannualcycleofmovementsofthesuniscausedby
theEarthrevolvingroundit.
Theapparentretrogrademotionoftheplanetsiscausedbythe
motionoftheEarthfromwhichoneobserves.
Somehavenotedthat2,4,5,and7canbededucedfrom3and6
butitwasneverCopernicus'saimtogiveaminimalsetofaxioms.
Themostremarkableoftheaxiomsis7,foralthoughearlier
scholarshadclaimedthattheEarthmoved,someclaimingthatit
revolvedroundthesun,nobodybeforeCopernicusappearstohave
correctlyexplainedtheretrogrademotionoftheouterplanets.
EvenwhenhewrotehisLittleCommentaryCopernicuswas
planningtowriteamajorwork,forhewroteinit(see[77]):
Here,forthesakeofbrevity,Ihavethoughtitdesirabletoomitthe
mathematicaldemonstrationsintendedformylargerwork.
ItislikelythathewrotetheLittleCommentaryin1514andbegan
writinghismajorworkDerevolutionibusinthefollowingyear.
GivenCopernicus'snatureitisclearthathewouldhavelikedto
havelivedaquietlifeatFrauenburg,carryingouthis(relatively
few) duties conscientiously and devoting all his spare time to
observing,developinghistheoriesoftheuniverse,andwritingDe

revolutionibus. Itisequallyclearthathisfameasanastronomer
waswellknownforwhentheFifthLateranCouncildecidedto
improvethecalendar,whichwasknowntobeoutofphasewith
theseasons,thePopeappealedtoexpertsforadvicein1514,one
oftheseexpertswasCopernicus.ManyexpertswenttoRometo
advisetheCouncil,butCopernicuschosetorespondbyletter.He
didnotwishtocontributemoretothediscussionsonthecalendar
sincehefeltthatthemotionsoftheheavenlybodieswasstillnot
understoodwithsufficientprecision.
ThepeacewhichCopernicuswished,however,wasnoteasyto
findinaperiodoffrequentwars.ThefortificationsofFrauenburg
thatformedCopernicus'shomehadbeenbuilttoprotectthetown
which had been captured by various opposing groups over the
years.In1516Copernicuswasgiventhetaskofadministeringthe
districtsofAllenstein(alsoknownasOlsztyn)andMehlsack.He
livedforfouryearsinAllensteinCastlewhilecarryingoutthese
administrativeduties.
YoucanseeapictureofAllensteinCastlewhereCopernicuslived.
Alwayskeentomakeobservations,Copernicusreturnedtohis
home/observatoryinFrauenburgwhenevertherewasareasonto
attendameetingorconsultwiththeothercanons,alwaystaking
theopportunitytofurtherhisresearches.Howeverwhenwarbroke
outbetweenPolandandtheTeutonicKnightstowardstheendof
1519CopernicuswasbackinFrauenburg.Afteraperiodofwar,
CopernicuswassenttoparticipateinpeacetalksinBraunsbergas
oneofatwomandelegationrepresentingtheBishopofErmland.
Thepeacetalksfailedandthewarcontinued.Frauenburgcame
undersiegebutCopernicuscontinuedmakinghisobservations
evenatthisdesperatetime.Bytheautumnof1520Copernicuswas
backlivinginAllensteinCastleandhadtoorganiseitsdefence
againstattackingforces.Thecastleresistedtheattackandby1521
anuneasypeacehadreturned.

AsarewardforhisdefenceofAllenstein,Copernicuswas
appointedCommissarofErmlandandgiventhetaskofrebuilding
thedistrictafterthewar.Hisclosefriend,TiedemannGiese,
anothercanonintheChapter,wasgiventhetaskofassistinghim.
YoucanseeapictureofTiedemannGiese.
Aspartoftherecoveryplan,Copernicusputforwardaschemefor
thereformofthecurrencywhichhepresentedtotheDietof
Graudenzin1522.However,despiteattendingtheDietand
arguingstronglyforhissensibleproposals,theywerenotactedon.
CopernicusreturnedtoFrauenburgwherehislifebecameless
eventfulandhehadthepeaceandquietthathelongedfortoallow
himtomakeobservationsandtoworkondetailsofhisheliocentric
theory.Havingsaidthathenowhadthepeacehewanted,one
shouldalsorealisethathewasundertakinghismathematicaland
astronomicalworkinisolationwithnocolleagueswithwhomto
discussmatters.AlthoughCopernicuswasacanon,hehadnever
becomeapriest.Infacton4February1531hisbishopthreatened
totakeawayhisincomeifhedidnotenterthepriesthood,yet
Copernicusstillrefused.
AfullaccountofCopernicus'stheorywasapparentlyslowtoreach
astateinwhichhewishedtoseeitpublished,andthisdidnot
happenuntiltheveryendofCopernicus'slifewhenhepublished
hislife'sworkunderthetitleDerevolutionibusorbiumcoelestium
(Nuremberg,1543).InfacthaditnotbeenforGeorgJoachim
Rheticus,ayoungprofessorofmathematicsandastronomyatthe
UniversityofWittenberg,Copernicus'smasterpiecemightnever
havebeenpublished.InMay1539RheticusarrivedatFrauenburg
wherehespentabouttwoyearswithCopernicus.Rheticuswrote
ofhisvisit:
IheardofthefameofMasterNicolausCopernicusinthenorthern
lands,andalthoughtheUniversityofWittenberghadmademea
PublicProfessorinthosearts,nonetheless,IdidnotthinkthatI

shouldbecontentuntilIhadlearnedsomethingmorethroughthe
instructionofthatman.AndIalsosaythatIregretneitherthe
financial expenses nor the long journey nor the remaining
hardships.Yet,itseemstomethattherecameagreatrewardfor
these troubles, namely that I, a rather daring young man,
compelledthisvenerablemantosharehisideassoonerinthis
disciplinewiththewholeworld.
WeshouldnotethatRheticuswasaProtestant,sointhosetroubled
timesoftheReformationhetooksomewhatofariskvisitinga
Catholicstronghold.InSeptember1539RheticuswenttoDanzig,
visiting the mayor of Danzig, who gave him some financial
assistancetohelppublishtheNarratioPrimaor,togiveititsfull
title First report to Johann Schner on the Books of the
Revolutions of the learned gentleman and distinguished
mathematician, the Reverend Doctor Nicolaus Copernicus of
Torun, Canon of Warmia, by a certain youth devoted to
mathematics.ThepublicationofthisworkencouragedCopernicus
topublishthefullmathematicaldetailsofhistheorywhichhehad
promised27yearsearlier.Swerdlowwrites:
Copernicuscouldnothaveaskedforamoreerudite,elegant,and
enthusiastic introduction of his new astronomy to the world of
goodletters;indeedtothisdaythe"NarratioPrima"remainsthe
bestintroductiontoCopernicus'swork.
In his First Report Rheticus wrote about Copernicus's way of
working(see[80]):
...myteacheralwayshadbeforehiseyestheobservationsofall
agestogetherwithhisown,assembledinorderasincatalogues;
thenwhensomeconclusionmustbedrawnorcontributionmadeto
the science and its principles, he proceeds from the earliest
observations to his own, seeking the mutual relationship which
harmonizesthemall;theresultsthusobtainedbycorrectinference
under the guidance of Urania he then compares with the
hypothesisofPtolemyandtheancients;andhavingmadeamost

careful examination of these hypotheses, he finds that


astronomical proof requires their rejection; he assumes new
hypotheses,notindeedwithoutdivineinspirationandthefavourof
thegods;byapplyingmathematics,hegeometricallyestablishes
the conclusions which can be drawn from them by correct
inference; he then harmonizes the ancient observations andhis
own with the hypotheses which he has adopted; and after
performingalltheseoperationshefinallywritesdownthelawsof
astronomy...
WhilelivingwithCopernicus, Rheticus wrotetoseveralpeople
reportingontheprogressCopernicuswasmaking.Forexampleon
2June1541RheticuswrotethatCopernicus[80]:
...isenjoyingquitegoodhealthandiswritingagreatdeal...
whilehewrotethaton9JuneCopernicus[80]:
...hadfinallyovercomehisprolongedreluctancetoreleasehis
volumeforpublication.
By29AugustDerevolutionibusorbiumcoelestiumwasreadyfor
the printer. Rheticus took the manuscript with him when he
returned to his teaching duties at Wittenberg, and gave it the
printerJohannPetreiusinNrnberg.Thiswasaleadingcentrefor
printingandPetreiuswasthebestprinterintown.However,since
hewasunabletostaytosupervisetheprintingheaskedAndreas
Osiander,aLutherantheologianwithconsiderableexperienceof
printingmathematicaltexts,toundertakethetask.WhatOsiander
did was to write a letter to the reader, inserted in place of
Copernicus'soriginalPrefacefollowingthetitlepage,inwhichhe
claimedthattheresultsofthebookwerenotintendedasthetruth,
ratherthattheymerelypresentedasimplerwaytocalculatethe
positionsoftheheavenlybodies.Theletterwasunsignedandthe
trueauthoroftheletterwasnotrevealedpubliclyuntilKeplerdid
so50yearslater.Osianderalsosubtlychangedthetitletomakeit
appearlesslikeaclaimoftherealworld.Someareappalledatthis
giganticpieceofdeceptionbyOsiander,as Rheticus wasatthe

time,othersfeelthatitwasonlybecauseofOsiander'sPrefacethat
Copernicus'sworkwasreadandnotimmediatelycondemned.
In Derevolutionibus Copernicusstatesseveralreasonswhyitis
logicalthatthesunwouldbeatthecentreoftheuniverse:
Atthemiddleofallthingsliesthesun.Asthelocationofthis
luminaryinthecosmos,thatmostbeautifultemple,wouldtherebe
anyotherplaceoranybetterplacethanthecentre,fromwhichit
canlightupeverythingatthesametime?Hencethesunisnot
inappropriatelycalledbysomethelampoftheuniverse,byothers
itsmind,andbyothersitsruler.
Copernicus'scosmologyplacedamotionlesssunnotatthecentre
oftheuniverse,butclosetothecentre,andalsoinvolvedgiving
severaldistinctmotionstotheEarth.TheproblemthatCopernicus
faced was that he assumed all motion was circular so, like
Ptolemy,wasforcedintousingepicycles(seeforexample[78]).It
was consequently considered implausible by the most of his
contemporaries,andbymostastronomersandnaturalphilosophers
untilthemiddleoftheseventeenthcentury.IntheintendedPreface
ofDerevolutionibusorbiumcoelestiumCopernicusshowedthathe
wasfullyawareofthecriticismsthathisworkwouldattract:
Perhapstherewillbebabblerswho,althoughcompletelyignorant
of mathematics, nevertheless take it upon themselves to pass
judgementonmathematicalquestionsand,badlydistortingsome
passagesofScripturetotheirpurpose,willdarefindfaultwithmy
undertakingandcensureit.Idisregardthemeventotheextentas
despisingtheircriticismasunfounded.
ItsnotabledefendersincludedKeplerandGalileowhiletheoretical
evidence for the Copernican theory was provided by Newton's
theoryofuniversalgravitationaround150yearslater.
Copernicusissaidtohavereceivedacopyoftheprintedbook,
consistingofabout200pageswritteninLatin,forthefirsttimeon
hisdeathbed.Hediedofacerebralhaemorrhage.
Brahe,whodidnotacceptCopernicus'sclaimthattheEarthmoved

roundthesun,neverthelesswrote:
Through observations madeby himself [Copernicus] discovered
certain gaps in Ptolemy, and he concluded that the hypotheses
establishedbyPtolemyadmitsomethingunsuitableinviolationof
the axioms of mathematics. Moreover, he found the Alfonsine
computations in disagreement with the motions of the heavens.
Therefore, with wonderful intellectual acumen he established
different hypotheses. He restored the science of the heavenly
motions in such a way that nobody before him had a more
accurateknowledgeofthemovementsoftheheavenlybodies.