Philosophy 167: Class 2 - Part 5 - Copernicus: a Brief Biography.

Smith, George E. (George Edwin), 1938-


  • Synopsis: A brief biography of Copernicus.

    Opening line: "So let me tell you a little about Copernicus now, 1473 to 1543, that means he lived 70 years."

    Duration: 6:39 minutes.

    Segment: Class 2, Part 5.
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So let me tell you a little about Copernicus now, 1473 to 1543, that means he lived 70 years. He was born in Ermland, his father was a fairly well to do merchant who died before he was ten years old. He had the good fortune that the father's brother was the bishop of Ermland.
That's the most powerful position in the church, in the entire region, and that bishop then took on his education. Ermland sits between Poland and Prussia. And, between is the right word, because in his lifetime, it flipped back and forth as to who controlled it. So we think of him as being Polish.
I personally am not sure if his native language was German or Polish, because Ermland is ambiguous in that regard. But that doesn't mean others don't know. I've asked occasionally and nobody's given me an answer. Thanks to his bishop uncle, he had about as good an education as you could possibly have at that time.
1491 to 1495, he went to the University of Crackhouse studying a great many things, including astronomy. He, from 1496 to 1501, that's five years he was at the University of Bologna. I already remarked probably the oldest university in the world. There he lived the whole time with the leading astronomer at Bologna.
Same house he was put up in it. Then, he went to Padua, where he was for three years, studying medicine. He finally got his degree from Ferrara, which is where Ferrari's were made, of course. Which is not very fair from Bologna, so he went back in law. Just as inside think for a moment.
How did he get from Ermland Poland to northern Italy? He walked. Okay, I hope that leaves an impression on you. This somebody wanted an education. There is a very nice novel by John Banville, one of his first novels. I looked for it in my books, I couldn't find it last night, which just has me furious.
It's called Dr. Copernicus. That gives a life story of, a fictional life story cuz we know almost nothing about Copernicus the person, remarkably little. But it's a wonderful story and it's the only way I can think of think of him. Banville sold me before I started studying Copernicus that this had to be what his life was like.
And one of the feature, I trust everybody knows John Banville, so Booker Prize, a current Irish novel that's a summary now. The story of the walk to northern Italy is probably embellished because he gets robbed by highwaymen on the way, which adds to the problem. But of course he has a letter from the Bishop of Ermland.
All he has to do is get high enough in the church anywhere and the church will take him in, etc. But it's still a long walk to go, it's essentially going from here to Palo Alto walking in order to go to Stanford. And you can react to that as you wish.
In 1510, he seems to have arrived at his conception of heliocentrism. I'll be presenting that in just a moment, and there's a monograph. I'll pass the monograph around. This Noel Swerdlow had just gotten his Ph.D when he came out with this monograph, and it sort of changed his life, because it's a great piece of work for somebody very young.
He came out with a work called The Commentariolus that's sketches, outlines the new system, the heliocentric system. And it's that in which he lifts all of the orbits out of an simply transferring them to a heliocentric system. I'll get to that in a moment. We know that's before 1514.
What we know about him from then on, is he worked to turn it into this thing, which is rather larger than that thing. I'll pass this around as well. And we'll get to it. I'll do the tables of content shortly, but it's the same scope basically as the Amalgest.
It's a gigantic book teaching you how to obtain values of parameters and how to calculations in a heliocentric system. He worked on that for many years. People knew about his doing it. In 1539, a German from Nuremberg named Rheticus came to visit him. Talked him into finishing the book and getting it published, which he did very rapidly.
Rheticus put out a summary of the heliocentrism in 1540. He volunteered to oversee the publication of Derev in Nuremberg and worked with Copernicus to get it ready. They took the manuscript to Nuremberg at which point Rheticus got the opportunity for a new job, academic job. So he left Nuremberg and left the publication in the hands of a clergyman in Lutheran.
Lutheran religion at the time, named Osiander, who knowing that when Luther heard of the idea of heliocentrism and said that he objected to it. Osiander puts a preface into the Copernicus, into Derev, announcing this is just a calculational hypothesis. We're not saying anything real about it. And legend has it, nobody has any idea if this is true.
Then when one of the first copies was delivered to Copernicus on his death bed, he just blew up looking at the preface. But the point I wanna make with that story, is he worked for the better part of 30 years going from the conception of a heliocentric system to the whole book.
And obviously the problem, I want you all to appreciate, the problem is It would be inadequate unless it matched Ptolemy in full scope. That's what he had to do.