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The book, first printed in in Nuremberg , Holy Roman Empire , offered an alternative model of the universe to Ptolemy 's geocentric system , which had been widely accepted since ancient times. Copernicus initially outlined his system in a short, untitled, anonymous manuscript that he distributed to several friends, referred to as the Commentariolus.
A physician's library list dating to includes a manuscript whose description matches the Commentariolus , so Copernicus must have begun work on his new system by that time. At this time, Copernicus anticipated that he could reconcile the motion of the Earth with the perceived motions of the planets easily, with fewer motions than were necessary in the Alfonsine Tables , the version of the Ptolemaic system current at the time.
Regiomontano et B. A manuscript of De revolutionibus in Copernicus' own hand has survived. After his death, it was given to his pupil, Rheticus , who for publication had only been given a copy without annotations.
Via Heidelberg, it ended up in Prague, where it was rediscovered and studied in the 19th century. Close examination of the manuscript, including the different types of paper used, helped scholars construct an approximate timetable for its composition.
Apparently Copernicus began by making a few astronomical observations to provide new data to perfect his models. By the s a substantial part of the book was complete, but Copernicus hesitated to publish. In Georg Joachim Rheticus , a young mathematician from Wittenberg , arrived in Frauenburg Frombork to study with him.
Rheticus' friend and mentor Achilles Gasser published a second edition of the Narratio in Basel in Due to its friendly reception, Copernicus finally agreed to publication of more of his main work—in , a treatise on trigonometry , which was taken from the second book of the still unpublished De revolutionibus. Rheticus published it in Copernicus' name.
It was published just before Copernicus' death, in Copernicus kept a copy of his manuscript which, sometime after his death, was sent to Rheticus in the attempt to produce an authentic, unaltered version of the book. The plan failed but the copy was found during the 18th. The book is dedicated to Pope Paul III in a preface by Lutheran preacher Andreas Osiander , which argues that the system is only one of mathematical contrivance, not physical truth.
Copernicus argued that the universe comprised eight spheres. The outermost consisted of motionless, fixed stars, with the Sun motionless at the center. The Moon, however, revolved in its sphere around the Earth. What appeared to be the daily revolution of the Sun and fixed stars around the Earth was actually the Earth's daily rotation on its own axis. Copernicus adhered to one of the standard beliefs of his time, namely that the motions of celestial bodies must be composed of uniform circular motions.
For this reason, he was unable to account for the observed apparent motion of the planets without retaining a complex system of epicycles similar to those of the Ptolemaic system.
Despite Copernicus' adherence to this aspect of ancient astronomy, his radical shift from a geocentric to a heliocentric cosmology was a serious blow to Aristotle 's science—and helped usher in the Scientific Revolution. Andreas Osiander had taken over the task of supervising the printing and publication.
Osiander's letter stated that Copernicus' system was mathematics intended to aid computation and not an attempt to declare literal truth:. Then he must conceive and devise the causes of these motions or hypotheses about them. Since he cannot in any way attain to the true causes, he will adopt whatever suppositions enable the motions to be computed correctly The present author has performed both these duties excellently.
For these hypotheses need not be true nor even probable. On the contrary, if they provide a calculus consistent with the observations, that alone is enough For this art, it is quite clear, is completely and absolutely ignorant of the causes of the apparent [movement of the heavens]. And if any causes are devised by the imagination, as indeed very many are, they are not put forward to convince anyone that they are true, but merely to provide a reliable basis for computation.
However, since different hypotheses are sometimes offered for one and the same The philosopher will perhaps rather seek the semblance of the truth. But neither of them will understand or state anything certain, unless it has been divinely revealed to him Let no one expect anything certain from astronomy, which cannot furnish it, lest he accept as the truth ideas conceived for another purpose, and depart this study a greater fool than when he entered.
As even Osiander's defenders point out, the Ad lectorem "expresses views on the aim and nature of scientific theories at variance with Copernicus' claims for his own theory". An example of this type of claim can be seen in the Catholic Encyclopedia , which states "Fortunately for him [the dying Copernicus], he could not see what Osiander had done. This reformer, knowing the attitude of Luther and Melanchthon against the heliocentric system While Osiander's motives behind the letter have been questioned by many, he has been defended by historian Bruce Wrightsman, who points out he was not an enemy of science.
Joachim Camerarius Erasmus Reinhold Joachim Rheticus The historian Wrightsman put forward that Osiander did not sign the letter because he "was such a notorious [Protestant] reformer whose name was well-known and infamous among Catholics",  so that signing would have likely caused negative scrutiny of the work of Copernicus a loyal Catholic canon and scholar. Copernicus himself had communicated to Osiander his "own fears that his work would be scrutinized and criticized by the 'peripatetics and theologians',"  and he had already been in trouble with his bishop, Johannes Dantiscus , on account of his former relationship with his mistress and friendship with Dantiscus's enemy and suspected heretic, Alexander Scultetus.
It was also possible that Protestant Nurnberg could fall to the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor and since "the books of hostile theologians could be burned Osiander's interest in astronomy was theological, hoping for "improving the chronology of historical events and thus providing more accurate apocalyptic interpretations of the Bible Only the handful of "Philosophical purists like the Averroists Copernicus was hampered by his insistence on preserving the idea that celestial bodies had to travel in perfect circles — he "was still attached to classical ideas of circular motion around deferents and epicycles, and spheres.
The unfortunate consequence was that the terrestrial rotation axis then maintained the same inclination with respect to the Sun as the sphere turned, eliminating the seasons. In , Kepler fixed Copernicus' theory by stating that the planets orbit the sun not in circles, but ellipses. Only after Kepler's refinement of Copernicus' theory was the need for deferents and epicycles abolished.
In his work, Copernicus "used conventional, hypothetical devices like epicycles It was this attitude towards technical astronomy that had allowed it to "function since antiquity, despite its inconsistencies with the principles of physics and the philosophical objections of Averroists. Writing Ad lectorem , Osiander was influenced by Pico della Mirandola 's idea that humanity "orders [an intellectual] cosmos out of the chaos of opinions.
Rather than having Pico's focus on human effort, Osiander followed Cusa's idea that understanding the Universe and its Creator only came from divine inspiration rather than intellectual organization. From these influences, Osiander held that in the area of philosophical speculation and scientific hypothesis there are "no heretics of the intellect", but when one gets past speculation into truth-claims the Bible is the ultimate measure.
By holding Copernicianism was mathematical speculation, Osiander held that it would be silly to hold it up against the accounts of the Bible. Pico's influence on Osiander did not escape Rheticus, who reacted strongly against the Ad lectorem.
As historian Robert S. Westman puts it, "The more profound source of Rheticus's ire however, was Osiander's view of astronomy as a disciple fundamentally incapable of knowing anything with certainty.
For Rheticus, this extreme position surely must have resonated uncomfortably with Pico della Mirandola's attack on the foundations of divinatory astrology. In his Disputations , Pico had made a devastating attack on astrology. Because those who were making astrological predictions relied on astronomers to tell them where the planets were, they also became a target.
Pico held that since astronomers who calculate planetary positions could not agree among themselves, how were they to be held as reliable? While Pico could bring into concordance writers like Aristotle, Plato, Plotinus, Averroes, Avicenna, and Aquinas, the lack of consensus he saw in astronomy was a proof to him of its fallibility alongside astrology. Pico pointed out that the astronomers' instruments were imprecise and any imperfection of even a degree made them worthless for astrology, people should not trust astrologists because they should not trust the numbers from astronomers.
Pico pointed out that astronomers couldn't even tell where the Sun appeared in the order of the planets as they orbited the Earth some put it close to the Moon, others among the planets.
How, Pico asked, could astrologists possibly claim they could read what was going on when the astronomers they relied on could offer no precision on even basic questions? As Westman points out, to Rheticus "it would seem that Osiander now offered new grounds for endorsing Pico's conclusions: not merely was the disagreement among astronomers grounds for mistrusting the sort of knowledge that they produced, but now Osiander proclaimed that astronomers might construct a world deduced from possibly false premises.
Thus the conflict between Piconian skepticism and secure principles for the science of the stars was built right into the complex dedicatory apparatus of De Revolutionibus itself.
Objecting to the Ad lectorem , Tiedemann Giese urged the Nuremberg city council to issue a correction, but this was not done, and the matter was forgotten. Jan Broscius , a supporter of Copernicus, also despaired of the Ad lectorem , writing "Ptolemy's hypothesis is the earth rests.
Copernicus' hypothesis is that the earth is in motion. Can either, therefore, be true? Indeed, Osiander deceives much with that preface of his Hence, someone may well ask: How is one to know which hypothesis is truer, the Ptolemaic or the Copernican? Schreiber, who died in , left in his copy of the book a note about Osiander's authorship. Owen Gingerich  gives a slightly different version: Kepler knew of Osiander's authorship since he had read about it in one of Schreiber's annotations in his copy of De Revolutionibus ; Maestlin learned of the fact from Kepler.
Indeed, Maestlin perused Kepler's book, up to the point of leaving a few annotations in it. However, Maestlin already suspected Osiander, because he had bought his De revolutionibus from the widow of Philipp Apian ; examining his books, he had found a note attributing the introduction to Osiander. Even before the publication of De revolutionibus , rumors circulated about its central theses. Martin Luther is quoted as saying in People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us [Joshua ] that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.
When the book was finally published, demand was low, with an initial print run of failing to sell out. Among some astronomers, the book "at once took its place as a worthy successor to the Almagest of Ptolemy, which had hitherto been the Alpha and Omega of astronomers". They were also used by sailors and maritime explorers, whose 15th-century predecessors had used Regiomontanus ' Table of the Stars.
In Spain, rules published in for the curriculum of the University of Salamanca gave students the choice between studying Ptolemy or Copernicus. Very soon, nevertheless, Copernicus' theory was attacked with Scripture and with the common Aristotelian proofs.
In , Melanchthon , Luther's principal lieutenant, wrote against Copernicus, pointing to the theory's apparent conflict with Scripture and advocating that "severe measures" be taken to restrain the impiety of Copernicans.
De revolutionibus was not formally banned but merely withdrawn from circulation, pending "corrections" that would clarify the theory's status as hypothesis. Nine sentences that represented the heliocentric system as certain were to be omitted or changed. After these corrections were prepared and formally approved in the reading of the book was permitted.
Arthur Koestler described De revolutionibus as " The Book That Nobody Read " saying the book "was and is an all-time worst seller", despite the fact that it was reprinted four times.
Gingerich showed that nearly all the leading mathematicians and astronomers of the time owned and read the book; however, his analysis of the marginalia shows that they almost all ignored the cosmology at the beginning of the book and were only interested in Copernicus' new equant -free models of planetary motion in the later chapters.
Mathematical Treasure: Copernicus' [i]De Revolutionibus[/i]
The book, first printed in in Nuremberg , Holy Roman Empire , offered an alternative model of the universe to Ptolemy 's geocentric system , which had been widely accepted since ancient times. Copernicus initially outlined his system in a short, untitled, anonymous manuscript that he distributed to several friends, referred to as the Commentariolus. A physician's library list dating to includes a manuscript whose description matches the Commentariolus , so Copernicus must have begun work on his new system by that time. At this time, Copernicus anticipated that he could reconcile the motion of the Earth with the perceived motions of the planets easily, with fewer motions than were necessary in the Alfonsine Tables , the version of the Ptolemaic system current at the time. Regiomontano et B. A manuscript of De revolutionibus in Copernicus' own hand has survived.
De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres)
See previous books of the month April Nicolaus Copernicus. During Copernicus' lifetime, orthodox opinion asserted the contrary view - that the Earth was fixed, unmoving at the centre of the Universe. This "geo-centric" myth was not easy to de-bunk: it was popularly held to be true by common sense perception supported by two millennia of philosophical tradition, not to mention Biblical scripture. As with many great "discoverers", Copernicus was not, in fact, the first ever person to conceive of heliocentrism.
UNIVERSITY of GLASGOW
THE ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF DE REVOLUTIONIBUS ORBIUM COELESTIUM