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and his World 






7 John Street, Bloomsbury, W.C.i. 




Translated by E. B. A5HTON and NORBEHT GUTERMAN 






Preface — The Celestial Revolution 



Book One — His Town and His Century 


Calendar-makers and Biographers 



The Man of All Centuries 



Poland's Greatest Son 



Lost Youth 



The Town of Torun 



The Well-Known Time of Flowering 



Our Life Is a Business 



The Demiurge 

Book Two — Years of Study and Travel 



Copernicus in Cracow 



The Foreigners 



The Young Canon 






The Astronomers of Vienna and Bologna 



The Astrologers 



The Beggar of Bologna 



Student Life at Bologna 



Rome — Ferrara — Padua 

Book Three — Favorite and Rebel 



My Uncle, Bishop Watzelrode 



A Case of Nepotism, or: Directions to Servants 



Life with a Bishop 



Life, Part Two 



The Brother's Death 



Queen Bona 

Book Four — The Astronomer 



"For Mathematicians Only!" 



A Humorist Condemns the Ptolemaic System 




7W ..= 




Translated by E. B. ASHTON and NORBERT GUTERMAN 


- -K 



Preface— The Celestial Revolution 



Book One— His Town and His Century 


Calendar-makers and Biographers 



The Man of All Centuries 



Poland's Greatest Son 



Lost Youth 



The Town of Torun 



The Well-Known Time of Flowering 



Our Life Is a Business 



The Demiurge 

Book Two — Years of Study and Travel 



Copernicus in Cracow 



The Foreigners 



The Young Canon 






The Astronomers of Vienna and Bologna 



The Astrologers 



The Beggar of Bologna 



Student Life at Bologna 



Rome — Ferrara— Padua 

Book Three— Favorite and Rebel 



My Uncle, Bishop Watzelrode 



A Case of Nepotism, or: Directions to Servants 



Life with a Bishop 



Life, Part Two 



The Brother's Death 



Queen Bona 

Book Four— The Astronomer 



"For Mathematicians Only!" 

A Hnmnrist Condemns the Ptolemaic System 




26. The Long Way: From Ptolemy to Copernicus 161 

27. The Copernican Theory 167 

28. The Book of Revolutions 175 

Book Five — LTJomo Universale 

29. The Reform of the Calendar 193 

30. The Pamphlet Against the Nuremberger 196 

31. " 'Tis War, Alas, 'Tis War!" 201 

32. Good Money 219 

33. Some Tremendous Trifles 225 

34. And Fame? . . . And the Great Works? 234 

35. The New Aesculapius 239 

36. The Prodigious Reader 246 

Book Six — The Truth and the Obscurants 

37. The New Pythagoras 251 

38. Bishop Dantiscus 254 

39. Luther and Melanchthon 261 

40. The Obscurants 266 

41. The Disciple 274 

42. "In Praise of Prussia" 286 

43. The Republic of Letters 290 

44. Funeral Song 308 

Book Seven — The Slow Triumph 

45. The Readers 315 

46. Giordano Bruno 323 

47. Tycho de Brahe 333 

48. Johannes Kepler 346 

49. Galileo Galilei 362 


The Great Triumph 402 



THE mightiest human in a thousand years was a Polish astronomer. 
Being fond of order, he began the fiercest revolution — that of science. 
Although he wrote about the moon and the stars, no author has dealt 
mankind and its false pride a heavier blow. 

He was peaceful and pious, a quiet man without great power, great 
titles or wealth, an astronomer, a humanist who observed, calculated and 
thought. Yet no Genghis Khan or Napoleon, no Emperor or Pope has 
changed the course of mankind more radically than the canon of Torun, 
Nicolaus Copernicus. 

For four hundred years our world system has borne his name. Every < 
child learns today that the earth turns, and moves around the sun, yet 
Copernicus hesitated for thirty-six years before daring to print thisr'ob- 
servation. In his time it was dangerous to say aloud that the earth moves. 
Indeed it was the most impudent statement ever printed. 

On account of it the Church proscribed Copernicus' book, the very title 
of which contained revolutions. On account of it Galileo was jailed and 
forced to recant and Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake. Great men 
were afraid to follow his simple thought. 

Not until the nineteenth century did the Church strike the works of 
Galileo, Kepler and Copernicus from its Index of banned books. Martin 
Luther, the rebellious monk of Wittenberg, scoffed at the revolutionary 
canon of Torun — "the new astrologer who would prove that the earth 
moves, not the sky and the firmament, sun and moon . . . The fool would 
like to reverse the whole art of astronomy! But it says in the Holy Writ 
that Joshua bade the sun stand still, not the earth!" And Philip Melanch- 
thon, the Praeceptor Germaniae, invoked the law against the Polish 
astronomer's spiritual license. 

"Our eyes bear witness against Copernicus," he exclaimed. "Sensual 
perception speaks against him, the authority of the Bible speaks against 
him, and the one-thousand-year consensus of learned men. Therefore he 
is absurd." 

But today there are more pious Copernicans than pious Lutherans, or 
Mohammedans, or Jews. 


Copernicus was lucky and he was wise. Singly he defied the world, the 
Church and the Emperor, the reigning authors of his century (God and 
Aristotle and Ptolemaeus), visual evidence, learned prejudice and nude 
ignorance. He seemed the most impudent man in a thousand years. How 
else was he to conquer, unarmed save with his reason? 

Goethe wrote, "Of all discoveries and opinions, none may have exerted 
a greater effort on the human spirit than the doctrine of Copernicus. The 
world had scarcely become known as round and complete in itself when 
it was asked to waive the tremendous privilege of being the center of the 
universe. Never, perhaps, was a greater demand made on mankind — for 
by this admission so many things vanished in mist and smoke! What 
became of our Eden, our world of innocence, piety and poetry; the testi- 
mony of the senses; the conviction of a poetic-religious faith? No wonder 
his contemporaries did not wish to let all this go and offered every possible 
resistance to a doctrine which in its converts authorized and demanded a 
freedom of view and greatness of thought so far unknown, indeed not 
even dreamed of." 

No religion or revolution has conquered so universally as that of 
Copernicus and his successors. Copernicus alone freed human thought. 
All our thinking rests on his results; science begins with him; civilization, 
through him and Kepler and Galileo and Newton, has made greater 
strides in three hundred years than it had in three thousand. And if now 
Einstein writes that the simple, universally plain Copernican idea that the 
earth rotates on its axis and moves around the sun has not remained un- 
touched by scientific progress; if he writes that perhaps this great dis- 
covery which could be fully appreciated only from the physicist's point of 
view, might under certain, seemingly impossible conditions, become ir- 
relevant — still, without the theory of Copernicus there never would have 
been an Einstein theory. 

Copernicus was lucky. Tycho de Brahe, dying in exile, asked whether 
he had not lived in vain. Kepler gave his three great laws to the world 
and was persecuted; Galileo in his old age ended as a prisoner of the 
Inquisition; Bruno died at the stake; Columbus presented the Catholic 
Kings of Spain with a new world, and, by way of reward, was brought 
back from America in irons. Columbus died in poverty and despair, and 
a minor explorer and writer of amusing travel accounts, one Amerigo 
Vespucci, named the continent; Socrates was poisoned; Spinoza was ex- 
pelled from the Jewish community; and Einstein, because of his theory, 
from the German community. 

Copernicus lived to the age of seventy and died at peace with himself 
and the world. In his last hour, his hands held the first copy of the book 


which he had dedicated to the Pope, the book which started the great war 
between science and religion. Throughout his life he had otium cum 
dignitate, honorable leisure, and a worry about his daily bread. He 
enjoyed the beauty of the stars; he saw the little world and the great 
one and gazed deeply into the infinite; he had friends in Rome and 
Wittenberg as well as at home, in Poland. He believed that he was the 
first in the modern world to see truth with his own eyes — greatest joy of 
any mortal — and he had reason, and a kind heart. 

And he had wisdom. He may have quoted the ancients: "That which 
pleases the people I do not understand; that which I understand does not 
please them. We stand apart." 

Instead of talking with the masses, he spoke to none but the wise — as 
Pythagoras advocated earlier and Goethe later. Instead of fame he sought 
truth. It was by truth that he wished to live after his death. 

In Poland, at night, an old man stands on his tower gazing at the stars. 
He observes and calculates their courses, and considers the infinite. 

The true enigma of the world is the concern of a dozen men . . . The 
billions of men live like children. Until the time of Copernicus we were 
told that the earth was standing still, and we believed it. Copernicus taught 
that the earth was moving, and we believe it. But the difference changes 
countless lives. 

A glance at the stars, four thousand or four hundred years ago — that is 
the beginning and the end of wisdom. 







"I am perjured most." 
Shakespeare, Sonnets 

"The Calendar-makers make the calendars, 
but God makes the weather." 

zincgrEff, Apophthegmata (1631) 

NICOLAUS COPERNICUS was born at Torun on February 19, 1473, 
at 4:48 P.M. 

For the minute precision of this intelligence, as minute as the accuracy 
of a modern stop-watch, we are indebted to two astronomical books and 
one historical calendar compiled by several stargazers. The old astron- 
omers — who almost always were astrologers as well, for lack of either 
intellect or money— took a special delight in casting their colleagues' 
horoscopes. Each read the other's dire future in the stars. 

The astrologer Garceus put the birth of Copernicus at 4:30 P.M. of 
February 10, 1473; according to him, this particular planetary moment 
bestowed "ingeniosity." 

"Nothing else?" asked Lichtenberg, adding, "Garceus was born in 
Brandenburg on December 13, 1530, at twenty-eight minutes after thirteen 
o'clock; what the planets said then we are not told." Alexander von Hum- 
boldt, who scaled Chimborasso and described the "Cosmos," regarded 
all astrologers as professional twisters of fact; but Gassendi, called "the 
seventeenth century's most famous libertine" because he did not believe 
in God, is shown by his "Life of Copernicus" to have believed the 

This is the trouble with calendar-makers and biographers. Overly 
conscientious in details which only show the abstruseness of human life, 
they are silent on the world-shaking facts of history. Michael Maestlin, 
Kepler's famous teacher; the anti-Copernican Peucer who espoused 
Melanchthon's daughter as well as his prejudices; Professor Mulerius of 



Groningen who edited the third printing of the "Revolutions"; Gassendi 
the atheistic biographer o£ Copernicus; and finally an Italian astrologer — 
all have apprised us with uncanny precision of the false minute of 
Copernicus' birth. None of them has told us when he first saw the 
earth moving. 

Manor books, court and academic records, church registers, a few letters, 
a few notes and prefatory remarks by his first disciple, Rheticus, and 
above all Copernicus' own book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestiutn — 
these are the main sources of the few documented data and details about 
the first half of his life. The youth of great men is full of picturesque de- 
tail. The nurse of the sculptor Michelangelo was the wife of a stone-cutter. 
An eagle kissed the lips of young Leonardo da Vinci. Goethe, at four or 
five years of age, threw his mother's porcelain out of the window, de- 
siring applause. Petrarca loved Laura. Dante loved Beatrice. And 

He is said to have painted his own portrait, in Cracow. What a pity he 
did not write an autobiography. 

Of course, the author's spirit may be discerned in his book about the 
"Revolutions." But this revolutionary book is inaccessible and, like most 
world-shaking books, would bore the layman. Although it has seen five 
printings in four hundred years (at Nuremberg in 1543, Basel in 1566, 
Amsterdam in 1617, Warsaw in 1854 and Torun in 1873) and has been 
translated into the German, Polish, French and Italian languages, the 
work of the man who set the courses of stars, and of mankind, aright was 
never printed in English. You cannot go to the nearest book shop and buy 
it. There are only scattered copies of it, buried in libraries. The book has 
changed our view of the world, and the world's history. It abounds in 
noteworthy, poetic details of great beauty and world-historic importance, 
but few people still read it and it is out of date and out of print. Yet 
Goethe called its author the greatest man of our era. 

There is the star called Aldebaran, "that hrilliant star in the Hyades." 
Copernicus saw it on the night of March 9, 1497, at Bologna. Dominicus 
Maria di Novara, his friend and teacher, stood next to him. The eyes of 
both men were raised to the sky. And there, both saw the moon darken 
Aldebaran. It was a moment of epochal significance. A glance at the 
stars in Bologna, on the night of March 9, 1497, imparted a more forceful 
impulse to the justification of mankind than a hundred wars. 

Despite the dearth of biographical sources and the virtual inaccessibility 
of his book, the Latin text of the "Revolutions" reveals the whole 
Copernicus. In it, we see a profoundly read and cautiously. daring man: 
a man with acute calculations and miserable instruments, with world-wide 


views and life-long errors, with boundless pride in being an astronomer, 
unique and grandiose assurance and satanic power of antithesis, with 
conventional mistakes and a supremely original idea. We meet the whole 
curious blend of all great men of incongruous traits that are characteristic 
in this canon who dedicates his Church-wrecking thesis to the Pope, in 
this man who is brave enough to speak his mind about the sun but not 
about Ptolemy or Aristotle. It is not surprising that Copernicus did not 
bluntly state his views on Aristotle: he did not wish to be burned, aiive. 
(Nowadays, people are put to death by governments for less important 

Naturally, the most courageous man of modern times lacked the courage 
to admit that he was an innovator. What did he quote, to justify himself 
before the head of Christendom? Half -admitted or apocryphal hypotheses 
framed by heathens in Antiquity. And for what? For a hypothesis of his 
own? No, for Truth, which is the only Divine thing on earth if there 
is a God — and a truth. 

Did Copernicus fail to see that he was pushing the dear Lord out into 
the infinite void? Giordano Bruno saw it, and said it, and was burned 
for it. 

Is it not strange to see how Copernicus, constantly stressing the greatness 
of the Egyptian astronomer, Ptolemy, never ceasing to quote his observa- 
tions and star tables, stripped of his authority this very Ptolemy who had 
been famous for 1400 years? Is it not painful and significant to see the 
man who corrected a two-thousand-year-old error, falling into great errors 
of his own and perhaps devoting the last thirty years of his precious fife 
to an error? Yet patriarchal and at the same time Promethean was 
Copernicus' lifelong habit of lifting his eyes to the stars, to which his book 
so amply testifies. Does this lifelong view of the sun, the moon and the 
stars which enlightened him and us, not outweigh the narrative value of 
twenty adventures and a youthful love for a German Gretchen or a 
Polish Zosia? 

And besides— do we not know more? We know his century. We know 
his contemporaries. We know the great man's opinions. Let us listen to 

"From among the great number of arts and sciences by which the 
human spirit elevates itself," he writes in the Introduction to the First 
Book of his Revolutions, "according to my conviction, those should be 
most highly valued and zealously cultivated which deal with things most 
sublime and most deserving of study. To these belongs that science which 
concerns itself with the marvelous revolutions in the universe, with the 
course of the planets, their size, distance, risings and settings: in brief, 


which explains the whole structure of the universe. What is there more 
beautiful than the heavens, which indeed comprise all beauty? This is 
shown even by its Roman names, caelum and mundus: the Romans 
called it mundus to denote its purity and beauty and caelum to denote 
its sublimity. A great many philosophers, because of its lofty grandeur 
named it the visible god. 

"Thus if the hierarchy of the sciences is determined according to their 
subject matter, that science is by far the noblest which some call astronomy, 
others astrology, but which many of the ancients term the completion of 
mathematics. For this queen of the sciences which is most worthy of the 
attention of free men is based on almost all the branches of mathematics. 
Arithmetic, geometry, optics, geodetics, mechanics and whatever other 
branches there may be, are all in the service of astronomy. And while it 
is a characteristic of all the sciences that they turn the spirit of man 
away from vices and direct it to better things, astronomy can do this in a 
particularly high degree, quite apart from the incredible keen pleasure it 
gives. For who would not, while constantly studying the universe so 
clearly arranged in the most beautiful order and directed by divine wis- 
dom — who would not, through the constant contemplation of this, I might 
almost say through intercourse with it, be induced to do everything good 
and to admire the Architect who created all this, in whom there is the 
highest bliss and in whom all good reaches its summit? 

"The inspired psalmist would not sing that he is enraptured by God's 
creation and that he rejoices in the work of His hands, if he, like all 
men, were not moved by the sight of this Creation to the contemplation 
of the Supreme Good. To what extent astronomy is conducive to the 
good and edification of the community, not to mention its innumerable 
advantages for* the individual, Plato expressed well when he declared in 
the seventh book of The Laws that men must devote themselves to its 
study so that time might be ordered by the sequence of days, months and 
years, and the festivities and sacrifices, which give the state life and vital- 
ity might be fixed; and if anyone, he adds, thinks that this science is not 
necessary for one who wants to learn any other of the noblest sciences, 
he is greatly mistaken. According to Plato he would be far from receiving 
the name of a godlike man, who did not regard the knowledge of the 
sun, the moon and the other stars as necessary. 

"However, this more divine than human science, which investigates the 
sublimest things, is not free from difficulties, chiefly because most of those 
who have undertaken to study it are not in agreement concerning princi- 
ples and assumptions, which the Greeks call hypotheses, and consequently 
do not base their assertions on the same computations; and also because 


it has been impossible to compute with certainty and know with exactitude 
the course of the planets and the revolution of the stars without the passage 
of some time and after many preceding observations through which that 
knowledge was so to speak transmitted from mouth to mouth and thus 
to posterity. For although Claudius Ptolemaeus the Alexandrian, who in 
his admirable understanding and exactitude far surpasses the others, with 
the help of more than four-hundred-years-old observations brought this 
science almost to its perfection, so that nothing seemed to remain that he 
had not touched upon; yet we see many things which do not tally with 
what should have taken place according to his theory, and this is because 
certain other motions were discovered later that were unknown to him. 
That is why Plutarch says: 'up until now the motion of the stars has 
triumphed over the insight of the mathematicians.' 

". . . It is well known, I think, that various opinions have been ex- 
pressed on the solar year, so that many despaired of being able to com- 
pute it exactly. The same is true of stars. 

■ "However, in order not to create the impression that under the pretext 
of this difficulty, I seek to conceal my fear of work, I shall, with the help 
of God, without whom we can do nothing, attempt a detailed discussion 
of this subject. For the number of auxiliary means for the study of the 
heavens is increasing with the passage of time and with our distance 
from the founders of this science. What I have recently discovered can 
be compared with their discoveries. Finally I admit openly that I teach 
many things differently from my predecessors, although we owe them a 
great debt for having been the first to undertake these investigations." 



Is it then so great a secret, what God and 

mankind and the world are? 
No! But none like to hear it; so it rests 


(goethe, Maxims in Verses) 

NICOLAUS COPERNICUS, who rose against twenty centuries of pious 
nonsense as the Christian Church's most dangerous, because most hidden 
apostate — this "prodigal son" was, of course, more than any other, the 
proper heir of his time. 

And like all times, his time was Janus-faced. The century of the 
humanists was also that of the astrologers. The age of the Reformers was 
also that of the Inquisitors. The death-defying discoverers were at that 
time sailing to all continents, against all elements, and unprejudiced 
artists of life were trampling on all good customs. It was the period in 
which men found the printing press and the philosopher's stone, in 
which they used the compass and the magic root. Then the printer was 
also a conjuror; the sailor, an alchemist. Copernicus, the revolutionary 
astronomer, was a medievally reactionary physician. 

Soldiers of fortune, such as Cortez and Pizarro, took a handful of armed 
men to Mexico and Peru and gained empires. At home such a man was 
most likely a peasant, an appendage to his master's estate, a movable im- 
plement, cheaper than a head of cattle; or, if he rebelled and fought in 
the Peasant Wars, he was termed a rebel arsonist and quartered, under the 
law. Beyond the seas he was termed conquistador and appointed governor 
or viceroy. 

It was the time of the Renaissance; the century of the Reformation. 

Today, millions of superstitious Christians, myriads of scientists appear 
benighted beside Copernicus, the only seeing one. In retrospect, it might 
even seem as though the Babylonians had recorded the cycles and times 



of the stars for him alone. But his contemporaries did not know his 
name. A few canons knew of him, a few hundred peasants and towns- 
people, his bishop, a neighboring bishop and a small prince in the vicinity, 
in addition to a few calendar-makers, mathematicians and astronomers, 
a Cardinal in Rome, a Pope and a few hundred educated people who 
mostly laughed at him, such as Luther at Wittenberg or Rector Gnapheus 
of Elbing. Yet Nicolaus Copernicus became the immortal initiator of our 

How much has happened, how many wars and inquisitions and in- 
vasions, to keep him from becoming a forgotten martyr! Where are 
there not causes and effects, facts and consequences? When Europe's 
nations, in the Christian centuries, went to war against the gaily polyg- 
amous Turks for God's sake (and for cinnamon and pepper), the Holy 
Land as well as Byzantium were lost, but many an erudite Greek was 
driven to Venice, to Rome and Florence — and there, from the folds of 
their long, gold-embroidered purple garments, the light-minded little 
Greeks shook many Oriental perfumes and Greek manuscripts con- 
taining the verses of Euripides, the jokes of Aristophanes, the wisdom 
of Socrates. Good immigrants have a way of giving far more to their un- 
willing host countries than they receive. Most Florentines and Romans 
laughed at the Byzantines. A few learned Greek. One of them taught it 
to Copernicus. Thus he read Plato, and found the famous passages in 
"Timaios" and in the "Republic"; he read Plutarch, and learned that 
Anaximander thought of the earth as "a smooth, stony pillar" and that 
Aristarchos of Samos had taught that it was moving; he read Cicero, to 
the effect that the earth was insignificant in the infinite universe. He 
learned from Cicero and Diogenes Laertius that Pythagoras had held the 
view that the earth was round and the most perfect forms were the 
globe and the circle. Many Pythagoreans, he discovered, had taught that 
the earth was revolving on its own axis, and some even contended that it 
moved round the sun which was standing still. Mostly, Copernicus found 
these views only half-expressed or opposed — because for many centuries 
it was politically dangerous to publish your opinion about the stars. 

And the exploits of Ferdinand and Isabella, the first, so-called "Catholic" 
rulers of Spain, who, in the same year in which Columbus discovered the 
new world, burned pseudo-Christians on the pyres of the Inquisition 
expelled the Jews and slaughtered many Moors in Granada, Toledo, 
Seville; and the flight of Spanish Jews through the countries of Europe, 
spreading their knowledge and that of the Moors everywhere— cannot 
this mixture of barbarism and enlightenment be held to refer to Coper- 
nicus? Can we not conceive of a course of education planned for the 


great astronomer by those very stars which had at last grown tired of 
being publicly charged with pursuing the little earth and even influencing 
the inconsequential destinies of its insect population — mankind? 

For whom did Columbus discover America? For whom did Luther 
reform the faith of the North-Germans? In whose interest did Poland's 
"Golden Age" dawn, under the Sigismunds? Did all this happen for 
Copernicus, for him whose fame the heavens tell— for the man of all 

Great men seem to rise like comets from the jungles of the world, en- 
lightening their whole era. This error in perspective only reveals the 
enormity of intellectual achievements. For a great man to see and finally 
express the truth which everyone ought to have read in the sky, two 
thousand years must prepare his education. In the end he appears, sees, 
knows and speaks out, is laughed at and, for the moment at least, proves 
to be right. 

The beginning of a revolution seems just as absurd as the consummated 
revolution seems trivial. 




"Poland is Catholic." 

Polish adage 
". . . policy, that heretic." 

Shakespeare, Sonnets 

COPERNICUS was born in Poland, died in Poland, lived in Poland. 
The Poles hail him as Poland's greatest son. 

Many Germans also claim him for their fatherland. It is not the most 
inglorious imperialism to want- to worship the great men of other coun- 
tries as your own. How many nations have made a Jew their Saviour? 
And besides, the Germans, settled in the center of Europe and always 
known as excellent spiritual brokers and cultural mediators, have done 
much to honor the works of Copernicus. 

Fundamentally, this whole war over Copernicus is like every war, a 
moral absurdity. It merely proves that those who wage it, are incapable 
of solving their conflicts peaceably. What does the squabble of nationali- 
ties mean in view of the infinite? And what is it about? About the 
heliocentric theory, or about the right to put up monuments? 

Great men are the property of the whole world. (The astronomers 
pay no attention to wars, not even to total war; these little sons of the 
sun are accustomed to such astronomical distances and periods that a 
difference of one thousand miles, or one thousand years, strikes them as a 
mere microscopically trivial miscalculation.) And in the days of Coperni- 
cus there were no nations in the modern sense — just as there may be none 

The Kingdom of Poland, united with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, 
was the greatest realm in Eastern Europe. In the era of Polish imperialism 
it reached from the Carpathian Mountains to the banks of the Dvina, 
and compassed the great plains crossed by the Vistula, the Njemen and 
the Dvina, the Dnjester and the Dnieper. It reached from Danzig, Poznan 



and Cracow to Lwow, Kiev and Vilna, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. 
This realm embraced the Kingdom of Poland, the Grand Duchy of 
Lithuania, the domains of Prussia, Masovia, Samogitia, Kiev, Volhynia, 
Podolia, Podlasia and Livonia. Furthermore, the King of Poland was 
sovereign over Courland, East Prussia, and Moldavia. Thus, there were 
Great Poles and Little Poles living under this King, Lithuanians and 
Russians, white Ruthenians and Ukrainians, Cossacks and Tartars, Ger- 
mans, Moldavians, Wallachians, Gypsies, Letts, Jews, Armenians, Cath- 
olics, Greek Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists, Unitarians and 
Muslims. There were separatist Lithuanians, Moldavians and Prussians, 
the monks and knights of the Teutonic Order, and a multitude of aliens 
and emigrants. If we consider for a moment the national allegiance of 
Copernicus — a "problem" which caused a great deal of ink to spurt on 
either side — what principles are to guide us? 

Copernicus, born at Torun in West Prussia, occasionally called Prussia 
his native country. But after 1466, West Prussia was again a Polish 
province, and Copernicus was born in 1473 — seven years later. His sov- 
ereign was indubitable the King of Poland. 

His father's family probably came from Silesia, and may have come to 
Cracow in about 1350. His mother's family hailed from Torun. His 
grandfather sided with the King of Poland against the Teutonic Order; 
his uncle Tilman von Allen was twice Polish burggrave of Torun, his 
uncle, Bishop Watzelrode, a good friend and counsellor of Polish kings. 
His father, Mikolaj Kopernik, came from Cracow, the ancient capital of 
Poland. Of his sisters, one was Mother Superior of a Polish convent, the 
other was married and lived in Cracow. Copernicus himself and his 
brother Andreas studied in Cracow and became Varmian canons under 
the overlordship of the Polish King. Once, Copernicus sent the King a 
memorandum against the Teutonic Order in which he called the German 
knights "robbers" (latrones), and in the war against the Order he was on 
Poland's side. All this is cited in favor of his Polish allegiance by the 
champions of the Polish thesis. 

The advocates of the German thesis write his name "Niklas Kopper- 
nigk" — with two p's, because the Polish language knows no double 
consonants — and from this spelling they deduce his German descent. 
They further point out that there were many German immigrants and 
colonists in Poland, especially in the cities, including Cracow, and main- 
tain that German was his mother tongue. 

Presumably Copernicus was bilingual, as are members of all frontier 
populations; and spelling was no evidence in those times, for instead of 
one authentic way of doing it there were dozens. You wrote as you 

Poland's greatest son 13 

pleased then, even proper names. The court clerks and chroniclers o£ 
Cracow, Torun and Allenstein, the correspondents of Copernicus, his 
friends and he himself spelled the name in every possible way. 

Moreover, Copernicus chose a new name for himself — and wrote this 
self-made name, too, quite arbitrarily. The young savant latinized his 
name, to make it easier on the ears and tongues of savants all over the 

In every country, the humanists wrote in Latin. They scorned the 
multicolored names of the profane mob; they avoided the language of 
the people with its smell of earth and handicraft. They formed the in- 
ternational republic of science, and fought their pompous wars with the 
pen — with ink streaming, rather than blood. They were ahead of their 
time and of many times: a true scientist did not know a fatherland, any 
more than the dear Lord. A humanist would read the works of the old 
Greeks and Romans to find out what the world was really like. He denied 
the existence of a violet if it was not described in Pliny. However, these 
humanists were not only the pious sons of Antiquity but also the im- 
pudent fathers of the revolution. By his new name, while basing himself 
on Antiquity, a humanist seemed to say: With me the new world begins! 

Deserted by etymology, the followers of the two national theses turned 
genealogists and found what they were seeking. Essays were written about 
Koppernigks and Koperniks. Among those exhumed by the philologist 
and file-diggers were a tower guard of Cracow, a cordwainer of Lwow 
and a porter at a public bath. One man became known to posterity be- 
cause he had run up debts; another as the second husband of a lady who 
dragged him to court and compelled him to hand her first husband's 
dowry over to her third. 

Darker centuries mistook the father of Copernicus for a peasant, baker 
or blacksmith, but now, since the more enlightened nineteenth century, 
we know that he was in the copper business. Court records are still extant 
which show that in Danzig, on the Saturday before Epiphany of the 
year 1448, he brought suit for thirty-eight hundredweight of hard copper 
valued at eighty-six marks and sixteen pfennigs. 

Besides in the year 1454 the townsmen of Danzig gave the father of 
Copernicus one thousand Hungarian gold gulden for the Cardinal of 
Cracow. They preferred to become Polish, like the other towns and the 
Estates of Prussia, than to have the Teutonic Knights lord it over them 
any longer; and with their one thousand Hungarian gold gulden in his 
pocket, the good Danzigers thought the Cardinal would deem them 
better Catholics than the German knights. Be that as it may, Copernicus 
Senior was a man who could be trusted with one thousand Hungarian 


gold gulden as well as a Polish patriot, willing to bribe a Cardinal. 

It is uncertain at what time and for what reason he moved from Cracow 
to Torun. In Torun he married Miss Barbara Watzelrode. Her father 
was a merchant of Torun, an urban and rural property owner, a jury 
foreman, at one time a confidant of rebels, at another a vehme judge, 
and on several occasions a partisan of the Polish King. He married a 
gay widow, whose mode of living was criticized when her son, Lucas, 
became a bishop. But since the Prussian provincial councillors rose as 
one man in her defense, we have it on the highest authority that the 
grandmother of Copernicus was "a pearl among the women in the city 
of Torun." 

One of the merchant's daughters married Tilman von Allen, who 
was Polish burggrave and mayor of Torun; the other married the copper 
trader Mikolaj who had migrated from Cracow, and bore him four 
children. She remains among the least known mothers of modern genius. 

The great man in the family was of course her brother Lucas, the 
Prince Bishop of Varmia and uncle of Copernicus. This uncle was im- 
portant in the history of Poland and of his nephew. Not until one or two 
hundred years after the successful uncle's death did the nephew become 
better known than the Bishop. Most contemporaries, judging soberly, as 
contemporaries mostly do, thought the Bishop far more remarkable than 
a canon with an insipid theory. 

We shall hear more of this good man, to whom the world owes much 
for having made his nephew's studies long and his life an easy one. 




"Foibles amusements tune douleur si 
grande . . ." 

racine, Berenice 
"What have you done, friend, with your 
younger days?' 


GRANDFATHER Watzelrode left to the parents of Copernicus: 
the house in St. Anne's Alley, in which they lived; 
another corner building with two sheds; 

18 gulden rent out of town and in the village of Mocker; 
the vineyard in the Little Cloister; 

3 acres of land and a meadow; 

19 gulden rent at Conradswalde, on 9J4 acres of land, 
and sufficient silver, gold and chattels. 

Evidently, Nicolaus Copernicus spent his youth in comfortably bour- 
geois circumstances, in the house in St. Anne's Alley, in the vineyard in 
the Little Cloister, on his father's meadows and fields and amid imple- 
ments of gold and silver. 

His father, after the grandfather's death, became a juror at Torun and 
lived for nineteen more years. He was a gentleman who bought real 
estate and brought law suits, as we know from the Torun judicial records, 
and he was a guardian of widows — in those shrewd times guardians were 
appointed for widows as well as orphans. Once, we are informed, the 
senior Kopernik went on a trip to Breslau. And once he became a 
Tertiary Brother of the Polish Dominicans — i.e., in exchange for absolu- 
tion of his own sins, he was supposed, to denounce those of his neighbors 
to the spies of the Inquisition. 

The father of Copernicus died. About his mother we hear nothing. 
Good Uncle Watzelrode— a canon by that time— turned his nephews 



Nicolaus and Andreas and the older of his nieces over to that great mutual 
aid society, the Church. The girl became a Mother Superior; Andreas 
died of leprosy. Their sister "married Bartel Gertner of Cracow and 
begat five children with him." Of four brothers and sisters, three lived 
in celibacy. The family came down in the world. A niece of Copernicus 
married a Prussian army drummer. 

Nobody has left word for us about the youth of Copernicus. At ten he 
lost his father; at nineteen he went to the University of Cracow. 

For a century, there were only a few scattered notes about him extant, 
and those were incorrect. Rheticus, the first disciple, is said to have written 
a brief biography during the master's lifetime; Bishop Giese, in a letter, 
advised his young friend to have his "elegant" vita printed in one volume 
with the great work of Copernicus, the vita to serve as an introduction. 
The project did not materialize. This life-story of Copernicus by one who 
for two years lived in his house and with his friends, who studied the 
master's "Revolutions" and turned them over to a printer at Nuremberg, 
has been lost. 

Copernicus died in 1543. In 1654, in Paris, in the appendix to his biog- 
raphy of Tycho de Brahe, Gassendi published brief biographies of 
three older astronomers : Peurbach, Regiomontanus and Copernicus. Thus, 
for a long time, one-third of an appendix to a French biography of Tycho 
de Brahe, the world-famous opponent of the Copernican theory, was the 
main source of information on the life of a man whom many a great 
European regarded as the very greatest of them all. Bergson called modern 
science the daughter of astronomy; yet to find out anything about Coper- 
nicus, the father of modern science, one must read the biography of his 
erring opponent. 

Tycho de Brahe, while frowning on Ptolemy's system as too compli- 
cated, also rejected the new one of "great Copernicus," the follower of 
Aristarchos of Samos — although in Tycho's opinion nothing in it con- 
flicted with the principles of mathematics. According to him, the Coper- 
nican system conflicted with the principles of physics because the heavy, 
clumsy earth could not be capable of movement. Besides it impugned 
the authority of Holy Writ. Nothing was left to Tycho de Brahe but to 
work out his own astronomical system, in accord with mathematical 
and physical principles, yet not subject to theological censorship. "As 
though inspired," he hit upon a system, according to which the earth was 
the center of the universe. 

Then too, the King of Denmark, Tycho de Brahe's protector and bene- 
factor, was opposed to innovations. 



"Ah, il n'y a plus d'enfants!" 

moli£re, Le malade Imaginaire 

TORUN was called the Queen of the Vistula. The town is situated on the 
right bank of the thousand-yard-wide river. Copernicus spent his child- 
hood there, and perhaps his school years, in the parochial school of St. 
John's Church. Possibly, however, he went to the Cathedral school at 
Kulm. The point is still debated. 

In his day Torun numbered about twenty thousand souls. Two-thirds 
of the population lived outside the walls. When the enemy came, he 
killed these suburbanites first, abducted their daughters and raped their 
wives. Living there, of course, were only those artisans who were too 
noisy, such as the blacksmiths, or the saltpeter boilers and others whose 
trade involved fire hazards. And the poor, naturally, for the poor are both 
noisy and a cause of fire hazards. They lived in perhaps thirty streets, 
some of them paved. They had six churches for worshipping God by 
themselves, and two chapels; and for their sins they had a court of their 

We know the picture of medieval towns. The largest houses were owned 
by the dear Lord. The towns were fortresses rather than places of abode; 
built not so much for the pleasure of living with others as for fear of 
them. Accordingly, men surrounded their lives and their towns with 
walls, towers, moats, bastions, drawbridges and sentries. The communal 
buildings, such as council and slaughter houses, were of stone and built 
to last a thousand years. Dwellings were of wood, loam, straw and cane, 
without chimneys, with smoke and the devil exiting by any odd hole. 
When a fire started, the townsmen dallied with small buckets and whole 
cities were laid in ashes. Pavements and gutters were later triumphs of 



The townsmen lived as in the country, in one building with their 
wives, children, asses, chickens, pigs and help, male and female. The 
household further included horses, cats, dogs, dwarfs, evil spirits, little 
men and saints. Neighbors peered through each other's windows and 
into each other's pots; the alleys were too moist, too dark, too narrow, 
and so were the rooms; merchandise and vats were stored in the hallway, 
and men were seldom run over but frequently stabbed. 

The well-to-do citizens of Torun lived in the old inner town. The 
house in which Copernicus was born stood on the corner of Baker's 
and St. Anne's Alleys. The houses there were low, some of them gabled; 
the corner house was three-storied, narrow, with three outside windows 
on each floor— -unpretentious, but close to the landings on the Vistula. 
The children visited the ships which came in from strange rivers and 
from the sea. They played on the river banks and made friends with ship- 
pers and sailors. In the evenings they sat on the bank and felt the wind 
blow from far away. 

The house at Torun may still stand. A merchant who purchased it 
in 1849 had modern tastes and altered the facade. (In 1939, an electrician 
named Juchnicki lived in the house.) 

An hour out of town, the family owned a vineyard on a hill by the 
Vistula, next to the convent. Torun's men of wealth built their summer 
residences among meadows and fields and drank Prussian wine from 
their vineyards, of which, according to the tax records, there were 
twenty-five on the sunny hills. The nuns in the adjoining convent 
watered their flowers, picked medicinal herbs, prayed and gave the chil- 
dren little wooden crosses. In the blue distance were the spires of Torun, 
the hills to the east and the wide plains of Poland. On the wide, quiet 
river a boatman called out, as he rowed past. 

The great sailing vessels of the Hansa came in from points as far off 
as Bruges or Bergen, Lubeck or Stralsund or the city of London. They 
sailed in convoy, escorted by armed frigates to protect them from the 
dreaded pirates' league of the Brothers of St. Vitalia. From Poland and 
Hungary, fleets of rafts came carrying pitch and honey, tar and wax. 
On the way back, up-river, the ships took salt and salt herring, cloth and 
silk and spices shipped from the Orient via Venice and Bruges. A mer- 
chant of Torun came halfway around the world. A wealthy merchant 
of Torun frequently paid more in taxes than the entire nobility of Kulmer- 

For a hundred years the Toruners ruled Prussian trade. They drilled 
their armed guards in their guild house, with Grandfather Watzelrode 
and Uncle Tilman von Allen as captains. The Toruners concluded trade 


pacts with great nations. Their town was the link connecting Poland, 
Hungary and Western Europe. They imported foreign merchandise and 
views from Venice and Novgorod, Nuremberg, Bruges and Bergen. They 
had houses in London. In Denmark they had fishing rights and judges 
of their own. 

Like Danzig, Elbing and Cracow, Torun was a member of the Hansa, 
the great Northern European league which originated in Flanders and 
flourished from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century. At first its 
members were individual merchants, then free cities by the sea and in 
the interior. As many as ninety cities thus augmented their commerce 
and protected it from arbitrarily high tolls and from the depredations 
of pirates. The Hansa, supernational and powerful, built roads and canals, 
subdued the Kings of Sweden, Norway and Denmark by armed force, 
gave crowns and took them away. In its towns civil rights were first 
enforced, the rights of the free individual independent of tyrants and 
local boundaries. In them, free merchants and seafarers laid the founda- 
tion of a supernational Europe and a uniform civilization. 

Rheticus, in his "Encomium on Prussia," called Torun "formerly famed 
for commerce; now sufficiently, for its great son, my lord preceptor." 



"O temporal o mores!" 

cicero, against Catilina 

"Of all the various ways in which the 
imagination has distorted truth, there is 
none that has worked so much harm as an 
exaggerated respect for past ages." 



"Das Jahrhundert 

1st meinem Ideal nicht reif. Ich lebe 
Ein Burger derer, welche kommen 

Schiller, Don Carlos 

"THEREFORE," Copernicus wrote in his Commentariolus , "thirty-four 
cycles are altogether sufficient to explain the entire structure of the world." 

At that time Ulrich von Hutten, one of the few laughing Germans, 
exclaimed, "O century! O sciences! It is a joy to live . . . Studies thrive, 
minds are stirring; take the rope, barbarism, and prepare to be banished!" 
previous to dying of syphilis, inch by inch. "Times are evil," declared 
Andreae, a Lutheran theologian. Erasmus of Rotterdam criticized Hutten 
and the whole "new, bold, impudent generation," and Luther could see 
only "this vain hog's life . . ." Erasmus wrote: "Never was so wild an 
age as ours." 

So violent was the conflict between the views held by some authors of 
this well-known European time of flowering, which was later called the 
time of the Renaissance and of the Reformation. Copernicus was bold 
enough to explain the structure of the world with a few cycles; but after 
due consideration of his interesting time he waited for about thirty-six 
years before he made public his thirty-four cycles— more than a year for 
each one of them. Any time is the most interesting of all times; but his 
was curious indeed, 



Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarca, three Italian men of letters, were the 
first modern teachers of Europe. They discovered Antiquity. And in 
metaphysics, politics, ethics as well as in the natural sciences and mathe- 
matics, the scions of the Middle Ages threw off the chains of the Church 
and of its pan-theological imperialism. 

The universities, especially the theological university of Paris, were bas- 
tions of the Church and nurseries of theology. There scholastics debated 
with scholastics, dogmatists with dogmatists. They did not cultivate 
classical literature and wrote bad Latin. Yet a Frenchman swore to the 
fact that even mathematics had started its march of triumph through 
Europe from the University of Paris, led by Heinrich von Langenstein and 
above all by Johannes Gerson, Doctor Christianissimus, chancellor of 
the University of Paris and strong man of the Council of Constance, who 
in 1383 came to Vienna and there prepared the ground for the great 
astronomers, Peurbach and Regiomontanus, the trailblazers for Columbus 
and Copernicus. 

Thus, the Frenchman maintained, the Germans would not have in- 
vented the printing press and gunpowder and modern navigation without 
the aid of the mathematicians from Paris; the geographical and astro- 
nomical discoveries of Portuguese and Spaniards and Italians and Poles 
would not have been made; today, poor Europe still would have to do 
without America, potatoes and tobacco, and the very sun would still turn 
round the earth. 

Why not? In our time, in which all is claimed and all denied, what 
is the value of a thesis? The Germans themselves are already beginning 
to doubt that they invented gunpowder. A Dutchman is said to have 
printed books before Gutenberg. Who discovered the compass? Was not 
Columbus an Aragonese Jew without the slightest idea of navigation, 
a Jewish poet, unfamiliar with the world, who had the Cubans mixed up 
with the Japanese? And Copernicus was ignominiously shown up a mere 
hundred years later, when his pupil Kepler declared that his thirty-four 
cycles were really not cycles at all, they were only ellipses. 

Curious time! Carefree as birds of passage, the footloose humanists 
wandered from town to town, from country to country, and became 
idealists and rebels in the school of Antiquity. Thunderers like Brutus, 
flatterers like Horace, they took the gods of the Romans and Greeks 
into the Gothic cathedrals and mixed many civilizations. "By mixture 
we came into the world," they said and turned Europe into a chain of 
cafes. They were called "poets" and rose against the scholastics in the 
name of common sense. Like pepper, cinnamon or other imported articles 
of profitable trade from town to town, the humanists and new, foreign 


preachers turned up in all merchant cities and brought their new attitudes, 
their brazen ways of speech and a whole new era. 

A German contemporary sighed : "All the beer halls are now chockf ull 
of useless preachers. The ministerial squabble is getting to be the only 
national interest." It caused Erasmus, the sage of Rotterdam, to exclaim, 
"I am sick of Germany!" 

The saints of that time had criminal traits, and the murderers were 
art patrons. One Pope mixed the famous "white powder"; another stormed 
walls and moats. The Emperor built his world empire, abdicated and 
became a monk. The masters of that time have never been surpassed 
in either art or follies. Michelangelo lay on his back on a scaffolding, 
with a torch in his left hand, and to the last, loveliest, most perfect detail 
painted what no man would ever see in the dark corner — "God sees it," 
he said. Leonardo, on the other hand, never finished anything he started; 
he left incomparably great works uncompleted; he made inventions and 
concealed them in the cryptograms of his hidden sketchbooks. The great 
names of the Renaissance became eternal symbols. Castiglione became the 
word for courtliness; Tdrquemada or Cortez meant blood-thirst; Ferdi- 
nand the Catholic came to symbolize a crowned criminal; Charles V, 
cynicism; Aretino or the Roman Curia, venality; Machiavelli, literary 
worship of power; Henry VIII, a Bluebeard on the throne. Who was 
so bold as Columbus and Copernicus? Who so brave as Bayard, or the 
Indian bishop Las Casas? Who could equal Luther or Rabelais in abuse? 
Were not Raphael the handsomest of painters and Alexander VI the 
most depraved of family men? Each was perfect of his kind, a model for 
a thousand years. It was a time of demigods and Calibans, a complex, 
wonderful time. 

Customs grew more refined even in the North of Europe. Certain 
German court regulations forbade a gentleman to do his needs in front 
of the womenfolk and generally to befoul rooms, corridors and stairs 
with urine and other filth, to throw bones about him at table, pour beer 
into another's face or lay hands on the ladies under the table. A German 
summarized the situation: "There is too much eating. There is too much 
drinking. Lewd, leaping and cavorting women gather in the towns." And 
at the country dances the girls were "thrown over" by their partners, 
so that you saw "everything." 

Various authorities prohibited the drinking of toasts, swearing, even 
whoring. "The authorities lie sick abed and want to cure others." Un- 
inhibited preachers, determined to do their all, visited the brothels — to 
preach. In the public baths, naked youths bathed with their girls in the 
same tubs. You wined and dined there; there were lutists, flutists, trained 



poodles, giantesses and dwarfs, and professional fools. You were mas- 
saged by the bath porters. You laughed and loved there. Poggio de- 
scribed a Swiss spa, where officers consoled abbesses, diplomats shared 
their table with "light damsels" who shared their beds with canons, 
while rich merchants studied far into the night with adolescent monks. 
In some places the public baths as well as public license were forbidden. 
Love under God's own sky was deemed unfitting. Poor procuresses were 
buried alive; bawds or brothelkeepers were left to carry on for payment 
of a weekly rental to the ruling prince. Thus does the law protect the 
poor from vice, and the rich from annoyance. 

"The later the time, the more Epicurean the people." Business in "fair 
merchandise" was thriving all over Europe. A Leipzig cultural historian 
reported with local pride that highest prices had been paid for Saxon 
girls. Reformers inveighed against the bathhouses, so people ceased to 

"The world is not growing old now," Luther chided and wrote another 
lampoon. Everybody wrote lampoons and had them printed. As soon as 
paper was made out of rags, the printing press was invented. Men printed 
books, but aside from the Bible, in which God slanders them and they 
slander God, they printed chiefly lampoons. They even talked lampoons. 
The pamphleteers spread like the plague. The plague was called simply, 
"It dies." 

"Now they sit together in bathhouses here and there, and talk hereti- 
cally against God and Emperor," people complained at the time and 
padlocked the bathhouses. Physicians, too, inveighed against the bath- 
houses—wishing to cure souls rather than bodies, for they were monks. 
They prayed with the patients. Shepherds, hangmen, barbers and "wise 
women" cured diseases. The saints were specialists. St. Dionys of Paris 
cured the "French disease." St. Roch, St. Quirin and St. Sebastian were 
called against the plague, St. Levi against podagra, St. Blasius against 
sore throats, and the virgin Nothburga in cases of pregnancy. It was not 
till later that the "Fourteen Saints Deliverers" acquired their great 

A cleric such as Copernicus, who studied medicine at Padua and 
practiced it in Varmia, was barred from surgical practice by professional 
dignity. For surgery you had the barbers. They were "dishonorable" and 
pulled teeth, cut corns, massaged and performed operations. The cleric 
or trained physician healed by means of astrology, alchemy and theology. 
He began by commending a patient to the dear Lord and praying with 
him; then he examined the constellation of the planets, recommended the 
philosopher's stone, compounded remedies such as thieves' fingers with 


pulverized unicorn, cats' dung and sulphur, purged the patient, bled him 
and left him to live or be buried — just as today. Neither was it a pleasure 
to be sick in those days. 

A gentleman from the second century A.D., Galen, the "Father of the 
Church from Pergamon," furnished the prescription. An Arab philosopher 
from Bokhara, Avicenna, who practiced medicine about the year 1000, 
provided the methods. In the lecture hall of a university the professor 
would sit on the platform and read a chapter from Galen; standing 
beneath him, the "demonstrator," a doctor, pointed with a stick to the 
organs under discussion; on the floor, ignorant barbers carried the corpse. 
No professor handled a knife. 

Paracelsus, the founder of more recent pharmacological doctrines, was 
not born in Switzerland until a year after the discovery of America. 
Copernicus still faithfully employed the panaceas and "sovereign reme- 
dies" of Antiquity or the Middle Ages. His "Revolutions" came out in 
1543, the year in which Cardano became professor of medicine at Padua— 
Cardano who wrote in his autobiography: "Among the greatest and 
rarest natural occurrences I count the fact that I was born in the century 
in which the whole orbis terrarum was discovered, while the ancients 
knew only one-third of it." In the same year 1543, at Basel, Vesalius, the 
founder of modern anatomy, published the revolutionary book, De 
humani corporis fabrica. Thus the discovery of America and of the uni- 
verse was rounded out by the discovery of man and of his body. 

Grateful humanity seemed to have but one purpose: to punish the 
discoverers. Paracelsus died in 1541 in disrepute, regarded as an adept 
of the devil. Cardano, in his seventieth year, was cast into a dungeon at 
Bologna by the Inquisition, as an unbeliever. Vesalius, the personal 
physician of Emperor Charles V and King Philip II of Spain, was sen- 
tenced to death by the Spanish Inquisition, but the "Great Inquisitor," 
who was a tool in Philip's hands — commuted the doctor's sentence to a 
pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre and Mount Sinai. Vesalius embarked 
in order to save his life and promptly drowned at sea, dying by water 
rather than by fire. 

Michael Servet, like Columbus a marano or forcibly baptized Jew from 
Aragon, discovered the minor blood circulation, and at Calvin's instance, 
was burned at Geneva ten years after the death of Copernicus. He lived 
only to the age of forty-two. As late as 1628, a storm of indignation rose 
in London and Paris when William Harvey hesitandy revealed his knowl- 
edge of the entire blood circulation, in his "Anatomical Treatise on the 
Movement of the Heart and of the Blood in Animals." It led Harvey to 
remark that it was far better to seek wisdom quiedy in your own house 


than to publish hastily the results of research which cost much toil and 
sweat and thereby call forth storms that deprive you of tranquillity and 
the peace of your future. 

Are not such feelings, expressed in the seventeenth century, based on 
the same knowledge of men and of the world as those harbored by Coper- 
nicus in the sixteenth century? 

This very peril of Truth— which often stands on but two feet against 
the million-footed beast — appears to be its most reliable quality. It is be- 
cause of such disproportionate vexations, such incessant struggles against 
apparently unrelated prejudices and foes, that the majestic story of the 
human spirit strikes us as so grotesque. The fact that men are persecuted 
merely for explaining the courses of blood and the stars seems so absurd 
that pessimists are driven to regard absurdity as the sole law of mankind. 
The two desires for knowledge and for virtue (viewed as one and the 
same by Socrates and by the Bible), by which mankind stays alive, seem 
suicidal to their champions : both world interpreters and world reformers 
are of the stuff of martyrs. 

. For a thousand years the Catholic Church had tried to give life a 
meaning, and mankind a uniform faith based upon revelation and 
orthodoxy. As it always happens when truth is intent on setting up a 
dictatorship, the dictatorship was accomplished and the truth suppressed. 
Now the Reformers, both within and without the Catholic Church, 
wanted either to restore the old truth or to proclaim a new one which 
went back, of course, to even older truths — for most revolutions are mere 

The humanists, supernational as all that is great, still differed region- 
ally. In Italy, in particular, they tended to a thoughtful enjoyment of 
the world within an aesthetic, neo-pagan culture based on the Greek 
ideal of \allo\agathia, the union of beauty and virtue, the Hellenistic 
joy felt in all perfectly beautiful forms in poetry and drama, in paintings, 
statues, temples, palaces, gardens and the human body. The humanists 
of Northern Europe, on the other hand, were aiming at a sound formal 
education and at the purification of life, at a Divine permeation of 
everyday existence by means of a reform of the faith and a re-establishment 
of original Christianity. 

Led by Gerhard Groote, the "Brothers of the Common Life" (who 
toward the end of the fourteenth century had founded a school at Deventer 
in Holland, which soon acquired influence all over Europe) demanded 
that laymen should read the Word of God in their native tongues. Realiz- 
ing the importance of language, they knew that the old languages were 
the keys to the treasure troves of the European spirit, and that a man's 


style not only reflects his mind and his morals but retroactively reforms 
and educates him. Is it only the just who will find the language of justice? 
And can justice long be spoken without being practiced? They strove 
for a classic Latin and taught Greek, although science interested them 
only in so far as it led to a sanctification of life. 

Out of this school of the Brothers of the Common Life came Erasmus 
of Rotterdam. This European sage of the sixteenth century was a witty 
man of the world, a philologically schooled journalist, a conscientious 
translator and a great satirist. As a philologist, he went strolling about 
the New Testament. His Latin translation of the Greek text started a 
revolution. Many revolutions have begun with translations: the French 
Revolution profited by the translations of Hobbes, Locke and Hume; the 
Russian, by that of Karl Marx; the Fascist, by the translation of Sorel; 
the American, by the translation of Rousseau. The history of most modern 
national literatures begins with translations. For contemporaries do not 
necessarily share the same civilization; nations live in different cultural 
epochs; even within each nation, different stages of civilization exist at 
the same time. This is why the nations often wake up as from a baa 1 
dream, when a quick translator reveals to them how wonderfully far 
other nations have gone. 

The philologists are dangerous radicals: they go to the sources. The 
thinking philologist learns to scorn false authorities and finally all authori- 
ties. Thus Vesalius arrived at his anatomical discoveries because the 
humanists went back to Hippocrates; the ancient physician's errors 
brought him to nature. Thus Peurbach and Regiomontanus went back 
to the original texts of the antique authors because the humanists had 
cleaned the corrupted ones. Regiomontanus found and preserved the 
work of Ptolemy in Greek; it was not until Copernicus had read the 
Greek that he found the courage to upset him. 

The road to nature led via the Greeks. From the perusal of the ancients 
one came to the dissection of corpses. While monks were the sole teachers, 
the world resembled a convent behind walls. 

The humanists, disciples of those worldly Hellenes who were born 
to see, learned to see for themselves. The jurists ceased to ask God in His 
heaven, their own instinct or the common people what might be right 
and wrong. They leafed through Justinian and read the Corpus Iuris. 
The theologians, disillusioned by the scholastics and Fathers of the 
Church, ceased to gaze into their own hearts or at the stars and instead 
read the Bible in the original text, "God's own Word in its own language." 
They printed the Greek text of the New Testament and the Hebrew text 
of the Old, compared both with the authorized translation and pointed 

NICOLA LI 5 COP I RN I C ' -% \ 


to the flaws in the translation— and lo! they were the source of flaws of 
the Church. So the humanists acquired the knack of striking at the 
translation when they meant to hit the Church. 

Erasmus cleansed the text of the New Testament, and Reuchlin that 
of the Old. Both were conservatives by nature; in the new text they 
sought only the old truth; they aimed at purification, and achieved a 
revolution. It was from the purified texts of Reuchlin and Erasmus that 
Luther translated the Bible. 

With the humanists, Europe began not only to read the Bible, sail to 
America and India, eat potatoes, sell Negroes to America, smoke tobacco, 
build churches upon Greek columns, read Plato and recount the stars as 
well as the bones in the human cadaver — it also began to laugh again. 
The humanists wrote comedies like those of Menander and Aristophanes 
— or at least like those of Plautus and Terence— and they wrote satires 
patterned after those of Lucian and Horace, Petronius, Martial and 
Juvenal. Boccaccio and Rabelais, Machiavelli, Sebastian Brant, Erasmus 
and finally Cervantes laughed like giants. 

Copernicus, too, was a typical humanist. He was a pupil of humanists 
at Cracow, at Bologna, at Rome, at Ferrara and Padua. He was a man 
of letters, a translator and philologist as were all the rest; he wrote Latin 
and read Greek; he was even credited with Latin verses; full of antique 
learning, he was tolerant toward gods and men and intolerant of folly 
and ignorance, as were all humanists. Copernicus was a king of the 




"Our life is a business, theirs was an ex- 


COPERNICUS called the sun "the soul, the light of the world— placed 
on a royal throne in the center of the universe, where it guides the family 
of the stars circling around it." {De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, 

This life-imperiling sentence, together with the manuscript containing 
it, was held back by Copernicus for thirty-six years, as he himself wrote 
in his Preface. He would have preferred not to publish at all, at least 
hot in his lifetime. He yielded only to the urging of friends. The final 
impulse was provided by Rheticus, a young professor of mathematics 
at the Lutheran university of Wittenberg who is credited with preventing 
the loss of the whole work "on the revolutions of the heavenly spheres." 

When finally at the age of seventy years, Copernicus made up his mind 
to publish the book, he was wise enough to dedicate it to the Holy 
Father. He wrote: 

"To His Holiness, Paul HI, Supreme Pontiff." 

(Praefatio in Copernicus: De Revolutionibus; pp. 3-8. Translated by 
Dorothy Stimson, A.M. Printed in The Gradual Acceptance of the Coper- 
nican Theory of the Universe, Hanover, New Hampshire, 1917.) 

"I can certainly well believe, most holy Father, that, while mayhap a 
few will accept this my book which I have written concerning the revolu- 
tions of the spheres of the world, ascribing certain motions to the sphere 
of the earth, people will clamor that I ought to be cast out at once for 
such an opinion. Nor are my ideas so pleasing to me that I will not care- 
fully weigh what others decide concerning them. And although I know 
that the meditations of philosophers are remote from the- opinions of 



the unlearned, because it is their aim to seek truth in all things so far 
as it is permitted by God to the human reason, nevertheless I think that 
opinions wholly alien to the right ought to be driven out. Thus when 
I considered with myself what an absurd fairy-tale people brought up in 
the opinion, sanctioned by many ages, that the earth is motionless in the 
midst of the heaven, as if it were the center of it, would think it if I 
were to assert on the contrary that the earth is moved; I hesitated long 
whether I would give to the light my commentaries composed in proof 
of this motion, or whether it would indeed be more satisfactory to follow 
the example of the Pythagoreans and various others who were wont to 
pass down the mysteries of philosophy not by books, but from hand 
to hand only to their friends and relatives, as the letter of Lysis to Hip- 
parchus proves. But verily they seemed to me not to have done this, as 
some think, from any dislike to spreading their teachings, but lest the 
most beautiful things and those investigated with much earnestness by 
great men, should be despised by those to whom spending good work 
on any book is a trouble unless they make profit by it; or if they are 
incited to the liberal study of philosophy by the exhortations and the 
example of others, yet because of the stupidity of their wits they are no 
more busily engaged among philosophers than drones among bees. When 
therefore I had pondered these matters, the scorn which was to be feared 
on account of the novelty and the absurdity of the opinion impelled me 
for that reason to set aside entirely the book already drawn up. 

"But friends, in truth, have brought me forth into the light again, 
though I long hesitated and am' still reluctant; among these the foremost 
was Nicholas Schonberg, Cardinal of Capua, celebrated in all fields of 
scholarship. Next to him is that scholar, my very good friend, Tiedemann 
Giese, Bishop of Kulm, most learned in all sacred matters, (as he is), and 
in all good sciences. He has repeatedly urged me and, sometimes even 
with censure, implored me to publish this book and to suffer it to see the 
light at last, as it has lain hidden by me not for nine years alone, but 
also into the fourth 'novenium'. Not a few other scholars of eminence also 
pleaded with me, exhorting me that I should no longer refuse to con- 
tribute my book to the common service of mathematicians on account 
of an imagined dread. They said that however absurd in many ways this 
my doctrine of the earth's motion might now appear, so much the greater 
would be the admiration and goodwill after people had seen by the 
pSblications of my commentaries the mists of absurdities rolled away 
by the most lucid demonstrations. Brought to this hope, therefore, by 
these pleaders, I at last permitted my friends, as they had long besought 
me, to publish this work. 


"But perhaps your Holiness will not be so shocked that I have dared 
to bring forth into the light these my lucubrations, having spent so much 
work in elaborating them, that I did not hesitate even to commit to a book 
my conclusions about the earth's motion, but that you will particularly 
wish to hear from me how it came into my mind to dare to imagine any 
motion of the earth, contrary to the accepted opinion of mathematicians 
and in like manner contrary to common sense. So I do not wish to con- 
ceal from your Holiness that nothing else moved me to consider some 
other explanations for the motions of the spheres of the universe than 
what I knew, namely that mathematicians did not agree among them- 
selves in their examinations of these things. For in the first place, they 
are so completely undecided concerning the motion of the sun and of 
the moon that they could not observe and prove the constant length of 
the great year. (The translator: i.e. the 15,000 solar years in which all the 
heavenly bodies complete their circuits and return to their original posi- 
tions.) Next, in determining the motions of both these and the five other 
planets, they did not use the same principles and assumptions or even 
the same demonstrations of the appearances of revolutions and motions. 
For some used only homocentric circles; others, eccentrics and epicycles, 
which on being questioned about, they themselves did not fully com- 
prehend. For those who put their trust in homocentrics, although they 
proved that other diverse motions could be derived from these, neverthe- 
less they could by no means decide on any thing certain which in the 
least corresponded to the phenomena. But these who devised eccentrics, 
even though they seem for the most part to have represented apparent 
motions by a number (of eccentrics) suitable to them, yet in the mean- 
time they have admitted quite a few which appear to contravene the 
first principles of equality of motion. Another notable thing, that there 
is a definite symmetry before the form of the universe and its parts, they 
could not devise or construct from these; but it is with them as if a man 
should take from different places, hands, feet, a head and other members, 
in the best way possible indeed, but in no way comparable to a single body, 
and in no respect corresponding to each other, so that a monster rather 
than a man would be constructed from them. Thus in the process of 
proof, which they call a system, they are found to have passed over some 
essential, or to have admitted some thing both strange and scarcely 
relevant. This would have been least likely, to have happened to them 
if they had followed definite principles. For if the hypotheses they as- 
sumed were not fallacious, everything which followed out of them would 
have been verified beyond a doubt. However obscure may be what I 
now say, nevertheless in its own place it will be made more clear. 


"When therefore I had long considered this uncertainty of traditional 
mathematics, it began to weary me that no more definite explanation ot 
the movement of the world machine established in our behalf by the 
best and most systematic builder of all, existed among the philosophers 
who had studied so exactly in other respects the minutest details in regard 
to the sphere. Wherefore I took upon myself the task of re-reading the 
books of all the philosophers which I could obtain, to seek out whether 
any one had ever conjectured that the motions of the spheres of the uni- 
verse were other than they supposed who taught mathematics in the 
schools. And I found first that, according to Cicero, Nicetas had thought 
the earth was moved. Then later I discovered according to Plutarch that 
certain others had held the same opinion; and in order that this passage 
may be available to all, I wish to write it down here: 

But while some say the earth stands still, Philolaus the Pythagorean 
held that it is moved about the element of fire in an oblique circle, 
after the same manner of motion that the sun and moon have. Heraclites 
of Pontus and Ecphantus the Pythagorean assign a motion to the earth, 
not progressive, but after the manner of a wheel being carried on its 
own axis. Thus the earth, they say, turns itself upon its own center from 
west to east. 

"When from this, therefore, I had conceived its possibility I myself 
also began to meditate upon the mobility of the earth. And although the 
opinion seemed absurd, yet because I knew the liberty had been accorded 
to others before me of imagining whatsoever circles they pleased to 
explain the phenomena of the stars, I thought I also might readily be 
allowed to experiment whether, by supposing the earth to have some 
motion, stronger demonstrations than those of the others could be found 
as to the revolution of the celestial sphere. 

"Thus, supposing these motions which I attribute to the earth later on 
in this book, I found at length by much and long observation, that if the 
motions of the other planets were added to the rotation of the earth and 
calculated as for the revolution of that planet, not only the phenomena 
of the others followed from this, but also it so bound together both the 
order and magnitude of all the planets and the spheres and the heaven 
itself, that in no single part could one thing be altered without confusion 
among the other parts and in all the universe. Hence, for this reason, 
in the course of this work I have followed this system, so that in the 
first book I describe all the positions of the spheres together with the 
motions I attribute to the earth; thus this book contains a kind of general 
disposition of the universe. Then in the remaining books, I bring together 
the motions of the other planets and all the spheres with the mobility of 


the earth, so that it can thence be inferred to what extent the motions 
and appearances of the other planets and spheres can be solved by at- 
tributing motion to the earth. Nor do I doubt that skilled and scholarly 
mathematicians will agree with me if, what philosophy requires from 
the beginning, they will examine and judge, not casually but deeply, what 
I have gathered together in this book to prove these things. In order 
that learned and unlearned may alike see that in no way whatsoever I 
evade judgement, I prefer to dedicate these my lucubrations to your 
Holiness rather than to anyone else; especially because even in this very 
remote corner of the earth in which I live, you are held so very eminent 
by reason of the dignity of your position and also for your love of all 
letters and of mathematics that, by your authority and your decision, 
you can easily suppress the malicious attacks of calumniators, even though 
proverbially there is no remedy against the attacks of sycophants. 

"If perchance there should be foolish speakers who, together with those 
ignorant of all mathematics, will take it upon themselves to decide con- 
cerning these things, and because of some place in the Scriptures wickedly 
distorted to their purpose, should dare to assail this my work, they are 
of no importance to me to such an extent do I despise their judgement 
as rash. For it is not unknown that Lactantius, the writer celebrated in 
other ways but very little in mathematics, spoke somewhat childishly 
of the shape of the earth when he derided those who declared the earth 
had the shape of a ball. (These two sentences the Congregations in 1620 
ordered struck out, as part of their "corrections." — the translator.) So it 
ought not to surprise students if such should laugh at us also. Mathe- 
matics is written for mathematicians to whom these our labors, if I am 
not mistaken, will appear to contribute something even to the ecclesiastical 
state the headship of which your Holiness now occupies. For it is not 
so long ago under Leo X when the question arose in the Lateran Council 
about correcting the Ecclesiastical Calendar. It was left unsettled then for 
this reason alone, that the length of the year and of the months and the 
movements of the sun and moon had not been satisfactorily determined. 
From that time on, I have turned my attention to the more accurate ob- 
servation of these, at the suggestion of that most celebrated scholar, Father 
Paul, a bishop from Rome, who was the leader then in that matter. What, 
however, I may have achieved in this, I leave to the decision of your 
Holiness especially, and to all other learned mathematicians. And lest I 
seem to your Holiness to promise more about the value of this work than 
I can perform, I now pass on to the undertaking." 

For thirty-six years, Copernicus delayed the printing of this book 
"about the revolutions." What revolutions were they? Merely the revolu- 


dons of the heavenly spheres? Merely the turns and movements of the 
earth? To lift the world from its hinges at the age of thirty-four and not 
to tell the world about it till you are seventy — what modesty! What pa- 
tience! What arrogance! Of course he continued his research work during 
these thirty-six years, checked and rechecked his results ... Or did he 
have other reasons for waiting? Did he have cause to be afraid of the 
Inquisition, perhaps, and its heresy trials? 

The Church had assumed the privilege of persecuting any new idea — 
that is to say, any idea. Whoever thought was burned. In Spain, in addi- 
tion, they burned Moors, Jews and Maranos. At Smithfield they burned 
Protestants; in France, Albigenses and Calvinists; in Germany, witches 
and magicians. In Italy they even burned physicians. 

The death penalty became increasingly frequent. People were killed 
every which way, under all sorts of rules. Even the preliminary investiga- 
tion was often fatal; it consisted chiefly of tortures, and of ordeals at 
which God was to take the part of the innocent, with the hangman 
acting as interpreter. As he bound the accused and meted out the tests, so 
"God sat in judgment." 

For the water test the accused were thrown naked into the water; the 
guilty, whom Satan kept afloat, were killed, while those who drowned, 
proved their innocence. For the ordeal of the cross, accuser and accused 
stood in front of a cross with upraised arms; the first to drop his arms 
was the loser. The law rewarded a good athlete. 

The Salzburg municipal law decreed: "A forger shall be burned or 
boiled to death. A perjurer shall have his tongue torn out by the neck. A 
servant who sleeps with his master's wife, daughter or sister, shall be 
beheaded or hanged." Pederasts were burned, traitors quartered, and 
parricides boiled in oil. Heretics (and Sodomites) were burned alive; 
atheists were buried alive. Did Copernicus fear to be accused of heresy 
or atheism? 

The poor were actually despised. Justice penalized poverty. To make 
it easier for the poor and for the free-thinkers to bid the world good-bye, 
their skin was pulled off in strips before the execution. 

Was it worse than today? Eternal war, eternal epidemics; thieves in 
town, robbers on the highways, pirates at sea — and princely and clerical 
robbers. Every civilian bore arms. For a trifle, one killed the other. 

The interests of Copernicus were so universal, and his mind was so 
curious, that he understood the conditions of his time and knew its cus- 
toms. The course of his life, moreover, took him into many circles of 
society, many nations and classes. He lived in Poland and in Italy, and 
traveled in Germany. As a canon from a wealthy bourgeois house, with 


excellent connections and lucrative benefices, he led a half clerical, half 
aristocratic existence which brought him into direct contact with all 
classes. He led an active life. He spent long years at the court of a ruling 
bishop, as his nephew and confidant; he was called to Konigsberg, to the 
court of the Duke of Prussia, and dispatched to Cracow, to the court of 
the Kings of Poland; in Rome he saw the Curia, and in Ferrara the 
famous court of the Estes. For thirteen or fourteen years, as a student 
and young scientist of rank and growing repute, he lived at universities, 
in Cracow, Bologna, Padua, Ferrara and Rome. He was the friend of 
humanists, bishops, university professors, council clerks, mathematicians 
and astronomers. 

He was an amateur painter, and a practicing physician whose aid, we 
are told, was free to the poor and eagerly sought by the great from near 
and far — as far as the foreign land of East Prussia. As if that were not 
enough, he was a doctor of canon law, a brilliant financial expert, an 
astronomer as we know, a famous mathematician, a humanist, a student 
of Greek, a writer of Latin prose (and said to be a Latin poet), an 
authority on classical literature, and a capable geographer and map- 
maker, a friend of nature and of mankind. 

But this cleric was also a landowner, a district administrator, for many 
years the Chapter's deputy at Allenstein Castle and for a shorter period 
a deputy of the Bishop of Varmia. He negotiated with burgomasters 
and with village heads. He assessed and collected ground rents. For a 
time he was the highest judge in the land. He had the oversight of 
clergymen and lay officials in the bishopric. He bore the pressure of 
business, the burden of office, the responsibility of a scientist, the dignity 
of a philosopher, the tension of a man who founds a system, the terrible 
nihilism of a philosophical astronomer, the anxiety of a heretic, the end- 
less patience of a sage, the persecution that dogs a great man. 

During his four years at Castle Allenstein, Copernicus knew the num- 
ber of oxen owned by every peasant in the Cathedral domain, and per- 
sonally noted in the account book the amount of wheat this one harvested 
and how much another paid for his tenure. He saw the distress of the 
poor. He drew up a plan to regulate bread prices. The peasants — rightless 
villeins, virtual serfs — came before him to hear how much rent they must 
pay, and he entered the sum in the administrator's book before two wit- 
nesses. Copernicus would call in his two burggraves as witnesses, the one 
of Allenstein and the one of Mehlsack, or he called upon Chaplain Nico- 
laus of Allenstein and one of the village heads, or on one of the foresters 
and Albert, his first servant, or in Albert's absence on his second servant, 


the "boy Jerome." In three years, Copernicus leased church lands to fifty- 
eight tenant farmers in Mehlsack and Allenstein. 

Copernicus traveled much even after his sojourns in Italy. He took offi- 
cial and diplomatic trips as ambassador of his uncle Watzelrode or the 
succeeding bishops or the Cathedral Chapter. He even waged war, pur- 
chased rifles and cannon and powder and lead, and defended Castle 
Allenstein. This happened in 1520, in the war between Poland and the 
Teutonic Order, when the Grand Master had occupied a large part of 
the Chapter domain of Allenstein; and Copernicus, at that time governor 
at Castle Allenstein, remained at his post while most of his colleagues 
migrated to Danzig or Elbing. In the following year, the war raged mainly 
in the neighborhood of Castle Allenstein; the country was laid waste, 
the villages were burned down and the peasants were killed. In the end 
the forces of the Order besieged Castle Allenstein; Copernicus defended 
it successfully. 

In later years he administered the charities of his church. In his old 
age he was appointed guardian for the children of a cousin. While he 
lived at the Cathedral he kept a retinue of servants, whose master and 
judge he was. Thus he dealt with persons of all classes and many nations, 
and saw their customs and abuses. 

The seafarers and discoverers navigated in the fifteenth and sixteenth 
centuries by the star tables of Regiomontanus, but in the sixteenth and 
seventeenth centuries by those of Copernicus, the so-called "Prussian star 
tables," published by the Copernican, Reinhold, and based upon the as- 
tronomical and mathematical improvements of Copernicus. To sailors 
the astronomer gave the navigational instruments, and to all people he 
gave new calendars and clocks. What a triumph for the guild of the 
astronomers when Columbus discovered America (at a time when Coper- 
nicus was a student at Cracow) ; when Vasco da Gama found the sea way 
to East India (at a time when Copernicus was a student at Bologna) ; 
or when Fernando Magellan sailed round the world for the first time, 
while Copernicus directed the defense of Castle Allenstein and was already 
famous among astronomers! By what storms of world experience was 
Copernicus buffeted before he, a mightier Aeolus, unleashed them him- 

On the Crusades the Europeans had discovered remoteness. God and 
pepper lured them Eastward; they came back with pepper and divine 
inspirations. Solitary Europeans traveled with the footloose Arabs. Marco 
Polo of Venice reached the Mongol world. The Portuguese advanced in 
the Atlantic, island by island. The Italians experienced the triumph of 
seeing the new continent discovered by a Genoese and baptized by another 


compatriot. Columbus uttered the new words, proved by Copernicus in 
quite another, most enormous sense: "II mondo e poco" — the world is 

How small our earth became. But the assurance of the individual grew. 
The conquistadores turned from beggars into kings. Miraculously, red 
Indians and green parr.ots came to Europe. Columbus wrote to the 
Catholic Kings of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, that he had redis- 
covered Paradise. 

Inflation, a direct result of the stream of gold flowing from the New 
World, raised the cost of living. A new, enormous wealth sprang up — 
and unheard-of poverty. Merchants became millionaires. Bankers became 
dukes. Philippine Welser, a merchant's daughter from Augsburg, mar- 
ried Archduke Ferdinand of the Tyrol. The Augsburg moneybags, 
Jacob Fugger, loaned three hundred and ten thousand florins to the King 
of Spain, the possessor of the fabulous gold empire; with this loan Don 
Carlos bought a few Electors who made him the German Emperor, 
Charles V. Businessmen such as the Fuggers and Welsers, or the Medicis 
of Florence, Ambrose Hochstaedter of Augsburg, Jean Ango, the ship- 
owner of Dieppe, or the Roman banker Bindo Altovito became wealthier 
than kings. They became the first modern capitalists and the famed 
protectors of the arts. 

The banker Cosimo de Medici built cathedrals. He built palaces in 
Paris and in Jerusalem. He received the great emigrants, John Lascaris 
and Cardinal Bessarion royally. He founded the famous Medicean Library. 
He made Florence a center of Greek studies. He and his humanist friends 
wished to reconcile Plato and Christ. He employed such architects as 
Michelozzo and Brunelleschi, such sculptors as Donatello and della 
Robbia and such painters as Ghirlandaio, Botticelli and Fra Angelico. 

Lorenzo de Medici married his daughter to the son of a Pope. Then his 
own son at the age of fourteen became Pope Leo X. The lad was already 
a Cardinal. Lorenzo employed Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo; 
Pico della Mirandola was his friend. He founded the Laurentian Library 
and the University of Pisa. He spent thirty thousand ducats a year on 
manuscripts; he was a poet, a humanist — such were the heights to which 
a merchant rose in those days. 

The humanists were the fathers of the Renaissance. Men of letters 
founded the new era. The cultivation of literature advanced the nations. 

Many of the greatest humanists were clerics: Petrarca, Ficino, Erasmus 
and Copernicus among them. The sons of the Church were the first to 
rise against the Church. Similarly, the sons of knights became peasant 
leaders, sons of the aristocrats, leaders of the Third Estate, and sons of 


the bourgeoisie, leaders of the workers' revolutions. The Renaissance, too, 
was a victory of apostates allied with plebeians. 

The fresh young men and classes wanted to resurrect the dead, to 
rouse the world from its slumber, to walk on Olympus with the ancient 
gods in eternal youth and beauty. They were fed up with theological 

Erasmus of Rotterdam, the most tolerant of them, handed the scholas- 
tics and theologians over to public ridicule. He wrote: "Their whole 
energy is spent in questioning, dividing, distinguishing and defining: 
the first part is divided into three, of which the first part is again divided 
into four, and of these four each is once more divided into three. What 
could be farther from the style of the prophets, Christ and the apostles?" 

The Christian faith had absorbed and finished all thought; henceforth 
thinking was forbidden. The theses of the theologians were the tyrants 
of Europe. The Holy Scriptures were the spirits' sole food and drink. 
Theology was the supreme, the only science. Scholastics was Queen. 
The humanists sneaked into the ruins of Roman and Greek temples, 
and returned with the gods of Antiquity; their Homeric laughter re- 
sounded through the whole of Italy. 

Medieval society was already gathering nightly on Bald Mountain, for 
dances of witches and ghosts. Now Satan lost his horns, claws and tail, 
and changed before you knew it, into a nude marble Venus. The knights 
were defeated. Peasants and townspeople rose against the feudal lords. 
The Church which had first found its best servants in the great monastic 
Orders, now found in them its greatest rebels. Trade became international; 
banking and the arts flourished. 

The humanists rebelled not only against scholasticism but against the 
mob. With their Latin professional language they barricaded themselves 
against the masses and set up the republic of the savants. They created 
a new aristocracy, that of the spirit. 

By all means they sought to reconcile Antiquity with the Church. 
Marsilio Ficino, a priest who preached on Plato from the pulpit of San 
Lorenzo in Florence, tried in his main work, De religione Christiana, 
to unite religion and science, Christianity and Antiquity; he called Christ 
a Platonic, and Plato the prophet of Christ. Pope Pius II wrote to the 
Sultan: "Christianity is merely a modern version of the ancients' 'highest 
virtue.'" Brutus, the tyrannicide, almost became a saint— as did the 
heathens Virgil, Aristotle and Plato. Savonarola said of the contemporary 
theologians: "They know nothing of Holy Writ and can only quote 
Aristotle and Plato." Greek and Roman mythology entered the Church. 
Popes talked of gods and goddesses. 


Antique statues were dug from the ground; not until then was human 
beauty realized. Archeologists fished in the bed of the Tiber river and 
excavated in the Romagna and in Rome itself. In 1430, in workmen's 
garb and armed with picks and shovels, the sculptor Donatello and the 
architect Brunelleschi— nicknamed "the treasure hunters" — searched for 

Rome lay half waste at the time. The Romans had used the ancient 
buildings for quarries; it is easy to burn marble into chalk. Montaigne 
described the villas which the Romans built among the ruins of their 
city: "They 'really were country houses, with parks and pleasure-gardens 
of a strange beauty — there, I learned for the first time how art might 
benefit by a rough and irregular landscape." Poggio, in his travels about 
Rome, described many more ancient buildings than Raphael found at 
his inventory of the old city, eighty years later. Temples and churches lay 
in ruins. Rubbish piled up in the squares. He saw few statues, most of 
them lying on the ground. There were still tall thermae standing, and 
eleven temples which no longer exist. Goats roamed in moss-grown tem- 
ple, ruins. In labyrinthine cellars one found the traces of the old artists. 
Michelangelo dug up the Laocoon group mentioned by Pliny, and it be- 
came the sensation of the century. The Apollo Belvedere was found, 
and so were the Medicean Venus, Cleopatra, the Torso of the Vatican, 
the Tiber group and the grotesques on the walls of Rome. Shiploads 
of antiques and antique manuscripts arrived from Rhodes. 

Of course, the ideal figures of the humanists changed as well. In their 
enthusiasm about all rhetoric, many adopted Cicero, the attorney of the 
Roman Republic, as their paragon; Bembo's advice was to spend years 
exclusively in studying him. For some eras he became the "sole" author, as 
did Virgil and Aristotle for others. Erasmus of Rotterdam wrote a 
pamphlet against this fad, and was called a Teutonic drunkard for it by 
the erudite Scaliger Senior. 

The humanists renewed the arts of oratory, of epistolography and of 
history. They were proudest of their neo-Latin poetry. They latinized 
their names; Latin came to be their language of conversation; they sang 
and prayed in Latin. When Cardinal Bessarion donated his famed col- 
lection of eight hundred codices to the Republic of Venice, Aldus Manu- 
tius brought the Greek authors out in magnificent prints; the Aldinic 
editions of Aristptle, Euripides, Thucydides became world-famous. 

In the era of the Renaissance arts and letters strove to rid themselves 
of national fetters. Petrarca corresponded with the Emperor, whose resi- 
dence was Prague; Pico della Mirandola, with Reuchlin; the Parisian 
Bude, with the Venetian Aldus; and Erasmus, with Emperors, Popes and 


savants of a dozen nations. The humanists, the great pagans who wor- 
shipped four thousand gods rather than one God, were the precursors 
of the Reformers. They enlarged the world, resurrected the dead, freed 
human thought, worshipped beauty and burst the chains of the nations. 
Then the mighty canon, Nicolaus Copernicus, arrived from Poland, 
pushed the whole earth off its pedestal and sent the infinitesimal one out 
into the endless universe, far from both gods and God. 

Quanti viril Rabelais and Ronsard! Erasmus and Luther! Calvin and 
Montaigne! Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci! Ariosto and Colum- 
bus! All of them strove for perfection: for the perfection of their art and 
of life. Everything became a work of art — the state, murder, war, slander, 
love, demeanor. They were individualities like the Greeks, Romans and 

Pope Nicolaus V confessed to the two great passions of the Renaissance: 
books and buildings. As a monk he piled up debts to purchase codices. 
As a Pope, he took his translators and compilers along on his flight 
from Rome before the plague, fearful of losing one of them. He left 
nine thousand volumes when he died — the basis of the Vatican Library. 
Popes Pius II and Paul III bragged of their descent from the old Romans 
— it had become the rage ever since Petrarca; people acted like old Ro- 
mans in speech, thought, manners and everyday life. Leo X retained 
Raphael to undertake the ideal restoration of the ancient city. Under this 
Pope, who wanted to prolong his life systematically by merriment, the 
Vatican resounded with song and lute music; it was not until his death 
and the sack of Rome that the humanists deteriorated in Italy. 

The Counter-Reformation discredited them altogether. They were re- 
proached for their evil arrogance, for their intemperance and for their 
vicious unbelief. So they fell. As always, the poor men of letters were their 
own worst enemies; nobody slandered the humanists more effectively 
than the humanists slandered themselves. 

Class distinctions became blurred in the Renaissance, and new ones 
appeared. External refinement grew excessive. The abysses of the human 
soul were discovered or rediscovered, as were the perfect socialite, the 
uomo universale, the dilettante and the virtuoso. Beside boundless im- 
morality, even amorality, a boundless faith in the goodness of human 
nature blossomed like a forest violet, as it did again in the eighteenth 

Rabelais proclaimed the rule of his Thelemite Convent: "Fay ce que 
vouldras. Parce que gens liberes, bien nayz, bien instruictz, conversans 
en compaignies honnestes, ont par nature ung instinct et aguillon qui 
tousjours les poulse a faictz vertueux, et retire de vice: lequel ilz 


nommoyent honneur." (Do as you please. For free, well-born and well- 
educated folk gathering in good company have a natural instinct and 
spur which always drives them to virtuous acts and restrains them from 
vice — they call it honor.) 

Was honor then to take the place of religion? In 1529 the Florentine 
historian Guicciardini, for many years a court official of the Medicean 
Popes, wrote in his aphorisms: "No man dislikes more than I do the 
ambition, greed and dissoluteness of the priests . . . Yet my position 
with several Popes has forced me to seek their grandeur, in my own in- 
terest. Without such consideration I should have loved Martin Luther 
as I love myself— not so much to rid myself of the laws which are 
imposed upon us by Christianity, as commonly explained and understood, 
as to see this criminal host shown their due place, so that they would 
have to live either without vice or without power." 

The Church, to be sure, had the most humane and sacred heritage. 
Beside its dubious practice it had the ideal background, the mighty lan- 
guage, the revelations and divinations, the saints and the prophets, the 
great moral preachers and penitents— and God, of course. In those days 
when each man was still a son of God, the boldest critic of the Church in 
Italy, Fra Girolamo Savonarola, was burned at Florence at the behest 
of the most wanton of all Popes, Alexander VI. 

The people— the "dumb giant" who is so slow to learn and so loath 
to forget— had carried all the age-old pagan customs into the churches. 
They turned the madonnas into helpers in need and the saints into "little 
men"; they put food out for the dead, in the manner of the ancient 
Greeks. Thus paganism entered the Church from below, from the people, 
as well as from above, from the humanists. New individualities rose 
from the womb of the Church and before long discovered a new, free and 
subjective world, full of gods, and godless. 

Their encounter with the Byzantines and Mohammedans made the 
Italians tolerant. Traveling about Europe, the Italian humanists carried 
along their modern scepticism, their new fatalism and cynicism, but also 
their superstitions derived from the Middle Ages, Antiquity and the East. 
They distinguished more acutely between good and evil, but ceased to 
believe in sin. They became the most celebrated amoralists of history; 
Hell had no terrors for those who were enjoying Heaven here on earth. 
Praising their good fortune like the ancients and believing in the free 
will of the individual, they were popular Epicureans. 

Before taking a trip, however, they made their wills. If possible, there 
were more custom officials then than today. Visas were issued by robber 
knights instead of consuls. One out of every ten men in the towns was a 


beggar; one out of ten country-dwellers was a highwayman. The lepers 
were driven out into the fields and rang little bells; honest lepers — 
they warned you of themselves! 

It was a just world, orderly and safe. Communists were stewed in 
boiling oil. Splendid times! Hunger drove hordes of peasants to take 
to the highways; the Church persecuted the vagrants — poor people are 
so immoral. The people, always quick to side with the morality of the 
well-to-do, said, "Fiddlers and bishops do not go to Heaven." Beggar 
monks preached communistic sermons. Peasants who took them seriously 
and started to divide property were beaten black and blue; for, as the 
"Magdeburg Chronicle" tells us, "there was an old hatred between the 
rich and the poor." For the rich, Peter Suchenwirt rhymed: 

"The chests are laden for the rich 
And bare for the penurious; 
A hollow stomach makes the mob 
Highly aggrieved and furious." 

Obviously the poor did not know their place, in those days. There were 
"damned" revolutions, called the Peasant Wars: risings of day laborers 
and humanists, beggar monks and fanatics for justice, of journeymen, 
just men, good men, scamps and winebibbers and Reformers — in short: 
"John behind the Walls." And their women wanted to "wear golden 
clips and belts, too." Poor people simply wanted to get rich. At first, they 
were diverted against the Jews and the priests. But the revolutions in- 
creased in number — and mostly failed, because nothing succeeds for the 
poor. Once, however, the Swiss peasants who still carried swords suc- 
ceeded, especially those in Appenzell; and after that, all peasants wanted 
to become "Appenzellers." The Hussites in Bohemia, too, loved freedom. 
Gentlemen began to fear that all the poor would become Hussites, and 
so, in their eyes, every man was a Hussite who did not believe in the 
god of the rich. 

As for the politicians of the Renaissance, Machiavelli took their 
measure — and gave it to them. The Kings, Emperors, bankers and Popes, 
counts and clergymen laughed at all religious and national prejudices 
and boundaries. Boundaries and prejudices, those were only the vulgar 
tools by which they ruled the mob— and by mob they meant nine hundred 
and ninety-nine people in a thousand. But firearms had democratized 
warfare. Peasants could now defeat knights. Militarily, the Swiss were 
the strongest nation in Europe; they and the lansquenets aided both racial 
mixture and the European art business. They served tyrants and defeated 


tyrants. Amidst all misfortune, it was fortunate that there were so many 
small tyrants; it was easy to escape from them. 

"In all our populous towns," said Giovanni Potana, "we see numbers 
of men who have left their homelands voluntarily; after all, you take 
your virtues along wherever you go." 

Dante found the proudest word for political emigrants: "My home- 
land is the world itself." He refused to accept conditions for permission 
to return to Florence, and wrote: "Can I not see the sun and the stars 
shine everywhere? Can I not everywhere ponder about the noblest truths, 
without therefore appearing inglorious or even infamous before the 
people and the city? I shall not even want for bread." 

Splendid times! Satan reigned on the mountains, behind the churches, 
in every street. The great, world-wide conspiracy reigned, against truth 
and love; the plotters' names were Inertia, Ignorance and Tyranny. The 
Church clasped superstition to its full bosom and persecuted research. 
Copernicus was right to beware. More victims are immolated in God's 
name than in the devil's. In revolutionary periods especially, men like to 
quote the newest ideals while butchering their fellows. The most danger- 
ous centuries are those in which everybody believes in the goodness of 
human nature. The Reformers championed freedom of opinion, of con- 
science, of research and of teaching against the Pope, and soon turned 
into persecutors worse than he. The devil reigned; the Church reckoned 
with the Evil One and let his servants foot the bill. He who impugned a 
dogma of the Church came from the devil, and should go to the devil. 
He was burned alive, or buried alive. 

Rabelais and Erasmus used to express themselves similarly: "I am pre- 
pared to uphold my view to the fire — exclusively." 

In 1543— the year of publication of the "Revolutions," which also was 
the year of Copernicus' death— the theological faculty of the Sorbonne 
denounced "Gargantua and Pantagruel" to the Parliament of Paris, and 
a few years later a Benedictine monk publicly demanded that "this dog 
Rabelais" be burned. 

Is it clear, why Copernicus hesitated for thirty-six years— and why at 
last he dared? 



"Quoi qu'en dise Aristote et sa docte cabale, 

Le tabac est divin, il n'est rien qui I'ggale." 

THOMAS corneiixe, le Festin de Pierre 

"Catholicism is a good summer religion." 

heinrich HEINE, Journey from Munich 

to Genoa 

COPERNICUS spent fifteen years at universities. A great man needs 

First, he went to the University of Cracow. He may have been drawn 
there by its great repute for mathematics and astronomy; besides, his 
father's family came from Cracow; from Cracow, Mikolaj Kopernik, as a 
young man, had moved to Torun; in Cracow Uncle Lucas Watzelrode 
had begun his studies, and Copernicus' younger sister was married to a 
Cracow merchant. In Cracow, the capital of Poland, students from many 
lands of Europe mingled with humanists, artists, merchants and famous 

Copernicus began to study in 1492. In that year Erasmus of Rotterdam 
became a monk in Utrecht, Columbus discovered America and Roderick 
Borgia became Pope Alexander VI; in that year, the last Moorish realm 
in Europe disappeared with the fall of Granada, and Spain expelled its 
Jews because the Catholic Kings were in need of money, and Torque- 
mada, of victims. 

Sixty-nine students enrolled at Cracow for the winter term of 1491-92. 
The student rosters from 1400 to 1508 have been preserved; in that winter 
term, Copernicus was the thirty-second registrant. The roster states that 
Nicolaus, the son of Nicolaus, of Torun, paid the full tuition fee. 

The Varmian Bishop's nephew applied for a Varmian benefice and, 
thanks to his uncle, got it when he was still in his early twenties, long 



before he finished his studies. In the Middle Ages you had to turn out a 
"master-piece," a perfect sample of your chosen craft, to be allowed to 
become a tailor or a cobbler; for the higher professions, the cloth of the 
Church sufficed. 

Copernicus took no examination at Cracow. In the School of Arts he 
probably studied Aristotle, mathematics and astronomy. Hartmann 
Schedel of Nuremberg, in his world chronicle covering the period from 
1480 to 1492, wrote that Cracow was famous for its university, and that 
mathematical and astronomical studies were in a more flourishing state 
there than anywhere in Germany. The most highly regarded mathema- 
tician and astronomer in Cracow at the time was Albert Blar de Brud- 
zewo, called Brudzewski. He taught at Cracow for more than twenty 
years, though his last astronomical course dated from 1490; during Coper- 
nicus' residence, he lectured publicly only on Aristotle. He had become 
a Bachelor of Arts at twenty-five, later a Master, professor and dean of the 
School of Arts, and not until then— typically — a Bachelor of Divinity and 
canon. In 1494 he left Cracow and accepted an invitation to become secre- 
tary to Grand Duke Alexander of Lithuania, later, King of Poland, in 
Vilna, where he died in 1497. 

As head of a students' house, the bursa Hungarorum, Brudzewski 
came into closer contact with the students than other professors. Coper- 
nicus may have profited privately by his knowledge— for Brudzewski is 
regarded as his great teacher. Presumably, moreover, most of the pro- 
fessors then teaching mathematics and astronomy at Cracow were Bru- 
dzewski 's pupils; in the winter term of 1491-92, sixteen of them had an- 
nounced mathematical and astronomical lectures — on Euclid, arithmetic, 
optics or th& "common perspective," on eclipses, music, Peurbach's plane- 
tary theory and Regiomontanus' astronomical tables and Calendarium; 
two even lectured on astrology. 

From Brudzewski, Copernicus is said to have acquired the "sureness 
of his mathematical knowledge, the sharpness of his vision, the august 
simplicity of demonstration." Brudzewski had annotated Peurbach and 
Regiomontanus; his commentary on Peurbach's planetary theory was 
printed at Milan by one of his pupils. It shows Brudzewski as an ad- 
herent of the geocentric thesis, but in view of his position as a Cracow 
canon this is no conclusive indication of his true, private opinion — the 
less so, since his public connection with international humanists made 
him sufficiently suspect. 

At the medieval universities the students lived in both tumult and con- 
finement, they were both clerical and obscene. Duels alternated with all 
but endless disputations. Instruction was not so specialized as at our 


universities, but it was subject to an even more rigid dictatorship of the 
powers that be. The scholastics had triumphed everywhere. They were 
stricdy anti-classical. Their spiritual leaders were the Fathers of the 
Church and Aristotle with his Arab commentators — Avicenna, Averroes, 
Avempace and Algazel — and his Jewish commentators, Avicebron (Ibn 
Gabirol) and Maimonides. 

The scholastics were highly specialized thinkers. At times, the problems 
of specialists strike the layman as rather baffling. The following were 
favorite questions of the scholastics: 

"Can God undo something that has happened — make of a prostitute, a 
pure maid, for instance?" 

Or: "Why did Adam in Paradise eat of an apple rather than a pear?" 

Or: "For how many angels is there room on a pinpoint?" and, "Was 
the first man equipped with a navel?" 

In Provence, the troubadours had begun to laugh at such sophisms; in 
Italy, Boccaccio laughed, and Dante as well as Petrarca appeared too art- 
less for such niceties. Rabelais, plainly uncomprehending, cited the tragic 
case of Alexander Aphrodiseus, who lived to pose — and fail to answer — 
this problem: "Why does the Hon, whose very roar appalls all animals, 
fear only a white cock?" 

And Erasmus of Rotterdam, in his Encomium Moriae, or "Praise of 
Folly," called the theologians a proud and irritable race: "They will 
smother me beneath six hundred dogmas. They will call me heretic, and 
bring thunderbolts out of their arsenals . . . Disavowing their mistress, 
they are, nevertheless, Folly's servants. They live in the Third Heaven, 
adoring their own persons and disdaining the poor crawlers upon earth. 
They are surrounded with a bodyguard of definitions, conclusions, corol- 
laries, propositions explicit and propositions implicit. Vulcan's chains will 
not bind them. They cut the links with a distinction as with the stroke 
of an axe. They will tell you how the world was created. They will show 
you the crack where Sin crept in to corrupt Mankind. They will explain 
to you how Christ was formed in the Virgin's womb . . . The most ordi- 
nary among them can do this. Those more fully initiated explain further 
. . . whether God can become the substance of a woman, of an ass, of 
a pumpkin, or of the devil, and whether, if so, a pumpkin could preach a 
sermon, or work miracles, or be crucified. 

"Like the Stoics, they have their paradoxes . . . whether it is better 
that the whole world should perish than that a woman should tell one 
small lie. 

"Then there are Realists, Nominalists, Thomists, Albertists, Occamists, 
Scotists — all so learned, that an apostle would have no chance with them 


in argument. They will tell you that, although St. Paul could define what 
Faith is, yet he could not define it adequately as they can . . ." 

Is it possible that the philosophy of Aristotle led to such absurdities? 
And if so, how did Aristotle happen to rule on earth for a longer period 
than any other man? 

Born at Stagira, in the year 384 B.C., as the son of a Royal Macedonian 
court physician, he came to Athens at seventeen and became a pupil of 
Plato, who called him "the intellect of his school." At forty, he became 
the tutor of a prince. His pupil, Alexander the Great, later the conqueror 
of Persia, made Aristotle a present of eight hundred talents (about a 
million dollars) and sent him unknown plants, animals and stones. At 
more than fifty, Aristotle returned to Athens with his collections and 
founded a new philosophic school in the Lyceum, a gymnasium near the 
city. In the morning he gave esoteric lectures before selected students; in 
the evening he instructed a larger circle in public (or exoteric) lectures. 
The Athenians, who suspected him of leaning toward the Macedonian 
faction, accused him of atheism (heresy). He fled to Chalcis on the 
island of Euboea, where he died. Part of his writings became known at 
the time; others were lost forever; many of his works were not published 
until the first centuries of the Christian era. The titles of his main works 
reveal the scope of his interests : Organon or "Logic," "Rhetoric," "Poetics," 
"Ethics," "Politics," "History of Animals," "Physics," "Metaphysics," 
"Psychology" and "Meteorology." Many books published under his name 
were apocryphal. His style was ponderous and his terminology peculiar 
to him — which is why he was misunderstood so frequently and thor- 
oughly. Dante called him "the master of those who know." Hegel called 
him "one of the richest and most comprehensive geniuses who ever ap- 
peared, a man without an equal in any epoch: of all the ancients, he 
deserves most to be studied." 

He created natural history. He was the first careful observer, anatomical 
dissector and psychological reporter of animals. He first divided the 
animal kingdom into classes, and described many creatures which previ- 
ously were unknown. 

He established the philosophical principle of experience, requiring all 
our thoughts to be based on the observation of facts. To him, logic was 
the fundamental science; Kant and Hegel, in their day, could not see that 
logic had made any progress since Aristotle. 

His first disciples were men of no great importance. The time after his 
death did not favor pure, speculative philosophy. For three hundred 
years, Stoicism and Epicureanism reigned; then, neo-Platonism appeared. 
It was not until about the year 150 A.D. that a school was formed, at 


Alexandria, which furnished comment and grammatical explanations to 
the writings of Plato and Aristotle. This school aroused enthusiasm for 
speculative philosophy, as against the Christian religion; this made Aris- 
totle obnoxious to the Fathers of the Church, and they condemned him. 
Only a few dared come to his defense; his most celebrated advocate was 

Until the eleventh century, Aristotle was all but unknown to the 
Christian world. However, in the eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh 
centuries he had become a favorite of Arab scientists. They started by 
translating his writings on natural history and medicine, thus came to 
study his other books, wrote comments on them and so preserved part 
of his works for posterity. Jewish scientists in turn translated these Arab 
translations of Aristotle into Latin, and so the scholastics in the eleventh 
century got to know his "Physics" and "Metaphysics" in gibberish trans- 
lations. (His "Logic," in part, had been known before.) ' 

Albertus Magnus, called Doctor universalis because he knew virtually 
everything, gave Aristotle a magnificent introduction to the Christian 
world and established his universal popularity. He studied Aristode's 
Arab and Jewish commentators, and turned him into a Christian philos- 
opher. For four centuries — though sometimes condemned as a heretic 
— Aristotle remained the authority of the Christian world in all things 
not directly pertaining to dogma. Later, when the humanists printed 
in the Aldinic edition all of his writings which were still extant, his 
philosophy was better understood. More than any philosopher, he brought 
the world to logical thinking. He taught the systematic treatment of 
science and art; he banished imagination from the realm of science; be- 
fore systematizing, he prescribed cool observation. And he taught the love 
of truth for its own sake. 

Many absurdities were uttered in his name. That was not his fault. In 
medieval times philosophy was deemed the obedient handmaiden of 
theology; without Aristotle, the Dark Ages might have lasted longer 
and been even darker. 

He was the chief tyrant, the demiurge. In each science there were 
lesser but no less absolute tyrants — for medical men, notably Hippocrates 
and Galen; for the orators, Cicero; for the mathematicians, Euclid; for 
the jurists, Justinian and Gratian. But the idol of the late Middle Ages 
remained Aristotle, this pedant out of Plato's school, this know-it-all 
and voluminous original encyclopedist, super-rationalist, basic systema- 
tizer, empiricist and experimentalist, the first peripatetic, the walking lamp 
of reason. 

Monotheism created both the Bible and the monobiblists — the one book, 


and the one-book readers. As the Gothic Christians had all their faith in 
one hook, the Bible, they wished to find all knowledge, the sum total of 
reason, in one place: in Aristotle. For he had started everything and, as is 
so often the case with initiators, had at the same time finished it all. 

A heathen was thus the highest Christian authority in all sciences. Al- 
most two thousand years after his death, Antiquity's ingenious universal 
scribe was the magic key to all offices, honors, sciences and partly to the 
understanding of God. He was the original Master of medicine, theology, 
jurisprudence, music, worldly wisdom, astronomy, diplomacy, statecraft, 
natural science, logic, botany, ethnology, zoology, anatomy, mathematics, 
interpretation, false or erroneous syllogisms, economics and poetics. The 
ways to fame, to a universal education and even to the Christian Heaven 
led over him. 

For fifteen hundred years, after him, nobody seemed to have known 
more or thought more accurately. Then, however, came the great revolu- 
tion. The humanists, in their battle with the scholastics, also struck at 
Aristotle. They struck him many heavy blows, and in the end made 
friends with him again, seeing that he survived their blows as well as 
most of themselves. 

The chief problem of the scholastics was the reconcilement of the 
Christian faith with reason. 

The first scholastic, Scotus Erigena, who lived in the ninth century 
A.D., maintained that dogma and reason were identical, and that spirit 
and existence were parallel. This doctrine set off a great theological de- 
bate. In the second period of scholasticism (the thirteenth century) 
Aristotle's philosophy of nature reached the theological universities from 
Jewish and Arab scientists; and its combination and conflict with neo- 
Platonic elements and St. Augustine's doctrine of predestination led to 
the noisy war between the Thomists and Scotists, the rationalists and the 
mysticists. The third period, from 1300 to 1450, brought the dissolution of 

The scholastic age has been called an interregnum in the history of 
the human spirit. Faith was then comporting itself as the highest reason. 
Scholasticism did not wish to explain man, or nature, but faith. It argued 
with doctrines which, due to the authority of the Church, were incon- 
testable, absolute truths. Only a few lone men, such as Roger Bacon, de- 
cided not to reach a theory except on grounds of experience. 

The old dispute about the nature of ideas which engaged the schools 
of Plato and Aristotle, broke out anew among the scholastics, between 
Nominalists and Realists — two factions which Abelard sought to reconcile 
with his doctrine of "conceptualism." The Realists, in whose opinion a 


general idea had a real existence, called the Nominalists heretics, because 
the Nominalists held that all terms for the so-called abstract ideas were 
mere verbal tokens — that there existed neither an abstract animal nor a 
generic tree nor an abstract virtue, but only individual animals or trees, 
or distinct moral actions. The Conceptualists, seeking to mediate between 
the extremes, granted at least a logical or psychological existence to 
abstract ideas. 

John of Salisbury wrote: "More time has been wasted discussing the 
world than the Caesars needed to conquer it; the debate over the size 
of Croesus' riches cost more money than Croesus ever possessed; and 
after the contending parties had devoted lifetimes to the settlement of 
this one point, neither was so fortunate as to define it to its satisfaction, or 
in the labyrinths of science to make any discovery worth the effort." 

No sooner had a new spiritual movement risen in the eleventh century, 
with universities like those of Paris, Oxford and Cologne outgrowing 
their swaddling clothes and their loose organization favoring the physical 
and spiritual traveling urge of the professors, than the Church called for 
orthodoxy, causing everything to evaporate in the desolate squabble of 
the theologians, and turning philosophy into a servant of the Church. 
Even the great scholastics ended as heretics. Berenger de Thours, for 
instance, born shortly before the year 1000 A.D., died at ninety, a heretic. 
He refuted the doctrine of transubstantiation; his contemporaries, Guth- 
mund and Berthold, called him an ass; he called himself a pupil of 
Scotus Erigena. The King, the Pope, the French bishops and 113 bishops 
at Rome kept denouncing him and his teachings on synods at Rome and 
in France; Berenger kept abjuring his doctrine, but he always taught it 

Pierre Abelard, the founder of Conceptualism, also died as a heretic, in 
1142, having been accused by St. Bernard of Clairvaux and sentenced to 
eternal silence. Abelard was famed for his dialectic method, his Heloise 
and the loss of his manhood. At twenty-two, he had opened a philosophers' 
school at Melun; at forty, he became tutor to the niece of his friend, Canon 
Fulbert, and boasted of having taught his fair pupil the three languages 
needed to read the Holy Scriptures — Latin, Greek and Hebrew. When it 
turned out that he had taught her more, both of them fled, with Uncle 
Fulbert in hot pursuit. 

Abelard married his Heloise, in secret, on account of his clerical vows; 
the uncle made the marriage public," for the sake of the family honor; 
Heloise denied it for the sake of her lover's safety; Abelard sent her to a 
convent for the sake of his peace, and Uncle Fulbert, with a band of young 
men, crashed into Abelard's cell. There, they robbed him of that with 


which he had sinned most — an outrage, for which Fulbert was stripped of 
his honors and possessions, and each of his accomplices, of the thing which 
they had taken from poor Abelard. 

In his memoirs, Abelard later confessed that he had planned to seduce 
the niece of his friend. Abelard gave up profane philosophy for theology 
and became a monk. Since nature would no longer let him consummate 
a union of two, he wrote about the more spiritual miracle of a union of 
threes — the Trinity. He was charged with heresy and was not allowed to 
defend himself; his works were burned; he was compelled to flee, he be- 
came a hermit, then an abbot and lost this position again. After eleven 
years, Helo'ise's convent was dissolved and the loving pair were reunited, 
although, alas . . . ! It was then that St. Bernard accused Abelard of 
heresy, because he tried to explain what was to stay incomprehensible to 
all good Christians. As a stubborn heretic, Abelard was sentenced to 
eternal silence. He died, and his body was handed over to Heloise, who 
buried him in her new convent. After her own death she was put into the 
same grave. In 1792 the convent, called the Paraclete, was sold and the 
mortal coil of the immortal lovers came to the church of Nogent-sur-Seine 
— only to be dug up again and reburied in 1800, in the garden of the 
Musee Francais in Paris, and finally, in 1817, in the cemetery of Pere- 

Abelard told his love story in his autobiography: "The Tale of his 
Misfortunes" — Historia calamitatum suarum. Little Victor Cousin, who 
was so often laughed at by great Heinrich Heine, wrote about Abelard: 
"A hero of romance within the Church, a refined spirit in a barbarous 
age, a founder of a school, and almost the martyr to an opinion . . ." 

The celebrated Dominican monk, Albertus Magnus — whom the people 
considered a wizard, although he displayed more patience than genius, 
endlessly collecting quotations and following Aristotle whenever in doubt 
— had a much better fate. He merely became idiotic in his old age. 
Because in boyhood he was slow to learn, the Franciscans, the sworn 
enemies of the Dominicans, said he had turned from an ass into a 
philosopher and back from a philosopher into an ass. He was a Suabian, a 
Count's son, a profound natural scientist, a Dominican of course, a pro- 
fessor at Paris and Cologne, a theologian, a philosopher and the king of 
the alchemists. He died at ninety, an idiot; previously, he had written on 
theology, natural history, astronomy, alchemy, Arab philosophy and 
physics; the titles of his works fill twelve printed pages. 

He was the teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas, who is considered the 
greatest Christian theologian of the West and the most important scholas- 
tic. The Catholic Church regards him as the fundamental philosopher. 


Thomas, like Albertus, was a Count's son and kin to several kings. He 
became a monk in the Dominican Order in defiance of the wishes of his 
family. They locked him in a tower and sent young girls into his cell, to 
seduce him. He escaped, aided by one of his sisters whom he had con- 
verted, traveled to Cologne with the General of the Dominicans and sat 
at the feet of the great Suabian, Albertus Magnus. His fellow-students 
called him "the dumb ox," because he was so huge and taciturn; but his 
master said, "This dumb ox will make such a noise in science that all the 
world will hear him." 

Thomas became a professor at Cologne, an oracle of the doctors and the 
King at the University of Paris, and a friend of Pope Urban in Rome. 
He died at fifty, and was canonized a mere fifty years after his death. In 
1879, Pope Leo XIII called the author of Summa theologiae and founder 
of Thomism the "first preceptor of the Catholic Church." The substance 
of his theology was taken from St. Augustine (and Anselm); his style 
came from the heathen Aristotle, as did his method. Thomas was said to 
have "saved" Aristotle and his soul; he dragged the heathen from atheism 
into orthodoxy. World literature is full of such "salvations," and the re- 
sults are seldom better. 

Thomas, the Doctor evangelicus of the Roman Church, placed Aristotle 
right behind the Fathers of the Church and the evangelists. After a synod 
as late as 1209— and a Papal legate as late as 1215— had banned lectures 
about Aristotle, natural philosophy and metaphysics at the university of 
Paris (only his "Logic" was free to be read), Thomas Aquinas led 
Aristotle to an immense victory and made him the great teacher of 

Thomas was opposed by the Franciscan Duns Scotus, the Doctor sub- 
tilis, as he was called because of the subtlety of his reasoning. He made 
out two hundred different cases for the Virgin Mary's immaculate con- 
ception. He, too, was an expert on Aristotle, but in his eyes theology rested 
on the authority of Holy Writ and the Church, with faith the only as- 
surance; no doctrine was demonstrable by human reason. He was edu- 
cated at Oxford, where he is subsequently said to have had thirty thousand 
students; later, he taught at Paris and at Cologne, where he died in 1308. 

Thomas Aquinas had completed the synthesis, by which the Aristotelian 
view of the world became an integral part of Christian theology. Aristotle 
emerged as the highest philosophical authority. He was not dethroned 
until the advent of the humanists. They harbored an aesthetic prejudice 
against the theologians who wrote such wretched Latin. In shaping their 
style after Cicero and Seneca, the humanists learned how to Secome Stoics; 
Epicurus also had many followers who misunderstood him. And then — 


when Marsilio Ficino translated Plato and Plotin, and Plato, of whom 
only a few works had been read, was rediscovered and studied at the 
Florentine Academy under Cosimo de Medici's protection, and several 
Popes sided with the humanists — the new authority of Plato became the 
lever to overthrow Aristotle and all of scholasticism together. In Antiquity, 
the humanists found a temporal civilization without a hierarchy, without 
spiritual and political dictatorship, and full of beauty and a certain sort 
of freedom. With the name of Humanism, mankind declared itself au- 
tonomous and adult. 

The thinkers of the beginning of Christian theology had naively taken 
over the old concept of the universe in its popular Platonic form, and 
assumed the authority of revelation for themselves. Neo-Platonism gov- 
erned the thoughts of St. Augustine, the master theologian of the Roman 
Church. Now, the great doctors of Cologne had adopted the interpreta- 
tion of the universe in its Aristotelian form — his physics, his metaphysics, 
his astronomy — incorporating the antique conception of the universe into 
Christian doctrine. The Church had accepted the results, supported them 
with its authority and turned them into dogmas, and in subsequent cen- 
turies, after reaping great profits, was forced to pay the price of stubbornly 
maintaining the errors of paganism against the better understanding 
of Christian thinkers. The Ptolemaic astronomy against that of Co- 
pernican was one of them. 







"He who studies much becomes a fool." 
SEBASTIAN BRANT, Das Narrenschiff 

AT ALL Christian universities, the students went to sleep with their 
Aristotle and awoke with him. He was the source from which they got 
their own absurdities. No professor dared deviate from the sacred text of 
Aristotle, corrupted by Arabs and Jews, lest he violate a dogma of the 
Church. No student could escape from Aristotle. For the medieval uni- 
versity was hierarchic in nature, with the various schools forming a scale. 

The lowest was the philosophical, or School of Arts, the compulsory 
preparation for all others. It comprised the seven liberal arts, the trivium 
(grammar, rhetoric and logic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, 
music and astronomy, or astrology). Every student spent four years in the 
School of Arts, but only every fourth one became a Bachelor of Arts, 
and every twentieth a Master. The Master of Arts alone had the right 
to teach, but he could exercise this right in all universities. His was the 
ius ubique docendi; every university was open to students and lecturers 
from all over the world; the studium generate was universal. (This was 
why every new university had to get an authorization from a universal 
power, the Emperor or the Pope.) 

The professors of the faculty of Arts, the lowest in rank, also were paid 
the least and bore the heaviest burden. Jerome of Prague said: "Having 
become a Master of Arts, the Czech without other resources finds him- 
self compelled to go out into the villages and small towns, and teach at a 
village school to earn a piece of bread." It was true of the Master in all 

Next in rank above philosophy was medicine, followed by jurisprudence 
(Roman and Canon Law) and, at the top, theology. Only the Master of 
Arts was permitted to attend the higher schools. 



Like the physicians, the professors of medicine mostly led a precarious 
existence. Hangmen healed, barbers operated, astrologers diagnosed, 
witches practiced; they read horribly fantastic prescriptions out of worm- 
eaten volumes, and astrological directives out of the stars. The authorities 
were the Greek, Hippocrates, and the Roman, Galen, with Aristotle the 
last, infallible oracle. No man could be a physician who had not studied 
Aristotle for four years in the School of Arts, and then for five more 
years in the School of Medicine — as though death could be conquered 
only by the syllogisms of the Stagirite. At Cracow there were one or two 
chairs of medicine. If both professors left town there was no medical in- v 

The professors of jurisprudence got somewhat better benefices, and 
took large fees from cities, kings and private individuals for their legal 
opinions. Most highly paid, however, were the theologians. They enjoyed 
the best prebends and endowments; the Church filled the ranks of 
diplomacy, the chancelleries and the courts of justice with its clerics. 
Theology was the science par excellence and at the same time the gateway 
to all careers. 

Thus the indigent professor at the School of Arts was in most cases 
simultaneously a student in a higher school — medical, legal or theological. 
Thus the highest ambition of a teacher of the liberal arts was to become, 
successively, a teacher of medicine, jurisprudence and divinity. 

The School of Arts had the largest number of students. It imparted 
an encyclopedic knowledge. You did not need a certificate to be admitted, 
but you had to have some previous knowledge of Latin. All the lectures 
were given in Latin; you debated, sang and made ribald jokes in Latin. 
This Latin was no longer the Roman lingua aurea or argentea, but a liv- 
ing language fostered by the Vulgata and by scholasticism. In the medieval 
universities you did not greatly bother to understand the ancient authors 
and Antiquity itself. You needed a living idiom, as key to the principal 
book of Christendom, Holy Writ, and to the chief mental pastime of the 
Middle Ages, scholastic dialectics. 

The lectures were supplemented by exercises, which repeated the lec- 
tures. This was the right method for students aged between fifteen and 
twenty years, some of whom arrived with their tutors. The most im- 
portant classes were the public debates, which usually took place on Sat- 
urdays in each of the schools: this was the disputatio communis, presided 
over by the dean, with the students as audience and the professors debating 
alternately. The debates were solemn and heated — mental duels which 
were parades of scholasticism. 


Everybody was interested in the theological debates; for the professors 
were almost exclusively clerics, and most of the students were either 
clerics or preparing for the cloth. The course at the School of Arts was 
fundamentally disinterested and led to the superfluitas meditationis—to 
unnecessary thinking— and to the ideal of art for art's sake and science 
for science's sake; the young men and impecunious savants scorned the 
vanities of this world. Thus, despite their evident faults— their petrifaction, 
their blind faith in the letter, their scholastic methods and thousand-year- 
old textbooks, despite the taboo placed on research and the wish to learn 
and despite their clerical character and the eternal commenting on the 
eternal, age-old commentators— the universities became temples of a cer- 
tain clerical idealism. 

At first the humanists, together with the Reformers, fought against 
the scholastic, Aristotelian universities and against the theological dictator- 
ship. Martin Luther called the universities "temples of Moloch," "mur- 
derers' dens" and "the spectre of the high schools." He inveighed against 
the "blind heathen master, Aristotle." He said that everyone was going 
to college to take the cloth, and everyone was taking the cloth for the 
sake of a career. Wizel said as early as 1523: "Science has lost its honor, 
but the good life, wealth and abundance are wondrously revered. The 
schools stand empty; but most overrun are the service at court, merchantry, 
alchemy and mining." 

Soon, however, when the Reformers set up their Protestant universities, 
the disappointed humanists turned upon these, too, in view of their new 
' Divine bliss and the new, sterner dictatorship of the Reformed divines. As 
early as 1523, the humanist Eobanus Hessus predicted that the new 
theology would bring on a worse barbarism than that which was recently 
conquered; he spoke of the new obscurantists, the Protestants — at a time 
when Reuchlin and his friends had hardly triumphed over the old 
Obscurantists, the Catholic inquisitors of Cologne. 

Erasmus of Rotterdam bluntly remarked that wherever Lutheranism 
ruled you would see science perish. He called for the ideal of a free 
education, independent of the Church. He felt already the entire pride 
of the free, exploring spirit. For him, as for the humanists of Florence, 
Plato and the Stoics were Christians before Christianity. He above all 
led the light and deadly hosts of the humanists who had previously risen 
against the spiritual tyranny of the Catholic Church, against the new 
spiritual terror of the Reformed churches and apostate princes. Loving 
science for its own sake, he deplored its decline when it was forced to 
serve not itself but the Church, or other political groups. 


The university of Cracow was founded twice — in 1364 and in 1400. 

It was first established by King Casimir, on the model of the University 
of Prague; after Casimir's death it declined and wasted away. 

In the year 1400— it was re-established on the model of the old theo- 
logical University of Paris by the former heathen Jagiello, Grand Duke of 
Lithuania and King of Poland. The funds were provided in her will by 
his queen, the saintly Jadwiga. King Jagiello could not write his name but 
he loved the university with an illiterate's touching respect for education. 
From the battlefield he would send messengers to the university with 
news of his victories. From the hunt he sent game to the professors. He 
also led them in a solemn procession into their new building in the ghetto 
— for the Bishop of Cracow had made a gift to the university of a Jew's 
house, in Jew Lane, next to the synagogue and to the Jewish cemetery. 

When both professors and students fled from Bohemia, after the burn- 
ing of Hus and Jerome of Prague, many Prague professors came to 
Cracow, and the precious manuscripts they brought along on their flight 
became the basis of the University Library. The persecution of the in- 
tellectuals of one country redounds to the benefit of its neighbors. 

The students at Cracow lived mostly in students' houses or bursae, 
where life was strictly regulated by statute. Immediately after registration, 
every student either entered such a convent-like institution or one of the 
fourteen municipal parochial schools under the pastor's special supervision. 
There were seven bursae. The rector bursarum, one of the older pro- 
fessors, had the oversight, with the "seniors," bachelors, masters and doc- 
tors subordinated to him. Sons of nobles and feudal lords were exempted 
from the rigid residence restrictions; they were merely obliged to name 
a master, "or at least a bachelor," whose control they would condescend to 
suffer. Naturally, with so many students, the control could not be strin- 
gent. It was no convent life. Since the bursae were soon overcrowded, 
many professors eked out their incomes by opening private institutions. 

Copernicus may have lived in the bursa Hierosolonyma, where most 
of the astronomical manuscripts in the university's archives were written. 
It was located in the neighborhood of the Great College, where the 
astronomical instruments were kept. According to Rheticus, Copernicus 
was already highly skilled in the use of them when he came" to the next 
stop in his academic career, the University of Bologna. 

Copernicus often praised the thorough mathematical and astronomical 
grounding he had received at the University of Cracow. According Jto 
Starowolski, he exchanged letters with former teachers and fellow-students 
at Cracow. One of these fellow-students was Corvinus who wrote a poetic 
dedication for the first book published by Copernicus; another was 


Vapovius, the cantor of Cracow, to whom Copernicus wrote his letter 
about the movement of the eighth sphere, de motu sphaerae octavae. 

Of Copernicus' private life in Cracow we have no knowledge. 

Events in Cracow were the burial of the old King of Poland and the 
coronation of the new King in the Cathedral, in the presence of lords and 
foreign ambassadors. Preparations for war were being made against Turks 
and Tartars; the city was full of foreign merchants and Papal legates, the 
Royal court and the high and low nobility of Poland and Lithuania, 
Teutonic Knights, Turks, humanists, bishops, the tumult of a capital. 
And few doors were closed to the nephew of the Bishop of Varmia. 

Unclosed to him was the whole sky, with all the stars, the moon and 
the sun. 

Besides, the Church favored the study of mathematics and astronomy. 
It benefited by it. For the exact determination of its holidays it needed 
precise calendars. The calculation of time had begun to waver. Nobody 
knew any more in what week he was really liying. The holidays fell at 
wrong times. 

The seafarers needed the astronomers for their increasingly bold voy- 
ages. The public at large needed the astronomers because of their 
astrological knowledge. Astronomy and astrology opened the door to high 

It is not known how many years Copernicus studied in Cracow. But 
all his life he thought of the University of Cracow with gratitude and 

Presumably he left it in the fall of 1494. His uncle had nominated him 
for a canonicate in Varmia. Copernicus, however, felt drawn to the 
homeland of the humanists, to Italy. 



"Auslander, Fremde, sind es meist, 
Die unter uns gesat den Geist 
Der Rebellion. Dergleichen Sunder, 
Gottlob! sind selten Landeskinder." 

"Auch Gottesleugner sind es meist; 
Wer sich von seinem Gotte reisst, 
Wird endlich auch abtriinnig werden 
Von seinen irdischen Behorden . . ." 

"Wer auf der Strasse rasonniert, 
Wird unverziiglich jiisiliert . . ." 


CALLIMACHUS and Bona, a Roman emigrant and a girl from Milan, 
became two of the most consequential figures of the Polish Renaissance. 

Bona Sforza was a passionate Italian whose father, the Duke of Milan, 
had been poisoned for Milan's sake by his uncle, Ludovico il Moro. As a 
young girl she married an old King of Poland, who grew older and older 
and seemed to live forever. Meanwhile, in the vast, cold Polish country, 
the young Italian girl turned into a greedy, sensuous patroness of all gay 
arts and of the sumptuous life. Eventually she aged too, and her husband, 
who had been thought of as dead abroad, died in fact. In the meanwhile 
she aroused the hatred of her son, the young King of Poland, who called 
her a murderess. In the end she departed from Poland with many horses 
and carriages laden with gold and jewels, half the treasures of the country. 
Even in flight she resembled an ancient conqueror. 

Bona was Queen of Poland in fact; she ruled her husband and the 
realm and, for a long time, her son; the Polish ministers and grandees 
came to her for orders and honors. Callimachus, however, was just an 
exiled man of letters, a refugee humanist, who had learned the old 
languages and lived by his linguistic skill. He was from Gemignano and 



his real name was Filippo Buonaccorsi. In his youth he had been called 
the leader of a plot against the Pope's life. The plotters were all pro- 
fessors who did not believe in God and wanted to revive the Roman Re- 
public. Like every bankrupt conspiracy, the whole curious humanists' 
revolt looks like a prank, but Pope Paul II took it seriously and had the 
plotters tortured and threatened with death. Callimachus, who got away, 
had emigrated to Poland and there became a teacher of Latin and one 
of the eminent figures in Polish spiritual history, a royal tutor, a 
pamphleteer, a diplomat and one of the moving spirits of the Polish 

At the beginning of that Roman amateur revolt — as at that of many 
revolutions — there was an injustice. And this injustice had happened in 
the course of a larger wrong— in fact, of an official crime of which the 
Roman chiefs of state had gradually made a habit. 

The fault lay with the Popes' fatal job-trading. Starting under John 
XXII, it became a regular tax under Sixtus IV. Pius II took one hundred 
ducats from a poor man who wanted to be a clerk in the Papal chancellery, 
and fifty ducats for the appointment of an office boy. Sixtus, to expand this 
revenue, created new jobs; Janissaries, Mamelucks, Stradiots; they got no 
salaries, nothing but tips, and these tips were taxed in advance by the 
Holy Father. The Janissaries alone paid him one hundred thousand 
ducats for the chance of being tipped. Julius II made a hundred new 
clerical jobs and did not take more than seven hundred and forty ducats 
apiece; Sixtus got one thousand ducats each for them; Alexander VI, 
two thousand; Leo X, three thousand. "In the Curia," Poggio wrote in his 
Facetiae, "it is chance which determines a man's fate— not his gifts, much 
less his virtues; you get everything by chance or intrigue, if you do not 
simply buy it for cash." 

For some time, the irrepressible humanists had bought such jobs from 
the Curia. Heaps of them sat on clerks' chairs and carried their indomitable 
individualism right into the Papal files, interpolating impudent marginal 
remarks in the pious text and ceasing to invoke God's name at the start 
of each volume of records as pious custom required. They broke with 
the Curia's uniform script which one secretary had copied from the 
other; they broke with the uniform style, the so-called Curial style, a 
kind of rhythmic prose, the cursus which had pervaded all Papal bulls 
and was considered inimitable. Even today, in the Vatican Library, the 
style and script of the Papal Chamber's 170 volumes of receipt-and- 
disbursement books (introitus et exitus) plainly show us "when the 
Middle Ages ended, and the rule of the humanists in the Papal chancel- 
lery began." 


Pope Paul II, more impatient than his predecessor, refused to wait for 
the clerks' demises, or to invent new jobs to make money quickly. One 
day, he simply kicked out of the Abbreviators' Guild a number of the 
good humanists who had bought their desk jobs from his Papal prede- 

The dismayed humanists, suddenly jobless and penniless, requested an 
audience. It was refused. Since the Pope's habit was to grant only 
nocturnal audiences, they met before the palace gates night after night; 
for twenty nights they stood there waiting in vain to be heard, "those poets 
and orators, who gave to the Curia as much splendor as they received 
from it." 

After twenty sleepless nights, one of the group, the writer Platina, 
finally wrote the Holy Father a letter complaining of the injustice, and 
urgently demanding to be heard in the name of justice — and of the 
two thousand or three thousand ducats which each of them had paid for 
his job; otherwise they would be forced to seek redress from the Emperor 
and King, or, as a last resort, to call a Council against the Papal job- 
robber. Platina persuaded a bishop to deliver this letter. Paul II called 
the writer to the Vatican; Platina came in a hurry, and was locked 
promptly in a cell in Castel San Angelo and sentenced to death. His 
protector, Cardinal Gonzaga, called on the Pope and argued in Platina's 
excuse that worry over the loss of his livelihood had cost the poor devil 
his mind. Paul commuted the sentence to imprisonment, and in the end, 
when Platina was gravely ill after four months in a dark hole, he yielded 
to Gonzaga's pleas and let him go. 

Thereupon the friends of Platina, dismissed Abbreviators, malcontent 
humanists and professors, gathered in the house of their most famous 
colleague, Pomponius Laetus — professor of rhetoric and grammar at the 
"Sapienza" — and swore vengeance. 

This Pomponius Laetus had regularly asked the humanists of Rome 
to his house, where vast collections of antiques, coins and manuscripts 
were gn display. Every night his pupils visited him to read their Latin 
verse; at times they played comedies by Terence and Plautus; in his 
house he had organized a free literary club, the so-called "Roman 

Its members praised the golden days of Antiquity, followed ancient 
customs, denied the existence of God, despised the clergy, had nothing 
but derision for heaven and hell and told one another that this was the 
free life. Epicurus was their master. In public — in order to avoid being 
boiled or burned — they kept the laws of the land; but at their meetings 
they parodied the Christian ceremonies, chose ancient names because they 


were ashamed of their Christian ones, and viewed themselves as priests 
of a new secret science. Pomponius Laetus was their pontijex maximus. 
Under his guidance they searched for antique relics in the catacombs of 
Sebastian, scribbled obscene inscriptions on the stones and even signed 
them. They dated "from the founding of Rome, under the pontificate of 
Pomponius" (ab urbe condita Pomponio Pontifice maximo) and cele- 
brated the day of the alleged birth of Romulus; the urbs was their ideal. 

This Pomponius Laetus, an illegitimate son of a Neapolitan Prince of 
San Severino, had come to Rome as a boy and become a famous gram- 
marian. Now the San Severinos, the reigning princes of Salerno, invited 
him to their town and to their palace, and offered to recognize him as 
their equal. He wrote back: "Pomponius Laetus to his kith and kin, 
greetings. What you ask cannot be done. Goodbye." (Pomponius Laetus 
cognatis et propinquis suis salutem. Quod petitis fieri non potest. Valete.) 

He was a slight, pale, vivacious, active man running about in the shab- 
biest of clothes. He lived alternately on the Esquiline, where he owned a 
small house with a garden, and in the vineyard on the Quirinal. At the 
break of dawn he went to his vineyard which he worked according to 
the precepts of Varro and Cato. He fastened the young vines, or fed the 
ducks and other poultry in his garden on the Esquiline, then he hastened 
to the university for his lectures, still before sunup, with a lantern on his 
arm. His students and listeners, who had left their homes shortly after 
midnight, were crowding the auditorium, afraid to miss a lecture. He 
consecrated his students to the cult of Antiquity. "Worship the genius 
of Rome!" he taught them. "He is the god protecting us humanists." 

He was at home in classical literature. He was a stutterer; yet on the 
platform he spoke slowly, clearly, and very precisely. He treated old texts 
with the greatest respect; he was so proud of his pure Ciceronian Latin 
that for fear of impairing it he did not learn Greek. He could be seen 
standing for a long time before an ancient ruin, shedding tears for the 
beautiful and at its destruction and for the fall of the Roman Republic. 
On holidays he liked to fish or to trap birds, or he sat feasting in the 
shade by a forest spring, or by the bank of the Tiber. He despised wealth 
and religion, as well as envious and slanderous men whom he would 
not have near him. 

These members of the Roman Academy who called each other high 
priests (sacerdotes) and awarded poetic laurels, these humanists had 
been mortally hurt by Paul II. Now they swore vengeance and decided 
to overthrow the Pope, and to revive the Roman Republic in its ancient 
splendor. "Roma! Roma!" they cried. And: "We are republicans!" 

They even approached the Orsinis, Rome's perennial malcontents, and 


other demagogues and entered into negotiations with them. At a tumul- 
tuous session they picked the leaders of the revolution: Callimachus, 
Platina, Petrejus, and Claucus of Venice — "Vivat Callimachus! Vivat 
Platina! Vivat Claucus of Venice! Vivat Petrejus!" 

It was carnival time, in 1468. Pope Paul gave orders for the four ring- 
leaders to be put to the torture. Callimachus, Petrejus and Pomponius 
Laetus got away. Platina was caught, arrested and thrown into another 
dark hole in Castel San Angelo. The other "Academicians" were arrested 
too — as were, shamelessly, some quite innocent brothers and cousins of 
Callimachus. A price of three hundred ducats was put on the head of 
each of the fugitive plotters. Platina was tortured. 

He had his revenge after Paul II died. The man of letters wrote the 
Pope's biography. In it he told of his arrest and questioning, and of the 
Holy Father's screams and panic . . . 

Platina wrote: "I was taken before Paul, who had hardly seen me 
when he began to scream, 'What? You dared conspire against me, with 
Callimachus?' — to which, conscious of my innocence, I replied calmly that 
one would find no evidence to show an understanding between us. 

"But as Paul, pale with fright, threatened me with torture and death 
unless I confessed, and I saw myself ringed with weapons, I explained the 
grounds on which made it seem impossible to me that Callimachus could 
have committed the crimes charged to him: to wit, he neither possessed 
the required determination nor eloquence, neither prudence nor the means, 
forces, followers or arms, lacked both the money and the eyes; for he 
was nearsighted, loved sleep more than P. Lentulus did, and was made 
lazier by his potbelly than L. Crassus." 

They asked Platina, who as usual put all the blame on the absent ones: 
"Were you not called 'Most Holy Father'? Did they not want to make 
you Pope?" 

Platina wrote imploring letters to Paul, to Cardinal Bessarion, to other 
cardinals; he promised henceforth to report everything to the Vatican, 
even the birds' voices; in future he would devote himself to proclaiming 
Paul's fame in prose as well as in verses, would abandon the study of 
Antiquity and read nothing but the Holy Scriptures . . . 

As can be seen, Platina, a famous gourmet like the other Academicians, 
was brought by the prison fare to an acceptance of any spiritual sacrifice — 
or at least to the pretended acceptance which is every prisoner's original 
right. The fugitive Pomponius was handed over to the Papal bailiffs by 
the Republic of Venice — to its eternal disgrace. He was locked in a dark 
hole in Castel San Angelo. To prove his Christianity, Pomponius sent 
the Pope a speech in honor of the Mother of God which he had made on 


some occasion, and a dull epistle on the immortality of the soul. He swore 
that he had always observed the fasts — except once, when he had been 
very ill; he had had no connection with Callimachus whatsoever — no 
question about that; he had had an affair with his young Venetian 
disciple and would admit it frankly — the boy was pretty as a picture, and 
Socrates, too, had loved Alcibiades and boasted openly of the affair. 

In the end, Paul let him go. The next Pope, Sixtus IV, a great friend of 
the humanists, called Pomponius Laetus back to the University of Rome, 
and appointed Platina to the Vatican Library as its director, with orders 
to write the history of the Popes. Platina wrote, and turned Paul II into a 

Pomponius reopened his Academy with greater pomp than ever; 
Emperor Frederick granted him an Imperial privilege; ever-changing 
protectors paid for ever more beautiful banquets. Time and again, Pom- 
ponius mounted the platform and delivered festive orations — or funeral 
orations, when required by the occasion — as after the death of poor 
Platina, whose life, torture may have shortened by a few years. More and 
more merrily, the Academicians gorged, guzzled, declaimed and recited; 
a second generation of humanists sat at Pomponius' feet; he became a 
sage, good and kind; whenever someone came to him for advice, Pom- 
ponius dropped his work to help; once, when mercenaries destroyed his 
house, his friends collected money and presented him with a new one; 
finally he died, at seventy, poor as Job, and his friends had to pay the 
burial costs. Forty bishops, with ambassadors from Kings and from the 
Emperor, escorted the great heathen to his grave. 

Callimachus, however, died in exile. While Paul fed hard bread to 
Pomponius and tortures to "Platina, Callimachus had made his escape 
to Apulia. Paul sent catchpolls after him, but the mayor of Trani refused 
to hand him over; Callimachus fled to Sicily, followed by the catchpolls, 
and the Sicilian King refused to surrender him; Callimachus fled to 
Greece, to Crete, to Cyprus; a Papal legate demanded extradition — again 
in vain; Callimachus fled to Chios and thence to Constantinople, to the 
Turks, where he remained for a year in sore distress, and finally went 
to Poland — possibly, because King Casimir of Poland was regarded as 
an enemy of Paul, or because he had an Italian cousin who was a 
merchant in Poland. 

Paul demanded extradition. The Polish General Diet of Petricow de- 
cided to grant it. Callimachus, by then a guest of the Archbishop of Lwow, 
learned Gregor of Sanok, lived for a whole year in dread of the menace 
of extradition; he wrote a memorial to flatter Poland and turn his cause 
into a general one against the Curia's arrogance. 


The Archbishop of Lwow, a humanist and enthusiastic admirer of 
ancient customs, took the brilliant political refugee into his country home 
in the small town of Dunajow. He took him for strolls, often sat at table 
in familiar conversation with him and stayed awake with the young 
humanist half through the night. In fact, the tactful prince of the Church 
occasionally asked to dinner a pretty Polish girl, Fannia Swentocha of 
Lwow, with whom Callimachus was in love. He told about that later, 
after Gregor's death, in his biography of his friend and protector. 

Finally the evil enemy died, and Paul was followed by Sixtus, the 
humanists' friend. Callimachus, assured of his life, went to Cracow, to 
study at the university. Soon he gave lectures, and students and professors 
delightedly listened to his dainty Latin. He was hired to teach Latin to 
the royal princes and became their tutor, he and the famous chronicler 
Longinus. Soon the Latin teacher became the court expert on Italian 
and Turkish questions (from Petrarca on, many humanists stepped from 
the lecture platform into a state chancellery) and the King sent him to 
Rome, as ambassador. So now he came to the Curia as Poland's Ambas- 
sador — he, the fugitive, Callimachus, the outlawed, banished, fallen one. 
He came to the Curia, an important man from a strange, great realm. 
What a triumph for the impudent humanist! 

Poland sent him to the Emperor at Cologne, as ambassador, and to the 
Republic of Venice. Once, they were burying a Doge there; after the 
ceremony, the foremost savants and the famous men of the Republic 
went to the tavern of Callimachus to drink his wine, eat at his table 
and listen to his conversation; they sat far into the night and became in- 
volved in a debate about rhetoric in Italy, and about the triumphs of the 
grammarians and rhetoricians who sat in all the state chancelleries with 
all the threads of European politics running through their hands, and 
about the brilliant consequences for the European spirit. 

Callimachus also returned to Constantinople, where he had lived in 
poverty and distress. But now he was the Polish Ambassador to the Sultan. 
He arrived with a grand retinue and with his faithful servant Niccolo, 
was a great man and dealt in world politics. Once, as an emigrant, he 
had fled into the Turkish realm of terror, and what he had seen in the 
cities of the dreaded conquerors was naked misery. This surprising im- 
pression exerted a decisive influence upon his future life. Other humanists, 
such as Aurispa or Guarino, had preceded him to Constantinople and 
carried Greek grammars or verses away with them. He, unrestrained by 
a passion for antiquity, seized upon the great political problem of Europe: 
the Eastern question. This was the cause of Christendom; the future of 
the whole civilized world was at stake. As much as thirty years later he 


related his "discovery" to the Roman College and the Pope. To denounce 
the inner weakness of the allegedly invincible Turks became a main task 
of his life. 

Later, as the secretary of his one-time pupil, he accompanied King Jan 
Albert of Poland on his luckless campaigns. Indeed throughout his life, 
Callimachus retained a great influence on his old Latin students, the 
Kings of Poland, Jan Albert and Alexander. His political pamphlets were 
epoch-making in Poland; his bon mots became proverbial. 

He died in 1496, of a plaguelike epidemic. He had become a starost, and 
a man of wealth. His library, his carriage and his four horses he be- 
queathed to the King's brother who was a Cardinal; to the King he 
left four thousand gold liras, to one prince his wardrobe, to another, fur- 
nishings; the city of Cracow received a silver basin, in which the judges 
were to wash their hands after each verdict, and the university, a silver 
wash tub with a jug and an injunction against pawning the bequests. 
Evidently, Callimachus knew his judges and professors. He also left 
orders for his notary to burn all his unpublished works — and the fellow 
actually did it. 

"If Casimir and Jan Albert had not shown generosity to Callimachus," 
contended a treatise published in Poland in 1502, "the names of these 
two Polish Kings might now well be forgotten." 

The "potbellied, shortsighted, sleepy dolt," as Platina — first his friend, 
then his enemy — called him; this Callimachus (or Experiens, as he called 
himself) with his world improvement plans and all of the humanist's 
faults (venal adulation, virtuosity of style, cheap proficiency in every 
science and false pride in such multiple knowledge), this man of happy 
rhymes and hapless Platonicism, with his light, at times uninhibited 
manners, had risen from Latin tutor of the Polish Kings to the rank of 
Magister Poloniae. The humanist's humanity is evidenced by his occa- 
sional defense of Poland's Jews. 

The loathing which this brilliant foreigner inspired in his Polish 
enemies is evidenced by an apocryphal pamphlet, the "Counsels of Cal- 
limachus," which they posthumously ascribed to him. This collection of 
Machiavellian slogans for use by the Polish "tyrant," was full of hostility 
to the historic institutions of the realm, written in scurrilous exaggera- 
tions, and full of sheer hatred — allegedly of Poland, but really 6f 
Callimachus and the powers behind him. 

The influence of this Italian humanist was felt throughout the con- 
temporary politics and literature of Poland. Callimachus, Albert Brud- 
zewski — "The teacher of Copernicus" — and Conrad Celtes, the famous 
German itinerant preacher of humanism, made Cracow a seat of the 


Muses, a capital of European humanism. They and their friends and 
disciples fashioned the spiritual climate in Cracow and in Poland. From 
their circle emerged the enlightened modern teachers of Copernicus. 
There, one inhaled the fresh air that helps to think; there, courage grew 
for innovations and for "Revolutions." 

Conrad Celtes came to Cracow with the poetic laurel already wound 
round his brow. At the age of thirty he had been crowned at Nuremberg 
by the German Emperor. Previously, he had run away from his home, 
Wimpfeld in Franconia, where his parents were peasants, and travelled 
down the Main on a raft; as a stripling of twenty-six, he had sat about 
universities in Germany and Italy, lecturing on humaniora, always rest- 
less, always on the move, always full of Latin verses — an agitator of 
common sense. Now, at thirty-two, he came to Cracow to sit at the feet 
of Brudzewski, the famous teacher of mathematics and astronomy. He 
lectured — for cash — on poetry and on the art of speaking, read on Horace 
and Cicero, and read his own poems which had gained him a European 
reputation. He collected students— among them a certain Rabe, or Lauren- 
tius Corvinus, who was a friend of Copernicus, and a certain Krebs or 
Aesticampianusy in whose bursa Copernicus is said to have lived in Cra- 
cow. Hand in hand, Celtes and Callimachus and Brudzewski were work- 
ing at the university for the new ideals of the humanists against scholastic 

In Rome, Celtes had visited the circle of the Roman Academy and 
the house of Pomponius Laetus. They inspired him to found a similar 
literary organization in Cracow, the Literary Club on the Vistula or 
Sodalitas litteraris Vistulana — the first of several such academies founded 
by him. The influence of such literary societies was important everywhere. 

Celtes, too, had fallen in love with a young Polish girl and dedicated 
many amorous odes in the manner of Ovid to her — and one even to her 
husband. Her name was Hasa or Haselina; of Celtes' four volumes of 
love poetry, the first was entitled, "Haselina and virility, or Vistula and 
Eastern Germany." Later, Hasa's place was taken by a certain Else. 

Celtes, who had collected many manuscripts in Poland and then lost 
them through the fault of a drunken coachman who dropped them in 
the snow, sang and told of Poland in enchanting lyrics, songs of the girls 
of Cracow, of the woods by the Vistula, and of the rope on which he slid 
down into the Wieliczka salt mine. He lived in Cracow for two years; 
for Cracow, they were epochal. In 1492, he went to Ingolstadt as pro- 
fessor of poetics, and in 1497 to Vienna, where he gathered a merry 
school round him— all forefathers of the Viennese cafe literati. After he 
and Brudzewski departed and Callimachus died, the humanists of Cra- 


cow scattered, the students decreased — the young Polish' Renaissance 
paled. Three more famous men are mentioned after that time in the annals 
of, the University of Cracow: the German humorist Thomas Murner, the 
Bavarian historian Aventinus (really Johannes Turmair) and Nicolaus 

When Copernicus came to Cracow, everybody was still talking of Celtes 
who had just left; Callimachus was still alive; Brudzewski was still lec- 
turing on Aristotle at the university. 

It was a beautiful moment in the history of the spirit in Poland. 



"Le clericalisme, voila Vennemi!" 


WHEN Copernicus was twenty-four, his uncle made him a canon at 
Frauenburg. To him, it meant a secure material existence for life, as 
well as life imprisonment in a small town. 

"On earth," Herder said in his travel journal of the year 1769, "we 
are tied to a deadlock and enclosed in the narrow circle of a situation. 
The first is frequently a desk chair in a sticky room, a place at a uniform, 
rented table, a pulpit, a platform; the other is often a small town, a wor- 
shipped public of three, to whom we listen, and an occupational monotony 
into which habit and pretention thrust us . . ." 

What would have become of Copernicus without this episcopal uncle 
who wanted to turn his nephew into another bishop? (And Copernicus 
almost became a bishop — just as Erasmus of Rotterdam barely missed 
the fate of dying a Cardinal.) 

"In that case, however, I should not be what I am!" said the same 
Herder, and went on: "Well, and -what should I have lost? How much 
should I have gained?" 

Let us take all for the best, then, when we cannot help it in this best 
of all possible worlds, and let us conclude that in one instance nepotism 
has spared a genius the annoying battle for his daily bread. 

Church historians, by the way, regard Bishop Watzelrode as an un- 
selfish prince of the Church who spent his large income chiefly on his 
Church and his diocese. At any rate, he made his illegitimate son, Philip 
Teschner, no more than a mayor of the town of Braunsberg, his nephews 
Nicolaus and Andreas Kopernik no more than canons at Frauenburg 
and his niece no more than Mother Superior of a convent; otherwise, 
he restrained himself to making two sons of his Danzig cousins, Tiede- 



mann Giese and Moritz Ferber, canons at Frauenburg. This was no 
more than customary in Varmia where a few patrician f amilies of Torun 
and Danzig traded the prebends among themselves. Bishop Ferber made 
four nephews Varmian canons; Bishop Dantiscus, three nephews; Bishop 
Hosius, two nephews. 

Copernicus was out of luck at the first vacancy. The cathedral cantor, 
whose death had freed a position, had died in the wrong month. For 
there existed a sort of death lottery, between the Bishop and the Holy 
Father: the successor of a canon dying in an even month was named by 
the Bishop, and the successor of one dying in an odd month, by the Pope. 
As late as the seventeenth century Professor Broscius of Cracow— who 
pilfered many Copernican documents from the Frauenburg archives- 
was in possession of letters from the youthful Copernicus, complaining 
that jealousy had cost him the good canonicate. 

In the summer of 1496 Copernicus had left for Italy; but in the very 
next year Canon Czannow obligingly died, and Copernicus got his canon- 

For the first ten years of his new splendor, his name appears but twice 
in the Frauenburg records. In 1499 he acquired an allod, a country house, 
and in July, 1501, he asked his colleagues in the Chapter for a new leave 
of absence, for studying purposes, his first such leave of three years having 
expired. Copernicus spent these ten years in the merriest way, at Italian 
universities and in Rome. He moved, so there was movement— as Luther 
said of himself with equal justification. 

A Varmian canon was well off. The Bishop owned temporal property 
amounting to about eighty square miles, and almost one-third of this — to 
wit, the three separate districts of Frauenburg, Mehlsack and Allenstein— 
.was left to the Frauenburg Cathedral Chapter. In their districts, the canons 
had sovereign rights, as had the Bishop in the whole of Varmia. They had 
jurisdiction over everything. They distributed the fiefs, determined the 
services, rents and taxes; they were the judges and chief magistrates. 
Under feudal law, they leased the church lands to the peasants and 
farm tenants. They appointed both municipal and rural officials, and 
had the patronage over the parishes, and the fishing and hunting rights. 

Varmia was a blessed fertile country with a mixed population. The 
proceeds from the rich possessions of the Cathedral Chapter were divided 
directly among the sixteen canons. The income of a single canon was 
considerable; aside from natural services for the maintenance of his house, 
it amounted to about nine thousand dollars a year, rent-free. 

Of all the bishops in Prussia, the Varmian bishop was the most in- 
dependent. He was a prince in Prussia and chairman of the Prussian 


diets. After the Second Peace of Torun, in 1466, Varmia was Polish crown- 

The canons had become very worldly in time. Many bore arms and 
went riding about the country. The statutes obliged each to keep at least 
two servants and three horses. Beside an allotted free residence on Cathe- 
dral Hill, the curia, each received a farm in the vicinity of the cathedral. 
Their duties were easy. They had to "be in residence" at the cathedral, 
on perif of losing their income; but as the ecclesiastical life grew increas- 
ingly soft, presence for half a year and sometimes even complete absence 
were deemed sufficient. The canons also were to observe daily morning 
and evening devotions — horns canonicas— and read the soul masses, par- 
ticularly on the death anniversaries of the great donors and benefactors of 
the cathedral; the distribution of the allods, farms, etc., followed immedi- 
ately upon the final prayers on the anniversaries of the richest donors — 
and those who were late, or left too soon, got nothing. In addition, the 
canons were to advise the Bishop, take part in Chapter meetings and carry 
out special missions for the Chapter or the Bishop. 

Anybody could become a canon. No theological education was needed, 
no religious interest required. In the days of Copernicus it happened 
that hardly one presbyter knew how to conduct the altar service. All who 
could evade ordination, with its added duties, did so. 

Otherwise, the Varmian Cathedral Chapter was a place for cultured 
people. Every new canon lacking an academic degree was obliged, after 
one year's residence at the cathedral, to go for three years to a university, 
while he continued to receive his income. In fact, one lazy canon by the 
name of Heinrich Snellenberg, who loafed during his studies, lost his 
income upon his return for the express reason of his laziness. 

At no time in his life did Copernicus know material worries. From 
his twenty-fourth year on he lived on prebends and sinecures, on the 
sweat of toiling peasants. So narrow-minded is our kind, or so incon- 
sistent, that even the noblest calmly bears the inherited injustice peculiar 
to his age. 

Copernicus rectified the astronomical error of mankind. .How was 
he to see the social injustice of being a canon? 



"Jeglichen Schwdrmer schlagt mir ans 
Kreuz im dreissigsten Jahre! Kennt er 
nur einmal die Welt, wird der Betrogne 
der Schelm." 

goethe, Venezianische Epigramme 

COPERNICUS came to Italy for the demise of the fifteenth century. 
"On commencait a penser comme nous pensons aujourd'hui: on n'etait 
plus barbare" — men began to think as we think today, and were no longer 

How joyful life was for a young man of twenty-three, inquisitive and 
world-intoxicated, unworried and strangely free from the common impa- 
tience of all uncommon minds! What a joy to wander under the olive 
trees of Campagna, through the lemon groves near Padua, among the 
palaces of Bologna and the twittering ladies at the court of Ferrara; or 
to sit in an osteria with a goblet of wine, with bearded humanists, virtual 
inkwells of learning and citation-spouting dictionaries of all arts and 
sciences, and to dispute with them about the precedence of Aristotle or 
Plato or about the august plan of God who created the universe as a 
benefice of mankind, according to the rules of feudal law — who made 
lambs to be roasted, and carp for the Polish sauce. What a great joy to 
live, to learn Greek from the "beggar of Bologna," to look up at the 
stars with your revered, somewhat queer teacher, the great astrologer 
Maria di Novara! What a bright, laughing pleasure to collect manu- 
scripts of ancient sages; to visit dancing girls; to listen, in the palaces 
of erudite Roman courtesans and prelates, to a mysteriously sweet song 
or a dialogue from PlautusI What an intoxicating ten-year span of study 
in Italy! 

Copernicus was in Rome in the great year of Christianity's rejoicing, 
for the Easter festival of 1500. He met the vast flood of pilgrims from all 



over Europe and saw the horrible paterfamilias, Pope Alexander VI 
(bullnecked Rodrigo with the unceasing laugh), sitting in St. Peter's chair. 

The Holy Father was fondling his favorite gigolo when Cesare Borgia, 
the Holy Father's son, came in and thrust a dagger into the gigolo's 
bowels; vainly the boy sought to hide under the Papal cloak; his blood 
spattered on the Papal cheeks; on the next day the gigolo's corpse swam 
in the Tiber beside a dead girl, one of Alexander's paramours. 

Did Nicolaus Copernicus enjoy the sweet questionable pleasures of the 
first declining years of an incomparably great era? Did he yield to the 
seductive and dubious charm of the young days of decadence? Did he 
lie in the arms of one of Raphael's sensually grave madonnas? Or in 
the arms of a lady painted by Leonardo? 

At Florence, Copernicus saw the diminutive, thundering, dubious 
saint, Savonarola, terrorize a metropolis until the roaring, lascivious, 
criminal giant on St. Peter's throne shut the tiny prophet's mouth with 
smoke and fire. At Bologna, Copernicus was the pupil of a great as- 
tronomer who had to make his living as a charlatan, uttering the ridicu- 
lous prophecies of a duly appointed calendar astrologer. In Rome 
Copernicus may have seen Michelangelo burrow into the ground like a 
gravedigger, in order to unearth the images of the dead, smooth "devils," 
the sunken marble statues of the eternally laughing Greek gods. Once 
he came upon a statue which he himself had copied from the ancients. 
Thousands of collectors and fakers were digging in the ground, filling 
hundreds of palaces and museums. 

Copernicus' arrival in Italy coincided with the rise of the great French 
disease, the new merry plague. Charles VIII, the glory-mad young King 
of France, had just ridden through all of Italy with his noble Sir Bayard, 
the chevalier sans peur et sans reproche. Later Copernicus saw the other 
Pope, Julius II, who always entered the breach in the wall of a be- 
leaguered fortress ahead of his soldiers, but who also called Bramante 
and Michelangelo to Rome, to build St. Peter's Church for him, and who 
called Raphael. 

In Italy Copernicus could see every way of governing men: kingdoms 
in the south, theocracy at Rome, and in the north republics, princes and 
condottieri in their conquered principalities. Copernicus saw them all, 
these laughing Italians who no longer believed in God and the devil — 
atheists in the Vatican and saints on the highway, political derelicts offer- 
ing themselves for sale, venal generals, adulterous monks, baby-killing 
nuns, painters of genius, architects aping Antiquity, poison-mongering 
collectors and blackmailing pamphleteers, fourteen-year-old cardinals and 
seventy-year-old despoilers of virgins. 


And the "Golden Horde" of the humanists! One of them read nothing 
but Cicero for three years. Another would not learn Greek lest it affect 
his Latin. A third set himself up as high priest of paganism, and gathered 
his friends in a cave to overthrow the Pope. Many dreamed of uniting 
Italy, and to this end no Cesare was too blood-stained for them. Others 
wanted to re-establish the Roman res pubticct and ended up with the Sultan 
or in Poland. Meanwhile, from every direction, the "barbarians" came 
and acted as masters — the French, the Spaniards, the Germans. 

The raving, poison-mongering, all-too-reasonable reason of these so- 
phisticated Italians! They no longer believed in war; none would die for 
the other; they hired Swiss or German lansquenets for the inevitable. 
Or they paid condottieri, experts in the art of bloodless war, who would 
desert to the enemy before a battle just to raise the price. Not one drew 
his sword from conviction. Rather than trust to the uncertain fortunes 
of war, the Italians hired assassins or mixed powders. Instead of killing 
the Duke's troops, they had the Duke killed. A French moralist wrote 
that Italian diplomacy at the time was "a school of crime." Was Machia- 
velli a mere comedy writer ? And was there a better subject for farces than 
his age? 

In Rome Copernicus could see the Holy Father, and in Ferrara the 
Holy Father's alleged bedfellow— to wit, the Holy Father's daughter, 
Lucretia Borgia, then the virtuous Duchess of Ferrara. 

In Milan Ludovico il Moro, brother of an assassinated Duke of Milan 
and guardian of his nephew Galeazzo, had the latter killed with permis- 
sion of the French King — and later he himself had to decamp, to avoid 
being killed. 

The Italian democracies had deteriorated into oligarchies. In all the 
republics, barely eighteen thousand citizens still enjoyed political rights. 
Despotism ruled instead of freedom. Despair bred an urge for innovations. 
Rich, anarchic Italy was waiting for the first conqueror; Charles VIII 
grabbed the willing spoils. He wanted to conquer Italy, Greece, Con- 
stantinople and Jerusalem with the Holy Sepulchre. He brought fifty 
thousand Gascons, Bretons, Swiss, a merry band without discipline — 
"led by God," as Commynes said, "for the other leaders did not care about 

Italians had called the French: from Milan, "the Moor"; from Florence, 
the old tyrant, Piero de' Medici, and the new tyrant Savonarola; from 
Rome, Alexander VI, and the cardinals who were afraid of Michelotto, 
Cesare's Spanish hangman. At Turin Charles VIII, barely twenty-four, 
took the jewelry from the necks and fingers of his ducal dance partners. 
He let the Milanese Moor poison his nephew, arid took Milan away from 


him anyway. Piero opened the fortresses of Florence to him, Savonarola 
the gates; Piero was banished, Savonarola burned. "For three weeks all 
who fell into the Frenchmen's hands were massacred." This was called 
the "evil war." 

At Rome, the .cardinals opened the gates for Charles; Alexander was 
forced to deliver to Charles his son Cesare, and Zizi, the brother of 
Sultan Bajazet. Cesare escaped; Zizi was dying of poison when he was 
delivered. In a purple cloak, carrying a golden globe in his hands, Charles 
rode through the streets of Naples. 

The Italians who had called him allied themselves with the German 
Emperor and the Spanish King, to drive him out again. The Italian 
campaign had sad consequences for both Italy and France. In France it 
led to the spread of novels of chivalry; in Italy it spread syphilis, called 
the "French disease." Charles VIII, at twenty-eight, cracked his head in 
the dark on an open door in his castle of Amboise, and Commynes wrote, 
"He was little respected." 

Copernicus thus had sufficient opportunities to educate himself. Did 
he see Leonardo da Vinci, I'uomo universale, who was both genius and 
dilettante, who tried out many fields and succeeded in finding some- 
thing new in each? But at Milan he might also have seen the pieces of 
a masterwork by Leonardo: the statue of il Moro smashed for fun by 
Gascon archers. 

Did he see Michelangelo, and in Florence did he watch barbarians 
smash one of Michelangelo's statues? Did he enter the palaces of noble 
merchants expert in all arts, who collected statues and humanists, knew 
their way around in Greek and Latin, excelled in the arts of war and 
love and were magnificent businessmen? Did he hear the other uomo 
universale, Leon Battista Alberti: "Men can do anything by themselves, 
if only they will it"? 

Contemporaries seldom know whose real contemporaries they are. They 
cannot tell the great men of the time from its barkers. Most of them die 
without comprehending the idea of their century. It is the misfortune of 
great ideas that they are obsolete by the time they become popular; man 
grasps only what he was born to grasp, and loves only what was made 
for him. 

If the Turks had not conquered Byzantium the Greeks would not have 
brought their manuscripts to Italy. But only in Italy could those runaway 
teachers find such ingenious pupils; elsewhere, they would have been 
jailed and their manuscripts turned into paper bags. Only in the Italy of 
the joyful age, of the resurrected, ardent greatness of Antiquity lived this 
unbounded love of beauty, this consummate freedom of thought, this 


tireless curiosity, this omnipotent feeling of being the equal of ancients 
and of being able to match them in accomplishments. New ideas, dis- 
coveries, views of the world are not bound to an epoch; they merely fail 
to take effect without an epoch's favor. How many spiritual revolutions 
have failed because nobody took them seriously, not even the initiator? 

"In the air" is never an idea or a discovery, only readiness to notice 
it. Potential revolutionaries like Copernicus, who turned the world order 
upside down, may have existed before. But Copernicus alone became visi- 
ble, because the century was ripe and a dozen revolutions had prepared 
and were accompanying his "Revolutions." 

First, Columbus enlarged the earth. First, Vasco da Gama found the 
sea route to India. First, Gutenberg printed the Bible. First, Luther shook 
the Church. First, Byzantium fell and scattered its Greeks. First, the new 
Platonics pushed aside the Aristotelics. First, Borgia burned Savonarola, 
and Machiavelli voiced the amorality of the "Prince." First, Reuchlin 
published his Hebrew Grammar, and Erasmus published his Greek Bible 
edition and "praised" the fools. First, Zwingli and Calvin reformed Chris- 

First, Germany derided the "Obscurantists," and the Popes derided God 
and hired, as servants and clerks, those very humanists who derided all, 
doubted all, explored all in their infinite curiosity, and slandered all in 
their immortal love of ridicule. The nobility must descend, the bourgeoisie 
rise. The places of the Teutonic Knights, of a Gonzalo de Cordoba and a 
Chevalier Bayard, were taken by Fuggers and Welsers and the Borgias 
and Medicis, moneybags and bankers. First artillery beat cavalry, and the 
lansquenet, the knight. First, printers replaced copyists. In lieu of fiefs 
and feudal estates and realty, came bankers with omnipotent money. 

When Copernicus came to Bologna, an exalted Dominican monk ruled 
neighboring Florence, a zealot against every aristocracy, even that of art — 
in brief, the monk who would reform the whole world, Fra Girolamo 

He was born at Ferrara, in 1452, and the contemporary Florentine 
historian Guicciardini said of him: "If Fra Girolamo was sincere, our time 
has seen a great prophet; if he was a knave, it has seen a very great man." 
He left a good home to become a physician, studied Aristotle and Thomas 
Aquinas in solitude, heard a preacher in Faenza, fled to Bologna and 
there donned the white cowl of the Dominicans. "I had to do it," he 
said later. "I lost my sleep and my appetite over the thought of entering 
a monastery; when I did it, I was happy. Now that I am a monk I would 
not Jiange places with anybody." 


Two days after he entered the monastery he wrote to his father that 
he had fled from the filth of the world, from Sodom. He wrote: "Freedom 
and peace I love above all; I would have no wife, since I wanted to be 
free, and I fled the world in order to find peace, and found refuge in 

Starting as convent gardener and tailor, he became instructor in meta- 
physics and Holy Writ. "Read this book: it contains all. You wish to be 
good: read the book of the Crucified One, wherein all that is good is 
contained." In 1482 he was transferred from his monastery in Bologna 
to the famous convent of San Marco in Florence. Cosimo de' Medici 
had it rebuilt after the plans of Michelozzo; Fra Angelico and Fra 
Bartolommeo had adorned it with murals. For four years Savonarola 
was instructor of novices and preached in the Church of St. Lawrence. 

He was a bad speaker, so small of stature, so awkward in his gestures, 
so violent in his demeanor and metaphors that the people ridiculed and 
forgot him. Later he mingled in politics and became an irresistible speaker. 
No demand was too radical for him, no utterance too demagogic. He loved 
Florence, he loved Italy, he loved the abused and persecuted, he loved the 
poor — "il popolo minutissimo." He loved liberty and hated tyrants, for 
instance the Medici. 

He claimed that God was speaking out of his mouth. At first it may 
have been a rhetorical turn, later a political one; finally it became a mania. 
At first he prophesied the deaths of Innocent VIII and Lorenzo the 
Magnificent, the fall of the Medici and the invasion of Charles VIII. 
These were wishful dreams. When they came true he looked on himself 
as a prophet. 

Like all pious men, Savonarola was full of doubts. "God is my witness : 
I never closed an eye in the night before Sunday; I saw no help. My 
knowledge fled; I knew not what to do. When dawn broke and I was 
tired from waking, I heard a voice say: 'Madman, do you not see that 
it is God's will that you should keep telling the future as heretofore?' 
This was the cause of my furious sermon the next day." By words he 
gained his power. He persuaded his monastery of St. Mark's and the 
other Dominican monasteries in Tuscany to reform themselves volun- 
tarily. He wanted to effect the reform of the entire Church. 

He was a very short, thin man, narrow-chested and sickly, and walked 
bent forward. He had black burning eyes, red bushy brows, a large 
aquiline nose, a wide, sensual mouth and strong pointed cheekbones. 
Once he took a boat down the Po from Mantua to Ferrara and at one 
stroke converted eleven boatmen. 

The greatest cathedral in Florence no longer held the audiences of 


this preacher. "Wonder words," his disciple Fra Domenico Buonvincini 
called his sermons. The crowd wept, screamed, howled, hung on his lips. 
After his sermons women threw their jewels away and tore their silk 
dresses; a usurer gave up three thousand ducats; the clerk who took 
down his speeches (we possess ten volumes of his sermons) interrupted 
his text: "Here, tears and emotion prevented me from writing further." 

Savonarola preached. He preached against the century. Against the 
corruption of Italy. But the scourge of God, the barbarian, was already 
on his way across the Alps, to kill, burn and ravage. "They will lead 
our tyrants into captivity like bears, with iron rings through their noses. 
In vain you will wish to flee to the right and to the left — the scourge 
of God will appear on all sides; on all sides there will be darkness. You 
will find no place to hide your head. Darkness here, darkness there, all 
the world in tumult, earth and heaven, sun and moon." He cursed and 
cursed, and suddenly he would call: "Mercy! Mercy, oh God! In the name 
of the blood of Christ!" 

And the crowd would call: "Mercy! Mercy, oh God! In the name of 
the blood of Christ!" 

Savonarola said that an inner fire was burning his bones and forcing 
him to preach. The Turkish Sultan, Bajazet, asked the ambassador of 
Florence to send him the speeches of this famous preacher, so that they 
might be translated into the Turkish language. 

In 1491 Savonarola was elected prior of the monastery of St. Mark's. 
He wrote to a prior in Pisa: "We are willing to have the simplest con- 
vents, to wear rough garb, eat and drink simply like the saints, live in 
cells without a single luxury, in silent contemplation." He founded a 
school of Oriental languages in the monastery, so that one might read 
Greek and Hebrew and receive the Holy Scriptures in the original tongue. 
Florentine laymen also went to this monastic school. 

He attacked the Medici and Pope Alexander VI. Both tried in vain 
to buy him. When Lorenzo lay dying, he called Savonarola; he did not 
know any other pious man. In 1493 Savonarola was called to Bologna, to 
preach there. After his return he was appointed Vicar-General of Tuscany. 
He was the most powerful man in Florence. Lorenzo de' Medici was 
dead; his son Piero was banished; Charles VIII invaded Italy— without 
Savonarola, Guicciardini wrote, there would have been conflicts, revolu- 
tion, proscriptions, perhaps a return of the Medicis as a last resort accom- 
panied by general slaughter, and finally the ruin of the city. 

Savonarola governed without a legal title. Varillas wrote in his Floren- 
tine Anecdotes: "Due to his talents, he acted with more authority than if 
he had been a sovereign; the public councils followed his advice; he was 


the arbiter of domestic conflicts and matrimonial disputes; there was no 
appeal from his verdict nor a postponement of sentence." He proclaimed 
Christ King of Florence and called on every citizen to develop himself 
in the Christian virtues: love thy neighbor, try to understand him, help 

He established a council to make laws and appoint officials. He released 
debtors and founded an interest-free loan bank for the poor. He intro- 
duced the'Consilio Grande in which every citizen, rich or poor, had the 
same voice. By majority vote, artisans reached the highest public posi- 
tions. The nobility raged. 

Gabriel Naude, one of his earliest biographers, said: "By the sound of 
his voice he could make the Florentines do anything." 

Gay Florence became a wailing convent. The taverns were closed, the 
butchers ruined by too many new fast days; ruined, the butchers walked 
about the streets with prayer books. 

Burlamachi said: "They gather, about thirty of them, men and women 
together, and choose an agreeable place in the city or before the gates. 
There they hear Mass and receive Holy Communion and spend the day 
singing psalms. They flock round a picture of the child Jesus and pray 
and weep. They listen to a moral sermon and carry madonnas in the 

Savonarola, not satisfied with converting the gayest city in Italy, wanted 
to reform the whole Church and chastise the Pope. He dispatched a call 
for a Council to all great potentates. And he went about turning Florence 
into an empire of God on earth, an example for the world. He wanted 
to restore the Church's original simplicity and purity. He lashed out at 
the venality of the Papacy, but he was a devout Catholic and did not 
doubt fundamental dogma. 

Alexander VI offered to make him Archbishop of Florence — or even 
Cardinal. Savonarola, in his next sermon, prophesied that for having 
spurned the red Cardinal's hat he soon would receive the hat granted to 
the saints and martyrs, reddened by his own blood. In 1495 the Pope called 
him to Rome, and upon his refusal forbade him to preach. In his Lenten 
sermon, the seer of Florence had prophesied— great misery, of course, like 
all Lenten preachers— and of course he was soon proved right. 

The Franciscan, always angry at the domini canes, sent him a com- 
petitor. A Franciscan began to predict even greater evils. But when 
Charles VIII came to Italy in 1494, a week after Piero's expulsion, "like 
a new Cyrus, armed by the Lord with the sword of vengeance," no one 
counted, save Savonarola, the prophet. (He had not only prophesied 
Charles VIII but personally called him.) 


Savonarola had democratic tendencies and theocratic ideals. His watch- 
word was: "Jesus Christus Rex populi florentini S.P.Q. decreto creatus." 

He spoke at the bier of his friend, Pico della Mirandola. This cabalist 
and neo-Platonic with the Talmudic philosophic knowledge of a rabbi, a 
teacher of Hebrew long before Reuchlin, recognized the truth and science 
of all ages. Against the one-sided pride of the humanists, who acknowl- 
edged only Rome and Hellas, he declared : "We shall live forever, not in 
the schools of the casuists but in the circle of the sages, where neither 
Andromache's mother nor Niobe's sons are discussed but the more pro- 
found grounds of things divine and human. He who approaches there 
will see that the barbarians also had the spirit, not on their lips but in 
their hearts." This great Pico della Mirandola was now reproached by 
his friend Savonarola, in his funeral sermon, with having failed to take 
holy orders despite an inner voice coming from God. Therefore he, 
Savonarola, had asked God to chastise the friend — though of course he 
had not wished his death. 

In the dispute between the adherents of Plato and those of Aristotle, 
Savonarola sided against both. He preached: "The only good which 
Plato and Aristotle produced were the many arguments they put forth 
and which can be used against heretics. They and other philosophers 
are in hell nevertheless. An old woman knows more about faith than 
Plato. It would benefit the faith if many otherwise seemingly useful books 
were destroyed. In times when there were not so many books and not so 
many ratiocinations and disputes, faith grew faster than it has grown 

For moral reasons he wished to banish Catullus and Ovid, Tibullus and 
Terence from the schools. In addition to Homer, Virgil and Cicero one 
was to read St. Jerome and St. Augustine. In fact, only a few people were 
to learn the sciences; in general, science was noxious. The tradition of 
human knowledge ought not to perish, however — especially so that a 
few giants of science might crush the chief heretics and their sophisms. 
For the rest, instruction in religion, Christian living and grammar would 
suffice. As in the good old days, monks would again administer all 
knowledge and they, the "most knowing and saintly ones," were to rule 
empires and cities. 

To the astrologers he was as opposed as his friend Pico della Mirandola, 
who regarded astrology as virtually the root of all godlessness and im- 
morality. The astrologer who deduced everything from the stars, good 
as well as ill fortune, ought to worship the planets as gods; it was he 
who laid the foundation for every superstition, with chiromancers, 
geomancers and necromancers all relying on astrology to choose their 


proper hours. Savonarola wanted to burn the astrologers at the stake. 

He held autos-da-fe for books and works of art, and turned the servants 
and members of f amilies into stoolpigeons for purposes of a higher mo- 
rality, trailblazing for Calvin and worse tyrants. He organized a kind 
of Hitler Youth— Florentine boys who entered private houses, took beauti- 
ful things and good books out of them by force and carried them to the 
pyre. When courageous people in some houses thrashed the boys, the 
adolescent holy citizenry was given an adult escort, a sort of S.S. troop. 

When starvation reigned in the Florentine realm and the peasants came 
to Florence, half-dead, and lay exhausted about the streets, Savonarola 
had them fed by his adherents. At carnival processions he sent the children 
out with flowers in their hair, dressed in white and carrying red crosses, 
to demand gifts, part of which he had distributed among the bashful poor. 
In 1496 he ordered a great procession, and just as the crowd filled all 
streets a messenger with a ,green branch came riding up as by pre- 
arrangement, to report the arrival of an expected grain ship — ecce pro- 

On Christmas, 1496, Savonarola brought more than thirteen hundred 
boys and girls up to eighteen years of age together in Santa Maria del 
Fiore and imparted Holy Communion to the lot. The people burst into 
tears. Ecce innocential 

About that time the Pope had thrice exhorted him to stop preaching. 
Michelangelo wrote to his brother that in Rome everybody was talking 
of Savonarola and calling him a filthy heretic; it would be best if he came 
to Rome in person, then they would make him a saint. True, recently 
five heretics had been hung, but this should discourage no one! 

On the last carnival days of the years 1496 and 1497 and 1498, the great 
autos-da-fe took place on the Piazza della Signoria. Did Copernicus travel 
to Florence from Bologna, to look at this fiery world reformer and his 
fiery deeds? 

A tiered pyramid was erected there, the kind on which the bodies of 
Roman Emperors had once been burned. Spread out at the bottom lay 
masks, false beards and fancy dress. Above them lay the books of Latin 
and Italian poets, of Pulci, Boccaccio, Petrarca, precious parchment prints, 
manuscripts with lovely miniatures, jewelry, toilet articles, mirrors, veils, 
perfumes; higher up lay lutes, harps, chess boards, tric-tracs, playing cards; 
at the very top lay paintings, especially of beautiful women, of beauties 
partly ancient, partly living. The painters Baccio della Porta and Lorenzo 
di Credi brought their immoral paintings in person. 

In 1497 a merchant from Venice was present and offered to pay the 


Signoria of Florence twenty thousand gold thalers for the pyramid. They 
had him portrayed at once and the portrait laid on the rest. Fire was set 
to the stake. The Signoria came out on the balcony. There were singing, 
trumpeting and ringing of bells; there were cries: "Viva Christo il re di 
Firenze! Viva Maria la regina!" Later the crowd moved on to the Piazza 
San Marco and danced in three rings round the square — in the center the 
monks of St. Mark's, alternating with choir boys; in the second circle 
young clerics and laymen; in the outermost circle old men, townspeople 
and priests crowned with olive branches. Since time immemorial bliss has 
been thought of as dancing. Did Copernicus see this dance of the bar- 

Many Florentines were asking each other: "Have we become Goths 
or Vandals?" Savonarola himself talked of "festivals of the higher mad- 
ness"— maggior pazzia. 

Two parties evolved in Florence, the Piagnoni or Howlers (so-called 
because they howled during Savonarola's sermons) and the Arrabiati or 
Madmen (because they raged against Savonarola's reforms). The former, 
also called the "Whites," were the people's party; the "Grays" consisted of 
aristocrats yearning for the return of the Medici. Several notables were 
arrested at the time, for political reasons; they were charged with desiring 
to restore Piero de' Medici. Henceforth, Savonarola could no longer go out 
without an armed guard. 

Machiavelli wrote: 

"Fra Girolamo was excommunicated, or better, he was forbidden to 
preach. He had been silent from last summer to February, but now he 
was again beginning to preach, during the merriment of the carnival. 
His sermons were very forceful and all directed against the Church. The 
Pope and the whole Roman court felt so offended thereby, that they sent 
new breves to him and to the Signoria. 

"He preached again because the new Signoria was to be chosen, and 
he already smelled the stake. For the city, learning of his disobedience 
to the Pope and greatly fed up with his prophecies which contained 
nothing but misery, began to turn against him. This was why he wished 
to put off his evil fate . . . 

"Some time before the King of France died, signs of epilepsy were 
observed on him, and though this malady was not the cause of his death 
it contributed greatly to it. It was March; the Brother was preaching, 
and the Pope was hurling excommunications. The divided city voted 
unevenly. At the Signors' entry, in March, very serious Papal breves im- 
mediately arrived; there were many consultations. At first the Signoria 
was divided, and this led to the great dispute. 


"On April the 8th, 1498, Charles VIII died of a stroke, and on the 
same day, in Florence, the Brother was involved in an event deserving 
detailed mention ..." 

Alexander VI who loved life, loved works of art, loved books, loved 
beautiful nude women and pictures of beautiful nude women, an ever- 
laughing old man who liked best to watch dancers and — unlike Sav- 
onarola who would turn the gay city of Florence into a gloomy theocracy 
— was just about to turn the Roman theocracy into an all-too-temporal 
Italian kingdom for his son, Cesare Borgia — Alexander VI, in the fair 
month of May, 1497, laid the great ban of the Church on the over-bold 
prior of St. Mark's monastery in Florence. 

"Nowadays," Savonarola replied, "you get four excommunications for 
a penny. Everybody can buy them and use them against an enemy." It 
sounds as unabashed as though coming from Luther. 

Savonarola said: "A breve came from Rome calling me a son of hell. 
I — so-called — keep neither gigolos nor concubines but preach the faith of 
Christ. Whoever listens to my teachings does not spend his days on deeds 
of darkness, but confesses, receives Holy Communion and lives an upright 
life. I fight to elevate the Church; you, to disperse it. Patience! The time 
will come when the basket will have to be opened (to reveal the corrup- 
tion of Rome). One turn of the key, and such a stench will come out 
that it will poison all Christendom." 

Cardinal Piccolomini informed Savonarola that five thousand gold 
ducats would change the Pope's mind, but Savonarola disdained this 
method. In his letter to the great potentate he wrote: "I swear that this 
man is neither Pope nor Christian. He does not believe in God." 

Meanwhile the plague came to Florence. Savonarola dismissed seventy 
of his monks and locked himself in the convent with the remaining 
forty. "We are more than forty, and the citizens care for our needs and 
see that we lack nothing. Since we do not go out, they bring everything 
to us." Savonarola said he had remained in Florence to comfort the 
stricken. His enemies said he had locked himself in the convent for fear 
of catching the plague. 

Machiavelli wrote in his letters to the Ten of the Balia: 

"In the first days of this month the Brother was preaching when a man 
beating the drum started a great noise in the church. Swords were drawn; 
great tumult was about to break out but was quickly quelled. From 
Rome, the Brother was beset with breves. The Pope sent a certain Gio- 
vanni da Ghinazzano with these breves to the Signoria and to Brother 
Girolamo: to the Signoria, that it should stop the Brother's preaching; to 
him, for the same purpose and that he should appear before the Papal 


vicar, et al. Most of it had been requested by the opposition here. His 
party in turn strongly defended him. However, because of the heat, the 
plague and many other troubles, he did not preach this summer . . ." 

The party strife, like the plague, entered every house. Parents beat their 
children; children denounced their parents. "Daily you heard threats and 
curses: a mother-in-law would drive her daughter-in-law out of her 
house, a husband would leave his wife; a woman wished secretly to 
warn the prophet of opposition waged against him by her husband." 

Savonarola said: "I have worshipped the Lord in all sincerity. I only 
sought to follow in his footsteps: I prayed whole nights, gave up my 
peace, sacrificed health and life in the service of my neighbor. Now, it 
is impossible that the Lord should have deceived me . . ." 

Then came the comedy of the ordeal. Savonarola and a Franciscan were 
to walk through the flames; the one remaining unhurt would have been 
protected, approved, distinguished by God. The Franciscan declared, "I 
shall certainly burn. But Savonarola will burn too. So the false prophet 
will be unmasked." 

The Signoria appointed a commission of ten— five from each faction— 
to fix time and place of the ordeaL It was to otcur on April 7, 1498, the 
day before Palm Sunday, on the square before the Palace. A cordon of 
armed men surrounded the piazza. Franciscans and Dominicans marched 
up in two hosts, the former silently, the latter singing. Most Florentines 
were disappointed when it was learned that Fra Buonvincini, Savonarola's 
disciple, would go through the flames in his stead. 

Fra Buonvincini, led by Savonarola, appeared before the impatient 
throng with a blessed host in his hand. The host was to protect the 
Brother on his fiery stroll. The opponents protested. They said it was 

The sky was covered; the clouds hung heavier and lower, Savonarola 
discussed the sacrilege with increasing fervor; finally the rainstorm broke, 
the flames were extinguished, in the downpour a new fire was not to be 
thought of. Savonarola called the rain a sign that God did not approve 
of this ordeal. 

Why should not rain be a sign? But now most of the Florentines 
laughed about their prophet. 

On the next morning, on Palm Sunday, while the Signoria decided 
to banish Savonarola, the Arrabiati and a howling mob stormed St. Mark's 
monastery. The monks opened fire from arquebuses and mortars. Five of 
the attackers were killed and three monks, Savonarola's brother among 
them. A fire was started; Savonarola was led off by men of the Signoria. 


The people pushed him, laughingly demanded that he prophesy who were 
the pushers. They cried: "Doctor, help yourself!" 

Alexander VI called the Dominican General and the Archbishop of 
Sorrento to try the heretic. He said, "This monk must be killed though 
he be another John the Baptist." 

"Because of the costs," Machiavelli wrote in his letters, "and also be- 
cause it was so desired here, the Pope waived Fra Girolamo's surrender 
to Rome but agreed to the Signors' asking His Holiness by letter to 
deign to send someone for the investigation. This was done . . ." 

Savonarola was tortured; he confessed and immediately retracted his 

Savonarola was condemned. 

In the fair month of May, 1498, Fra Girolamo Savonarola was first 
hanged and then burned on the Piazza della Signoria, together with Fra 
Domenico Buonvincini and Fra Silvestro MarufR, the somnambulist, who 
had insisted on sharing Savonarola's fate. The three Brothers died silently, 
after being spat at and stoned by the rabble of both factions. Their ashes 
were strewn into the Arno. On the following day a letter came from 
the new King of France, Louis XII, forbidding Savonarola's execution. 

Savonarola lived to be forty-six years of age. He had outlived his per- 
sonal power, his compelling effect on the people even before his fall. 
Later, the martyr came back into fashion. Pico della Mirandola had a 
nephew who boasted of possessing a scrap of Savonarola's heart which 
could do miracles; the heart, it was said, did not burn. It had risen from 
the depths of the Arno and had been salvaged by worshippers. Botticelli 
painted Savonarola borne to Faradise by angels. Raphael in one of his 
canvases painted him beside Dante. Michelangelo admired him when he 
was dead. For the jubilee of 1500, medals with Savonarola's picture and 
a crown of rays were struck and sold to the pilgrims. Luther called him 
a martyr. 
Guicciardini wrote: 

"Never a monk was seen with such talent, with so much authority and 
influence. His very enemies had to admit his expertness in many sciences, 
especially in philosophy. For centuries none had been so adept in the 
Holy Scripture. No contemporary was so eloquent. His speech was never 
artificial or forced; it flowed simply and naturally from his lips, with 
unequaled authority. 

"How am I to judge his life? There was no trace of greed or pleasure- 
seeking, neither weakness nor passion. He offered the example of a re- 
ligious life; he was pious, charitable, obedient to the monastic rules, devout 


not merely on the surface but in his heart. In none of these points could 
his enemies discover the slightest fault in him, no matter how much they 
labored during the trial. 

"He carried out a holy and admirable work with his moral reform. 
There never was so much virtue and piety in Florence as in his days, and 
the fall of virtue and compassion after his death affords us with the 
measure of the good that he accomplished. No more public gaming 
tables, little private gambling, the taverns closed, the women modestly 
dressed, the children leading a holy life. Led by Fra Buonvincini they 
went to church in groups, wore their hair cut short and abused and 
stoned drunkards, gamblers and immodestly dressed women. 

"In short, the works of this great man were precious. Since some of his 
prophecies had been fulfilled, many people continued to believe in his 
Divine inspiration despite his excommunication, trial and death at the 

Thus far Guicciardini. And Copernicus ? All Italy, all Europe was talk- 
ing about this monk, of his attacks on the Holy Father, of his attempts 
to reform the Church, of his end on the gallows and in the fire. And 
Copernicus? Did he see this pyre lighted for a bold innovator? 




"1 have often stated that in my opinion the 
sky does not mix decisively in particular 
affairs. However, since 1 am being com- 
manded . . ." 

johannes kepler (in a letter to 
Emperor Rudolph, 1'606) 

MtJLLER'S world-wide fame was said to have impressed young Coper- 
nicus so deeply that his greatest ambition was to become a second Muller. 

In fact, he was rather impressed by the man, by this Johannes Muller 
who knew the skies better than any one before him — who was called to 
Rome by the Pope because of his fame. After his death legend made him 
bishop of Regensburg and buried him in the Pantheon because of his 
(astronomical) virtues. In his lifetime, Copernicus was never so famous 
as this Muller. After death, of course, the fame of Copernicus surpassed 
that of Muller a hundredfold; the bitter glory of the dead . . . 

Regiomontanus-Miiller was still in his thirties when the Pope called him 
to Rome to reform the Christian calendar. But Copernicus, in his dark 
province, at almost seventy got one reprimand after the other from his 
bishop, on account of his young housekeeper, with whom he allegedly — 
or even actually, perhaps. ... 

Muller was a great man, but who was he to be compared with Coper- 
nicus ? 

On the other hand Gassendi wrote that without Regiomontanus-Miiller 
and his teacher Peurbach there might have been no Copernicus at all. 

Peurbach and Regiomontanus are considered the restorers of astronomy 
in Christian Europe. Both died young — one at thirty-seven, the other at 
forty. The Austrian Georg Aunpekh (1423-1461, surnamed Peurbach after 
his birthplace) was at the age of thirty a famous humanist, and unpaid 



lecturer— the first, by the way, to give humanist lectures in Germany: he 
commented on Virgil, Horace and Juvenal at the University of Vienna. 
He tried to earn his bread by tutoring and astrology, but was compelled 
to borrow money and starve. Finally, his astrological hocus-pocus won him 
patrons including an Emperor, a King of Hungary and Bohemia, a 
Duke of Tyrol and a Bishop of Grosswardein. 

In 1451 he began his astronomical observations. At Padua he lectured 
and met Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa who would gladly have taken him 
into his service. But instead Peurbach returned to Vienna where he gave 
the famous lectures on his "New Planetary Theory" in 1454. This theory 
had fifty-six Latin, one Italian, one Spanish, one Hebrew and four French 
editions. Unlike Ptolemy's theory in the Almagest, it does not start with 
observations, but explains the figures of the planetary motions. He at- 
tempted to re-establish the old hypothesis that the celestial spheres were 
concrete and material; but he was also the first Christian astronomer to 
use the most important contribution of the Arab astronomers: trig- 
onometry. Peurbach and Regiomontanus first had the great notion to 
employ the sky as a timepiece. From its movements they deduced the 
true times of their observations. They invented this procedure because 
they lacked precise clocks, later, when the clocks grew better, it was used 
to test them. 

Miiller-Regiomontanus (1436-1476) was a child prodigy. A student at 
the University of Leipzig at the age of eleven, he was the author of a 
yearbook full of the most difficult astronomical computations, the mo- 
tions of the planets, at the age of twelve — his manuscript still shows 
his childish hand. He came to Vienna as a fourteen-year-old boy in order 
to hear the great Peurbach, immediately computed the yearbook for 
1451, and at the age of fifteen became court astrologer to Emperor Fred- 
erick III. He read in the stars the fate of the emperor's fiancee, Leonore 
of Portugal (incorrectly — but this was not realized until later). . 

This child prodigy earned legitimate world fame under his name 
Johannes Muller as the greatest astronomer of his century; posterity called 
him Regiomontanus or Konigsberger after his birthplace of Konigsberg, 
in Franconia, made a legend of him and gave him world fame for another 
reason, this time undeservedly, to wit, as the greatest astrologer of the 
Occident. Thus Muller under two different names acquired two different 
kinds of world fame in two different epochs. 

Having begun as Peurbach's pupil, Regiomontanus became his as- 
sistant, friend and successor, and greater than his teacher. 

The two astronomers manufactured crude instruments for the observa- 


tion of the positions of the planets, and discovered divergences from the 
positions stated in the Alphonsine Tables. 

Perpetually in need of money Peurbach computed yearbooks and tables 
of eclipses. When the celebrated Cardinal Bessarion was in Vienna, as 
Papal Nuncio, he called on Peurbach and invited him to Italy, to obtain 
the great astronomer's advice in translating the Greek original of 
Ptolemy's Almagest — the astronomical Bible which in Europe was known 
only in the Latin translation of an Arab edition of a Syrian translation. 
Bessarion was that honorable Greek and bishop of Nicaea who had ac- 
companied the Byzantine Emperor to Ferrara, to help unite the Greek 
and Roman Churches at the Council, but was converted to the Roman 
Church instead, remained in Italy and helped to spread the literature 
of the ancient Greeks in Europe. 

Finally, poor Peurbach obtained a paid commission from Cardinal Bes- 
sarion, to write a commentary on Ptolemy; but before he could complete 
the first six Books of the Extract from the Almagest or Epitome, he died. 
On his deathbed he asked his favorite pupil, Regiomontanus, to complete 
this work. The people of Vienna who let so many of their authors starve 
and toasted them after their death, buried him in St. Stephen's Cathedral. 

After Peurbach's sudden death the Cardinal Bessarion took Miiller to 
Italy and commissioned him to look for Greek manuscripts and to write 
his trigonometry. And Miiller did both things and for seven years 
moved from city to city. 

For four years Regiomontanus was professor of mathematics at the first' 
Hungarian university newly founded at Presburg; he computed astro- 
nomical tables and bought books for the king who was a slave of astrology. 
(Martin Ilkusch, the court astrologer, later gave some books of Regiomon- 
tanus to the library of the University of Cracow.) 

In the spring of 1471 Regiomontanus followed an invitation from his 
friend and pupil Bernhard Walther, a wealthy Nuremberg patrician, 
and settled in the Free City, the treasure-box of the German Reich, full 
of clockmakers, humanists, and, owing to its extensive trade relations, 
rich in scientific reports from all over the world. In the observatory which 
Walther had built for him on Rosengasse, Regiomontanus observed the 
comet of 1472. There, on Rosengasse, Regiomontanus set up a mechanic's 
shop, where the best astronomical instruments and compasses were manu- 
factured. There, he founded a printing establishment. He planned to 
publish the most important mathematical, astronomical and physical 
works of antiquity and the Middle Ages, taking good care to avoid the 
innumerable errors contained in the old manuscripts, in sum: twenty- 
nine classical works, nine in new Latin translations and twenty-two of 


his own works. He printed only seven books, the first of which were his 
teacher Peurbach's new theory of the planets and trigonometrical tables 
as well as his own "Ephemerides." These tables, containing the daily posi- 
tions of the planets, became widely known a few years later through the 
Nuremberg geographer Martin Behaim, who built the first globes, and 
won world-wide renown when they guided safely across the seas a num- 
ber of great discoverers, such as Diaz, Columbus and Vasco da Gama. 
In 1474, Regiomontanus brought out the first German calendar. Finally, 
in July, 1475, he followed the Papal bid to Rome, to correct the calendar 
of Christendom, and died the year after, at the height of his activity. 

Regiomontanus was a scholar with a passion for writing. He gave 
himself marks on his work, and praise or reprimands as the case might 
be. Thus he miscalculated one of the numberless problems he liked to 
send to scholars all over the world and castigated himself with the words: 
"You've been too hasty!" whereupon he completed his calculations, cor- 
rectly this time, on a separate sheet of paper. He wrote down whatever 
occurred to him. And he constantly had new ideas. 

In 1464 he wrote to Bianchini : "But I do not know whither my pen will 
run; it will use up all my paper if I don't stop it. One problem after an- 
other occurs to me, and there are so many beautiful ones that I hesitate as 
to which one I should submit to you." He would often notice at the end 
of a problem that he had forgotten something and would add a second or 
even third conclusion. There are 688 problems and theorems in his writ- 
ings, and he worked out three to six solutions for many of them. 

Mathematics was his hobby, astronomy his passion. He wanted to re- 
form the whole science of the stars. In a letter to the Rector of the Uni- 
versity of Erfurt he wrote that he could only regret that today people 
were called astronomers who had somehow learned to compute the orbits 
of the stars, who were astronomers at home in their study, but not under 
the open sky. In his own printing shop he did not publish any of the 
popular writings about comets or astrological almanacs. But his own 
almanacs, entirely free from astrological trimmings, were corrupted by 
the addition of such material only a few years after his death. It is true 
that these additions considerably increased the books' sales, because they 
dealt with the influence of the planets and signs of the zodiac on human 
destiny, the most favorable hour for bleeding, on rules of health, etc. 
In the end, only the astrological insertions were reprinted, under various 
titles such as "Brief concept of the natural art of astronomy by the world- 
famous Johannes Konigsberger." These were later taken over in the 
"Great Book of the Planets" which appeared in innumerable editions 


until 1852. Annual prophecies under the name of Johann Konigsberger 
were published until 1803. 

Regiomontanus realized at an early date that the prophecies of the 
astrologers could not be correct as long as the planetary orbits were not 
known with greater exactitude. His observations in Vienna revealed dis- 
crepancies in his computations of the positions of Mars; despite his ad- 
vance calculations he was unable to find Mercury; nor did his actual 
observations of Venus confirm his computations. 

Maria Novara, Copernicus' teacher, refers to Regiomontanus as his 

The Extract from the Almagest, by Peurbach and Regiomontanus, was 
used by Copernicus and Galileo. 

The Nuremberg admirer of Regiomontanus, Georg Hartmann (1489- 
1564), a skillful constructor of sundials and globes, owned a note, al- 
legedly torn out of a letter of Regiomontanus' which contained the 
following words: "it is necessary to revise somewhat the motion of the 
stars in view of the motion of the earth." 

Hartmann preserved this note as a great treasure because he interpreted 
it as a proof of Regiomontanus' belief in the motion of the earth. What 
did the astronomer really mean by this phrase? 

The people had made a wizard out of him: he was said to have cre- 
ated an iron fly which, rising from his hand, flew back to it at his com- 
mand; he also had sent a wooden eagle out to greet the Emperor, and 
then let it fly ahead of him, into the city. Walther, who survived his 
master by twenty-eight years, published his own and Regiomontanus' 
observations one year after the death of Copernicus. 

If Peurbach and Regiomontanus came to the attention of Copernicus 
only through their fame, their writings and the lectures,. he heard about 
them at the Cracow university — and if he heard Brudzewski, the astrono- 
mer and mathematician of Cracow, speak in public only about Aristotle 
— his work with the "astrologer of Bologna," Maria di Novara, is twice 
attested by Rheticus. 

In the Narratio Prima, published in 1540, Rheticus reported: "My 
teacher made observations with the utmost care at Bologna, where he 
was not so much the pupil as the assistant and witness of observations of 
the learned Dominicus Maria; at Rome, where about the year 1500, being 
twenty-seven years of age more or less, he lectured on mathematics before 
a large audience of students and a throng of great men and experts in this 
branch of knowledge; then here in Frauenburg, where he had leisure for 
his studies." 


And again, in the preface to his "Ephemerides for 1551," Rheticus 
wrote: "He lived with Messer Maria of Bologna, whose calculations he 
knew exactly and at whose observations he assisted." 

The fairest fame of this Maria, who died at fifty, in 1504, after twenty- 
one years as the "astrologer of Bologna" and professor at the university, 
rests on his disciple — Copernicus. Maria's writings have been lost, except 
for a few astrological almanacs which he was required to publish annually 
under orders of the university: a calendarium listed the moon phases 
and the positions of the planets, as well as the resulting "good" and "evil" 
days. But on March 9, 1497, Maria and Copernicus watched as Aldebaran, 
that "brilliant star in the Hyades," was eclipsed by the moon (JDe revolu- 
tionibus orbium coelestium, 4,27); it was the first astronomical observa- 
tion which Copernicus exploited scientifically, to prove his theory of the 
lunar parallaxis. 

It was Gassendi's belief that Maria and Copernicus were bound to 
attract each other because the "astrologer of Bologna" was also as Kepler 
described Copernicus, "free in mind and soul." 

With two of his research results, Maria hoped to shatter the allegedly 
unshakable Ptolemaic system. The first was his erroneous discovery 
of a systematic increase in the latitudes of several places in southern 
Europe; the second was his true discovery of the decrease in the obliquity 
of the ecliptic from the days of Antiquity. Maria di Novara, spellbound 
by the new Platonism, sought to express the structure of the universe in 
terms of simple mathematical relations. 

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, the wittiest of mathematicians, wrote: 
"With this Maria, Copernicus emulated Regiomontanus's experience with 
Peurbach: the pupil soon turned into a friend and assistant. Maria's whim 
was to believe that the latitudes had noticeably changed since Ptolemy's 
day — that the one of Cadix, for instance, had increased by more than a 
full degree. He presented this opinion to Copernicus, and the teacher is 
said by Gassendi to have been overjoyed at the pupil's failure to dissent. 
This joy on the teacher's part, on such an occasion, rather honors the 
apprentice and his failure to dissent does not discredit him — even if it 
should have been more than a mere compliment, as I suspect. 

"Quiet, strict, grave Copernicus was not the flattering sort, nor was he 
a volatile famous traveler, of whom such flying judgments may be noted. 
These men were living together and had talked this thing over. I think : 
perhaps his very eminent sense of order and simplicity in nature found 
the Ptolemaic confusion odious even then, so that he thought of improving 
it. In such a situation, any new opinion uttered by a famed and experi- 
enced man sounds well — if only because you hope perhaps to find a means 


of salvation in it, or else at least some support for the belief that one day 
you will throw all the rubbish away and start afresh." 

Novara was a splendid observing astronomer. Libri, in his "Histoire 
des sciences mathematiques en Italie," lauds him for re-determining the 
positions of all stars listed in Ptolemy's "Almagest." Copernicus, in the 
original manuscript of the "Revolutions" (Vol. 3, Ch. 6— where the figures 
on the obliquity of the ecliptic from Ptolemy's time onward are com- 
pared), quoted the results of Peurbach, Regiomontanus and Maria di 
Novara side by side, although in the printed book Novara's figure was 
omitted and the text reads simply: "As regards our time, finally, we 
have by frequent observations during thirty years found about 23 degrees 
and 282/5 minutes, from which Georg Peurbach and Johannes Regio- 
montanus, who did not long precede us, differ but slightly." 

For his daily bread, his position and his fame, of course, Maria — 
despite the bold courage he displayed against the astronomical prejudices 
of his colleagues and his era — was indebted throughout his life to a worse 
prejudice: astrology. As a rule, a revolutionary is an innovator in his field 
alone, and in all others is as reactionary as his century. Besides, a pro- 
fessor's pay was so small that an astronomer had to turn charlatan to eke 
out his income. 

The astrological superstition, a popular pastime for many thousands of 
years, was at that time also of military, political, intellectual and religious 
importance. It was a science like any other, with scientific apparatus, and 
astronomical knowledge was employed by it to determine the positions of 
the planets. Aristotle's metaphysics provided the nature-philosophical 
contents for any one who would relate the course of the stars to his own 

Kepler, in his treatise on the stargazing superstition, wrote: "This 
Astrology may be a foolish damsel; but dear Lord, what would become 
of her mother, the highly sensible Astronomy, if she did not have this 
foolish daughter! After all, the world is a good deal more foolish . . ." 




"A dying man in Pomerania to his pastor 
who was pestering him, To please you, 
I will believe in a resurrection — but you 
will see that nothing is going to come of 
it.' " 

A dying man in Pomerania 

"God! God! on what can mankind base a 
jaith, by which they hope to be happy 


"Glocester: These late eclipses in the sun 
and moon portend no good to us. . . . 
'Tis strange. (Exit.) 

Edmund: This is the excellent foppery 
of the world, that when we are sick in 
fortune — often the surfeit of our own be- 
havior — we make guilty of our disasters 
the sun, the moon and the stars: as if we 
were villains by necessity, fools by heav- 
enly compulsion; knaves, thieves and 
treachers, by an enforced obedience of 
planetary influence; and all that we are 
evil in, by a divine thrusting on: an ad- 
mirable evasion of whore-master man, to 
lay his goatish disposition to the charge 
of a star! My father compounded with my 
nativity was under Ursa major; so that 
it follows I am rough and lecherous. Tut, 
I should have been that I am, had the 
maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled 
on my bastardizing . . ." 
Shakespeare, King Lear 

SCIENCE, or rather Truth, had three great enemies in the century of 
Copernicus: faith, unbelief and superstition. 
From the rubble of temples and manuscripts the humanists dug up 



the laughing reason of Greece and its grinning madness. They laughed at 
ancient superstition with the Athenian comedy-writers, and argued against 
it with the dignity of Roman philosophers. As they were copying the 
wisdom of the ancients, the dust of age-old folly clung to their fingers 
and stuck in their hair; along with mockery, they inherited its object. 

Instead of God, the enlightened disciples of Antiquity and of the Arabs 
believed in the stars. Laughing at their priests, they bowed down before 

We know that both the philosophical fools, who like to see only them- 
selves and the present, and the historical fools, who in the dust of libraries 
and ruins mean to gaze into the hearts of the dead, are sages in com- 
parison with prophets and fortunetellers. For cash, the astrologers read 
from the relative position of the planets, to each other and to the signs 
of the zodiac, what their clients must do and expect. Sometimes, in 
foretelling the future, they actually determined it — for the clients made 
their decisions in accord with the prophecies, and in a manner likely to 
make them come true. 

Copernicus dedicated the book of his life, his main work, "On the 
Revolutions," to Pope Paul III. Theoretically, this book put an end to 
astrology. Yet Mendoza reports about this same Pope: "The influence 
of the stars on the success of human activity was hardly questioned in 
this period. Paul III would call no important meeting of the Consistory 
and take no trip, without choosing his days and observing the constella- 
tion. An alliance with the King of France met with the objection that the 
Royal and Papal nativities did not conform. This Pope seems to have 
felt himself ringed by a thousand noxious influences: not merely the 
natural ones of the world, but also the supernatural ones of a stellar 
configuration ; it was his purpose to consider duly the power of one as well 
as of the other, to shun its disfavor, utilize its favor, and skillfully steer to 
his goal between all the rocks menacing him on all sides." 

This was the Pope whom Leopold von Ranke called, "A man full of 
talent and spirit, and penetrating intelligence, placed in the highest posi- 
tion!" But he was a plaything of the astrologers — like Wallenstein who 
had his Seni, his Kepler; like most of the kings of the time; like many 
cities who numbered among their officials such astrologers as Johann 
Reyer of Amorbach, who was employed in Frankfurt-on-Main as 
physician and astrologer. Reyer predicted bad weather to the Council, in 
writing, whenever he was out of town, and recommended a procession as 
an antidote. 

The University of Cracow at times might lack professors of medicine 
and of astronomy, but it always had an astrologer. Children of the better 


families had their nativities cast. Goethe himself began his autobiography 
with the position of the planets at the moment of his birth. Cardano, 
in his autobiography De propria vita, wrote that his entire youth was 
spoiled for him by an astrologer's prediction that he would not live past 
his fortieth year — or his forty-fifth, at the most. He wrote this at the age 
of seventy-six, "otherwise still feeling tolerably happy," and still faithfully 
attributing an influence upon his talents and future fortunes to the stars 
which shone on his birth. 

Astrologers were the great puppeteers of the century. The mighty of the 
earth jerked at their strings. From Paris and Toledo, their printed fore- 
casts went all over Europe and frightened people nearly to death by 
predicting wars, comets, earthquakes, floods and epidemics. The astrolo- 
gers evolved their own historical philosophy, their own theogony. Accord- 
ing to them all religions originated from the conjunctions of Jupiter: 
Judaism from the one with Saturn. Mohammedanism from the one with 
Venus and Christianity from the one with Mercury. The conjunction of 
Jupiter with the moon, they believed, would bring the Anti-christ. Checco 
dAscoli, in casting the nativity of Jesus Christ, reached the correct con- 
clusion that Christ had died on the cross; only, prophesying backward, 
he failed to foresee that the Florentines would burn him for it. 

Geomantics, chiromantics and other wizards needed the astrologers' 
help, because of the constellations. Of course, people also believed in 
ordinary omens — such as a goose getting the pip, or a horse dropping 
a shoe — and there were magic formulas against everything, including 
evil magic. Meteors, comets, signs in the sky, cloud formations, the flight 
of the birds, images of the Virgin which winked or shed tears, prolonged 
rain: all that meant no good. (Any peasant was able to confirm that 
prolonged rain did no good.) 

Poggio — the radical who would not believe in the inequality of men 
and scoffed at the nobility — was a believer in omens. "Near Como," 
Poggio reported, "four thousand dogs were seen in the evening, on the 
road to Germany; they were followed by a multitude of cattle; then came 
a host of armed men on foot and on horseback, partly headless, partly 
with heads scarcely visible, and finally a giant horseman followed by 
another herd of cattle." And on the coast of Dalmatia a triton appeared 
with beard and horns, a satyr of the sea, with the lower body of a fish, 
stealing girls away from the shore; he was finally overpowered by five 
strong washerwomen. Poggio did not doubt it; hadn't he seen the triton's 
wooden image at Ferrara? 

The astrologers also read Virgil; the page they happened to open con- 
stituted an oracle. They were on the best of terms with specters and dead 


people. At that time people still lived with specters and with their dead — 
who would return, for instance, to steal children. The dead were conjured 
up and asked for their secrets, as if the dead, in any case, were shrewder 
than the living — as if death made every idiot wise. 

Astrology had come from Babylon, from Greece and Rome and from 
the Arab countries. Thomas Aquinas had sanctioned it. No doctor would 
cure without astrology; and every limb obeyed a different star. The 
astrologers also foretold the weather, and some of them made it. It reas- 
sured people to believe in the stars. Everything was written in the stars. 
Everything was predetermined. A child's fate was to be read in the stars, 
as were the secrets of the future and the mysteries of the world. The faith 
in the stars gave the littlest man an importance equal to that which an 
Aryan of today derives from his anti-semitism. 

True, Petrarca and the Italian novelists were laughing at the astrologers. 
Villani called astrology a vice, and what was worse, a vice inherited from 
the old Romans. Pico della Mirandola said that all immorality was due 
to the faith in the stars — why did the astrologer not worship the stars 
as gods? Guicciardini, the Florentine historian, praised the luck of the 
astrologers : they found credence if they told one truth among a hundred 
lies, while others lost all credit for one lie among a hundred truths. 

Regiomontanus bitterly assailed the astrologer Johannes Stoffler. Tycho 
de Brahe — who was an astrologer himself, published prophecies and 
annually compiled prognostics for the Danish King — wanted to write 
a book entitled, "Against the Astrologers for Astrology" (Contra Astrolo- 
gos pro Astrologia). In his booklet about the New Star, he wrote: "The 
daring astrologers, the exquisite and subtle calculators who carry on their 
astronomy . . . behind the stove, that is to say in books and tables, but 
not in the sky itself. Many of them do not even know the stars — I shudder 
to note the fact — and this is how they consult them (sic itur ad astra)." 
And he derides the astrologers who are so mad as to state planetary 
positions exactly to the minute or the second, basing their statements on 
the Alphonsine Tables, or on the Prutenic ones (compiled by Reinhold, 
following Copernicus) — although the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter 
in 1563 had found the Alphonsine Tables in error by a whole month, and 
even the Prutenic Tables could scarcely fix days precisely, much less 
minutes or seconds. 

It was Copernicus who theoretically exterminated astrology, casting the 
earth from the center of the universe out into endlessness and dependency, 
and man into insignificance, and moreover, changing the sun from a 
planet into a star. And yet in the very first treatise, in which Copernicus 
was celebrated and his great work announced and explained to the world, 


astrological superstition celebrated one of its most splendid triumphs. 
Rheticus, in his Narratio Prima, in which he chiefly dealt with the con- 
tents of Book III of the "Revolutions," inserted an absurd astrological 
discourse: "On the dependency of the world's monarchies upon the 
movement of the above-mentioned eccentric circle." 

"Now I will add a prophecy," Rheticus wrote there. "We see that all 
monarchies have started with the center of the eccentric circle located in 
some eminent point of this small cycle. Thus the Roman Empire became 
a monarchy when the sun's eccentricity was greatest, and with its decrease 
that Empire, senescent as it were, also grew weaker and weaker and 
finally perished entirely ... 

"But when the center of the eccentric circle will reach its mean distance 
on the opposite side — that time, we hope, will mark the arrival of our Lord 
Jesus Christ. For this was the point in which the center of the eccentric 
circle stood at the time of the Creation. This calculation does not differ 
much from the word of Elijah, who in Divine inspiration prophesied that 
the world would endure for only six thousand years; in this period of 
time, almost two cycles will have been completed. 

"In truth, therefore, this small cycle is that wheel of fortune (rota 
Fortunae), by whose rotation the empires of the world originate and 
change. In this cycle, as it were, all the events of world history are 
enclosed . . ." 

This discourse was addressed especially to Johann Schoner of Nurem- 
berg — since the whole Narratio Prima was merely a letter which Rheticus 
promised to send to his teacher in Nuremberg, when he set out for 
Frauenburg, to call on Copernicus and study his theory. Schoner had 
authored a whole textbook of astrology. And his friend Melanchthon had 
tried systematically to determine the nature-philosophical bases of astrol- 
ogy and to unite this allegedly scientific astrology with a reasonable con- 
ception of the Christian faith. Melanchthon wanted to present astrology 
as one more proof of the glory of God. 

In his mathematical and astronomical books Rheticus, the pupil and 
friend of Schoner and Melanchthon, made other avowals of his faith in 
astrology. But the most candid confession is found in this Narratio Prima, 
in which he proclaimed and explained the new doctrine of Copernicus. 
And he wrote this treatise in Copernicus' house, before the master's eyes. 

What a crazy time! What an obscure existence of reason! Its very 
disciples were fools. 

It appears, this great book of Copernicus — dealing the coup de grace 
not to astrology alone but to entire false world systems, to scores of cen- 
turies, to churches and Utopias — this anti-astrological work appears, is 


announced by an astrologer, Rheticus, in a treatise addressed to an 
astrologer, Schoner, and is dedicated to the plaything of the astrologers, to 
Pope Paul III, who at the same time is head of the Catholic Church and 
chief of the geocentric, anthropocentric religion! 

Kastner, the witty epigrammatist, said in his "History of Mathematics": 
"One might think that he who takes the sun for a star, and lets the earth 
circle round it like other planets, could not think much of astrology, for 
which the sun must be a planet and everything must move around the 
earth. Still, Rheticus found in the path followed, according to Copernicus, 
by the center of the eccentric cycle of the earth, the real astrological 
'wheel of fortune.' " 



"They are but beggars that can count their 

Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet 
"Der wahre Bettler ist 
Doch einzig und allein der wahre Konig!" 
lessing, Nathan the Wise 

IN ITALY Copernicus learned Greek. There were professors of Greek 
in Bologna and in Padua — Musurus in Padua, and Codrus in Bologna. 

As a young man, for ten years, Antonius Urceus Codrus was tutor to a 
son of the Master of Forli. He lived in the palace, but in a room that 
was so dark that he left his oil lamp burning even in the daytime; studies, 
he said in drawing a maxim out of the darkness, had to smell of oil. Once, 
he went out and upon his return found the street full of people and 
smoke: half the palace had burned down. His room was a pile of cinders, 
his manuscript was burned, a precious book that he had borrowed was 
burned. He heard it all from the servants; in vain despair, he kept asking, 
"My manuscripts are burned too?" and they repeated, "Yes, the manu- 
scripts too"; he queried further, "My books too?" "Yes, the books too." 
And so he planted himself before an image of the Virgin and cried out 
to her: "Hear what I tell you — I am not insane, I speak deliberately! 
If I should call on you to help one day, in the hour of my death, you 
need not listen and lift me up to your own for I wish to dwell with the 
devil through all eternity!" 

After such blasphemy, to be sure, he hid out for six months with a wood- 
chopper; not until after the Master of Forli had died did he move to 
Bologna, where he was given the chair of Greek grammar and kept it 
until his own death (in 1500). 

Petrarca and Boccaccio had inspired the study of Greek; the fugitive 
Greek scientists had furthered it. Hellenism flourished in Florence, later 



in Venice. After 1520 the Greek emigrants died out; but in the meantime 
the humanists in Northern Europe had learned Greek and preserved the 
tradition: Erasmus of Rotterdam, the brothers Estienne (Henri Estienne 
died in the poorhouse at Lyon, having ruined himself for Greek manu- 
scripts) and Guillaume Bude, who induced King Francis I of France to 
found the College de France. 

Antonius Urceus owed his nickname, Codrus, to a witticism. Once, 
when a rich nobleman met him in the street and by way of greeting 
commended himself to Urceus, the humanist replied: "Great gods! How 
far we've come— Jupiter commends himself to the beggar!" (The Latin 
for "beggar" is codrus.) 

He was short, thin, prematurely bald, always pale because he was 
ailing, with hollow eyes that made him appear dissipated, although his 
life was one of temperance. Politianus read his Greek epigrams to him; 
everywhere he had friends, such as the great Pico della Mirandola and 
the famed Venetian printer, Aldus Manutius. Doctors, professors and 
public officials came to his lectures. He was polyhistoric; a pupil said in 
his praise that he interpreted the whole of life— all arts, every science, the 
laws, poets, philosophers, physicians, mathematical works, the aphorisms 
of Hippocrates, the surgery of Heliodorus, Galen, whatever you wanted. 
But Codrus had thus extolled Homer: "Hearing and studying him, you 
will hear and study all the arts and sciences and all the knowledge of 

He was unselfish. For years, he lectured on Greek without pay and 
had to tutor privately for a living. He was a bachelor and liked to com- 
plain of the children he did not have. "Unhappy Codrus, unwedded one!" 
But he consoled himself with his pupils, who loved him like a father. 

A contemporary described him: sitting with the Iliad on his knees, 
skimming milk with his right while his left turned a spit in the fire. 

He also interpreted the astronomy of the Greeks and lectured on Euclid 
and Archimedes. Copernicus probably seized his first opportunity to hear 
about Greek and Greek astronomy from a teacher who was so bold, so 
high above the prejudices of the time. 

Then only a few Greek authors were translated, and fewer of them 
had appeared in print. There was even a dearth of grammars and good 
dictionaries. Codrus, therefore, did not teach many rules but at once pro- 
ceeded to the perusal of the texts. In the winter term of 1499-1500 he was 
interpreting the Greek epistolographers, whom Aldus Manutius had 
printed in the spring of 1499 in a volume dedicated to his old schoolmate, 
Codrus, and recommended for his lectures. It was out of this book that 
Copernicus translated the epistles of Theophylactus Simocatta into Latin, 

the Beggar of bologna 103 

and had them printed at Cracow with a dedication to his uncle, Bishop 

Codrus was a sceptic. He reviled the monks and the hierarchy, and 
mixed sacred matters with both his own and town gossip. He would 
talk edifyingly of Christ, after enumerating all the follies of the pagan 
religions, and continue: "But our theologians frequently totter, too, squab- 
bling de lana caprina about the immaculate conception, the Anti-christ, 
sacraments, predestinations and some other things which ought to be 
passed over in silence rather than made the subjects of sermons." 

He was superstitious and worried by auguries and prodigies. But when 
his students questioned him about the immortality of the soul, he coldly 
replied: "We do not know what happens after death, to man, his soul or 
his mind. Any speeches about the beyond are bogies for old women." 

When he came to die, at the age of eighty-four, and his pupils tear- 
fully asked for the conclusions of his wisdom, he gave them the appro- 
priate pious speech and, pointing his finger upward, admonished them 
to fear God. "Especially," he said in a weak voice, "be sure to believe in 
immortality. Yes," he exclaimed, "and also in a retribution after death!" 
But on perceiving the long faces of his favorite pupils, hs hastened to 
add, "Pray that God make you like me," and sighed, to top it off: "How 
much virtue will be buried in my grave!" 

Then he received the sacrament in the monastery of San Salvatore 
where he lay abed, and died. 

In his last will, he commended his soul or his spirit to Almighty God. 
He laid great stress on the distinction; it was a philologist's final jest at 
the expense of the theologians, who at the time were quarreling about the 
meaning of a Greek word — whether it was to be translated "spirit" or 

On his tombstone he directed that only two words be placed: 

Codrus eram. 

They meant: I was Codrus! Great Codrus — without comment. 
They also meant: I was a beggar. 



No better life than student life, 
As made by Bacchus and Gambrinus! 
German Student Song 

THE city o£ Bologna spent plenty on its university — as much as twenty 
thousand ducats, half the public revenue. And if the city was famous for 
its extravagance, the student of Bologna was famed for his gay life. 

A student in Bologna did not die of boredom, what with academic 
festivals on the meadow before the Gate of San Manolo, with the 
daughters of the citizens of Bologna, with the fireworks on the Piazza di 
San Domenico, with singing through the whole day and half of the 
night, with music, wine, fencing and drinking bouts, disputations and 
discussions, at times pious pyres — and studies upon occasion. There was 
no end to the noise of fights and disputations. The wealthy students came 
with dogs, courtiers, servants and one or several mistresses. The beggar- 
students came with nothing but their nationality, and so they got to 
fighting over that, with Poles, Hungarians and Burgundians allied against 
the Germans, and the German students against Hungarians, Britons, 
Sicilians and Lombards. You smashed the candelabra in the melee, plun- 
dered at times, mutually drove cold steel into each other's bellies. Students 
quarreled with townsmen and slept with their wives. And then the endless 
squabbles of the philosophical schools, the Platonics and Aristotelics, the 
Thomists and Scotists, accompanied by the song of the guitars and the 
angry cries of the mules in the streets before sunup! You did not die of 
boredom, as a student in Bologna. 

A young canon such as Copernicus — or his brother Andreas who came 
to Bologna two years later, also in order to study Canon Law — was rid 
of all clerical duties at Bologna. He lived in the most temporally cheer- 
ful manner with the temporal students, enjoyed himself without inhibi- 



tions and went about like any gentleman, wearing a sword and a bright 
hat. Only to Mass and on holidays he wore the scholar's garb as did the 
students of the Roman Law: a dark robe down to the ankles, and a hood. 

Foreigners, by the way, were under strict supervision. Every stranger, 
for a time, had to obtain a pass at the gate of Bologna, to be allowed 
to leave the city again by another gate. But the foreign students were 
protected by the heads of their "nations." For the students, the Italians 
or Citramontanes as well as the foreigners or Ultramontanes (those come 
from beyond the Alps), were divided into fraternities according to their 
nationalities: there were seventeen Italian fraternities and eighteen from 
beyond the Alps, among them Gallia, Portugallia, Provincia, Anglia, 
Borgondia, Aragonia, Catalonia, Navaria, Alamania, Ungaria, Polonia, 
Boemia, Flandrenses, et al. 

The rectors were elected by the scholars and governed them. The heads 
of the "nations" administered the funds and the fraternity houses in which 
the students could live; they supervised the students and the statutes and 
received a percentage of each student's annual allowance, one Bolognese 
groschen for every mark. The registration fee at the university was twelve 

In the "Annals of the highly famous Nation of the Germans" and in 
the "Matricula of the high and noble College of the Germans" of the 
year 1496, we find (on page 141 of the Annals, for instance) "Dominus 
Nicolaus Kopperlingk de Thorn" registered with nine grossets inscrip- 
tion fee. 

This entry determines both the beginning of the studies and his field: 
at the time, the Natio Germanorum took in only law students. It took 
all those whose mother tongue was German — theoretically; for Bohe- 
mians, Moravians or Danes also liked to join the "German nation" at 
Bologna, because it enjoyed more privileges than others. For the sake 
of these privileges, rich young gentlemen even had their tutors and 
servants inscribed in the German nation. Annually at the beginning of 
the term, the beadles visited the students' quarters to ask for new arrivals, 
bringing the registration book with them; if the newcomers were mem- 
bers of the nobility, the procurator called in person. 

Copernicus never excelled as a jurist. We do not know the names of 
his legal instructors. Besides, the professors shifted from one field to 
the other; they would change faculties and universities from term to 
term; sometimes, appointments were made only for one term. Humanism 
was a kind of itinerant trade; you lectured in learned societies and held 
private courses for the rich, and there were monastic universities and 
humanist societies arranging public disputations. Latin — less frequently 


Greek — was the language of the day. In some places, the professors had to 
take an oath that they would not expound the same wisdom anywhere 
else. The salaries differed. The geniuses were as rare as certain books, 
which for this reason were tied to the desks with iron chains. 

Copernicus may have lived in the house of the astrologer of Bologna, 
Maria di Novara. Underpaid professors like to take paying guests; it 
is known that Galilei was forced to take them. Other students lived with 
their tutors, or they rented apartments; the rent was fixed by a mixed 
commission of students and townsmen and no student was allowed to 
outbid the other; usually, the leases ran for three years. There also were 
many older students in Bologna, gentlemen of status and position, who 
came to Bologna for the love of science, to be students again. 

We know — from a letter which Cathedral Dean Bernhard Sculteti, 
the Varmian plenipotentiary in Rome, wrote to Uncle Watzelrode, the 
Bishop of Varmia — that the two young canons Nicolaus and Andreas 
Copernicus had run up debts. And that though the two merry students 
drew not only their full income from the Cathedral Chapter of Frauen- 
burg, as whose members they continued, but also got forty-five marks each 
as subsidy from their uncle, besides possible additional subsidies from the 
Chapter. And yet they had borrowed from the Varmian secretary Georg 
Pranghe, when he stayed over in Bologna on an official trip — in fact, 
Andreas had threatened to take foreign service, in Rome, if he did not 
get some money. However: "naked, they met the unclothed." Pranghe had 
no surplus money. But he approached Sculteti (who later, by the way, 
became Leo X's private chaplain and chamberlain) and Sculteti obtained 
a loan from a Roman bank for his young colleagues, at a high rate of 
interest, and guaranteed its repayment in four months. 

Since he was a man of caution, however, he wrote to Uncle Watzelrode 
after only one month, asking for a speedy remittance of the amount to 
Poznan or Breslau — lest the Messrs. nephews might lose too much interest 
or, worse, the indorsers' credit might be impaired. "After the way of 
students," Sculteti wrote, "the Messrs. nephews have suffered great want 
of money . . ." 

Copernicus remained four years in Bologna, from 1496 to 1500. An 
astronomical note in his own copy of the Alphonsine Tables states that 
he made an astronomical observation there as late as March 4, 1500. In 
early April, 1500, he probably traveled to Rome for Easter Week, and 
stayed for a whole year. 

At Bologna he studied mathematics and astronomy and Greek gram- 
mar. At Bologna, in the year 1500, Messer Giorgio da Novara was burned 
alive in an open square for a few loose remarks or frank thoughts. What 


notions, on such occasion, were bound to strike a young man like Coper- 
nicus, who was about to overthrow the whole dogmatic structure of the 

To be sure, Doctor Gabrielle da Sal6 got off easier than Giorgio da 
Novara. The General of the Dominicans let this Said .off with a state- 
ment of repentance, although the doctor used to say: "Christ was not 
God but an ordinarily conceived son of Joseph and Mary; he has ruined 
the world with his cunning; he may have died on the cross for crimes 
committed; besides, his religion soon will come to an end . . ." 



I. Roma aeterna 

"All that is loathsome and shameless is 
tvajted into Rome from all ever the world 
— and here is celebrated!" 
TACITUS, Annals 

THAT famous art lover and criminal, Pope Alexander VI, had invited 
Christendom to Rome, to celebrate the Year of Jubilee with him. He had 
issued the Bull of Jubilee for the great peace festival. He had rapped on 
St. Peter's door with a silver hammer, on Christmas Eve of 1499. On 
Easter Sunday, 1500, an alleged two hundred thousand Christians from 
all over the world (hardly seventy thousand lived in Rome) had knelt 
before the ever-cheerful Borgia, to receive his blessing. 

In Rome, in the Year of Jubilee, Copernicus gave mathematical or 
astronomical lectures to a circle of scholars, scientists and, according to 
Rheticus, great men — probably in the manner of itinerant humanists, as 
was done by Conrad Celtes in Cracow, by Peurbach in Ferrara and by 
Regiomontanus in Padua. 

In his "Revolutions" Copernicus reported on a lunar eclipse, which 
he had observed in Rome on November 6, 1500. 

What else, and whom else, did he observe in Rome? The Borgia 
family? Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo? The famed Roman courte- 
sans, for whose mere conversation Montaigne paid as much gold as if he 
had slept with them? Or the humanists at the university? Or did he come 
to the house of the Luxemburger Goritz, a member of the Papal chancel- 
lery, where scientists, artists and poets gathered for academic discussions, 
and Erasmus, Reuchlin and Ulrich von Hutten were guests? 

There was no dearth of entertainment in Rome. "No night passed 
without four or five murders; bishops and prelates were among the 
victims. On the morning of May 27, 1500, the Romans saw eighteen 
hanged from a gallows on the Angels' Bridge, among them the physician 



and the surgeon of the Lateran hospital, who had made a business or 
robbery and murder at dawn . . ." And the summer of 1500 saw the 
occurrence of "that tragic event committed by the Pope's son on his own 
brother-in-law, and no search seems to have been made for the guilty" — 
Reumont, the discreet Catholic historian of the Popes, is referring to 
Cesare Borgia's murder of the husband of his sister Lucretia. 

In the summer of 1500, the three-year study leave of Copernicus had 
expired. Without any undue haste, he traveled to Frauenburg in the fol- 
lowing year. On July 27, 1501, he and his brother Andreas appeared before 
the Chapter. "After mature deliberation," Andreas received a further 
study leave, having been "deemed fit to devote himself to studies." Nico- 
laus Copernicus had not even taken his law examination; he promised 
to study medicine, however, so that in future he might be of use to the 
very reverend head of the diocese (as well as to the gentlemen of the 
Chapter) as a physician. So he was granted two more years, mainly to 
study medicine. 

Copernicus set out to study medicine — besides mathematics, astronomy, 
history of natural sciences, law, Greek and Latin. The alleged influence 
of the stars on health involved a link of medical and mathematical-astro- 
nomical studies. Most remedies were administered according to the 
planetary constellations. The audience of the astronomical lectures always 
contained a great many students of medicine. Many professors of 
astronomy had taken their doctor's degree in medicine. 

The medieval Church did not favor the practice of the medical pro- 
fession on the part of its clerics. They were forbidden to do any burn- 
ing or cutting; surgical operations were considered evidence of hard 
heartedness, and under canonical rules disqualified their practitioner from 
ordination as priest. And though at the end of the Middle Ages internal 
medicine was almost wholly in the clerics' hands, some universities re- 
quired every student of it to take an oath that he would never take up 
surgery. In the fifteenth century, however, the ecclesiastical prejudice 
against the medical art vanished. Besides, Copernicus had taken only the 
four lower orders upon entering the Chapter — and never took the higher 

Starowolsky, in his "Life of Copernicus," wrote: "In medicine, he was 
revered like a new Aesculapius." 

Gassendi even related that Copernicus would treat the poor free of 


II. Ferrara 

". . . to be able to do wrong in safety, 
however, you have to study law," 


"There's an old saying: A jurist, a bad 
Christian. It is the truth." 


To be in time for the new term, Copernicus had to start out from 
Varmia in summer. He first went to Padua, where the medical art was in 
high repute. But he took his doctor's degree in Canon Law at Ferrara. 
There, as was customary, in the palace of the Archbishop, a nephew 
of Pope Alexander VI, the insignia of a doctor decretorum were solemnly 
handed to him before a notary and witnesses. The diploma reveals that 
Copernicus possessed another benefice by then, in Breslau; it identifies 
him as a "Varmian canon and scholasticus of the Collegiate Church of the 
Holy Cross in Breslau." He kept this Breslau prebend until shortly before 
his death. 

Ferrara is said then to have been more populous than Rome. The court 
of the Estes has been immortalized by Ariosto and Tasso (and Goethe). 
There were great humanists at the university; in the house of Bianchi, 
the mathematician, Cardinal Bessarion, Peurbach and Regiomontanus 
had been guests. Maria and Codrus, the teachers of Copernicus at Bologna, 
had studied at Ferrara — as had Savonarola. 

Lucretia Borgia had espoused the heir to the throne of Ferrara in 1502, 
at twenty-two years of age. Ariosto hailed her then as the "most beautiful 
virgin" — pulcherrima virgo. She kept the gayest court. 

III. Padua 

"Trust not the physician . . ." 

Shakespeare, Timon of Athens 
"The priests cultivate the acre of God, and 
the doctors, God's acre." 


From Ferrara, Copernicus went back to Padua. For a long time, doubts 
persisted as to whether he actually studied at Padua; but in the past 
century, at Ferrara, his doctor's diploma of 1503 was found, which con- 


firmed it: ". . . Nicolaus Copernicus of Prussia, who studied at Bologna 
and Padua . . ." 

In Padua, which was part of the Republic of Venice, professors with 
less than six students had to pay a fine of ten lire for each lecture. 

The School of Arts at Padua (in which Copernicus had to enroll, to 
study medicine) was headed by Pomponatius, a teacher of world-wide re- 
nown. He had published a book "On the Immortality of the Soul," which 
got him into the greatest trouble — because, while not denying the soul's 
immortality, he stated that it was not be proved either rationally or by 
the authority of all the writings of Aristotle and his pupils; in other 
books, he even attacked the worship accorded relics and went so far as 
to defend the individual's right to examine ecclesiastical dogmas. 

All over Italy, Copernicus encountered such unprejudiced teachers, 
courageous rebels, reckless humanists, heretics and modernists. 

There was no chair of anatomy at Padua. Dissection was practiced 
only to explain Galen, and as a commentary to Mondini's textbook. Once 
annually, there was a demonstration on a human corpse. There was a 
house for the anatomists; each had to pay three marcelli upon entering, as 
a contribution toward maintenance of the house, interment of the corpses, 
etc. The superintendents were two poor students who also took care of 
the instruments. By the end of February, at the latest, the rector had to 
supply two cadavers — one male, one female. The professor was assisted 
by two older students; no students with less than two terms behind them 
were admitted. An extraordinary professor would read a chapter from 
Mondini's textbook of anatomy; an ordinary professor would explain the 
text and then demonstrate on the corpse; the dissection proper had to 
be performed by surgeons. The other professors were not allowed to speak 
until the explanation of the textbook chapter as well as the demonstration 
was over. 

One of the professors of theoretical medicine was Marcus Antonius 
della Torre, for whose anatomical studies — first made on horse cadavers, 
and then on human corpses — Leonardo da Vinci furnished drawings. 

It is not known whether or not Copernicus received a medical diploma 
at Padua; it could neither add to his academic honors, nor did he need 
one to practice as a physician. 

Copernicus returned home at the age of thirty-three. After some ten 
years of carefree student life in Italy, he returned with a universal educa- 
tion — a mathematician, a jurist, a physician, an astronomer, a humanist, a 
secret revolutionary. But at home, in Varmia, he was "the Bishop's 






"Celui est bien man oncle 
Qui le ventre me comble." 


WHAT a change! Copernicus came from the paradise of arts and sci- 
ences, the eldorado of the joy of life and its enjoyment, from ever-greening 
orange groves and olive trees, Roman amphitheaters and courtesans, merry 
cardinals and pagan gods, and went back to the outermost rim of Sar- 
matia, to the Amber Coast with its foggy nights, savage Prussians and 
heathens of yesterday, its monks and Knights of the Teutonic Order, 
Tartar invasions and Polish schlachzitzes, its wolves and vojvods, the 
narrow life in towns of fifteen hundred souls, or casdes where bears 
and foxes lived around the corner. 

The field of the astronomer — the starry sky — is ill-plowed up there, in 
the gray North. All too often the nocturnal skies are starless; there are 
many fogs and long winters — snow and rain, rain and snow! And Chris- 
tianity, which in each century and every corner of the world assumed the 
form of the new century and the new corner of the world, was Sarmatian 
up there; and humanism was Prussian. 

True, the sun shines everywhere. And Copernicus himself was a Sar- 
matian, a Prussian. He had many friends. He had his uncle. And he had 
a good job — was he not a canon at Frauenburg? He had security. And 
what did he have besides? 

Man does not feed on light. Was he fed on the shadow of light — on the 

The nephew went to the episcopal castle of Heilsberg, ten miles from 
Frauenburg. The Cathedral Chapter granted the necessary furlough. 
Copernicus was to have been the Bishop's physician; he became his secre- 
tary and protege, companion and counsellor, escort and assistant, potential 



successor and private scientist. For six years (1506-1512) he lived with his 
uncle like a son. Not until after the uncle's death did Copernicus become 
in fact what he had long been in name: a canon of a church by the Baltic. 
Not until he was forty did he become free and independent — as far as the 
freedom went. It extended to the infinite reaches of the universe, not, 
however, to the undisturbed possession of a young housekeeper. It 
sufficed for the boldest thoughts and calculations of mankind, but not for 
the publication of a new — in fact, of the true astronomical theory. 

Professionally, and concerning external position, Copernicus barely 
advanced beyond what had been his at twenty-four, because his uncle had 
thrown it into his lap: prebends and sinecures. He had an easy life with 
his uncle, and continued to learn even in the Bishop's house. For six years 
he had both opportunity and leisure to inspect the machinery of state and 
ecclesiastic politics, at the court of a prince of the Church. 

There, from close up, he saw the eternal violent cures of history: the 
advancement of the whole species by forced motion; the giant strides of 
mankind — one forward and two back. He saw the fever of nations, the 
mutual fury of estates and classes. And the provincial hostility of those 
who speak different languages. 

If you see just one condition of the world closely and precisely, you 
soon know many conditions as from within. You know the long illnesses 
of mankind, and its brief, sudden fits of health. The great, ordinary 
world! Et quanti viril How easily and quickly men are made evil by 
politics and power. But even faster, even more easily spoiled are those 
who sit beside them, their closest aides and subordinates. Overnight, 
builders of humanity turn into apes of humanitarianism. 

This universally educated canon and protege might well have rotted and 
become a village Solon. 

His uncle was a politician from inclination, rejoicing in intrigue — an 
ambitious individual who bore a hundred projects in his bosom. What! 
he did not want to become Archbishop! Sovereign of Prussia. Metropoli- 
tan. He took good care of his proteges roundabout, according to custom, 
and he probably wished to groom Nicolaus as heir of Varmia. Watzelrode, 
who played a great role in Prussia and Poland, intrigued with the same 
delight in Cracow and in Rome, in Torun and in Danzig. He was a friend 
of Polish Kings, and of the Italian humanist Callimachus. He was an 
energetic, active diplomat, no shepherd of souls. His, after all, was a cen- 
tury of politicians dressed as princes of the Church. 

To his contemporaries he seemed one of the righteous. They praised 
his moral life. That the burgomaster of Braunsberg was his bastard did 


not count. That he mixed in the dirty business of world politics did not 

He is said to have been a grim sort of man. No one ever saw him 
laugh. He was proud and rigid, a merchant's son of Torun in Prussia 
who had risen high. He was a Polish patriot like his ancestors. He 
championed the interests of Varmia like a temporal prince. He loathed 
the Teutonic Order and would have liked to see it transplanted to 
Podolia or Wallachia, to fight Turks and Tartars. According to a chron- 
icler, the Knights of the Teutonic Order daily prayed to God for the 
demise of this embodied Satan. 

He could be tart. When the Frauenburg Cathedral Chapter, including 
his two nephews Nicolaus and Andreas, would not obey a ritual order 
of the Bishop's, he declared that even his own nephews had to bow or he 
would throw them out of the Church. 

For six years Copernicus lived with this strict uncle, worked for him, 
served him, entertained him, accompanied him on trips about the diocese 
and to Prussia and Poland, to Polish and Prussian diets such as those of 
Cracow or Petricow, to the assizes at Poznan or Torun, to King Sigis- 
mund's coronation and to his wedding at Cracow, to Elbing, where 
Watzelrode wanted to found a university — a plan which failed because 
of the Elbingers' stupidity — and to Poznan, where the ambassadors of 
the Emperor, the King of Hungary and the Grand Master of the Teutonic 
Order gathered and Uncle Watzelrode was the ambassador of Poland's 

But with all these goings-on, with all this commotion Copernicus en- 
joyed the most beautiful leisure. He finished his translation of Simocatta 
from Greek into Latin, and made an excursion to Cracow from the Diet 
of Petricow to give it to the printer on June 2, 1509, observing an eclipse of 
the moon as well. And at Castle Heilsberg he had full leisure to write 
his book, to pursue' his studies, to see, calculate and think. And this leisure 
of his nephew is to the lasting merit of the Bishop of Varmia, who by 
now would otherwise have been forgotten. 

Naturally, Copernicus acquired some of his Bishop's political views 
and concerns — for instance, his dislike of the Teutonic Order. Order 
Marshal Wilhelm von Eisenberg, in writing a pasquill against Bishop 
Watzelrode which he distributed far and wide and even sent to the 
Bishop himself through the Council of Torun, did not exempt Copernicus, 
the Bishop's nephew, from his scorn, so at least reports Gassendi; the libel 
proper has since been lost. 

Like his whole family, Watzelrode was pro-Polish from the start and 


always remained so although once, on the occasion of his election as 
Bishop he had a quarrel with the Polish King. Watzelrode had lost his 
father at fifteen and entered the University of Cracow at sixteen, was 
Master of Arts at twenty-two, and sold one of his paternal estates to be 
able to go to Bologna to study law, and soon, as Doctor of Canon Law, 
became Canon of Frauenburg. He had acquired additional Polish bene- 
fices, "sat on the Polish Council and served Polish prelates"— but also, with 
a "pious maiden," made that boy whom he later made mayor of Brauns- 
berg. When the Bishop of Varmia died, Watzelrode had been hurriedly 
elected to succeed him, lest the King of Poland appoint his twenty-year- 
old son, Prince Frederick who was already Bishop of Cracow, to be Bishop 
of Varmia as well — and then Grand Master of the Teutonic Order too, 
if possible, as rumor had it. Watzelrode happened to be in Rome (per- 
haps not altogether unintentionally) and had himself immediately con- 
secrated by the Pope; he made a fast entry into Frauenburg, seated 
himself on the episcopal chair and received the homage of the Varmian 
population (an occasion for all estates to quarrel over precedence, as 
usual, with neither curses nor intrigues sparingly handled). To the King 
of Poland, Watzelrode Was thereafter just "this person" and not a 
reverend priest. In fact, the King (who after the second treaty of Torun, 
in 1466, claimed the right to choose the Varmian Bishops and now saw 
himself cheated out of this privilege, by Watzelrode) vowed to crush the 
Bishop if such revenge left him, the King of Poland, "reduced to his shirt." 
And the Royal chancellor said that the devil had taken the last Varmian 
Bishop, and soon would take the present one as well. 

Death made the peace. King Casimir of Poland died. Within a week, 
his son Jan Albert wrote to his "beloved friend, Bishop Watzelrode," 
to ask for his vote in the impending royal election. He got the vote, 
and King and Bishop remained friends. Since Callimachus also was a 
friend of Watzelrode, and King Jan Albert's former Latin teacher had 
now become a royal adviser and friend, these three unequal friends joined 
in a common policy with the ambitious goal of making Poland the first 
power in Edrope. 

The strongest link between them was their hatred of the Teutonic 
Order, whose lands encircled Varmia on three sides. The Knights were 
the Bishopric's most dangerous neighbors and would have liked to pocket 
it. They also were in constant strife with Poland; and Bishop Watzelrode's 
plan to uproot the Order and transplant it to Wallachia delighted not 
only the King but also Callimachus, whose favorite project and political 
dream was Turkish policy — who wanted to get Europe and especially 
Poland into war against the Turks. Watzelrode, the politician in holy 


garb who would have liked best to be the temporal ruler of all Prussia 
and a Cardinal besides, branded political meddling on the part of an 
ecclesiastic order as profoundly unethical. Still, he really had a modern 
mind and hated, in the Knights, the absolute symbol of past centuries; 
he called them impudent idlers, who only came from the Reich to enjoy 
their sinecures intemperately. 

What was this Order? "Who is the highly honored knight?"— El 
Caballero de la triste Figura. The Teutonic Knight had really come to be 
the "Knight of the sorry Figure." 

In 1190, at the siege of Acre in the Holy Land, merchants of Bremen 
and Liibeck, on seeing the sick and wounded lie helplessly in the field, 
had stripped the sails off their ships, put up a tent in a near-by graveyard 
and carried the wounded there— partly to nurse them back to health and 
partly to bury them. They dedicated this field hospital to the Virgin 
Mary, donated more linen and money and later— when Acre was taken 
and they were able to take a whole street which had been promised to 
them previously, they built a large hospital with nurses and dormitories 
for the sick. The members of the Order, which was confirmed by the 
Pope and given the rules of the Knights of St. John, were mostly lay 
brothers; only a few were clerics. They were to live in poverty, chastity 
and obedience, to nurse the sick and wounded, to convert the infidels 
arid serve God. Land or houses and rents were the sole property of the 

Their original rules were strict. Their shirts were to be of linen and 
their blankets of sheepskin; they were to maintain silence at table, sleep 
only in their underclothes in dormitories, and so forth. Above all, they 
were to live gently and in concord, without lying, swearing, bragging, 
skndering, quarreling or fighting; they were to set a good example on 
the road, to kiss no woman — not even their mothers or sisters — and, 
probably as an indication of conformity, to avoid oudaws and emigrants. 
If only that had been all! 

The Grand Master — who carried a staff and rod, to show that he 
upheld the weak and chastised the disobedient — and the Knights wore 
white cloaks; the Brethren wore black crosses on their cloaks, caps, cowls 
and coat-of-arms. Its rule of unconditional obedience gave to the Order 
the great power of an independent military organization and its links 
of kinship with princely houses and mayoral families helped it to exert 
a widespread influence. 

Konrad of Masovia, a Polish feudal lord, is said to have brought the 
Order to Prussia in 1226, to convert the heathens. As early as 1232, a host 
of crusaders came to the Brethren's aid. They built the castle and town 


of Kulm; later, they built Torun. The crusaders slew or converted the 
heathens, and went back whence they had come. Then, the Pope or the 
Order hired new crusaders, mostly for a year, who returned to savage 
Prussia in the service of God, to kill people with different moral views or 
religious customs. Many plain emigrants also determinedly stuck crosses 
on their sleeves and went along to Prussia, in armed bands with women 
and children, to take away other people's fields, shacks, women and catde 
and to kill the owners. 

Ahead of every new swarm of such "Christians," the Brethren of the 
Order blew their trumpets and unfurled the flag of war — whereupon all 
the world marched through the forests and bogs of Prussia, trampling 
everything, building fortified camps, baptizing a few natives and taking 
the bulk along as hostages, slaves or whores, bribing, playing favorites, 
blackmailing, butchering cattle and men, burning, raping and singing 
masses ad majorem gloriam dei. When the year was out, they broke camp 
and returned to their respective homes. And the Brethren gathered what 
remained lying about, from posts to nails. 

In the fourteenth century the Grand Master moved his seat from 
Venice to Marienburg (St. Mary's Castle) in Prussia. His household be- 
came princely in style; the Knight began to rule Prussia, seized Pomerellen 
and Livonia, brought German landowners and peasants into the country, 
struck up friendships and took up commercial relations with the Hansa 
towns of Torun, Danzig and Elbing, equipped ships on the model of the 
Hansa, carried on trade and agriculture, built orchards, turned into mer- 
chants and slaveholding large landowners and forgot all about poverty, 
chastity and obedience. 

But there was tourneying as in previous centuries; young nobles came 
from afar, dressed as Crusaders, to be knighted; money was lavished 
on horses, weapons and clothes. Knighthood had long been unhorsed by 
infantry and artillery; in Prussia, they redecorated the corpse. They were 
no longer governed by their pious vows but solely by a "Nordic knightly 
honor," which was not even Nordic but plagiarized from chivalrous Arab 
customs. Empty valor, hollow gallantry, erotic devotion and the boastful 
cross on the sleeve — these things were left. And the Comthurs sat in 
their castles like counts, shamelessly carousing. 

The Lithuanians were no longer heathens; neither were the Prussians. 
They had learned the whole business along with baptism. They prayed 
like everybody else. They had God on their lips, blood on their hands, 
money in their pockets. Who needed the Knights any more? Whom 
would they convert? The crusades against the Slavs were at an end; 
now, the Slavs, Lithuanians and Poles, were warring upon the Order, and 


the towns and estates of Prussia, tired of the Order's arrogance and of the 
false Christian knights without Christianity, allied themselves with 
Poland and Lithuania. 

The battle of Tannenberg resulted in Poland's victory and the Order's 
defeat. By the Second Treaty of Torun, in 1466, the major part of 
Prussia was made Polish, and the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order 
became a vassal of the Polish King. But whenever Poland was threatened 
by other enemies, such as Russians or Tartars or Turks — as soon as 
Poland was at war — the Order would try to throw off the dependence 
on Poland, would form leagues with the Emperor and German princes, 
hire new auxiliaries and mercenaries in Germany and open war on 
Poland, on the Hansa and on Varmia. 

The high-flying plans of the three friends — King Jan Albert of Poland, 
his adviser, Callimachus, and Bishop Watzelrode of Varmia — would have 
accomplished much. By transplanting the Order to Wallachia, Prussia 
and Pomerellen, the Order would have formed a mighty bulwark against 
Turks and Tartars; and Poland, in possession of Moldavia and in co- 
operation with Hungary, could have driven the Turks out of Europe. 
These were plans after the King's, the Bishop's and the Italian's hearts. 

Everything went wrong for all of them. Callimachus died; King Jan 
Albert, without allies, made war on the Moldavians in 1497, was ignomini- 
ously defeated and died, too; and the Teutonic Knights took their revenge 
from Watzelrode in Rome, where they spiked his plan to become Arch- 
bishop of Marienburg and tenant of the diocese of Kulm. 

After Jan Albert's death, Watzelrode got his brother and successor, 
King Alexander of Poland, to arm against the Order (in the same month 
in which the Bishop and the Grand Master were borrowing each other's 
hunting packs as good friends and neighbors). King Alexander also died 
soon, however — about the time when Copernicus had moved into his 
uncle's Castle Heilsberg. The new King of Poland— Alexander's and Jan 
Albert's brother Sigismund I, a fiery youth— called on the. Grand Master 
to take the oath of allegiance. War almost came over that, with the 
Emperor stirring up the Grand Master and Watzelrode stirring up the 
Polish King— it was the time when Marshal of the Order, Wilhelm 
von Eisenberg, wrote his sanguinary libel against Watzelrode and his 
nephew and secretary, Copernicus. Not much later, uncle and nephew 
traveled to Cracow for young King Sigismund's wedding and the corona- 
tion of the Queen. It was to be Watzelrode's last journey. 

On the way, at Castle Stuhm, Watzelrode, accompanied by the two 
canons Georg von Delau and Nicolaus Copernicus, gave an audience to 
the "honorable Lord Mayor and Council of Danzig." They came to ask 


the Bishop to support their cause before the King of Poland. There is a 
description of the scene in a Danzig manuscript: 

"Anno 1512, on the Monday after Prisce, the honorable and notable 
and sapient gentlemen, Mayor Mathis Zimmermann and Councillor Lucas 
Reding, came to Stuhme toward noon and presently had themselves an- 
nounced to His Grace, the Bishop of Varmia, and His Grace requested 
that they would come to His Grace by the hour. 

"As the gentlemen came to the Castle, however, there stood by the 
stairs the honorable, dignified and highly learned gentlemen, Jerge von 
der Dele and Nicolaus Copernicus, canons at Frauenburg, and in re- 
ceiving the gentlemen went with them into a chamber; there they sat 
with them for a time, then the burggrave came and on the Bishop's behalf 
asked the gentlemen to be his guests, which the gentlemen accepted, and 
the Mayor said to Sir Jerge von der Dele that they had come in the view, 
and in the hope, that His Grace might grant graciously them an audience, 
at which the said Sir Jerge von der Dele replied that this might well 
be arranged. 

"Shortly afterward, His Grace, the Bishop, came and kept the said 
canons with him." 

The Bishop went to Cracow. On the return trip he began to feel unwell. 
The fish no longer pleased him. He arrived at Torun running a fever, 
and died three days later. No physician stood beside the dying Bishop's 
bed at Torun. The highly learned Doctor of Canon Law, his nephew 
and personal physician, was absent. 

ML Jf 

L uc PETTA Borgia 



"The last advice I give you relates to your 
behaviour when you are going to be 
hanged. ... 

Swift's Thoughts on Hanging (Direc- 
tions to Servants) 
XJbi terrarum sumus? 

Cicero, Oration for Posthumus 

WHERE in this world do we live? 

The great, quiet man who first touched the universe with a calculating 
ringer and bade the earth revolve and circle, bows to the cold, busy man 
of affairs whom he serves. The canon stands by the stairs. Later the 
burggrave arrives. A burgomaster asks the Bishop for an audience. In 
the end, His Grace makes his appearance. A painful picture— and so like 
the way of the world. 

The mighty Copernicus: a» kind of third secretary to a hyperborean 
bishop, half poor relative and protege and half high-grade domestic, 
allowed to consort with the family, an employed idler and superfluous 
revolutionary, a man who fails to hit the mark, who disappoints, a fel- 
low who will not even get to be a bishop— a man who has yet to prove 
his public worth. 

And what does he have to deliver? How does he pay his extensive 

debts of gratitude? 

The Greek epistles of Theophylactus Simocatta, "offered to the Most 
Reverend Bishop Lucas of Varmia by Nicolaus Copernicus", and trans- 
lated into Latin, were published by Johann Haller in Cracow, in 1509. 
They are eighty-five fictitious letters of famous or fictitious persons, with 
contents alternately moral, pastoral, erotic— penned about the year 630 
A.D. by a late Byzantine author whose main work, a history of Emperor 



Mauritius entitled "Oecumenical History," was widely read in the Mid- 
dle Ages. 

The introductory poem was written by a certain Rabe, alias Laurentius 
Corvinus, a town clerk of Breslau. He praised Torun "for having brought 
forth good men, among whom Bishop Lucas stands out by piety, serious- 
ness and dignity, with Varmia, a large part of Prussia, happy under his 
sovereign rule. Standing faithfully by his side, as loyal Achates once did 
by that of Aenaeas, is the learned man who translated this work from the 
Greek into the Latin language. He explores the rapid course of the moon 
and the changing movements of the fraternal star and the whole firma- 
ment with the planets, the wonderful creation of the universal Father; 
starting from amazing principles, he knows how to explore the hidden 
causes of things." Et cetera. 

The author of these earliest versified suggestions of the Copernican 
theory had been a teacher and friend of Copernicus at Cracow, and 
furthermore a friend of Conrad Celtes, the itinerant preacher of humanism, 
with whom Rabe had for many years carried on a literary correspondence 
intended for posterity. He was also a poet, had written textbooks and a 
cosmography and had been town clerk of Torun— perhaps on the recom- 
mendation of his friend Copernicus. 

Copernicus' dedication to his uncle reads as follows : 

"Most Reverend Lord and Father of this Country. 

"It seems to me that Theophylactus, the scholastic, has quite excellently 
compiled moral, pastoral and amorous epistles. Surely he was guided by 
the consideration that variety delights us above all. The inclinations of 
men are very dissimilar and they, are pleased by very dissimilar things. 
Some like weighty thoughts, others those which lure by levity; some 
love the serious, while others are attracted by the play of fancy. Because 
the multitude takes pleasure in so very different things, Theophylactus 
let light subjects alternate with heavy ones, frivolity with seriousness, so 
that the reader can choose what he likes best from the rich mass of 
flowers, just as in a garden, as it were. All that he offers, however, is of 
such great utility that his poems appear to be not so much epistles as 
rules and precepts for a useful arrangement of human life. The proof of 
this is their comprehensive brevity. Theophylactus has taken his subject 
matter from various authors and most edifyingly presented it in a com- 
pressed form. 

"Hardly any one will deny an inner value to the moral and pastoral 
poems. A different judgment might perhaps be passed on the love letters, 
which from their title might seem wanton and frivolous. But as the phy- 


sician customarily softens bitter medicine by the addition of sweet in- 
gredients, to make it more agreeable to the patient, so the more frivolous 
poems have been added here; besides, they are kept so pure that they 
might as well bear the name of moral epistles. Under such circumstances 
I deemed it inequitable for the epistles of Theophylactus to be read only 
in the Greek language. To make them more generally accessible, I have 
tried to translate them into Latin, to the best of my ability. 

"To you, Most Reverend Sir, I now dedicate this small gift which 
is in no relation, to be sure, to the favors I received from you. Whatever 
I use and create by my intellectual powers I rightly deem your property; 
for it is indubitably true what Ovid once wrote to Caesar Germanicus: 
'It is your glance that makes my spirit fall and rise.' " 

The first biographers of Copernicus knew nothing of 'this work. It was 
not until some centuries had passed that the booklet was pulled "out 
of the dust of the libraries," by a Saxon book lover named Goetze. 
The following are samples of the epistles. 
The second Epistle, a pastoral one: 

"Dorkon to Moschon. The leader of my herd, my splendid ram, has 
fallen; my sheep lack guidance in grazing. We have suffered a heavy 
blow and I believe that Pan is angered by our failure to offer him the 
first of our beehives. I will therefore hasten to the city and tell the citizens 
of the wrath of the god; I shall say to them, 'On the honeycake's account 
Pan took away the leader of my flock.' " 
The thirty-ninth Epistle, an erotic one: 

"Thetis to Anaxarchus. You cannot love Thetis and Galatea at the same 

time. For Passion does not turn to two sides, the gods of love do not 

divide themselves, and you cannot bear a doubled love. No more than the 

earth can be warmed by two suns, can the soul stand two flames of love." 

The eighty-fifth Epistle, a moral one: 

"Plato to Dionysius. If you would learn to master your pains, walk 
among the graves. There you will find surcease for your sufferings. 
And you will realize at the same time that beyond the grave the greatest 
bliss of mankind counts for naught." 
What induced Copernicus to translate just these poems in prose? 
Chance plays the same presumptuous role in the literary business 
as in life. The humanists knew only a part of the ancient literature known 
to us (though they possessed some things which have since been lost). 
That which existed only in manuscript was accessible only with difficulty 
or not at all. A rich man might possess ten or twenty manuscripts, a large 
library might boast a few hundreds. The first printed books were also 


relatively rare, especially in outlying districts, and still very expensive. In 
the absence of an international book trade, they were dependent on the 
libraries of friends, convents or universities, or on chance. 

The humanists did not by any means start by translating the best 
classical authors. Sometimes they translated the least important texts be- 
cause they were easiest; or the decision was made by a professor's choice 
of the most simple text for his pupils— the more so, since there was also 
a dearth of dictionaries and good grammars. Or again, a manuscript just 
happened to be offered for sale. And those who did not translate for a 
living preferred shorter texts. 

This publication of Copernicus— the first original print of a Greek 
author in Poland— was not just an achievement in original philology but 
also in the field of the politics of ideas. Any occupation with Greek lan- 
guage and literature was viewed as heresy by all theologians and ig, 
noramuses. Had the Church transformed the pagan gods into tailbearing 
he- and she-devils, only to have them emerge from buried palimpsests and 
rise up against its own dogmas? The scholastics and theologians even 
fought the publication of new Latin classics. Enough of the heathens! 
Reason had conquered only in the narrowest circle. But who knew of its 
victory? Who would let it count? 

The humanists laughed at the hairsplitting nonsense of the scholastics, 
but the scholastics' helpers merrily burned books and writers of books 
at their stakes. The victory was won; but at the start it was only a secret 
victory in the chambers of the scientists, at some courts and in a few large 
cities; the nations, the Church, the convents and the universities knew 
nothing of the victory and would not let it count at any price. The con- 
temporary world is virtually never aware of the triumphs of the Zeitgeist— 
or, if it learns of them, it understands nothing. Once the results of spiritual 
victories grow popular, they are likely to have lost their meaning. 

Gregor the Great said, "One and the same mouth cannot praise Jupiter 
and Christ." But Latin was the language of the Church; who would 
condemn it as the tongue of heresy? So the theologians condemned Greek. 
Erasmus of Rotterdam quoted this sort of obscurantist: "Greek literature 
is the font of all heresy," and, "Beware of the Greeks, lest you become a 
heretic!"— and he recalled the New Testament which, after all, was also 
part of Greek literature. The Dominican Simon Grunau in his chronicle 
voiced the opinion of Copernicus' contemporaries: "Some had seen neither 
a Jew nor a Greek in their day and yet could read Hebrew and Greek from 
the volumes. . . . they were possessed." 

It was not until eleven years after the publication of this print by Co- 
pernicus, that Libanius announced the first lectures on Greek grammar 


and literature at the University of Cracow; and in his preface to the 
poems of the Sibylla of Erithrea he complained that the zealots first pro- 
hibited his lectures and then called his students heretics, Lutherans, 
schismatics or maniacs: "They cry 'anathema' and call for the excommuni- 
cation of all who learn Greek and Hebrew." 

And it was a bishop to whom Copernicus dedicated this first original 
print of a Greek author in Poland, and of some very pagan epistles to 
boot — which greatly honors the courage of the author and of the Bishop. 

And Copernicus let this book appear in the same year, 1509, in which 
in Germany the inquisitors of Cologne and their infamous stool pigeon, 
Pfefferkorn, wanted to burn all Hebrew manuscripts and books in Ger- 
many—and Reuchlin, Germany's first teacher of Hebrew and Greek, 
began his battle against the mad obscurantists. 

With this publication, Copernicus thus openly and bravely joined the 
battle line of the humanists against the virtually omnipotent obscurantists. 

On a later occasion he translated a Greek prose piece, the apocryphal 
letter of Lysis, the Pythagorean, to Hipparchus (printed in the Aldine 
edition of the epistolographers), in which Copernicus found the Pythag- 
orean maxim cited by him: that the master's teachings should be com- 
municated only to the cognoscenti. Copernicus had cited this letter in 
his "Revolutions"; its Latin translation was contained in the original 
manuscript at the end of Book I, which in the initial version was to be the 
first of eight books, instead of the later six. In a few introductory remarks 
Copernicus had cited several Greek philosophers already teaching that 
the earth did move: Philolaus, Aristarchos of Samos and Plato. 

Later, Copernicus deleted the Lysis letter and the few introductory 
lines, so that in the printed book Aristarchos of Samos, otherwise not 
mentioned, lost his place among the predecessors altogether. By the way, 
Copernicus largely adopted the earlier Latin translation of the Lysis 
letter in Cardinal Bessarion's book (printed 1503 by Aldus) which he had 
bought at Padua and inscribed with numerous marginal notes. In par- 
ticular he marked the letter of Lysis; then, Plato's eulogy for Demosthenes 
and a passage to the effect that many were facile with words but only 
Homer, Plato and Demosthenes were eloquent, and finally Plato's praise 
of mathematics. And one more passage: about celibacy. 

Marginal notes are found in most of Copernicus' books, sometimes in 
Greek — once, for instance, the receipt of a hair-dyeing tincture. 



"Fatti non foste a viver come bruti . . ." 

dante, La divina commedia 
"Life's but a walking shadow; a poor 

That struts and frets his hour upon the 

And then is heard no more: it is a tale 
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, 
Signifying nothing." 

Shakespeare, Macbeth 

CASTLE HEILSBERG was one of the most beautiful castles in Prussia. 
It was situated amidst fertile hills, near the river valleys. A small river, the 
Alle, winds past the foot of the castle hill. The castle had a pond; there 
were oaks and beeches on the hills and bears and wolves, bison and wild 
boar in the forests. "The dam between the Simser, a tributary brook 
of the Alle, and the castle pond makes a delightful promenade lined with 
the most beautiful trees; the dark walls and the fresh green of the sur- 
roundings are both doubly transfigured in the clear aqueous mirror." 

The Heilsberg palace regulations of 1480 describe the episcopal court 
with its multitude of high and low officials, with the personal servants, 
and with the servants' servants. There were a vicar-general, overseers and 
burgraves, penitentiaries of the Prutenian language, chief chamberlains, 
cupbearers, chief fishermen, chief foresters, court bell-ringers, a chief 
castellan, an assistant castellan, young noblemen serving as equerries and 
young clerics serving as chaplains, vicars, notaries and servants for the 
lower ecclesiastical offices and for the household and the stables. 

Mealtime etiquette was rigid. At the stroke of the noonday bell all of 
the Bishop's table companions had to wait before the doors of their rooms 
for the Bishop to emerge from the palace gate. His dogs were let out 
first; their barking gave the first signal. As soon as the Bishop appeared 



in his stole, with a mitre on his head, the courtiers fell into line and 
escorted him to the knight's hall. There, servants handed him a wash basin 
and a towel. After the handwashing a prayer was said and the Bishop sat 
down on his elevated chair. 

The Marshal showed the Vicar-General to his place by the Bishop's 
side; others seated at this table were the Chief Judge, the first chaplain, 
the attending canons, abbots, knights of orders, captains, burgomasters 
of major towns and the Bishop's guests of honor. At the second table, 
called the convent table, the Marshal presided over the chaplains, the less 
honored guests and the higher household officials. At the notary's table 
sat the chief forester, the chief fisherman, burgraves, village mayors, 
jurors, head cooks and the interpreter. At the first servants' table sat the 
grainmaster — commonly a farmhand — and the episcopal coachman, the 
stable hands, the servants of the court servants and the lookout from the 
tower. At the fifth table, the Bishop fed three or four poor men. At the 
second servants' table sat the waiters and carvers. At the third and fourth 
servants' table sat the lowest servants'. A ninth table was p ro joculatoribus, 
proprie vor dy herolt, vor dy \o\eler, in medio coenaculi — so that the 
court jesters, gypsies, beartamers, tight-rope walkers and jugglers could 
entertain the whole room with their arts and pranks. 

Copernicus was on leave from the Cathedral Chapter especially for the 
purpose of functioning as a physician. Probably he supervised his uncle's 
diet. He bought medical books for his uncle's library; some of them, 
with his medical notes or prescriptions, are still preserved at Upsala, 
where they were taken during the Swedish Wars. 

Copernicus himself said that 1506 was the year in which he began to 
develop his astronomical system and to write it down. His biographer 
Gassendi wrote that Copernicus started in 1507 to conceive and record his 
system. Laurentius Corvinus, the teacher and friend of Copernicus, hints 
in his poetic Introduction of 1509 at Copernicus' "miraculous principles." 

Copernicus mentions only two astronomical observations made during 
these years: those of the lunar eclipses of 1509 and 1511. Perhaps the 
worldly-wise uncle took a lively interest in the researches, calculations 
and revolutionary ideas of the wise nephew. Perhaps the uncle loved his 

Soon after the uncle's death, Copernicus left Castle Heilsberg and 
finally, at forty, came to Frauenburg, to live near the cathedral, in accord 
with the ecclesiastical rule. 

In the six years which he spent at his uncle's court, Copernicus, on 
occasion, was also engaged in business for his uncle and for the Cathedral 
Chapter. In 1511, for instance, he came as visitator to Allenstein with his 


colleague Fabian von Lossainen, to collect 285 marks. One "Ego Balthasar 
Stockfisch," in an account book which has been preserved for posterity, 
describes the session of the chapter, at which Canon Enoch presided and 
Custos Cletze and Canons Lossainen, Snellenberg and Nicolaus Coperni- 
cus were witnesses that Mr. Balthasar Stockfisch had properly received 
the 285 marks from Messrs. Lossainen and Copernicus, paid them into the 
cathedral exchequer and accounted for them. 



"Man lebt nur Einmal in der Welt." 

GOETHE, ClavigO 

"// n'y a pour I'homme que trois ivene- 
ments, ntutre, vivre, et mourir: il ne se 
sent pas nattre, il souffre a mourir, et il 
oublie de vivre," 


IN THE spring of 1512, Copernicus moved from Castle Heilsberg into 
his tower next to Frauenburg cathedral, to "maintain residence" there. 

Thus, in his fortieth year, he came to this Prussian hole of Frauenburg 
where he was to spend the next thirty years. What if someone had foretold 
his life in celibacy with elderly bachelors, among philistines and local 
politicians, with servants, pastors' cooks, horses and rural rents. What if 
someone had warned him of the boredom of a provincial canon's life, of 
the darkening times and the dividing churches, of the thirty years' desola- 
tion of political turbulence, of the senile squabble with Bishop Dantiscus 
over a housekeeper, of the miserable, premature death of his brother 
Andreas, the poor canon who perished of leprosy (or syphilis). What if 
someone had predicted the canon's silly dispute with the Polish King 
over Watzelrode's succession; or Copernicus' governorship of Allenstein, 
with war and siege and pillage and peasant troubles; his written com- 
plaint against the Teutonic Order; the death of the Bishops; the death 
of many a friend; the dissolution of the Teutonic Order and the birth 
of Prussia; the memorandum about the improvement of Prussian coinage, 
to which nobody would listen; the stupid jokes and pranks at his expense; 
the amateurishness of his medical practice; the entire protracted farce 
of a long life in the wrong place — what if someone had foretold his future 
life to Copernicus! 

But if we were given the power to do so, what course of life should 



we have devised for Copernicus? Should we have made him Bishop of 
Varmia, or Archbishop of Cracow, or a Cardinal, or perhaps the Holy 
Father sitting in Rome and reforming the calendar? We have seen 
humanists in the Papal chair before — for example the creature of Emperor 
Charles V, the learned Dutchman Hadrian VI who wanted to reform 
everything and merely succeeded in making himself the butt of the jokes 
of the Roman bureaucracy. 

Should Copernicus rather have been the head of the University of 
Cracow, a teacher of Doctor Faustus and Mr. von Twardowski, or the 
head of universities like Paris or Bologna? The trouble is that in a world 
of accidents, the form, once taken, grows immutable — becomes, in fact, 
as though foreseen for eternities. Talents are nothing. Character weighs 
more. But only time and opportunity make both the man and his work. 

There we see a man great enough for ten whole centuries sent into 
a stupid province, occupied with trifles, frittering his life away in keeping 
here the accounts of a few bonded peasants or collecting and delivering a 
few marks, treating there a poor man's mange (with or without success), 
going to the same church time and again, saying the same prayers, con- 
versing with the same dozen colleagues; now he has to make out a com- 
plaint against a powerful neighbor; now he drafts an essay about the 
soundness of money; at another time there is a lunar eclipse, at last; then 
he has to protect a ridiculously small town; a king lists him among his 
candidates for a bishopric — it is only a derisive gesture, the other one 
becomes bishop; robbers and soldiers pillage. All this time Copernicus 
has to be active; constantly he has to spend his time, his strength, his 
knowledge — and so a great life is frittered away. 

Is it really frittered away? Does not a river draw its strength from a 
hundred sources? Does not the wise man know how to use everything? 

The little country is vexed by rising prices — as all of Europe in the 
sixteenth century, suffered under the invariably high cost of living. There 
is a desire to unify the coinage, to reform it. Copernicus takes a hand in 
making the Estates realize what it is that plagues the whole world. Casu- 
ally, he emerges as one of the great economists of the sixteenth century; 
he is the first to put into scientific form the law of bad money, which 
drives good money out of circulation. The phenomenon was noted 
even by Aristophanes, but no one before Copernicus knew how to formu- 
late the law : "A greater mistake, however, is to introduce Jiew, bad money 
beside the old, good money, for the bad not only devalues the old, better 
currency but drives it away." 

The Prussians would not listen to the canon, but Poland heeded him: 
at the diets of Pjotrkow in 1526 and 1528, uniform coinage, according 


to Copernicus' suggestions, was introduced in Poland and Lithuania and 
thus Poland had good money. 

Rather than fritter his life and himself away, Copernicus studied the 
great fields of human endeavor and understood them. He tried to further 
his country and his time in many fields. Thus he did not remain a 
theoretician only but became a master in many types of practice — an 
architect, an engineer, an administrator, an economist, a physician, a 
diplomat. He came to be, in the North, one of those universally educated 
men of many sides and many faculties who were more frequent in 
Italy — an uomo universale, a universal genius. And he became such a 
man deliberately, intentionally. 

He wrote in his "Revolutions": 

"The scientist who would examine the various phenomena individually, 
without regard to the order and close dependency among them, might 
be compared with a man who would borrow fragments, such as hands, 
feet, and other parts of the body which, though truly painted by a master's 
hand, represent different bodies, and who would attempt now to put 
these heteroclitic fragments together, which do not fit one to the other, 
and the composition of which would rather yield the picture of a monster 
than that of a human body." 

The man who understood so many of the practical activities of the 
world, changed the course of the world with a theory. 

"It has always seemed to me," said Simon Newcombe in the Report of 
the Smithsonian Institution of 1896, "that the real significance of the 
heliocentric system lies in the greatness of this conception rather than in 
the fact of the discovery itself. There is no figure in astronomical history 
which may more appropriately claim the admiration of mankind through 
all time than that of Copernicus. Scarcely any great work was ever 
so exclusively the work of one man as was the heliocentric system the 
work of the retiring sage of Frauenburg." 

At the time of Copernicus, Frauenburg numbered about thirteen or 
fourteen hundred souls. The little town is located on the Frische Haff, a 
lagoon twelve miles in length, a sweet-water formation of the Baltic, fed 
by many rivers. Copernicus called the Frische Haff the Vistula (in the 
"Revolutions," V, 3), but the Vistula splits up ten miles before its mouth. 
"As is well known," said Prowe, "the left main arm enters the Baltic at 
Danzig under the name Vistula, while the right arm has to be content 
with the name of Nogat and together with another arm of the river 
enters the Frische Haff." 

From the Baude, another stream, a canal leads into the town and pro- 


vides Frauenburg and the cathedral buildings with drinking water. 
Legend calls Copernicus the builder of this canal— which is, however, 
mentioned in documents as early as 1427. 

The cathedral stands on a hill, eighty feet high, offering a wide view 
over the Haff. Only a very narrow strip of dunes, a mile distant, separates 
the Haff from the Baltic. 

The curiae, the real dwellings of the canons with gardens and utility 
buildings, formed a row of houses along the interior of the fortified wall 
of Cathedral Hill. The curiae were not all alike, and the younger canons 
got the lesser ones. After every death, therefore, a change of the curiae 
took place. 

Copernicus seems to have spent his thirty years at Frauenburg (with 
interruptions) in the tower which is traditionally called curia Coperni- 
cana and which he occupied at the time of his death. For his astronomical 
observations he needed an elevated observatory with an unobstructed 
view. His tower room was slightly above the church roof. From it, one 
can see far into the plains and, to the West and North, the distant Haff 
and the white dunes of the Nehrung. 

Of the personal observations listed in the "Revolutions," Copernicus 
made more than half of them, at Frauenburg — according to his own 
testimony and to that of Rheticus. 




"Are we not brothers?" 

Shakespeare, Cymbeline 

LIFE in the cathedral by the Baltic was not monastic. The sixteen canons 
on their hill— seldom in full number — were noblemen with horses, serv- 
ants, allods and cooks. One of them became Bishop of Varmia; another, 
Bishop of Kulm; a third traveled to Rome to the Holy Father for the 
chapter or the Bishop, and a fourth to Cracow, to the King of Poland. 
There they sat and negotiated with the Grand Master of the Teutonic 
Order, with the burgomasters of Danzig or Torun. They studied at 
Polish, German and Italian universities. They were savants and humanists. 
One was Ambassador to the Emperor in Spain. Another was secretary 
of the King of Poland. 

They were great businessmen. They owned one-third of Varmia. They 
levied taxes and administered estates. They held court, and took part 
in Europe's confused battles for power and fluctuating battles over the 
faith. They were great lords of the manor and urban administrators. They 
engaged in trade with the Hansa, with Poland and Prussia. They gambled, 
studied, prayed, preached and had no more worries in life. They prayed, 
preached, observed their ecclesiastical ceremonials more or less industri- 
ously, took part in many wars, especially in every war between Poland 
and the Order, defended their castles and strongholds, surrendered oc- 
casionally, participated in the peace negotiations and in a hundred in- 
trigues. They fought the Order for the privilege of censuring a castle 
chaplain, and the King of Poland for the privilege of electing the Bishop 
of Varmia. They mixed God and the Emperor, the Order and the Electors, 
the Pope and a dozen other potentates in their game. They increased their 
library and their estates. They built and ate well. They lived and died in 
that "farthest corner of the earth" — remotissimum unguium terrae — as 



Copernicus called it in the dedication of his "Revolutions" to Pope Paul 
III. Almost all of them were descended from the same few friendly pa- 
trician families of Danzig and Torun— all bound by kinship and nepotism. 

When Copernicus moved to Cathedral Hill after his uncle Watzelrode's 
death, it was inhabited only by his brother Andreas and Cathedral Custos 
Cleetz, Cathedral Cantor Delau, Archdeacon Sculteti, Canons Lossainen, 
Stockfisch, Snellenberg, Crapitz and Zander. Three others were in Rome, 
one was studying in Siena, and Tiedemann Giese was in Allenstein as 
the Chapter's deputy. 

This Giese, the truest, most devoted friend and a cousin of Copernicus, 
was seven years his junior and descended from a good Danzig family. 
He had studied with his tutor at Leipzig, Basel and at Italian universities, 
had become a canon at Frauenburg and Cathedral Custos when his uncle 
was Bishop, and in 1538 moved to Castle L6bau as Bishop of Kulm. 
Eventually— too late for his friend, five years after the death of Copernicus 
—he became Bishop of Varmia, succeeding that Bishop Dantiscus, against 
whom he had been a candidate as early as 1538. At that time, however, 
King Sigismund I, who wanted Dantiscus for Bishop of Varmia, had 
made him Bishop of Kulm instead, and so poor old Copernicus unfor- 
tunately was not spared the silly trouble on the housekeeper's account. 

(Bishop Giese died in 1549 and was buried in the cathedral, next to 
his friend Copernicus.) 

Brother Andreas fell ill soon after his return from Italy; or perhaps he 
had already been ill when he returned. In the records of the Chapter 
there are divergent entries : incurably sick — leprosy. 

Leprosy had been widespread in Prussia in the thirteenth and four- 
teenth centuries; there were leper houses in almost all towns, usually 
the Hospitals of St. George, outside the walls. Among the prescriptions 
which Copernicus entered in his medical books, there is none against 
leprosy. But perhaps brother Andreas was not suffering from leprosy at 
all? Perhaps he was suffering from syphilis? 

The good canons felt uneasy in the presence of poor Andreas. They 
were afraid of contagion. They gave him a one-year furlough. He moved 
to Rome, to consult Italian physicians. He returned to Frauenburg. The 
disease appeared even more horribly. 

In Rome he had waged a law suit for the Chapter. In May, 1512, he 
wrote that just recently he had been confined to his bed again; he had 
wished to return to Prussia, but the news of his uncle Watzelrode's sudden 
death had arrived and was detaining him for some time. In any event, he 
would retire from all business. 


When he returned, with all the marks and sores still visible, the Chapter 
decided to cease to associate with him. 

Then, as usual, the squabble over money began. The colleagues wanted 
to cut the sick man's income; Andreas protested. The colleagues, to make 
him tractable, simply blocked his entire income: They referred to a sum 
of twelve hundred Hungarian gold gulden which Uncle Watzelrode had 
given to Andreas "for churchbuilding purposes," and Andreas had spent 
to God knew which edifying ends. 

Andreas countered by arriving for the Chapter sessions of December, 
1512 and 1513. Now, the frightened canons raised the arrest and granted 
him larger payments, pending a final decision by the Holy Father. He 
left Frauenburg and went to Rome. There he evidently took part in the 
intrigues over the episcopal election, for the King of Poland, in a re- 
proachful letter, asked him why, despite the favors received, he was 
intriguing against the King and Poland? King Sigismund also wanted 
to make his secretary, Dantiscus, the deputy of Andreas; instead, Leo X 
appointed a cleric of Kulm, Korner, to this office in 1516. In that year, 
. accordingly, Andreas was still alive. Korner also became his successor at 
the cathedral of Frauenburg and in 1519 was in turn succeeded by Alex- 
ander Sculteti. So Andreas must have died between 1516 and 1519, perhaps 
in Rome. 

In 1800, Kries wrote: 

''It was fortunate that the disease of leprosy did not strike his brother 
Nicolaus; otherwise it would certainly have been regarded as a conse- 
quence of his heretical system and a warning punishment from Heaven." 



"Poland is not lost yet . . . The deeds re- 
served for this nation may be valued more 
highly by the genius of mankind than 
victorious battles and chivalrously rattling 
swords accompanied by the horse-trampling 
of its national past, Poland will live for- 
ever on the most glorious pages of its 


EMPEROR Maximilian wrote as suitor for Sigismund I: "The King 
of Poland is a handsome person, a little fat; at any rate he will not gain 
any more weight; his face and body are white, and he has very white 
hands and is just the size of Chevalier de Berges; his face is better- 
looking than that of Chevalier de Berges, for he has a very honest face, 
without guile. As I heard from his own lips, which are beautiful and red, 
he is forty-six years old ... his hair is already a little gray . . ." 

The King of Poland was already called Sigismund the Old, however, 
and was fifty-two; the youngest of six brothers, he survived all of them 
as well as his whole era. He had been merely a little prince in Silesia, 
with a Moravian sweetheart, Katrina Telnitzer by name, who presented 
him with a son and a daughter. All his brothers became great lords: his 
brother John Albert, the pupil of Callimachus, became King of Poland 
and died after the Bukovina disaster; his brother Alexander, the second 
pupil of Callimachus, followed John Albert as King of Poland and died. 
His brother Ladislas became King of Bohemia and Hungary, and died. 
His brother Casimir became a saint (he died young, and was canonized 
soon after) and his brother Frederick became a Cardinal and died as 
early as 1503. 

At last, at forty, Sigismund ascended the Polish throne. He loved peace 
and had to wage many wars against the Russians and Prussians — losing 



against both. He loved his comfort, and had to go on with the long family 
war of the Jagellones, against the Hapsburgs for the domination of 
Hungary and Bohemia; he lost that, too. King for hardly five years, he 
had to send away his Moravian sweetheart, Katrina Telnitzer, and sick 
of heart, married a seventeen-year-old Hungarian from Transylvania. 
Barbara Zapolya was pretty as a picture but he lost her three years later, 
during her second confinement. 

The recent widower journeyed to the Congress of Vienna, where Em- 
peror Maximilian — astonished to find the King of Poland "a distinguished 
humanist as he was himself" — offered him the young girls of the Haps- 
burg family: first his granddaughter, the heiress of Burgundy, who how- 
ever, went to the bed of the French King Francis I; and then a niece of 
Empress Bianca, the heiress of Milan and Bari. She was Bona Sforza, a 
beautiful Italian damsel of twenty-five, with two hundred thousand 
gulden in cash. She was educated as were no women except Italian 
Renaissance princesses. She became Poland's greatest Queen and a no- 
torious poison-mongerer, Poland's most accursed woman and greatest 

Archbishop Laski, who opposed the Hapsburgs, had suggested two 
Polish princesses, mother and daughter, to the King; but a Prince 
Colonna, in Vilna, let the King see Bona's portrait, and Sigismund the 
Old dispatched his envoys to Naples. One of them married her by proxy, 
on December 6. At 2 P.M., after church the guests sat down to the ban- 
quet and ate until 11 at night — twenty-seven courses; among them Hun- 
garian soup, stuffed peacocks, pheasants, capons, fish, marzipan. The 
young Viceroy of Naples, King of Spain, and soon also German Emperor, 
Charles (then the First, of Spain; later, the Fifth of the Empire) sat at 
table with Vittoria Colonna, Michelangelo's friend. Bona wore a Venetian 
gown of sky-blue velvet, embroidered with golden bees. On December 26 
she left Naples to take ship at Manfredonia; on April 10, 1518, she arrived 
in Cracow (by land, of course) and King Sigismund the Old greeted her 
with a banquet that lasted for eight hours. 

Then she had the Old one for her husband, and Poland for her realm. 
Her youth had not been gay. Her life with the Old one could not have 
been cheerful. And her widowhood was not pleasant. She was cleverer 
than a hundred magnates, including the Old one. She loved money and 
power and order, and for thirty years she remained "the foreigner" on 
Poland's throne. 

What a youth! Her father, young Duke Gian Galeazzo of Milan, a 
famous weakling, was twenty when he married the daughter of the King 
of Naples, beautiful Isabella of Aragon who was seventeen. The Duke's 


uncle, Ludovico il Moro, suddenly fell in love with the bride of his nephew 
and is said to have used witchcraft in an attempt to keep the marriage 
from being consummated. Later, Ludovico il Moro poisoned his nephew, 
to become Duke of Milan himself. Bona was three years old at the time. 
Her hapless mother, seven years a Duchess and twenty-eight years a 
widow, lost her seven-year-old daughter Ippolita. Her son Francesco 
was kidnapped by the King of France and made abbot of a monastery on 
a sandy little island on the coast of Vende, where he met his death at 
twenty-one, a state prisoner, in a "hunting accident." The poor mother, 
who signed her letters, "Ysabella de Aragonia Sforcia, unica in disgracia," 
saw both her husband's Duchy of Milan and Naples, the kingdom of her 
father and brother seized by bold conquerors, Spaniards and Frenchmen; 
she saw her uncle Federico, the last King of Naples, taken away to 
France. Once, in fact, French troops under the Duke of Adria were about 
to storm the city and port of Bari, her widow's residence. It was due to the 
protest of gallant Captain Yves d'Allegre and his friends, Chevalier Bayard 
(sans peur et sans reproche) and La Palisse, that Duchess Isabella and 
her town, her daughter and her port were not stormed and violated. Yves 
d'Allegre successfully maintained that one could not make war on so 
highly famed and sorely tried a lady as Isabella of Milan. He was the same 
knight who a year earlier had ridden into Rome with only three friends, to 
demand that Pope Alexander VI free the Countess of Forli, Caterina 
Sforza (an aunt of Bona's, sung by Tasso) from one of the cells of Castel 
San Angelo — for, he stated in the name of France, on n'emprisonne pas 
les dames. 

Later, Isabella of Milan tried to marry off Bona to II Moro's son, the 
youthful Duke Massimiliano of Milan, and thus put the murdered man's 
daughter into the bed of the murderer's son; however, after the battle of 
Marignano the Sforzas lost Milan and the pretty plan fell through. 

Finally Bona was twenty-five and still single, and had to take the 
widower from Poland. She took him, and half of Poland into the bargain. 
There she came, radiant and blonde, with laughing eyes and breasts and 
excellent Latin. She rose like a comet on Poland's dark northern sky, with 
a glittering train of three hundred Italians, lutists and prelates, poisoners 
and humanists, professors and eunuchs, singers and architects — and lovers, 
perhaps?— and brought along the sudden brilliance of Italian culture, the 
celestial fire of the Milanese love of life and the Neapolitan love of art, the 
lightning of Aragonese intrigues and the whole, shrewd capability of the 
Sforzas. She turned the Polish royal household into a Sarmatian Renais- 
sance court brimful of joy and fire. 

She came to Poland, saw her Sigismund and conquered. With her, she 


brought all sorts of contested inheritance claims — for Cyprus, Milan, and 
Naples, including the future inheritance of her mother (who died six 
years later, at fifty-three, in Naples, where she lies buried in San Domenico 
Maggiore by the side of her brother Ferrante, the King of Naples). The 
claims added to Poland's diplomatic interests, and since they were Bona's 
claims, they also became Bona's diplomatic interests. She soon found that 
she was more intelligent than her Old one and a dozen Polish ministers 
and archbishops, and began to direct the whole state. She had Dantiscus 
sent to the Emperor in Barcelona, as ambassador. Poland intrigued in 
Spain and in England, in Vienna and in Brussels. The Emperor did not 
even hand over Bari; allegedly, he feared its surrender to the French, the 
Pope or the Sultan. 

The King was in his mid-fifties and as yet without an heir. The sooth- 
sayers and astrologers predicted the imminent end of the Jagellone dynasty. 

Bona gave birth to a son. Sigismund the Old kept getting older. Bona 
took the state and her son in hand. She saw to it that her son was con- 
firmed as the heir to Lithuania, was elected King of Poland two years 
later, and crowned eight years later. Thus Poland had two Kings, with 
Sigismund II August becoming Grand Duke of Lithuania during the 
Old one's lifetime. 

With her dowry and Italian income, Queen Bona redeemed the proper- 
ties which the King had pledged for small sums — to the rage of the 
great lords, who had profited from the properties. Soon Bona was one of 
the richest landowners in Poland. She wanted to strengthen the crown, 
to consolidate the monarchy, to cow the magnates. 

King Sigismund was almost assassinated over it. Once, his nephew 
Ludwig of Hungary and Bohemia warned him of a plot to poison him; 
at another time on a mild summer evening Sigismund was standing by 
the window of his castle at Cracow, possibly musing about the virtue of 
Italian girls, when someone fired a shot at him from the street. 

Soon, people throughout the realm began to point fingers at Bona and 
to ascribe the death of her enemies to her poison recipes. 

The two Dukes of Masovia died, one after the other, both at the age 
of twenty-four — of consumption, perhaps? A Venetian pharmacist of 
Plock had to flee to Polish Prussia; a former mistress of the young ducal 
brothers was accused; Bona was accused of having sought to get Masovia 
for her son. Two accomplices of the wench who was certainly the Duke's 
mistress, and allegedly their murderess, were executed along with an- 
other woman; for a long time the second Masovian Duke's body was not 
interred; the Masovians called for a criminal investigation; two years 


later, the King granted it and found — that his spouse, Bona, was abso- 
lutely innocent. 

She governed. The magnates no longer frequented any chancellery but 
the Queen's. Genial Bishop Krzycki, who wrote Latin poems under the 
name Cricius, composed odes in Bona's honor. She distributed the jobs, 
and did not forget her Italians. It was a woman's government — "for the 
Queen has so fascinated His Majesty that nothing may be done without 
her will." 

A falcon soared high above ten-year-old Sigismund August when he 
sat on the throne, in the market place of Cracow, at his coronation. All 
intelligentes homines said that this could nobmean a glorious reign. 

King Sigismund the Old sat in Poland like his own monument. Nobody 
went to see him. He was not even asked for pardons or presents. Abroad 
he was already talked of as dead. The Muscovite envoys brought along 
special instructions every time, in case of the old King's demise. Alive, he 
received condolences from the Sultan. 

At last the Old one grew senile. "Nobody tells me anything," he com- 
plained. He often wept; he was moved to tears without reason. When 
word of some blunder did get to him, and he understood the matter, he 
sometimes remembered and said, "I am still the King" — ego sum rex 
Poloniae — and stubbornly insisted on the wrong thing in the wrong 
place. Passive resistance had been his forte even in better days; it is the 
energy of the weak. Once, when the King refused something to one of 
his wife's friends, she did not let him see her for many days. He sat in 
his room, mourned and wept. 

When he died at last, in the course of one of his frequent fits of gout, 
old and sated of days, on Easter Sunday, 1548, at eighty-two years of 
age, both Poland and the world once more remembered King Sigismund 
for a day, and people asked one another, "So the Old one was still 
alive?" and shook their heads. 

In Vienna, Dantiscus, Poland's ambassador to the Hapsburgs, praised 
the Old one's ingenuousness. King Ferdinand listened to him and said, 
"He belongs to a past world." In Austrian Minister Herberstein's memoirs 
the Old one was described twice, thirty-two years apart, as "a blessed, 
peaceable King." A Catholic, he was tolerant toward Mohammedans, 
Jews, Orthodox Greeks and Armenians, and burned Protestants. 

He took no interest in either Latin or the nascent Polish literature. He — 
or his wife — liked to build. The Italian architects in Poland made money, 
and Poland got beautiful Renaissance palaces. 

The second half of his long reign saw the beginning of the golden age 
of Polish literature. It had the King to thank for a long peace. 


No one would thank the Queen. She was charged with every con- 
ceivable evil, and in some cases justly i The chronicler, Gorski, called her 
"that beast" — ita inquietum hoc animal fuit. She put money into the 
Royal treasury; she introduced sound economic methods; she paid the 
King's debts and redeemed his pledged estates. She knew more about 
economics than her friends — or her enemies. Because she wanted to 
strengthen the Royal power, she put her creatures in many positions and, 
according to the Roman custom, took money for many favors. And 
Tomicki, the humanist, statesman and archbishop, promptly wrote: "As 
for venality, we also hear that nowadays every thing can be bought at 
court for goodly sums." 

The aristocratic Deputies complained that Bona was bringing up the 
young King in the wrong way. But only a little earlier the fathers of these 
Deputies had deliberately kept the King of Poland from learning how 
to read and write Polish, in the hope that an illiterate would be easier to 
handle. Bona's son, Sigismund August, spoke, read and wrote Polish, 
Latin, German and Italian. 

The aristocratic Deputies complained of the Roman Law which was 
sneaked into their old-fashioned judicial practice, of the violation of their 
privileges, of maladministration. They demanded that the King take his 
properties away from his wife who had redeemed them with her own 

Bona scorned the Deputies. But she hated the Hapsburgs. The Aus- 
trians had driven Bona's daughter Isabella, the widow of the Hungarian 
pretender, Zapolya, out of Hungary in rain and storm; in the end, Isa- 
bella had come to Poland with her little son. Besides, Bona hated Em- 
peror Charles V for refusing to give up her Milanese heritage. To the 
Viceroy of Naples she was said to be "as hostile as a spider." 

She hated the Germans as she did the Austrians. 

She had a passion for oranges. Once, when the Austrians had halted 
a load of her oranges at a custom station, she swore to tolerate no Germans 
about her any longer and to exact revenge. 

Lokschani, the Roman King's Minister at Cracow, reported: "These 
days, when they told Queen Bona that Laski was coming back from 
Turkey (this Pole was Austrian agent at the Sultan's court and had 
intrigued against Bona's daughter, Isabella) the queen indulged in a fit 
of wrathful weeping; moreover, she swore that she would not rest her 
head until she had avenged herself on those who employed such practices 
against her flesh and blood. It would be polite revenge but no one would 
fail to comprehend it." 

So she "politely" avenged herself. For a long time because of her hatred 


of Austria and fear of competition she had prevented a union between 
her son and Elizabeth, the daughter of King Ferdinand of Austria; now 
she yielded. The sixteen-year-old Viennese girl came to Cracow. Sigis- 
mund August, the bridegroom, was twenty-three by then and a pervert. 
He blindly obeyed his mother. She had given him only girls as play- 
mates; he liked to dress himself up as a girl, and the girls as boys. 

"It was a mistake of nature," Bona said once, "to let my daughter 
Isabella come into the world as a girl, and Sigismund August as a boy." 
She had him educated by Italian tutors, lutists and dance teachers. 

Bona did not let the young couple, Sigismund August and Elizabeth, 
go to bed together or eat together. Finally she sent the young King to 
Lithuania and kept the young Queen in the Cracow castle and tolerated 
no special kitchen for the Viennese. This was when people began to 
talk. Later, Elizabeth was sent after her husband, was promptly stricken 
with a grave illness and given up by the doctors; Sigismund August 
actually grew tender. When she recovered, he became cold again and 
returned to Cracow, where King Ferdinand's Minister Herberstein — 
after many threats on the part of the son-in-law — finally on June 3rd 
"counted out the dowry" to him — one hundred thousand Hungarian 
gulden in gold. 

On June 14th, Herberstein left Cracow. On June 15th his master's 
daughter, poor young Elizabeth, died. Herberstein, truly sorrowful, 
wailed, "So with her demise more than three hundred thousand gulden 
Rhenish or Polish remained in Poland." In his memoirs he wrote that 
"Elizabeth surely was not deceased of a common, natural death." A diplo- 
mat even in his memoirs, he omitted Bona's name. One of the courtiers 
said that young Sigismund August's mourning could only be noticed 
by his clothes. 

He was already enthralled by beautiful Barbara Radziwill, the twenty- 
three-year-old widow of the Palatine of Troki. A priest married them in 
secret. He unbosomed himself to the Old one at the Diet of Petrikow; 
his mother already knew, from the Palatine of Sandomierz. Sigismund the 
Old forbade the marriage; Sigismund August vowed he would not wed 
until Easter of next year. The Old one died of the gout. Bona wrote to 
her daughter that grief over the ill-bred son has sent him to the grave; 
she herself was more grieved by "this infamous and unfortunate marriage" 
than by her husband's death. 

Instead of a wake, the young King held his public wedding. He led 
Barbara into the royal castle of Vilna; he was unshakable in her defense 
before the Diet, where the Deputies partly raged, partly knelt before 
him, where the archbishops knew God's will and the great landowners 


knew their own, where all the rich predicted a revolution and all the 
pious, with chuckles, predicted the dissolution of the marriage. 

Bona was justifiably afraid that her jointure and other properties would 
be "seized" in the turmoil. She hastened to Masovia, and thus involun- 
tarily made room in the castle of Cracow for Barbara — who was received 
only by the suburbanites and canons of Cracow, and by three abbots. But 
the King did not spare money and staged a gay life in the castle. Barbara 
was crowned in the cathedral on December 12, 1550. On May 8, 1551, 
she died — officially of cancer; but even Bona's son, the young King, 
muttered that Bona's poison had been the cause. 

He and his mother had little faith in God but absolute faith in the 
devil. Sigismund was convinced that his mother had bewitched his wife. 
Shortly before her death, poor Barbara had let her mother-in-law talk 
her into a reconciliation; at once, the King wrote to his brother-in-law 
Radziwill in Lithuania: "Now we shall have to beware at mealtimes." 
After his wife's death, in Petrikow, he put to the torture a hag in Bona's 
service, a professional soothsayer and witch; on the rack, the old woman 
was said to have made interesting confessions. Sigismund August avoided 
his mother; he grew lonely and suspicious. 

To King Ferdinand Bona had written (at the time when she and her 
son were maltreating the King's daughter, the litde girl from Vienna) : 
"I am merely doing to the daughter of Austria what Austria did to 
mine." But King Ferdinand was not content with the suspicious death 
of his daughter Elizabeth. He now married his second daughter, Cather- 
ine, to the man who had abused and disgraced Elizabeth. 

Since Bona had loudly boasted of tolerating her son's marriage to the 
first Viennese for the sole -reason of holding a hostage in her daughter's 
interest, good father Ferdinand had the notion of suggesting that Bona 
send her grandson to be brought up at the court of Emperor Charles V, 
or of Philip II of Spain, so that the House of Hapsburg, too, should hold 
a hostage. Bona's daughter lifted her eyes to the sky and declined with 
thanks; her little son was too young for courts such as the German 
Emperor's or the Spanish King's, and she could not so soon take such 
long leave of her sole joy. Bona had a gypsy put to the torture, and he 
obediently confessed to being paid by the Hapsburgs to kill Bona's 

The second Viennese girl did not sleep longer in the Polish King's bed 
than her poor sister. When she failed to bear a son, he wrote to her father 
and brothers that Katinka was physically repugnant to him; besides, she 
was epileptic and he was avoiding her bed so as to spare her. He even 
avoided her presence. "I can't stand the sight of her any more," he told 


everybody and hoped that she would die. Who knows what the poor girl 
was hoping? She wrote to her brother, King Maximilian of Austria, 
asking that he should treat a Moor, who was jester at her husband's court, 
with special politeness; otherwise the Moor might harm her after his 
return — the fool might harm the Queen! 

King Sigismund August, too, wrote the King Maximilian. "Can I not 
get a divorce? Then I might recommend a Hapsburg as my successor 
on the Polish throne." (He secretly believed his astrologers, who whis- 
pered to him that not until his fourth marriage would an heir be born 
to him.) 

Eventually he returned Katinka to Austria. In the setdement he was 
so stingy that the King of Austria had to maintain his sister. The Polish 
Diet protested against the deportation of the Queen; he replied to the 
Senate: "I ask not to be forced to do what is against my will and my 
nature." In October, the second Viennese left Poland — alive, deeply hurt 
but iron-willed. She told her unwilling husband that although he "would 
not hold her as his spouse," she would "hold and acknowledge him for 
her wedded spouse" as long as she lived. She would never consent to 
a divorce, but would gladly return, if God should "again enlighten the 

"This event did not take place," says the author of one Polish history. 

Sigismund August could not keep more concubines after his third wife's 
departure than he had kept before. He called them his "falcons" who 
would kill him yet. He longed for a child like a young, barren woman. 
He paid physicians and astrologers to explore the secret of gestation. 
He took women to prove his fecundity — Zajaczkowska, for example, and 
Barbara Giese who was called the fair Gizanka, and others; all of them 
promptly had children. The King would have married a beggar-woman, 
the people said, if only she had presented him with an heir. 

The people — merry in practice and rigorous in theory, as all peoples — 
railed at the Royal concubines. There also was a sister of the King, who 
was a virgin and took offense. The fair Gizanka lived in the castle of 
Warsaw (where Sigismund had moved his Polish residence); Zajacz- 
kowska was housed by Sigismund August in a convent near Petrikow. 
The Papal Nuncio warned him to marry one of these concubines and 
make her Queen of Poland. Sigismund August replied: "Monsignor, 
non si fara cosa che non convenge." (One does nothing ill-fitting, Mon- 

The Holy Father finally exhorted the King of Poland to drop his 
unbounded marriage plans. Finally (in 1572) the King received news of 
the death of Katinka, the foreign Viennese. Sigismund August was per- 


suaded to don mourning, but absolutely refused to bring the body to 
Poland. She was repugnant to him both dead and alive. The Deputies 
on the next Diet screamed threats that they would drag the Royal con- 
cubines out of the Royal casdes with their own hands; the Bishops 
promised to preach from their pulpits against the King's bedfellows. The 
King went to his favorite castle of Knizin, with the fair Gizanka; he was 
not feeling well, he sealed his beloved jewels and died . . . 

His mother had left Poland sixteen years earlier. She was weary of 
Poland and finally wished to depart. Her son, the Diet, the Ministers — 
none wanted to let her go. The Emperor first had to intervene, and 
several other European potentates. The King issued an edict threatening 
any nobleman aiding his mother's departure with loss of honor, any com- 
moner with loss of life. It was not until she yielded the privileges to her 
rich estates in Poland and Lithuania that they let her go. Bona was ailing. 
She was yearning for Italy, for its sun, its sky, for the columns in its 
squares and for the laughter of the people in its streets, for the blue sea, 
the lemon trees, the baked swallows' nests and her Duchy of Bari. 

With rolling carriages and endless baggage she moved through the cold 
and snow of the Polish winter. At every bend of the road the schlachzizes 
were lying in wait to rob her. They screamed embitteredly that on her 
horses and carriages and mules she was carrying half of Poland abroad — 
the poison-monger, the foreigner. She would have been attacked and 
robbed in fact if a noble Polish schlachziz had not protected her. Finally 
she reached her Duchy of Bari, and wrote a will leaving all her possessions 
to the King of Spain, Philip II. She kept a great court at Bari, received 
poets, artists and humanists, and carried on intrigues with Emperor and 
Pope against her son and Poland. She died in November, 1558, at sixty- 
five years of age, and was buried in the parochial church of San Nicolo 
di Bari. There, she is depicted in white marble, kneeling on a black 
marble sarcophagus, with two Polish saints, St. Casimir and St. 
Stanislas, standing behind her. 

She had left her principalities of Bari and Rosani to the wealthiest man 
on earth, somber Philip II. To her son, Sigismund August, she left the 
injunction to pay great legacies to his sisters. 

Sigismund August openly declared that his mother's testament was a 
forgery. Considering testator and heirs, Bona's vengefulness makes the 
testament probable — and Philip's ruthlessness, the forgery. Philip II did 
not give up the principalities, and only hesitantly yielded the cash for- 
tune. The latter promptly caused a fight between Sigismund August and 
his sisters. 


The Papal Nuncio, Julius Ruggieri, in 1568 described the aging 
King a few years before his death: of medium height, gaunt, with 
black hair and a stringy beard, dark-complexioned and feeble. He could 
not stand exertion. He suffered from podagra. In his youth he loved bright 
clothes, even fancy dress during the carnival; later, he went dressed in 
long black garments and had his room papered with black fabrics. 

Never one to talk much, he became monosyllabic in his declining years, 
and taciturn. He had no confidant. He loved horses, and kept many 
thousands of Neapolitan, Turkish, Spanish, Mantuan and Polish breeds 
on his estate near Castle Knizin. 

He loved jewels, like his mother. He would go into his treasury and 
enjoy the sight of the jewels, and of the gold. Few knew the extent of 
his treasures. 

Once, he spent half a million scudis on a few jewels. He did not touch 
them even when he was in the greatest need of money; he preferred to 
borrow and complain of his poverty. 

He spoke Polish and Italian with ease, and could make himself under- 
stood in German and Latin. His education was mediocre. Ruggieri said: 
"He has a certain knowledge of remote countries, their kings and their 
power; he is sufficiently familiar with his neighbors, and perfectly familiar 
with the ways of his subjects, to whom he knows how to adapt himself 
but whom he also knows how to direct at will." 

He was a skillful diplomat. He saw and utilized the weaknesses of men. 
He was a master of delay, for which reason he was called Cunctator or 
"King Tomorrow." 

His subjects did not love him. They said of him that he was "false." 
He was a great whorer. 

But he was peaceful. The period of his reign was the greatest age of 
Poland. For many years he kept his country at peace. He attached Livonia 
to his realm. He founded Polish sea power. He strove to submit the 
magnates to the executive, without wading in blood like his contemporary, 
Ivan the Terrible of Russia. He furthered a stronger union of Poland 
and Lithuania. 

He also loved the company of humanists and books. He collected a 
great library but was no Maecenas; perhaps because he collected too many 
"falcons" and jewels. 

This son of the last Sforza was the last of the Jagellones. 







"The simplest truths are precisely those 
latest found by mankind." 


"IN THIS book," Copernicus wrote in his De Revolutionibus, "we shall, 
with the help of God, make all this clearer than the sun; at least for those 
who are not quite without mathematical knowledge— however difficult, 
nay, all but incomprehensible it may appear to many, and however it 
may conflict with the ideas of most. ... On mathematics you write for 
mathematicians only." 

A few ancient Greeks taught already that the earth and other planets 
were moving around the sun. Their thesis was as interesting and inconse- 
quential as many bold sentences of the Sophists. Copernicus was the first 
who recognized this hypothesis as the truth and tried to prove it mathe- 
matically, based on the celestial observations of the ancients, of Arabs 
and Jews, of Peurbach and Regiomontanus and Walther and of his own. 

He was an observing and calculating astronomer; above all, however, 
he was a thinking astronomer— above all, a philosopher. Independent 
even of beloved masters and venerable textbooks, of the thunderous 
dogmas of the Church and the bearded prejudices of the sciences, he 
freed himself and mankind of the sanctioned geocentric concept of the 
world. Truth could not be involved. Nature could not be complicated. 

Therefore, he sought a simpler explanation of the movements of the 
planets. Copernicus compared the results of his observations with those 
of the ancients, to determine the changes in the sky. 

As a starting point, he chose the star named Spica Virginis — whose 
longitude, however, he determined by taking its distances out of the 
stellar catalogue of Ptolemy, which differs by almost forty minutes from 
the calculation of today. With such a basis of calculation— forty minutes 



wrong at the outset — one may imagine the difficulties bound to arise if 
Copernicus wanted to bring his theory into accord with the sky, or with 
as much of it as he could see with the naked eye. 

Copernicus, "with the intuition of a genius, hit things, which later 
generations ascertained with telescopes and photography, so correctly that 
hardly a difference exists . . . For instance, he all but correctly determined 
the obliquity of the ecliptic, recognizing its gradual decrease and sensing 
that it would reach a goal and then turn back." (Maedler, History of 

The implements of astronomy were scant at the time. The fixed stars 
were not where they should have been according to the planetary table 
of Ptolemy, and Copernicus, who had to work with this unreliable 
catalogue, frequently pointed out the errors to Rheticus and advised him 
to undertake the task (later accomplished by Tycho de Brahe in his 
Restitutio 1000 inerrantium) of redetermining the celestial places of the 
fixed stars — especially the places of the stars of the zodiac, which were 
of particular importance to the calculation of the planetary courses. 

In pointing out the mistakes of the ancients again and again, Coper- 
nicus wanted, first, to come nearer the truth, and second: every new devia- 
tion from the truth, of which Ptolemy could be convicted, shook the 
credibility of the entire old astronomy and made it easier to listen to a 
new theory. By means of his calculations and observations, and of the 
observations of others, Copernicus wanted to prove that the earth was 
actually moving and that his theory was not a mathematical prop but 
the formula of reality. 

Rheticus, in his narratio prima, said : "For almost forty years the learned 
doctor, my teacher, observed lunar eclipses and the course of the sun, in 
Italy and here in Varmia." 

For thirty years, said Copernicus (de rev. orb. coel. Ill, 6), he fre- 
quently observed the obliquity of the ecliptic. By the way, he believed 
that Frauenburg and Cracow were located on the same meridian, and 
therefore related all his observations in Frauenburg to the meridian of 
Cracow — while the difference amounts in fact to more than 1754 minutes. 

Copernicus' instruments were primitive. In the "Revolutions" he enu- 
merated the instruments which had been in use among the Greeks, and 
later. In addition to a simple gnomonic apparatus (a gnomon is a sundial) 
Copernicus seems to have used the triquetrum, which he manufactured 
himself to obtain the altitudes of the sun, the moon, the planets and the 
most important fixed stars and their distances from the vernal equinoctial 
point. After the death of Copernicus this triquetrum was preserved; later, 

"for mathematicians only!" 153 

Canon Hanow of Frauenburg had it delivered to Tycho de Brahe as a 
present by Tycho's assistant, who had traveled to Frauenburg for his 
master in order to check the location of the observation-point of Coper- 
nicus. The assistant determined the polar elevation of Frauenburg at 
54 degrees H l / 2 minutes; Copernicus, in De rev/Ill, 2, had stated it at 54 de- 
grees 19J4 minutes; today we arrive at a third figure. Tycho was pleased 
with the relic; when he died, it came into the possession of Emperor 
Rudolf who had bought all of Tycho's instruments and collections; after 
the battle of the Weisse Berg everything was destroyed or dragged off. 

Copernicus mentions his use of this triquetrum or pardlacticum several 
times in the "Revolutions." Gassendi assumed for certain that Copernicus 
made use also of a Jacob's-staff. 

And it is probable that Copernicus did not possess many more as- 
tronomical instruments— in contrast to the Alexandrine and Arab astrono- 
mers, who had colossal instruments at their disposal. His residence was 
too small for large apparatus. True, he was wealthy enough to have those 
improved instruments made for him, in Nuremberg, which had made 
them for Regiomontanus. 

Johannes Kepler, too, was later content, like Copernicus, with the 
crudest instruments built by himself. But Kepler was too poor to buy 

Thus three sticks of wood constituted the "magic tools of the great Co- 
pernicus—tools with which he extracted secrets from the Muse, Urania, 
which were unknown to Antiquity and on which rests the entire modern 

Besides, he had to suffer from the Baltic fogs and all the other impedi- 
ments of the northern atmosphere, and of the high polar altitude of 
Frauenburg, which, for an astronomer, was not an ideal place to work. 
He often speaks with open envy of the wonderful skies above Alexandria, 
of the pure, soft air over the Mediterranean. "Fortune," he says, "did 
not give me, as it gave Claudius Ptolemy, that beautiful opportunity of 
experience. For him, the skies were more cheerful, where the Nile does 
not breathe fogs as dots our Vistula. Nature has denied that comfort 
to us, and that calm air. Therefore, due to the great density of the air, 
we see Mercury less frequently." 

Still, Copernicus attempted to carry out observations of Mercury. He 
sighed: "Much toil and effort was imposed on me by this planet, with 
its irregularities which I had to calculate." 

His disciple Rheticus, making a virtue out of necessity, said by way of 
praise: "He disliked bothering with the determination of minute dis- 


tances, as sought by others who with painstaking exactitude believe they 
have found the place of the stars to two, three or four minutes, while 
actually erring by entire degrees." 

Rheticus said: "I remember how, in juvenile curiosity, I once wished 
to enter the innermost world of the stars, as it were. Thus I once came 
to dispute with the best and greatest of men, with Copernicus. Although 
pleased by my honest passion he used to put a gentle arm around me 
and to implore me finally to stay my hand and refrain from over- 
stepping the bounds. 'I myself — said he, Copernicus — 'should be no less 
delighted than Pythagoras after the discovery of his maxim, if in the 
results of my observations I could approach as closely to the truth as ten 
minutes.' " 

When young Rheticus retorted in astonishment that, after all, one had 
to do his best to explore truth with greater and ever greater precision, 
Copernicus pointed to the difficulties in the path of our recognition of 
truth, naming three in particular. "First, the ancients were not disin- 
terested in many observations, but had arranged them to fit their special 
theories about the movement of the planets; therefore, one had to apply 
unusual attention and care to the sharp distinction of these corrupted 
observations from those which the observer had made quite uninfluenced 
by his theory, without adding or omitting anything. Second, the ancients 
had determined the places of the fixed stars only to an exactitude of 10 
minutes. Third, we modems had not had for our immediate predecessors 
such men as Ptolemy succeeded then — such luminaries of science as 
Hipparchus, perhaps, Timochares, Menelaus and the rest, on whose ob- 
servations and directives we proceed and in whom we can trust. He, 
Copernicus, would rather rest on statements of which he could guarantee 
the truth than display erudition and acumen by means of a dubious 
recitation of allegedly precise determinations." (Rheticus, Ephemerides 

(Ernst Zinner terms this story by Rheticus rich in contradictions, and 
even fantastic at many points. For if Copernicus had expressed regret 
over the lack of adequate contemporaneous planetary observations, would 
he not have admonished his pupil at first to devote his time to observa- 
tions of the planets? And if Copernicus valued the observations of the 
ancients more than those of the moderns, why did he doubt the exactitude 
of the observations of the ancients? 

And how did he come, on the basis of such uncertain observations, 
to compute the diminution of the sun's distance from the center of the 

H C ) N 


S F O R 2 \ 

"for mathematicians only!" 155 

earth's orbit? And if he considered Walther's observations of Mercury 
inadequate, why did he use them for far-reaching deductions? 

Zinner also compares the observations of the Greeks with those of 
Walther, and concludes that Walther's observations were more exact. 
Nor were Copernicus' observations by any means so bad that he needed 
to be ashamed of them at any point! 

Zinner concludes that in 1551 Rheticus did not tell what he had 
really heard in 1541. In the end he asks: how much confidence had the 
old master in the twenty-five-year-old Rheticus?) 





"Copernicus tied the duration of his fame, 
so to speak, to the duration of the world 


THE Egyptians and Chinese were the first to collect astronomical data; 
the Babylonians and Greeks took over some results and constructed 
systems. Long before the Greeks the Chaldeans had computed the 
periods of certain planetary revolutions, divided the zodiac into signs, 
classified the stars according to their constellations and constructed several 
types of astronomical apparatus. The priests of Babylon were official 
prophets and astrologers. (Their almanacs in which they indicated the 
positions of the planets are known to have existed as early as 425 B.C.) 
They glorified the sun, the "Star of the King," for according to them 
the power of the sun kept the planets suspended in space, caused them 
to move, and was responsible for the changes in the weather and the 
return of the seasons. 

King Amenhotep IV (Ikhnaton), too, who ruled from 1375 to 1357 
B.C. and was a rebel and a poet, and sought to make Aton (the sun god) 
the sole god, celebrated the sun in his Sun Hymn: 

When thou risest in the eastern horizon 
Thou fillest every land with thy beauty. 
Thou art beautiful. Thou art great. 
Thou glitterest high over all countries. 
Thy rays embrace the lands 
And everything thou hast created. 
When thou settest in the western sky 
The earth is dark as though it were dead. 

• • • - 



Thou makest the seasons in order that all thy works may prosper, 

Thou madest the distant sky in order to rise in it 

And gaze upon everything that thou hast made, thou all alone, 
Rising in thy shape as the living Sun, 
Glittering, shining, going afar and returning . . . 

From Egypt to Hellas came the twenty-four-hour day, the water- 
clock, the calendar year and the names of the months. But the Greeks 
ignored the best teachings, to wit, the Babylonian doctrine of the sun's 
royal position among the planets and the Egyptian idea that Venus and 
Mercury revolved around the sun. 

Even the most cursory examination of the astronomy of the Greeks 
reveals three curious facts: 

First, that it does not take long to make the gigantic step from natural 
poetry or sheer absurdity to the discovery of the truth; 

Second, that it has always been dangerous to publish the truth, even if 
only about the stars in the heavens; 

And third, that truth is inextricably mixed with falsehood, and reason 
with absurdity! 

One of the first cosmogonies in the world was developed by Philolaus, 
a Pythagorean. According to him, the fire of Hestia rests in the center 
of the world. This "hearth of the universe" is surrounded by ten spheres 
which support the heavenly bodies: Earth, Counter-Earth (which was 
perhaps invented for the express purpose of obtaining a total of ten 
bodies, for ten was a sacred number among the Pythagoreans), Moon, 
Sun, the five planets and the starry sky. The daily revolution of the earth 
around Hestia's fire explains the daily motion of the starry sky; the music 
of the spheres is produced by their gentle gliding. The sun does not give 
light, but like a mirror it throws the reflection of Hestia's hearth fire 
upon the earth and other planets, which are by nature dark bodies. All 
of creation is numbers, music and harmony, in accordance with the 
Pythagorean ideals. 

Anaxagoras, a contemporary of Pericles, taught that the earth was 
flat and was held in suspension by the air. 

He is said to have predicted that a meteor would fall in 466 B.C. In 
that year a shining ball of fire like a comet appeared at night and there- 
upon a meteor dropped from the sky. Anaxagoras thought that there 
was a connection between these two events and declared publicly that 
the meteor came from the sun which was also a red-hot lump of iron. 
He was immediately accused of godlessness. What? Apollo, the god of 


the sun, the ray-fingered, resplendent in his sun chariot, only a red-hot 
lump of iron? 

Pericles had to intervene in order to save the philosopher's life. No 
sooner saved, Anaxagoras made another discovery — that the moon was 
a dark solid body with plains, mountains and ravines, illumined by the 
light of the sun. The godless man was the first to explain how the moon 
is darkened by the shadow of the earth, and how the shadow of the 
moon produces an eclipse of the sun. Finally, he even discovered that 
the sun was bigger than the Peloponnesus! And that the stars were stones 
hurled off by the earth and made to glow by the rotation of the sky! 
And that Mind had set the world in motion! 

After Pericles, in the fourth century B.C. some men began to say that 
the earth was a globe. 

Then, in the third century came Aristarchus of Samos. He tried to 
clarify the relations among the sun, moon and earth. In a famous passage 
of his Computation of the Sandgrains, Archimedes tells us this : "As you 
know, most astronomers call the universe the sphere whose center coin- 
cides with the center of the earth and whose radius connects the centers 
of the sun and the earth. Such is the conception usually found in their 
writings. But Aristarchus published various hypotheses accompanied by 
drawings, from which it follows that the universe is much larger than 
the one just mentioned. These are his hypotheses: the fixed stars and the 
sun are motionless; the earth revolves in a circle around the sun . . ." etc. 

In brief, according to Archimedes and Plutarch, Aristarchus thought 
that the earth probably moved around the sun and turned daily on its 
own axis. 

We know that the Babylonian Seleukos of Seleukia considered these 
two motions of the earth as demonstrated facts, although we do not know 
how he proved them. He also tried to explain the tides of the Atlantic 
Ocean by the currents of the air, which according to him were caused 
by the motion of the moon and the simultaneous revolution and motion 
of the earth. 

Ingenious as Aristarchus' hypotheses were, they remained fruitless. 
Ernst Zinner, a German astronomer under Hitler, finds a partial ex- . 
planation of this fact, no doubt on the basis of his own experience, in 
"the Greek philosophers' and scientists' fear of the stupidity of their own 

Aristarchus, too, was accused of impiety, because he taught that the 
earth, the "center of the universe," moves. Plutarch tells us about it. Most 
contemporaries of great men — as Lichtenberg puts it — "want at least to 
persecute those whom they cannot refute." 


Plato and Xenophon state explicitly that their teacher, Socrates, ad- 
mitted astronomy among the sciences only as the handmaiden of land- 
surveying and time-computation. This wise man considered that 
investigations of the orbits of the planets, the periods of their revolutions 
and their distances from the earth were immoral, if not subversive. And 
yet he had to drink the cup of hemlock! 

Ptolemy {Claudius Ptolemaeus), the encyclopedic genius, who worked 
in Alexandria from 127 to 141 and died after 161 A.D., systematized all the 
learning of his time in various scientific fields and transmitted , it to 
posterity in textbooks which remained authoritative for more than a 
thousand years. Several of his writings, as for example, those about Euclid 
and Mechanics, were lost, except for some quotations from them by other 
writers. We still have his works on music, geography, chronology and 
optics, his sketch of dials for sun-clocks and his astronomical writings. 

The motions of the planets are discussed in his "Manual of Astronomy," 
the famous Almagest, as the Arabs called it — the only detailed work on 
astronomy that has come down to us from antiquity. It is regarded as 
one of the most sagacious volumes ever written, full of real knowledge 
and excellent accurate observations, and as a first-class geometrical work. 
It constituted the sum of the astronomical knowledge of the ancients and 
was dominant in the West among Christians, Moslems and Jews. 

These are Ptolemy's most important astronomical hypotheses: (1) The 
sky has the form of a sphere and revolves like a sphere. (2) The earth has 
the form of a sphere. (3) The earth is in the center of the universe. (4) 
The earth is like a point with regard to the firmament. (5) The earth is 

He gives us a catalogue of stars which contains 48 constellations with 
1,022 stars of which positions (latitudes and longitudes) and sizes are 
indicated; the positions refer to 137 A.D.; they are given for stars of the 
first through the sixth magnitudes. He also describes the Milky Way 
and gives instructions for the building of a celestial globe. 

Copernicus adopted Ptolemy's catalogue of stars unchanged in his De 
Revolutionibus. Ptolemy thought that he had listed all the visible stars, 
but actually he had included only the majority of stars visible in Alexan- 
dria down to the fourth magnitude, and a few of the fifth and sixth 
magnitudes. His catalogue differs from that of Hipparchus, which con- 
tained more than 1,000 stars, perhaps as many as 1,600. 

In his mathematical exposition of the planetary motions Ptolemy fol- 
lowed Hipparchus (160-125 B.C.) who had used eccentrics and epicycles. 
He represented the seemingly irregular motion of a planet by a motion 
along an epicycle and a motion along an eccentric. The center of an epi- 


cycle revolves around the center of the universe, while the planet revolves 
around the center of the epicycle. An eccentric is a circle whose center does 
not coincide with the center of the earth, the alleged center of the universe. 
The speed of the planets on the epicycle was equal to that of the center of 
the epicycle. 

Ptolemy terms his own Manual of Astronomy "a great deed, verily 
the ultimate goal of a mathematics founded on a philosophical basis." 

"He haughtily rejects the reproach that his hypotheses are too artificial. 
The simplicity of the celestial events must not be appraised according 
to our human ideas of the simple, particularly as there is by no means 
any agreement as to the notion of what is 'simple' on earth. From these 
human points of view, none of the heavenly events would appear simple, 
not even the invariability of the daily revolution; for this very behavior 
which remains identical in all eternity is . . . entirely impossible among 
us, humans. . . ." (Almagest). 

In his essay on Nicolaus Copernicus, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, the 
humorist of Gottingen, describes the Ptolemaic system as "the most deli- 
cate, most artificial and at the same time the strangest mixture of sagacity, 
subtlety and delusion that the human mind had ever accepted." 



The stars? Hm . . . A glittering rash on 
the face of the sky! 

hegel to Heine, as he looked at the 
night sky 
The history of science is the real history of 


SCIENTIFIC truth is becoming ever more shortlived. 

In 1929 Harlow Shapley wrote that: "The big American instruments 
have added more to our knowledge of the stars in the last twenty years 
than we had learned in all the time that went before." 

All the time that went before . . . Our earth and the other planets are 
hardly three billion to eight billion years old — according to the "tidal 
evolution hypothesis," advanced by the Englishmen Jeans and Jeffreys 
and by Chamberlin and Moulton, professors at the University of Chicago. 

At some point three billion to eight billion years ago, our sun, which 
until then had been traveling in its course quite alone, came dangerously 
close — only a few million miles, in fact — to another, much bigger star. 
As a result, a part of the gaseous clouds of which the sun is composed 
(more accurately: one-seventh of one per cent of its entire volume) flew 
into space and did not rejoin the original mass. Instead, these split-off 
lumps began to circle around the sun in elliptical orbits. They formed the 
planets including the Earth, as well as the asteroids and comets and a 
few meteors, nebulas and gaseous clouds. The gaseous surfaces of the 
smaller planets such as the Earth soon liquefied and turned partly into 
solid crusts and partly into oceans: the oceans are liquefied gas, the 
mountains, frozen gas. 

Eight billion years of astronomical history revealed by the American 



instruments developed in the last twenty years! How different are the 
figures used by the astronomers from those of the sociologists! 

The oldest known eclipse of the sun occurred more than four thou- 
sand years ago, according to Shu Ching. Two drunken Chinese astrono- 
mers were beheaded for having failed to predict it; the shock of this 
unexpected event terrified the imperial family and the people. 

For some time tha ancient Greeks investigated the heavens with their 
usual intelligence and without too many prejudices. They measured the 
size of the earth and determined the diameter of the sun and the moon 
and the distance from the earth to these bodies. 

The motions of the planets were described with great accuracy by 
Ptolemy and Hipparchus, but they had little to say about the motive forces 
of the universe. And the development of Greek astronomy ended with 
Ptolemy and Hipparchus. As has so often happened in the history of 
astronomy, astrology took the place of science. (Even the astrologers 
sometimes grew dull, as Ptolemy complains.) 

Certain Greek and Roman authors had made the sun the king of the 
universe: Poseidonios, Cicero, Pliny the Older, Plutarch and Theon of 
Smyrna. Plutarch even wrote: ". . . how can one say: The earth is in 
the center — in whose center? The universe is infinite; but the infinite, 
which has no beginning and no end cannot have a center either. For the 
center, too, would be a limit. But infinity is the transcendence of all 
limits . . ." 

Arab astronomers continued the studies of the Greeks. They were mo- 
tivated particularly by religious and practical reasons. Islam demanded 
that the faithful observe the periods of prayer and eclipses exactly and 
that they face Mecca while they prayed. The Arabs had to study the 
stars in order to determine place and time and to make charts and 
almanacs. They also invented many astronomical appliances and trig- 
onometry, the science of computation with angles instead of arcs. The 
first astronomical treatises of the Arabs may have reached the Christian 
Occident as early as the tenth century, through Jewish translators in Spain. 

Gherardo da Cremona (1114-1187) translated the Almagest, as well 
as two Arabic studies of the planets and the Toledo Tables into Latin. 
His work inaugurated a new era and superseded the writings of Macro- 
bius and Capella, Ptolemy's compilators, who at least mention the so- 
called "limited" Egyptian heliocentric System. John Scotus Erigena, the 
Irish Pantheist at the court of Charlemagne, refers to this concept in the 
following terms: "Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury, which always de- 
scribe their circles around the sun . . ." 
Arab and Jewish Aristotelians of the twelfth century (like Averrhoes, 


Maimonides, Abubaker and Alpetragius) at first attacked the Ptolemaic 
theory. Geber wrote: "A motion like the epicyclic or concentric one is 
impossible . . ." Heinrich von Langenstein, the famous university pro- 
fessor who worked in Paris and later in Vienna,- was also inspired by 
the attacks of Arab scholars on the Ptolemaic theory to compose his own 
work against the concentrics and epicycles. 

That king of Castile called Alfonso by his mother, the Wise by his 
people and the Tenth by history, polemized against the mad capers of 
the Ptolemaic planets with a witticism: If He had consulted me before- 
hand I would surely have given the Creator a better plan. (The arrange- 
ment of the human body, too, seemed rather clumsy to this king.) 

This Alfonso the Wise is said to have summoned to Salamanca some 
fifty Arab and Jewish astronomers from Cordova, Toledo and Paris to 
improve the Toledo Tables. But according to Ernst Zinner their planetary 
tables have not been preserved, and the so-called Aljonsine Tables were 
really composed in 1300-1322 in Paris. 

The invention of new instruments for the observation and measure- 
ment of the stars and time intervals created the technical prerequisites 
for modern astronomy. The ancients with their sundials and water-clocks 
could determine only the hours, to wit the planetary hours of variable 
length (one-twelfth of the day or night, counted from sunrise to sunset, 
or from sunset to sunrise, and as a result of the changing length of the 
day and night of variable length). Only the mechanical clock permitted 
man to determine time exactly to the second, and to establish hours of 
invariable length. (Minute hands were probably not introduced before 

Nicholas of Cusa, whose ideas about the motion of the earth were 
sometimes strictly orthodox, wrote the famous phrase: "We know already 
that our earth moves, even though this motion is not visible, but becomes 
clear only when we compare it with the fixed stars." 

This Cusanus, or Nicholas of Cusa (Cusa is a village near Trier, on 
the Moselle), "a very learned German" (1401-1464), charged the ancients 
with plain ignorance because they thought that the earth stood still. 

The son of a boatman named Krebs, trained at the famous school at 
Deventer, became a Doctor of Law at Padua, and finally a cardinal. 

In his philosophical works, he published his theories of motion, espe- 
cially the motion of the planets. Only God, he says, who constitutes the 
center of the universe, is motionless; every other body has its own 
characteristic motion, hence also the earth. And on the last parchment 
page of an astronomical manuscript he had bought in Nuremberg, he 
noted that in the center of the world the earth turned on its axis going in 


twenty-four hours from east to west, and in addition turned around an 
axis perpendicular to the first. The starry sky and the sun, too, each fol- 
lowed two motions . . . 

Nicholas of Cusa may have communicated his ideas about the motion 
of the earth to Peurbach. Peurbach was the teacher of Regiomontanus, 
Regiomontanus the teacher of Novara, and Novara that of Coperni- 
cus . . . 

But Copernicus, who investigated the opinions of all the older authors 
on the motions of the planets and the earth, as he relates in his Preface 
to Pope Paul III, did not refer to any author later than Capella. 

The Viennese astronomers Peurbach and Regiomontanus, who both 
died young, filled the fifteenth century with their fame, their errors, their 
forebodings of the truth, and their new scientific methods. 

Brudzewski, "the teacher of Copernicus," made the first commentary 
on Peurbach's theory in his lecture at Cracow in 1483; like Erasmus Rein- 
hold after him, he particularly stressed the oval orbits of Mercury and 
the moon. 

In his theory Peurbach does not mention Cusa's ideas on the motion of 
the earth. Neither did Regiomontanus believe in the motion of the earth, 
unless we assume as proof of his belief, the piece of the alleged letter in 
the hands of the Nuremberger, Georg Hartmann. 

Nevertheless, thanks to the humanists, the Occident finally rediscovered 
its great heritage. Translations from the Arabic and original Greek texts 
took the place once held by the writings of the late-Roman scholars. 

The Ptolemaic theory with its excentrics and epicycles was well known, 
as was Eudoxos' theory with its concentrics. Known also were the ob- 
jections of the Arab Aristotelians, and those of Langenstein and Julmann, 
to wit, that the Ptolemaic theory assumed improbable variations in the 
size of the planets. The so-called Egyptian doctrine of the revolutions 
of Venus and Mercury around the sun was familiar because Capella, 
Chalcidius and Macrobius had mentioned it. Aristarchus' doctrine was 
widespread through the Latin translation of Archimedes' works; Nicholas 
of Cusa, Peurbach, Regiomontanus and Paul of Middelburg had all 
heard of it. The glorification of the sun by the Babylonians and Egyptians, 
Greeks and Romans was also known. 
Indeed, all this was known. But not all of it had equal influence. 
Greek and Roman discoveries had reached as far as China and India 
without having any particular effect. The Arabs discussed the Greek 
theories endlessly and uselessly. And Christian Europe, expert in copying, 
read them and copied them, without being influenced by them. 
Copernicus waged a titanic struggle. True, he fought against windmills; 


but they had been erected by some of the greatest men that ever existed. 

No duty is more completely neglected by men than their duty to be- 
come wiser. 

The few passages in ancient writers which mention incidentally that 
the earth turns on its own axis and moves in a circle around the Great Fire 
are not distinguished in any way from many other classical passages 
•whose absurdity is generally admitted. Who had not read them? But 
who had taken any notice of them? They proved nothing; nothing was 
founded upon them. Almost all the thinkers of antiquity, and all Chris- 
tendom contradicted these passages. 

Religion was naturally inclined to hold the earth, the seat of mankind, 
as the center of the world. And language obeyed (as it still does today) 

"Thus a mere phrase finally became the Word of God," says Lichten- 
berg. "That first idea of the motion of the earth was thereby excom- 
municated, as it were; to advocate it was not only awkward, it could 
become dangerous. Now just think: this idea condemned by the greatest 
sages of antiquity, an idea which was disreputable, awkward, dangerous 
and seemingly contemptible . . . this idea comes to Copernicus' notice 
from casual descriptions; it arouses his attention, he tests it — and defends 
it. This was done by a fifteenth-century canon, living among canons 
(which means something), not in the gentle climate of Greece and Italy, 
but among the Sarmats in a region which at that time was on the frontiers 
of the civilized world. He follows up this idea with indefatigable patience, 
not for a couple of years, but throughout half of his seventy-year long 
life; compares it with the sky, finally corroborates it, and thus becomes 
the founder of a New Testament of astronomy. And he achieves all this 
—something that must never be forgotten— almost a hundred years before 
the invention of the telescope, with wretched wooden instruments, on 
which the divisions were often shown only by lines marked in ink. If 
he is not a great man, who in the world can claim such a title? This was 
the work of the spirit of order that dwelt in him, the spirit that itself 
originates in heaven and manifested its own nature in his work, and 
discovered order all the more easily because it remained free through 
inner strength. Kepler says this in a few words with great emphasis 
(Praefatio in Tabulae Rudolphinae) : 'Copernicus, vir maximo ingenio et, 
quod in hoc exercitio magni momenti est, animo liber'; the spirit of sec- 
tarianism and parochialism did not weigh upon him." 

Ernst Zinner, however, gives more importance to Copernicus' predeces- 
sors. (The Birth and Spread of the Copernican theory, Erlangen, 1943.) 
He points especially to the ideas of Nicholas of Cusa and the modern 


methods of observation introduced by Regiomontanus: the circumstances 
of the observation were noted, the time was accurately established, the 
instruments were chosen accordingly, a net of coordinate stars was created 
with the help of which the positions of the planets could be determined. 
Regiomontanus' yearbook permitted him to select the most favorable 
moment for observation. His table of sines and tangents facilitated the 
calculations based on his trigonometry. Everything, Zinner says, was 

It is true that sometimes everything is prepared for the prophet — but 
he does not come. 

This time he did come! The man who had enough knowledge, bold- 
ness and luck to inaugurate the greatest of all world revolutions was 
Nicolaus Copernicus. He was seventy when after a life of leisure he an- 
nounced his revolutionary ideas to the world, and he had to be persuaded, 
almost forced, to do this by a few audacious friends, like the old bishop 
Tiedemann Giese and the young Wittenberg professor Rheticus. Then 
his genius had to wait another two centuries for its vindication and 



Matbemata mathematicis scribuntur (Mathe- 
matics is written for mathematicians) . 


He who desires to have understanding must 
be free in mind. 

alcinous (motto of Rheticus' Narratio 

THE fame of Copernicus- is posthumous. He owes it to the theory ex- 
pounded in his Book of Revolutions. 

We do not know how he developed this theory, nor when he formu- 
lated it for the first time. None of the existing documents give us any 
information on this question. On the occasion of the publication of 
Werner's work, Wapowski asked Copernicus about his plans. Under some 
pretext Copernicus refused to answer. 

In the Commentariolus and in the Book of Revolutions Copernicus cites 
the motives which led him to make his revolutionary investigations: the 
existing theories of the cosmos seemed to him either too complicated or 

In his Preface to Pope Paul III, Copernicus insists gracefully but 
firmly that his world-shaking theses are true. Without cringing, a canon 
here speaks freely to the pope, the head of the church organization of 
which he is a lowly member. And he gives the Pope an elementary 
philosophical lesson in cosmology which, again to quote Lichtenberg, 
"was at that time currently regarded as a branch not of philosophy, but 
of His Holiness." 

For a long time Copernicus meditated upon the outworn theories. 
And he grieved in his heart that man should have made so many 
felicitous discoveries and yet have only impoverished and disorderly no- 
tions of the cosmos. Was not the world the work of the Perfect Architect 
and was not supreme order one of its essential qualities? 



Out of this grief Copernicus began to read. 

At first he was struck by a passage in Cicero, according to which Nicetas 
of Syracuse believed that the heavens, the sun, the moon and all the 
stars stood still and that only the earth turned very quickly around its 
own axis; this created the impression that the heavens moved in a 
grandiose circular motion and that the earth stood still. 

In Plutarch he found the statement that Heraclides of Pontus and the 
Pythagorean Elephantus held similar views; and also the passage about 
the Pythagorean Philolaus who saw the earth turning around the Fire, 
in a slanting circle, and the sun and the moon running around similar 

Then Copernicus began to wonder whether the earth did not move 
after all. True, everyone called this idea absurd. But had not many people 
declared with impunity that various arbitrary circles and motions were 
traced by the heavenly bodies? 

And so Copernicus began to turn the earth around its own axis, as well 
as to lead it around the sun. When in the course of his long life every 
new observation confirmed these hypotheses, he was certain that he held 
the truth in his hands, and everything fitted together so divinely well 
that not one of the thirty-four circles in which he thought he had en- 
compassed the universe could be displaced without confusing all the 
others and the whole structure. 

Thus true astronomy began. 

While working with Novara he seems to have acquired the desire to 
make astronomical observations. He observed the star Aldebaran. Then 
Novara observed the sun, while Copernicus watched the moon and the 
conjunctions of the planets. 

When did his revolutionary dissatisfaction with the dominant world 
system begin? 

Presumably in Cracow, in that famous year 1492, when the fantastic 
son of a Genoese brothel owner, the descendant of Spanish Marranos, 
first set his foot on a new continent. 

While the Genoese who dreamed about mountains of gold was making 
his litde voyage which turned out so badly for the Indians, and just 
as he set foot on American soil and claimed the title of first Viceroy of 
America in the name of the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand and Isabella of 
Spain, and in agreement with his Catholic Holiness, the Pope, — a young 
student from Torun walked silently along the streets of Cracow, pursuing 
only truth and cosmic order, and, at first only in his silent thoughts, 
pulled down the pillars of the old world. But this revolution in the brain 
of an unknown student in the end gave mankind the most gigantic 


figurative kick it had ever received. Copernicus hurled all humanity with 
its dramatic history into the unfathomable abyss of solar systems and 
Milky Ways. Through a few bold axioms, and Arabic numbers and 
trigonometry (those children of the desert), he inaugurated that colossal 
joke of man, modern astronomy, with its grotesque laws of numbers, 
such as the fact that the light of the stars is billions of years did when 
it reaches us — the oldest spooks reasonable people have ever been asked 
to believe in. 

What a piece of luck for Copernicus that throughout his long life he 
had the leisure to test his revolutionary ideas against the wheeling firma- 
ment, the time to measure the course of the stars, to compute the time 
necessary for the planetary motions, to adapt his theories to his observa- 
tions, and to win some attention for his principal work, despite his 
revolutionary ideas, through ever more exact observations. 

And, what is more, the canon of Frauenburg had the great good fortune 
to have a few excellent friends, especially that devoted and reasonable 
man who, as a friend of Copernicus, became also one of mankind's best 
friends — the good Tiedemann Giese. 

This lifelong friend was learned enough to be able to follow Coper- 
nicus', studies. He ordered an ingenious sundial to be made for Coperni- 
cus in England. He bought him an instrument with which to observe 
equinoxes. And Giese loved his friend rationally, that is to say, not 
only the bad habits and odd manners, the mortal things that usually 
seem so charming to us mortals, but above all what was great in his 
friend: his immortal ideas and his inexorable opposition to the cherished 
follies of mankind and the pious prejudices of the past thousand years. 

In his Commentariolus Copernicus sketched for a few of his scien- 
tific friends the degree to which astronomy could be reformed. 

He summed up his ideas in seven propositions (which follow here in 
Edward Rosen's translation. Three Copernican Treatises. The Commen- 
tariolus of Copernicus. The Letter against Werner. The Narratio Prima 
of Rheticus. New York, Columbia University Press, 1939) : 


(1) .There is no one center of all the celestial circles or spheres. 

(2) The center of the earth is not the center of the universe, but only 
of gravity and of the lunar sphere. 

(3) All the spheres revolve about the sun as their mid-point, and there- 
fore the sun is the center of the universe. 

(4) The ratio of the earth's distance from the sun to the height of the 
firmament is so much smaller than the ratio of the earth's radius 


to its distance from the sun that the distance from the earth to the 
sun is imperceptible in comparison with the height of the firma- 

(5) Whatever motion appears in the firmament arises not from any 
motion of the firmament, but from the earth's motion. The earth 
together with its circumjacent elements performs a complete rota- 
tion on its fixed poles in a daily motion, while the firmament and 
highest heaven abide unchanged. 

(6) What appear to us as motions of the sun arises not from its motion 
but from the motion of the earth and our sphere, with which we 
revolve about the sun like any other planet. The earth has, then, 
more than one motion. 

(7) The apparent retrograde and direct motion of the planets arises not 
from their motion but from the earth's. The motion of the earth 
alone, therefore, suffices to explain so many apparent inequalities in 
the heavens. 

Copernicus describes the order of the spheres, the apparent motions of 
the sun, the motions of the moon, those of the three upper planets, Saturn, 
Jupiter and Mars, those of Venus, and finally those of Mercury. He con- 
cludes his Commentariolus with this triumphant passage: 

"Then Mercury runs on seven circles in all; Venus on five; the earth 
on three, and around it the moon on four; finally Mars, Jupiter and Saturn 
on five each. Altogether, therefore, thirty-four circles suffice to explain 
the entire structure of the universe and the entire ballet of the planets." 

What was new in these seven assumptions? First, the idea of the mo- 
tion of the earth, its daily rotation on its own axis and its yearly rotation 
around the sun which rests near the midpoint of the universe. Second 
was the idea, soon rejected by posterity, that there is a third motion of 
the earth. For Copernicus this third motion explained its slanting position 
with regard to its orbit. 

The Commentariolus does not cite any of Copernicus' own observations. 
Thus it is probably based on the Alfonsine Tables. 

When did Copernicus write his Preliminary Report or Commen- 

It was not printed during his lifetime. (Its exact title is : Nicolai Coper- 
nici de hypothesibus motuum coelestium a se constitutis commentariolus?) 
Copernicus sent out a number of manuscript copies of this work, but only 
two are known to have survived. Maximilian Curtze thinks that the 
Commentariolus was written between 1533 and 1539. 

Birkenmajer was the first to point out that the heliocentric system 


expounded in the Commentariolus differs in certain essential points from 
that expounded by the mature Copernicus in his Book o£ Revolutions. 
Therefore, Birkenmajer thinks, the Commentariolus was worked out be- 
fore 1509 and completed not later than 1512. 

Zinner thinks this report was completed in 1514 at the latest, the year 
that Copernicus was invited to Rome to participate in the revision of the 
calendar. At that time he began his investigations of the length of the 
year, and in connection with it of the motions of the planets. In his dedica- 
tion to Paul III Copernicus relates that upon the request of Paul von 
Middelburg, he began to observe more exactly the course of the sun and 
the moon. Zinner sees in the Commentariolus all the symptoms of a 
hasty work, and assumes the time of its writing to be the period between 
1510 and 1514. 

Like every author who sends his manuscript to colleagues or critics, 
Copernicus hoped for enthusiastic applause. He was completely- dis- 
appointed in this hope. The only reply to his work was icy silence. 
Exactly one mention of it by contemporaries has been discovered and 
even in that one the name of the author and the title of his work are not 
given. In a book catalogue drawn up by Mathias Miechow of Cracow, 
dated May 1, 1514, we find the following item: "A manuscript of a theory 
of the planets, in which it is asserted that the earth moves while the sun 
is motionless." This item may refer to the Commentariolus. 

Ernst Zinner enumerates three objections to this study that even "a 
well-intentioned man would have to recognize as justified." First, Coper- 
nicus was mistaken in assuming that only thirty-four circular motions 
were needed for his System. He forgot to include the precession of the 
equinoxes, the motions of the aphelia, and the revolution of the line of 
nodes performed in nineteen years, all of which required four more 
spheres. Thus thirty-eight circles were necessary. Secondly, the data of 
the Commentariolus could not be checked. Third, Copernicus built his 
cosmology not on his own, but on other people's observations, obviously 
on the Alfonsine Tables, of which the defects were generally known 
even then, and, as it appears from Copernicus' marginal remarks on his 
own copy of these Tables, had been noted by him, too. Thus the data 
on which he based his trajectories were really inadequate for a correct 
exposition of the movement of the heavenly bodies. 

Ernst Zinner asks why the astronomers should have changed their 
theories only to obtain a representation of astronomical facts inferior to 
that which they already had. And most of them, he thinks, would have 
only laughed at the peculiar idea of making the earth move. Fortunately, 
Zinner points out, Copernicus was able to devote several more decades 


to his theory and get some consideration for it by making observations. 
According to this authority, if Copernicus had died at the age of forty, 
as did Regiomontanus, his Commentariolus would have been forgotten, 
and so we would have no knowledge of his attempt to explain the uni- 
verse. Only the fame of the author of De Revolutionibus led to the 
rediscovery of his earlier work. 

Gemma Frisius mentioned the Commentariolus in a letter to Dan- 
tiscus in 1541. 

And in De Nova Stella anni 1572 Tycho de Brahe speaks of the "little 
treatise by Copernicus on the hypotheses he worked out." 

But the astronomers did not pay any attention to the references of 
Gemma Frisius and Brahe, or if they did, they connected them with the 
Narratio Prima of Rheticus. 

In his Introduction to Three Copernican Treatises Edward Rosen dis- 
cusses the question whether Copernicus considered the motion of the 
earth a hypothesis and whether he believed in its reality. Maximilian 
Curtze pointed out that in the title of the Commentariolus (Nicolaus 
Copernicus, Sketch of His Hypotheses on the Heavenly Motions) Coper- 
nicus had spoken of the hypotheses of his astronomical system as a 
hypothesis. Thereupon, Leopold Prowe explained that the title did not 
come from Copernicus, that he could not have spoken of his "hypotheses" 
because he was convinced of the absolute truth of his theory. 

According to Rosen, such an inference is based on a misunderstanding. 
Although Copernicus is firmly convinced that the earth really moves, he 
terms his theory a hypothesis. Rosen refers to the correspondence between 
Copernicus and Osiander, the chief clergyman of Nuremberg. After 
Rheticus' departure from Nuremberg Osiander supervised the printing 
of Copernicus' principal work and in a letter dated April 20, 1541, urged 
him to present his astronomical system not as the true picture of the 
universe, but as an auxiliary mathematical hypothesis — true or false — 
which gave a satisfactory explanation of the phenomena. 

Kepler who tells us about this exchange of letters and quotes a passage 
from them, justifies Copernicus' attitude. The great canon was anything 
but an opportunist, like the leader of the Lutheran church. Kepler 
writes: "Strengthened by a stoical firmness of mind, Copernicus believed 
that he should publish his convictions openly, even though science might 
be hurt as a result." 

In the eyes of Copernicus the motion of the earth was a physical reality, 
the naked truth. Copernicus was a realist. He sought the truth and be- 
lieved he had found it. If he added to his revolutionary work letters and 
prefaces by popes, cardinals and bishops (or letters and prefaces addressed 


to them), he did this out of respect for the preposterous claims of religion 
to be the teacher of science, out of respect for the power of the church, 
which could simply burn revolutionaries, and out of respect for scientific 
truth, in comparison with which popes, cardinals and bishops were of 
secondary importance. 

With justifiable pride Copernicus replied to Luther and Melanchthon, 
to the inquisitors and Grand Inquisitors, and to all the Protestant and 
Catholic zealots, who answered the axioms of mathematics by quotations 
from the Bible. He anticipated their attacks and called them babblers and 
falsifiers, whose ignorance he despised: "If perhaps there are babblers 
who, although completely ignorant of mathematics, nevertheless take it 
upon themselves to pass judgment on mathematical questions and, im- 
properly distorting some passage of Scripture to their purpose, dare to 
find fault with my system and censure it, I disregard them even to the 
extent of despising their judgment as uninformed." (Liber Revolutionum 

Even a father of the church became absurd when he meddled with 
things astronomical, Copernicus declared, to the Pope, of all people: "For 
it is not unknown that Lactantius, otherwise an illustrious writer, but no 
mathematician, speaks quite childishly about the earth's form, when he 
mocks those who have stated that the earth has the form of a sphere." 
(Liber Revolutionum 7.21-23.) 

But Rosen quotes various passages from De Revolutionibus in which 
Copernicus uses without distinction, the terms: principle, assumption and 
hypothesis, for fundamental axioms : "Furthermore astronomy, that divine 
rather than human science, which inquires into the loftiest things, is not 
free from difficulties. Especially with regard to its principles (principia) 
and assumptions (assumptiones), which the Greek call 'hypotheses' 
(hypotheses) . . ." 

These axioms, in order to be recognized as true, must satisfy two condi- 
tions : 1) apparentias salvare (save the appearances) : "the results deduced 
from them must agree with the observed phenomena within satisfactory 
limits of error." (Rosen): 2) aequalitatem tueri: "They must be con- 
sistent with certain preconceptions, called 'axioms of physics,' such as 
that every celestial motion is circular, every celestial motion is uniform, 
and so forth." 

,His greatest innovation, the motion of the earth (an axiom which 
satisfied both conditions) Copernicus himself called a hypothesis (Book 
of Revolutions, 34, 14-19): "For this reason some thinkers believed that 
the sphere of the fixed stars also moves, and hence they adopted a sur- 
mounting ninth sphere. This ninth sphere having proved insufficient, the 


moderns now add a tenth, and even so do not attain the goal. For we 
shall use the earth's motion as a principle and hypothesis in demonstrating 
the other motions." 

Rosen also quotes statements to the same effect, from the Book of 
Revolutions and the Letter against Werner. Thus Prowe was wrong. 
Copernicus called his ideas hypotheses, and at the same time believed in 
their physical reality. 

Let us conclude with a passage from Johann Gottfried Herder's en- 
thusiastic essay: "Some thoughts on the life of Nicolaus Copernicus": 
"What the lonely Copernicus kept within him so completely and for so 
long, was what we can read in his face: he is objective, calm; he looks 
upon himself without presumption or pretentions, full of strength and 
youthful self-reliance. All this is revealed in the countenance of the noble 
Sarmat. One can see that this man gazes at the world with the deepest 
and most selfless vision. He is capable of committing acts of rashness 
(and his Hypothesis was the rashest act that a mortal, especially a clergy- 
man, could commit in his day), but this does not worry him. He holds 
his hypothesis for himself and for those who want it; the earth is no 
more the centre of his existence than it is the centre of his cosmos." 



To explain the entire structure of the world. 


Give me a sufficiently big lever and a place 
to set it, and I will move the earth. 

Archimedes, upon discovering the laws 
of the lever 

IN 1514, when Copernicus refused the Pope's invitation to reform the 
calendar because he had not yet completed his computations of the mo- 
tions of the sun and the moon, the great astronomer knew better than 
anyone that the fate of his whole theory was at stake. He must create 
a new foundation for his system in better observations, at least as exact 
as those of Ptolemy. 

And so, in 1515, he began his observations of the sun; he wanted to 
determine the elements of the solar orbit (according to the Ptolemaic 
system) or of the earth's orbit (according to the Copernican system). 
From the spring of 1515 to the spring of 1516, he observed the sun's 
altitude in order to determine the declination of the ecliptic and the 
altitude of the equator and the pole, so that he could compute the length 
of the solar orbit. 

The observations of which he made use in his principal work are lost. 
Rheticus reports that he noted down all the observations he knew of, 
his own and others', on loose sheets of paper. 
. In addition to the orbit of the earth, whence he deduced the length 
of the year, he was very much interested in the motion of the moon. He 
wanted to prove that the distance of the moon from the earth varied 
much less than Ptolemy had believed. With the help of a pinewood 
wicket marked with ink and fixed to a post in such a way that it could 
be turned like the leaf of a folding door, Copernicus observed the alti- 
tude of the moon and the star Spika from 1515 to 1525. Later, when 



Tycho de Brahe received this wicket as a gift and examined it, he was 
amazed that Copernicus should have been able to make such exact ob- 
servations with so simple an instrument. From 1509 to 1525, in an effort 
to determine the orbit of the moon, he regularly observed the eclipses 
of that body. He also had an astrolabe made following Ptolemy's specifica- 
tions and used it from 1512 on to determine the positions of the planets and 
the stars. For his principal work, Copernicus determined only the longi- 
tudes of their planets, not their latitudes. 

Together with the Ptolemaic observations, and three observations of 
Mercury he had taken over from the Nuremberg astronomer, Walther, 
his four observations of Saturn, four of Jupiter, four of Mars, and one 
of Venus, constituted the foundation of the Book of Revolutions. Only 
after having completed his observations for this work did he improve 
his methods. After 1537 he used his astrolabe to determine both the 
longitudes and latitudes of the planets, and probably to test the elements 
of his orbits. 

In the whole work sixty-one observations can be found, of which nine 
are of the sun, twenty of the moon, thirty of four planets, and two of the 
Spika. It goes without saying that he must have made many more ob- 
servations than these. 

He observed the course of the moon from 1497 to 1541; that of the 
sun from 1515 to 1516; the precession from 1515 to 1525; Mars and Saturn 
apparently from 1500 to 1538; Jupiter from 1520 to 1529, and Venus from 
1529 to 1537. Despite all his efforts, he did not succeed in observing 
Mercury, presumably because of the Baltic Sea fogs. 
Other great astronomers made a greater number of observations. 
In addition to his experimental basis, Copernicus created his own 
mathematical basis, his trigonometry. Since he alludes to this in his Com- 
mentariolus, he must have begun to use it in about 1510. He published 
this trigonometry in chapters XII to XIV of Book I of his Revolutions. 
Zinner thinks that Copernicus wrote these mathematical chapters (on 
chords, arcs, angles, plane and spherical triangles) at one stretch, probably 
in 1529. Incidentally, Copernicus never used the term sine. As Rheticus 
informed Praetorius, Copernicus abhorred this word. 

His original manuscript, which everywhere shows traces of laborious 
and repeated revisions nowhere reveals as many changes and additions 
as in the chapter on spherical trigonometry. 

In the winter of 1541-1542, during the last months of his stay at 
Wittenberg, Rheticus had these mathematical chapters XIII and XIV 
printed separately, addedca table of sines to them, wrote an introduction 


and dedicated the printed work (Nicolaus Copernicus. De Lateribus et 
Angulis Triangulorum, turn planorum rectilineorum, turn Sphaericorum 
libellus) to the Nuremberg mathematician, Georg Hartmann, vicar of 
St. Sebald's Church and constructor of globes. 

In his preface, Rheticus wrote: "Regiomontanus' treatise (de triangulis 
omnimodis) has recently been published but the famous and learned Dr. 
Nicolaus Copernicus had composed his excellent manual of trigonometry 
long before he knew of Regiomontanus' treatise; he did this when he 
once again revised Ptolemy and scientifically elaborated his own theory 
of the motions of the heavenly bodies." 

For centuries the question was debated whether Copernicus had found 
some of his trigonometric solutions independently of Regiomontanus. 
Priority belongs to the latter. Copernicus saw Regiomontanus' trigonome- 
try (which had been composed in Italy before Copernicus was born, pre- 
served in manuscript by Walther, bought by Pirckheimer, and printed 
after the latter's death by Johannes Schoner as late as 1533, at Johannes 
Petrejus' press in Nuremberg) only in 1539. In that year Rheticus, after 
having met Petrejus through Schoner in Nuremberg, brought Petrejus' 
edition of Regiomontanus' trigonometry along with other recent books to 
Frauenburg, and presented them to his master and host. 

Rheticus is supposed to have collaborated on the mathematical part 
of the Book of Revolutions in Poland; at least so says Lucius Valentine 
Otho, Rheticus' disciple. As a young man, Otho collaborated with Rheticus 
in the writing of his main mathematical work, on which the latter spent 
twenty-five years. Later Otho completed it and published it twenty years 
after Rheticus' death, under the title of Opus palatinum de triangulis; 
but Otho's assertion concerning his master's collaboration with Copernicus 
may be correct only to a very small degree. 

Rheticus, himself a great mathematician, was full of admiration for 
Copernicus' mathematical genius: "The erudition which Copernicus pos- 
sesses in all fields, but especially in astronomy, is so great," he said, "that 
he can be compared to the first masters of antiquity. Verily, verily, we 
can congratulate our century that such a master is living among us! And 
nothing more fortunate could happen to me than to share the intercourse 
and teaching of such a man! And if I can contribute anything of general 
use to the world of learning, it is entirely the merit of such a teacher!" 

Copernicus explains why he wrote his mathematical chapters in his 
introduction to them. In Euclid's Elements, he says, much can be found, 
but not "what is here the principal subject: to wit, how one obtains the 
sides from the angles and the angles from the sides." It is also necessary, 


he goes on, to develop the scattered remarks of Ptolemy, given only as 
illustrations, concerning the sides and angles of plane and spherical tri- 

On the basis of his own observations and his own trigonometry, 
Copernicus could now verify his theory. He did this from 1514 on. In 
the sketch for his main work, which was rediscovered during the nine- 
teenth century and which contains many changes and revisions in Co- 
pernicus' own hand, he summarized his computations and observations 
and reverified them. At the beginning of 1541 he was still engaged in re- 
vising and perfecting his Book of Revolutions, as Rheticus reported to 
Wittenberg (see L. A. Birkenmajer, in his Stromata Copernicana, Cracow, 

Rheticus must have copied this sketch himself and given his copy 
to the Nuremberg printer; in certain details, however, it deviated from 
the sketch in Copernicus' own hand. 

Originally Copernicus had planned to divide his work into eight Books. 
Later, after several cuts, he organized it in seven sections and finally 
limited it to six. The first four books were written first, with the axioms 
and hypotheses, with the mathematical chapters and the investigations of 
the courses of the sun and the moon. These latter were completed in 1525 
at the earliest, for they use observations made from 1515 to 1525. The two 
last books, which treat of the motions of the planets, also include ob- 
servations made as late as 1529, so that they could not have been com- 
pleted before 1530. 

According to Zinner, the sketch of the main work as far as chapter 
XIX of Book V, that is up to the end of the theory of Mars, was written 
at one stretch. But the later chapters not infrequently show traces of hasty 
handwriting which we know was characteristic of Copernicus' last years. 
This part of his investigations must have been copied from loose sheets or 
a rough draft at a later date than the rest. The investigations themselves 
may have been completed by 1533. 

Thus he probably worked on De Revolutionibus from 1515 to 1533; the 
sketch prepared on the basis of the investigations was most likely written 
sometime after 1528. Copernicus wrote this sketch himself and continued 
revising it until 1541. 

In his Commentariolus Copernicus had explained the astronomical 
phenomena by the motions of the earth, but the figures he cited could not 
be checked. However, in order to dethrone the Ptolemaic system, Co- 
pernicus had to supply verifiable figures and new planetary tables for a 
different computation of the astronomical movements. In order to facilitate 
a comparison between the two systems, Copernicus in his Book of Revo- 


lutions imitated the design and structure of the Almagest. Like Ptolemy, 
he placed his hypotheses and mathematical chapters in his first Book. 
In this book his hypotheses are developed in greater detail than in the 

Rheticus admits in the Narratio Prima that Copernicus intentionally 
imitated the outward structure of the Almagest. He says: "My teacher 
has written a work of six books in which, in imitation of Ptolemy, he 
has embraced the whole of astronomy, stating and proving individual 
propositions mathematically and by the geometrical method." 

How curious is this classical or mediaeval attempt to encompass a 
whole science in one work, this desire to embrace at once the whole and 
its essence. It reminds us of the legend of the pagan who promised the 
Jewish teachers in his city to become converted to Judaism if one of the 
sages could tell him the essence of their religion while he himself stood 
on one foot, whereupon one sage impatiently boxed his ears, while an- 
other, the gentle Hillel, said to him: "In these three words you have the 
whole essence of Judaism: Weohavtd lereaho komoho!" (Love your 
neighbor as yourself).— Thus the poor heathen became a Jew, and woe to 
his descendants! 

"The first Book," Rheticus says of the Liber Revolutionum, "contains 
the general description of the universe and the foundation by which he 
undertakes to save the appearances and the observations of all ages. He 
adds as much of the doctrine of sines and plane and spherical triangles 
as he deemed necessary to the work." 

Copernicus begins with a paean to astronomy, the queen of the sciences. 
He mentions the efforts of Ptolemy and the fact that most of the observa- 
tions of ancient scientists were not in accord with his tables. It is particu- 
larly difficult, Copernicus says, to determine the length of the year. 

Then he states his hypotheses; the first three deal with the form of the 
sphere. This is the perfect form and therefore probably the form of all 
the heavenly bodies, of the moon and the sun, and it is even highly prob- 
able that the whole world is round. The universe must behave like the 
drop of water, which when left to itself strives to achieve this form and 
having once attained it, remains in it. 

It is an old prejudice in the dubious science known as aesthetics that 
one form is superior to another. 

Copernicus enumerates the proofs of the roundness of the earth. These 
are really Ptolemy's best proofs: departing ships sink gradually below 
the horizon, etc. From the roundness of the earth he proceeds to its 

Chapter IV deals with the motions in the firmament, all of them cir- 


cular motions, of course; only circular motion can lead to repetition. 
And, more generally, everything in nature is arranged in the best order. 
That is why there is no inconstancy in the nature of the mover and no 
unevenness in the moved body. The irregularities are only apparent, re- 
sulting from the position of the earth. 

In Chapter V Copernicus inquires whether the earth moves and where 
it is. It is believed, he says, that the earth rests in the center of the 
universe and it is even deemed ridiculous to believe the opposite. But if the 
matter is considered carefully one realizes soon that it is far from settled. 
Just reflect upon what we base our judgment as to whether something is 
moving or not. "For every apparent change of position is due, either to a 
motion of the object observed, or to the motion of the observer, or to 
unequal changes in the positions of both. ... If, then a certain motion 
be assigned to the Earth, it will appear as a similar but oppositely 
directed motion affecting all things exterior to the Earth, as we were 
passing them by." (De Revol. I, 5.) 

We see the heavens in a motion which carries everything along with 
it, except the earth and what is around it, and "if you will allow that the 
heavens have no part in this motion, but that the earth turns from west 
to east, then, so far as pertains to the apparent raising and setting of the 
sun, moon, and stars, you will find, if you think carefully, that these 
things occur in this way." (De Revol. I, 5.) 

Various ancients believed that the earth moves. Heraclides, Ekphantos 
and Hicetas, Copernicus points out, explained the daily revolution of 
the hours by the rotation of the earth; and he, too, explains it this way. 

And the earth is not in the center of the world; this is proved by the 
varying distances of the planets from it; thus the centre of the earth 
cannot be the centre of the planetary orbits. Even in ancient times 
Philolaus, a Pythagorean, had taught that the earth had a multiple 
motion and that it was one of the planets. Or, as Copernicus puts it, 
(De Revol. I, 5) : "If someone states that the Earth does not occupy the 
centre of the Universe, but nevertheless does not admit that its displace- 
ment is so great as to be comparable with the sphere of fixed stars, though 
appreciable and obvious in comparison with the spheres of the Sun and 
of the other planets; if then he supposes that the motion of those planets 
will therefore appear non-uniform, being referred to a centre other than 
the centre of the Earth, he will perchance be able to offer a not unfitting 
explanation of this non-uniform apparent motion." That not only the 
diameter of our terrestrial globe, but also the distance of the earth from 
the centre of the universe is an imperceptible point, a mere nothing, in 
comparison with the distances of the fixed stars, is clearly revealed by the 


fact that the horizon always exactly halves the zodiac, wherever the earth 
may be. "If the initial point of Cancer lies in the eastern horizon, that of 
Capricorn lies exactly in the western, and inversely, when the latter is in 
the eastern horizon, the former lies in the western. Thus the horizon is a 
plane which always appears to pass through the centre, at whatever time 
it is placed through the earth, which does not stand in that centre." - 

Lichtenberg makes the following remarks on this passage: "I need 
not . . . prove in detail that this is one of the greatest and boldest ideas 
ever ventured by man, but one which could be expected of the man who 
in the first lines of his book evoked a drop of water in discussing the 
roundness of the sun and even of the universe." 

Thus, in Chapter IV, Copernicus proves that the heavens are infinitely 
great in relation to the earth. And because of this grotesque disproportion 
it is unbelievable that the infinitely great heavens should revolve around 
the infinitely small earth. 

"Nihil aliud habet ilia demonstratio," Copernicus concluded his Chap- 
ter VI, "quam indefinitam coeli ad terram magnitudinem. Ad quousque 
se extendat haec immensitas minime constat." (What follows from this 
demonstration is that the heavens are infinite in relation to the earth. The 
extent of this immensity we do not know at all.) "It does not follow," he 
goes on, "that the earth is in the centre, indeed it would be rather aston- 
ishing if the immense sphere of the stars revolved around this little point 
in twenty-four hours, rather than this litde point around itself." 

Chapters VII and VIII contain Copernicus' polemics against Aristotle's 
and Ptolemy's reasons for believing that the earth is in the centre of the 

"The ancients," Copernicus says, "therefor.e found other proofs that 
the earth was motionless. They said that if the earth rotated around its 
own axis nothing could fall or rise in a straight line. All the clouds, 
Ptolemy thought, would move from the east to the west, and the earth 
itself would necessarily be dispersed by this rapid rotation." 

Copernicus answers this argument as follows: "I consider gravity as 
nothing but a natural striving with which the Creator has endowed the 
parts in order that they may combine into one whole while they collect 
into a sphere. The same is probably true of the sun, the moon and the 
other planets, and yet they are not fixed. 

"As for falling and rising bodies, it is clear that their motion is com- 
posed of the straight and circular motions. As parts of the earth they do 
not lose the motion common to the whole, but preserve it in every other 
motion. Only this common motion, for the very reason that it is common, 
appears as immobility. The clouds do not move from the east to the 


west like the stars, because the lower atmosphere in which they are 
suspended is part of the earth and consequently rotates with it, either 
because the air is mixed with watery or earthy parts endowed with this 
motion or because the earth communicates this motion to it. As for the 
dispersion of the earth because of the rapidity of its rotation, the eventu- 
ality which Ptolemy fears, one should rather fear it with regard to his 
sphere of the stars because of the immense rapidity with which this 
sphere would have to rotate." 

Moreover, only circular motions can exist in the universe; straight- 
line motions are a disease of nature. 

Chapter IX deals with gravity and the motions of the earth, and shows 
that the earth cannot be the centre of the circular motions of the planets. 
The centre of the world is rather the sun. 

In Chapter X Copernicus explains the new arrangement of the heavenly 
bodies. All the difficulties inherent in the Ptolemaic system are removed 
if one accepts the doctrine of Martianus Capella according to which 
Mercury and Venus revolved around the sun, with Mercury running in 
a smaller circle than Venus. If it is further admitted that Saturn, Jupiter 
and Mars also revolve around the sun as their centre, it can be easily 
understood why these planets seem further away from us when they rise 
with the sun than when they rise while the sun is setting. When he 
thinks, Copernicus says, of the great space that exists between the convex 
side of the Venus orbit and the concave side of the orbit of Mars, he is not 
ashamed "to place the orbit of the earth with her companion in this space, 
and to set the motionless sun, centre of the planets, at the centre of the 
whole, although the apparent positions of the fixed stars are not changed 
by the motion of the earth in its orbit." 

(Incidentally, the Jesuit Riccioli censures this passage most sharply; it 
begins with the words: perinde non pudet nos fateri — therefore we are 
not ashamed to say; Riccioli notes that previously Copernicus said only 
that the revolution of the earth around the sun was perhaps not an un- 
suitable means of explaining the phenomena, but that in this passage he 
puts all shame aside and actually introduces his idea as something real in 
the system of the world.) 

About the position of the sun and the orbits of the planets within the 
motionless firmament, Copernicus says: "But in the centre of everything 
rules the sun; for who in this most beautiful temple could place this 
luminary at another or better place whence it can illumine the whole 
all at once? Therefore some not unfittingly named it the luminary of the 
world, others its soul, and still others its guide. Trismegistus names it the 
visible god, Sophocles' Electra 'the all-seeing one.' In fact, the sun sitting 


on his royal throne guides the family of stars surrounding him. And the 
earth is by no means deprived of the services of the moon; on the con- 
trary, as Aristotle says in his book on living creatures : the moon has the 
greatest kinship with the earth. Nevertheless, the earth conceives by the 
sun and through him becomes pregnant with annual fruits. In this ar- 
rangement we thus find an admirable harmony of the world and a con- 
stant harmonious connection between the motion and the size of the 
orbits such as could not be found otherwise." 

Against the objection that the annual revolution of the earth would 
have to manifest itself through the stars, Copernicus points to the in- 
finite distances of the stars, which are much further away from us than 
Saturn, as is proved by their twinkling, whereby they are distinguished 
from the planets. The distance of the earth from the sun is imperceptible 
in comparison with its distance from the stars. 

Chapter XI deals with the three motions of the earth: its rotation 
around its axis, its course in the zodiac, and the ominous third motion, 
whereby the axis of the earth retains a slanting position. Then follow the 
trigonometrical chapters. 

Lichtenberg comments: "Copernicus now proceeds with the sure and 
resolute step of a genius, always going in a straight line toward the 
truth, unmindful of the powerful voices that call to him from all sides: 
You err. And thus the great mystery which remained impenetrable to 
the diligent searching of thousands was revealed to him. 

"Every one of his steps is in the path of the inventor; where the ancients 
guessed that it might be so, he says: it must be so. The suppositions 
of the ancients therefore do not diminish in any way Copernicus' inventive 
genius; on the contrary only through his work can they claim the honor 
of having at least spoken of a new world that he discovered. 

"How symmetrical and orderly is the edifice of the world according to 
his plan! . . . How simple everything is here, how easily all the diffi- 
culties are removed! 

"Copernicus ascribed three different motions to the earth: a daily one 
around its axis, an annual one around the sun, and finally a third one, 
by virtue of which the earth makes one annual revolution around the 
poles of the ecliptic in a direction opposite to the order of the heavenly 
signs, a second annual motion through which he explains the change 
of the seasons. 

"The first of these motions was known by Nicetas of Syracuse; the 
second by Aristarchus of Samos, and, as Copernicus thought, by Philolaus; 
but the third is entirely his own. Although modern astronomy does not 
recognize this third motion, since it explains the same phenomenon 


more simply than Copernicus did, it cannot be denied that the great 
perspicacity of the man appears most sharply in his manner of treating 
this problem. 

"Its solution perhaps cost him more effort than any other part of his 
immortal work. He is also the first to have raised the problem." 

How does Copernicus imagine the motions of the planets? He gave no 
precise indications of them, and his terms varied. According to Zinner, 
he thought that the stars were fixed to the firmament and that the earth 
and the other planets moved with their orbs (orbes) whose centre was 
at the edge of another orb and was drawn around the sun with it. In the 
course of his investigations Copernicus was led to affirm the existence of 
various composite motions, for instance, the so-called librations by which 
the poles of the earth perform two alternate pendulum-like motions. He 
shows that rectilinear motions can be represented by two opposite cir- 
cular motions, but he remarks in a note which he later deleted that if 
the circles are different the result is not a rectilinear, but an elliptical 

Book II of De Revolutionibus is devoted to spherical astronomy and 
the description of the armillary sphere. It contains a catalogue of stars, 
which reproduces Ptolemy's catalogue with a few errors corrected. 

Book III contains the important investigation of the length of the year 
and the orbit of the earth. Its second part is devoted to the explanation 
of the Tables computed in such a way that it is immaterial whether the 
earth or the sun is considered in motion. It still remains in doubt whether 
the centre of the universe is situated outside or within the sun. Copernicus 
writes here: "We shall have to say more about this question in the ex- 
position of the five planets, which we intend to carry out to the best of our 

Book IV deals with the motion of the moon and its eclipses. Copernicus' 
theory of the moon is particularly important for his whole doctrine; 
through it he could prove that his theory of the planets eliminated the 
drawbacks of the Ptolemaic system, according to which the moon at 
its apogee or perigee, during the first or last quarter, would occasionally 
have to show a diameter twice as large as during the full moon; Langen- 
stein and Julmann had already pointed this out, and Regiomontanus and 
Peurbach criticized it in their Epitome. 

Copernicus' theory of the moon was much simpler than Ptolemy's. 
After investigating its course he investigated the motions of the planets. 
Here, too, his task was to replace the Ptolemaic circles and to demonstrate 
the advantages to be derived from ascribing motion to the earth. 

In Books V and VI he describes the planetary motions. As Zinner 


remarks, Ptolemy in his theory of them created a miracle; like a magician 
he conjured up a woof of floating orbits for each planet, so ingenious and 
beautiful that the reader loses his sense of reality and only upon second 
reading notices that this exquisite construction has been built up without 
benefit of observations. 

Copernicus did not start from observations, either, but limited him- 
self to finding out to what extent the motion of the earth modified the 
Ptolemaic data. 

Copernicus concludes his books with the exposition of the motions in 
terms of latitudes. He worked on this from 1515 to the end of 1532, a 
period of more than seventeen years. Including the preliminary studies 
for the Commentariolus, he spent more than twenty years on this work. 
Compared to the Commentariolus, the main work shows great steps for- 
ward: instead of the inexact data about the motions of the earth and the 
moon, exact values for these motions are indicated, and in order to make 
future computations possible, the initial angles for four determined periods 
are cited: noon of the First Hecatomb of the First Olympiad, noon 
of the First Thot of the first year after Alexander's death, midnight 
of January 1 of the first year of Caesar and midnight of January 1 of 
1 AX). The zero meridian is that of Cracow and Frauenburg. The dis- 
tances and, later, also the apparent diameters of the sun and the moon, 
were measured anew, and thus a foundation was created for the new 
cosmic system. In his planetary theory, too, Copernicus achieved great 
progress by referring not to the Alfonsine Tables, but direcdy to the 
Ptolemaic observations, thus giving his computations a sounder basis. 

The main work does not conclude with a summary of the results ob- 
tained, although a work as difficult as this really needs a summary. When 
Copernicus treated the question of the earth's motion, he promised to 
discuss whether the sun was situated in the centre of the universe or 
outside it, and he referred to this matter when dealing with the motion 
of Mars. According to his indications, the sun is three sun diameters 
distant from the centre of the earth's orbit, to which he referred the mo- 
tions of the planets. All the centres of the planetary orbits are placed 
outside the body of the sun, the centre of the orbit of Saturn is even out- 
side the orbit of Venus, and the centre of the orbit of Jupiter is very 
close to the orbit of Mercury. As a result the sun could not be regarded 
as the centre of the world (then the world of the planets). 

This, Ernst Zinner thinks, might be considered by Copernicus a serious 
argument against his own system. True, he recognized the peculiarities 
of circular motion and used them for the exposition of planetary motions 
better than his predecessors; moreover, by introducing the motion of the 


earth he greatly simplified planetary theory and gave a very simple ex- 
planation of the apparent pauses and retrograde motions of the planets. 
But could his system stand the test of criticism? 

And Zinner proceeds to ask: "Did not Copernicus try in vain to adapt 
the Nuremberg Mercury observations to his theory and was he not in 
the end compelled to content himself with an expedient? And how 
about the rotation of the centre of the earth's orbit on the little circle 
near the sun? Were his observations so exact that they confirmed the 
modification of the distances of the centres of the other planetary orbits 
caused by this rotation? 

"Had not his theory moved away a great deal from the convincing 
simplicity which it seemed to have in his eyes, when he joyfully wrote 
his preliminary report and referred to the thirty-four circles which he 
thought sufficient to represent the celestial phenomena? What had hap- 
pened to that idea? Eight motions were imposed upon the earth alone, and 
new motions had to be introduced for the other planets in order to ac- 
count for the phenomena. Were these motions real and necessary, or only 
the consequence of inadequate observations? 
" "And had not Copernicus become disloyal to his fundamental assump- 
tion? Had he not compared the rectilinear motion of a heavenly body to 
a disease, and yet ascribed such a motion to Mercury? Had he not removed 
the earth from the centre of the universe on the ground that it was not 
situated in the centre of the planetary orbits? But is the sun in the centre 
of these orbits? 

"Such and like thoughts may well have tormented him. What was 
needed? To make new observations and perfect his system." 

And so Copernicus again observed the heavens. He began his new 
observations in 1530. He wanted to perfect his methods. The best way 
to prove his theory would be through observations, with the help of year- 
books of planetary motions based on his planetary tables. 

Zinner thinks that Copernicus computed such yearbooks for the years 
after 1533; for Bernhard Wapowski, the Cracow canon to whom the 
pamphlet against the Nuremberg astronomer Werner was addressed, came 
to see Copernicus in Ermland in the fall of 1535, found him engaged in 
the computation of a yearbook and asked him for a copy of it for a pub- 
lication. From Wapowski's letter of October 15, 1535, to Sigismund von 
Herberstein it appears that Copernicus had not yet completed the entries 
concerning the aspects. According to Wapowski the data in this yearbook 
were based on the tables of Copernicus who assured Wapowski that for 
many years he had held the view that the planets could be correctly 
represented only if motion were ascribed to the earth and that the earth 



really moved, even though one could not see it do so. Wapowski wanted 
Herberstein to see to it that this copy was made known to the German 
astronomers who were computing yearbooks; thus they would become 
aware of the errors in their planetary tables and correct them. 

Copernicus' yearbooks were to be printed in Vienna for the general 
use of European astronomers, for no one could predict the weather nor 
other periodic phenomena without knowing the correct motions and po- 
sitions of the planets. Publication was desired by Wapowski, Copernicus 
and others only so that the new data might be more widely used. Wapow- 
ski was to transmit this letter with the copy of the yearbook to the Polish 
ambassador in Vienna, who in turn was to transmit them to Herberstein. 

Apparently the yearbook was not published. Wapowski died on .No- 
vember 21, 1535. The announcement of the existence of the yearbook 
seems not to have borne fruit. In fact, Copernicus was always an un- 
successful author during his lifetime, even though he was a famous 

The great man diligently continued his observations. He observed 
Mars and Venus and the eclipses. Moreover, he improved his draft of 
De Revolutionibus. 

According to Zinner, this draft reveals "all the marks of rapid work. 
Haste is manifested in the written characters, in the constant changes 
of the forms 6f individual figures and letters; on the same page two dif- 
ferent forms of 2 and 3, of d and g, and even three different forms of the 
number 5 can be found; likewise, the titles of the chapters change 
constantly; for instance, the title 'How to find the initial angle' is 
formulated differently for each planet." 

Zinner also notes defects of structure and above all errors in compu- 
tation, the latter resulting from Copernicus' slight practice in calculation; 
there are also errors in copying, mistakes in the quotations from older 
authors, and omissions of an angle or a sentence. 

For instance, Copernicus attributed the observation of a sun-spot to 
Averrhoes; and poor Maestlin in vain went through Averrhoes looking for 
the reference. The sun-spot was observed by Aven Rodan, as Pico della 
Mirandola reports. Copernicus may have read Averrhoes instead of Aven 
Rodan in Pico della Mirandola. 

From 1533 on, Copernicus tried to complete the draft of De Revolu- 
tionibus. He reduced the number of his Books from eight to six and 
crossed out the apocryphal letter of Lysis to Hipparchus and his men- 
tion of Aristarchus as one of the believers in the motion of the earth. 
Furthermore, he crossed out the computation of the inclination of the 
ecliptic made by his teacher Novara. He amended his observations of 


Saturn and included the results of his new observations of Venus, etc. 
He also supplemented the mathematical part. His very numerous notes 
and corrections are the evidence of his hard work. 

Unfortunately, he did not succeed in perfecting his draft as much as he 
desired. Zinner also mentions a few instances of erroneous corrections, as 
when the great astronomer replaced "Machometus" by "Albategnius," and 
errors in certain observations. 

Copernicus could not correct most of these defects; it appears that he 
never again thoroughly revised his work, particularly because of his ever 
stronger doubts concerning the data of Ptolemy and other ancient authors. 
In his pamphlet against Werner he still condemned the latter's doubts in 
the sharpest terms. In his draft he still took the exactitude of Ptolemy's 
observations for granted, rejecting only his deductions and his general 
theory. He even used Ptolemy's deductions of planetary motions and 

Only later did Copernicus grow distrustful of these. He remarked that 
the ancients adapted their observations to their planetary theories, for 
which reason it required particular care to separate the objective ob- 
servations from the biased and distorted ones. This was later quoted by 

This discovery must have been one of the severest disappointments 
in Copernicus' life. For his theory and his planetary tables were based on 
the observations of the ancients. His own observations sufficed only for 
the representation of the motions of the earth and of Mars. Thus the 
foundations of his cosmos began to totter. 

Now he had to begin from the beginning again, and make new obser- 
vations of the planets, in order to improve the tables for modern use. This 
is why he did more and more observing from 1537 on. 

He might have completed his investigations, if the zealots had not finally 
declared war upon him, the war of Bishop Dantiscus against the alleged 
vices of Canon Copernicus. 


Before you say a word turn it over in your 
mouth nine times. 


In that passage of his Introduction to Three Copernican Treatises, en- 
titled The Doctrine of the Spheres (Columbia University Press, 1939) 


Edward Rosen deals with the question: what did Copernicus actually 
mean by the terms orbis, planeta, sidus, sidus errans, stella errans and 

Eudoxus, the ancient astronomer (fourth century B.C.), invented the 
imaginary spheres for the apparent planetary orbits: each planet was situ- 
ated like a spot or point on the surface of the invisible sphere. The planets 
were not supposed to have motions of their own, but only to share in the 
motion of the sphere. Because of the complexity of their motions the 
planets were given several spheres each. Kepler did away with all this by 
showing that the planetary orbits were elliptical. 

Copernicus filled his whole Book of Revolutions with these spheres 
(orbes). There had been an old discussion as to whether these spheres 
were imaginary or real, whether they were an auxiliary mathematical 
construction and a geometrical hypothesis or whether they had a physical 
existence in space. Were they a part of the cosmic theatrical machinery, a 
real piece of the machine which hurled our planets around in space? 

Pierre Duhem, in he Systeme du Monde (Paris, 1913-17), tells of this 
stupendous controversy. Rosen quotes the following interesting passage 
from Tycho de Brahe: "But there really are not any spheres in the 
heavens . . . and those which have been devised by the authors to save 
the appearances exist only in the imagination, for the purpose of per- 
mitting the mind to conceive the motion which the heavenly bodies trace 
in their course and, by the aid of geometry, to determine the motion 
numerically through the use of arithmetic ... Of course, almost the 
whole of antiquity and also very many recent philosophers consider as 
certain and unquestionable the view that the heavens are made of a hard 
and impenetrable substance, that it is divided into various spheres, and 
that the heavenly bodies, attached to some of these spheres, revolve on 
account of the motion of these spheres. But this opinion does not cor- 
respond to the truth of the matter . . ." 

Copernicus uses the term orbes (spheres) as though he thought that 
the planets were fixed, sometimes to a three-dimensional sphere, but more 
frequently to a two-dimensional great circle of the sphere. For an 
astronomical theory, unlike an astrophysical or cosmological theory, it 
was immaterial whether the planets were fixed to a sphere or to its great 

This inexactitude in Copernicus' terminology, together with his shift- 
ing from sphere to circle and back again, has caused many difficulties. 
"Although Copernicus wrenched astronomy loose from its geocentric 
past," says Edward Rosen, "his sentences abound in language, that pre- 
supposes the earth to be in the center of the universe. The revolution in 


ideas did not at once precipitate a complete transformation of the termi- 

Rosen concludes that Copernicus uses the term orbis for "circle" when 
he discusses details of his planetary theory; but when he speaks more 
generally about the structure of the universe or the principles of astron- 
omy, he uses the term orbis for "sphere." 

The title of his main work, as it appears in the first edition at Nurem- 
berg, and in later editions, De Revolutionibus Orbium Caelestium, means 
"Concerning the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres," not "Planets." 

To denote planets Copernicus, in the Book of Revolutions (liber revolu- 
tionum) uses the terms planeta, sidus, corpus, sidus vagans, sidus errans, 
Stella, Stella soluta, Stella errans, errans, globus. 








Nature conceals God — but not from every 

goethe, Maxims and Reflections 

AT THE age of twenty-seven Copernicus took walks in Rome and 
, delighted in observing the eclipses of the moon. Fourteen years later, 
| when the Curia invited him to return and help reform the Christian 
J calendar he sulkily refused. A few years earlier the pope had summoned 
I the great Miiller to Rome for the same purpose. Miiller had gone there 
j and died. — 

At the end of the thirteenth century Roger Bacon, the monk who was 
i so thirsty for knowledge, had felt the urge to reform the calendar. If 
something were not done soon, he used to lament, people would eat meat 
on all the fast days, instead of fasting for the glory of God. 

In the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the popes attempted 
to reform the church, and the calendar, but without success. 

As early as 1513 the learned Paul von Middelburg, a canon in Holland, 

who became court astronomer to the Duke of Urbino and finally Bishop 

; of Fossembrone, wrote an extensive work entitled "Paulina, etc.," in 

which he took up this question. He asked Julius II and later Leo X to 

■ comment upon his work at the Lateran Council. 

On July 21, 1514, Leo X wrote long letters to the Emperor and many 
of the kings asking them to send their theologians and astronomers to 
Rome or to get their expert opinions and those of their university faculties. 
He also sent invitations directly to certain well-known theologians, pro- 
fessors and astronomers, to the good Dr. Poll, the Emperor's physician 
in ordinary, to a Carthusian monk, the author of Margarita Philosophica, 


194 l'uomo universale 

to a now forgotten fashionable philosopher named Gregor Reisch, and 
finally to the Ermland canon and astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus. The 
upright bishop Paul von Middelburg urged him to go. Bernhard Sculteti, 
Copernicus' colleague from Ermland, who was a member of the Rome 
calendar committee and a chamberlain of Leo X's, wrote Copernicus a 
courteous invitation. 

Many learned men did come to Rome; expert opinions were sent there, 
too, for instance, from the universities of Tubingen and Cracow. The 
calendar committee under the chairmanship of the worthy bishop of 
Fossembrone, drew up thirteen theses, which were submitted to the uni- 
versities, with a request that they deliberate upon them and then send 
their comments to Rome in order that the calendar committee might con- 
sider them. The second expert opinions were duly sent, but they arrived 
too late. No reform took place. 

In 1516, Paul von Middelburg reported on this matter in his "Second 
Compendium of the Calendar Reform." In it he gave a roll call of all 
those who agreed with him, among them Dr. Poll and Reich and Stoeffler 
(Melanchthon's teacher), and Copernicus. 

We do not know what Copernicus answered to Paul von Middelburg's 

Only in 1543 did he explain, in his preface to his Book of Revolutions, 
why nearly thirty years earlier he had thought it necessary to reject such a 
flattering invitation. 

The calendar could be reformed, he said, only if the courses of the sun 
and moon were determined with the greatest possible exactitude. In 1514 
he did not feel that he possessed su«h exact knowledge, and that was why 
he had been unable to give any advice on the matter. And he could not 
send his preliminary works to Rome for these were not yet completed. 
But, of course, since then he had devoted' all his efforts to this problem 
which was indeed of vital importance for the church. ' 

And the Lateran Council, Copernicus went on to say, did not reform 
the calendar because they realized that the length of the year and the 
months and the courses of the sun and the moon had not yet been deter- 
mined with sufficient accuracy. And now, he, Copernicus, had made the 
necessary exact observations, in accordance with the exhortations of the 
most excellent Bishop of Fossembrone, Paul von Middelburg, who at 
that time was in charge of the reform of the calendar. 

Only twenty-nine years after the Lateran Council did Copernicus pub- 
lish the results of his computations of the length of the tropical year, 
in his Book of Revolutions. These results and the "Prussian Tables" 
drawn up by Erasmus Reinhold on the basis of Copernicus' observations 


and computations, were later used in the Gregorian reform of the calendar. 
(Gregory's rule for interpolations corresponds to Copernicus' rule.) 

The calendar we use today is the reformed Julian calendar, introduced 
in 1582 under Pope Gregory XIII. Because of the faulty arrangement of 
the old Roman calendar, the priests of ancient Rome had once celebrated 
the spring festivals in the summer; then the bald-headed Julius Caesar 
who had already turned half Rome upside down, commissioned Sosigenes 
to reform the calendar also; thus was our time-computation introduced, 
with years of 365 days and leap years of 366 days. Rome also gave our 
months their names, lengths and order of succession; and because of the. 
vanity of another Caesar, Augustus, whom Horace so generously praised, 
we still suffer today from an irritating irregularity in the alternation of 
thirty-one-day and thirty-day months; for Augustus refused to permit 
the month named after him to be shorter than the one named after 

But the Julian year is 365*4 days long— longer by eleven minutes 
than the astronomical year; that is why from 325 A.D. when the Council 
of Nicaea fixed the date of the Easter holiday, until the time of Pope 
Gregory, the year was displaced by ten days. 

By a papal brief which was like a piece of astronomical sleight-of-hand, 
Pope Gregory made these superfluous ten days vanish. 

On October 4, 1582, all good Christians went to bed as usual, alone or 
with their wives; the following morning they got up and it was October 
15, 1582. 

Since 1900, the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars 
has been thirteen days. 

In 1752, Great Britain, by an Act of Parliament, adopted the Gregorian 
calendar for herself and her American colonies. 

A few famous fools: Savonarola, Robespierre and Mussolini, by intro- 
ducing a new calendar tried to convince the world that they had initiated 
a new era. In Florence, this attempt ended in the execution of the dicta- 
tor; in Paris in the coronation of a new dictator (on January 1, 1806, to 
be exact); in Rome it ended even before the liquidation of the over- 
thrown dictator. 




A reprimand, it is true, is rarely useful. 


The improvement of the world follows a 
very slow course. 


ON FEBRUARY 11, 1524, the men of that day believed the world would 
come to an end, after a gigantic flood had covered all the earth. This was 
because of the so-called great conjunction of the planets; a famous 
mathematician had computed the date under the sign of the Fishes, and 
the Fishes had a frightful reputation with the astrologers. 

Stoeffler of Tuebingen, the teacher of "the teacher of Germany," 
Melanchthon, had prophesied this junction of the planets as well as the 
deluge and the end of the world in his astrological almanac and thus put 
all Europe in a state of terror and fearful expectation. 

In many places shrewd people got busy building arks. Some drunkards 
remarked cunningly that old Father Noah was a drinker of wine, and 
drew the wine of hope from this coincidence. Gluttons hauled great 
baskets of foodstuffs up to the mountain tops so that they could enjoy 
their meals there for a few additional days. Rich blockheads who could 
afford to, consulted theologians, astrologers, philosophers and astronomers; 
the university faculties flourished. One philosopher was able to buy a 
vineyard on the Moselle out of the fees he earned by predicting the end 
of the world. The Grand Chancellor of an all-powerful young man named 
Charles (the Fifth in his family of that name) implored him to accompany 
his humble servant to a mountain peak at least for the first world-end 
season; perhaps, he argued, the Emperor and Chancellor would get 



, away with a mere cold in the head. Charles, who at that time was still 
lightheaded, refused; young people are always afraid of ridicule; only 
in old age did he realize that absolutely nothing can make the mighty 

Naturally numerous writings appeared for and against Stoeffler. The 
learned bishop of Fossembrone himself wrote a whole pamphlet against 
the false prophet Stoeffler (although the latter had been on Paul's side 
at the time of the Lateran Council). Paul prophesied that there would 
not be too much water, and that the world would not end. There would 
not even be any small partial floods. The only flood was in Stoeffler's head. 

Thus almost every astronomer expressed his opinion on the end of 
the world, just as they had all had their say on the question of the 
reform of the calendar. 

But what about Copernicus? He seems to have kept completely silent 
concerning the end of the world. 

And one hundred years later, the insolent Gassendi related with 
malicious pleasure that the month of February, 1524, as though to mock 
the astrologers and particularly Stoeffler, was the brightest and sunniest 
February in many decades. 

Instead of writing about the end of the world, Copernicus in that 
very year of 1524 wrote a pamphlet against a Nuremberger who had 
expressed doubts as to the exactitude of the observations made by the 
ancients. This was Johannes Werner, who for the space of thirty years 
was a vicar in his native city, a friend of Pirckheimer, Walther and 
Schoner. An accountant from Vienna was his patron and published his 
collected geographical and astronomical-mathematical writings in two 
volumes. (This accountant was called Lukas Atlantsee; let no name of a 
patron be passed in silence!) 

In a work entitled De Motu Octavae Sphaerae (On the Motion of the 
Eighth Sphere), vicar Werner tried to support the doctrine of trepida- 
tion advanced by the Arab astronomers. Werner published this work and 
others in the second volume of his collection in 1522, and died at Easter 
of the same year. 

Canon Bernhard Wapowski (Vapovius), Copernicus' fellow-student at 
Cracow and one of his astronomical correspondents, who was a secretary 
of the King, a chamberlain of the Pope and the author of a history of 
Poland, sent Copernicus this much-praised treatise by Werner on the 
motion of the eighth sphere, in other words, on the precession, and 
asked for his opinion of it. 

Copernicus answered in an open letter to Wapowski written from 
Frauenburg and dated June 3, 1524. At that time such epistles were 

198 l'uomo universale 

circulated in handwriting among learned friends, taking the place of the 
scientific periodicals of today. The original letter is lost, but copies of 
it have been found in the libraries of Upsala, Berlin, Oxford, Paris and 

Copernicus praises only the zeal of the Nuremberg vicar, and he does 
this in a most ambiguous fashion by recalling Aristotle's saying that 
gratitude is owed not only to all the scientists who have done their work 
well, but also to those who tried to follow the right path but missed it. 

Copernicus continues in the following words: "A reprimand, it is 
true, is rarely useful; it is a sign of presumption when, instead of doing 
something oneself, one chooses to admonish others. Therefore I, too, fear 
that I will be reproached because I know how to reprimand others, but 
am unable to produce better work than they. . . . On the other hand I 
consider that there is a great difference between attacking someone in an 
injurious manner, and leading back a mistaken person to the right path, 
even though with sharp words. . . . And in order to avoid the appearance 
of desiring lightheartedly to reprove someone, I will try to show in 
detail wherein Werner has erred and that his theory of the motion 
of the firmament cannot be accepted despite the fact that it may con- 
tribute in some measure to the discovery of the truth." 

Copernicus reproaches the vicar with making errors of computation, 
errors of principle and errors of method. In computing the interval of 
time between the observations of Timocharis and Ptolemy Werner made 
an error of eleven years. (Werner computed the date of an ancient ob- 
servation of Regulus to be February 2, 150 A.D., Copernicus found this 
date to be February 22, 139 A.D.; according to Manitius, the date was 
February 23, 139 A.D., and according to Siegmund Gunther, a professor 
at Ansbach, September 25, 138 A.D.). Furthermore, Werner had spoken 
of a uniform motion of the firmament in the four hundred years between 
Timocharis and Ptolemy. But Werner's own figures proved that the 
motion had become gradually accelerated. Finally Werner had ques- 
tioned the precision of Timocharis' observations, in obvious contradic- 
tion to the data given in the Almagest. 

Copernicus violently attacked the Nuremberg vicar for accusing the 
great and respected astronomers of antiquity, especially Ptolemy, for 
having made unreliable observations and cited unreliable data. Werner, 
says Copernicus, accuses the ancients of very serious errors yet Ptolemy 
was the most careful of observers. This constitutes a betrayal of the 
sacred cause. Copernicus mentions this twice: "We must closely follow 
their procedure and bow to their observations which have been handed 
down to us like a testament. And if anyone imagines that these observa- 


tions cannot be fully trusted, at least in this respect the entrance to our 
science is closed to him; lying before the gate he will, like a sick man, 
dream dreams of the motion of the eighth sphere, since he believes that 
by slandering the ancients he is bolstering up his own fantasies. It is 
irrefutably certain that the ancients made their observations with the 
greatest care and with painstaking zeal and that these observations have 
given us many magnificent and admirable discoveries. Therefore I can 
by no means be convinced that in indicating the positions of the stars 
they made errors of J4 or 1/5 or 1/6 of a degree,' as this author thinks." 
And: "this is why it is less credible that they /the ancient astronomers/ 
or Ptolemy erred so much, when they were able to observe exactly many 
other things and more difficult things to the hair." 

What tragic zeal and foolish orthodoxy this reveals. Compare this 
homily to the admission made by Copernicus to Rheticus in his later 
years that the ancient astronomers all too often adapted their data to 
their theories! 

How violent must have been Copernicus' disillusion after such credu- 
lous enthusiasm! 

And how curious that, after all, the Nuremberg vicar was right, and 
not the greatest astronomer of our era. It can be seen from this that it is 
not fitting for a little man to be right; it does not get him anywhere, he 
cannot do anything with it. 

Copernicus did not pull his punches; he called Werner unintelligent, 
inept, and in one passage, ineptior, that is, more unintelligent than 
usual, and he even said that Werner suffered from childish hallucinations 
(ubi nimis pueriliter hallucinatur) . And when vicar Werner deduced 
that the observations of the ancients were erroneous, it struck Copernicus 
almost as though someone had said that the road from Athens to Thebes 
was not as long as that from Thebes to Athens. "And so he puts the 
burden of his own errors of computation upon the ancient astronomers, 
that is, upon Timocharis, while he simply lets Ptolemy pass. . . . But if he 
wants completely to discredit the discoveries of the early astronomers, 
how can he ask that we give any credit to his own observations?" 

At the conclusion of this "panning," Copernicus said that it might 
be justly asked what his own views were on the motion of the firmament. 
He refused to expound it here in this pamphlet. "As I intend to do it 
elsewhere, I consider it superfluous and inappropriate to dwell any longer 
on this subject, especially since I have fulfilled your request [Wapowski's] 
that I give you my opinion concerning this work." 

Copernicus gives his views on the complicated problem which pre- 
occupied the vicar at the beginning of his Book III of De Revolutionibus. 

200 l'uomo universale 

The third motion he ascribes to the earth, the "libration," is in agree- 
ment with the basic thesis of the trepidation theory. But the Ansbach 
professor, Siegmund Gunther, thinks that Copernicus gave this fluctua- 
tion of the ecliptic a deeper significance and that in his polemics against 
Werner's hypothesis he understood the doctrine of trepidation in its full 
geometrical purity and cleansed it of all dross. 

Be that as it may, we cannot help being charmed by Copernicus' noble 
scholar's pride; he treats the Nuremberg vicar as an ox because the latter 
very properly questioned the data of those ancient demigods whom 
Copernicus was even then, and with complete justification, preparing to 
push off their thousand-year-old pedestals. 

We are pleased to see the learned Copernicus in the role of a thunder- 
hurling Zeus. Does he not seem to be shouting out to the poor Nurem- 
berg vicar who could find only a Viennese bookkeeper as a patron: 
Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi? Only the poor ox was already dead! 

Copernicus wrote other scientific pamphlets on special occasions, for 
instance, a table of the sunrises and sunsets and the length of the day. 
He must have composed this table at the request of his colleagues at 
Frauenburg. In 1540, Nicolaus Human included it in the oldest Ermland 
breviary. Franz Hipler reports on it in his essay entitled: A Table for 
the Determination of the Beginning of the Vesper Period in Ermland 
by Nicolaus Copernicus. 

Copernicus is said to have designed sundials at various places, in 
Frauenburg, Allenstein, Torun and Leslau; but according to learned 
investigations made on the spot only the dial of a sundial on the southern 
side of the northern building of Allenstein Castle could have been de- 
signed by him. 

Zenocarus von Schauenburg, in his biography of Charles V, says that 
Copernicus took part in a great debate concerning the comet of 1533 with 
Peter Apian, Gemma Frisius, Cardano and Hieronymus Scala. However, 
this seems improbable. Between 1500 and 1538 fifteen comets were ob- 
served in Europe. And there is not a single work on comets by Coper- 
nicus. The interpretation of comets was at that time one of the most 
profitable of the astronomers' activities. 

But Copernicus did not make a business of astronomy. 




"Habet mundus iste nodes suas et non 


"The Christian religion was supposed to be 
a revolution; having jailed it later became 

goethe, Maxims and Reflections 
"We are done with partial heresies." 
loisy on Luther 

AT THE age of forty-three the mighty Copernicus became an adminis- 
trator of two Lilliputian districts in Ermland, Mehlsack and Allenstein. 
For four long years he, with his puer and famulus, lived with the bur- 
grave and castle chaplain, the stable-boys and other menial servants, 
at the Allenstein Castle; there, on fifteen pages of a day-book which has 
fortunately been preserved he made an entry in his own hand each time 
when in presence of two witnesses, he had to transfer a piece of land to a 
little peasant liable to serfdom at a rent for which the poor creature, made 
in God's image, had the right to work himself to death. 

The fortified casde of Allenstein was situated on the Alle among green 
hills, twelve miles from the Cathedral of Frauenburg; in order to appoint 
a common farm laborer, the great man had to leave his castle and some- 
times traverse his entire district; it took two days to travel ten miles. 
At that time Copernicus wrote the following letter to his Chapter: 
"To the most venerable and noble Prelates and Canons and the whole 
Chapter of Ermland diocese, my most especially revered Lords and 
Superiors! Through the Lord our Bishop I learned yesterday what you 
wrote about the reception of which I am in charge; everything has been 
prepared, be it for a fish-day or a meat-day. Philippe Greusing's letters 
induced me to hasten my departure from Allenstein; the Burgrave of 
Heilsberg whom I took with me there received more detailed information 




so that Philippe Grousing will not be able to complain that he was re- 
fused his due. Our most venerable Bishop has also commissioned me— 
in case the letters have not yet gone out— to instruct you, Right Reverend 
gentlemen, to add to the answer of Your Graces to the Lord Grand- 
master: 'that sacred justice must not be prevented,' so that any distorted 
or sophistic interpretation of it will be excluded. His Episcopal Grace 
has learned that the Muscovite has concluded a perpetual peace with 
the King; His Grace hopes to learn at any hour under what conditions. 
Thus all the hopes of our neighbors collapse. I recommend myself to your 
favor, most venerable lords. Mehlsack XXII. October 1518. I will set 
out from here as soon as possible.— N. Coppernic." 

So these were the cares of this illustrious man: meat-day . . . fish-day 
. . . another perpetual peace . . . news from Moscow . . . Right Rev- 
erends and Graces. . . . 

The weird transition from peace to war was effected by the classical 
methods. First there was a trade war between Ermland and Ordensland, 
that is to say, the people on one side of the frontier refused to eat the her- 
rings salted on the other; then, in the midst of peace, those "anonymous" 
mercenaries whom everyone recognized as of the Order, made their 
appearance in Ermland, which was "for the time of two years attacked, 
destroyed, devastated and ruined, with cruel murder, firebrand, church 
plunder, exactions and hostile invasions. . . ." The Master of the Order 
alleged that all this was being done by "some people whom no one 
knew"; the Bishop of Ermland replied with righteous indignations that 
"after all he (the master) also knew that such robber gangs did not 
float in the air and pick their horses from the ground." The Grand 
Master of the Order answered with counter-complaints. He went to his 
cousin in Berlin and asked for troops or money, concluded an alliance 
with Muscovy, negotiated with the Emperor. The King of Poland, for 
his part, sent troops to Ermland. This would have led to a general war 
if fortunately the Emperor had not died and the Tartars had not invaded 

At that point Copernicus was just returning to Frauenburg after the 
three years of his first term at Allenstein. 

Meanwhile a new Emperor was elected, Poland repelled the Tartars, 
King Sigismund entered Torun in December, 1519, "with great show 
and pomp as befits a powerful King," was greeted by the Bishop of 
Ermland in Latin and was not greeted at all by the Grand Master, who 
as a Polish vassal had been summoned to meet him, but failed to appear, 
whereupon the Polish captains sent the Grand Master a challenge and 
marched into his land. 

" 'tis war, alas, 'tis war!" 203 

Thus, the war began, and each party took a town belonging to the 
other: the Poles, Goldau, the Grand Master, Braunsberg, which was sur- 
rendered to him without a battle by the burgomaster, Philipp Teschner, 
Copernicus' cousin. 

For the rest, during a period of fifteen months there were only the 
usual atrocities — none of the laws of war was observed, no quarter was 
given, each party slew the civilian population loyal to the other, and 
solemnly protested that the other did the same thing. 

Since the bishop was neutral, Ermland was sacked by both parties. 
When the Grand Master invited the Bishop to participate in peace 
negotiations in the city of Braunsberg, which city he had just stolen from 
the Bishop, the latter, despite the Grand Master's solemn and sacred 
promises, feared an attack on his person, and so he sent in his stead two 
canons whose life he was more willing to sacrifice than his own; one of 
these must have been Copernicus, for we know that at this period the 
Grand Master made out a safe conduct for the "honored highly-learned 
Mr. Niklas Koppernick," giving "free, safe and Christian conduct, to 
him together with his horses and servants. ..." 

The negotiations proved fruitless, but the negotiators remained alive. 
In the spring of 1520, a captain of the Order overran Frauenburg and 
burned it down; he wanted "to destroy the nest in such a way that at 
least during the summer no bird could nestle there." About the same 
time — in February, April and July, 1520 — Copernicus made astronomical 

In the autumn he returned to Allenstein as commissioner of Ermland. 
In this war Copernicus played the role of an unsuccessful negotiator 
and successful defender of Allenstein Castle, the Grand Master had occu- 
pied most of this district, burned down the villages, slain the peasants or 
driven them off. Most of the canons had fled and were leading a gay life in 
exile at Danzig or Elbing. 

Finally, the Grand Master laid siege to Allenstein Castle. Only one of 
Copernicus' colleagues, the lazy Heinrich Snellenberg, had taken refuge 
with him in the castle. In February, 1521, Johannes Sculteti, the old arch- 
deacon, wrote from Elbing to Copernicus, the brave defender of the 
castle, telling him of the Emperor's peace feelers and urged him "to 
keep his hands firmly together and not to open them to surrender the 
castle; he himself, if he had only two coats, would gladly give away one, 
if he could thereby preserve the castle." He offered to send him foodstuffs 
if necessary; he also mentioned that his colleague, Balthasar Stockfisch, 
had died in the meanwhile and that he had deposited the seal and docu- 

204 l'uomo universale 

ments of the Chapter in the house of a friend of his, a merry widow at 

In a second letter the old Sculteti again wrote about the deceased Stock- 
fisch; he asked Copernicus whether he should hand over the seal to the 
canons who had emigrated to Danzig and "who call themselves the Chap- 
ter"; he said the latter were infuriated because their good money had been 
spent on cannon instead of being sent to them to spend in Danzig . . . 
The good old man also warned Copernicus, who was then actually being 
besieged in his castle by the Grand Master, of the Grand Master's plans — 
this personage, he said, had cast his eye on the castle! 

The Bishop, he wrote, had also urged him to send a few blunder- 
busses to Allenstein. "And so I have sent the blunderbusses at the cost 
of great effort to this place where they will surely be most needed." He 
would also send powder and lead if Copernicus needed them for the 
bombards; in short, he was ready to do everything in order "to avoid 
losing the bulwark of the whole diocese, Allenstein!" He termed the 
Grand Master "worse than a thief," and added in the same breath that 
the price of wax was high and that he had sold the flax dearly — and "God 
is my witness," he exclaims repeatedly, whether referring to the flax or 
the Grand Master! 

Finally, sated with slaughter, the belligerents concluded peace; the 
Emperor mediated their dispute. 

It was now Copernicus' task to create 'order in devastated Ermland. 
Peasants believed to be dead reappeared. Land titles long settled were 
disputed anew; wolves tame from hunger came to the huts to be fed like 
dogs, and radike marauders became wolfish so that it was necessary to 
fight them. 

In June, 1521, Copernicus completed his thankless duties. At Frauen- 
burg Copernicus found his curia outside the cathedral town devastated. 
So he bought himself a new house situated inside the town walls because 
of the prevailing unrest (it was probably that northwestern tower in the 
town wall, later named the Copernicus tower, where legend had placed 
his observatory). Until his death twenty-two years later he stayed at 
Frauenburg, except for short trips. 

Concerning the peace reparations (which are seldom paid) Copernicus 
drew up a memorandum, as requested by the Chapter. He did not mince 
words: The Order had illegally occupied peaceful cities! The Order had 
burned down barns, houses, villages and towns! The Order had stolen! 
Had set fires and pillaged! Had murdered hostages! Had driven away 
teams of horses and cattle and torn down whole houses and set them up 
again on the Order's own territory! 


!" 205 

Copernicus and Giese brought the memorandum to the Prussian meet- 
ing of the estates at Graudenz. As is customary when the weak indict the 
strong, the decision was adjourned to the next session; this next session 
was never held— because of the plague in Prussia! 

Saint Polycarp, the well-known epistle-writing martyr of Smyrna who 
perished for his faith in 156 A.D., never missed an opportunity to say, "My 
God! In what a century have you caused me to live!" 

From several remarks of Copernicus we suspect that his reaction to his 
own century was not very different. 

How contradictory is the fate of great men! The same Copernicus who 
was busy rebuilding the universe was commissioned by his contemporaries 
to rebuild one tiny little region! 

And did he not love his century? The few letters that have come down 
to us are restrained in tone. He sees clearly into his own times, looks at 
them thoughtfully, deliberately, objectively. True, one does not commit the 
most audacious act of his millennium without knowing full well the 
enormous audacity of his own century, indeed, without potentially feeling 
ready to commit every magnificent audacity. 

And Copernicus lived in two of the most dissolute centuries in the his- 
tory of Europe. 

Before him, Columbus had extended the frontiers of the world. The 
humanists had won back freedom of thought for the learned. The printer's 
art, which seemed to make writing and even thinking machine-like, cre- 
ated popular education and semi-education— two potent prerequisites of 

The Renaissance, with its pagan delight in the senses and reason, fur- 
thered that most anaemic of all revolutions, the Reformation, which, 
taken over and falsified by reactionary powers, nevertheless in the end 
brought a greater degree of religious tolerance to the masses. 

During the very years that Copernicus was no more than the admin- 
istrator of a small county, when even his closest colleagues passed over in 
icy silence his Commentariolus, his Yearbooks and his whole truly world- 
shaking theory, the "soft flesh of Wittenberg," the defrocked monk who 
had married a runaway nun, became the talk of the world only because 
he had broken his vows. Or, as Friedrich Nietzsche put it, "Luther's merit 
is greater in nothing than that he had the courage of his sensuality— then 
called, delicately enough, 'evangelic liberty.' " 

Before the Pope had condemned Luther, enlightened Catholics in many 
countries had been moved by his words and actions, more, several Catho- 

206 l'uomo universale 

lie dignitaries openly displayed their sympathy for him, as well as for 
other reformers. In Copernicus' province, too, people argued for and 
against Luther. 

The Bishop of Ermland, Fabian von Lossainen, in reply to the strict 
minds who had come to urge him "to keep the clergymen from separating 
from the Catholic religion with their flocks" said: "Luther is a learned 
monk and has his opinions on the Scriptures; if anyone is so bold let him 
oppose him." 

And in 1520, when King Sigismund the Old came from Poland to 
Prussia, he found Luther's teachings already so widespread, especially 
among the seafaring people of Danzig, that full of pious fear, he issued 
an edict against him, and sent a few inhabitants of Danzig to the stake 
because of their peculiar ideas. 

As always, the thinking individuals were in the minority against the 
believers; whoever was caught in the act of having a thought was done 
away with quickly. 

Copernicus witnessed the great controversy concerning the merits and 
nature of the Reformation and especially of Luther, its noisiest repre- 

Before the thundering Saxon, Martin Luther, began to shout and curse, 
to the jubilation of Germany and the terror of Rome, the gentle and sen- 
sitive Erasmus, the witty skeptic of Rotterdam, had been considered the 
sage of his century. He called his religion "The Philosophy of Christ." 
In his Greek Testament (his edition of the New Testament in the Greek 
text with a new Latin translation and his own notes was published in 
1516) he wrote the following annotation to Matthew XI, 30: "Everything 
according to nature is easily borne, and nothing accords better with the 
nature of man than the philosophy of Christ, of which almost the sole 
end is to give back to fallen nature its innocence and integrity . . . The 
church, divided and tormented by discussions and by heresy, added to it 
many things, of which some can be omitted without prejudice to the 
faith . . . The sacraments themselves were instituted for the salvation of 
men, but we abuse them for lucre, for vain glory or for the oppression of 
the humble . . . What rules, what superstitions we have about vestments 
. . . How many are judged as to their Christianity by such trifles, which 
are indifferent in themselves, which change with the fashion and of which 
Christ never spoke! . . . How many fasts are instituted! And we are not 
merely invited to fast, but obliged to, on pain of damnation . . . What 
shall we say about vows . . . about the authority of the pope, the abuse 
of absolutions, dispensations, remissions of penalty, lawsuits, in which 
there is much that a truly good man cannot see without a groan? The 

, " 'tis war, alas, 'tis war!" 207 

priefts themselves prefer to study Aristotle than to ply their ministry. 
The gospel is hardly mentioned from the pulpit. Sermons are monopolized 
by the commissioners of indulgences; often the doctrine of Christ is put 
aside and suppressed for their profit . . . Would that men were content 
to let Christ rule by the laws of the gospel and that they would no longer 
seek to strengthen their obscurant tyranny by human decrees!" 

Thus unsparingly spoke the Sage! But Erasmus feared the "tumult" 
that Luther sought. Erasmus was the aristocrat, who translated God into 
Latin, spoke to scholars, and exchanged friendly tetters with popes. He 
might almost have ended up as a cardinal. 

Luther, who began as a people's tribune and ended as a servant of 
princes, spoke German to God and to the people, and shouted even to the 
Emperor! Of a lusty temperament, he loved wine, women and song! He 
was unable to tame his appetites or his tongue. He caused the greatest riot 
of his century and made considerably more noise than Columbus and 
Copernicus. The break of his vow was at that time a dangerous deed and 
was understood as such by the masses; the poor man is always eager to 
overstep the mark. In Luther's words the downtrodden heard the great 
bell of freedom toll. Luther climbed up the back of the people like a 
ladder, and having arrived at the top kicked the ladder down. 

Without the poor, the Reformation, which was a vulgar continuation 
of the medieval disputes and their cascades of abuse, would have ended 
in a quarrel of theologians, not in a revolution. 

After Reuchlin and his humanist friends had triumphed over the 
obscurantists, in their quarrel with Dr. Hoogstraaten, the inquisitor of 
Cologne, over the burning of all Hebrew books (except the Bible), Luther 
came. In 1517 he nailed his ninety-five theses on the door of the Witten- 
berg church, inveighing against the "imposts of the apostolic Chancery 
for individual sins, anything from a theft of food- for immediate con- 
sumption to murder." 

After having refused at the Augsburg Diet of 1518 to say only one six- 
letter word {revoco, I recant), Luther in 1519 publicly burned the pope's 
bull that condemned him, and jubilant students stood around and cheered. 
And Ulrich von Hutten called upon the Reich to secede frorn R.ome and 
exclaimed in exultation over his own courage: "I've dared it!" 

Luther, too, boasted of his courage after he had refused the twenty-one- 
year-old Emperor Charles V's invitation to recant at Worms, but the 
ill-fated German revolutionary, Thomas Miinzer, told him rudely and 
clearly: "You would be stabbed by the Knights if you wavered or re- 
canted!" Four hundred unnamed noblemen in a public placard signed 
with the revolutionary catchword: Bundschuh had threatened with death 

208 l'uomo universale 

anyone who ventured to attack Luther's "Freedom of a Christian," and 
Miinzer obviously thought that this threat applied first of all to Luther 

The world tyrant Charles V let Luther go free but put him under the 
ban within the Empire and outlawed him. (Only after he knew that 
Luther was dead and buried, did the cunning Habsburg become sublime.) 
"Let his bones lie in peace," he declared, "if he has done evil, God will 
call him to account for it; I am an Emperor of the living, not of the dead." 

Luther's Elector hid him in one of his castles, the Wartburg, where 
Luther, as Junker Jorg, grew a beard and hurled his inkpot into the 
devil's face in order to win peace from temptation and quiet for his trans- 
lation of the Bible. 

Meanwhile his colleagues, Carlstadt, Melanchthon and Zwilling at Wit- 
tenberg were reforming the street-walkers and the nuns; the former were 
forbidden to love, the latter ordered to marry; the same zealots confiscated 
the funds of the churches, ordered the priests to take wives and drove 
the monks out of their cells, and the reformers were quite popular as those 
who improve conditions on the money and love markets always are. 

In Zwickau, too, the weavers, led by Thomas Miinzer, set out to re- 
generate society and religion, in Regensburg the Emperor, through his 
council forbade by decree any innovation in the world for all time to come. 

But Luther (under the influence of the Protestant princes) was as little 
disposed to joke as the Catholic Emperor when inherited rights, that is 
inherited wrongs and the perpetuation of that inequality of men which is 
so evil in the sight of God, were at stake. 

Luther rushed to Wittenberg, drove out Carlstadt and Zwilling and 
cursed Miinzer and all the weavers who thought they had enough of 
their misery. He spoke the language of the revolution with the natural 
grace of a son of the people, and betrayed the people's cause with the 
uncouth insolence of a parvenu. 

The language of the revolution was at that time the common language 
of Europe; by mistake it sometimes rang even in the mouths of Emperors 
and Popes. The entire world seemed dissatisfied with religion and 

In Germany several estates rebelled simultaneously: clergymen, knights 
and peasants. 

The knights who for the most part had not yet adopted firearms, whose 
strongholds were no longer impregnable to modern artillery, whose horses 
and armor could no longer cope with the infantry, had declined mili- 
tarily, as well as economically and culturally, and waged war on the open 
roads against the free cities and princes; woe to any merchants' caravans 

" 'tis war, alas, 'tis war!" 209 

which ventured on the roads where these robber knights reigned supreme. 
They confiscated the goods and cut ofE the right arms of their prisoners; 
the hapless merchants and their servants begged them in vain to cut off 
their left arms instead. 

Ulrich von Hutten was the pamphleteer of the knights' cause, Goetz von 
Berlichingen "of the iron hand," their most popular figure, and the 
mighty Knight of the Empire, Franz von Sickingen, their leader. Fore- 
runners of the Prussian Junkers, they wanted to centralize, nationalize, 
reform, rule and expropriate the Empire. 

Sickingen promised to cleanse the Empire of monks and priests, to 
distribute their goods, and to give "evangelic freedom" to Germany. His 
partisans muttered that he would soon be Elector, King and Emperor. 
Sickingen wanted to ally himself with Luther, but Luther would have 
none of his alliance. To the imperial tribunal Sickingen declared that 
he had his own tribunal made up of soldiers who administered justice 
with cannon. 

Then the disunited princes banded together, and the Empire put Sick- 
ingen under the ban. In his fortified castle he was besieged and shot down 
in the tower. When he lay mortally wounded in the vault of the castle he 
lost hope. Where are the lords, my friends who promised me so much 
aid, he asked? Where are the Swiss? Where are the people of Strassburg? 

He was dying when the princes broke into the vault. The Elector of 
Trier asked: What do you reproach me with, Franz, that you have 
attacked me so furiously, me and my men? 

The landgrave of Hesse asked: Franz, what did you have against me? 

After Sickingen's death the princes set out to smash the strongholds of 
many of the other knights. It was a general defeat for the free knighthood. 
Ulrich von Hutten, too, was hounded and compelled to flee; he went to 
Switzerland, moved from one place to another and borrowed money from 
other men of letters. He wrote his last pamphlet against Erasmus when the 
latter refused to see him at Basel. He perished at the age of thirty-five of 
syphilis at Ufnau on the lake of Zurich, where Zwingli had urged him to 
go in order to be cured there by a pastor skilled in the art of medicine. 

Nor did the peasants have any luck. For thirty years trouble had been 
brewing among them; social, political and religious issues had all come 
sharply to the fore. In 1513 Joss Fritz tried in vain to revive the "Bund- 
schuh" in Breisgau. Iri 1514 "Poor Konrad" or "Poor Kunz" was crushed. 
Finally, in 1524, the peasant war broke out. City and peasant agitators 
made common cause; everyone longed for justice, the end of the corvee 
and exploitation. The church, they said, was anti-Christian, the princes 
were tyrants. If all men were children of one Father, as the Scriptures 

210 l'uomo universale 

taught, there should be no inequality, neither o£ wealth nor of class. 
Enough of abuses and wars! 

There were serfs, the bondsmen and the hired farm laborers, three 
different classes but all of them starving, all equally wretched for different 
reasons. Dr. Luther knew how to express their sufferings: "The people 
will not and cannot endure your tyranny any longer; God will not bear it 
any longer; the world is no longer as it once was, when you could harass 
and hunt down the poor people like beasts!" 

At Stuehlingen, near the Swiss border, where the Black Forest separates 
the sources of the Danube from the upper Rhine Valley, the bloody rebel- 
lion began and spread northwards like a forest fire. 

The immediate pretext for it is supposed to have been the curious whim 
of Countess von Lupfen (if the Villinger Chronicle is to be believed) 
who on a holiday ordered her subjects to collect snail-shells, wind thread, 
pick strawberries and wild plums and do other similar tasks . . . 

Hans Muller of Bulgenbach set out at the head of the indignant 
peasants with a black, red and white flag. He wanted to establish an 
evangelic community in order to free all the peasants in the Empire. And 
in every village Thomas Munzer preached to the rebels. He was behind 
the whole movement. 

Elsewhere the serfs submitted petitions. Sometimes one of the great 
lords made a few promises. 

In February, 1525, several agitators printed the so-called twelve articles 
embodying the demands of the peasants. What did the poor people want? 

Freedom to hunt, to fish and to cut wood and an end to the depreda- 
tions of the lords' pigeons upon their crops. 

The abolition of several new burdens, new kinds of punishments and 
regulations and the restoration of the common land which had been taken 
away from them. 

The peasants no longer wanted to be serfs! For Christ had saved them, 
too, with His precious blood. They were willing to continue paying the 
"great tithe," to wit the tithe of fillies and lambs, of corn and oats; for 
God so ordained in the Old Testament; but they refused to continue 
paying the "small tithe" of hay, hops, cabbage and bilberries— in short, 
the vegetable taxes, to the clergy. 

Cabbage was too dear, they lamented; the rent for their miserable huts 
was too high; and the widows of the serfs complained of having to pay too 
high inheritance taxes. 

Above all, they demanded- for each community the right to elect its 
own pastor in order to be instructed by him in the true faith "for if God's 

" 'tis war, alas, 'tis war!" 211 

grace work not within us we remain in flesh and blood which availeth 

And the peasants rose in Swabia and Franconia; villages and small 
towns were forced to join them; any peasant who refused to adhere to the 
movement had a pale driven in the ground before his house, as a sign 
that he was a public enemy. Nowhere could the church bells be tolled for 
mass; the bells tolled only for the storm. 

Hans Miiller, dressed in a red cloak and a red cap, marched from village 
to village at the head of his partisans; the war standard was borne behind 
him on a carriage adorned with foliage and ribbons. 

Thomas Munzer, the German revolutionary, cried to the miners in 
Mansfeld: "Go to it! Go to it! Go to it! Beloved brothers, do not be 
moved by pity! Let not your sword become cold, lacking blood! Strike 
blows on Nimrod's anvil, throw down his tower, for the day is yours." 

Dr. Carlstadt, a native Franconian, appeared in a peasant's coat and a 
white felt hat at Rothenburg and aroused the rural population. The Fran- 
conian peasants drew up plans for the reformation of the Empire. They 
wanted to be freed from all clerical and secular levies. They wanted to 
secularize the clergy's estates. All customs were to be abolished. Only 
every tenth year was a tax to be paid. The courts were to be popularized; 
the doctors of Roman law were to be driven out! Only one currency was 
to be valid! Uniform weights and measures were to be introduced. All 
classes were to act as brothers toward each other! The movement spread 
to Saxony, Thuringia, Alsace, the Tyrol, Lorraine and the Rhineland. 
For a short while it looked as though the whole Empire would belong to 
the peasants. Thomas Munzer now preached rebellion in Thuringia. 
He despised Luther's "invented Gospel," his "Christ sweet as honey," 
his doctrine that Anti-christ would be destroyed by the word alone, with- 
out violence. He found it impossible to tell the people the truth as long 
as the princes ruled, impossible to honor God and serve the princes at 
the same time. The princes were publicly worshipped; the rule of the 
princes must be abolished. It was intolerable, he taught, that all the 
creatures of this world should be chattels, the fish in the water, the birds 
of the air, the plants in the soil — these creatures, too, must become free if 
the pure word of God was to rise like the sun. He overthrew all the 
concepts on which the state rests. He recognized only the pure Gospel. 
Only the revelation! "But a new Daniel must interpret it and march at 
the head of the people, like Moses." He became a prophet, presided at the 
council, administered justice according to the revelation, seized mon- 
asteries and had cannon cast, all this from his headquarters at Muhlhausen 
in Thuringia. 

212 l'uomo universale 

All around in the mountains multitudes of people assembled, it seemed 
that the great German revolution, the revolution from below, was at last 
breaking out. 

So the poor people burned down the monasteries and castles, did the 
act of darkness with certain highborn ladies and drew up demands. At 
Weinsberg they even slew a count, whose wife, a natural daughter of the 
Emperor, vainly threw herself at their feet, begging for mercy. 

The peasants formed a gauntlet, then one of them marched forward 
whistling; amidst the blare of shawms and the thunder of trumpets the 
leaders hurled the count onto the spears of the peasants. 

Just as they had banded together against the knights, the princes, in- 
cluding some of the leaders in that first struggle, like the young Land- 
grave Philipp von Hessen, now set out against the peasants. The poorly 
armed rebels had more right on their side than wisdom in their councils; 
their leader Thomas Miinzer waited for a miracle in a mountain. Here 
and there the peasants were slain. Then Thomas Miinzer was captured, 
tortured and compelled to sign a long confession. When he was re- 
minded of the numberless people who had been tortured by his orders, 
he began to laugh aloud, and exclaim: "They did not want it otherwise!" 
Whereupon he was put to death. 

Now the lords once again slept with the wives of their peasants by the 
jus pritnae noctis, and with their daughters without any jus at all; of the 
fathers and husbands they made salt-meat, as they had always done. The 
number of slaughtered peasants was estimated at one hundred thousand. 
The noisy revolution in Germany failed. In Poland, Copernicus began 
his silent revolution. 

And injustice, as always in times of counter-revolution, was more 
rampant than ever. 

In April, 1525 (the year of his marriage with the runaway nun, Katha- 
rina von Bora), Luther published his Exhortation to Peace with regard 
to the Twelve Articles of the Swabian peasants. In an excess of justice 
he declared the poor and rich to be equally guilty. 

The rebellious monk told the peasants that tyranny was no excuse for 
rebellion. He called their refusal to pay special taxes on vegetables "rob- 
bery," and the slaves' demand for freedom utterly unjustified: for it made 
freedom an outward thing! Moreover, had not Paul, the apostle, said 
that the slave should not ask for freedom? (I Cor. VII, 20.) 

And then the fat and newly wed Luther sat down and wrote his 
pamphlet: "Against the Thievish Murderous Hordes of Peasants." In it 
he warned the all-too-softhearted princes not to be pitiful toward the poor 
people and that the time of anger and of the sword had come. A poor man 

" 'tis war, alas, 'tis war!" 213 

should be avoided like the devil; a peasant should be slain like a rabid 
dogl He who perishes in this duty is a martyr of Christ. It was better to 
slay all the poor than to let the good princes and officials be ruined! For 
the peasants had taken up the sword without God's authority. 

The old rebel Luther argued: "One cannot argue reasonably with a 
rebel. He must be answered with the fist until blood spurts from his nose!" 

Melanchthon, Luther's friend, wrote: "It is fairly written in Ecclesiasticus 
XXXIII, that as the ass must have fodder, load and whip, so must the 
servant have bread, work and punishment. These outward, bodily servi- 
tudes are needful, but "this institution (serfdom) is certainly pleasing to 

Luther combated the Anabaptists with the same ardor that he had 
formerly displayed against Zwingli or the poor people. The Anabaptists, 
too, wanted Christ's words to come true. Next to the Copernican revolu- 
tion, these naive experiments constituted the most terrible revolt in 

Anabaptists was the name assumed by the followers of many sects'which 
followed varied teachings and usages and lived in a variety of ways. 
All of them rejected the baptism of little children, partly as useless, or as 
abominable. Some demanded that all goods should be held in common; 
others considered only mutual support to be the general duty. Some sep- 
arated themselves from all the other faithful, others held such separation 
to be a sin (as is reported by Sebastian Frank who was one of them and 
knew them well). 

Many refused to perform armed service and to take oaths. To kill, they 
believed, was always a crime, to swear always a sin. Others wanted to 
reform marriage. The rule of the church seemed unbearable to them. 
Everyone should be allowed to preach, they thought. They called the 
institutions of the Protestants a new papacy. 

They nurtured the apocalyptic expectation of an imminent reversal of 
all things : "for night is beginning to fall, and the end of time is at hand." 

One of their chief preachers was the wandering furrier Melchior Hoff- 
mann. We find him now in Alsace, now in Stockholm, now in Livonia, 
now in Frisia, now in prison, now a friend of great princes. Finally he 
went to Strassburg which, he thought, was destined to be a new Jerusalem 
whence, according to Revelation XIV, a hundred and forty-four thousand 
virgin apostles would set out with him in order to gather all the elect of 
God around the Lamb. 

Soon an attempt was made to bring about this condition by violence. 
Throughout the country these pacifists, these separatists, these pious 
Anabaptists, became enthusiastic world reformers. The conservatives . 


began to slaughter them. At Munich, for instance, "some were mutilated 
in the limbs, others had their heads cut off, others were hurled into the 
Isar, still others were burned alive at the stake." The Anabaptist Jacob 
Hutter, when the and his brothers were driven out of Moravia, cried: 
"We are in the desert, on a wild heath under the luminous sky." 

In the Netherlands the Anabaptists were suppressed more ferociously 
than anywhere else, otherwise the whole people would have joined them, 
as one writer said in 1531. 

Jan Matthys, a disciple of Hoffmann and a baker at Leyden, was con- 
vinced that the overturn of the whole world was imminent and must be 
brought about by the sword. He sent twelve apostles to the six neighbor- 
ing provinces; one of them, Jan Bockelson, moved from place to place, 
baptized adults everywhere and founded small communities of ten or 
fifteen faithful. 

The leader of the Reformation in the rich city of Miinster, the preacher 
Bernhard Rottmann, yielded to the Anabaptists. A respected burgher of 
Miinster, Bernhard Knipperdolling, received many Anabaptists in his 
house. They preached, baptized and attracted other Anabaptists, the most 
influential of whom was Jan Matthys. In 1534 there was a great disturb- 
ance, the Anabaptists occupied the market place and seven-year-old chil- 
dren prophesied. One wintry day, in a snowstorm, the Anabaptists drove 
out the other denominations and appropriated all their possessions and 

They destroyed the sculptures of the cathedral and the market place 
and solemnly burned all the books and manuscripts (except the Bible) 
in public. They did not even spare musical instruments and introduced 
a primitive sort of communism. All of them became one single religious 
warlike family. The prophet Jan Matthys became the dictator and law- 
giver. When he perished during a sortie against the enemy, he was suc- 
ceeded by Jan Bockelson, a tailor. 

The latter was born at Leyden, the son of a village-mayor and a West- 
phalian serf whom her husband had redeemed. As a journeyman tailor 
Jan went to England and Flanders, and settled at Leyden by The Hague 
road gate. Soon afterward he took the widow of a boatman for wife, set 
up a tavern with her help and went into trade which took him to Lisbon 
and Liibeck. In the Kammer van Rhetoryke, the poetic society of Leyden, 
he wrote verses and plays in which he performed himself. He was bap- 
tized by Jan Matthys in person, read Hoffmann's writings and became 
learned in the Holy Scriptures. He was well formed, eloquent, young and 
ardent. Jan Matthys had deserted his wife and married a pretty young 

" 'tis war, alas, 'tis war!" 215 

girl, because, as he explained to her, such was the will of Heaven. 
Because Jan Bockelson wanted to marry this widow of Jan Matthys, he 
introduced polygamy in Munster. One day he had a revelation that he 
should become king. So Johann of Leyden became King of Munster and 
the world. Knipperdolling became governor and the preacher Rottmann, 
Worthalter (Keeper of the Word). Munster was ruled by a monarchic 
theocracy on a communistic basis. It was supposed to be a community of 
saints, God's kingdom on earth come at last. The hidden meaning of the 
Scripture was that through God's word all the things were created good 
in the beginning; but they did not remain good; God's order required 
their restoration through the Word. The Anabaptists rejected the bap- 
tism of little children as un-Christian: for baptism was salvation from 
ignorance; it should be given only to those who were learned and pious, 
it was the sign of their admission into a holy community. 

A new prophet, formerly a goldsmith, proclaimed Johann of Leyden 
king of the whole world. And so Johann of Leyden called himself the 
just King in the New Temple. On a golden chain around his neck he 
wore a golden world globe. 

When he rode through the city two boys marched beside him, one with 
the Bible, the other with a bared sword. 

When a woman of Munster who had boasted that no man would ever 
have her finally lived for some time with Johann of Leyden, then had 
enough of him and wanted to leave him, King Johann of Leyden per- 
sonally led her to the market place, beheaded her and pushed her corpse 
away from him with his feet. The King's other wives intoned the song: 
"To God alone be honor given." 

The Bishop of Munster, who was very annoyed by all this, shot at his 
renegade subjects with cannon, hurled fire into their houses and ordered 
them to be slaughtered. The survivors, even women, were driven from 
the city; those who sheltered them were threatened with being treated 
like Anabaptists themselves; and so the movement died out. 

It goes without saying that the Protestants, too, were driven from 
Munster and the city once again became piously Catholic. 

King Johann of Leyden, Knipperdolling and a few others were torn to 
pieces with red-hot tongs on the Munster market place. Many Anabaptists 
fled to England and later to the North American colonies, particularly 
to Providence and Pennsylvania; many of their religious ideas were 
adopted and developed by the Quakers. 

In Munster a citizen was no longer allowed to have more than one 
wife. And what had belonged to the poor, once again became the general 


property of the rich, as it had been before and was all over the world. 

The poor people and the humanists began to protest most violently 
against Luther's behavior. 

"Where Lutheranism reigns," Erasmus wrote to Willibald Pirckheimer, 
the humanist of Nuremberg, who at first had been for and now was 
against Luther, "true learning perishes." Lutheranism won chiefly the 
middle classes and a part of the upper classes. 

We know only what Luther said about Copernicus: "The fool . . ." 
etc. What did Copernicus say about Luther ? Rheticus "forgot" to tell us. 
And the judgments of posterity on Luther differ as though he had never 

Heinrich Heine said that from Luther to Kant a constant development 
of thought took place and no less than two revolutions; that Luther 
had given his people language and Kant had given them ideas; that 
Luther had deposed the Pope, that Robespierre had beheaded the King 
and that Kant had dethroned God; that all this was the same revolt 
against the same tyrant under different names . . . Heine called Luther, 
that promoter of the German language and the German book trade, the 
greatest German, or more accurately, the most German of the Germans, 
because he combined all the defects and virtues of the Germans. "His 
ideas," says Heine, "had hands and wings; he spoke and acted. He was 
not only the tongue, but also the sword of his time. And he was also 
a cool, hairsplitting scholastic and an inspired prophet, drunk with God. 
. . . From him came to Germany so-called freedom of mind or freedom 
of thought. Thinking became a right, and the powers of reason became 

However, Friedrich Nietzsche termed Luther's Reformation "the 
coarsest form of moral mendacity . . . Luther was a drag on German 
righteousness which was no longer consistent in itself . . . The Germans, 
as is well-known, grew numb with reverence before princes or party 
leaders . . . The Protestants grovelled before the most miserable little 
princes — a people of servants. . . ." And: "The Reformation was a re- 
action of old-fashioned minds against the Italian Renaissance ... It was 
the rage of the simple against the complex." 

King Frederick II of Prussia who was not at home in any language 
explained the extraordinary influence of Luther, Germany's greatest lin- 
guistic genius, in this way: "Mediocre minds often are the most successful." 

Voltaire compares the Protestants with the Mussulmans and says that 
the dispute which developed into the Reformation, began between two 

<< >n 

'tis war, alas, 'tis war!" 217 

sects, Dominicans and Augustinians, over the booty of the indulgence 
trade, "and this httle squabble of monks in one corner of Saxony pro- 
duced more than a hundred years of discord, fury, and misfortune for 
thirty nations. ..." 

Voltaire held the dogmas of the reformers to be as unreasonable as 
those of their adversaries. And in his Philosophic Dictionary he wrote: 
"There are some nations whose religion is the result of neither climate nor 
government. What cause detached North Germany, Denmark, most of 
Switzerland, Holland, England, Scotland . . . from the Roman com- 
munion? Poverty, Indulgences . . . were sold too dear. The prelates and 
monks absorbed the whole revenue of a province. People adopted a 
cheaper religion." 

In the eyes of Hume the most dreadful result of the Reformation was 
that it exaggerated the importance of "those wretched composers of meta- 
physical polemics, the theologians." 

Goethe called the Reformation "a sorry spectacle of boundless con- 
fusion, error fighting with error, selfishness with selfishness, and the truth 
only here and there heaving into view." To a friend Goethe wrote: "The 
character of Luther is the only interesting thing in the Reformation, and 
the only thing, moreover, that made an impression on the masses. All the 
rest is a lot of bizarre trash we have not yet, to our cost, cleared away." 

Chesterton said that the Reformation was "the revolution of the rich 
against the poor." 

Professor S. N. Patten proves that overnourishment and undernourish- 
ment are the causes of all revolutions and the cause of the Reformation, 
he thinks, was "the growth of frugalistic concepts." 



Money's neither bad nor good; 
It all depends on how it's used. 
German Proverb 

What seems to me so superfluous when I 
have it, and so indispensable when 1 have it 
not . . . fatal, baleful money! 
lessing, Nathan the Wise 

ABOUT money, too, Copernicus reflected deeply. 

Naturally money did not interest him until it began to be problematical. 
Inflation made him, like so many other millions, reflect upon the nature 
of money. Unlike these millions he reached more sane conclusions than 
the necessity of running out into the street and killing his neighbor. 

More expert in writing than in killing, he composed in Allenstein Castle 
an essay on money and the improvement of coinage, in the German lan- 
guage, and three years later he handed it without success to the Lords 
of Prussia assembled in the diet at Graudenz. 

As is customary in wars, not only the people became coarser and lost 
their finer values but their money became worthless. The small provinces 
of Prussia, some of which were subject to the King of Poland, and some 
to the Grand Master or the Bishop of Ermland, but all of which formed 
one economic whole, waged war against one another, or at least trade war. 
The Grand Master began with the favorite theft of princes: he devalued 
the money of his subjects. There was no longer any country abroad with 
which one could carry on trade; only misery throve. 

The King of Poland wanted the same currency to be in use in Prussia 
and in Poland. The Grand Master and the Prussian cities, too, declared 
that they wanted a uniform currency and negotiated about it for a long 
time. But because they did not want to agree, they could not agree. For 
in addition to monetary unity, the Grand Master and the Prussian cities 




also wanted monetary freedom, that is to say, the right to coin their own 
money, and the right to inflate it and make the handsome profits one can 
make from inflation. For inflation is like a girl with whom everyone is 
glad to go to bed, but whom no one wants to greet in public. 

Copernicus began with a definition of money. ("Muncze wyrdt genen- 
net geczeichennt Goldtt, adir Sylber"— Coin is the name given to stamped 
gold or silver). He discussed the difference between the nominal and real 
value of a coin, explained why money was coined, and how its value 
decreases, to wit, through the deterioration of the alloy or the diminution 
of the weight of the coin. 

"An insufferable error" is made, that is, irreparable damage is done, 
"when the sovereign or the rulers of a country or community try to make 
a profit out of coinage, to wit, when they add a new coin to the previous 
and current coin, a new coin which, while imperfect in the grain or in cut, 
is yet valued equally with the previous one. For such a ruler cheats not 
only his subjects but also himself. When he rejoices over a temporary 
gain which in fact is only insignificant and very small, he is like a stingy 
farmer who sows bad seeds in order to save good ones, and then there 
will be even more bad produce than he sowed. This destroys the value of 
coins, just as the weeds destroy the grain, when the former win the upper 


In the second part he spoke more specifically of the Prussian currency. 
He showed how it had gradually grown worse and worse during the 
first half of the fifteenth century until it was worth only half its original 
value. "From such deep damage the Prussian coin suffers, and thereby the 
entire country. The goldsmiths alone draw profit from this ruin of the 
country. For they buy up the old coins, separate the silver from them and 
then take more silver in other coins from unintelligent people." 

In the end Copernicus gave his remedy for this state of affairs: "how 
such a reform might be made." First of all he demanded "that only one 
mint be set up, where the coin will be coined not in the name of one single 
city, but with the stamp of the entire country." Nor should anyone have 
the right to stamp new coins if the country and all the cities had not 
decided it in common. And a law should be made that from one pound of 
fine silver no more than twenty marks must be coined. 

And so Copernicus read his memorandum aloud to the lords in the 
diet assembled. Virtue itself, supreme reason in human form, had spoken 
through the mouth of this canon. ("Who is making this dissertation?"— 
"A canon."— "A canon? How so? Where does he come from?"— 
"From Frauenburg. He is a nephew of Bishop Watzelrode, of blessed 
memory, of a Torun family."— "A nephew? And what does he know 



about money? What is his occupation?" — "He gazes at the stars . . .") 

Copernicus had spoken. The delegates of Torun, Danzig and Elbing 
declared that they were the representatives of the great cities of Danzig 
or Elbing or Torun, and that never would their cities give up the right to 
coin their own money, the symbol of their sovereignty. The nobility and 
the gentlemen of the clergy shook their heads and expressed the opinion 
that if there was to be only one mint, it must naturally be in Prussia, 
not in Poland. The Poles declared that it would be to the general advan- 
tage to create monetary unity, and naturally the mint should be in Poland, 
which, after all, was one of the greatest kingdoms of Europe. The Grand 
Master did not express any opinion, for he was not there. 

On other scores, too, disorder and dissension prevailed all around. One 
half of Ermland was still held by Poland, the other by the Teutonic 
Order; for there had just been a war, and thus a new war was around 
the corner or the old war was still continued (unofficially) ; so it was in 
Ermland as all over the rest of the world. The canons of Ermland were 
in conflict with the bishop of Ermland over money, and what they were 
interested in was who would receive the greater part of any funds that 
might exist, not in monetary theories. 

Yet the Bishop was a liberal and tolerant man; only recently he had 
received the cardinal's hat from the Pope, and the syphilis, God knows 
from whom. The old Ermland church historians at least knew why he 
got it: "He was too complaisant toward the seditious Lutheran heresy. 
Very probably God punished this bishop chiefly for that reason so that 
he was ruined by the French disease and in his wretched torments vainly 
implored the aid of the physicians . . . For the French had attacked and 
corroded him to such an extent that he could in nowise be cured. The 
more his physician and his mother filled him with medicines, the worse 
he grew, so that they had to amputate one of his legs in which the French 
had affected him, and then he got the cold fever and died of it." (Krecz 
mer, "Vom Bischthumb Ermlandt," a Torun manuscript.) 

The good Bishop had no sooner died than the Ermland bailiff, Georg 
Preuck, drove the mother and brother of the poor deceased man out of 
Heilsberg Castle and handed over the body of their beloved kinsman 
only at the gate. He also chased the two excellent canons, Tiedemann 
Giese and Leonard Niederhoff who had come to Heilsberg Castle by order 
of the Frauenburg Chapter to receive the homage of the citizens and 
officials. Worse still, he gave orders to collect the state revenues and paid 
his mercenaries with the funds thus obtained. Then, of course, the Grand 
Master really had to send an envoy to Rome with the proposal to grant 


the Ermland diocese to the Teutonic Order, so that the Prussians could 
restore order in Ermland. 

Amidst this dangerous unrest the Chapter elected Canon Copernicus 
general administrator of the diocese during the vacancy of the bishopric. 
He performed official duties for half a year, until the fall of 1523. Although 
the new bishop, Moritz Ferber, had been elected as early as April 14, out 
of purely legalistic caution he chose to await confirmation by the Holy 
Father before beginning to rule his diocese. 

During his six-month term as General Administrator, Copernicus' chief 
effort was directed toward regaining the lost estates of the Ermland 
church. First, the King of Poland, by an edict, made restitution of the 
Ermland castles and towns to the diocese. The Order went on plundering 
them until the Peace of Cracow. 

Meanwhile, the Grand Master had secularized the possessions of his 
Order, and had solemnly promised to discontinue minting coins. The 
same promise was made by the cities of Torun, Danzig and Elbing. 

Thus, when the King of Poland, Sigismund the Old, came to Prussia, 
he issued many new regulations, one of which abolished the old Prussian 
currency and replaced it by a new currency — groshen, shillings and pen- 
nies with the coat-of-arms of the King of Poland and the coat-of-arms of 
Prussia; it was to be equal in value to the new Polish money and to be 
valid in all his territories, in Poland, Lithuania and Prussia. But Duke 
Albrecht of Prussia (as the Grand Master of the Order was now called) 
and the cities of Torun, Danzig and Elbing began to resort to subterfuges. 
Then, in 1527, Copernicus revised his monetary memorandum of 1519 
(and 1522). 

This time he was even clearer than before. He begins at once: "Among 
the innumerable evils which bring about the ruin of entire states (mon- 
archies and republics), four are certainly to be regarded as the most 
important: inner dissension, high mortality, barrenness of the soil and 
deterioration of the currency. The first three are so evident that hardly 
anyone will dispute them. But the fourth evil, which results from bad 
money, is noted only by a few people, and only by those who reflect more 
seriously than others, because the states exposed to this evil do not perish 
at once from its first attack, but quite gradually and, as it were, in an 
imperceptible manner." 

If an earlier attempt had been made to improve the currency, a pound 
of silver would scarcely have contained twenty-four marks; now at least 
thirty marks would have to be melted down in order to obtain a scanty 
pound of silver. 

222 l'uomo universale 

"Woe to you, poor land of Prussia, that you must now do penance for 
such bad administration! 

"Unless the situation is remedied, Prussia will soon have coins con- 
taining nothing but copper. Then all foreign trade will stop. For what 
foreign merchant will sell his goods for copper coins? . . . The powers 
that be calmly witness this decay of the land of Prussia; they are letting 
our beloved fatherland to which we owe everything, even our lives, perish 
wretchedly through brainless neglect, more and more each day." 

Once again Copernicus castigated the speculators who buy up all the 
coins in circulation and melt them down. "This results necessarily in in- 
creased prices of all means and subsistence. Everything rises and falls 
with the value of money; the prices of things are not determined by brass 
and copper, but by gold and silver." 

It was a mistake, he said, to think that the poor people could buy their 
bread or grain cheap with bad coins; only the gentlemen who mint them 
and a few traders grow rich. "The common weal suffers, the state, and 
the majority of the inhabitants . . . Aside from logic, we know from 
experience that those countries flourish which have good money; they 
decline when their money becomes bad. Thus Prussia, too, once flourished, 
when the mark was worth two Hungarian gulden . . . but now when 
our coins are deteriorating from day to day, our fatherland is sinking and 
is even now close to ruin. 

"Moreover, trade and communication, arts and crafts flourish where 
money is good. With bad money, however, the people grow slack and 
inert, they neglect cultivating the spirit. We can still remember how inex- 
pensive everything was in Prussia when good money was circulating. 
But now the value of all means of subsistence has risen. It is quite clear 
that light money furthers laziness and in no wise relieves misery . . . 
Nor will improvement of this state of affairs impose any burden on those 
who are liable to pay interest; if they seem to pay their masters more than 
otherwise, it must not be forgotten that their receipts for cattle and corn 
are larger. Revenues and expenses increase in the same proportion." 

Did not this man have a great heart? Did he not have a warm feeling 
for the poor? Did he not rebuke the wicked princes and even more 
wicked merchants loudly? Even more sharply did he formulate his rec- 
ommendations in his later memorandum. All coins should bear the coat- 
of-arms of the King of Poland. Monetary unity! Economic unity! In brief: 
unity! The currency must be valid throughout the country. The King of 
Poland should control all mints! "This would contribute not a little to 
the reconciliation of men's minds and the common furtherance of com- 
mercial relations." 


The old coins should be called in. Only radical measures, thought Coper- 
nicus, could help. So let us be radical! Inevitable drawbacks for some 
individuals would be balanced by the assets and lasting advantages for the 

So this Copernicus was also a currency expert, a financial genius, a 
free-trader, a man of peace, a man with a warm heart and understanding 
of the needs of the poor — a philosopher who knew what was right not 
only in the cosmos, but in his own little world. 

To be a great man, this greatest of all astronomers had no need of 
astronomy. I am reminded of a saying of the famous astronomer Pierre 
Laplace. In 1796, when his book Exposition du Systeme du Monde was 
published, God's ally of that time, General Bonaparte, asked Laplace why 
he had not mentioned God once in his entire book. The quiet scientist 
replied: "Sire, I had no need of this hypothesis." 

At other Prussian diets (in 1528 and 1529) Copernicus had new oppor- 
tunities to present his monetary theories and to learn that he who fights 
for the general interest is compelled to pin his hopes on those advocates 
of special interests who are usually the most bitter enemies of the com- 
mon good. One of these sessions was attended by Copernicus' colleague, 
Felix Reich, also a financial expert, as the second delegate from Ermland. 
Reich gathered together a collection of writings on currency, thanks to 
which Copernicus' memorandum was preserved among others, as well 
as a letter from Copernicus to Reich on monetary problems, dated April 8, 
1528, in which we find the following characteristic statements: "It is not of 
little value when one can spread light on things that are obscure by nature. 
It often happens that someone grasps a thing quite correctly, but cannot 
make clear to others a thing which is clear to himself. I fear that some- 
times this happens to me. . . . But however that may be, I acknowledge 
freely that I can err, because I am only one man, have only one mind, and 
do not always learn or observe what may have been thought out by 
others in a more efficacious manner." 

Another attempt was made at Elbing. Copernicus went there, too. The 
King of Poland brought the vexatious monetary problem before the 
Polish diet at Piotrkow, and when this did not avail anything, the ancient 
remedy of sending a matter to a committee was resorted to. Copernicus 
went to this committee, too; instead of Felix Reich, his colleague and good 
friend Alexander Sculteti was the second delegate from Ermland. 

Sculteti had just returned from Livonia where he had prepared a map 
which he had sent to Bishop Moritz Ferber, whereupon the bishop had 
requested him by letter (July 29, 1529) to draw up a similar map of 
Prussia together with Copernicus. 

224 l'uomo universale 

The negotiations in the committee broke down, as had those in the 
general body. Already in the above-mentioned letter to Felix Reich, Co- 
pernicus had written: "If in the monetary matter things are done in the 
same way as before, I fear that the situation will grow even worse; for the 
stamping of coins in the customary fashion will not be discontinued. Why 
should they cease doing it, if only profit can be expected therefrom, and 
no damage, whatever the outcome may be ... I hear that negotiations 
are to be held at the same time about the special levy. So I think that 
nothing will be decided with respect to the currency; for after all it is 
impossible that the people should be oppressed simultaneously by two 
burdens. We shall grant the levy, but the currency will remain as it is, 
or more accurately, deteriorate further. We will give the King much 
money; this is the chaff; but where will the seeds remain? It might have 
been more beautiful, more worthy, more royal and even much more use- 
ful, if the taxes had been remitted and in their stead the currency re- 
stored; if this had not been enough, there would always have been time 
to levy the contribution later." 

Copernicus was also concerned with other administrative matters. He 
was the nuncius capituli, that is, the Chapter's envoy, in 1524, 1526 and 
1531. In company of a colleague he toured the districts of Mehlsack and 
Allenstein to inspect the administration, collect the rent from the tenant 
farmers for the cathedral and oversee everything. Several times his com- 
panion was his best friend, Tiedemann Giese. 

Copernicus also helped to work out new regulations for artisan appren- 
tices, journeymen and guilds. He even drew up a project for a bread-tax, 
which was necessary because of the fluctuation of money and grain prices, 
and the resulting scarcity of food and misery of the poor. (This document 
is called Panis coquendi ratio Doctoris Nicolai Copernicus.) 

In the library of Upsala, a curious letter from Copernicus written at 
that period (1524) has been found. In it the great man complains to his 
bishop about his recalcitrant debtor, Heinrich Snellenberg, a colleague 
and compatriot of his. During the "Franconian Knights' War" Snellen- 
berg had received one hundred marks from a Danzig merchant for 
Copernicus, but had paid Copernicus only ninety. 

Copernicus was unable to get the remaining ten marks, try as he 
might. Finally, Snellenberg, after many dodges, told him to start legal 
proceedings if he wanted to have his ten marks back. 

And so before his bishop Copernicus sued his countryman and col- 
league, the notoriously lazy Canon Snellenberg. 

Did Copernicus get his ten marks in the end? . . . 

The great theoreticians of finance are not always the best businessmen. 



In New York there are ninety different 
Christian confessions ; each of them wor- 
ships God in its own way, without being 
disturbed by the others. In the science of 
nature, indeed in every science, we must 
progress as far as that; for what does it 
mean when people speak of liberalism, yet 
try to prevent others from thinking and 
expressing themselves in their own way? 
goethe, Maxims and Reflections 

WAS Copernicus an atheist? 

In his Book of Revolutions the good canon naturally speaks of God, 
but he does it in such academic terms that one might suppose God was 
for him part of the geocentric terminology to which he was accustomed 
and which he continued to use in the very book in which he played the 
devil with the geocentric theory. This son of the church always had God 
on his lips, the term slid off his pen with the greatest of ease. But no one 
before him had driven God so far away from man. 

Copernicus, that most tranquil of revolutionaries, shook the world in 
the quietest and most concealed way. He won the greatest of all battles 
without mounting the pawing steed, without flying flags, without the 
thunder of canon, without blood and tears. 

This most stubborn pedant among astronomers and revolutionaries 
had an exceedingly gentle demeanor, he seemed mild and tolerant, a wide 
awake servant of the church at the edge of the civilized world. Luther 
thought he could call him a fool with impunity. And Melanchthon simply 
called for the police when he heard of his work: any king seemed to him 
powerful enough to make such a restless head roll. 

There were other revolutionaries who spoke of God in the language 
of saints or children while they set fire to the fuse with which they blew 




God up in the air. Newton wrote pious commentaries on the Bible for 
twenty years. Or listen to the virtuous Kepler, as Goethe quotes him: 
"My highest wish is to become aware of God whom I find everywhere 
outside me, as well as inside me, within myself, so to speak." And that 
great heathen, Goethe, comments with emotion : "The noble man does not 
realize that at that very moment the Divine Being within him was in 
closest contact with the Divine Being in the universe." 

Copernicus is more readily moved when he speaks of spherical triangles 
or the infinitude of the firmament than when he speaks of God. 

Such was the bold man who stole the heavens from the Lord! 

He was a quiet, serious and austere man! He spoke in beautiful, 
sublime, academic language. But when his real interests were at stake, 
that is, the interests of mankind or more accurately, the interests of the 
universe, he ruthlessly lashed out at popes and fathers of the church, 
Grand Masters and bishops, scholars and ignoramuses! 

For the rest, he was a canon, mild-mannered, a friend of the arch- 
tolerant Giese. 

Giordano Bruno was burned. Campanella was imprisoned. Michel 
Servet was burned. Galileo was forced to recant. As late as 1794 Immanuel 
Kant was reprimanded by the royal Prussian Cabinet for "distorting and 
degrading several principal and fundamental doctrines of the Holy 
Scriptures and Christianity." 

According to Kant, God was a delusion. And according to Copernicus? 

It is a good thing that he had no theological interests! With the stub- 
bornness that was characteristic of him he might have forced his imagined 
circular motions upon God, and might have exclaimed triumphantly that 
he had encompassed the ways of the Eternal with seven circles! 

Copernicus was so averse to all theology that he did not even want to 
suffer for the sake of the truth! He did not share the accursed pleasure 
of the martyrs in being slaughtered for the sake of the higher truth that 
was in them. 

Copernicus was the most unheroic of the great revolutionaries. 

Did he grow more pious or more daring as he advanced in age? Did 
he grow ever freer of dogma and prejudice? 

Shordy before he celebrated his sixtieth birthday at Frauenburg, the 
pious Elbingers, who lived three miles away, performed a burlesque sat- 
irizing the man who no sooner had touched the earth with the tip of his 
finger than he made it whiz through space in triple motion like a dancing 

Copernicus' earliest biographers: Starowolski, Broscius and Gassendi, 
relate that a certain schoolmaster who was egged on by Copernicus' 


political opponents, the "Teutonic Crossbearers," wrote this play and 
had it performed in order to cast ridicule upon Copernicus and his in- 
credible new theory. 

Starowolski bases this statement on letters from Copernicus' most inti- 
mate friend, the Bishop of Kulm, Tiedemann Giese. 

A costumed pope mounted on a horse rode in the carnival procession 
through the decorated streets of the town of Elbing, a fat drunkard beat 
upon the drum, a tall pallid knave blew the trumpet. Because it was 
traditional to represent Saint Maurice as an Ethiopian, the actor imper- 
sonating Bishop Maurice of Ermland walked through the market place 
made up as a Moor and gave his episcopal absolution to all sinners. The 
comic pope also distributed blessings in the square and gave young good- 
for-nothings in monks' hoods letters of indulgence "empowering them 
to collect swine, to absolve from murder, whoredom and heresy, and to 
set up chapels." 

It was in the course of this procession that a fellow from Elbing wearing 
the garb of an Ermland canon mimicked Copernicus. Did he impersonate 
that "new astrologer who wanted to prove that the earth was moving 
and revolving, rather than the heaven or the firmament, sun and moon; 
just as if someone in a moving carriage or on a sailing ship believed that 
he was motionless and in rest, but that the earth and the trees were mov- 
ing. But such are the times we live in: he who wants to be clever must 
invent something all his own and what he makes up he naturally thinks 
is the best thing ever! This fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy 
upside down! But as the Holy Scripture testifies, Joshua ordered the 
sun to stand still, not the earth!" (This is the famous passage from 
Luther's after-dinner speeches.) 

An original at any cost, that is how the Lutherans saw Copernicus. 
And Luther's opinion was not sneezed at in Prussian towns like Elbing 
or Danzig. Luther had already been put on the stage there, and new- 
fangled preachers and religious refugees were common. For instance, 
there was Wilhelm Gnapheus, who had been compelled to flee from Hol- 
land because of a theological quarrel, and who had become the first 
rector of the Elbing gymnasium. He was a writer of burlesque, and prob- 
ably the author of the burlesque against Copernicus. 

Intolerance soon began to kill in Ermland, Prussia and Poland. In 1523 
Copernicus had the office of general administrator of Ermland. The new 
bishop, Moritz Ferber, former custodian at Frauenburg, in contrast to his 
predecessor, the tolerant (and syphilitic) Fabian von Lossainen, went on 
the hunt for heretics. 

Moritz had not had an ordinary life. He devoted his first forty years to 

228 l'uomo universale 

the love of a girl who in the end took another man. He devoted the 
rest of his life to hatred, in the name of the God of love, Christ. Sadists 
usually move in the company of the two gods of love, Jesus and Amor. 

Moritz was the son of a wealthy merchant from Danzig. Like his 
fathers before him he became a merchant. Like his fathers he fell in 
love with a wealthy heiress. The girl in question was called Anna, and 
she did not want Moritz. The parents at first accepted the ardent wooer, 
but finally yielded to their daughter's aversion. The infatuated Moritz 
went before an ecclesiastical court and sued for breach of promise. He 
litigated for ten years. Finally he went to Rome in order to win his love 
suit at the Curia, and was about to achieve his end, for the whole Curia 
loved him — when Anna took another man into her marital bed, and 
Moritz resolved to become a bishop, if not the pope. 

He did become a bishop. At first he was a priest; at the age of forty he 
began to study ecclesiastical law; three years later he obtained his doc- 
tor's degree, became bishop of Ermland, and in order at last to unburden 
his full heart, issued an edict against the "Lutheran pest." 

Luther read Moritz's pamphlet against him and had it printed together 
with another Prussian edict, that of the Bishop of Samland, who again 
admonished his clergy in the sharpest terms to read Luther's works dili- 
gently and to preach in the national language. Luther coupled his enemy 
and his friend in the same book, wrote brief notes to both and immortal- 
ized both of the bishops. The faithful editors, out of respect for Luther's 
notes, reprinted the two pamphlets in all the editions of Luther's collected 

A great writer is so powerful that he unwittingly immortalizes even 
his enemies. 

Tiedemann Giese, Copernicus' most intimate friend, made himself the 
spokesman for a group of liberal tolerant men who wanted to mediate 
between the old-believers and the new-believers. 

Giese expressed his evangelic feelings in a pamphlet directed against 
the pro-Lutheran writing of the Bishop of Samland. As the latter's 
work was entitled "110 little flowers . . ." etc., Giese called his pamphlet 
"Anthelogikon," the anti-little-flower. At first Giese circulated it only 
in manuscript; but in the end he had it printed, upon the insistence 
of three of his colleagues, the canons Felix Reich, Leonard Niederhoff 
and, especially, Nicolaus Copernicus. 

Copernicus had authorized Giese to quote him publicly as a supporter 
of his friend's views. 

Giese printed at the head of his pamphlet his own letter to Reich, 
where he wrote that he had sent copies of the manuscript to friends and 


adversaries, including even the author of "110 Little Flowers," the Bishop 
of Samland, to whom he was now also sending a printed copy, and whom 
he begged at the same time not to permit his judgment to be troubled 
by personal inclination, "as I think was the case with Nicolaus Copernicus, 
who advised me to publish my writing in print, although he is otherwise 
of discriminating taste." 

Curiously enough no words of Copernicus have come down to us con- 
cerning Luther, Melanchthon and the whole Reformation, although Co- 
pernicus was involved in the movement through various people and issues. 

All the more significant is this indirect testimony to the "quarrel of the 

Giese says in the preface: Ego omniversum pugnam detrecto (I entirely 
reject the battle). 

A gentle soul breathes in this little work: the true Catholic attitude. 

"But now," writes Giese, "when everything proceeds in wild storm, in 
turmoil and rebellion, who is building? Who is seeking perfection? Is 
Christ's glory being heightened? Are spiritual gifts being increased? 
What do we find but general confusion as a result of all this ridicule, 
quarreling and defamation? Christian freedom is being perverted into 
lack of restraint, obedience into want of discipline, even if the originators 
of the tragedy never willed it so. Thus we are all plunged into the worst 
conceivable slavery; while referring constantly to the spirit of God we 
are estranging ourselves entirely from love. Love endureth all things, it 
is not eager for and does not try to inflict harm. Undeniably many things 
in the church come close to superstition, and abuses have slipped in. But 
the time of the harvest should have been awaited, so that we do not de- 
stroy the wheat in order to eradicate the weeds. And the leaders of the 
new movement are unable to find the wheat, they are throwing it into 
the fire, when they try to lead us back to spirituality by excluding all 
outward ritual, all symbols of the spiritual, all ornamentation in the 
church . . . For the sake of the weak and the simple-minded we must 
preserve- the external service to God, not confuse their consciences, but 
slowly and gradually lead them to higher things, guiding them after the 
example of the Lord from the earthly to the heavenly . . . Christ Him- 
self, although he could have destroyed the law, said that he had not come 
to destroy the law, but to fulfil it! . . . 

"The two sisters, faith and love, live excellently together. How good 

and lovely it is, if we brothers can live in agreement, too, that is, in the 

one Christ! . . . Then we shall speak as with one breath: The peoples 

thank you, God, all the peoples thank you, the earth is giving its fruit. 

"I was inspired by sheer love for the pure Christian doctrine," Giese 

230 l'uomo universale 

wrote in his introductory letters, "and, to say it at once, anger also over 
the disputes which have brought more confusion than advantage to the 
church . . . 

"A large part of my treatise is so composed that it might almost serve 
my opponent better than myself; I wanted to put the latter in a yielding 
and gentle mood so it might seem that, having put tragic seriousness aside, 
I wrote an appendix to his book, rather than a satire. Often I thought I 
followed in his footsteps, rather than pursued him; true, I wanted to have 
a comrade rather than an opponent . . . 

"Oh, if only the Lutherans were filled with Christian spirit toward 
the Romans, and the Romans filled with Christian spirit toward the 
Lutherans, verily the tragedy would not have taken place in our churches, 
a tragedy of which the end is not yet in sight! . . . verily, the wild beasts 
behave more gently toward their like than the Christians toward theirs!" 
As Bishop of Kulm he still preserved this gentleness. He was a homo 
Uteratus, disertus et doctus (a man of letters, eloquent and learned). A 
son of Danzig patricians, he was born in 1480, seven years after his friend, 
Copernicus. He studied at Leipzig, and became Magister, secretary to the 
King of Poland and canon at Frauenburg; in 1519 King Sigismund en- 
nobled him; in 1538 he was appointed Bishop of Kulm, in 1548, Bishop of 
Ermland; he died in 1549. 

He lived with Copernicus at Frauenburg for more than the space of a 
generation, a lifetime associate, a delight to his friend. 

With the German reformers, too, Giese maintained friendly relations; 
true, his aim was to bring back the apostates to the Roman church. In 
1538 he completed a three-volume work entitled De Regno Christi (on 
the Kingdom of Christ), in which he supported the dogmas of the Catho- 
lic church but welcomed some of the innovations of the reformers. He 
submitted the manuscript to the judgment of famous scholars, such as 
Erasmus of Rotterdam (in the spring of 1536). Erasmus, already quite 
close to death, in a trembling hand and as politely as only good writers can, 
wrote to apologize that he was unable to read the work. Two years later, 
Giese, then already Catholic Bishop of Kulm, sent his work to the 
Lutheran Melanchthon at Wittenberg; previously in a letter he had rec- 
ommended his nephew who studied under Melanchthon at Wittenberg to 
the special consideration of the great humanist. 

Because Giese in his book wanted to reconcile the two opposing parties, 

he displeased both, as is usually the case, and was never printed. Later the 

Counter-Reformation even destroyed his manuscript; Hosius had found 

"horrendous heresies" in it. 

At that time gentlemen followed their principles very strictly— except 


when it was to their disadvantage. Great sacrifices are usually asked only 
of small people. A poor man sacrifices his life sooner than a rich man 
his money. 

When the Grand Master, with the help of the Catholic King of Poland, 
became a Lutheran, secularized his order, called himself Duke Albrecht 
of Prussia and abolished the monasteries, the rich clergy in Polish Prussia 
and Ermland trembled lest their goods, too, be secularized. 

But God and the King of Poland protected these property owners. And 
the Duke of Prussia, from the notorious family of Hohenzollern, pre- 
ferred to strike the poor rather than the rich. 

Andreas Osiander, the Nuremberg priest and infamous author of the 
interpolated preface to De Revolutionibus, the man who shortened Co- 
pernicus' life, had met the Grand Master at Nuremberg and secretly put 
him in touch with Luther. On his way to Berlin Albrecht looked up 
Luther at Wittenberg; the latter advised him to do away entirely with 
"the silly and perverted rule of the order," to marry, to secularize Prussia 
and become a Lutheran. Melanchthon advised him in the same sense. 

Meanwhile the Polish Diet resolved to expel the order from Prussia, 
unless the Grand Master finally swore the oath of vassalage to the King 
of Poland. Then Albrecht rode to Cracow. There, on April 10, 1525, he 
knelt before the King of Poland, and swore the desired oath. And for this 
he received in fief from the Catholic King of Poland the land formerly 
held by the spiritual order, henceforth to be the worldly Lutheran Duchy 
of Prussia. 

The Curia and the Catholic princes gnashed their teeth in horror, and 
cried: Shame and Stop thief! The Emperor and the Empire outlawed the 
infidel Hohenzollern, the insolent Albrecht. Immediately after the Peace 
of Cracow Albrecht openly went over to Luther and introduced the 
Lutheran church into Prussia all under the protection of the Catholic King 
of Poland. 

But to assuage the clergy in Ermland and in Polish Prussia, the pious 
King of Poland at the same time struck the Lutherans in these provinces 
with fire and sword. 

Yes, against the poor people, who at that time raised their restless 
heads, Catholics and Lutherans allied themselves. It was a fight against 
the slaves, by whose bloody sweat everyone lived, Catholics and Lutherans; 
it was a fight against the peasants! 

The poor people had believed that a new master would be a better 
master. The poor people had pinned their hopes on Luther. But when the 
thralls in Southern Germany began to rebel, and all over Germany peas- 
ants refused to be enthralled and to be whipped quite so brutally, when 

232 l'uomo universale 

they expressed the desire to elect their own priests and eat cheaper cab- 
bage, that gentle-souled son of the poor, Luther, simply could not endure 
it. He sat down before his table of German oak wood and wrote "against 
the robbing and murderous, peasants": "Such amazing times are these, 
that a prince can earn heaven by shedding blood better than others by 
praying . . . Therefore, dear gentlemen, rescue here, help there, have 
pity on the poor people, stab, strike, strangle, whoever can!" 

In Prussia, too, the peasants wanted to be free. This was in September 
and October, 1525. They seized forks and sickles, took spears and thresh- 
ing flails in their hands, and inveighed all too loudly against the secular 
and ecclesiastical estates, in Ermland, in Samland and in the new Duchy 
of Prussia. 

The Duke of Prussia and Bishop Moritz of Ermland, neither of whom 
could bear the sight of the other because of his faith, joined forces, and 
in the name of the Lutheran and Catholic God took the field against their 
starving little peasants, against the poor people. And God was with 
Bishop Moritz, and God was with Duke Albrecht, both were victorious. 
They slaughtered their peasants including the women and children, they 
burned down the straw huts (and did not build any stone houses). They 
killed all the discontented; as for the dead, they are easily satisfied, they 
do not rebel. 

The following spring, gentle Sigismund the Old, the kind-hearted 
King of Poland, came on horseback or by carriage. In all haste he burned 
a few gentlemen in Danzig, who believed in the same God as he did, but 
wanted to use different formulae of politeness in their intercourse with 
him. At Elbing and Torun, too, he wanted to burn the Protestants, but 
the distressed heretics had run away before he arrived. 

Even the gentle Tiedemann Giese was sent by the zealous Bishop 
Moritz to Elbing, in the spring of 1527, to put a councillor to the question, 
because he had not confessed at Easter! 

Five years later Tiedemann Giese was appointed coadjutor to the 
sickly Bishop Moritz Ferber; but this aroused the wrath of the King of 
Poland who wanted to see his favorite, Johannes Dantiscus, Bishop of 
Kulm, coadjutor to the Bishop of Ermland, for this office always led to 
the succession in Ermland. 

In 1536, Giese and Dantiscus finally reached a secret agreement. Giese 
was to become bishop of Kulm, and Dantiscus bishop of Ermland. And 
this came to pass, to the great sorrow of Copernicus. 

The latter, as he grew advanced in age, participated only to a limited 
extent in the affairs of his chapter. He was commissioned to supervise the 


church endowments. In 1540 he was appointed custodian, and in 1541, 
superintendent of the treasury of the cathedral association. 

At the age of sixty, Copernicus petitioned "or a coadjutor; the taking 
of one was a privilege of old age. Usually this was done to secure one's 
own prebend to a relative or friend. Copernicus wanted to bequeath his 
to his nephew, Johannes Lewsze. But Bishop Moritz delayed gratifying 
this wish. 

On May 7, 1543, a few days before Copernicus' death, his nephew, 
Johannes Lewsze, on the basis of an apostolic writ of confirmation of 
his post as coadjutor, solicited to be inducted into his uncle's canonship. 

At the age of sixty-five Copernicus renounced his so-called scholastry at 
Breslau, a prebend he had received as a young man and a sinecure. Prob- 
ably, he also renounced it in favor of a friend. 

According to all testimony, Copernicus was a vigorous old man. He 
is said to have had a mistress at an advanced age. From 1529 to 1536 (per- 
haps longer) he was the guardian of the children of one of his nieces who 
had been married to a Danzig councillor. 

Copernicus also took a lively interest in politics. In 1537, for instance, a 
correspondent from Breslau sent him news, of the battle between King 
Ferdinand and the Turks, a battle at Kaschau and an alleged truce be- 
tween Charles V and Francis I. Although these (partly false) reports 
from Breslau were dated the end of June, on August 9, 1537, Copernicus 
sent them to Bishop Dantiscus at Allenstein through a messenger whom 
Dantiscus had sent to Frauenburg. He must have thought that Bishop 
Dantiscus, that old diplomat and friend of emperors and chancellors, had 
not heard of these important political events which had happened twd 
months before. How slowly world news travelled at that time! 

The emperor and the Turks; burlesques at Elbing and starving peas- 
ants; Bishop Fabian and Bishop Moritz; Bishop Giese and Bishop 
Dantiscus; the Grand Master marries, the nephew Lewsze must wait, the 
young servant girl at home — and the stars . . . 

Insignificant details? Trifles in the life of a great man? 

But the eternal stars! The stars, always the stars. . . . 



Let the heavens be merciful to those who 
attack me! 


The barriers that separated states and na- 
tions in hostile selfishness are broken down. 
Today all thinking minds are united by a 
cosmopolitan tie. 

Schiller: The meaning and purpose 
of the study of history 

COPERNICUS' fame? And his great works? Not one of his contempo- 
raries had even a remote foreboding of his future influence on the world. 

Manifestly, at that time only Copernicus himself knew exactly what 
a great man Copernicus was. 

By the power of his personality he won a handful of followers, such 
as the enthusiastic youth, Rheticus, and a few of his colleagues of the 
chapter, Sculteti, Donner, Tiedemann Giese. By the power of his book 
he won several followers of genius and several who were merely intelli- 
gent; among these some were fearful like Erasmus Reinhold and Rene 
Descartes, some courageous like Galileo and Kepler, some ruthless like 
Giordano Bruno. 

When he died he had a dubious name among experts and a farcical 
reputation among laymen. 

A hundred years later he was world famous, considered by some as 
the hero of a scientific millennium of the future, by most as the chief 
representative of one of the most interesting false doctrines of the past. 

Two hundred years after his death (in many details long since out- 
stripped, in several fundamental conceptions already ridiculous) he was 
the man who had given his name to an epoch. Like the Centaurs, like 
Prometheus, he had begun the fight against the old gods, and triumphed 



beyond all expectation. Like broken statues the gods lay in the dust. 
The old cosmogonies had burst like soap bubbles. 

But at the end o£ the seventeenth century, in many countries of Europe, 
professors of astronomy were compelled to swear that they accepted the 
principles of Aristotle, particularly his views on the comets! 

Since most of Copernicus' letters, those best of all sources, have been 
lost, we do not know what relations he had in the learned world. Peucer, 
Melanchthon's son-in-law and a friend of Rheticus', relates that as early 
as 1525 Copernicus was "most famous." What is the meaning of this term? 

Only the Commentariolus could supply a fairly exact notion of Co- 
pernicus' system. But the Commentariolus obviously soon fell into ob- 
livion, or perhaps it never aroused much attention. 

Luther's after-dinner speech about the fool who wanted to turn the 
whole art of astronomy upside down, took place during the first half of 
the 1530's. Thus the news of the Copernican audacities must have reached 
Wittenberg shortly after the completion of his investigation, by the end 
of 1532 or 1533. 

Gnapheus, the Dutch humanist, schoolmaster and burlesque writer, 
came to Elbing in 1531 ; there he made himself a name and perhaps won 
his post as rector by his school comedies. It was perhaps in his comedy 
"Morosophus," printed in 1540 in a revised form, that he ridiculed Co- 

Dorothy Stimson reports a story of the court of Albrecht of Prussia 
allegedly told by Bishop Kromer. When the ducal astrologer expounded 
the Copernican theory to Albrecht, an exaggeratedly witty courtier called 
out to the servant who was carrying the wine jug: "Be careful not to 
spill the jug!" and with this old-Prussian joke he won all the beaux 
esprits to his side. 

By the end of 1533, Johannes Schoner, the Nuremberg astronomer, 
published a book in Nuremberg, which contained an inquiry into whether 
the earth was turning or not, an alleged disputation of Muller or Regio- 
montanus; in this work Schoner discussed the rotation of the earth and 
Copernicus' theory and rejected them. He jeeringly compared the sun 
with the fireplace and the earth with the meat on the roasting spit. 

Thus, in the fall of 1533 at the latest, Schoner must have heard of 
Copernicus' doctrine. 

In the summer of the same year, 1533, Johann Albrecht von Widman- 
stetter (1506-1557), the learned secretary and intimate of Pope Clement 
VII, lectured on Copernicus' theories before the pope, two cardinals, 
Bishop Petrus and the physician Curtius in the Vatican gardens. As a 
reward, he received a precious Greek manuscript with painted initials. 

236 l'uomo universale 

Widmanstetter was a man of extremely broad education, an expert in 
Oriental languages, and the owner of a famous library which later be- 
came part of the Bavarian state library. As the pope used him chiefly 
for handling German affairs, he was called "the privy councillor of the 
Germans at the Apostolic See in Rome." 

From 1535 on, Widmanstetter was secretary to the very influential 
Cardinal Nicolaus von Schoenberg, who on November 1, 1536, wrote 
Copernicus that famous letter from Rome, which Copernicus placed at 
the beginning of De Revolutionibus in 1543. 

Just as Alexander Sculteti, the preceptor at the Frauenburg Cathedral, 
a personal friend and colleague of Copernicus, may have aroused Widman- 
stetter's interest in the Copernican theories during his stay in Rome, so it 
was perhaps Widmanstetter who drew Cardinal Schoenberg's attention 
to Copernicus. 

Or were the Northern Europeans Sculteti, Schoenberg and Widman- 
stetter still humanistically minded at a time when Rome was again 
plunged into obscurantism under the reactionary Pope Paul III ? 

Schoenberg was a Saxon. He came to Italy to study. He heard 
Savonarola preach, and out of sheer enthusiasm became a Dominican 
monk. In 1518 the pope sent him to Poland as a mediator between the 
Teutonic Order and the Poles, and in order to arouse Albrecht and 
Sigismund the Old against the Turks. Schoenberg might have heard of 
Copernicus in Poland. He was appointed Procurator General at the papal 
court, and in 1520, Bishop of Capua. He helped to conclude the Peace 
of Cambrai between Charles V and Francis I, and was made cardinal 
by Paul III. As he occupied one of the highest ranks in the order of the 
Dominicans, those censors of education, doctrine, morals and heresies, 
Copernicus placed Schoenberg's letter even before his dedication to Pope 
Paul III in his De Revolutionibus. 

"Cardinal Nicolaus von Schoenberg, Bishop of Capua, sends Nicolaus 
Copernicus his greetings. 

"A few years ago when I heard everyone constantly speaking of your 
amazing investigations, I conceived a regard for you, and congratulated 
our people for their wisdom in spreading your fame. For I had learned 
that you not only profoundly understood the teachings of the ancient 
astronomers, but that you had also constructed a new world system. You 
teach, as I have heard, that the earth is moving, and that the sun occupies 
the center of the world, and that the eighth heaven, the firmament, re- 
mains constant and motionless; and that the moon together with the 
elements of its sphere between Mars and Venus revolves about the sun 
in an annual orbit. You have also written explanations of this theory 


and composed tables of the planetary orbits, that fill everyone with the 
greatest admiration. Therefore may I earnestly beg you, highly-learned 
man, if it is not too much trouble, to communicate your discoveries to 
those desirous of knowledge, and to send me, as soon as possible, the 
result of your nightly meditations upon the universe, together with the 
tables and everything else pertinent to this subject. 

"Dietrich von Rheden has been charged to have everything copied at 
my expense and to send it to me. If you do me this favor you will learn 
that I have your fame greatly at heart and am trying to obtain recognition 
for your work. Farewell! — Rome, on the first of November of the 
year 1536." 

As can be seen the cardinal in this letter speaks with enthusiasm, and 
some caution. Instead of expressing the heretical idea that the earth re- 
volves about the sun, he speaks of the motion of the moon, "together with 
the elements of its sphere . . ." 

One year later Schoenberg was dead. Rheden, an Ermland canon and 
Roman agent of the chapter, did not return to Frauenburg until 1539. 
He, Niederhoff, Donner and Lewsze were chosen by Copernicus as 
executors of his will. 

Thus some of the Catholic leaders at the beginning tried to promote 
Copernicus and his theory, while the leaders of the Reformation were 
strongly opposed to him. 

This situation was soon reversed. Copernicus' first disciple came from 
Wittenberg, the university of Luther and Melanchthon, and his name 
was Rheticus. He and his young friend, another mathematician of Witten- 
berg, Erasmus Reinhold, and a few Lutheran scholars from Nuremberg 
became interested in Copernicus. 

But the Catholic church began to persecute Copernicus, first him per- 
sonally, because of his lady housekeeper, and later his book and his theory. 

Incidentally, there were two men at that time, who occasionally as- 
serted that the earth was moving. Canon Celio Calcagnini (born and 
died at Ferrara, 1479-1541) composed a small treatise under the provoca- 
tive title Quomodo coelum stet, terra moveatur, vel de perenni motu 
terrae Commentatio (A treatise on how the heavens stand still, the earth 
moves, or on the constant motion of the earth). In 1544, that is to say, one 
year after Copernicus' death, it was published (in the edition of Cal- 
cagnini's works Opera aliquot in Basel). Calcagnini says: "I have just 
told you that this heaven which you let rotate with ineffable velocity, that 
this sun, and those stars which you let whirl and revolve, stand still, and, 
supported by their orbs, enjoy eternal rest." 

But he does not speak of the earth's motion around the sun. Calcagnini 

238 l'uomo universale 

finally refers to Nicholas of Cusa's views on the motion of the earth. 
Calcagnini was not an astronomer and Zinner considers his treatise in- 

Leonardo da Vinci, too, seems to have pondered over the question 
whether or not the earth moves. But his views wavered. Thus, he wrote 
in Quaderni: "The sun does not move!" and in 1510, in a treatise on 
falling bodies, he advanced the thesis that the earth rotated daily around 
its axis. On other occasions he assumed that the earth was the center of 
the world and that the sun and moon and stars revolved about it, thus 
his ideas were only flashes of genius, not to be compared to the method- 
ical investigations of Copernicus. 

And Copernicus' fame? A few cousins and colleagues of the clergy. 
And the interest shown by a handful of colleagues, mathematicians and 
astronomers? A lecture in the Vatican gardens? A few abusive remarks 
in Saxony! Some interest at Wittenberg and Nuremberg? A burlesque at 
Elbing! An invitation to sit on a committee for the reform of the calendar. 
Were these the fruits of fame in the life of a great man? 

And the great works? His translation of a mediocre man of letters 
from Byzantium? His "panning" of a Nuremberg vicar? A few ob- 
servations and computations? And a forgotten little commentary with 
an absurd, provocative and undemonstrated or badly demonstrated theory? 

And the great works? 

And fame? 

In 1473 Copernicus was born. In 1543 his De Revolutionibus was pub- 
lished, and at the age of seventy, a few hours before he passed away, 
he felt of this book with fingers already growing cold. 

Without this book probably nothing would have remained of him; 
if he had died a few years earlier, before Rheticus came and induced him 
to have it printed, his name would have died away, his theory would 
probably have been forgotten, he would have been merely another indus- 
trious and eccentric scientist, dead before his death, a plodding wagoner 
on the king's roads. 



In medicine Copernicus was celebrated as 
a new Aesculapius. 

STArowolski, Hecatontas 
But Copernicus knew remedies especially 
well and prepared them himself. 


Barbarus hie ego sum . . . 

IN HIS "History of the Theory of Colors," Goethe writes: "Today we 
have reached a point when the divorce between ancient and modern times 
is becoming ever more significant. A certain connection with antiquity 
still continues uninterrupted and powerful; but from now on we find 
several men who rely upon their own strength. 

"The human heart is said to be both defiant and timid. One might 
very well characterize the human mind in the same way. It is impatient 
and presumptuous, and at the same time uncertain and hesitating. It 
strives for experience and a more extended, purer activity, then it recoils, 
not unjustly so. As it progresses, it feels ever more urgently that it is 
bound to lose even while winning: for the necessary conditions of ex- 
istence are tied to truth as well as to falsehood. 

"Hence, in things scientific, what is handed down to us is defended as 
long as possible, and violent protracted struggles arise, theoretical as well 
as practical retardations. The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries give us the 
most striking examples of this. No sooner had the world become im- 
measurably extended in length by the discovery of new lands, than it 
must close up within itself as a round globe. No sooner had the magnetic 
needle pointed to definite quarters of the globe than it began to incline 
down to the earth just as definitely. 

"In the domain of morality similar great effects and counter-effects 
take place. As soon as powder is invented, personal courage disappears 


240 l'uomo universale 

from the world or at least takes a different direction. The ancient vigorous 
reliance on one's fist and God, dissolves into the blindest resignation to 
an unavoidably puissant, irrevocably commanding fate. Printing o£ 
books no sooner has generally spread culture than censorship becomes 
necessary in order to hedge in what has hitherto been free in a naturally 
limited circle. 

"But among all the discoveries and beliefs perhaps nothing produced 
a greater effect on the human mind than the doctrine of Copernicus. No 
sooner had the world been recognized as round and closed within itself 
than it had to renounce the tremendous privilege of being the center 
of the universe. Perhaps no greater demand had ever been made upon 
mankind: for think of everything that went up in smoke because of this 
admission: a second Paradise, a world of innocence, poetry and devotion, 
the testimony of the senses, the conviction of a poetic-religious faith; 
no wonder that people refused to let go of all this, that they opposed by 
all possible means a doctrine which challenged and entitled those who 
accepted it to a hitherto unknown and even unimagined freedom of 
thought and breadth of vision." 

Thus prodigious does Copernicus appear as astronomer and philoso- 
pher. But during his lifetime he was perhaps more famous as a physician, 
and certainly his medical reputation was less contested than his astronom- 
ical one. 

He was manifestly regarded as a corypheus of medicine in Ermland, 
and even abroad. True, he was not a regular practising physician. But 
he was the physician of his uncle Watzelrode, and the physician of his 
colleagues at the Frauenburg Cathedral, who had once sent him to Italy 
to study medicine. 

Now and then it seems that a poor man was treated by him; at least 
so it is reported by Gassendi, who embellishes a sentence of Starowolski's 
to this effect. The latter in turn seems to lean on a letter of Tiedemann 
Giese to Rheticus. Starowolski said that "the poor people worshipped him 
as a godlike being, who personally prepared special medicines and ap- 
plied them felicitously." 

When his uncle Watzelrode died, Copernicus, it is true, was not on the 
spot. And we do not know whether he tried to treat his brother Andreas 
for leprosy (or syphilis) and Bishop Fabian of Lossainen for syphilis. 

However, his cousin, Bishop Moritz Ferber, consulted him frequently. 
Moritz was sickly — I might almost say was sickly with a vengeance. He 
had a weak stomach, suffered from colics and podagra, was not equal to 
the burdens of his office, hated Luther and at every little twinge in his belly 


summoned cousin Copernicus from Frauenburg to Heilsberg Castle for 
a consultation. 

He summoned him in 1529, when he felt close to death. He summoned 
him in 1531, when again he thought his last hour had struck. By Christmas 
Moritz had a new colic and called three canons to his bedside, among 
them Doctor Copernicus, because he thought he was dying. Copernicus 
sent for Dr. Lorenz Wille, the physician in ordinary of the Duke of 
Prussia, for a consultation; this Doctor Wille happened to be in the 
neighborhood just then, at Rastenburg, where he had taken part in a 
theological disputation with some Prussian Anabaptists. Copernicus also 
consulted by letter the physician in ordinary of the King of Poland, the 
reliable Solpha. For Solpha, too, was a colleague of Copernicus', a canon 
at Frauenburg, he collected canonships, as a matter of fact he had six of 
them; he was a professor at the University of Cracow and was supposed 
to send preventive remedies to the bishop. King Sigismund the Old in his 
last hour extended his trembling right hand to the good Solpha and 
said: "Little Doctor, feel my pulse; we are traveling straight to God!" 

Moritz wrote everyone letters full of praise for his wonder-doctor, Co- 
pernicus. The astronomer had to spend all of January, 1531, at the bishop's 
bedside, and February, too. In April, 1532, Bishop Moritz asked his 
Frauenburg Chapter to lend him Doctor Copernicus for at least one day. 
Copernicus came again for Moritz had another colic. 

In 1533, Moritz got podagra into the bargain. 

Finally, in 1534, his health manifestly improved. Then he had a stroke 
in 1535. With all haste the great Doctor Copernicus was called. He ordered 
his six horses harnessed, jumped into his carriage and consulted the 
physicians at Danzig and the physician in ordinary of the King of Poland 
by letter. 

Moritz wrote that he longed for death. Death came. For in 1537 he 
had a second stroke and epileptic convulsions; the Chapter again sent 
Doctor Copernicus in all haste. He came too late and could only report 
the bishop's death. 

Moritz was succeeded by Bishop Johannes from Danzig, surnamed 
Dantiscus, a friend of Copernicus' youth and the enemy of his old age. 
In April, 1538, Bishop Dantiscus fell ill; he called Doctor Copernicus, and 
later the custodian of the cathedral of Breslau, Dr. Tresler, a native of 

Dantiscus had been called to Cracow. He was supposed to celebrate the 
marriage of the young Sigismund August of Poland and Elisabeth of 
Habsburg. She was sixteen years of age, her father was heartless, her 
fiance perverted, her mother-in-law, Bona, an Italian poison mixer. As 

242 l'uomo universale 

though little Elisabeth's guardian angel wanted to protect her from the 
marriage by force, two bishops suddenly died immediately after they 
had been summoned to perform the wedding ceremony; first, the jovial 
Kricki, archbishop of Gniezno, then the good Choinski, Bishop of Cracow. 
Dantiscus was stronger than the guardian angel, or perhaps craftier. He 
performed the marriage ceremony and only came back sick. He called 
upon Copernicus to cure him and kept him as a companion on his tour 
through Ermland, which he undertook to receive the oath of allegiance. 

In 1539, Tiedemann Giese, Copernicus' old friend and the new Bishop 
of Kulm, fell sick and summoned Doctor Copernicus to the castle of 
Loebau. He had been stricken by a violent tertian ague during a tour 
of inspection, and the physicians of Torun and Danzig were helpless. 
Copernicus ordered his six horses harnessed, got into his carriage and 
drove to the castle of Loebau. He or God or the sound constitution of 
the good Giese or the remedies of the Arab philosopher, Avicenna 
(980-1037 A.D.), the famous doctor of Bukhara, mastered the bad ague 
by the end of April, and Copernicus drove back to Frauenburg. 

In May he went again to the castle of Loebau, with his young guest 
from Wittenberg, Professor Rheticus, and both remained there through- 
out the summer, until September. And next year, in 1540, Doctor Co- 
pernicus visited his dear patient Giese once more, cured him of his ills, 
departed and continued sending him advice by letter. 

And once Doctor Copernicus was summoned abroad. Duke Albrecht 
of Prussia sent a messenger to Frauenburg, with letters to the Chapter 
and to Copernicus; he asked the Chapter to grant a furlough to the 
astronomer, and he asked Copernicus to come to Koenigsberg, as a 
consulting physician for the Duke's old friend, Georg von Kuhnheim, 
head magistrate at Tapiau, who was in danger of death, and whom the 
Jewish physicians in ordinary of the Duke of Prussia, Doctors Isaac May 
and Michael Abraham, were unable to cure. 

And Copernicus, now almost seventy years old, once more ordered his 
six jades hitched up, got into his carriage and drove to Koenigsberg in 
Prussia, the "distant foreign land." He had met Kuhnheim who was the 
Duke of Prussia's expert on currency questions. This dignitary had at- 
tended many sessions of the Prussian diet, had behaved very unreasonably, 
and had acted exclusively for the Duke's local interests. 

Although Copernicus came and stayed on, Kuhnheim failed to re- 
cover for a long time, and the Duke again wrote to the Frauenburg 
Chapter asking for the extension of the furlough of their famous medical 
colleague, Doctor Nicolaus Copernicus. Until the beginning of May Co- 
pernicus remained in Koenigsberg. Back at Frauenburg he even con- 


suited his friend, Solpha, on Kuhnheim's malignant illness and trans 
mitted to the duke "the letter . . . from which Your Princely Highness 
will hear the advice and opinion of the same doctor ... If I can add 
anything better in order to be helpful to Y.P.H.'s head magistrate's re- 
covery I will spare no labor and concern in order to please Your Princely 
Highness whose orders I diligendy await. Dated Frauenburg on June 
in the year MDXLI. 

Your Princely Highness's humble servant 

Nicolaus Copernicus 

To His Serene Highness Prince by the Grace of God, Albrecht, Mar- 
grave of Brandenburg, Duke of Prussians and Wendes, Duke Burgrave 
of Nuremberg and Prince of Rugen, my Gracious Lord." 

Obviously at the age of seventy Copernicus was still physically and 
mentally vigorous. 

He who was the greatest of revolutionaries as philosopher and astron- 
omer, as physician followed the darkest and most reactionary traditions, 
as is revealed by the prescriptions which he noted in many of his books. 

The notorious Gustavus Adolphus, who stole so dreadfully in the name 
of the Reformation, gave orders during his Polish war to remove the 
books and archives of Frauenburg and the library of the Jesuit College 
at Braunsberg to Sweden where they still are today stored in the royal 
archives at Stockholm or in the university library at Upsala. Among 
them are some books of Copernicus', signed by him, dedicated to him or 
marked up by his colleagues, and in addition to astronomical and mathe- 
matical works there are a few medical textbooks. They contain a number 
of scientific entries in Copernicus' hand. 

Thus he noted recipes for medicines in "Practical Medicine" (Philonium 
pharmaceuticum et chirurgicum, edition of 1490) by Valescus de Taranta, 
court physician of Charles VI of France; Valescus died at the beginning 
of the fifteenth century, his books had new editions in 1680 and 1714 and 
were mUch used even in the eighteenth century. Copernicus also made 
notes in the margin of the table of contents, where were the remedies 
for the various parts of the body and their diseases; there he wrote: 
Oculorum, Aures, Nares, Lingua, Dentes, Guttur, Cor, Stomachus, Epar, 
Splen, Renes, Genitales, Matrix, Gutta, Febres, Pestilentia, Apostemium 
(eyes, ears, nose, tongue, teeth, throat, heart, stomach, liver, spleen, kid- 
neys, genitals, womb, gout, fevers, pestilence, abscess). 
. In other medical books, too, that he had bought for his uncle Watzel- 
rode's library in the Heilsberg Castle, Copernicus wrote down recipes; in 
Chirurgia by Peter de Largelata, in Silvaticus' (d. in 1340) medical 
lexicon, in the pharmacology Hortus Sanitatis (garden of health), in 

244 l'uomo universale 

Anglicus' Rosa medicinae of 1492, in Practica Guarnerii of 1496 and in 
the book compiled by Petrus de Montagana, Venice, 1500. 

One recipe was noted twice by Copernicus; it runs as follows (the 
quantities are omitted): 

Recipe: boli armenici 



tormentillae radicis 


sandalorum rubrorum 

rasurae eborum 



anthemii acetosi 

corticis citri 



jacinti rubri 


os de corde cervi 


cornu unicorni 

coralli rubri 


argenti tabularum 

zuccaris librae sem. vel quantum sufficit fiat pulvis. 
But Copernicus knew simpler recipes, without "silver and gold, red 
corals and horns of unicorns, the pulp of a deer's heart, sapphires, red 
hyacinths and emeralds and pearls, the rind of a lemon tree and coal, 
vinegar and safron, ivory and red sandal wood and roots, cedar wood 
and cinnamon and Armenian sponge." 

Thus he noted the universal remedy of Arnoldus de Villa Nova (d. 
about 1310), called pilullae imperiales: "The imperial pills may be taken at 
any time, without special preparation, without observing any special diet, 
mornings and evenings, before or after eating, by the healthy and the 
sick. They have a curative effect on every disease . . ." etc. 

Copernicus also wrote down a few practical medical devices: bowel 
movements should be produced by external rather than internal medica- 
ments; it is necessary to see to it that the movements are regular. He 
gives directions for vomiting and purgative remedies; three directions 
for the preparation of hair-removing remedies; one recipe for preserving 


the teeth, one against toothaches; one concerning urine; one against 
stones; and a recipe in Greek letters for dyeing the hair. He also wrote 
down a few directions for paralysis, colics, the plague and other current 
ills. In medicine he was "a child of his time." Most of his recipes come 
from Avicenna, the Arab king of physicians in the Middle Ages. 

Copernicus, a philosopher against the authority of the Bible, an 
astronomer against Ptolemy and Aristotle, in medicine bowed to the 
authority of Avicenna. 



Quis leget haec? 


MOST people live and die without ever having had a single idea of their 
own. Nothing is rarer than an idea. 

As though following the Jesuit maxim: Si quid fecisti nega — If you have 
done anything deny it — Copernicus with passion and anguish sought in 
the authors of antiquity an excuse for his boldness in having thought 
something out for himself and for his luck in having found a new idea. 

Only ignoramuses are proud of their originality or try to wipe out 
all traces of their own plagiarisms; either they believe they have invented 
everything themselves or that they have taken everything from others. 

The mathematician Otho, a disciple of Rheticus', said that Copernicus 
owned only a few books. As is well known one need not read many 
books, but only the best books. However, in addition to his own books, 
and the library of the Frauenburg foundation with its 284 volumes of 
secular authors ("Medici, historici, astronomi et geometrae, philosophi, 
grammatici, poetae") CopernicUs had access to all the libraries of his 
humanist friends and the church libraries, as well as the library of the 
Franciscan monastery at Braunsberg. 

He was a prodigious reader. More than anything else he sought a 
confirmation of his own forebodings. He read all the astronomers, mathe- 
maticians and philosophers; had they had any ideas about the structure 
of the universe? What were they? 

He had the usual experience of all readers who ask the dead for the 
fundamental answers that no living author has been able to give them. 
At first he was disappointed. Then he found what he was looking for. 
Here and there he found views that resembled his own. In the last analysis, 
he read in order to get more than was really there in the texts. 



A few of his books have been preserved and we know that they were 
his because he wrote his name on them. There was Euclid's Geometry in 
the Latin edition of 1482 based upon an Arabic translation; astronomical 
works by Albohaze and Aratus; the Alfonsine and Regiomontanus Tables; 
a selection from the rhetorician Jovianus Pontanus; three discussions of 
Plato's commentators by Cardinal Bessarion; Chrestonius' Greek-Latin 
dictionary; and Valescus de Tharanta's Practica. 

In 1539 or later Copernicus received five books as gifts from Rheticus 
on the occasion of the latter's visit to him: Euclid's Geometry, in a new 
Latin edition, translated directly from the original Greek text; Regiomon- 
tanus' Trigonometry published by Petrejus in Nuremberg in 1533; a 
work on trigonometry by Petrus Apianus; Vitellio's Optics published by 
Petrejus in 1535; and the Greek edition of the Almagest published in 1538. 

Except for the Almagest and Euclid, Copernicus studied these books 
received from Rheticus, and abundantly annotated them. The Nuremberg 
publishers replaced the quotations from Euclid in the manuscript of De 
Revolutionibus which had been made from the edition based upon the 
Arabic by the corresponding passages from the new edition. 

In the volume of Apianus a horoscope of Copernicus is written in. This 
may be the work of Rheticus. 

In Vitellio's Optics Copernicus noted on his bookmark a reflection 
that reminds us of a passage from Thomas Aquinas: "The brevity of life, 
the weakness of our senses* our torpid negligence and futile occupations, 
are responsible for the scantiness of our knowledge. And often what we 
have known vanishes from our minds after a lapse of time, because of 
our invincible forgetfulness, that deceitful enemy of science and memory." 








l have travelled 160 miles only in order to 
see you and speak with you! 

professor REUSS from Wiirzburg, to 
Kant in Konigsberg 
Pythagore, philosophe grec, dont V existence 
est tres problematique ... 


WHEN Rheticus — a fiery young professor of mathematics at Wittenberg, 
to whom we owe the publication of the Book of Revolutions — stood be- 
fore Copernicus, Copernicus was an old man, a new Pythagoras, who like 
the legendary master of old was determined to reveal the open secrets 
of the universe only to the initiated. 

Sixty-six years old, learned and kindly, Nicolaus Copernicus had been 
living in one of the low towers within the walls of the cathedral for more 
than a quarter of a century. The little town of Frauenburg is situated on 
the Frische Haff, a fresh-water inlet of the Baltic Sea. The cathedral 
stands on a gently rising hill amidst elms and oaks; with its brick Gothic 
towers it looks like a citadel of God. 

From the gallery of his tower Copernicus saw the ocean at his feet, 
and the hazy blue, deeper ocean, the beloved heavens, above his head. 
During clear nights he looked up to the kindly heavens, which, visible 
to all, first revealed their laws and structure to him. ^ 

By day he saw close to him the fresh waves of the inlet, the reddish 
sands of the narrow neck of land separating the inlet from the sea, and 
further on the darker waves of the Baltic. He enjoyed a view far over 
the land, over pastures, gently swaying clouds and trees, birches or firs. 
And by night he had the stars, always the stars . . . 

At the foot of the cathedral he saw the litde town of Frauenburg; 
it was so called after the Virgin. Copernicus occasionally baptized it 
Gynopolis, the city of women — a tiny town on a little river, the Baude. 



Like all great revolutionaries Copernicus had endless patience as well 
as peculiar scruples. Revolutionaries, these truly fearless people, are afraid 
only of their own shadows; they recognize only their own conscience, 
and fear only the consequences of their own acts. 

The manuscript of the Revolutions had been lying there — not for nine 
years, in accordance with Horace's rule, but perhaps now four times nine 
years. But he did not intend to publish it, even though now and then 
one of his friends urged him to do so. Was he really ready? Was 
the time ripe? 

Copernicus had the greatest patience imaginable, the patience to wait 
beyond his own life and century. 

At first he may have thought that everything was propitious for him. 
The fifteenth century that gave him birth and nurtured him until his 
twenty-eighth year seemed to have prepared everything for his greatness. 
The new century, the sixteenth, made as though especially for him, and 
arisen with him, seemed ready to unfold in accordance with the tre- 
mendous idea and intuition of its unknown leader, Copernicus. 

Year after year, decade after decade, he had been waiting for the 
dreaming world finally to awaken to his thesis which heralded the greatest 
of all revolutions. Meanwhile he had calmly studied and thought, ob- 
served and computed, and in secrecy cautiously communicated the 
principles and draft of his new theory of the universe to a few chosen 
friends and scholars. 

Amid the tenebrous conspiracy of inertia, habit, routine and ignorance, 
while engaged in his more exact observations and most recent computa- 
tions he suddenly became aware that the century was moving backward. 

The new freedom had only begun; independent living and sovereign 
thinking had just become fashionable. And now came the fanatical coun- 
ter-revolution. The counter-reformers and Reformers turned into gaolers. 
Reason, that poor laughing jester, was again put into a great strait- 
jacket, and shook the little bells of her new fool's cap with desperate 

The new humanistic science; the new arts of the Rennaissance: music 
and painting, architecture and sculpture; the dream of freedom of the 
Italian cities, the French nobility, the conquistadores of America, the 
burghers of Spain, the German peasants; the tolerance of the Catholic 
Church; the Maecenas-like patience of the emperors; the stormy idealism 
of the reformers — all that seemed gone. 

Copernicus saw his opportunity slipping, his enemies multiplying, the 
great powers growing hostile . . . 

However tragic revolutions are, their beginnings usually appear gro- 
tesque. With the first heralds of Copernicus' distant fame, the clown, too, 


came on the stage, in the shape of the Dutch rector at Elbing, the fateful 
prophet of the imminent dark cloud that was to sweep over Europe: 
Wilhelm Gnapheus, the author of burlesques. 

Gnapheus came from Holland and was known in Europe as a humanist. 
Progressives are often the first swallows of reaction; they think they can 
save their own skins if they auction off their ideals and are ready to sell 
their own friends to the enemy; but usually they only succeed in getting 
themselves skinned first of all. 

Born in that year of the birth of freedom, when Columbus discovered 
America, this Wilhelm Gnapheus, since the age of thirty had been a 
continuous victim of religious intolerance. The Inquisition threw him 
into jail at Delft. He got out with difficulty — in Brussels people of his 
ilk were being burned at the stake. In the Hague he was interned for 
two years. No sooner released, than he was imprisoned in a monastery 
for three months and given only bread and beer for food. When the 
inquisitors began to set their little fires in Holland, too, he chose to flee, 
and for the space of a year hid in the countryside. Finally he sneaked 
across the border, travelled in Germany for some time, settled at Elbing, 
and found a "second homeland" there; but soon after he had written his 
burlesques and become rector of the gymnasium, he was again perse- 
cuted and driven out, always on account of the same little differences 
concerning the correct manner of communing with God. 

This time he was persecuted by Johannes of Danzig, who called him- 
self Dantiscus, the severe Bishop of Ermland. In 1541, fleeing his blows, 
Gnapheus came to Koenigsberg, whence he was again driven out by 
very severe Lutherans. Finally, still persecuted, still in exile, he came to 
East Friesland, close to his Dutch homeland, and died there, his eyes 
turned toward his native country. The world had grown too strict for 
this ill-advised satirist. 

What irony! Had this pedantic humanist escaped from the dungeons 
of religious orthodoxy in order to ridicule the man who was beginning 
to burst asunder the greatest dungeon of all, the earth-seized house of 
error and pious superstition, with his wonderful numbers and words and 
his original idea? 

Was it the place of the humanist Gnapheus to give the obscurantists 
weapons against the humanist Copernicus who had won the greatest vic- 
tory over obscurantism? 

Poor burlesque writer, poor Gnapheus, foolish schoolmaster, who be- 
lieved that the voice of common sense was speaking through him and 
who in its name arose against Copernicus! 

But after the fool came the hypocrite. On the heels of the satirist 
followed the persecutor. 



Le pauvre homme! 

moliere, Tartufe 
Tantaene animis caelestibus irael 

virgil, Aeneid 

THE Bishop of Ermland was new. He displayed equal zeal in persecuting 
Gnapheus, the writer of burlesques, and his target, Copernicus. 

This Polish bishop was a typical product of the sixteenth century. In 
his character holiness was mixed with lasciviousness ; this zealous bishop 
had a girl in every province. He had a dozen talents but they did not go 
well with one another. 

Johannes Flachsbinder was born in 1485, the son of a Danzig beer 
brewer. A soldier at the early age of seventeen, he fought against the 
Turks and Tartars. A veteran at eighteen, he returned to Cracow where 
he attended the high school and the university. He entered the service 
of King Alexander. Soon he set out again, this time without weapons, 
and went to Rome and Hellas, the Holy Land and Arabia. His gods lived 
everywhere; after all he was a disciple of the humanists, and a Latin poet. 

Upon his return he was sponsored at court by the learned vice- 
Chancellor, a bishop, and found favor with the mighty; he was adroit 
in handling people and in business, conversant with the classics, familiar 
with Prussian affairs, and a Polish patriot! 

The young secretary accompanied his king to Vienna, and became 
Polish ambassador to the Emperor, who made him poet-laureate. In the 
end this son of the people became a ruling prince: the Bishop of Ermland. 

A worldly-minded person in his youth, an obscurantist in his old age, 
he was always witty. An indefatigable lover of Tyrolian and Spanish 
girls, he became the leader of the counter-Reformation in Poland, to- 
gether with his favorite and successor Hosius. 

He was a licentious poet singing of wine and women in Latin verses. 
In Innsbruck he loved Grinaea; in Toledo, Ysope de Galda. 



"My strength is already ebbing," he confesses in his charming elegy on 
the Tyrolian girl, "my hair at the temples is already graying." 

Half a generation later a friend of his youth, with whom he had 
once vied as a poet over the wine table, asked him for a copy of his 
love-complaint famous throughout Europe. The bishop answered that he 
would gladly send him, along with the copy of his elegy, his once so 
ardently beloved Tyrolian girl as a gift — if only he still had her! 

As for the Toledo girl, he begot a child by her, who, in honor of her 
priestly father, was named Joanna Dantisca de Curiis. The bishop sent 
her a regular allowance to Spain through the Welsers and Fuggers, the 
Augsburg world bankers; from Spain, the emperor's ambassador sent 
the bishop a portrait of this daughter. 

Johannes de Weze, Archbishop of Lund, wrote his colleague, Johannes 
Dantiscus, Bishop of Kulm: "The other day, on the Sabbath, I visited 
that most chaste nymph, your Ysope. I kissed her little hands, in ac- 
cordance with the Spanish custom, and her little feet, in accordance with 
the Roman custom, and so on; and I kissed not only the little hands 
of the nymph, and your daughter, Dantisca, but also the mouths of both 
of them, and we revelled abundantly in Toledan wine, and so on . . ." 

Different at each period of his life, Dantiscus at each stage of his career 
assumed a different name. The name he was born with, Flachsbinder, was 
grecized by the young poet into Linodesmos; the courtier, ennobled by 
the emperor, called himself de Curiis — of the court. Later, to honor his 
native city, he called himself Dantiscus, the gentleman from Danzig. 

It was natural for him to transform himself from time to time; thus 
he kept pace with the times. When the century was lascivious, Dantiscus 
was lascivious; when it was austere, he was austere, too. 

The high clergy in Poland was at that time quite mundane. The 
church dignitaries enriched themselves at the expense of the king and 
their serfs. In palaces built for them by Italian architects they lived for 
pleasure and practised politics. They hunted prebends, as one hunts 
hares. Many came from the schools of the humanists; there were cynics 
and zealots — among them Dantiscus was both a cynic and a zealot. 

What manner of men were his colleagues? The Bishop of Kujawia 
said: "I have marked out some from among the Prussian nobility; if 
they do not convert themselves, I will soon deal with them and bring 
them to God or the stake!" 

Bishop (later Archbishop) Krzycki wrote to Bishop Tomicki: "I 
hear that you are ill, and I regret it. I ordered all my little priests 
(sacricolas) to ply Saint Apollonia with little prayers and sacrifices for 


your dear health. And I have threatened the saint that I would go over 
to Luther's sect if she did not do her duty." 

In other letters he continuously alludes to lascivious matters. He wrote 
a facetious poem against the Bishop of Poznan, whose jealous house- 
keeper locked the door so that the bishop had to drop his paramour 
through the window into a net. (Casus ridiculus quidatn. De meretricula 
demissa in red per fenestram etc. Acta Tomiciana VIII. No. 80.) 

For seventeen years Dantiscus travelled over Europe as Polish am- 
bassador, accompanying the emperors from one court to another, and 
even to the battlefield. Although he had often worked against the em- 
perors in the interests of Poland, he also served them. Emperor Maxi- 
milian sent him as a peace negotiator to Venice, Emperor Charles to 
Paris. Dantiscus allied the pope and the emperor against the Turks. To 
the pope and the emperor he justified first Poland's war against the 
Teutonic knights, then her peace with them. 

One of the famous men of his century he had his hand in many deals. 
All Europe read his verses. He sang the "Difference between virtue and 
honor"; King Sigismund's bridal bed; and other battlefields. He sang the 
orgies of his youth: 

I went into the lairs of the prettiest cocottes 
In drunken passion. 

To love them all, I went always forward 
In drunken courage . . . 

In passing he worked his way up in the church. For the space of twenty 
years he gathered prebends and dignities, the Golombie parish near 
Cracow, a canonship at Frauenburg, the highest parochial post at Danzig, 
the bishopric of Kulm, finally that of Ermland — all of these gifts from 
the King of Poland, all of them sinecures. 

In his good moments, in Spain or Belgium he wrote pious little songs; 
because the poor people in Danzig refused to continue paying high taxes, 
he called Danzig the new Sodom and as supreme vicar ordered his 
brother to collect the money-offerings without delay. 

Luther's teaching came to Prussia and Poland at the time of the 
peasant wars. At the imperial diet of 1519 the Polish nobility carried their 
point: tax collectors were punished by flogging or death if they demanded 
imposts from the nobles. And even peasants exempt from statute-labor 
had to work for the gentlemen of the nobility one day a week without 
pay. Peasants who stayed for three days in the city without practising a 
trade or finding employment were to be put in chains and dragged away 
to do compulsory labor. 


The high nobility and clergy didn't care for God. The lower nobility 
demanded the confiscation of all the church estates. The craftsmen and 
poor burghers heard about Luther and thought that his God brought 
freedom from taxation or a better distribution of property. The poor 
people still remembered Jesus and that naturally the Son of God was a 
social revolutionary! 

At Danzig unrest began to spread among the poor. They alone had 
to pay all the taxes. The people hated the burgomaster who, instead of 
taxing the rich, enriched them. The people cried: "Your accounts! We 
want to see your accounts!" 

For the taxes of the poor grew increasingly heavy, and the city treasury 
increasingly poor. "The accounts!" cried the poor. 

The burgomaster chose to flee. The people demanded a share in the 
government, just taxation, abolition of the monks' celibacy, closing of the 
monasteries, the end of the inquisition, the return to the doctrine of 
Christ, justice, the abolition of fast days, mass, church songs, and freedom: 
free hunting, free fishing, especially of sturgeon, free preaching, espe- 
cially of the original words of Christ, and freedom for all to fish for amber 
in all the city waters and grounds . . . 

The poor people wanted to realize Christianity purely and simply! This 
was going too far! 

Runaway monks and unlearned people began to preach. "The preachers 
assumed the roles of councillors and judges, secular and the ecclesiastic," 
as Bernt Stegman wrote in his chronicle of the uprising of 1525. 

Then the Bishop of Kujawia came to Danzig in the name of the King 
of Poland and threw a Protestant preacher into jail; but the people 
released him and drove out the bishop. And the Council issued an edict 
forbidding the monks not only to preach but even to beg! Then it came 
to civil war. 

The Council set up the oldest pieces of artillery on the market place. 
The poor people of the suburbs broke the gates of the inner city. Then 
the Council yielded. But it was deposed by the blacksmith Peter Konig 
and his friends, who ruled in Danzig and closed all the monasteries 
except one, and imposed taxes on the wealthy. This could not go on. 

The monastery of the black monks became a hospital, that of the 
gray ones, a Greek school. In the churches, preachers of the Gospels took 
the place of the destroyed images of the saints. A priest was sent with 
letters to Wittenberg; the blacksmith and a few of his friends were sent 
to Cracow, as a deputation to the king. 

The blacksmith and his friends thought they would convince the king 
by means of quotations from the Bible. Perhaps, they thought, the king 


had never read the Sermon on the Mount. Political revolutions, the black- 
smith said, are simply the consequences of the words of Christ. 

The same things that took place in Danzig took place in Torun, Erm- 
land, Elbing. King Sigismund wrote Duke Albrecht of Prussia asking 
him to return to the poor Polish nobles their peasants who had fled to 
Prussia (Kmetones et servi illiberi); these peasants, he explained, were 
not interested in their religion, but only in their freedom! And after 
all, the Duke of Prussia, too, was against the freedom of the poor. 

At that time only Cricius (the jovial Archbishop Krzycki) and Tiede- 
mann Giese wrote against the Lutherans in Poland. 

The inquisition politely invited the heretic gentlemen to attend pyro- 
technical spectacles. The King of Poland and his bishops issued edict 
after edict. In 1520 an edict of Torun prohibited the writings of friar 
Martin Luther, under penalty of confiscation of all goods and banishment. 

Later edicts enjoine'd upon the people to break off all communications 
with Lutheran Silesia, to burn every Protestant preacher alive — and also 
every reader of Protestant writings — furthermore to set up a special tri- 
bunal of the inquisition, which at the bishop's request would be entitled 
to search every private home for forbidden books, and to establish a 
censorship. No printer was allowed to publish anything without the 
imprimatur of the Rector of the University of Cracow. A friend of 
Dantiscus' wrote him: "In our city no layman has the right to open his 
mouth in matters of faith; he must neither praise nor censure." 

Meanwhile, the King of Poland came to Danzig with a strong force, 
held church celebrations and organized cross-examinations with torture, 
reinstated the old councillors, demanded new and heavier taxes, beheaded 
six and then another six or seven rebels, and finally the blacksmith who 
was so conversant with the Bible. 

Many Protestant preachers and followers of Christ went into exile. Be- 
fore his departure the king issued edicts: Lutheranism was to be ex- 
terminated; the royal burgrave was to have precedence over the council; 
only the freeborn were to have the right to become citizens — this stopped 
the influx of peasants. Popular assemblies were forbidden, as well as any 
demands to check the accounts of the city treasury. 

A new statute in Prussia strictly separated the tribunal for nobles from 
the tribunals for the burghers. For the peasants, there were no tribunals 
at all. Their rights could be represented in court only by their owners. 

By that time Dantiscus returned home. He was tired of his eternal 
wanderings, asked for a leave of absence and went to Lobau Castle, the 
residence of the Bishops of Kulm; soon afterwards he became Bishop of 
Ermland and the superior of the Ermland canon, Copernicus. 


This amusing child of his epoch, a solid drinker and lover in seven 
lands, the charming author of piquant little songs, a hard-boiled diplomat 
and prebend-hunter, loose or strict according to the needs of the times, 
this Dantiscus was no sooner made Bishop of Ermland than he plagued 
the grand old man, the sixty-six-year-old Copernicus, on account of his 
young housekeeper. He was perhaps the cause of Copernicus' failure to 
complete his immortal work. Thus he was guilty of a really dreadful 
crime, a crime against genius. 

Anna Schillings, a youngish person, perhaps a distant relative of the 
old canon, kept house for him. Bishop Dantiscus reproached him with 
having unbecoming feelings for or relations with this lady. 

Thus a Dantiscus set himself up as a moral judge over the most pious, 
most innocent man of his time. 

Poor obscurantist! Forgotten are your sweet elegies; today who knows 
the adventurous son of a Danzig beer brewer, the Knight of the Empire, 
the poet crowned by an emperor, the Spanish hidalgo, the Bishop of 
Kulm and Ermland, the ambassador of Poland, the friend of emperors 
and kings, the peace negotiator with France and Venice, the correspondent 
of a hundred celebrities? Who still knows Dantiscus? He seemed so 
great in his day, did Johnnie Flachsbinder of Danzig! Did he not look 
in contempt at the gray Copernicus whom he had met in his youth? 
Once Copernicus had been the respected nephew of the important Erm- 
land bishop, Lukas Watzelrode. Now he was old and thrice suspect, what 
with his peculiar theories of the heavens, his Lutheran friends and visitors 
and his all-too-young and all-too-pretty housekeeper, Anna Schillings. 

Strange, indeed, are the ways of fame! Today Dantiscus is only known 
as the man who persecuted Copernicus. 

Dantiscus even survived Copernicus; he had erased him from the world 
of the living, he considered him eternally dead, and forgotten. 

O immoral judge of others' morals, you Dantiscus, with your dissolute 
boon-companions who seem to have stepped out from the Italian or 
Spanish comedies — what is worthy of memory in all your exploits? 

Dantiscus and Copernicus — what contemporaries! They came from the 
same corner of the world. They belonged to the same church. They 
laughed together as boys. 

Did Dantiscus try to compensate for the sins of his youth by his later 
zeal? Or did he see the trend of the times, the new tendencies of Rome, 
and was he willing, in order to become an archbishop and cardinal, to 
make every sacrifice, that is, to sacrifice any other man? Or had he a 
dozen other even flimsier motives? 

Compared to his, Copernicus' life was gentle and pious; only in spirit 


was he audacious. In spirit he was one of the greatest destroyers, a 
nihilist. To a zealot or Grand Inquisitor could this most pious man of the 
sixteenth century appear as anything but the devil himself? As Anti-christ? 

Copernicus and Dantiscus — antipodes in their lives and spirit — were 
they not bound to clash with each other? Was it really only the wicked- 
ness of Dantiscus that aroused him against Copernicus or was it the 
deepest instinct of the son of his era against the austere father of the 
new era? 

Copernicus was the inconspicuous man who studies and thinks and 
calmly seeks the truth rather than money, honors, pleasure or his own 
advantage, and for its sake goes further than he ever dreamed of going, 
and thus, the most gentle of men inexorably evolves, in the realm of 
the spirit, into a revolutionary, a radical as Christ before him. With the 
truth in his hands he no longer wavers. Without conceit he opposes his 
whole century, his time, the church, state, science, and the universities, he 
alone against mankind, even against religion and against God! The 
quiet, remote canon became the creator of a new world. 

And as the superior of this man we have the jovial, sensual, pleasure- 
seeking, straying, wavering, cynical Dantiscus! Gifted in everything, he 
believed in nothing. Or when he believed, his belief was always in accord 
with his time, with his own advantage, with the powers that be. Every 
five or ten years he was different, had a new name, a new profession, a 
new business, a new tendency. Thus he followed every turn of his time, 
the slave of his century, the witty opportunist, the son of the people and 
idol of his contemporaries, a learned wise man according to Melanchthon, 
or in the words of the Nuremberg humanist and Lutheran, Eobanus 
Hessus: "Humanity itself." 

In the conflict between the worldling and the philosopher, the oppor- 
tunist and the man of character, of course the opportunist was victorious. 
And, of course, the philosopher was right in the end. 

Just when the sixty-six-year-old prophet seemed defeated, weary, worn 
out and determined to keep silent, there came the first disciple, and 
everything changed. 




He came and his name was Martin Luther. 


Story of Mankind. 

THE first disciple set out to investigate the old man. His real name was 
Georg Joachim von Lauchen, and he was born at Feldkirch in Vorarlberg 
in 1514. He called himself the man of Rhaetia or Rheticus, in accordance 
with the custom of the learned who gave themselves a name in their youth 
by latinizing their father's names. Every educated man at that time spoke 
Latin: the pharmacist and God; no physician healed, no judge sentenced, 
no priest blessed, no alchemist cheated in any other language. 

Even as a child Rheticus accomplished his Italian voyage (apparently 
with good results) and a Swiss voyage. At first he studied at Zurich; at 
Basel he met the miracle worker, Paracelsus; at the age of eighteen he 
went to Saxony and won the heart of a great man. 

Philip Melanchthon, the great-nephew of Reuchlin and the teacher 
of the Germans, was at the age of twenty-one, precocious in a precocious 
century, a famous expert on classical antiquity and the first professor 
of Greek at the University of Wittenberg. Upon his advice Rheticus 
studied mathematics and at the age of twenty-two was professor at 
Wittenberg, thanks to Melanchthon, who introduced him at his in- 
augural lecture and presented him to the notables, especially to Dr. Luther, 
a professor of theology, and the burgomaster, who painted portraits of 
all his friends and of himself, managed a pharmacy and a bookshop and 
was a jovial fat man, Lukas Cranach. 

For the space of two years Professor Rheticus lived side by side with the 
eccentric reformers of Germany, the meticulous theologian and the dar- 
ing philologist. 

These two dangerous and prodigious men, Luther and Melanchthon, 
were friends for twenty-five years, yet eternally as far apart as the antip- 



odes. Their pamphlets and translations resulted in splitting Germany, 
in reforming the Roman Church and in creating the Janus-faced Ger- 
man Reformation, with its spiritual liberation and political strangulation. 

What a contrast between the reformer of the Germans and their teacher! 

Like all the other great revolutionaries they affected the whole Euro- 
pean continent, all the Christian countries. 

Jacques Maritain once amused himself by reproducing all the portraits 
of Luther, from 1520 until shortly before his death, in order to prove 
how idealistic the young thin Luther looked — when he was still a Catholic! 
— and how more and more sensual and vulgar and in the end repulsive 
the aging fat reformer looked — because he grew increasingly Lutheran! 
But actually Maritain was denouncing not Protestantism, but old age or 
Mrs. Luther's cuisine. 

Luther is the grandiose creator of the German language, who hurled 
his inkpot at the devil! He is the marvelously fervent poet who with 
unsurpassed obscenity spoke to his table companions about his wife and 
the Holy Father. He is the scholastic mystic, who began as a wizened 
bone and ended up as a pot-belly, "the soft flesh of Wittenberg." The 
revolutionary who throttled the revolution that had fed him and made 
him great in the blood of his brothers, the poor peasants! He damned 
the dissoluteness of Rome and condoned the bigamy of the sensuous 
Philip of Hesse. He called the Pope the devil's son, and worse! Because 
he was a German nationalist and full of xenophobia he attempted to 
break Rome's influence in Germany. But he made every native princeling 
the lord of his Christian subjects' faith and conscience, and all in the name 
of the freedom of conscience necessary to' a Christian. He fought the 
Catholic obscurantists, but at the same time hindered the Renaissance, 
that wellspring of European civilization. He rejected the indulgences and 
invented literal faith. Martin Luther was as stubborn as a bull, as cranky 
as a zealot, as avid for pleasure as a lansquenet, as learned as a three-score 
philologist, as superstitious as his own grandmother, the most perspicacious 
among the deluded, a know-better, do-better, world reformer, rebel and 
pragmatist, a poet and reformer, a real country doctor. 

Compared to him how delicate seems the almost feminine humanist, 
Philip Melanchthon, who wrote in Latin and taught Greek, the man 
of the word, equally captivating as a popular orator and in the language of 
the learned. A thinker by nature and a cautious scholar, he was averse 
to political struggles. He was so learned that in 1519 Luther wrote, 
"This little Greek surpasses me even in theology!" He was so fascinating 
that ten years later Luther said he was not good enough to loosen 
Melanchthon's shoestrings; and for a time Luther considered himself to 


be only Melanchthon's prophet and that it was his function to pave the 
way for this master. Luther, who after all really knew Melanchthon, con- 
sidered him a greater man than himself. 

After Luther's death, this Melanchthon, the author of the Augsburg 
Confessions of 1530, became the leader of German Protestantism. As early 
as 1526, Albrecht Diirer, the friend of the Wittenbergers, wrote under 
his portrait: "Diirer who could paint Philip's living face and mind, 
but not his learned hands." 

On this portrait, the incomparable Philip Melanchthon, with his bold 
aquiline nose, his soft lips, wild locks, poetic beard and pensive melancholy 
eyes resembles the young Schiller in an open shirt. 

But Hans Holbein's drawing shows him as smoothly shaven, with 
sparse locks and thin ironic lips. He looks out calmly at a confused world. 
The pious philosopher strives to assert his reason and his measure in 
Germany; he is a tolerant reformer, the teacher of Germany, a sage full 
of errors, a limited humanistic man-of-letters! 

The young professor Rheticus was quite equal in stubbornness to his 
two patrons. In the field where he was a master, that is, in mathematics 
and astronomy, he did not follow them. In the midst of zealots he pre- 
served a free mind. Luther and Melanchthon summarily called Copernicus 
a fool. But Rheticus and his twenty-four-year-old colleague Reinhold, 
the other Wittenberg professor of astronomy, who were both bound by 
their office to teach the Ptolemaic system to their pupils, had some vague 
information about the revolutionary astronomical theory of Nicolaus 
Copernicus, a canon and astronomer from Torun, and had a burning 
desire to learn more of it, and even to see the author and investigate his 

Also Johannes Schoner, the old friend of Melanchthon who was known 
for his fondness for banter, and whom Rheticus, equipped with letters 
of recommendation from Melanchthon, looked up at Nuremberg in the 
fall of 1538 (as he did later Apian at Ingolstadt), knew of Rheticus' plan 
for an educational trip to Poland, approved of it, and asked him to report 
on it as soon as possible. It seems that Melanchthon did not oppose the 
trip of his protege: Rheticus' chair despite his lengthy absence was not 
given to another professor, and after his return from Prussia he resumed 
his lectures on arithmetic and geometry. 

In. April, 1539, Rheticus set out from his native town of Feldkirch. He 
travelled via Wittenberg. 

In May the nightingales are already singing in the woods of Germany 
and Poland. There are flowers everywhere. The laughing blue sky, the 
joyful green earth, the gusts of wind, the whole match-making magic 


of spring delights the traveller. At this season old men set out to ride 
against the windmills of reason and youngsters set out to release the 
enchanted world. 

Thus Rheticus set out for distant Poland. 

He defied all the hazards of the trip, the women of the town and the 
cutpurses, only in order to see the old man in his tower near the 
Baltic Sea. 

This old man had a new theory of the structure of the universe. Rumors 
about his half-hidden, sensational discoveries had reached as far as 
Wittenberg, Nuremberg, Cracow and Rome. Perhaps this new system 
was simply ridiculous and heretical. But if it were the truth demonstrated 
by irrefutable syllogisms, computations and tables; if it were the truth 
expressed for the first time in thousands of years, it meant a revolution. 
It meant the overthrow of science and religion. Such were the implica- 
tions of the most audacious thesis against the two basic books of mankind 
of that day, against the Bible and Aristotle. It meant the open overthrow 
of the heavens on earth! 

If the thesis were correct. . . . 

In the presentiment of his own genius, with the insolence of youth, and 
the privilege of reason Rheticus set out ready to damn or worship. 

Driven by the unconquerable curiosity of a man of spirit, this first 
disciple (a fiery youth: a professor of mathematics!) came at the very 
last moment so to speak! 

He came for a short time and stayed for years. 
- He came uninvited, unexpected, unknown, without letters of introduc- 
tion — but were it not for him the Book of Revolutions might not have 
been published; the fateful manuscript might have been forgotten in the 
tumult of the religious wars. (And so there would have been no Co- 
pernican system — and our earth would have remained motionless, on 
Ptolemy's lap?) 

As early as the middle of May Rheticus wrote to Nuremberg, to the 
good Schoner, teacher of mathematics at the very famous humanistic 
gymnasium in Nuremberg, of which Melanchthon was the founder, of 
which Hegel was the rector, and where I was once a pupil. 

I am already in Poznan, he wrote. Soon I will be in Frauenburg and 
report in detail to my venerable teacher Schoner what I think of the 
man and his ideas. 

He arrived in the middle of July. This was an event in that quiet 
provincial corner: a stranger! A scholar! A Lutheran! A professor from 
Wittenberg who had personally made the long trip to look up a canon 
from around here, the old man, Copernicus, because this old man main- 


tains that the earth . . . —just think of it: the immense earth on which 
all of us live, including all of Frauenburg, and the cathedral and the 
Baltic Sea and the clouds in the sky — turns in fabulous haste around the 
allegedly fixed sun, which every day visibly moves in the sky, rises in the 
morning in the east, and sinks in the evening in the west! 

Dantiscus had just forbidden the reading of Lutheran writings under 
heavy penalties. And here was a Lutheran come to town! 

The sensation must have been so great that Copernicus was perhaps 
relieved to seize the first opportunity in order to go abroad with the 
young man, to his friend Giese at Lobau in the bishopric of Kulm. 
And there they remained from July until September. But there too the 
persecutor tracked him down! 



How often my heart broke down in fear 
and murmured to me: "Do you want to be 
wiser than all the others? Are then the in- 
numerable others in error? Have they been 
always wrong for so many centuries? Sup- 
pose you err and through your error drag 
down so many people to eternal doom? 
luther at Wartburg, when he lived 
under the name of Junker Jorg and 
the devil approached him in the 
shape of a big black dog 
. . . for he /the ruler/ beareth not the sword 
in vain. 


COPERNICUS received the young stranger like a son. 

For the arch-Protestant Rheticus, the favorite of Luther and Melanch- 
thon, it was just as dangerous to spend years in the arch-Catholic bishopric, 
as it was dangerous for Copernicus and Giese to be the hosts of the 

The great anathema of the Church lay upon Wittenberg. In Poland 
people were warned against studying at this university. In 1534, King 
Sigismund suspended from office all those who had studied at Wittenberg. 

In March, 1539, a few months before Rheticus' arrival Dantiscus had 
issued his sharp "Mandate against Heresy." 

,In 1540 the provisions of this mandate were made more severe. "Under 
the penalty of losing head and property, of proscription or banishment 
from all royal lands, no one shall possess, read or listen to the reading 
of Lutheran or similarly poisonous books, and all shall burn such books, 
booklets, songs or whatever else has come from the poisonous places in 
the presence of the authorities," etc. Dantiscus,' the poet, beheaded the 
readers of other authors. 



Vicar Feierabend from Elbing denied the presence of Christ at the 
holy communion. Dantiscus demanded that he be questioned. Feierabend 
escaped. Dantiscus was enraged: "This creature should have been ar- 
rested, put in chains!" 

Dantiscus conveyed "fatherly admonitions" to Gnapheus; they had 
once sent each other their books with touching dedications. Now the 
writer of burlesques, scared to death, took to his heels, as though already 
smelling his own burning flesh. 

Dantiscus denounced his native city of Danzig as a nest of heresy to 
the King of Poland. 

Dantiscus persecuted Copernicus' friends, particularly the Frauenburg 
canon Alexander Sculteti, a historian and geographer. 

Dantiscus, born Flachsbinder, accused Sculteti of trading in flax (a 
trader!), furthermore of thinking unbecoming thoughts (an atheist!) 
and committing impermissible acts, to wit, the breach of celibacy (a 
libertine!) ; on top of all this he called Sculteti a partisan of Zwingli and a 
heretic and ordered him to be removed from the Chapter, and through 
Hosius, to be put under the ban in Poland; he ordered that Sculteti's 
landed property be confiscated, and in the summer of 1541 wrote to the 
Danzig council ordering that Sculteti's w^ife and children also be perse- 

For Sculteti had protested against the granting of a Frauenburg canon- 
ship to a friend of Dantiscus', Stanislaus Hosius. 

Hosius, the king's private secretary at Cracow, was given the canon- 
ship. After Dantiscus' death he became his successor and the leader of 
the Polish counter-Reformation. His motto was: Aut papista aut satanista: 
either popish or devilish! He was called the "hammer of the heretics" 
and "the death of Luther." Queen Bona said: "This Hosius combines the 
simplicity of the dove with the cunning of the snake." He brought the 
Jesuits to Prussia; he congratulated the Holy Father on the occasion of 
St. Bartholomew's massacre; he wished Poland might have many such 
nights of blood. 

Sculteti fled to Rome. Dantiscus prosecuted him before the Curia. The 
Holy Father acquitted Sculteti. 

At that time, another of Dantiscus' friends, Emperor Charles V, sug- 
gested his candidacy to the College of Cardinals. Did the prospect of the 
red hat sharpen his zeal against all the clergymen who had ever broken 
the vow of celibacy? 

Dantiscus summoned all the canons of his diocese to break off their 
relations and corre'spondence with their outlawed colleague, even before 
his Roman trial had been held. 


Copernicus declared he would not obey, and that "he respected Sculteti 
more than he did many others." 

In the summer of 1539, while Copernicus and Rheticus were at Lobau, a 
letter from Dantiscus came to Giese: "I was informed that Dr. Nic. Co- 
pernicus came to visit you, of whom you know that I love him as my own 
brother. He lives in close friendship with Sculteti. This is bad. Warn 
him that such connections and friendships harm him; but do not tell 
him that the warning came from me. You must surely know that Sculteti 
took a wife and is suspected of atheism." 

Canon Alexander Sculteti actually did live with a woman and had a 
son, just like Bishop Lukas Watzelrode, like Bishop Dantiscus, like many 

Many clergymen then lived in sin. This was sometimes permitted, 
sometimes tolerated by their bishops. 

Copernicus with "polite indignation" indirectly informed Dantiscus 
that in no respect did he want to hurt His Reverence's feelings, but 
rather to live in conformity with his enlightened will. 

But Sculteti left Prussia. 

Dantiscus sent spies to watch Copernicus. The moral salvation of tht 
old man was in question. Anna Schillings was in question. 

Anna seemed to the bishop too young to be the housekeeper of an old 

Dantiscus had no sooner become Bishop of Ermland than he asked 
Copernicus to dismiss Anna. 

Copernicus did not comply. Dantiscus renewed his demand; he wrote 
Canon Reich concerning this matter. Copernicus and Reich answered on 
the same day (December 2, 1538). Reich wrote that he approved of the 
bishop's legitimate request and fatherly admonition which the other 
(Copernicus) would surely take to heart, so he did not need admonition 
from him (Reich); he feared that Copernicus would blush with shame 
if he learned that he, Reich, knew about it, and he enclosed his (Coperni- 
cus') letter. 

This enclosed letter of Copernicus, "ex Gynopoli," from the city 
of women, ran as follows: 

"Highly Reverend etc. etc. 

"The admonition of Your Reverence is fatherly enough, and more than 
fatherly, as I admit; and I read its contents with all my heart. I have by 
no means forgotten your previous remonstrance which Your Reverence 
at first had sent out in general terms: I wanted to do what I was ordered; 
and although it was not easy to find a closely related and honest person, 


I nevertheless resolved to put an end to the thing at fasting time. In order 
that Your Reverence will not imagine that I am looking for pretexts for 
postponement, I have limited the term to one month; verily it could not 
be shorter as Your Reverence yourself can readily understand. For I 
wish to the measure of my strength to prevent that I become an offense 
to good morals, and even less so to Your Reverence, who deserves that he 
be revered, respected and above all beloved by me; to which I devote 
myself with all my talents. 

Your Reverence's 
most obedient 

Nicolaus Copernicus." 

Finally, on January 11, 1539, Copernicus reported that the thing was 

"Highly Reverend, Most Gracious, etc. etc. 

"I have already done what I had neither power nor right to omit 
doing, and whereby I hope the admonitions of Your Reverence will be 
satisfied. As for what you wish to know about how long was the life of 
Lukas Watzelrode, of happy memory, the predecessor of Your Reverence, 
and my uncle: he lived sixty-four years, five months; he was bishop for 
twenty-three years; he died on the day before the last of March anno 
Christi 1522. With him was extinguished the family^whose insignia are 
still to be seen on old respectable buildings and many works in Torun. 
I recommend my obedience to Your Reverence. 

Your Reverence's most obedient 

Nicolaus Copernicus." 

But Dantiscus was not satisfied yet. 

Plotowski, the provost of the Chapter, of which he had been a member 
since 1520, wrote to Bishop Dantiscus on March 23, 1539: "As for the 
Frauenburg females, Alexander's (Sculteti) hid for a few days at home. 
She will go away with her son. Alexander returned from Lobau with a 
joyful mien; I do not know what news he brought. He is staying at the 
curia with Niederhoff and the housekeeper (jocaria) who resembles a beer 
waitress, befouled with all evil. Dr. Nicolaus' (Copernicus) woman must 
have sent her belongings in advance to Danzig, but she herself remains 
at Frauenburg. . . ." 

Although Giese in his next letter warned Dantiscus against scandal- 
mongers, Dantiscus did not relax. Anna had to be removed from Frauen- 
burg. When Dantiscus heard that even after her dismissal Copernicus 
continued to meet her, he again wrote Giese, whom Copernicus was 
visiting. Copernicus was perhaps discussing his book and his heavens 


with Giese and Rheticus, and with a view to bishops like Dantiscus and 
private secretaries like Hosius, pointed repeatedly to the wise example 
of the hypothetical Pythagoras. 

And Rheticus reminded them perhaps of the daring of his Lutheran 
friends who did not lose their nerve "even if the world were full of 

And perhaps Giese or the young Rheticus explained to the smiling 
Copernicus: "What can the world do to you?" 

And then perhaps came the letter of Bishop Dantiscus, with Copernicus' 
superior complaining about his girl or his friend or his stubbornness. 
Once again, it seemed, Copernicus had been seen with this Anna Schil- 
lings at a third place. . . . 

On September 12, 1539, Giese answered Bishop Dantiscus: ". . . With 
Dr. Nicolaus, in accordance with Your Reverence's desire, I have spoken 
seriously and put before his eyes the thing itself, as it is. He seemed no 
little dismayed over the fact that ill-intentioned people had again accused 
him of secret rendezvous, for he complied with Your Reverence's wishes 
without hesitation. He denies having seen again that person after he 
had dismissed her, except once on the market place at Konigsberg where 
she briefly spoke to him. At any rate I have realized that he is not so 
much affected by this passion as many believe. This is also vouched for 
by his advanced age, his never-interrupted studies, and his virtue and 
respectability. Nevertheless I have admonished him to avoid even the 
appearance of wrong, and I think he will act accordingly. On the other 
hand I think that it might be fair if Your Reverence did not put too much 
faith in the scandalmonger considering that deserving men are often the 
target of envy and malice which do not even shrink to express suspicions 
against Your Reverence." 

The following day Canon Achatius von der Trenck wrote Bishop 
Dantiscus that Alexander Sculteti's housekeeper had not been seen since 
her departure from Frauenburg; he added: "When his housekeeper was 
mentioned to Dr. Nicolaus whom I met at Lobau, he declared that he 
would never receive her in his home and do anything in that matter. I 
know that Your Reverence admonished him for behaving in this manner; 
as I hope not in vain. His age and wisdom will easily keep the good man 
away from such things." (Cf. L. A. Birkenmajer, Mikolai Kopernik, 
Cracow, 1900, and Prowe.) 

Amid such base and ill-timed persecutions during the last years of his 
life, how could Copernicus find strength and leisure to complete his 
draft and revise it again? How painfully he must have been affected 


by all these remonstrances, in the face of Giese and Trenck, let alone 
young Rheticus! 

And was Copernicus' relation to Anna punishable from the strictly 
ecclesiastical point of view? According to ordinary secular and ecclesi- 
astical law any relation between a man and a woman began with con- 
tacts of the flesh and wherever materially possible involved sexual inter- 
course. Did Copernicus' relation fall under this definition? Only Provost 
Plotowski speaks of a "female." Children are nowhere mentioned. 

Be that as it may, Anna was dismissed. And the work was never com- 
pleted. The Book of Revolutions remained a fragment, because an obscene 
bishop played the moralist with Copernicus. No further back than 1538 
the imperial envoy Scepper had sent Bishop Dantiscus a portrait of his 
daughter from Spain, the portrait of Dantisca de Curiis. Incidentally, 
Dantiscus planned to give his daughter, with whom his colleague, the 
Archbishop of Lund had flirted, a courtly education at Antwerp. Did 
Dantiscus forget his daughter in 1539? And did he no longer remember 
that he also had an illegitimate son named Fabian? 

And did he not know that the new severe pope at Rome, Paul III (to 
whom Copernicus dedicated De Revolutionibus) intended to give the 
children he had begot as cardinal the best posts he could and to marry 
them into the families of the emperor and the king of France? 

"True," writes Leopold Prowe, "Bishop Dantiscus must have been 
looking for cover because, on account of his connection with the human- 
ists, the zealots in his entourage did not think him entirely firm in his 
faith, and he himself had made known the errors of his youth by his 
poems. Furthermore, everywhere in the Catholic Church reversals were 
then being prepared. The days of the Council of Trent were at hand. 
Finally the duty of his offices demanded that Dantiscus zealously help to 
preserve the assets of the Church." 

Dantiscus persecuted the good girl Anna Schillings even after the 
death of Copernicus. In the fall of 1543 she wanted to come to Frauen- 
burg for a few days in order to settle her affairs and sell a house. The 
Chapter asked Dantiscus' permission and he immediately objected. 

Had this severe Catholic always carefully avoided connections with 

In the summer of 1523 Dantiscus had come from Spain to Germany and 
made a trip from Leipzig to Wittenberg in order to look up Melanchthon. 
Full of proud joy he wrote to Justus Decius, chronicler and private 
secretary to the King of Poland: "I have at last met the great Melanch- 
thon!" (Decius, too, visited Luther in 1522.) And to the Polish Chancellor 


Tomicki he wrote: "Among all the German scholars I liked none better 
than Melanchthon!" 

Dantiscus was also liked by Melanchthon and his friends. 

Dantiscus asked Melanchthon to introduce him to Luther, the out- 
lawed reformer. 

In a letter to Bishop Tomicki, the Polish Chancellor, Dantiscus de- 
scribed his visit to Luther. He kept a draft of his letter and later wrote 
on it : "My opinion on Luther in 1523." 

There, among other things, he tells how he rode through Germany, 
and went to Augsburg and Leipzig, and how, being so near Wittenberg, 
he did not want to pass by Luther whom he was so curious to meet, 
although he could not get there without difficulties, for the Elbe had 
overflowed its banks. And on his way he heard the peasants curse Luther 
and his companions. The peasants believed that God wanted to drown all 
of Saxony, because Luther and his companions had eaten meat on fast 
days. Dantiscus left his horses behind and embarked in a boat to cross 
to the other bank, to Wittenberg. . . . 

"And there, among the most learned scholars of Hebrew, Greek and 
Latin, I found Philip Melanchthon, the prince of literature and learning, 
a young man of twenty-six, but the most humane, the purest man . . . 
I explained to him why I wanted to see Luther: If someone has not seen 
the pope in Rome and Luther at Wittenberg, it is commonly said of 
him that he has not seen anything; therefore I was so eager to see Luther 
and speak to him, I had no other intentions and no other business with 
him, except to say good day and farewell to him, salve et vale. 

"It is no easy thing to approach Luther. But I had no special difficulties, 
and came with Melanchthon toward the end of the meal. Luther had 
invited a few friars of his order whom we recognized as monks by 
their white cowls, despite their military demeanor; without their cowls 
they would have looked like ordinary peasants. Luther rose, extended 
his hand to us and pointed at a seat. We sat down; and we conversed 
about many things for more than four hours into the night. I found 
the man keen, learned, eloquent, but full of malice, arrogance and 
poisonous words against the pope, emperor and other princes. A whole 
day would not suffice to describe everything. . . . 

"Luther has such a big stomach that he swallows books. He has sharp 
eyes, they have something terrifying about them, as in obsessed people, 
like the King of Denmark (Christiern), although I do not think they 
were born under the same constellation. His language is vehement, spiced 
with coarseness and vulgarity, he behaves like a scholar; when he leaves 


his house that formerly was a monastery he is said to wear his monkish 


"As we sat with Luther we not only talked, but also gaily drank wine 
and beer, as is the custom here, and he seems to be a good companion 
to everyone, or as they say in German: ein gutt Geselle. 

"As for his holiness that so many have praised to us, he does not differ 
from ordinary people; but his great pride is striking, as well as the arro- 
gance with which he wears his fame. In eating and hard drinking and 
... he seems to be quite openly excessive. However that may be, his 
books reveal him entirely. He preaches and writes an enormous amount; 
recently he translated the books of Moses from the Hebrew into Latin, 
for which he mostly used Melanchthon's works." 

At the Nuremberg diet, Dantiscus was Melanchthon's host, just as the 
latter was his host at Wittenberg for two days. They continued to ex- 
change letters for a long time afterward. For a long time Dantiscus 
remained interested in the learned German, followed his studies, and 
kept himself up to date through many letters from other humanists. 

Melanchthon wrote: "At that time— in Nuremberg— I conceived a 
liking for Dantiscus, not only because of his brilliant merits, but quite 
especially because of his humanity which befits so well a learned wise 

man. ... 

If Dantiscus was "humanity itself" and persecuted Copernicus on ac- 
count of an Anna, a Sculteti and other trifles, what could Copernicus 
expect from humanity as a whole when he was about — to be sure, in the 
name of truth— to deal mankind the worst blow it had ever suffered? 




To perfect is not the pupil's job. 

GOETHE, Wilhelm Meister's Appren- 
Amicus certus in re incerta cernitur . . . 
Est enint is qui est tamquam alter idem. 

Cicero, De Amicitia 

TRUE, there were the good friends and a few disciples. 

"But friends, in truth, have brought me forth into the light again, 
though I long hesitated and am still reluctant; among these the foremost 
was Nicholas Schonberg, Cardinal of Capua, celebrated in all fields of 
scholarship. Next to him is that scholar, my very good friend, Tiedemann 
Giese, Bishop of Kulm, most learned in all sacred matters (as he is), 
and in all good sciences. He has repeatedly urged me and, sometimes 
even with censure, implored me to publish this book and to suffer it to 
see the light at last, as it has lain hidden by me not for nine years alone, 
but also in the fourth 'novenium/ Not a few other scholars of eminence 
also pleaded with me, exhorting me that I should no longer refuse to 
contribute my book to the common service of mathematiciai>s on account 
of an imagined dread. . . . Brought to this hope, therefore, by these 
pleaders, I at last permitted my friends, as they had long besought me, 
to publish this work. ..." 

He wrote this eleven months before his death, in his dedication to the 

These friends whom he does not name and to whom he gave permis- 
sion to publish his book are Protestants, from Wittenberg and Nurem- 
berg, the centers of Lutheranism. 

Immediately after his arrival Rheticus plunged into the study of the 
Book of Revolutions with "all the fiery zeal of youth." For ten weeks he 
studied the text and questioned his teacher. Finally he thought he had 



grasped the general ideas and most of the details. Thereupon he wrote the 
Narratio Prima de Libris Revolutionum, which was the first account of 
De Revolutionibus. He composed this treatise in the form of a letter to 
Johannes Schoner, while with his teacher at Lobau, but he sent it out 
only from Frauenburg; it was obviously written for the general public 
and intended for publication. 

The Narratio Prima analyzes only the first four Books of Copernicus' 
work. A second account that was to take up the planetary theory in de- 
tail was not published because in the meantime Copernicus gave per- 
mission to publish his own work. 

Rheticus' first account is ingenious. After briefly indicating the con- 
tents of the six Books he discusses Copernicus' new explanations of the 
precession, the length of the year, the eccentricity and the distance of 
the sun's orbit from the earth. Then follows a curious astrological digres- 
sion, which is all the more abstruse because unlike other astronomers 
Copernicus never read horoscopes, wrote forecasts or interpreted comets 
or conjunctions of planets. 

Then Rheticus gives six reasons for rejecting Ptolemy's system. He 
correctly appraises the strong points of the new doctrine, particularly 
emphasizing the simplified computations of the planetary theory. 

(The discussion of the loop formation in the orbit of Mars made him 
thoughtful. It continued to occupy him for a long time. According to 
Kepler, Rheticus lost his mind for a time pondering over the orbit of 
Mars. The same passage in the Revolutions in which Copernicus dis- 
cusses the orbit of Mars seems also to have strongly impressed Tycho de 

In the fall of 1539 Rheticus seems to have gone to Danzig, in prder 
to supervise the setting of the Narratio Prima and prepare the woodcuts 
for the figures. Previously the report must have circulated in manu- 
script among friends, as was the custom at that time. Rheticus appended 
to his first report an Encomium Prussiae, In Praise of Prussia. The title 
page speaks of "the most learned man and most brilliant mathematician, 
the revered Dr. Nicolaus of Torun, canon in Ermland." The name 
Copernicus is absent — was this an act of caution on the part of his friends? 
Rheticus gives his own name only on the second page. (The exact tide 
is: Ad clarissimum virum D. Joannem Schonerum de libris revolutionum 
eruditissimi viri et mathematici excellentissimi, reverendi D. Doctoris 
Nicolai Torunnaei Canonici Varmiensis per quendam juvenem mathe- 
maticae studiosum Narratio prima." The treatise bears on the second 
page the inscription: To the illustrious John Schoner, as to his own 


revered father, G. Joachim Rheticus sends his greetings. It has thirty- 
eight sheets in small quarto.) 

Rheticus begins by apologizing to Schoner for having let months pass 
without keeping his promise to give an account of Copernicus and his 
theory. But, he says, he has been able to devote scarcely ten weeks to 
studying the work of Copernicus; he had had a slight illness and gone 
with his teacher to visit the latter's friend Giese at Lobau. 

"First of all I wish = you to be convinced," he writes, "that this man 
whose work I am now treating is in every field of knowledge and in 
mastery of astronomy not inferior to Regiomontanus. I rather compare 
him with Ptolemy, not because I consider Regiomontanus inferior to 
Ptolemy, but because my teacher shares with Ptolemy the good fortune 
of completing, with the aid of divine kindness, the reconstruction of 
astronomy which he began, while Regiomontanus — alas, cruel fate — de- 
parted this life before he had time to erect his columns. 

"My teacher has written a work of six Books in which, in imitation of 
Ptolemy, he has embraced the whole of astronomy. . . . 

"The first Book contains the general description of the universe and 
the foundations by which he undertakes to save the appearances and the 
observations of all ages. . . . 

"I have mastered the first three Books, grasped the general idea of the 
fourth, and begun to conceive the. hypotheses of the rest. 

". . . My teacher made observations with the utmost care at Bologna, 
where he was not so much the pupil as the assistant and witness of ob- 
servations of the learned Dominicus Maria; at Rome, where, about the 
year 1500, being twenty-seven years of age more or less, he lectured on 
mathematics before a large audience of students and a throng of great 
men and experts in this branch of knowledge; then here in Frauenburg, 
when he had leisure for his studies." 

The Narratio Prima deals chiefly with the third Book of the Revolu- 
tions, with the moon and with the Copernican planetary theory. 

At the end of the scientific part of the Narratio Prima Rheticus ex- 
claims enthusiastically: "Indeed, there is something divine in the cir- 
cumstance that a sure understanding of celestial phenomena must de- 
pend on the regular and uniform motions of the terrestrial globe alone." 

Rheticus had formed his style on the model of the ancients. He orna- 
mented it with Latin and Greek quotations. He knew the Roman and 
Greek philosophers and the great theologians; he was well grounded in 
the history of astronomy, from Ptolemy to Regiomontanus. And he was 
a mathematician of genius. 

His precise scientific account of the Copernican theory was accessible 


to the educated layman. He often interrupts himself and quotes Aristotle, 
Plato or later authors. 

As for his teacher (Dominus Praeceptor) whom he never mentions by 
name, he praises him for his virtue, his intelligence, his kindness and 
his achievement in creating a world system. He praises the clarity of 
the new system. He speaks with approval of his master for not having 
sacrificed the real celestial appearances to his theory, for having, on the 
contrary, modified his hypotheses when his observations required it. 

Incidentally, Rheticus displays little psychological or historical interest. 
He largely recognizes the revolutionary significance of Copernicus, but 
does not take the time to describe the man, does not mention him except 
occasionally with regard to his work; he does not say anything about 
him personally, about his observations, instruments, apartments, observa- 
tory! He does not even mention the Commentariolus. 

Rheticus never forgets to exercise the caution necessary to avoid stirring 
up a host of possible enemies: organized reaction, the inquisition, scien- 
tific superstition, contemporary prejudice, the peripatetics, scholastics and 
all the other fools of his time. In his own and his teacher's interest he 
tries not to give the appearance of attacking them, but he reveals all their 

Since the scientific world clung to Ptolemy with thousand-year-old 
roots, Rheticus always emphasizes the fact that the Copernican system 
derives from the Ptolemaic and confesses "that he himself loves Ptolemy, 
as his teacher, with all his soul." 

Against the inevitable reproach of frivolously seeking novelties Rheticus 
defends his teacher (and himself) in the following apostrophe to Schoner: 
"Your unparalleled and, so to say, paternal affection for me has im- 
pelled me to enter this heaven not at all fearfully and to report every- 
thing to you to the best of my ability. May Almighty and Most Merci- 
ful God, I pray, deem my venture worthy of turning out well, and may 
He enable me to conduct the work I have undertaken along the right 
road to the proposed goal. If I have said anything with youthful en- 
thusiasm (we young men are always endowed, as he says, with high, 
rather than useful, spirits) or inadvertently let fall any remark which 
may seem directed against venerable and sacred antiquity more boldly 
than perhaps the importance and dignity of the subject demanded, you 
surely, I have no doubt, will put a kind construction upon the matter 
and will bear in mind my feeling toward you rather than my fault. 

"Furthermore, concerning my learned teacher I should like you to 
hold the opinion and be fully convinced that for him there is nothing 
better or more important than walking in the footsteps of Ptolemy and 


following, as Ptolemy did, the ancients and those who were much earlier 
than himself. However, when he became aware that the phenomena, 
which control the astronomer, and mathematics compelled him to make 
certain assumptions even against his wishes, it was enough, he thought, 
if he aimed his arrows by the same method to the same target as Ptolemy, 
even though he employed a bow and arrows of far different type of 
material from Ptolemy's. At this point we should recall the saying 'Free 
in mind must he be who desires to have understanding.' But my teacher 
especially abhors what is alien to the mind of any honest man, particularly 
to a philosophic nature; for he is far from thinking that he should 
rashly depart, in a lust for novelty, from the sound opinions of the ancient 
philosophers, except for good reasons, and when the facts themselves 
coerce him. Such is his time of life, such his seriousness of character and 
distinction in learning, such, in short, his loftiness of spirit and greatness 
of mind that no such thought can take hold of him. It is rather the 
mark of youth or of 'those who pride themselves on some trifling specula- 
tion,' to use Aristotle's words, or of those passionate intellects that are 
stirred and swayed by any breeze and their own moods, so that, as though 
their pilot had been washed overboard, they snatch at anything that comes 
to hand and struggle on bravely." 
Elsewhere Rheticus writes: 

"When I reflect on this truly admirable structure of new hypotheses 
wrought by my teacher, I frequently recall, most learned Schoner, that 
Platonic dialogue which indicates the qualities required in an astronomer 
and then adds 'No nature except an extraordinary one could ever easily 
formulate a theory.' 

"When I was with you last year and watched your work and that of 
other learned men in the improvement of the motions of Regiomontanus 
and his teacher Peurbach, I first began to understand what sort of task 
and how great a difficulty it was to recall this queen of mathematics, 
astronomy, to her palace, as she deserved, and to restore the boundaries 
of her kingdom. But from the time that I became, by God's will, a 
spectator and witness of the labors which my teacher performs with 
energetic mind and has in large measure already accomplished, I realize 
that I had not dreamed of even the shadow of so great a burden of work. 
". . . My teacher always has before his eyes the observations of all 
ages together with his own, assembled in order as in catalogues; then 
when some conclusion must be drawn or contribution made to the sci- 
ence and its principles, he proceeds from the earliest observations to his 
own, seeking the mutual relationship which harmonizes them all; the 
results thus obtained by correct inference under the guidance of Urania 


he then compares with the hypotheses of Ptolemy and the ancients; and 
having made a most careful examination of these hypotheses, he finds 
that astronomical proof requires their rejection; he assumes new hypoth- 
eses, not indeed without divine inspiration and the favor of the gods; 
by applying mathematics, he geometrically establishes the conclusions 
which can be drawn from them by correct inference; he then harmonizes 
the ancient observations and his own with the hypotheses which he has 
adopted; and after performing all these operations he finally writes 
down the laws of astronomy." 

And Rheticus goes on to say that the astronomer who studies the 
motions of the stars is "surely like a blind man who, with only a staff 
to guide him, must make a great, endless, hazardous journey that winds 
through innumerable desolate places. What will be the result? Proceed- 
ing anxiously for a while and groping his way with his staff, he will at 
some time, leaning upon it, cry out in despair to heaven, earth and all 
the gods to aid him in his misery. God will permit him to try his strength 
for a period of years, that he may in the end learn that he cannot be 
rescued from threatening danger by his staff. Then God compassionately 
stretches forth His hand to the despairing man, and with His hand 
conducts him to the desired goal. 

"The staff of the astronomer is mathematics or geometry, by which he 
ventures at first to test the road and press on. 

"My teacher's astronomy can justly be called eternal, it is confirmed 
by the observations of past centuries and will without doubt be confirmed 
by the observations of posterity. . . . 

"Hence I am convinced that Aristotle, who wrote careful discussions of 
the heavy and the light, circular motion, and the motion and rest of 
the earth, if he could hear the reasons for the new hypotheses, would 
doubdess honestly acknowledge what he proved in these discussions, and 
what he assumed as unproved principle. I can therefore well believe 
that he would support my teacher, inasmuch as the well-known saying 
attributed to Plato is certainly correct: 'Aristotle is the philosopher of the 

"In my opinion, Ptolemy was not so bound and sworn to his own 
hypotheses that, were he permitted to return to life, upon seeing the royal 
road blocked and made impassable by the ruins of so many centuries, he 
would not seek another road over land and sea to the construction of a 
sound science of celestial phenomena. 

". . . somehow I feel more inclined to the hypotheses of my teacher. 
This is so perhaps partly because I am persuaded that now at last I 
have a more accurate understanding of that delightful maxim which 


on account of its weightiness and truth is attributed to Plato: 'God ever 
geometrizes.' " 

After having repeatedly emphasized that the new astronomy rests 
upon the observations of the ancient astronomers, Ptolemy and his dis- 
ciples, Rheticus continues as follows: ". . . my teacher was especially 
influenced by the realization that the chief cause of all the uncertainty 
in astronomy was that the masters of this science (no offense is intended 
to divine Ptolemy, the father of astronomy) fashioned their theories and 
devices for correcting the motion of the heavenly bodies with too little 
regard for the rule which reminds us that the order and motions of the 
heavenly spheres agree in an absolute system. We fully grant these 
distinguished men their due honor, as we should. Nevertheless, we should 
have wished them, in establishing the harmony of the motions, to imitate 
the musicians who, when one string has either tightened or loosened, 
with greatest care and skill regulate and adjust the tones of all the other 
strings, until all together produce the desired harmony, and no dis- 
sonance is heard in any." 

These requirements are completely satisfied by the new system, "which 
is not only self-contained, but is also in complete accord with appear- 
ances, just as a good explanation of something is a perfect equivalent 
for the thing explained. 

". . . my teacher saw that only on this theory could all the circles in 
the universe be satisfactorily made to revolve uniformly and regularly 
about their own centers, and not about other centers — an essential prop- 
erty of circular motion. 

"Fifthly, mathematicians as well as physicians must agree with the 
statements emphasized by Galen here and there: 'Nature does nothing 
without purpose' and 'So wise is our Maker that each of His works has 
not one use, but two or three or often more.' Since we see that this one 
motion of the earth satisfies an almost infinite number of appearances, 
should we not attribute to God, the creator of nature, that skill which 
we observe in the common makers of clocks? For they carefully avoid 
inserting in the mechanism any superfluous wheel or any whose function 
could be served better by another with a slight change of position." 

And Copernicus' theory is not marred by the contradictions of the 
Ptolemaic system. Copernicus, Rheticus says, has liberated astronomy 
from a number of superfluous hypotheses required to explain the motions 
of the planets, and show why the earth could not possibly be in the 
center of the universe. This place most properly belongs to the sun, "which 
God placed in the center of the world stage, as his substitute in visible 
nature, as the king of the universe endowed with divine majesty. 


". . . the sun was called by the ancients leader, governor of nature, 
and king. But whether it carries on this administration as God rules 
the entire universe, a rule excellently described by Aristotle in the De 
mundo, or whether, traversing the entire heaven so often and resting 
nowhere, it acts as God's administrator in nature, seems not yet alto- 
gether explained and settled. Which of these assumptions is preferable, 
I leave to be determined by geometers and philosophers (who are mathe- 
matically equipped). For in the trial and decision of such controversies, 
a verdict must be reached in accordance not with plausible opinions but 
with mathematical laws (the court in which the case is heard). The 
former manner of rule has been set aside, the latter adopted. My teacher, 
however, is convinced that the rejected method of the sun's rule in the 
realm of nature must be revived, but in such a way that the received 
and accepted method retains its place. For he is aware that in human 
affairs the emperor need not himself hurry from city to city in order to 
perform the duty imposed on him by God; and that the heart does not 
move to the head or feet or other parts of the body to sustain a living 
creature, but fulfills its function through other organs designed by God 
for that purpose. 

". . . The planets are each year observed as direct, stationary, retro- 
grade, near to and remote from the earth, etc. These phenomena, besides 
being ascribed to the planets, can be explained, as my teacher shows, by 
a regular motion of the spherical earth; that is, by having the sun occupy 
the center of the universe, while the earth revolves instead of the sun 
on the eccentric, which it has pleased him to name the great circle. Indeed, 
there is something divine in the circumstance that a sure understanding 
of celestial phenomena must depend on the regular and uniform motions 
of the terrestrial globe alone." 

The main part of the Narratio Prima ends with the following words: 
"But may truth prevail, may excellence prevail, may the arts ever be 
honored, may every good worker bring to light useful things in his own 
art, and may he search in such a manner that he appears to have sought 
the truth. Never will my teacher avoid the judgment of honest and 
learned men, to which he plans of his own accord to submit." 

After the Narratio Prima was published, Rheticus sent one copy from 
Danzig to Melanchthon (February 14, 1540), and later another copy 
to Achilles Gasser in Feldkirch. This friend of Rheticus', another en- 
thusiastic disciple of Copernicus', in a letter written in 1540 urged his 
friend Vogelinus to advertise Rheticus' treatise zealously "in order to 
hasten the publication of the second account." 


The publication of the Narratio Prima was the decisive step toward the 
publication of De Revolutionibus. 

For the space of a generation Copernicus had kept his work from the 
eyes of humanity. Now he let himself be tempted. He made a half step 
—he was ready to dare if the world seemed sympathetic, but he was also 
ready to draw back into his solitude. 

Copernicus' friends naturally helped to make known the Narratio 
Prima. Giese sent a copy of it to Duke Albrecht of Prussia with a letter 
recommending Rheticus. The latter went to Konigsberg and received a 
"princely reward" in gold from the Duke. 

At the beginning of 1540 Rheticus was again in Wittenberg and an- 
nounced two lectures, on Alfraganus' astronomy and the Almagest. He 
did not name Copernicus in his announcement, but seems to have men- 
tioned or discussed the new doctrine in his first lecture, for he announces 
his second lecture in the following terms: "I was ordered again to lecture 
on the Sphaera of Johannes de Sacrobosco." 

Meanwhile Johannes Petrejus, the Nuremberg printer, had read the 
Narratio Prima with the greatest satisfaction and expressed the wish 
to see the Book of Revolutions, and eventually to print it. And the chief 
clergyman of Nuremberg, Andreas Osiander, began his notorious ex- 
change of letters on scientific hypotheses with Copernicus. 

In the summer of 1540 Rheticus returned to Frauenburg. From the 
summer of 1540 until September, 1541, he devoted his time to the Book of 

Thus a young man without a reputation or special claims to considera- 
tion suddenly dropped in to see Copernicus and got him to do what the 
old man had not dared do by his own decision and what his oldest 
friends had not been able to get him to do. 

Is this not one of the most comforting archetypes in the history of man- 
kind: the hesitating sage and his enthusiastic disciple? 

The old man is about to resign himself to seeing his science trans- 
mitted from mouth to mouth. And the disciple with his unspoiled con- 
fidence in mankind declares : There are thousands like me — a whole gen- 
eration. The world is waiting. Publish your book. Today you seem 
absurd to the schoolmasters. Tomorrow schoolchildren will learn that 
the earth turns around the sun. The light of the sun surges through your 
work. You speak of the "revolutiones orbium celestium," the revolu- 
tions -of the heavenly spheres, but you will also effect revolutions on earth. 
The old man listens willingly. He knows the inquisitors. Perhaps he 
saw Savonarola burning at the stake? But he also feels his old age. They 
have forced Sculteti into exile. They have driven his Anna Schillings 



from his house. They will build walls a thousand feet high to veil the 
sun. His book can be the torch that lights a millennium, and a torch of 
war, too! But where will it be printed? 

In Germany! says Rheticus. 

Who will publish it? 

My friends in Nuremberg! says Rheticus. 

And so a young professor wrote the first book about the master who 
remained in the shadow. Was it not daring on the part of the young man 
to write about an unpublished book? An unknown young man came 
forth and told the world — the world of the scientists — that a revolution 
had taken place, the most peaceful and yet the most tremendous in the 
history of mankind— that an astronomer had appeared too great to be 
compared even to the greatest astronomer of the preceding centuries, the 
world-famous Regiomontanus, but worthy to be compared only to the 
unique astronomer who for the space of one thousand five hundred years 
had legislated that the earth was motionless and that the sun was its 
satellite— the unique man, the Alexandrian Ptolemy. Ptolemy was wrong 
and Copernicus had proved it and had worked out a better theory. This 
theory was true and as clear as the sun! 

This work about an unpublished manuscript was successful and caused 
a sensation. No sooner was it printed in Danzig than it had a new edition 
in Basel: Achilles Gassarus, a friend and countryman of Rheticus, the 
young man in Lindau to whom Rheticus had sent a copy of his Narratio 
Prima with an enthusiastic letter, had it reprinted at once by the printer 
Georg Winter at Basel, for at that time Danzig was too far away from 
southern Germany and Switzerland to import copies from there. Gassarus - 
wrote in the dedication that he hoped the "almost divine work of 
Copernicus" would be published soon. Gassarus' young friend, Georg 
Vogelinus of Constance, too, was so enthusiastic that he composed a 
Latin epigram for Gassarus to put on the title page. 

Several scholars had apparently become interested as a result of Rheticus' 

Originally Copernicus intended to publish only his planetary tables and 
directions for their use, not his planetary theory. But now Giese induced 
the old master to work out his planetary theory, too, and submit it to 
the judgment of the learned. Rheticus reports this achievement of Giese's 
in his Encomium Prussiae. 

Now it was necessary to prepare a copy of the draft for the printer. 
Rheticus probably made this copy. In the course of this painstaking 
labor a few defects might have struck him: the trigonometrical treatise 


was not completed; the revision of some of the data in the tables begun 
by Copernicus had not been completed. 

Copernicus himself must have undertaken all these revisions. In the 
draft there are only a few corrections in another hand, probably Rheticus'. 
Occasionally dubious numbers are underscored with dots, apparently to be 
checked later. Occasionally Rheticus made a mistake. He copied a passage 
for the printer that Copernicus had crossed out, but dropped Copernicus' 
introduction* because the dedication to Paul III seemed to make it super- 
fluous. Nor did Rheticus take the poem that Dantiscus had composed for 
the Book of Revolutions in the summer of 1541. 

At that time Copernicus had completed his trigonometrical treatise. 
But he did not make use of his new results concerning the motions of 
Mercury and Venus for the Book of Revolutions. Nor did he write the 
summary of his results that would have completed the work. 

As late as in the spring of 1541 he was not ready. It appears from a 
letter of Paul Eber's (to Melanchthon, dated April 15, 1541), that Rheticus 
had written to him that he was waiting for the completion of the Book of 
Revolutions and could not return for the next fair, but only for the 
autumn fair. And that they had already discovered that the comets did 
not arise in the region of the elements, but in the region of the ether, 
beyond the moon! 

The versatile young scholar also took part in other studies of Coper- 
nicus: thus he probably used Copernicus' preliminary geographic works 
to draw his map of Prussia. In 1529, Bishop Moritz had asked Alexander 
Sculteti and Copernicus to make such a map. It is not known whether 
it was finished at that time. But Copernicus' material, according to notes 
by Caspar Schuetz, was still accessible at the end of the sixteenth century. 

In the course of his trip to Lobau, Danzig and Konigsberg Rheticus 
became acquainted with various peoples and countries. He was invited 
to Danzig by a cousin of Copernicus', Burgomaster Werden. In Konigs- 
berg he saw Duke Albrecht of Prussia. 

Rheticus composed a "Tabula chorographica of Prussia and a few adja- 
cent lands" and dedicated it, together with "a little instrument to measure 
the length of the day throughout the year" to Duke Albrecht. 

The tabula chorographica and the "little instrument" have been lost. 
But we have Rheticus' Chorographica, a treatise on the methods of draw- 
ing maps. This treatise, too, composed under Copernicus' supervision, 
was sent by Rheticus to Albrecht. 

In order to arouse the duke's interest in Copernicus' astronomical works 

* See Chapter 1. 


he promised the prince who believed in astrology great advantages for 
astrology from his teacher's studies. 

Incidentally, Rheticus also mentions Albrecht Duerer whom he might 
have met at Nuremberg. ("Albrecht Duerer teaches in his books how to 
reproduce a landscape. . . .") 

He also begs that the duke intercede with the Elector of Saxony and 
the University of Wittenberg so that these will give him permission to 
publish Copernicus' work. The duke sent him the desired recommenda- 
tions and a Portuguese ducat as an honorarium for the dedication. And 
Rheticus returned to Wittenberg. 

He must have taken to Germany, together with his copy, his teacher's 
original draft, so now Copernicus could no longer change anything. 

But it was only with the greatest effort that Copernicus had undertaken 
a few more revisions. His strength probably no longer sufficed for the 
synthesis at the end of the book and the necessary finishing touches. 




Prussia, the classical country of schools and 


La patrie de la pensee. 

madame de stael, De I'AIlemagne 
We are Prussians and Prussians we want to 


RHETICUS begins his praise of Prussia with Pindar and ends it with 
Euripides. But Prussia meant for him a Baltic province, a few Hanseatic 
cities, Ermland, secularized East Prussia and Polish Prussia. 

Here is the passage from Encomium Borussiae which deals with the 
friendship between Giese and Copernicus: (translated by Edward Rosen, 
Three Copernican Treatises, The Commentariolus of Copernicus, The 
Letter against Werner, The Narratio Prima of Rheticus, Columbia Uni- 
versity Press, 1939.) 

"In particular, I am wont to marvel at the kindness of two distinguished 
men toward me, since I readily recognize how slight is my scholarly equip- 
ment, measuring myself by my own abilities. One of them is the illustrious 
prelate whom I mentioned at the outset, the Most Reverend Tiedemann 
Giese, Bishop of Kulm. His Reverence mastered with complete devotion 
the set of virtues and doctrine, required of a bishop by Paul. He realized 
that it would be of no small importance to the glory of Christ if there 
existed a proper calendar of events in the Church and a correct theory 
and explanation of the motions. He did not cease urging my teacher, 
whose accomplishments and insight he had known for many years, to 
take up this problem, until he persuaded him to do so. 

Since my teacher was social by nature and saw that the scientific world 
also stood in need of improvement of the motions, he readily yielded to 
the entreaties of his friend, the reverend prelate. He promised that he 


"in praise of Prussia" 287 

would draw up astronomical tables with new rules and that if his work 
had any value he would not keep it from the world, as was done by John 
Angelus, among others. But he had long been aware that in their own 
right the observations in a certain way required hypotheses which would 
overturn the ideas concerning the order of the motions and spheres that 
had hitherto been discussed and promulgated and that were commonly 
accepted and believed to be true; moreover, the required hypotheses would 
contradict our senses. 

He therefore decided that he should imitate the Alfonsine Tables rather 
than Ptolemy and compose tables with accurate rules but no proofs. In 
that way he would provoke no dispute among philosophers; common 
mathematicians would have a correct calculus of the motions; but true 
scholars, upon whom Jupiter had looked with unusually favorable eyes, 
would easily arrive from the numbers set forth at the principles and 
sources from which everything was deduced. Just as heretofore learned 
men had to work out the true hypothesis of the motion of the starry 
sphere from the Alfonsine doctrine, so the enure system would be crystal 
clear to learned men. The ordinary astronomer, nevertheless, would not 
be deprived of the use of the tables, which he seeks and desires, apart 
from all theory. And the Pythagorean principle would be observed that 
philosophy must be pursued in such a way that its inner secrets are 
reserved for learned men, trained in mathematics, etc. 

Then His Reverence pointed out that such a work would be an incom- 
plete gift to the world, unless my teacher set forth the reasons for his 
tables and also included, in imitation, of Ptolemy, the system or theory 
and the foundations and proofs upon which he relied to investigate the 
mean motions and prosthaphaereses and to establish epochs as initial 
points in the computation of time. The bishop further argued that such 
a procedure had produced great inconvenience and many errors in the 
Alfonsine Tables, since we were compelled to assume and to approve their 
ideas on the principle that, as the Pythagoreans used to say, 'The Master 
said so' — a principle which has absolutely no place in mathematics. 

Moreover, contended the bishop, since the required principles and 
hypotheses are diametrically opposed to the hypotheses of the ancients, 
among scholars there would be scarcely anyone who would hereafter 
examine the principles of the tables and publish them after the tables 
have gained recognition as being in agreement with the truth. There was 
no place in science, he asserted, for the practice frequently adopted in 
kingdoms, conferences, and public affairs, where for a time plans are kept 
secret until the subjects see the fruitful results and remove from doubt 
the hope that they will come to approve the plans. 


So far as the philosophers are concerned, he continued, those of keener 
insight and greater information would carefully study Aristotle's extensive 
discussion and would note that after convincing himself that he had estab- 
lished the immobility of the earth by many proofs Aristotle finally takes 
refuge in the following argument: 

'We have evidence for our view in what the mathematicians say about 
astronomy. For the phenomena observed as changes take place in the 
figures by which the arrangement of the stars is marked out occur as they 
would on the assumption that the earth is situated at the centre.' 
Accordingly the philosophers would then decide: 
'If this concluding statement by Aristotle cannot be linked with his 
previous discussion, we shall be compelled, unless we are to waste the time 
and effort which we have invested, rather to assume the true basis of 
astronomy. Moreover, we must work out appropriate solutions for the 
remaining problems under discussion. By returning to the principles with 
greater care and equal assiduity, we must determine, whether it has been 
proved that the center of the earth is also the center of the universe. If 
the earth were raised to the lunar sphere, would loose fragments of earth 
seek, not the center of the earth's globe, but the center of the universe, 
inasmuch as they all fall at right angles to the surface of the earth's globe? 
Again, since we see that the magnet by its natural motion turns north, 
would the motion of the daily rotation or the circular motions attributed 
to the earth necessarily be violent motions? Further, can the three motions, 
away from the center, toward the center, and about the center, be in fact 
separated? We must analyze other views which Aristotle used as funda- 
mental propositions with which to refute the opinions of the Timaeus and 
the Pythagoreans.' 

They will ponder the foregoing questions and others of the same kind 
if they desire to look to the principal end of astronomy and to the power 
and the efficacy of God and nature. 

But if it is to be the intention and decision of scholars everywhere to 
hold fast to their own principles passionately and insistently, His Rever- 
ence warned, my teacher should not anticipate a fate more fortunate than 
that of Ptolemy, the king of this science. Averroes, who was in other 
respects a philosopher of the first rank, concluded that epicycles and eccen- 
trics could not possibly exist in the realm of nature and that Ptolemy did 
not know why the ancients had posited motions of rotation. His final 
judgment is: 'The Ptolemaic astronomy is nothing, so far as existence is 
concerned; but it is convenient for computing the nonexistent. As for the 
untutored, whom the Greeks call "Those who do not know theory, music, 



philosophy, and geometry," their shouting should be ignored, since men 
of good will do not undertake any labors for their sake.' 

By these and many other contentions, as I learned from friends familiar 
with the entire affair, the learned prelate won from my teacher a promise 
to permit scholars and posterity to pass judgment on his work. For this 
reason men of good will and students of mathematics will be deeply grate- 
ful with me to His Reverence, the Bishop of Kulm, for presenting this 
achievement to the world. 

In addition, the benevolent prelate deeply loves these studies and culti- 
vates them earnestly. He owns a bronze armillary sphere for observing 
equinoxes, like the two somewhat larger ones which Ptolemy says were at 
Alexandria and which learned men from everywhere in Greece came to 
see. He has also arranged that a gnomon truly worthy of a prince should 
be brought to him from England. I have examined this instrument with 
the greatest pleasure, for it was made by an excellent workman who knew 
his mathematics. . . ." 




Figaro: Voyant a Madrid que la republique 
des Lettres etait celle des Soups, toujours 
armes les uns contre les autres, et que, 
livres au mepris ou ce risible acharnement 
les conduit, tous les Insectes, les Mous- 
tiques, les Cousins, les Critiques, les Ma- 
ringouins, les Envie&x, les Feuillistes, les Li- 
braires, les Censeurs, et tout ce qui s' attache 
a la peau des malheureux Gens de Lettres, 
acbevait de dechiqueter et sucer le peu de 
substance qui leur restait . . . 

BEAUMArchais, Barbier de Seville 
Le Comte: Sauvons-nous! 
Figaro: Pourquoi? 

beaumarchais, Barbier de Seville 

ALL his life Copernicus worked on one single book. With the frenzy of 
a megalomaniac dilettante or a genius he tried to squeeze the entire world 
into his manuscript — and it was the largest world a mortal had ever seen 
with his mind's eye. No wonder that, faced with this incomparable mate- 
rial, he again and again corrected his manuscript, his computations, his 

All his life Copernicus gazed at the stars . . . Tycho de Brahe, at the 
beginning of his work, De Nova Stella (On the New Star), describes this 
star-gazing habit: 

"Last year (1572), in the month of November, on the eleventh day of 
that month, in the evening, after sunset, when, according to my habit, I 
was contemplating the stars in a clear sky, I noticed that a new unusual 
star, surpassing the other stars in brilliancy, was shining almost directly 
above my head; and since I had, almost from my boyhood, known all the 
stars of the heavens perfectly (there is no great difficulty in attaining 
that knowledge), it was quite evident to me that there had never before 



been any star in that place in the sky, even the smallest, to say nothing of 
a star so conspicuously bright as this. I was so astonished at this sight that 
I was not ashamed to doubt the trustworthiness of my own eyes. But when 
I observed that others, too, on having the place pointed out to them, 
could see that there was really a star there, I had no further doubts. 

"A miracle indeed, either the greatest of all that have occurred in the 
whole range of nature since the beginning of the world, or one certainly 
that is to be classed with those attested by the Holy Oracles, the staying 
of the Sun in its course in answer to the prayers of Joshua, and the 
darkening of the Sun's face at the time of the Crucifixion. For all philoso- 
phers agree, and facts clearly prove it to be the case, that in the ethereal 
region of the celestial world no change, in the way either of generation or 
of corruption, takes place; but that the heavens and the celestial bodies 
in the heavens are without increase or diminution, and that they undergo 
no alteration, either in number or in size or in light or in any other respect, 
that they always remain the same, like unto themselves in all respects, no 
years wearing them away. 

"Furthermore, the observations of all the founders of the science, made 
some thousands of years ago, testify that all the stars have always retained 
the same number, position, order, motion, and size as they are found, 
by careful observation on the part of those who take delight in heavenly 
phenomena, to preserve even in our own day. Nor do we read that it was 
ever before noted by any one of the founders that a new star had appeared 
in the celestial world, except only by Hipparchus, who, if we are to believe 
Pliny (Book II of his Natural History), noticed a star different from all 
others previously seen, one born in his own age . . ."* 

Copernicus began the revolution in the heavens, and the unrest there 
has grown greater and greater ever since. In fact the title De Revolution- 
ibus orbium caelestium is not the true one. Copernicus' tide was: The 
Book of Revolutions! 

Revolutionaries are usually pedants. Convinced that they are right in 
the main, they are distressed by the tiny errors of detail that their enemies 
cast in their teeth in order to compromise their entire system. Similarly, 
the tragic poet toward the end of the fifth act cheerfully massacres a dozen 
characters who have done him no harm, but sweats tears and blood over 
an epithet to describe the setting sun. 

All his life Copernicus observed, studied, pondered, checked his re- 
sults and rejected them, all his life he labored over one book, and in the 
end he was not satisfied with it. 

* Translated by John H. Walden. 


This profound dissatisfaction with himself also kept him from publish- 
ing his book. He was not ready — never quite ready. 

He enjoyed fame among his friends, an insignificant kind of fame, but 
not the worst kind. He reaped scorn and hatred and contempt, as is usual 
for innovators of genius. 

Under Paul III, Cardinal Caraffa, the future Paul IV, "the old man with 
a death's head," was already preparing to suppress freedom on the seven 
hills of Rome and in all the four corners of Europe. And the Protestants 
absolutely refused to live more freely! And the Index threatened! 

And so Rheticus published his first account of the Revolutions. And 
in order to protect the master from the strict supporters of the Bible with 
their astronomically reactionary sun miracles in honor of the conqueror 
of Jericho and Him who was crucified on Golgotha, Giese and Rheticus 
wrote vindications. Finally they mastered Copernicus' last hesitations: 
on account of the Church; on account of the imperfections in the work; 
and on account of that Pythagorean doubt as to the comprehension of the 
multitude — "don't tell it to anyone except the sages, for the mukitude jeers 
at once!" 

Finally Rheticus had a copy of the work (and perhaps the original 
manuscript, too) in his hands. Petrejus in Nuremberg had declared him- 
self willing to publish the great book; he was a teacher from Wittenberg 
who had inherited a printing shop; he had a predilection for printing 
mathematical works, although they brought in only a small profit. In the 
summer of 1540 he dedicated to Rheticus an astrological book printed in 
his shop; from it one learns that Petrejus knew the Narratio Prima pub- 
lished shordy before; in it he expresses his hope that Rheticus would soon 
publish Copernicus' Revolutions. 

Nuremberg was the German Athens. Gassendi says: "With the great 
Regiomontanus all the Muses entered the gates of Nuremberg." Patri- 
cians like Bernhard Walther and Willibald Pirckheimer were scholars 
and patrons of the arts. In that city Peter Henlein manufactured his pocket 
watches, the "Nuremberg eggs." There Martin Behaim constructed his 
globe; he may have influenced Columbus in Portugal; he almost dis- 
covered America. There lived Albrecht Duerer, and the brothers Barthel 
and Hans Sebald Beham, painters and copperplate-engravers; and Peter 
Vischer and his son, sculptor brass-founders; and Veit Stoss, the wood- 
cutter and sculptor who also created great works in Cracow and whom 
the Poles call Vitus Stwosz. 

The free Imperial city was independent of princely whims. The em- 
perors came to be crowned there; the golden imperial orb, scepter and 
crown were kept there, and the cobbler Sachs was considered a poet; there 


literature and the German reformation flourished side by side with the 
sciences, the sacks of pepper and the pedants. 

The city was great and wealthy among all the cities of Germany, a 
playground for humanists and Lutheran ministers. Here lived the mathe- 
maticians Johannes Schoner, Regiomontanus, Bernhard Walter, Johannes 
Werner, Andreas Osiander and Georg Hartmann. 

The printers also flourished. As early as Copernicus' birth-year Anton 
Koburger had founded a printing shop that soon became the biggest in 
Germany with twenty-four presses and sixteen branches. Indeed, uncle 
Lukas Watzelrode had published liturgical books for the Ermland church 
in Nuremberg as early as 1494. 

Gassendi says that Johannes Schoner helped Rheticus in the publica- 
tion of the Revolutions. It is true that in 1533, this adherent of Ptolemy 
in his opusculum geographicum, had ridiculed the philosophers and as- 
tronomers who turned the earth around "as on a turnspit." But perhaps he 
did not find his witty remark quite so witty later. Incidentally he was 
not only an author of mathematical works, but also an experienced editor, 
and was commissioned by the Nuremberg council to publish various manu- 
scripts of Regiomontanus. 

In the summer of 1542, thanks to the recommendation of Duke Albrecht 
of Prussia to the Elector of Saxony and the University of Wittenberg, 
Rheticus received permission to publish Copernicus' Revolutions. 

On May 2, equipped with a recommendation from Melanchthon to an 
old friend of Luther's, the vicar of St. Sebald's church, he went to Nurem- 

Petrejus must have begun setting the Revolution soon afterwards; for 
on June 29, 1542, T. Forsther wrote to J. Schad in Reutlingen: "Prussia has 
given birth to a new and marvelous astronomer whose theory is now 
being printed here, a work about one hundred sheets long, in which he 
maintains and demonstrates that the earth moves and the heavens are 
motionless. A month ago I saw two sheets printed; the corrector of the 
printing is a certain teacher from Wittenberg." 

Thus by the end of May there was already a corrected proof of the 
first eight pages, and Rheticus was at that time the corrector. In June we 
find him again in his native Feldkirch, but he must have soon returned 
to Nuremberg; for he wrote the date on a little book printed at Petrejus' 
and dedicated it to the burgomaster of Feldkirch (Orationes de Astrono* 
mia, Geographia and Physica) during the Ides of August; in it he boasts 
of not having hesitated to pay the expenses of a long trip and to bear other 
unpleasantnesses in order to hear the new Copernican theory from the 
mouth of its great author himself. 


Meanwhile Rheticus was appointed to the University of Leipzig. A 
year before he had been appointed dean of his faculty at Wittenberg, and 
had at the same time published the trigonometric chapters of Copernicus' 
main work in a separate pamphlet at Wittenberg, perhaps urged on by 
Osiander, in order to draw the attention of the learned men of that city, 
especially Melanchthon, to Copernicus' scientific merits; he had dedicated 
this pamphlet to one of those Nuremberg Lutherans, who were simulta- 
neously priests and mathematicians, to wit, Georg Hartmann, vicar of St. 
Lawrence's, and at one time a friend of Andreas, Copernicus' unfortunate 
brother in Rome. But with his new ideas Rheticus no longer felt at home 
in his old university; perhaps he was also attracted to Leipzig by the 
offer of a higher salary, two thousand gulden; Melanchthon also refers 
in a letter to certain "rumors (fabellae) that could not be mentioned in a 

In November, Rheticus was on his way to Leipzig. He left the further 
supervision of the printing of Copernicus' Revolutions to a no better 
man than the Lutheran minister, Andreas Osiander. 

By May, 1542, the printing had begun; on May 24, 1543, the day of 
Copernicus' death, one of the first copies reached his bed. The editio 
princeps comprises 203 pages (forty-nine sheets of eight pages each in 
small folio). The pages numbered 1 to 196 contain Copernicus' text. Six 
pages at the beginning contain the title, Osiander's preface, Cardinal 
Schonberg's letter, Copernicus' dedication to Paul III and the table of 
contents. The last page contains a list of errata. Page la begins with 
the tide: Nicolai Copernici Revolutionum liber primus. The work closes 
at folio 196a with the words: Finis libri sexti et ultimi Revolutionum. 
Below there is the printer's mark: Norimbergae apud Joh. Petrejum, 
Anno MDXLIII. After the printing the errors were listed on a double 
page, the front side of which repeats the title; the errata followed. A 
certain Engelhart reported that he bought the book for one gulden; a 
certain Wolff maintains that he paid twenty-six gulden and six Kreuzer 
for it. Even contemporary data are utterly unreliable. 

The book is illustrated by numerous woodcuts. The edition must have 
numbered one thousand copies. Petrejus assumed the expenses of the 
printing and the sale, and gave the author Copernicus and the editor 
Rheticus a few free copies as honoraria. 

Rheticus sent his friends Achilles Gasser, Tiedemann Giese and Canon 
Donner one copy each with handwritten dedications. 

Donner, Copernicus' friend, crossed out with red ink the words orbium 
caelestium and noted that Osiander's preface and Schonberg's letter did 
not come from Copernicus. ' 


Tiedemann Giese immediately made a fuss, for this- most scandalous 
book in world literature contained in its very first pages one of the most 
disgusting and portentous literary scandals ever perpetrated, to wit, 
Osiander's sacrilegious interpolated preface. 

Andreas Osiander was one of the fathers of the Lutheran church. In 
1522, at the age of twenty-two, he was the first Lutheran clergyman at 
the St. Lawrence church in Nuremberg. By the power of his sermons he 
won the great Nuremberg community and the Grand Master of the Teu- 
tonic Order (Margrave Albrecht of Brandenburg, later Duke Albrecht of 
Prussia) over to Luther's doctrine, and induced the latter to indulge in 
marriage and other worldly joys. Osiander was just as fond of fighting 
as Luther and the rest of the gang of reformers; in the end, even the 
Nurembergers, who are among the coarsest of the Germans, abused him 
so much that this "spiritual father" of Albrecht, the new Duke of Prussia, 
went to Konigsberg to preach and teach at the university of that town. 

Osiander published many theological works and edited a book by his 
friend Cardanus, opus perfectum de arithmetica, at Nuremberg. 

During Rheticus' stay in Prussia, Osiander and Copernicus had ex- 
changed letters about great fundamental problems. 

Kepler, in his uncompleted Apologia Tychonis contra Ursutn (pub- 
lished only in 1858) mentions such a letter from Copernicus to Osiander 
(dated July 1, 1540). 

Ursus had referred to the praefatiuncula of the Revolutions (which were 
written by Osiander but which Ursus thought were written by Coper- 
nicus) in order to prove the worthlessness of astronomical hypotheses as 
aids in discovering the real motions of the heavenly bodies. In the course 
of his debate with Ursus about the role of hypotheses in astronomy, 
Kepler for the first time in print unmasked Osiander's fraud. 

According to Kepler, Copernicus discussed with Osiander whether 
and to what extent the theory of the motions of the earth, in which Coper- 
nicus believed, should be expounded not only among the initiated and 
the specialists, but also publicly and among laymen, without provoking 
the contradiction of the scholastic philosophers, the Aristotelians and 
Ptolemaeans, let alone the "orthodox and other oxen" (as Heine puts it). 

On April 20, 1541, Osiander replied to Copernicus that he had always 
believed astronomical hypotheses should not be regarded as articles of 
faith, but only as auxiliary means for astronomical computations. Thus 
the main thing was not whether they were correct or false, but only to 
what extent they helped to determine the astronomical phenomena. "For 
who could give us sure information as to whether the irregular course 
of the sun is produced by an epicyclic or excentric motion, if we followed 


the hypotheses of Ptolemy, according to which both are possible. There- 
fore I should think it very desirable if you contributed something on this 
question in the preface. Thus you might assuage the Aristotelians and the 
theologians whose violent opposition you apprehend." 

On the same day Osiander wrote to Rheticus: "The Aristotelians and 
the ^leologians will easily let themselves be appeased if they are told that 
various hypotheses for the explanation of the same motion are possible, 
and that certain hypotheses are not advanced because they are irrefutable, 
but because they permit the most comfortable computation of the relevant 
phenomenon and this composite movement. It is quite possible to invent 
still other hypotheses. No matter how well adapted is one man's picture 
to explain a natural phenomenon, someone else can invent a picture that 
is still better adapted to the same purpose; anyone is free to do this, and 
he will even be thanked if he invents plausible explanations. By pre- 
liminary remarks of that kind, the opponents instead of severely censur- 
ing/the theory/ will let themselves be seduced to the sweet attractions 
of reflection, and from the first will be in a milder and more conciliating 
mood; later, after vain attempts to find something better they will let 
themselves be conquered quite readily by the innovator." 

Copernicus intensely disliked these cynical utterances of the all-too- 
politic vicar. In his eyes, hypotheses were the unshakable foundations of 
science. He regarded his hypotheses as correct and necessary. 

Kepler says that Copernicus believed with the iron firmness of a stoic 
that he was bound to make known his profoundest conviction to the 
whole world, even if this were not momentarily to the advantage of 

Copernicus had quite clearly expressed his views; and he must have 
thought that in doing so he had setded the question which Osiander 

To this same Osiander, Rheticus now entrusted the supervision of what 
remained to be. printed of the Revolutions! 

And Osiander who had in vain demanded that Copernicus disavow his 
whole theory in a well-sounding preface now undertook the dirty little 
business on his own account; he committed the colossal fraud of inter- 
polating an anonymous preface he himself had contrived, in which he 
repeated the cynical ideas he had expressed in his letter to Copernicus 
and Rheticus, repeating them in a sharper and more shameless form. 

Here is Mr. Osiander 's masterpiece: 

"To the reader, concerning the hypotheses of this work. 

"Many scientists, in view of the already widespread reputation of these 
new hypotheses, will doubtless be greatly shocked by the theories of this 


book, to wit, that the earth moves, while the sun rests motionless in the 
center of the universe; the current opinion is doubtless that the science 
of which the foundations were correctly laid in antiquity should not be 
brought into confusion. 

"However, upon maturer reflection it will be found that the author of 
this work has not undertaken anything that deserves censure. For the 
proper task of the astronomers is to establish the history of the heavenly 
motions according to careful and exact observations. Then he must dis- 
cover the causes of these motions, or when he is absolutely unable to 
discover their true causes, to invent and construct hypotheses to his liking, 
by means of which these motions can be correctly computed both for 
the future and the past, according to geometrical theorems. The master 
has met these two requirements in an excellent manner. 

"To be sure, his hypotheses are not necessarily true; they need not 
even be probable. It is completely sufficient that they lead to a computation 
that is in accordance with the astronomical observations; only those inex- 
perienced in mathematics would regard the epicycle of Venus as probable 
and as causing this planet sometimes to precede the sun by forty degrees 
or more, and sometimes to follow it; for who does not see that the diam- 
eter of this planet in the apogee would have to appear more than four 
times as large, and the body itself more than sixteen times as large, than 
when it is in the perigee; yet the experience of all times is in contradiction 
with this. 

"There are still other, no less important contradictions in this science, 
the discussion of which does not seem necessary here. It is quite well 
known that astronomy simply does not know the causes of the seemingly 
irregular motions. But if science invents such causes hypothetically — and 
actually it has invented a great number of such hypotheses — it does not 
invent them because it hopes to convince anyone that matters are like 
that in reality; its only purpose is to construct a correct foundation for 

"Furthermore, since one and the same motion is sometimes explainable 
by various hypotheses (as for instance the motion of the sun by the 
assumption of the excentricity or the epicycle), the astronomer will most 
readily follow those hypotheses which are most easily understood. The 
philosopher will perhaps demand greater probability; but neither of the 
two Will be able to discover anything certain or to teach it, unless it has 
been made known to him by divine revelations. 

"Therefore, let us grant that the following new hypotheses take their 
place beside the old ones which are not any more probable. Moreover, 


these are really admirable and easy to grasp, and in addition we find 
here a great treasure of the most learned observations. 

"For the rest, let no one expect certainty from astronomy as regards 
hypotheses. It cannot give this certainty. He who takes everything that 
is worked out for other purposes, as truth, would leave this science prob- 
ably more ignorant than when he came to it. And with this, farewell, 

This interpolated preface with which the book begins is not signed 
by Osiander, its author; it does not contain any hint as to its origin, 
any indication that it was not written by Copernicus. It was accepted as 
an integral part of the Revolutions and passed unopposed and word for 
word into the second edition, and into the third, although it is in the 
sharpest contradiction with the spirit of Copernicus' work, especially with 
the fundamental conceptions which the great man openly and proudly 
expressed in the dedication to the pope. As late as 1617, the editor of the 
third (Amsterdam) edition, Nicolaus Mulerius, professor at Groningen, 
expresses in a note his agreement with Osiander's preface which he takes 
to be Copernicus' and cites as crown-witness the Almagest of that Ptolemy 
against whose theses the whole book was written. Only in 1854, did Joh. 
Baranowski put an end to this fraud by explicitly ascribing the preface to 
its real author in his edition of Copernicus' book published in Warsaw. 

Not only the devout who apparently believed that God resided in the 
false natural laws or in the errors of Aristotle and Ptolemy, but also quite 
sensible philosophers shuddered at the idea that the earth could move. 
This deprived them of the last facts for security in life. To live on a 
racing earth that rotates around itself and rushes around the sun, and 
even, according to Copernicus, had still a third motion, — this was obvi- 
ously too much! 

Even the great Bacon of Verulam, in his learned work "On the Dignity 
and Increase of Science," still protested against Copernicus. 

What an irony of fate! While Copernicus dedicated his book to the pope 
because he feared the Catholic zealots, he fell victim to falsifying Lutheran 

While Copernicus thought only of the truth, Osiander had to consider 
his position as leader of the Reformation in Franconia. In order not to 
imperil it, he took into consideration Luther and Melanchthon who had 
laughed at the "astrologer in Poland." 

But Copernicus was convinced of the truth of his system, he had w*ritten 
this to the editor in Nuremberg. What did the vicar care for that? What 
was the good name of one of the greatest of men to him? What did 


he care for the tender conscience of a septuagenarian? What did he care 
about science and truth? 

It was necessary to accommodate oneself to the views of Melanchthon! 
Melanchthon's opinion, true or false, was of the greatest importance, for 
he had influence, power, and positions to bestow! and Melanchthon had. 
written in his own textbook that astronomical hypotheses could not claim 
to be true! 

Yes, Copernicus' character is cheapened in various ways by this inter- 
polation. He is praised in it. The hasty reader — and where are there exact, 
slow and careful readers in this hasty world? — the hasty reader says to 
himself: So the author praises himself? What bad taste! 

Was this foolish vicar "well intentioned"? So much the worse! The 
most annoying creature in the world is just such a well-intentioned ass, 
just such a softhearted, opportunistic, ambiguous falsifier! 

Copernicus believed that the foundations of his system were unshak- 
able. And he said so to all the world. He believed in the infallibility of his 
system; he saw the earth move. 

For that very reason, the Holy Congregation of the Index, the censorship 
authorities of the Catholic church in Rome, at the beginning of the seven- 
teenth century decided to mutilate the work of the great astronomer. With 
sacrilegious hands they made disgraceful cuts in his sacred book, as 
though, for instance, they could cut the shining star of Aldebaran out of 
its constellation. They corrected and "improved" those passages in which 
Copernicus reveals his conviction in the most decisive terms, and expresses 
it, divested of all hypothetical character, in divine nakedness. 

Copernicus never intended to augment the long series of mathematical 
hypotheses that were to serve for the computation and explanation of the 
celestial phenomena. He sought and found and enunciated the real laws 
of nature. 

With its censor's cuts the Inquisition would have compromised its God 
in this instance, if God would have been responsible for His church. 

It is a proof of the longevity of most gods that they patiently survive 
even the attempts of their priests to mold them after their own image. 

For a long time the name of the real author of this preface was unknown 
or known only in a restricted circle. Kepler discovered his name and 
branded the culprit in two passages. In his copy of the Copernican Revo- 
lutions he found a manuscript note which named Osiander as the author 
of this preface. The note was written by the Nuremberg astronomer, 
Hieronymus Schreiber. Through Kepler, Gassendi learned Osiander's 
name and included it in his Vita Copernici. 


The two learned astronomers, Ramus and Ursus, still believed that 
Copernicus -was the author of Osiander's preface. 

Petrus Ramus, professor at the University of Paris, offered his chair to 
anyone who could write an astronomy without hypotheses! 

Kepler wrote: "You did well, Ramus, to fulfill this pledge by giving 
up your chair when you gave up your life; for if you still possessed it, 
I would by right demand it of you ..." 

And at this point Kepler saved Copernicus' scientific integrity: "I grant 
that there is nothing more absurd than to try to explain nature from 
false causes. But this absurdity is not in Copernicus: because he himself 
held his hypotheses to be true, no less than those ancients of yours held 
their hypotheses to be true; and I give you this work as evidence, that he 
not only held them to be true, but also proved them to be true. 

"Now you want to know precisely who was the fabricator of that ab- 
surdity which angered you so much. The Nuremberg astronomer Hierony- 
mus Schreiber noted his name: Andreas Osiander. This Osiander when 
he was in charge of publishing Copernicus put at the beginning of the 
book the preface which you call absurd, but which he himself thought to 
be most clever, a fact that can be ascertained from his letters to Copernicus. 
At that time Copernicus himself either was already dead or lived in com- 
plete ignorance of the facts . . ." 

Gassendi, quoting Kepler, explained Osiander's offense and his modves 
so clearly that all the subsequent authors who confused this matter must 
be reproached not only with superficiality, but also with unsavory motives. 
They deliberately ignored the known facts in order to foist their own 
ideas on Copernicus. 

Osiander committed only a half-fraud. He marked his preface, the 
praejatiuncula, entided Ad Lectorem de hypothesibus hujus operis (to 
the reader, concerning the hypotheses of this work) as a piece not written 
by the author, by explicitly placing it next to Copernicus' dedicatory 
preface to His Holiness, Pope Paul III (ad sanctissimum Dominum 
Paulum 111 Pontificem Maximum) (Nicolai Copernici praejatio in libros 
revolutionism) and citing the latter in the table of contents as Praefatio 
Autoris (author's preface). 

The praise bestowed upon the astronomer and the addition to the title 
might have revealed the alien hand to the reader. 

Everywhere, in the preface and in the title, the infamous Osiander cast 
his "hypotheses" in the reader's eyes like sand. Moreover, he printed an 
offensive band on the book: Igitur eme, lege, fruere— therefore buy, read 
and make use of it! 

And even if anyone realized that Copernicus was not the author of 


Osiander's preface, were not Osiander's words and his confounded hypoth- 
eses on the very first page? And was one not compelled to assume that 
Copernicus had at least doubted the truth of his own system and for that 
reason sanctioned the first preface? Or even asked for it in order to create 
a false impression and thus protect himself? 

The devout adopted this opinion with all the candor of the devout. 

In 1844 Alexander von Humboldt still had to polemize against this 
misinterpretation in his Cosmos: "It is an erroneous and, alas! even in 
recent times still very widespread opinion that Copernicus, out of fear and 
in concern over persecution by priests, presented the planetary motion of 
the earth and the sun's position in the center of the entire planetary sys- 
tem as a mere hypothesis which fulfills the astronomical purpose of allow- 
ing us conveniently to compute the orbits of the heavenly bodies, 'but 
which need not be true nor even probable . . .' The founder of our present 
system of the world (its most important parts, the most grandiose features 
of our picture of the universe certainly are his), was almost even more 
distinguished by his courage and steadfastness than by his knowledge. 
He earned to a high degree the noble praise given him by Kepler who, 
in his introduction to the Rudolfine Tables calls him 'the man of free 
spirit.' ... In the dedication to the Pope, while describing the birth of 
his work, Copernicus does not shrink from defining the opinion generally 
current among the theologians, of the immobility and central position of 
the earth absurd acroama, and from attacking the stupidity of those who 
cling to such an erroneous belief. Copernicus' vigorous free language aris- 
ing from his innermost conviction sufficiently refutes the old assertion 
that he presented the system bearing his immortal name as a hypothesis 
convenient for the computing astronomer, and as one that might perhaps 
be unfounded." 

If Tiedemann Giese had had his say, this literary fraud of Osiander's 
would have been unmasked and the purity of Copernicus' text and char- 
acter would have been restored at once. 

In 1615, a little, almost unknown pamphlet by Broscius contained to- 
gether with a letter from Giese to Donner, the following letter from Giese 
to Rheticus: 

"To Joachim Rheticus: 

"Upon my return from the King's wedding celebrations at Cracow, I 
found at Lobau the two copies you sent me of the recently published 
work of our Copernicus, of whose demise I learned only after I crossed 
on to Prussian soil. I might have been able to mitigate my pain over the 
loss of our brother, that great man, by the study of his book which seemed 
to bring him back alive before my eyes. But at the very beginning I per- 


ceived the abuse of confidence and— you employ the correct expression — 
the impiety of Petrejus, which evoked in me a wrath that is more painful 
than the initial sorrow. For who would not be indignant over such a 
great crime committed under the cover of confidence? Yet this crime 
should perhaps be ascribed not so much to the printer who after all is 
•dependent upon others, as rather to an envious person who in his irritation 
at having to abandon his mechanically acquired conviction, if this book 
achieved reputation, abused the kindness of the author in order to dis- 
credit his work. 

"But in order not to let him go unpunished who let himself be bribed 
for another's fraud, I wrote to the Council of Nuremberg and at the 
same time indicated what, in my opinion, was necessary in order to re- 
store confidence in the author. I send you this letter together with a copy 
of the work, so that you may decide according to the circumstances how 
the thing is to be arranged. For I do not know anyone who would be more 
suitable or more willing to take up this matter with the Council than you 
are, you who assumed the leading part in carrying out the printing of 
the work, so that, as it seems to me, the author himself could not be more 
interested than you in repairing the wrong that has been done to the 
truth. And if you have the thing at heart I beg you instantly to take it up 
with the greatest zeal. 

"If the first pages of the book are reprinted, it seems necessary to me 
that you should add a short preface, so that those copies which have 
already gone out can also be purged of the forgery." 

Rheticus sent Giese's letter to Nuremberg, and on August 29, 1543, the 
Council adopted the following resolution: "To send Mr. Tiedemann, 
Bishop of Kulm in Prussia, Johann Petrejus' written answer to his letter 
(in which answer the sharpness should be left out and softened), and 
write him in addition: that, in conformity with Petrejus' writing he can- 
not be held responsible for anything." (Cf. L. A. Birkenmajer. Mikolaj 
Kopernik. Cracow, 1900.) 

Thus the Council contented itself with communicating the purged an- 
swer of the printer to the bishop. 

Rheticus also forced Osiander to admit publicly that he had inserted 
the preface; Peter Apian reports this fact. Zinner conjectures that Petrejus 
printed Osiander's preface in order not to spoil his sales by Copernicus' 
stubbornness; possibly he was also afraid of the Lutherans, particularly 
of Melanchthon.— Calculation and fear were the two mortal sins of pub- 
lishers then as today! 

Despite all this, the book was not a financial success. 

It was not until 1566 that a second edition was published in Basel, re- 


printed after the editio princeps; even the pages correspond in the two 
editions, even the errors of the first edition were repeated, and many new 
ones were added. 

Copernicus' work did not supplant any of the standard works of the old 
school, neither Sacroboscos' Sphaera nor Peurbach's Planetary Theory. 
Even Melanchthon's Initia doctrinae physicae (Introduction to the Doc- 
trine of Physics) written entirely in the old reactionary spirit had during 
the same interval of time (between 1543 and 1567) ten editions (three of 
them in 1550!). 

But would not the sale of Copernicus' main work have been much better 
without Osiander's defamatory preface? 

Only in 1617 did the third edition of the Revolutions appear at Amster- 
dam. But the first edition had never been exhausted! 

The third edition is better than the preceding editions; many printing 
errors are eliminated; the editor, the Groningen professor Mulerius, made 
numerous scientific notes. It goes without saying that he had neither Co- 
pernicus' original text nor Rheticus' copy at his disposal. 

For centuries the original manuscript of the Revolutions, like Goethe's 
violet, "alone with itself and unknown," lay in the dust of some library 
or other. 

By the middle of the nineteenth century it was discovered in Count 
Nostiz's library in Prague. The deviations of the first editions from the 
original manuscript are so numerous, that M. Kurtze, a professor in the 
gymnasium at Torun, editor of the Torun centennial edition, reported, 
after having carefully compared the first edition with the original manu- 
script, that he had found practically no page exactly matching in the two 

Prowe thinks he recognizes certain peculiarities of Rheticus' editing; 
certain words written in the original in Latin characters appear in Greek 
characters in the printed text; in this text the word "heavens" is spelled 
coelum, as it was spelled in the Narratio Prima, instead of Copernicus' 
caelum; and similar other coquetries of the young scholar. 

Ernst Zinner reproaches Rheticus for having done far too little in his 
later life in behalf of Copernicus and his theory, but he excuses him on 
the grounds of his chequered career and his waning interest in astronomy. 

Here are a few notes on the later life of a youthful idealist. 

His stay at the University of Leipzig, like that of Wittenberg, ended in 
conflicts and scandals. 

The slow transformation -of Rheticus' friendship with Reinhold into 
enmity must have been very painful. 

Then, during the carnival of 1545, came the letter of the Wittenberg 


student, Mathias Lauterbach, an insolent pupil of Reinhold's. Rheticus 
had informed the Wittenbergers that he had observed the eclipse of the 
moon on December 28, 1544, and that his times agreed exactly with the 
values indicated on Copernicus' tables. 

Lauterbach wrote to the Leipzig University professor and editor of 
Copernicus' Revolutions that he, the student Lauterbach, doubted the 
scientific exactitude of Rheticus' data. Particularly, he said, the professor 
had neglected to check his clock time. Then Lauterbach indicated the 
positions of the sun and the moon, and the time of the eclipse computed 
for Wittenberg, just as his teacher, Professor Reinhold, has taught him to 
do, appended to these data his own observations, whose times he had 
read from the Wittenberg church clock, and explained that he corrected 
these times subsequently by observing the sunrise. After taking the correc- 
tion into consideration his computations completely agreed with the 
Copernican times. 

Then the student Lauterbach took the liberty of pointing out to the 
Leipzig University professor the errors in the main work, errors partly 
of the typesetter, partly of the author. In particular, the young man 
denounced several errors in chapters twenty and twenty-nine, and asked 
Professor Rheticus why he had failed to correct these glaring errors. 
(Cf. L. A. Birkenmajer, op. cit.) 

Rheticus took a furlough. In July, 1545, he was in Feldkirch, the next 
spring he went to see G. Cardano in Milan. In July, 1546, and on January 
1, 1547, the Leipzig University vainly summoned him to return. On 
February 23, 1548, in a letter written from Basel, Rheticus excused him- 
self on the ground of illness, but he seems meanwhile to have studied 
medicine under Konrad Gesner in Zurich; for on January 27, 1548, he 
dedicated to the Magisters and Professor of the Leipzig University a 
short essay on the advantages of the transversal sections of implements 
and on a new division of the wicket (published in Gesner Pandectarum 
Libri XXI), and in this work he praised Gesner as his teacher in 
medicine. At that time he must have been regarded as mentally ill, for 
Lucas Gauricius wrote under Rheticus' horoscope (that he had acquired 
from Reinhold's estate among a collection of other horoscopes, including 
those of Luther and Melanchthon) : "Returned from Italy and gone mad, 
he died in April, 1547." 

Kepler, too, reported that Rheticus had pondered so long over the 
peculiar orbit of Mars that in the end he lost his mind. 

But in 1548 Rheticus returned to Leipzig in excellent health, and stayed 
for another two years among the Saxons. 


A certain Jakob Kroeger wrote the following strange marginalia about 
Rheticus in his book: "Prominent mathematician who lived and taught 
for some time in Leipzig, but in 1550 fled from this city on account of 
sexual offenses (sodomitica et Italica peccata); I knew him." 

A certain Hommel succeeded Rheticus at the Leipzig University. 

On October 1, 1550, Rheticus, still in Leipzig, published a yearbook for 
1551. Perhaps he was egged on by the example of Reinhold who had 
published yearbooks for 1550 and 1551 at the beginning of 1550; in- 
cidentally, Reinhold was busy with the printing of his Prussian Tables 
in which he used values for the length of the year that deviated somewhat 
from the Copernican values. 

In the preface to his yearbook Rheticus protested against this crime 
of Reinhold. However, he avoided mentioning Reinhold by name. But 
he took this opportunity to quote a conversation in which Copernicus 
had complained about the slight exactitude of the ancients and his own 

In the same text Rheticus also related how, during his Italian voyages, 
he had hoped to increase his knowledge of the world, but that it had 
been in far-off Prussia that he had learned the new theory of the greatest 
of astronomers, Copernicus, whose work was then published under his 

At the same printer's (W. Guenther, in Leipzig) Rheticus also pub- 
lished a book of tables; in a preliminary notice he explained his plans in 
dialogue form and declared emphatically that nothing must be attacked, 
touched or changed in the work of Copernicus. 

By the end of 1550 he seems to have turned his back on Leipzig and 

From 1557 on he lived in Cracow; according to his notice on the works 
of Johann Werner (1557) he had chosen Cracow as his place for observa- 
tions because it lies on the same meridian as Frauenburg. In order to 
fulfill the wish of his teacher that the positions of the stars be observed 
anew, he had a forty-five-foot obelisk erected, with the help of Johann 
Boner; for no instrument, he says, is better than the obelisk; armillary 
rings, wickets, astrolabes and quadrants are human inventions, while 
the obelisk, erected by order of God, surpasses them all. 

Did he still find time to observe the stars? He was then absorbed by 
the computations for his important Tables which his pupil, L. V. Otho, 
completed and published twenty-two years after Rheticus' death: the 
Opus Palatinum. 

On August 25, 1563, at 730 P.M., when it was found in Cracow that 


the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn was in accord with the data of the 
Prussian Tables, Rheticus was asked by a few friends of his to explain 
to them the work of Copernicus. 

Then,, after many long years, he took up the Book of Revolutions and 
meditated upon it once more. On October 28, 1563, he wrote about it to 
Hagecius asking him for help. At that time, he also received an offer to 
go to Wallachia: four hundred thalers and free lodging for six years, 
probably as a physician; he rejected it. A few years later, in 1567, he 
wrote that he loved astronomy and chemistry, but lived from medicine. 
He had the same interests as Paracelsus. 

The following year he wrote to Ramus in Paris that he had completed 
three Books on triangles and planned new Books on triangles and on 
celestial phenomena; that he was at work on the great tables to which he 
had already devoted twelve years of his life; but that he was hard pressed 
trying to solve Ramus' great problem, to wit, the liberation of astronomy 
from hypotheses and the establishment of its foundations on observation 
alone. For this purpose, he wrote, tables of the irregular motions must 
be drawn up, from which one could find the positions of the stars and 
all celestial phenomena as easily as from yearbooks. The shaky Ptolemaic 
theory must be replaced by the true and certain theory of the motions 
of the heavenly bodies, based on the obelisk that was used by the ancient 
OMY FOR HIS GERMANS. (Germanis meis Germanicam astro- 
nomiam condo.) He also projected a book on astrology, and seven books 
on chemistry; he loved chemistry with all his heart, he wrote, and had 
already penetrated into its deeper mysteries . . . 

What a development in thirty years: from the enthusiastic disciple of 
Copernicus' new doctrine, in 1539, to the creator of a German astronomy, 
through the obelisk, in 1568! 

In 1572, after the death of the last Jagellon, Rheticus was among the 
prophets who predicted that only seven kings would now follow, etc. He 
was then the personal physician of a Polish prince. Later he went to 
Kaschau in Hungary where he died on December 4, 1574. 

Still Rheticus remains in our memory as the enthusiastic disciple who 
preferred sacrifices to compromises, and who staked his career and per- 
haps his reputation for the sake of the truth. And he is the man to whom 
the world owes its greatest revolution, the Copernican. 

In their striving for good, and their fondness for evil, men usually act 
without much resolution. 

It is a poor business to cast suspicion on the honesty of honest people. 
Naturally, the honest people often appear vulgar among great men and 


in the crowd. Untouched by the purest thoughts of the great man and 
frightened by his ruthless deeds, they usually betray him for a piece of 
silver or because of a tiny fear; in order to avoid discomfort they betray 
him as easily and as naturally as if they were doing something good and 
just and true. 

And the great man himself? Does his constant reference to that 
aristocratic adversary of popular enlightenment -and education, that 
alleged author of the theorem of Pythagoras and the harmony of the 
spheres, suggest only the revolutionary philosopher's contempt for man- 
kind or — a higher wisdom? 

Was then Copernicus not right? 

He was completely conscious of the fact that he must appear absurd 
to everyone who could not follow his computations. But he appeared 
equally absurd to the mathematicians, also. 

Is it not the beautiful privilege of the insane man to believe that the 
whole world is standing on its head and that he alone is walking upright, 
that he alone is sensible, that he alone in the whole world possesses the 
truth? Is it not the despair of the madman that he cannot convert man- 
kind to his own madness? 

And does not every thinking man know that moment before the in- 
tellectual abyss, when in the face of the all-too-complicated coils of the 
spirit or the abstract sciences he wonders: is not all this too complicated 
to be true? Is not the truth the simplest of all things on earth, as simple 
as God? 

Did not Copernicus seem to the whole world, for forty or fifty years, 
to live in such a perpetual fit of weakness of the intellectual? 

But — dream of a madman or no — he proved right against all mankind! 

- -K 



The beautiful, too, must die . . . 
schiller, Nanie 

"I was this afternoon with Mr. Secretary 
at his office, and helped to hinder a man 
of his pardon, who was condemned for a 
rape. The Under-Secretary was willing to 
save him; but 1 told the Secretary he 
could not pardon him without a favour- 
able report from the Judge; besides, he 
was a fiddler, and consequently a rogue, 
and deserved hanging for something else, 
and so he shall swing." 
dean swift to Stella 

ON DECEMBER 8, 1542, friend Giese wrote to friend Donner about 
friend Copernicus: "Since Copernicus even in his days of good health 
liked retirement, only a few friends would probably stand sympathetically 
at the side of the gravely ill man, yet we are all his debtors on account of 
his pure soul, his integrity and his extensive learning. I know that he 
always counted you among the most faithful of his associates. Therefore I 
beg you to stand by him protectingly if his fate requires this, and to assume 
the care of the man whom together with me you have always loved, in 
order that he may not lack brotherly help in his affliction and that we do 
not appear ungrateful toward a friend who has abundantly earned our 
love and gratitude." 

In the last years of his life Copernicus still had to experience the 
bitterest feelings of a man of spirit. The conflicts and torments connected 
with the radical decision as to whether he should publish his work or 
not; the dreadful pain of having to hand in an incomplete book that was 
the only book of his life, but that he had not had the strength to com- 
plete; the humiliations he suffered through that Tartufe named Johannes 
Dantiscus; his grief over his friend Anna; his sorrow over his exiled 



friend Sculteti; his sorrow over the degenerating century, his wrath at 
the darkening o£ the spiritual world, at the growing reaction; the great 
solitude of his old age; his hatred for the stupid obscurantists who spoiled 
and falsified his book with their prefaces about hypotheses; and the fear 
of death, which was heralded by illness and weakness; the infinitely 
painful regret of an astronomer at the tiny span of man's lifetime— at 
best it is eighty years, but the stars live such long days and nights! 

The old man's strength was waning. Fever weakened him and he was 
compelled to give up his official duties (as Felix Reich wrote to Dantiscus 
on May 3, 1538). On September 15, 1540, in view of his old age and 
his frequent illnesses he arranged for his nephew to succeed him. At 
Easter, 1541, he made his last trip: to Konigsberg, as a consultant physician. 
He also began to receive the first news about, the reception of his 
theory, the Narratio Prima, thanks to Rheticus and his friend Achilles 
P. Gasser, the young physician in Feldkirch, went out into the world from 
Danzig and Basel. Gemma Frisius in Louvain and A. Caprinus in Cracow 
evinced their interest. And Erasmus Reinhold perhaps sent him his 
commentaries on Peurbach's Planetary Theory in which he refers to 
the work of Copernicus without going into his theory; nor does he 
mention Copernicus by name, but only writes that a new Prussian 
scientist, on the basis of many observations, had reformed astronomy and 
was preparing to publish his definitive book. Reinhold's book was pub- 
lished in April, 1542. Melanchthon wrote a poem for it, and he surely 
would not have tolerated any open praise of Copernicus' theory; he had 
reacted to the Narratio Prima bitterly and negatively enough, in a letter 
to Burkard Mithobius (dated October 16, 1541): "Some think it is a 
distinguished achievement to construct such a crazy thing as that Prussian 
astronomer who moves the earth and fixes the sun. Verily, wise rulers 
should tame the unrestraint o'f men's minds!" 

In June, 1542, Copernicus, perhaps provoked by Osiander's epistolary 
insinuations, wrote his dedication to Pope Paul III. With the same 
unshakable pride he had displayed against the Nuremberg Lutherans, 
Copernicus insists here against the head of the Catholic church on the 
truth and solidity of his new theory. He was not a philosopher, a man 
of the world in the style of Erasmus of Rotterdam who evaded, and took 
back, and recanted, in order, it is true, to shoot sharper arrows the next 

At the end of May, 1542, when the first two sheets of the book were set 
in type by Petrejus, Copernicus received a galley proof. When he saw 
Osiander's arrogant forgery he fell into the most violent rage; his grief 
and fury may have aggravated his illness, for he had a hemorrhage 


followed by a paralysis of the right side and remained unconscious for 
several days. 

At the beginning of the winter of 1542 his condition caused so much 
concern to his friends that Donner wrote about it to Giese, whereupon 
Giese wrote Donner the letter quoted above. 

How alone the old man was! 

We know that Dantiscus had driven Anna, the poor old man's woman- 
friend or housekeeper or nurse, from his home in order to save Poland or 
raise the morality of the world, and in the name of God. 

Perhaps the Bishop of Ermland by God's grace warned the younger 
Frauenburg canons against having too close contact with the half-out- 
lawed revolutionary old man? Did not Copernicus have intercourse with 
Lutherans, that is to say heretics, that is to say agitators? So he was a 
suspect, harmful to one's career, dangerous for the salvation of one's 
soul. And had not this old man written a book De Revolutionibus in 
which he taught that the earth was moving? In what sense? And what 
revolutions ? 

The old man was ill. A hemorrhage. A heart attack. A paralysis. The 
illness was protracted. Gemma Frisius, professor of Louvain, solicitously 
asked professor Dantiscus about the health of the famous astronomer, 
Copernicus. Solicitously Bishop Dantiscus, the friend of great men and 
all the great of the earth, replied that the end was feared within the 
next few days. This was at the beginning of 1543. 

At that time Copernicus must have, remembering Thomas Aquinas, 
written with heavy lingers on a bookmark that groan: "O brevity of life, 
and our miserable knowledge; and most of it escapes us through the 
sieve of memory!" 

He died on May 24, 1543. The faithful old Giese (in his letter to 
Rheticus of July 26, 1543) described it thus: "since I also wish that your 
biography of the author that you wrote so elegantly and that I once read, 
be put before the work freed from Osiander's falsification, and since I 
think that nothing is missing in your story except the end of his life — 
he died on the ninth day before the first of June, after a hemorrhage and 
the parglysis of the right side that followed; many days before he had 
lost his memory and intellectual vigor, and his ready book he saw only in 
his last hour, on the same day that he died." 

He died, and so he was spared the shame of the failure of his Revolu- 

Christine Stulpawitz, the wife of the Prussian ducal army's kettle- 
drummer, came equipped with a letter of recommendation by Albrecht of 
Prussia and ran from one canon to another in Frauenburg; she wanted 


her inheritance, she was Copernicus' niece ... (I am Stulpawitz, the 
niece, Your Reverences, and where is the cash, and there is also the un- 
bleached linen, and. ... I am Stulpawitz, the niece, Your Reverences, 
my husband is the Prussian duke's kettledrummer at Konigsberg, here 
is the duke's letter, and there is also a night cap of fox-skin. ... I am 
Stulpawitz, the niece, Your Reverences). 

There was also the lovely Regina, the wife of a Stargard merchant, 
Copernicus' youngest niece. Her children received 550 marks at the 
division of the estate, a sum not to be sneezed at. 

And Copernicus' tower was sold to the highest bidder. And Copernicus' 
successor was a canon and enjoyed a sumptuous life. And vicar Dr. 
Fabian Emmerich, the physician, inherited a medical textbook. And the 
canons inherited the library. And Tiedemann Giese, Bishop of Kulm, 
became Bishop of Ermland, and died. And Rheticus did not remain for 
long professor at Leipzig and soon had to take to his heels; he either 
made himself objectionable sexually, or a sexual slander was invented 
about him in order to discredit the Copernican; he shook the dust of 
Germany off his feet and went to Poland; he died in Hungary. 

The old canon was buried in the Frauenburg Cathedral, beside his 
great uncle, Watzelrode, who after all had worked his way up to the 
position of bishop. Masses were said for his soul; and his freehold estates 
were auctioned off. 

In 1581 a monument was erected next to his grave on the wall of the 

In 1746 Copernicus' monument had to cede its place. The monument 
to Bishop Szembek superseded it. 

In 1746, there was in all Poland and Prussia, in all the world, no better 
place for the great, world-famous, sublime Bishop Szembek than the very 
spot where Copernicus' monument stood. 

Pereat Copernicus! Long live the dead bishop Szembek! 

And so nothing remained of Copernicus, except a few signed books 
that had belonged to him, a few notes by him and about him, a few 
friends who died soon after he died, a few vague memories, and his 
book which was read rarely enough. 

And naturally his Revolutions! — the Copernican system . . . the greatest 
intellectual revolution in the history of mankind . . . naturally. 

". . . and so he shall swing!" 






St. Anthony was never guilty of washing 
his feet. 


O fie! says Adams, O fie! He is indeed a 
wicked man! 

HENRY fielding, Joseph Andrews 

COPERNICUS was dead. His Revolutions were published. From the 
publisher's point of view the greatest revolution in world history was a 
failure. The broad public could not read the book because it was written 
in Latin. The educated public did not want to read it. And what about 
the specialists? 

A few hundred people bought the book, a few dozen studied it, a few 
made use of the computations contained in it. Many scientists noted its 
errors, errors of computation, textual errors, author's errors, typesetter's 

A cold admiration was bestowed upon the learned astronomer, 
Copernicus, the observer of the heavens was appreciated, he was called the 
reformer of astronomy and a second Ptolemy, for the Renaissance was 
always generous with pompous titles and paeans of praise. 

But Copernicus the revolutionary was condemned all over Europe. 
Although the founder of the Copernican system was praised, the system 
itself was termed absurd and anti-religious. By the end of the sixteenth 
century it seemed discredited, liquidated, almost forgotten. 

The Lutheran church, once it had come of age was, like all reform 
movements, extremely distrustful of reform, and especially after the 
tragic peasant wars, emphatically condemned Copernicus. 

Calvin quoted against Copernicus, as a higher astronomical authority, 
Psalm 93: "The world also is established, that it cannot be moved," and 



he asked: "Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above 
that of the Holy Spirit?" 

The Catholic church, which at first ignored Copernicus' "hypotheses," 
struck out when the Polish astronomer's second great herald, Giordano 
Bruno, made too much noise in Europe about the new doctrine. Upon the 
recommendation of the Inquisition Bruno was publicly burned in Rome, 
in 1600. And when, with Galileo, a great new defender of the Copernican 
system appeared on the Italian scene and put the pope's arguments 
against the new system in the mouth of a simpleton, thus making a fool 
out of the Holy Father, the Inquisition forced him to recant on his 
knees, and put his work and Copernicus' Revolutions on the index, in 

Cardinal Baronius said: "The Holy Spirit intended to teach us how 
to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go." 

And the Catholic church wrote one of the most curious chapters of its 
"science by decree": "The first proposition, that the sun is the center and 
does not revolve about the earth, is foolish, absurd; false in theology and 
heretical, because expressly contrary to Holy Scripture. 

"The second proposition, that the earth revolves about the sun and is 
not the center, is absurd, false in philosophy and, from a theological 
point of view at least, opposed to the true faith." 

True, Blaise Pascal commented on this as follows: "It is not the decree 
of Rome which will prove that the earth remains at rest; and, if we had 
constant observations to prove that it does turn, not all the people in the 
world could stop it from turning, nor could they stop themselves from 
turning with it." 

But in the Universities, Aristotle and Ptolemy held undisputed sway. To 
astronomers still loyal to or fearful of the church Tycho de Brahe offered 
his "middle of the road" system that deviated from Ptolemy but left the 
earth at rest. And laymen and philosophers believed the evidence of their 
eyes, the teachings of "common sense" and the dogma of the theologians. 

Was this the road to world fame? Was this the result of the greatest 
of all revolutions? And was a whole epoch to take its name from this 
half -forgotten, liquidated man? 

We know the stations of his fame in the sixteenth century : in 1514 Rome 
invited him to the Lateran Council. Peucer reports that Copernicus was 
famous as early as 1525. In 1533 Widmanstadt explained the Copernican 
theory to the Pope in the Vatican gardens. In 1536 Cardinal Schoenberg 
asked for the manuscript of the Revolutions. In 1540 the Narratio Prima 
was published in Danzig and Basel. In 1543 the first edition of the Revolu- 


dons was published in Nuremberg. In 1551 Reinhold published the 
Prussian Tables. In 1566, the second printing of the Revolutions, un- 
changed, and only augmented by the Narratio Prima, was published in 
Basel. Only in 1617 did the third edition of the Revolutions, edited and 
revised by Mulerius, appear in Amsterdam. 

During the second half of the sixteenth century, in addition to two 
editions of the Narratio Prima, only two editions of Copernicus' Revolu- 
tions were published, but there were more than a hundred editions of 
textbooks that taught or accepted only the Ptolemaic system. 

Copernicus' new theory was rejected in almost all the great countries 

of Europe. 

In Germany the very first editor of the Revolutions, vicar Osiander, 
by his forged preface, tried to make the Promethean rebel against a cosmic 
error seem like a lame bungler of world-hypotheses. This preface, 
Giordano Bruno said later, could have been composed only by an 
ignoramus for the use of a few other asses. 

Rheticus, the first disciple, the courageous, infinitely meritorious author 
of the First Account, the fiery idealistic youth who is alleged to have 
become insane for a time pondering over the orbit of Mars, came forth 
as the defender of the faith against his former friend and colleague, 
Erasmus Reinhold, and solemnly proclaimed that Copernicus' main work 
could not be refuted, in fact could not be impugned in the slightest, detail. 
Later after he was forced to flee from Leipzig, he gradually abandoned 
the study of astronomy and the Copernican system, only in the end to 
become an alchemist, a doctor, yes, a charlatan in Poland, where he 
planned his GERMAN astronomy. But the two editions of his preliminary 
report caused a stir, especially in Basel and Wittenberg. 

Were not the repercussions of Copernicus' work great at least in 
Wittenberg? The patroness of mathematics and astronomy from which 
came the astronomical works of Reinhold, Melanchthon and Peucer? 
Between 1540 and 1561 neither Copernicus nor his theory was men- 
tioned in a single lecture at Wittenberg, although Osiander's preface 
should have curbed the Lutheran agitators (as Schoenberg's printed 
letter had curbed the Catholic ones). ^ 

A few mathematicians or astronomers must have studied Copernicus 
book between the spring of 1543 and the fall of 1544 at least enough to 
enable them to compute in advance certain celestial phenomena with the 
help of the Copernican Tables, as for instance that Wittenberg pupil of 
Reinhold's who in his letter to editor Rheticus so severely censured the 
latter and reproached him for "unpardonable errors of computation. 


What did Erasmus Reinhold (the Wittenberg university professor, 
dean of the faculty from 1549 on and rector of the university from 1550 
on) do about Copernicus' Revolutions? 

At the end of 1544 he used the Tables of Copernicus' book to cast a 
horoscope for Martin Luther! 

In general he considered the Tables inadequate for the computation of 
those observations on which Copernicus' main work was founded. 

Between 1544 and 1549, despite the war and by dint of superhuman 
efforts, the same Reinhold computed new orbit elements on the basis of 
observations by Hipparchus, Ptolemy and Copernicus, and drew up tables 
according to them. He called these the Prussian Tables, in honor of Duke 
Albrecht of Prussia. Reinhold says that Copernicus' trigonometry is un- 
surpassable and that he himself had borrowed most of the famous 
Prussian's observations; but, he avers, calculation was not the master's 
forte and for that reason he himself had to compute everything anew. 

Reinhold did full honor to the Ptolemaic hypotheses, but he paid no 
heed to the Copernican system, and did not discuss Copernicus' new 
conception of the cosmos at all. 

For the seventy years that followed the results obtained by the observer 
and the mathematician were used; but the great revolutionary system of 
the philosopher was ignored. 

As early as 1542, in his commentary on Peurbach's planetary theory 
Reinhold mentioned Copernicus' work then about to be published, but 
did not mention Copernicus' name; in the new edition of 1553 he men- 
tioned Copernicus' name several times but not his theory; true, he prom- 
ised to expound the Copernican theory in his own theory of the moon, but 
he died before doing this. 

In Nuremberg, Johannes Schoner must have thoroughly studied Coper- 
nicus' book; in Leipzig, Johannes Hommel (Rheticus' successor at the 
University of Leipzig) and in Holland, Gemma Frisius admired it, but 
in 1555 in a letter to Stadius the latter expressed himself with reserve 
about the idea that the earth moved. According to Birkenmajer, Valentin 
Steinmetz from Gersbach asserted in his prophecy for 1552 that the Coper- 
nican numbers were more accurate than any earlier ones, and that the 
book interested him for that reason. This seems to be the first reference 
to the Revolutions that was printed in Germany. 

When, soon after the publication of the main work, it became known 
that Osiander was the author of the preface (on the margin of the preface 
in copies of the first edition the word Osiander is sometimes written in, 
or the preface is entirely crossed out, or there is a note to the effect that 
Rheticus quarrelled with the printer Petrejus or that Rheticus had forced 


Osiander to acknowledge his authorship)— and when a public scandal 
threatened, especially in Lutheran Wittenberg, over this book by a 
Catholic canon, Melanchthon wrote in his Introduction to Physics: ". . . 
But here a few, be it out o£ curiosity or in order to be ingenious, assert 
that the earth moves and assure us that neither the eighth sphere nor the 
sun moves, although they ascribe motion to the other heavenly bodies and 
list the earth among the stars. These jokes are not new. There is still 
Archimedes' work on the Computation of the Grains of Sand in which 
he relates that Aristarchus of Samos advanced the contradictory assertion 
that the sun is at rest and that the earth moves around the sun. And even 
though keen masters investigate many things in order to occupy their 
minds, it is, nevertheless, unbecoming publicly to defend such absurd 
theses, and even harmful because it sets a bad example." 

Thereupon Melanchthon quotes the Psalms and enumerates the physical 
arguments against the motion of the earth. In his own work he expounded 
only Ptolemy's doctrine, but along with the numerical data of Ptolemy 
he named also those of Werner and Copernicus. In the second edition, 
Melanchthon struck out the adjective "absurd" when speaking of the 
Copernican system, but this adjective continued to be a favorite among 
Copernicus' adversaries for a long time. 

Peucer, Melanchthon's son-in-law, called Copernicus the greatest 
astronomer since Ptolemy, but considered his theory absurd; and he said 
that because of its absurdity and remoteness from reality it should be 
excluded from the universities. 

Similarly, Michael Maestlin, Johannes Kepler's teacher at the uni- 
versity of Tubingen, used Copernicus' numerical data in his textbook 
(Epitome Astronomiae) but did not publicly acknowledge his theory. 

But through Maestlin Kepler learned of the Copernican system. 

Dasypodius ordered an original portrait of Copernicus from Danzig; 
between 1572 and 1574 he had a copy made of it and set it up with the 
new clock that he had constructed in the Strassburg cathedral; but this 
honor was probably meant for the astronomer, not the creator of the new 
cosmogony; at least there is nothing in the picture to indicate that its 
owner recognized Copernicus' importance as a thinker. 

In 1581 Bishop Kromer ordered that a memorial to Copernicus be 
erected in the Frauenburg cathedral; a memorial to him was also erected 
in the Church of St. John at Torun. 

The Jesuit Christopher Clavius called Copernicus' hypothesis absurd, 
but dubbed Copernicus himself the reformer of astronomy; he used the 
Polish astronomer's observations and catalogue of stars which latter he 
corrected; his book had nineteen editions before 1618. 


In Poland, Miechow and Wapowski knew Copernicus' work. Hilarius 
Wislicza, professor of astronomy at Cracow, computed his yearbook of 
1549 on the basis of the Copernican Tables. Master Jo Lathosius, an 
astronomer at the University of Cracow, computed his yearbook for 1571 
on the basis of the Prussian Tables. 

And Stanislaus Jacobeus, in his forecast for 1572, reports an experi- 
mental verification of the Prussian Tables (according to Birkenmajer 
and Samuel Dickstein, the latter in Coup d'oeil sur I'histoire de sciences 
exactes en Pologne, Cracow, 1933). On the occasion of the conjunction of 
Jupiter and Saturn in 1563 many professors and masters of the Cracow 
University gathered together (among them, Nikolaus Schadeck, Petrus 
Probosczowicze and Master Joh. Muscenius) and, in accordance with the 
Prussian Tables, found Jupiter and Saturn so close to each other, that 
Jupiter covered Saturn. According to the Alfonsine Tables the conjunc- 
tion should have taken place on another day, but on the day indicated 
in these older tables the planets were 2 degrees 21 minutes distant from 
each other. The Cracow professors Schadeck and Probosczowicze who 
even before had been inclined to accept Copernicus declared that their 
successor too should follow the more accurate Copernican data. There- 
upon Valentin Fontani, M.D. (1536-1618) lectured on astronomy three 
times during 1578-1580, and in these lectures advanced the Copernican 

In Italy, Fr. Maurolico, who published his mathematical works in 
Venice in 1575 wrote in the preface to his chronology, Computus Eccle- 
siasticus: "May also Copernicus be destroyed, who makes the sun rest 
and the earth turn like a top and who deserves a whip, rather than a 

In 1580, Giuseppe Moleto (1531-1588), professor of mathematics at 
Padua, used the Copernican Tables for his Gregorian Tables of the 
celestial phenomena; "for the data of the Alfonsine Tables do not tally 
with the celestial phenomena. And we would still have been obliged to 
rely upon these tables, if Nicolaus Copernicus, the Hercules of our time, 
had not ingeniously discovered the inequalities of the motions and 
adapted his assumptions and numbers to them." 

In 1577 Francesco Giuntini praised Copernicus' theory of the sun, but 
in another passage he condemned it. 

G. A. Magini (1555-1617), professor of mathematics at Bologna, took 
over Copernicus' numerical data and observations and called him the 
greatest astronomer of all times, but labelled his theory absurd. In 1590 
he admitted to Tycho de Brahe that he agreed with the latter's idea of the 



Copernicus' theory was thus occasionally mentioned in Italy, but it 
had no real adherents. 

In 1563 Pierre Ramee (Peter Ramus) wrote to Rheticus from Paris that 
astronomy must at last be freed from hypotheses (Cf. Birkenmajer). 

In 1567 Pierre de Mesme called Copernicus ridiculous. 

The poet Guillaume du Bartas, in his famous poem La Semaine or 
La Creation du Monde condemns the Copernican doctrine; he describes 
the theory of the "learned German" (du docte Germain) as the dream of 
a proud and restless mind which cared little for the opinion of the 
many. In the edition of 1583 the publisher S. Goulart of Senlis attacked 
Copernicus' "absurd" hypothesis. 

Montaigne, in his Essais (1580) after discussing the Ptolemaic and 
Copernican systems, writes: "What shall we reape by it, but only that we 
neede not care which of the two it be? And who knoweth whether a 
hundred years hence a third opinion will arise which happily shall over- 
throw these two precedent?" That is why, Montaigne goes on to say, the 
same skepticism should be displayed toward the new theories as toward 
the old (Montaigne, An Apologie of Raymonde Sebonde). 

Jean Bodin (1520-1596), the philosopher of Angers, an adversary of 
Machiavelli and the author of the "Republic," condemned the Copernican 
theory in his posthumous Universae Naturae Theatrutn; but as early as 
1628 he himself was put on the Index because of his atheism. 

The mathematician Francois Viete (1540-1603) pointed out a mathe- 
matical error in Chapter Nine of Book Three of the Revolutions. 

The first printed reference to the Copernican theory in England is 
found in The Castle of Knowledge, an English book written by Robert 
Recorde (1510?-1588), physician in ordinary to Bloody Mary, as early 
as 1556. Recorde calls the theory absurd, but he praises its learned author. 
John Dee, in his preface to the yearbook for 1557, computed by John 
Feild, boasts of having advised his friend Feild to use the Tables of 
Copernicus, "whose writings are established and based upon true, sure 
and authentic demonstrations." 

Thomas Digges (born in 1546), the son of the mathematician Leon- 
hard Digges, wanted to check the Copernican theory against the new 
star of 1572. In the new edition of his father's Prognostication Everlasting 
printed in 1576 he gave an enthusiastic description of the Copernican 
theory, translated passages from Book One of the Revolutions, especially 
from Chapters Eight and Ten, into English and added an explanatory 
diagram. Thus Englishmen desirous of knowledge could become ac- 
quainted with the theory (Cf. Francis R. Johnson, Astronomical Thought 


in Renaissance England, Baltimore, 1937, pages 98-101, 106, 165). There 
were six editions of Digges before 1605. 

In 1579 he wanted to write commentaries to Copernicus' book, with 
demonstrations based on the most recent observations; but he was never ' 

able to do this task. g 

William Gilbert (1540-1603), physician in ordinary to Queen Elizabeth, * 

in his book De Magnete (1600) borrowed arguments from Copernicus 
to prove the daily rotation of the earth. 

In Sweden, the oldest Swedish textbook of astronomy was published in 
1579; its author was Olof Luth, professor at Upsala; he does not mention 
Copernicus or his theory. 

In Spain, according to Dorothy Stimson, the new regulations for the 
University of Salamanca, issued in 1561, required that in the three-year 
course of astrology and mathematics, the students should study first 
astrology, then Euclid, and then the Ptolemaic or the Copernican system, 
"ad vota audientium," according to the choice of the students. A doctor 
of the University of Salamanca, Pater Zuniga (Didacus a Stunica) wrote a 
commentary on Job, before 1579, which was published in Toledo only 
in 1584 and in Rome in 1596. In 1616 he was put on the Index of forbidden 
books with the mention donee corrigatur (until corrected). In his book 
Zuniga declared that the Copernican theory was much simpler and more 
plausible than the Ptolemaic. He based his assertion that the new theory 
could not be attacked on Job IX, 6: "which shaketh the earth out of 
her place, and the pillars thereof tremble." 

Only one man in Europe preached the Copernican revolutions: 
Giordano Bruno. 



"I have fought . . . it is much . . . Vic- 
tory lies in the hands of Fate. Be that with 
me as it may, whoever shall prove con- 
queror, future ages will not deny, that I 
did not fear to die, was second to none in 
constancy, and preferred a spirited death 
to a craven life." 

Giordano bruno, De monade 
"Also he told me that ladies pleased him 
well; but he had not yet reached Solomon's 

mocenigo, the informer, on Giordano 

GIORDANO BRUNO, "citizen and servant of the world, child of the 
sun and mother earth," more prosaically the son of a soldier, was born 
near Nola in the province of Naples in 1548. His father baptized him 
Felipe; he attended school in Naples, and at the age of fourteen entered a 
Dominican monastery where Thomas Aquinas had once lived; there 
Felipe received the name of Giordano, after the River Jordan in Canaan, 
and was consecrated a priest at the age of twenty-four; there he is said 
to have written a bold allegory about Noah's ark; there he read for the 
first time the Book of Revolutions and grasped Copernicus' revolutionary 
world-view and bold ideas as no one before him had grasped them. 

Bruno hated the intellectual dictatorship of that schoolmaster of Chris- 
tianity, the great pagan Aristotle. Like Bacon he was an enthusiastic 
admirer of the pre-Socratics, the Stoa and the Pythagoreans, and the 
neo-Platonists. He studied Nicholas of Cusa, imitated Lully and wor- 
shipped Lucretius. 

He was as little suited for life in a monastery as Luther. Because he 
doubted the reality of transubstantiation and the Immaculate Conception, 
because he read Erasmus' suspect remarks to St. Chrysostom and St. 



Jerome, Fathers of the church prohibited by the Index, and because he 
did not think that Arius was as preposterous as the Catholic doctrinaires 
pretended he was, he was soon threatened with prosecution. At the age 
of twenty-eight he left his cowl, his monastery and the whole order of 
the Inquisitors behind him, fled to Rome, and became a wandering 
humanist, following the profession of an itinerant and unordained 
preacher of the truth; for sixteen years he travelled restlessly through 
Europe, across Italy, Switzerland, France, England, Germany and Bo- 
hemia. All the countries were traps for a courageous philosopher who 
wanted to proclaim that human reason had at last come of age, who never 
concealed anything, neither a joke nor the truth. Everywhere he preached 
his poetic cosmopolitan faith, everywhere he was persecuted by the privi- 
leged guardians of orthodoxy. By nature he was as trusting as a child, 
and became a skeptic only through philosophizing. He wrote: "Whoso 
itcheth to Philosophy must set to work by putting all things to the doubt." 
After sixteen years of restless wanderings he finally took an eight-year 
rest — in the dungeons of the Inquisition in Venice and Rome. 

In 1579, after many trips through Italy, he went from Catholic Rome 
to Calvinist Geneva. Far from becoming a Calvinist there, as the legend 
and the Inquisition charged, he was cited before the Council of the 
Protestant stronghold because he showed in a pamphlet that a certain 
Geneva professor had committed twenty foolish errors. Like a Nimrod 
he went on the hunt for learned asses and wrote extensively on the great 
asininity that was as ubiquitous as the world soul. Sent before the con- 
sistory by the Council and excommunicated, he was compelled to apolo- 
gize. He hastened to flee from Geneva and Calvinism which he hated, 
as well as from the meagre life he had eked out as a proof-reader. 

At the University of Toulouse he acquired his doctor's degree, lectured 
on astronomy, and was driven out by the furor scholasticus. In 1581 he 
went to Paris; King Henry III had heard of the learned "artist of mem- 
ory" from Italy and offered him the job of assistant (but paid) professor 
of philosophy, probably at the College de France (also called the College 
de Cambrai). Bruno lectured on the Ars Magna of Raymond Lully, the 
founder of the Lully Art (1234-1315), the Spaniard who undertook to 
transform the ocean into pure gold if only it were of mercury. Bruno 
was so little pampered by life and so thankful for every favor that he 
dedicated his first work, "On the Shadows of Ideas," to the lascivious 
Valois and even praised him later in Germany. 

Armed with the French king's recommendation to his ambassador in 
London, Bruno went to England in 1583. He lectured and conducted 
disputations at Oxford; on one occasion he defended the Copernican 


theory against the reactionary Aristotelians before Adalbert Laski, a 
Polish prince who was trying to dissuade the English from continuing 
delivering arms to the Muscovites. If one is to believe Bruno, he won an 
easy triumph before him. In London, too, he was victorious in a similar 
disputation, at least so he declared in his work published shortly after- 
ward under the title of "The Ash Wednesday Supper," in which he 
defended the Copernican theory and castigated the English and particu- 
larly the brutal customs prevalent among English scholars and students 
in Oxford, all of them just as superstitious and pedantic as the scholars 
in Geneva. But he liked the landscape, the climate and the handsome 
nimble white lambs and girls of England. 

These were the happiest years, spent at the court of the maiden Queen 
Elizabeth and in the home of Michel de Castelnau, the French ambassa- 
dor, with whom he stayed. He wrote: "I stayed in his home as his gentle- 
man—only that." Between 1583 and 1585 he published seven books in 
London, among them his most important and extensive works. (The 
Thirty Seals and Seal of Seals— on mnemonics; The Ash Wednesday 
Supper; On Cause, Principle and The One— on metaphysics; The In- 
finite Universe and its Worlds— his pantheistic philosophy of the Infinite; 
The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast, Proposed by Jove, Effected by 
the Council, Revealed by Mercury, Related by Sophia, Heard by Saulino, 
and set down by the Nolan — an attack of the churches and all blind faith; 
The Cabala of the Steed Like Unto Pegasus, With the Addition of the 
Ass of Cyllene; The Transports of Intrepid Souls, On Heroic Enthusiasm 
— seventy sonnets in praise of Truth and Beauty. 

However, Bruno's books sold badly and his fame among his contempo- 
raries was not very great. A heretic in Italy, an offender against the public 
peace in Geneva, he found indifference in England, almost whips in 
France, prohibitions to teach and reside in Germany, and finally the 
dungeon and the stake in Italy. 

Bruno was the first to give public lectures in England on Copernicus 
and his doctrine. In London he frequented Sir Philip Sidney, a man of 
letters and courtier, and his friend Fulke Greville, one of Queen Eliza- 
beth's lovers. (He may also have met Bacon; Shakespeare, however, in a 
few passages of Troilus and Cressida, King John and The Merry Wives 
of Windsor, describes the earth as motionless in the centre of the 

In October, 1585, he returned to France with Castelnau, and on the way 
both of them were robbed down to their shirts. Travelling from one 
capital to another at that time was more painful and dangerous than an 
expedition to the savages is today; everywhere one found the plague and 


smallpox, bugs and religious wars; in France you were killed because of 
the form of your sacraments, in London because of your foreign manners, 
in Germany you had to share your bed and your bowl of food with every 
filthy tramp and on every road you met peddlers and saints, beggar monks 
and students. In Marburg Bruno was not allowed to teach. He stayed for 
a year and a half in Wittenberg where he lectured and made a farewell 
speech in praise of Luther. In Prague he vainly tried to obtain support 
from Emperor Rudolph II who later subsidized Tycho Brahe and Kepler. 
At Frankfort the Council forbade him to stay with his printer; he went 
to Zurich and then came back to Frankfort. 

Giovanni Mocenigo, a thirty-four-year-old Venetian, formerly delegate 
of Venice at the Inquisition and now their agent provocateur, sent Bruno 
a letter inviting him to Venice as his teacher of mnemonics and other 
arts. In August, 1591, to the astonishment of learned Europe, the unfortu- 
nate Bruno went to Venice, perhaps because he was homesick for Italy. 
His promising pupil threatened him, denounced him, attacked him, fet- 
tered him, locked him up in his cellar and delivered him to the hangmen 
of the Inquisition in May, 1592. 

During his trial before the Venetian Inquisition Bruno told the story 
of his life and his ideas. O perfume of life! O wild savor of his ideas! 
. . . Bruno had combated every false authority and feared no power on 
earth. Poverty did not disturb him, he despised censorship, he saw through 
the churches, he built mighty structures on his own strength and supe- 
riority. He considered himself an "awakener." He hated deification of 
suffering by the Christian religion. If the measure of man sank in the 
Copernican universe, Bruno taught that it also rose again because now 
man could encompass the universe. In the Ash Wednesday Supper, he 
wrote proudly of himself: "the Nolan liberated man's spirit and the 

Bruno behaved like the founder of a religion, but he did not want to 
speak to the masses whom he despised, he wanted to reach the elite. 
Usually a man wins his heavenly kingdom on this earth. Bruno never 
influenced the masses, but he did influence Spinoza, perhaps Moliere and 
Shakespeare, Leibnitz, and surely Hegel, Schelling and Goethe. 

He was not a methodical mind, < but half -poet and half-philosopher; 
he wanted to reform the people's morality. In the "Expulsion of the 
Triumphant Beast" he wrote: ". .". we call those virtues which by a certain 
trick and custom are so called and believed, though their effects and fruits 
are condemned by all sense and natural reason; such as open knavery 
and folly, the malignity of usurping laws and of possessors of meum and 
tuum; the strongest being the most rightful possessor, and he being the 


most worthy who is most solicitous, most industrious, and the first 
occupant of those gifts and parts of the earth which Nature, and conse- 
quently God, gives to all indifferently." 

• Bruno wanted to set up his universal religion, his religion of nature 
in the opposition to the revealed religions. He taught that "God, the 
infinite creator, created an infinite image of himself in the infinite 
universe." He called himself the lover of God, and, after his native Nola, 
the Nolan, and his philosophy, the Nolan philosophy. Like Cusa he cried 
out enthusiastically: "O altitudo!" 

After three days spent in the dungeons of the Venetian Inquisition 
Bruno was led before his judges. The secretary of the Inquisition has left 
us a description of his average size, his chestnut brown beard and his 
appearance which corresponded to his age, then about forty. His gestures 
were vivacious, in a manner characteristic of Southerners. 

He declared to the Inquisitors: "I hold the universe to be infinite as 
result of the infinite divine power; for I think it unworthy of divine good- 
ness and power to have produced merely one finite world when it was able 
to bring into being an infinity of worlds. . . ." 

In the fourth century the church had issued fifteen edicts against heresy; 
in the thirteenth century it set up its Inquisition, an organization designed 
to fetter Europe's thinking. The procedure of the Inquisition was secret, 
its victims vanished as though swallowed up by the ground and reappeared 
only dressed in a shirt on the way to the stake, escorted by priests bran- 
dishing torches and droning hymns. 

Any imbecile could write a denunciation against anybody, the Inquisi- 
tion accepted every denunciation gratefully, the accused never learned the 
names of the accusers and the witnesses, and usually not even the nature 
of his alleged or real crime. 

After a period of relative mildness, Pope Paul III, at the instigation of 
the founder of the Society of Jesus, Don Inigo Lopez de Recalde, called 
Ignatius Loyola, and upon the advice of Cardinal Caraffa, set up the 
Roman Inquisition after the Spanish model, on July 21, 1542. Only a 
few months later Copernicus, as though with deliberate irony, published 
his Revolutions and dedicated it to that very same Pope (was this in 
order intimately to connect at one point at least the fathers of the new long 
war between religion and science?). 

All the witnesses and officials of the Inquisition were bound by oath to 
eternal silence. The accuser was also the judge. The accused was not 
allowed to have any counsel. He had to prove his innocence without 
knowing the nature of his crime, but he was not allowed to cite witnesses 
or to have any contacts with the outside world; he was obliged to answer 


a thousand questions, to give a thousand identical answers to questions 
repeated a thousand times, and to avoid falling into any trap that might 
be set for him a thousand times. . . . 

Giordano Bruno was the first, since the triumph of Christianity, open 
to return to the independence of the Greek thinkers. Against the theo- 
logians, he demanded the right to philosophize independently, the right 
to freedom of thought and speech. He took his wisdom wherever he 
found it, from the heathens, the Jews, the Christians, even from the 

The Inquisition charged him not only with heresy, but also with being 
a leader of the heretics; of having written books in which he praised 
Elizabeth of England and other heretical rulers and many things hostile 
to religion; of being a runaway monk who had spent many years abroad, 
in Genoa, Geneva and England and even in Wittenberg where he praised 
Luther; of having denied the birth of Christ from a virgin and of having 
published a pamphlet in London, entitled "On the triumph of the Beast," 
— by which name he referred to the Pope, in addition to other loathsome 
and highly absurd theories; of having denied transubstantiation at the 
age of eighteen; of having been prosecuted for heresy by the Roman 
Inquisition and of having escaped from it! 

In September, 1592, the Roman Inquisition demanded the extradition 
of Bruno. At first Venice resisted but finally yielded, for after all he was 
not a Venetian, but only a Neapolitan. He had spent eight months in the 
prison at Venice. On February 27, 1593, Bruno disappeared into the 
torture dungeons of the Roman Inquisition. The world no longer heard 
anything of him. He seemed to have been buried alive. No voice came 
from his cell. Aside from inquisitors and torturers he was not allowed to 
receive any visitors. In those days prisoners were often put in irons, often 
tortured. Campanella was tortured twelve times, the last time for forty 
hours. A notary was present and recorded the confessions of the victim; 
if he failed to confess, he was tortured more cruelly. One of the Roman 
Inquisitors was Cardinal Bellarmin, the learned Jesuit who also played his 
evil part in the trials of Paolo Sarpi, the Venetian monk, of Galileo and 
of the Copernican theory. Only on February 4, 1599, did the Inquisition 
open Bruno's trial. 

He remained unshakable. On January 20, 1600, the Pope presided 
at the session of the Inquisition. Bruno was determined not to recant; 
he swore that he had never published heretical doctrines, and that the 
servants of the Inquisition were slanderers. 

He was condemned. As usual, the church decided to deliver him over 
to the secular arm. He was defrocked, excommunicated. The Bishop of 


Sidonia received the considerable sum of 27 scudi "for the degradation 
of Giordano Bruno, the heretic." The governor of Rome was told: 
". . . take him under your jurisdiction subject to your decision, so as 
to be punished with due chastisement; beseeching you, however, as we 
do earnestly beseech you, so to mitigate the severity of your sentence 
with respect to his body that there may be no danger of death or of the 
shedding of blood. So we, Cardinals, Inquisitor and General, whose 
names are written beneath decree!" This request was somewhat condi- 
tional only because it could not be heeded in any case. 

"When all these things were done," writes Gaspar Schopp, a freshly 
converted Catholic and eyewitness, "he said not a word except in a 
menacing way, 'Perchance your fear in passing judgment on me is greater 
than mine in receiving it.' " 

Only nine days after it had been pronounced was the sentence carried 
out. In the archives of the Brotherhood of Pity of St. John the Beheaded, 
in the journal of the Proveditore, there is the following entry: "Justice 
done on an impenitent heretic. At the second hour of the night informa- 
tion came that justice would be done on an impenitent friar in the 
morning. Hence, at the sixth hour of the night, the Comforters and the 
chaplain assembled at S. Ursula and went to the prison in the Tower of 
Nona, entered the chapel, and offered up the prayers. To them was 
consigned the man Giordano Bruno, son of Gni. Bruno, an apostate 
friar of Nola in the Kingdom, an impenitent. He was exhorted by our 
brothers in all love, and two Fathers of the Order of St. Dominic, two 
of the Order of Jesus, two of the new Church and one of St. Jerome 
were called in. These with all loving zeal and much learning, showed 
him his error, yet he stood firm throughout and to the end in his 
accursed obstinacy, setting his brain and mind to a thousand errors and 
vainglory ings; and he continued steadfastiy stubborn while conducted 
by the Servants of Justice to the Campo di Fiori, and there being stripped 
and bound to a stake, was burned alive. Throughout, our Brotherhood 
sang litanies and the Consolers exhorted him to the very last to overcome 
his obstinacy. But thus ended his agony and his wretched life." 

Bruno's highest goal was : to know the .truth and declare it! 

Only two and a half years later (August 7, 1603), were the writings 
of the hated pantheist put on the Index where they still remain. Even 
today the Index still prohibits many great books, although the Inquisition 
no longer drives, poets insane, as it did poor Tasso, and no longer refutes 
philosophers with flaming arguments, as it refuted the good Vanini by 
burning him in Toulouse, seventeen years after the execution of Bruno. 



(But we can comfort ourselves with the thought that new tyrants 
persecute poets and execute philosophers!) 

On February 17, 1600, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in 
Rome because the earth moved (and he refused to keep silent about this 
most recently discovered secret). 

Bruno burned for Copernicus. Inspired by Copernicus he created a 
magnificent cosmogony. At the time of the lowest ebb in the fame of 
Copernicus who insulted the most sacred belief of the Renaissance, to 
wit that man was the measure of all things, Bruno dubbed him the great 
liberator of mankind. With greater poetic fire and a more sacrificial 
heroism he repeated Rheticus' declaration that a new era of thought and 
science had begun with Copernicus. 

Bruno also found an occasion to mention Osiander's preface, which 
he recognized as a forgery. He termed Osiander "an ignorant and pre- 
sumptuous ass who, to be sure, alleges that he furthers the interests of 
the author, but permits his like to pick lettuce and vegetables from that 
book" (La Cena de le Ceneri). 

In De Immenso Bruno reprinted a whole chapter from Copernicus' 

He indulged in sweeping generalizations. He was as generous with 
innumerable and inconceivable infinitudes as the most modern astron- 
omers. But unfortunately he was unable to prove what he thought. He 
was "God-intoxicated" like Spinoza. 

He considered the universe limitless and infinite; but only the universe 
was eternal; his worlds decline and pass away, and their substance forms 
new combinations. The center of the universe, he thought, was where 
the observer stood; nature was alive and articulate. Bruno, the mystic, 
was also an animist. 

According to his vision, the fixed stars were suns like our own and 
there were countless suns freely suspended in limitless space, all of them 
surrounded by planets like our own earth, peopled with living beings. 
The sun, he taught, was bnly one star among many, singled out by us 
because it is so close to us. The sun had no central position in the bound- 
less infinite. 

Everywhere in the universe dwelled spirit, spiritual beings, separated 
from one another only by physical distances. 

"There is only one heaven, an immeasurable domain of light-giving 
and illuminated bodies." 

Nothing exists outside the infinite universe and its eternal unchange- 
able substance. The divine universal soul permeates it. God is not outside 


the world but inside it, its supreme cause, principle and unity wherein all 
oppositions are resolved in eternal harmony. 

This unity is reflected even in the smallest thing, the minimum or the 
monad, which is both material and psychic. Nothing in the world is 
lifeless. The universe and everything in it have a soul. And the world 
is moved by inner forces, not from without. The same spirit is active in 
everything, the same reason inherent in matter too, but it does not affect 
everything in the same manner, measure and degree; these depend on 
the level of organization: for the universe is ordered in a continual hier- 
archy from the lowest to the highest things. 

The reason of the highest "organism," the Cosmos, is called by Bruno 
God. God is the nature of nature, the monad of monads. How can we 
worship Him better than by studying His laws, the laws of nature? 
Every discovery of a natural law is a moral deed : it increases our capacity 
for making our lives rational. True religion means to aspire to return to 
that "monad of all monads." 

Art is a mediator. If man seems to be entirely lost in external infinitude, 
he finds himself again in internal infinitude, his ultimate destiny. There- 
fore the inhabitants of other worlds must not seek God in our world; 
for they have Him in their own world and in themselves. 

This pantheist with an unquenchable thirst for the truth was con- 
demned by almost all his contemporaries. For nearly two centuries he 
was ignored, until a young German F. H. Jacobi (1743-1819), a friend 
of Lessing's, referred to him in his letters on the doctrine of Spinoza. 
Some thought they could prove his influence on Descartes who, however, 
had probably never read him. But Bruno's astronomical theology and 
his imaginative metaphysics influenced Spinoza, Leibnitz, Goethe, Herder, 
Jacobi and Schelling. Hegel said that Bruno was a baechic mind. 

Many Copernicans rejected Bruno's views as absurd. Copernicus had 
pushed up the eighth heaven and the stars to an immense distance, but 
he let them remain fixed, and placed the sun in the center of the universe! 

Giordano Bruno, while helping to spread the Copernican theory by 
his lectures and writings, especially in England and Germany, again 
dethroned the sun, making it a star among other stars! 

In 1889 Bruno's monument was unveiled in Rome. 30,000 Romans 
assembled for the ceremony. Pope Leo XIII spent the entire day on his 
knees before the statue of St. Peter, fasting and praying. He denounced 
the runaway monk Giordano Bruno as "a man of impure and abandoned 
life: a double renegade, a heretic formally condemned, whose obstinacy 
against the Church endured unbroken even to his last breath. He pos- 


sessed no remarkable scientific knowledge, for his own writings condemn 
him of a degraded materialism and show that he was entangled in com- 
monplace errors. He had no splendid adornments of virtue, for as 
evidence against his moral character there stand those extravagancies of 
wickedness and corruption into which all men are driven by passions 
unresisted. He was the hero of no famous exploits and did no signal 
service to the state; his familiar accomplishments were insincerity, lying 
and perfect selfishness, intolerance of all who disagreed with him, abject 
meanness and perverted ingenuity in adulation." 

In brief, Giordano Bruno was a great man and a winged messenger of 
the truth. 

Already in "The Chandler," his only comedy which he wrote "in a 
few burning days" and which was published in Paris in 1582, he lashed 
out against the fools and pedants, especially among the clergymen. His 
favorite character in it was Panfurio, the fool and pedant, a personage 
conceived in the style of Rabelais, Plautus, Aretino and Machiavelli. Here 
Bruno castigates not only the scholastic, that orthodox of all orthodoxies, 
but also his time. 

This farce is said to have influenced Cyrano de Bergerac's Le Pedant 
JouS, and through Bergerac, Moliere. Moliere replied to the accusation 
that he had plagiarized it by saying: "One takes one's goods wherever 
one finds them." Shakespeare's Holofernes in Love's Labours Lost is also 
supposed to have certain traits of Bruno's Panfurio. 



This phenix among astronomers . 


GASSENDI and Dreyer, his biographers, termed him the greatest ob- 
server among astronomers. 

On his deathbed he asked his assistant Kepler to publish the gigantic 
mass of astronomical observations he had collected during his life with 
the diligence of a bee and which, because of their accuracy, could serve 
as a basis for any new planetary theory; and he wanted Kepler to make 
them the basis of Tycho's system. But Kepler was an enthusiastic Coper- 
nican and used Tycho's immense contribution for demonstrating and 
developing the Copernican theory. 

Tycho rejected the Copernican theory as absurd. But he had also 
destroyed the scholastic idea of solid crystal spheres. He had created a 
third cosmogony, but in accordance with the Holy Scripture had left the 
earth motionless. 

However, against his will Tycho, by the immense weight of his observa- 
tions, strengthened the Copernican system which without him might 
have remained an unconfirmed hypothesis. 

Copernicus and Tycho de Brahe were the last great astronomers to 
make their computations and observations without telescopes, logarithm 
tables and pendulum clocks (necessary for measuring time accurately). 

Tycho de Brahe was born in 1546, three years after Copernicus' death, 
on the Knudstrup family estate. He was the oldest son of the Dane, Otto 
Brahe, and his wife, Beate Bille. His twin brother was stillborn, but 
later he had nine brothers and sisters. He was baptized Tyge (and 
latinized his name into Tycho). His uncle Joergen stole him from his 
parents when he was barely one year old. Tyge's parents had promised 
his childless uncle their firstborn child; but after the tragic loss of his 



twin brother they were obviously unwilling to separate themselves from 

Tyge's uncle was wealthier than his father and hired a tutor for the 
boy at Tostrup. At the age of seven Tyge began to study Latin; soon 
he was able to write Latin verses, and later he even wrote some good 
verses. At the age of thirteen he went to Copenhagen in order to study 
philosophy and law and become a statesman as his uncle desired. 

However, when an eclipse of the sun forecast for August 21, 1560, 
occurred on that day, the fact that "men could foretell the motions of the 
stars so accurately, that they could prophesy their places and relative 
positions" struck the boy as something divine. For the sum of two thalers 
he bought the works of Ptolemy (in the Basel edition of 1551, with 
Georg Trapezunt's translation of the Almagest) and studied them for 
three years. Then, with his mentor, Vedel, who was only four years 
older than himself, he went to the Leipzig University. 

Instead of studying law, he hurried to the lectures of all the professors 
of mathematics, bought astronomical books and instruments, and learned 
the names of the constellations with the help of a fist-sized celestial globe 
which he was compelled to conceal from his don mentor Vedel and 
could use only when the latter was asleep. 

Tycho acquired the Alfonsine and Prussian Tables and soon discovered 
that the planets were not to be found at the places where they should 
have been according to the tables. At the age of sixteen Tycho, before 
any other European astronomer, realized that "only through a steadily 
pursued course of observations would it be possible to obtain a better 
insight into the motions of the planets and decide which system of the 
world was the correct one." - 

On August 17, 1563, on the occasion of a conjunction of Jupiter and 
Saturn, Tycho, who was then seventeen years old, made his first recorded 
observation and discovered that the Alfonsine Tables were wrong by a 
whole month, and the Prussian Tables by a few days. Kepler says cor- 
rectly that "the rehabilitation of astronomy was first conceived and 
decided upon by Tycho, that phenix among astronomers, in 1564." 

In May, 1565, Tycho returned to Denmark. By that time his uncle had 
jumped into the water to rescue the Danish King who had fallen in 
during a ride, following which the uncle caught cold and died. Tycho 
went to the University of Wittenberg, attended the lectures of Professor 
Peucer, drew up his horoscope and forecast that disaster lay in store for 
him, either jail or exile, and that he would be released only at the age 
of sixty by a certain military personality. (At that time Tycho, like 
everyone else, was a devotee of astrology— and in 1574, Peucer actually 


did lose his chair at Wittenberg and was thrown into jail, for he was 
suspected of being a Calvinist.) 

From Wittenberg Tycho went to the University of Rostock, to study 
medicine and astronomy; it was believed at that time that epidemics 
came from the stars; only Galileo did away with Aristotle's philosophy 
of nature; and only Bacon taught the world to observe the mechanical 
causes of natural phenomena rather than their metaphysical causes. 

On the occasion of an eclipse of the moon on October 28, 1566, Tycho, 
in a prophetic mood, posted a few Latin verses in the college, forecasting 
the imminent death of Sultan Soliman; a few weeks later the news of 
the eighty-year-old potentate's death arrived. However, he had died 
before the eclipse, and Tycho became a general laughingstock. 

On December 19, 1566, during a little dancing party organized to cele- 
brate the engagement of a professor's daughter, Tycho de Brahe and 
another Danish student of noble origin, Manderup Parsbjerg, got into 
an argument; according to Gassendi, they quarrelled over which of the 
two was the better mathematician. On December 29, they met in total 
darkness in a Rostock street and continued the argument with swords. 
Tycho lost his nose, or at least its most beautiful part; he replaced it by 
an alloy of silver and gold. 

Willem Janszoon Blaev, a famous Amsterdam printer who in his youth 
spent a few years at Hveen, related to Gassendi that Tycho always car- 
ried a small box of salve in his pocket, and that he often applied it to his 
nose. Reymers Baer, a scientific opponent of Tycho and his theories, 
explained that Tycho had not lost his nose, but his head. 

Tycho went from Rostock to Denmark and from Denmark back to 
Rostock because of a new eclipse of the moon. Then he went to Witten- 
berg and Basel to matriculate at the university, after which he travelled 
to Lauingen and visited the famous Livowski who had edited Regio- 
montanus' trigonometric tables (1552) and in his astrological writings 
prophesied the end of the world for 1584, during the next great con- 

Later Tycho went to Augsburg and set up a nineteen-foot-long 
quadrant in near-by Goeggingen and met the great Petrus Ramus, pro- 
fessor of philosophy at the Sorbonne, who had been compelled to leave 
France as a Huguenot. Out of patriotism and because he wanted to 
organize courses in mathematics instead of in Aristotle at the University 
of Paris, he later returned to his native land, and on St. Bartholomew's 
Night paid for both his return and his anti-Aristotelianism with his head. 

In 1571 Tycho went to Denmark to bury his father and inherit half 
of his estate; he sent his old mentor Vedel prescriptions against fever, 



made his astronomical observations everywhere without fear, and went 
to an old uncle of his, who had recently expropriated a monastery 
"because an ungodly life was going on there" and made it into his castle. 
Together with his uncle, Tycho continued the chemical experiments he 
had begun at Augsburg. At that time the astrologer was also an alchemist; 
alchemy was a branch of astrology, every planet represented a metal; 
the moon stood for silver, Mercury for quicksilver, the sun for gold, Mars 
for iron, Jupiter for tin (or gold), Saturn for lead. The uncle and nephew 
probably wanted to make gold. 

The appearance of the new star of 1572 that Tycho alone systematically 
observed and described induced him to attempt a new catalogue of the 
stars. He wrote a treatise about the new star without intending to pub- 
lish it, for it was not becoming in a nobleman to publish books. The 
nonsense that German blockheads wrote about it and Oxe, his cousin, 
persuaded Tycho to publish his book in Copenhagen in 1573 under the 
tide De Nova Stella. It was almost completely ignored. 

With a sigh the Dane termed the German observers of the heavens: 
"O coecos coeli spectatores" ("O blind observers of the heavens!") For this 
star was the first new star observed since Hipparchus had found his new 
star, as Pliny relates in his Natural History. 

Tycho, by his own admission, had not corrected his manuscript because 
he had been distracted by domestic affairs— the poor man was in love! 
In verses he told the world that he wanted to see more of the world, and 
learn more, and only later return to his rugged northland, in order to 
waste his time as other noblemen did with horses, dogs and girls, unless 
God had intended him for a better lot. 

He now also planned a book "against the astrologers in behalf of 
astrology" (contra astrologos pro astrologia). He wrote: "O foolhardy 
astronomers, O exquisite and subtle calculators, who practice astronomy 
in huts and taverns, at the fireplace, in books and writings, but not in 
the heavens themselves (as would be fitting). For very many (O the 
disgrace of having to say this) do not even know the stars. And yet they 
would go to the stars." 

And he makes fun of the madness of the astronomers who indicate 
minutes and even seconds when they try to state a planetary position, 
although in the 1563 conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter the Alfonsine' 
Tables were wrong by a month and the Prussian Tables by days, let alone 
by minutes or seconds. 

At that time Tycho wanted to leave Denmark. He loved a certain 
Christine, had eight children with her, yet did not enter into legal mar- 


riage with her because she was in bondage. He lived with this peasant 
girl, a serf, for twenty-six years. 

In 1574, yielding to the request of the king and the students, he began 
to lecture at the University of Copenhagen. In his inaugural address he 
said that astronomy was a very ancient science which according to Flavius 
Josephus could be traced back to Seth; that Abraham had conceived the 
idea of the existence of God from contemplating the orbits of the sun, 
the moon and the stars; that the ancient Egyptians too had studied the 
sky; that we owed our knowledge above all to Hipparchus and Ptolemy 
and more recently to Nicolaus Copernicus who was not unjustly termed 
a second Ptolemy and who, having as a result of his own observations 
discovered that the Ptolemaic and Alfonsine Tables were inadequate for 
the explanation of the celestial phenomena, had restored the science of 
astronomy by means of new hypotheses created by his marvelous genius. 
No one before him had had a more accurate knowledge of the motions of 
the stars. And although his theory, Tycho said, was to a certain extent 
opposed to the physical principles, it contained nothing that contradicted 
the mathematical axioms, as was the case with the ancients, who had 
assumed that motions of the stars on epicycles and excentrics were irreg- 
ular with regard to the centers of these circles, which was absurd. 

Then Tycho went to Cassel to look up the most famous astronomer 
of his day, Landgrave Wilhelm IV of Hesse, who in 1566 had built a 
tower with a revolving dome at the Zwehr Gate in Cassel, because he 
too thought the most urgent task was the systematic observation of the 

Next, Tycho went to Frankfurt-on-Main and thence to Basel, where 
he would have liked best to remain, thence to Venice, to Augsburg and, 
finally, to Regensburg, to the Diet, not in order to meet kings, but the 
Emperor's physician in ordinary, the Bohemian Hayek or Hagecius who 
in 1575 presented him with a copy of the Commentariolus. 

Then Tycho went to Saalfeld, then to Wittenberg, where the son of 
Erasmus Reinhold, author of the Prussian Tables, showed him his father's 

Tycho returned to Denmark and envisaged removing to Basel. 

Early in the morning of February 11, while he was still in bed in his 
house at Knudstrup, a young nobleman from the court, a cousin of 
Tycho's, came to see him with a written invitation from the king. On the 
same day Tycho and his cousin set out and by night reached the Danish 
King's hunting lodge. The king offered Tycho, who had been recom- 
mended to him by Wilhelm of Hesse, the island of Hveen, money to 


build himself a house there, and a pension for life, in order that he might 
devote himself to his mathematical and astronomical studies free from 
all worldly care. 

Tycho asked for time to think the matter over. He consulted his friends, 
the French ambassador Dancey and Professor Pratensis; they urgently 
advised him to accept, and he did. The king wrote him the letter of 
patent. Four days later he went to Hveen and on the same night made 
his first observation there, of a conjunction of Mars and the moon — he 
was to contribute to our knowledge of the orbits of Mars and the moon 
more than any astronomer since the days of Ptolemy. 

The island of Hveen, fourteen miles north of Copenhagen, three miles 
long and covering an area of two thousand acres, was fiefed to Tycho 
for life, with all its inhabitants and its forty farms that they cultivated 
in common. Tycho baptized the island "Island of Venus vulgo Hvenna." 
There he built his house and observatory famous throughout Europe, the 
Uraniborg (city of the heavens). 

In 1584 he built a new observatory, which he called Stjerneborg. There 
was a statue of Mercury in it that was made to revolve by a mechanism 
in the pedestal. Tycho, the star-gazer with ruddy hair and a nose of silver 
and gold, possessed many such automata, and the fishermen and peasants 
of Hveen considered him a sorcerer. On the ceiling of the new observa- 
tory there was a representation of Tycho's system. On the wall hung the 
portraits of the eight greatest astronomers of the world (according to 
Tycho), that is to say, besides the portraits of Timocharis, Hipparchus, 
Ptolemy, Al Battani, King Alfonso of Castile and Copernicus, there 
were those of Tycho de Brahe and of Tychonides, the still unborn suc- 
cessor of the sublime Tycho; under the portrait of Tychonides a few 
verses expressed the hope that this unborn astronomer would prove 
worthy of Tycho! Tycho on his portrait pointed at his own world system, 
and a strip of paper in his hand bore the inscription "Quid si sic?" 
(What if it is that way?) 

The King of Denmark presented Tycho with castles, estates, pensions 
and rights which according to Tycho's estimate amounted to about two 
thousand four hundred dialers a year. In 1588, when the king died, 
from drunkenness, as Vedel explained in his funeral sermon, Tycho cal- 
culated that he had incurred six thousand thalers of debts to pay for his 
scientific works; the government paid these debts. 

In 1598, Tycho estimated his buildings and instruments to be worth 
seventy-five thousand thalers. He had planted gardens and built fish- 
ponds and hunted hares and set up a paper mill and a printing shop 
where he printed his own works, including the poetical works; he often 


received learned visitors and for the space of twenty years (1576 to 1597) 
lived with his large family and numerous disciples and assistants like a 
great lord on his little island. 

In 1584 Tycho sent Olias Olsen, one of his assistants, to Frauenburg, 
because he suspected that Copernicus had made an error in determining 
the latitude of Frauenburg; Olsen took measurements and brought back 
not only a more correct figure (although it was not yet the correct figure) 
but also Copernicus' triquetrum, as a gift for Tycho from the Frauenburg 
canon, Johannes Hannov. 

Live or Liuva, one of Tycho's serving maids, who subsequently lived 
with his learned sister Sophia, in later years became a quack in Copen- 
hagen and also practised astrology; she died in 1693 at the age of 124, 
still unmarried. 

Jep or Jeppe, Tycho's fool, sat at Tycho's feet at mealtimes and from 
time to time received a tasty morsel from his master. Jep was a chatterbox 
and had the gift of second sight. Once he suddenly said to Tycho during 
a meal: "Look how your men are washing themselves in the sea!" Tycho, 
who had sent two of his assistants to Copenhagen and was worried about 
them, sent a servant to the roof, who hastily returned to report that he had 
seen a capsized boat near the beach and two dripping men on the shore. 

When Tycho was absent and his pupils wanted to have a good time, 
they ordered Jep to stand watch on the roof, and as soon as the dwarf 
saw Tycho coming, he uttered a piercing cry: "Junker paa Landed" (the 
master is on land!) 

When someone fell sick on Hveen, the dwarf always foretold whether 
he would recover or die, and he was always right. 

Tycho also practised chemistry, alchemy and pharmacology; he dis- 
tributed free medicines on Hveen. In 1599 he sent Emperor Rudolph the 
well-known imperial elixir, also noted by Copernicus, that cured all 
diseases, and consisted chiefly of theriac and wine spirits, but also con- 
tained sulphur, aloes, myrrh, saffron, pure gold, corals, sapphire, pome- 
granate, dissolved pearls, etc. When mixed with antimony this medicine 
cured all respiratory diseases. Tycho asked the emperor to keep this 
medicine a close secret. 

The professor of medicine Brucaeus, who incidentally laughed at all 
astrology, wrote Tycho that it was difficult to accept the Copernican 

One of Tycho's visitors, Duncan Liddel from Aberdeen, professor at 
Helmstadt, was said to be the first professor in Germany to explain 
publicly the systems of Ptolemy, Copernicus and Tycho de Brahe. 

Tycho was officially bound to send an annual astrological forecast to 



the Danish King, but as he grew older he believed less and less in such 

In 1587 he wrote to Heinrich Below, who was related to him by mar- 
riage: "When one reads a hundred forecasts, it is very rarely that two 
of them are in accord with each other. . . . These astrological prophecies 
are like a cothurnus that can be put on any leg, large or small, and there- 
fore I have never attached any particular importance to them." 

In 1577, as he went to his fishpond to catch a handsome fish for his 
supper, Tycho discovered the comet of 1577 in the sky. In Chapter VIII 
of his book about this comet published in Hveen in 1587, Tycho, "who 
took nothing on trust," described his own system of the world. 

He distinguished between the elementary world within the orbit of 
the moon and the ethereal world; the latter had, according to him, a 
marvelously large dimension; the maximum distance of the most distant 
planet, Saturn, from the earth, was 235 times the radius of the elementary 
world. The distance of the moon he assumed to be 52 times the radius 
of the earth which he thought was 430 German miles. He estimated that 
the distance of the sun from the earth was 20 times that of the moon. 
The comet moved within this wide space. Therefore, he goes on to say, 
he must explain his system of the world that he had worked out four 
years earlier, in 1583. For the Ptolemaic system is too complicated. And 
the new system advanced by that great man, Copernicus (who followed 
in the footsteps of Aristarchus of Samos), while it does not contradict in 
any way the mathematical laws, is in contradiction with the laws of 
physics and is absurd, because the heavy and sluggish earth cannot move, 
and, furthermore, the Copernican system is in conflict with the authority 
of the Bible. Another difficulty derives from the wide space that must be 
assumed to exist between Saturn and the firmament in order to account 
for the want of annual parallaxes of the stars; and despite his careful 
observations Tycho was unable to discover any parallax of the stars, such 
as would surely exist if the earth really moved. 

Therefore, Tycho explained, he tried to find a hypothesis that was in 
agreement with the mathematical and physical principles and would not 
fall victim to the censorship of the theologians. "As if by inspiration" the 
following idea about the motions of the planets had occurred to him: 

The earth is the centre of the universe and of the orbits of the sun, the 
moon and the firmament that revolves about the earth with all the planets 
in twenty-four hours. 

The sun is the center of the orbits of the five planets; the radii of the 
orbits of Mercury and Venus are smaller, those of the orbits of Jupiter 
and Saturn larger, than the radius of the sun's orbit. 


Because the planets are not fixed to any solid crystal spheres it is not 
at all absurd to let the orbits of Mars and the sun cross each other, because 
these orbits have no physical reality and represent only geometrical 

In his book on the comet Tycho promised a more detailed account of his 
system on a future occasion, but he never found this occasion. 

His was the third astronomical world system, and even today he has 
some followers. 

The only two great astronomers of antiquity whose complete astronom- 
ical systems had come down to posterity were Hipparchus and Ptolemy. 
But the Ptolemaic system was only an ingenious mathematical repre- 
sentation of the phenomena — a working hypothesis; it did not claim to 
offer a physically true description of the reality of the universe. 

When Copernicus recognized the drawbacks of this too complicated 
Ptolemaic system and created his own new system based on the move- 
ment of the earth around the sun, he developed a geometrical theory for 
each planet, so that it was possible to construct new tables for the motions 
of each. Copernicus created a completely new astronomical system, the 
first since the school of Alexandria, and the first which made it possible 
to determine the relative distances of the planets. 

Thus far Tycho respected Copernicus as a great master and a new 
Ptolemy. For the rest he found the Copernican system no less complicated 
than the Ptolemaic. | 

Only Kepler supplied the explanation for the various distances and 
velocities in the planetary motions when he discovered that the planets 
moved in elliptical orbits and formulated the law that governs their 
velocities. Copernicus was still forced to use the epicycles and excentrics, 
like Ptolemy, for the explanation of this so-called first inequality; to that 
extent Copernicus' planetary theory only adapted Ptolemy's system to the 
heliocentric idea; and the motions were referred not to the real position 
of the sun, but to the "middle sun," that is the center of the earth's orbit; 
thus, for the representation of the orbit of Mercury seven circles were 
required; for the orbit of Venus, five circles; for the earth's orbit, three 
circles; for the moon's orbit, four circles, and for each of these outside 
planets, five circles; and with all this complicated machinery the new 
system did not represent the real motions in the heavens any better than 
the Ptolemaic system. 

Copernicus said he would be enchanted like Pythagoras if his planetary 
theory did not lead to a worse error than a 10-minute deviation from 
the observed positions of the planets. But he fell far short of his ideaL 

The system, as constructed by Copernicus, showed only that it was 


possible to compute the motions of the planets without assuming that 
the earth was the center of the universe. 

Copernicus, who beyond any doubt believed in the physical truth of 
his system did not give any proofs that the earth really moved and could 
not give any. 

As for his early partisans, it is not known whether they really be- 
lieved in the motion of the earth or preferred his system only for geo- 
metrical reasons. 

In the sixteenth century, the physical arguments against the motion 
of the earth were difficult to refute. Galileo alone grasped the principles 
of elementary mechanics and proved them by his experiments. 

Only the invention of the telescope enabled the astronomers to make 
the numerous discoveries they made in the seventeenth century, such as 
the phases of Venus, the satellites of Jupiter, the form of the planets. 

Obviously Tycho's purpose was not only to give a geometrical repre- 
sentation of the planetary system, but also to discover the real structure 
of the universe. 

Tycho's system did not delay the adoption of the Copernican system; 
it actually served as a bridge between the Ptolemaic and Copernican 

Although Tycho kept his system a deep secret until 1587, when he 
revealed it in his book on the comet of 1577, his friend Rothmann in- 
formed him |fter reception of the book that the new system seemed to 
be the same that Landgrave Wilhelm of Hesse had ordered his instru- 
ment constructor to represent on a planetarium. 

Tycho was thrown into consternation by this report. 

But soon afterwards he received from Germany a recently published 
book by a former swineherd, the mathematician and astronomer Nicolai 
Reymers Baer (Fundamentum Astronomicum, Strassburg, 1588). 

The author, who had also published a Latin grammar, had once visited 
Uraniborg in the company of a Danish alchemist. Tycho had treated 
him as a servant, and in the course of a discussion he once interrupted him 
with the words: "These German fellows are all half-cracked!" Tycho 
never called him anything else than "Eric's boy." 

Now Tycho considered this Baer a plagiarist. 

Nevertheless, it is possible that Baer invented a system similar to 
Tycho's. The priority dispute between the two scientists was very famous 
^at that time; but both authors were wrong. 

In 1597 at Prague, Baer published a book against Rothmann (whom 
he calls consistently Rotzmann — "snivelman") and against Tycho that 


has the following motto (from Hosea, XIII) : "I will meet them like a 
bear bereaved of her whelps." 

In this book Reymers Baer proved himself a Homeric master of abuse 
and an excellent mathematician. Tycho, he wrote, had only imitated 
the system of Apollonius of Perga. And a Mr. Roeslin had recently 
claimed the same system as his own. And he, Reymers Baer, was not 
Eric's boy but Emperor Rudolph IPs mathematician. It was not he who 
had stolen Tycho's system at Uraniborg, but when he, Baer, had slept 
one night in a chamber at Uraniborg, where a pupil of Tycho's was also 
lodged, his manuscript had been stolen from his pocket. To top it all, 
Baer at great length made fun of Tycho's cut-off nose. 

After the Danish King Frederick II drank himself to death in 1588, 
the new king (not yet of age) and his advisers began endless chicaneries 
against Tycho; he was deprived of his prebends and other sources of 
income, he was the target of lawsuits, his minister at Hveen was charged 
with heresy and he himself with not attending church frequently 
enough. His peasants on Hveen who had complained of his harshness 
and insolence were adjudged right after' detailed investigations (and 
they were right!). Finally the great Dane was driven out of his native 
land and went into exile. Long before he had written Latin verses ac- 
cording to which every land is the homeland of the brave, and the 
heavens are above every land (omne solum forti patria est, coelum 
undique supra est). 

Tycho published his scientific correspondence (Epistolae, 1596) which 
he dedicated to Wilhelm of Hesse's son; there he praised Wilhelm 
for not having learned astronomy from books, but from the heavens. 
He, too, he 'says, did the same. He began his observations at the age of 
sixteen, and continued them until his death. He spent more time ob- 
serving than Ptolemy and Copernicus. In the same work Tycho men- 
tions the length of time needed for a complete series of observations, if 
one wants really to rehabilitate astronomy. It is possible to study the 
orbit of the sun with sufficient exactitude in four years; but the intricate 
orbit of the moon requires many years of observation; twelve years are 
required to follow the opposition of Mars and Jupiter around the zodiac, 
and as many as thirty years to follow the course of Saturn around the 

Tycho dedicated his catalogue of stars to Emperor Rudolph II, on 
January 2, 1598. This catalogue of about one thousand stars was not 
published until 1600; only 777 stars were determined exactly; the rest 
were hurriedly and casually measured and determined by him and his 


assistants, for the sole purpose of not producing a catalogue inferior to 
Ptolemy's with its 1,028 stars, and in order to reach a full thousand (pro 
complendo mittenario). 

In his introduction Tycho compared the merits of all the preceding 
catalogues of stars, from that of Hipparchus to that of the incompara- 
bilis vir, Nicolaus Copernicus, and observed that actually no astronomer 
after Hipparchus had observed a large number of stars. (The only exist- 
ing independent catalogue of stars, by Ulugh Beg, was at that time still 
unknown in Europe.) 

Later, Kepler published these thousand star positions in his Rudolfine 
Tables (1627). 

Tycho went from Denmark to Rostock, then to Wandsbeck where he 
spent the winter of 1597/98 and wrote an account of his instruments 
and his work, with autobiographical notes, which he sent to the Prince 
of Orange and the Emperor, among others. Then he went to Dresden. 
Finally he settled in Prague or in Benathky castle near Prague, as 
astronomer, astrologer and alchemist to Emperor Rudolph II who put 
large sums of money at his disposal. 

Tycho arrived in Prague in June, 1599. Among his assistants was the 
young exiled Swabian astronomer, Johannes Kepler, who for twenty 
months worked with him, often quarrelling with the proud and arrogant 

On October 24, 1601, Tycho died at the age of fifty-four years and ten 
months. He had been taken ill on October 13 during a supper in the 
home of a Bohemian magnate; some people spoke of poison, but this 
seems absurd. 

Kepler who completed Tycho's observations and published them in 
his Rudolfine Tables described Tycho's last illness. 

As early as October 13 Tycho had great difficulties in urinating. 
Kepler describes in detail the constellations of that day, Tycho's five 
sleepless nights, his continued insomnia, his fevers, delirium, and the 
worsening of his condition. On October 24, Tycho was delirious again; 
his entourage wept and prayed; finally death closed the eyes that for 
thirty-eight years had observed the heavens more faithfully and keenly 
than any other human eyes before them. 

On his last night of life Tycho in his delirium repeated over and over: 
Ne frustra vixisse videar? Will I not seem to have lived in vain ? 

His family took away his instruments, these marvels disappeared in 
various ways. They began a financial quarrel with Kepler and the 
emperor about his scientific papers. 

Finally Kepler received in trust the enormous mass of Tycho's 


astronomical observations, really royal treasures, as Kepler said, for 
without them the reform of astronomy could not have come about. He 
believed that better and more accurate observations would never be 
made — for he did not foresee the invention of the telescope. 

With the help of these observations — and his own genius — Kepler 
discovered his three famous laws which blew all the epicycles and ex- 
centrics out of the complicated Copernican system. 

Thus exile proved to be Tycho's good fortune; he found his Kepler. 
Delambre, in his Histoire de V Astronomie Moderne, says: "If Tycho 
had stayed on his island, Kepler would have never accepted his invita- 
tions; we would certainly not have the theory of Mars and we might be 
ignorant of the true system of the world." 

Tycho's biographer Dreyer says in praise of him that the only astro- 
nomical datum he had taken over from his predecessors was false 
(". . . the unlucky solar parallax of 3 minutes which Tycho had bor- 
rowed from the ancients"). 

"He took into account, and determined for the first time, errors in the 
division of his circles and the refraction of the air. His measurements 
. . . give us the position of the stars with an accuracy of half a minute 
of arc (one sixtieth of a full moon diameter)." (Philip Lenard, Great 
Men of Science, New York, 1938). 

He was irascible and patient, proud and in love with a peasant woman, 
a modern scientist and an alchemist and astrologer, red-headed and 
noseless, a tormentor of peasants and a great lover of animals. 

Maestlin, Kepler's old teacher, wrote him shortly before Tycho's death 
that "Tycho had hardly left a shadow of astronomical science and that 
only one thing was certain, namely that men knew nothing about 



Sacred was Lactantius, who denied the 
Earth's rotundity; Sacred was Augustine, 
who granted the Earth to be round, hut 
denyed the Antipodes; Sacred is the Liturgy 
of our Moderns, who admit the smallnesse 
of the Earth, but deny its motion; But to 
me more sacred than all these is Truth, who 
with respect to the Doctors of the Church, 
do demonstrate from Philosophy that the 
Earth is both round, circumhabited by An- 
tipodes, of a most contemptible smallnesse 
and in a word, that it is ranked amongst 
the planets. 

ONLY ambition kept him tied to his work, wrote the "legislator of the 
universe" at the age of forty-eight. "I cannot observe any fixed order, 
I do not follow any set times and have no rules. If something orderly 
comes out of me, it has been begun ten times. Sometimes an error of 
computation made in haste holds me back for a long period. But I could 
let myself gush forth infinitely, if I wanted to; for even though I am 
not fond of reading, I have a rich store of fantasy. But I find no pleasure 
in such a jumble; it repels and annoys me. Therefore I cast the stuff 
away or put it aside until I can recheck it, that is to say, until I write 
something new, which is most often the case." 

Johannes Kepler was born at Weilderstadt in Wurttemberg in 1571 
and died at Regensburg in Bavaria in 1630. The son of a ruined family, 
he occasionally described his forbears — and himself — unsparingly. Kepler's 
father, Heinrich, spoke a great deal in praise of his honor and against 
his wife, a black-haired little spindle-shanks, uppish and querulous, who 
could neither read nor write. She was an innkeeper's daughter with a 
dowry of three thousand gulden. He had learned nothing in his life 



and drank constantly. One fine day when she was pregnant he left her 
and her little son Johannes and went off to fight under the Duke of 
Alba in the Netherlands. Catherine gave birth to another son, and with 
both her children ran after the army. Then the soldier came home to 
Swabia with his baggage and his family, but soon he found his wife in- 
tolerable, returned to the service of Alba, was almost hanged in the 
Netherlands, almost lost his life in an explosion, and lost his fortune 
because he went surety for a friend. Badly shaken, he came home and 
leased the inn "At the Sun" in Elmendingen. Johannes and his two 
younger brothers had to help in the beer-hall. Thus Kepler began his 
career as a bus boy. 

Later he was sent to the monastery school at Maulbronn, where he 
learned Latin, Greek and the Psalms by rote. He proved every crazy 
thesis for the fun of it, did not get along with his comrades, and at 
the age of eighteen won a scholarship at the theological faculty of the 
University of Tubingen. His father left his inn to his creditors, the 
seven children he had begot with his wife, to their fate, and went off 
to fight with the Neapolitans in their naval war against Anthony of 

During his four and a half years at Tubingen Kepler became ac- 
quainted with the Copernican system through Michael Maestlin, a 
former village pastor and an excellent astronomer, and tried in vain to 
impart it, as well as the concept of Christian love, to his fellow-students. 
He displayed equal enthusiasm in trying to convince the young Swabians 
that the earth turned around the sun and that the Evangelists should 
patch up their quarrel with the Reformed; the Evangelical church never 
forgave him either of these endeavors. Thus, even in his youth this 
eccentric advocate of harmony quarrelled with everyone. 

When the Styrian provincial diet asked the theological faculty of 
Tubingen for a teacher of mathematics to serve at the Evangelical foun- 
dation-school in Graz, Master Kepler was recommended upon Maestlin's 

Under the pressure of Maestlin and his own poverty, he went to Graz 
(on March 13, 1594) to teach poor boys Virgil, rhetorics and arithmetic 
for one hundred and fifty guldens a year (and free lodging and heating). 
For another twenty gulden he supplied an annual astrological calendar 
with predictions of the weather and world events to provincial believers 
in the stars. 

Against his own expectations, his prophecies for 1595 came true; al- 
though Kepler had forecast it blindly, the Turk really did invade Austria, 
the winter was really cold, and the peasants in that region did really 


become rebellious. He earned a name as an astrologer, and money too, 
because many of the credulous asked him to cast their horoscopes. 

He came to Graz at the age of twenty-three; at twenty-five he took a 
wife, a miller's daughter. She was twenty-three, and Kepler was her 
third husband; she had promptly buried her first, and her second had 
promptly divorced her. Along with a fifty-gulden raise, less dowry that 
had been promised him, and a daughter, Regina, from one of her previous 
marriages, he got six children from his wife and little pleasure; she did 
not know how to keep house, and he could not make ends meet; he had 
married in 1597; in 1598 he lost his job under the following circumstances: 
When Kepler had come to Graz, Styria was Lutheran. The new despot 
Archduke Ferdinand (later Emperor Ferdinand II) was a pupil of the 
Jesuits; he had nothing to offer his new subjects but a new, that is to 
say, the old Catholic, religion. In 1598 he ordered all Lutheran clergymen 
and teachers to leave Graz and Judenburg within a week. Horrified, 
Kepler fled to Hungary. 

A year later he came back at the express invitation of the Styrian diet 
to resume his teaching and official prophecies. But later it turned out 
that he was expected to become a Catholic; he disliked this idea. In a 
letter dated August 29, 1599, he wrote: "The point has been reached where 
citizens are burned at the stake ... But the people at court envisage 
even worse . . . Whoever sings choral or reads Luther's Bible is 
banished ... I myself was fined ten dialers for having ignored the local 
clergy; I was pardoned half of it upon my petition, but I had to pay the 
other half before I was allowed to bury my daughter." 

Kepler began his investigations in Graz. At the age of twenty-five 
he published his first book entitled Mysterium Cosmographicum (1596), 
the Secret of the Universe, in which he appears as a resolute partisan 
of the Copernican system. He rejects Osiander's sophistic claim to build 
truth upon false hypotheses. The magnificent order of the Copernican 
world is to him the proof of its reality. He describes his first attempts 
to find a law valid for the entire solar system. If he could only find the 
law of one of the planetary orbits, he says, he would know the elements 
of all them. His secret of the universe was mathematical; he thought 
he had discovered the numerical relations that express the structure of 
the world. He "could not express in words the intense pleasure this dis- 
covery gave him" (incidentally this so-called discovery was not one). 
Kepler sent his Secret of the Universe (which he reprinted twenty- 
five years later in his World Harmony) to many astronomers. Galileo, 
who was seven years older than Kepler, having read only the preface on 
the day he received the book wrote to him: "I estimate myself happy to 


have as great an ally as you in my search for truth . . . I will read . . . 
your work ... all the more willingly because I have for many years 
been a partisan of the Copernican view and because it reveals to me the 
causes of many natural phenomena that are entirely incomprehensible 
in the light of the generally accepted hypotheses. To refute the latter I 
have collected many proofs, but I do not publish them, because I am 
deterred by the fate of our teacher Copernicus who, although he had won 
immortal fame with a few, was ridiculed and condemned by countless 
people (for very great is the number of the stupid). I would dare to 
publish my speculations if there were more people like you. But as this 
is not the case, I postpone doing so." 

Tycho de Brahe praised the genius of the young astronomer, expressed 
some doubts as to his figures and regretted that Kepler had based him- 
self on the Copernican system rather than on the Tychonic system. 
Kepler noted on the margin: "Everyone loves himself." 

At that time the twenty-five-year-old Kepler describes himself as well- 
informed, vivacious, thin, abstemious in eating and drinking, contented 
or indifferent in his behavior. He said he labored to win his master's 
good will like a domestic dog, serving, never grumbling when criticized, 
and trying to win favor by all means. Impatient in conversations, he 
snarled at his guests. If anyone wanted to take the slightest thing away 
from him, he would get angry and growl like a dog. He was stingy, jeered 
at those who were clumsy, quarrelled easily, was sharp in speech and 
quick to give unpleasant answers. Hated by most, he was avoided by 
many; only his masters liked him, as they like a dog. . . . He avoided 
baths, plungings and washings — like a dog. His disorderliness was very 
great. He feared for his life at the slightest provocation and lost all cour- 
age in danger. His good qualities, if any, were piety, honesty, loyalty, 
respectability and decency. Fatal were his curiosity and his vain striving 
for the highest. 

Kepler had dark hair and eyes, and a long nose. A frail seven-months 
child, he had smallpox at the age of two, particularly on his hands; since 
puberty he had suffered from boils, which sometimes even prevented 
him from sitting; later he was afflicted with headaches, fever and rashes. 
At the age of thirty-five, in Prague, he wrote: "You ask me about my ill- 
ness. It was a lingering fever which came from the gall and returned 
four times because I often committed dietary indiscretions. On May 29, 
my wife ruthlessly compelled me at last to wash my body; she thinks 
baths are dangerous. She plunged me in a basin full of very warm water; 
the warmth did not agree with me and gave me cramps in my bowels. 
On May 31, I took a light purgative as usual. On June 1, I was bled 


also out of habit; I was not induced to do this by any illness nor even a 
suspicion of illness. Nor did I do it on account of any astrological pre- 
scription, as you can easily understand. After I had lost blood I felt 
very well for a few hours; at night a bad sleep threw me on my bed 
against my will; I felt cramps in the bowels. For the gall must have 
got to my head, past the bowels ... I think I am one of those whose 
gall bladder has an opening into the stomach; such people are usually 

With the Counter-Reformation threatening at Graz, Kepler hoped 
"for any philosophic professorship he could find." Maestlin, to whom he 
appealed for a recommendation, answered after five months: "my com- 
plete inexperience in these matters ... I beg you urgently ... to ad- 
dress yourself to others. . . ." 

Poor Kepler was threatened with torture and prison. Amidst all this 
persecution two of his children died, and then came a long letter from 
Tycho de Brahe (dated December 9, 1599) asking him to come to 
Prague and be his assistant. 

Kepler went to Prague and worked tentatively for Tycho. It was not 
easy, for both men considered themselves unique and irreplaceable; 
Tycho was world famous, Kepler was proud of his "secret of the uni- 
verse." After a few months he handed a memorandum to Tycho which 

"The conditions under which I can offer my services to the esteemed 
Tycho de Brahe in his works: 

(1) I will carry out every astronomical task, in so far as is compatible 
with my health. . . . 

(2) My eyes are too weak for observation, and I have no skill for 
mechanical works, my curious and excitable nature disturbs me in 
domestic and political affairs, I feel too weak for long sitting (particularly 
beyond a correct and moderate length of banquets), especially as this 
is also injurious to one's health. I must frequendy get up and walk 
around, for reasons of health. 

(3) Since astronomical matters often turn up that prevent concentra- 
tion on some work that interests me, Mr. Tycho will grant me philo- 
sophical liberty and share the day with me. If he prefers the morning, 
I will pursue my own ideas in the afternoons. 

(4) He will give me much free time for attending religious services 
and for my own affairs." 

Kepler stayed at Benatky Castle until June; Tycho had promised to 
pay his moving expenses, give him a hundred thalers extra a year and 


obtain letters patent from the emperor securing Kepler's Styrian salaries 
for two years. 

As soon as Kepler came to Graz to attend to his moving he wrote 
Maestlin: "and so I am supposed now (under the threat of immediate 
dismissal) to give up astronomy and devote myself to medicine." 

Immediately afterward (August 1, 1600), more than a thousand citizens 
and officials of Graz were banished forever (this time Kepler, too). All 
of them had to emigrate within forty-five days. All the possessions of 
Kepler's family "consist in immovable goods and are extremely cheap, 
more, not even saleable. Many are hoping to get hold of them free. 
For the prince has decreed that no one has the right to lease to a Papist 
goods that he cannot sell within forty-five days." 

Maestlin, whom Kepler once again asked for help, answered: "I really 
do not know what I can advise in these difficulties. Only the one thing 
you ask me at the end of your letter, I am doing as diligently as possible, 
I am praying for you and your family." 

Kepler answered: "I would not have believed that it is so sweet to 
suffer injury and damage for my religion ... in company of a few 
brothers, and to leave house, farm, friends, and homeland." He was 
unable, he said, to become a Catholic, even less to be a hypocrite. "For 
that reason the clergy is angry with me, and the laymen abuse me as a 

In September he left Graz. He left his belongings at Linz. In Prague, 
now only a refugee, without his Styrian salary, he offered his services 
to Tycho. As always, Tycho made promises. The emperor refused to 
pay a second astronomer. Kepler had a rash. His wife cried out in dis- 
tress that living was four times as expensive in Prague as in Graz. The 
poor woman became dejected. She would not let Kepler sell any of her 
cups. She was interested only in the prayerbooks. She despised her hus- 
band because her father, the miller, had earned more money than he 
did. He did not even answer her when she asked him the most im- 
portant questions concerning housekeeping (he was then absorbed in 
his computations of the orbit of Mars). The husband and wife quarrelled 
frequently. Kepler confessed: "When I realized that she took it to heart 
and was angry, too, I felt that I would rather bite my finger than continue 
to offend her." 

The poor woman soon fell ill with the Hungarian fever, became epi- 
leptic and lost her mind. 

Kepler computed the motions of Mars, Venus and Mercury. On the 
basis of Tycho's and his assistants' astronomical observations he reached 


the conclusion that the planetary orbits had been represented incorrectly 
in the past. 

At the same time he was Tycho's literary defender and disputed the 
claims of the late imperial mathematician Reymers Baer (Ursus) to 
having discovered Brahe's system before Brahe, and Scot Craig's claims 
to having evolved Brahe's theory of comets. 

In the fall of 1601, Tycho de Brahe died. At the age of thirty, Kepler 
was Tycho's intellectual heir. He was appointed imperial mathematician 
with the task of completing Tycho's computations and drawing up new 
planetary tables. At last he triumphed. 

He demanded a salary of one thousand five hundred gulden. But 
Tengnagel, Tycho's son-in-law, obtained a pension of one thousand 
gulden for Brahe's heirs because of his scientific papers; Kepler's salary 
was reduced to five hundred gulden, and the first payment was delayed 
for five months. In his letters, his worries about the stars are mingled 
with worries about money. He always had "to beg his bread from the 

In 1610 Galileo published his first telescopic discoveries in the "Mes- 
senger of the Heavens." But one year before, in 1609, Kepler had 
published his first two laws (about the form and manner of the planetary 
motions) in a book which he proudly entitled "The New Astronomy." 
There he told the story of his discoveries with "invaluable thoroughness." 
He computed tables for the orbit of Mars (which had annoyed Coper- 
nicus and driven Rhedcus insane), for which in at least forty instances 
he had to make the same calculations 181 times. 

The systems of Ptolemy, Copernicus and Tycho de Brahe could not 
free themselves of the superstition that the circle was the perfect figure, 
and that the planets moved only in the perfect way, that is in circles. 
The changes in the planetary velocities, they thought, could be only an 
apparent irregularity (the so-called first unevenness of the astronomy of 
the ancients). The astronomers were supposed to discover the true uni- 
form motions, and thus put the real motions of the planets on excentric 
circles. That is why Ptolemy, Copernicus and Tycho invented those con- 
fusing epicycles and excentrics, which led the planets into contortionist 
dances. Kepler constructed hypothesis after hypothesis in order to find 
a circle that would tally with Tycho's observations. 

Kepler believed that the sun not only lay within the planetary orbits 
but also acted on the planets according to a definite law. 

Copernicus had placed the sun in the center of the world; he also said 
that it "dominates the race of the stars that turn 'round it." And Rheticus 
says in the Narratio Prima that the sun is the principle of motion and 


light. But Copernicus relates the motions of the planets not to the sun 
itself, but to the center of the earth's orbit conceived as circular. This 
center is supposed to be near the sun. 

Kepler had learned from Tycho's writings on the comets that there 
were no solid spheres for the planets; thus, according to him, the sun 
was the center and source of motion of the planets surrounding it. It 
is in the sun itself that the lines meet, which for each individual planet 
connect its perihelion and aphelion. 

Kepler sketched a laborious geometric diagram of Tycho's observa- 
tions upon the assumption that Tycho never made a mistake greater than 
eight arc minutes. And he explained: "Only those eight minutes led to 
the complete reformation of astronomy." For according to Tycho's 
observations, the orbit of Mars could not possibly be a circle. Therefore 
Kepler looked for some oval form. By the end of 1604, with truly 
heavenly rapture he discovered that the simplest oval curve, the perfect 
ellipse, was the form of the orbit of Mars. 

Thus the first law of Kepler is: "The planet describes an ellipse, the 
sun being in one focus." 

Later he observed that Mars moved faster when near the sun and 
slower when far from it. And the second law of Kepler is: "The straight 
line joining the planet to the sun sweeps out equal areas in any two 
equal intervals of time." 

Ten years after he enunciated the first two laws he published his 
third law which he discovered as though in a moment of inspiration on 
May 15, 1618 : "That the squares of the periods of the revolutions of any 
two planets are proportional to the cubes of their mean distances from 
the sun." 

This is how he announced this discovery: "What I prophesied two and 
twenty years ago . . . what I firmly believed before I had seen the 
'Harmonies' of Ptolemy; what I promised my friends in the title of this 
book, which I named before I was sure of my discovery; what sixteen 
years ago I urged as a thing to be sought; that for which I joined Tycho 
Brahe; for which I settled in Prague; for which I have devoted the 
best part of my life to astronomical contemplations; — at length I have 
brought to light, and have recognized its truth beyond my most sanguine 
expectations. ... It is now eighteen months since I got the first glimmer 
of light; three months since the dawn; a very few days since the un- 
veiled sun, most beauteous to behold, burst out upon me. Nothing 
holis me. I will indulge in my sacred fury. I will triumph over mankind 
by the honest confession that I have stolen the golden vases of the 
Egyptians, to rear up a tabernacle to my God far away from the con- 


fines of Egypt. If you forgive me, I rejoice; if you are angry, I can bear it. 
For the die is cast, the book is written, to be read now or by posterity; 
I care not. I can well wait a century for a reader, since God has waited 
six thousand years for a discoverer." 

This third law is quoted in his book Harmonia Mundi (Linz, 1619) 
which deals with harmony and music, in geometric figures, in human 
life and in the spheres (it was inspired by one of Ptolemy's books). 

Kepler also wanted to clarify the relations between matter and spirit, 
but was quite obscure on this question. "And I have always wanted to 
explore the nature of the spirit with an open mind and according to 
reason, and especially whether there is not a world soul at the heart of 
the world, a soul which is more profoundly connected with the natural 

In certain passages of this book Kepler, an animist like Giordano 
Bruno, describes the earth as a big animal, with a heart, lungs and de- 

About the same time he published his "Outline of Copernican As- 
tronomy" {Epitome Astronomiae Copernicanae, Linz 1618, 1620 and 
1621) which was the strongest defense of the new doctrine, and which for 
that reason was promptly placed on the Index. Here he deals with 
astronomy as a whole. In his preface he says: "I base all my astronomy 
on Copernicus' hypotheses, on Tycho de Brahe's observations and finally 
on the magnetic philosophy of the Englishman William Gilbert." Under 
the latter's influence (De Magnete, London, 1600), Kepler wrote: "What 
is it then that drives the planets around the sun? What else is it but a 
magnetic emanation of the sun? But what is it that makes the planets 
excentric with regard to the sun, that compels them to come close to it 
and move away from it? Nothing but a magnetic emanation from the 
planets themselves, as well as the direction of their magnetic axes." 

In this book Kepler also states that his laws were valid not only for 
all the planets and the moon, but also for the satellites of Jupiter dis- 
covered by Galileo. Kepler placed the firmament at a distance of 420,000 
million miles; he still believed that the fixed stars were attached to a 
solid sphere which had its center in the sun and was "two German miles 

In 1619 he also published his treatise on the comets, where new ideas 
were mingled with astrology. In contrast to his teacher Maestlin who 
contemptuously refused to cast horoscopes, Kepler cast them industri- 
ously, but he criticized himself for it: "I have been obliged to compose 
a vile, prophesying almanac which is scarcely more respectable than 


begging, unless from its saving the Emperor's credit, who abandons me 
entirely, and would suffer me to perish with hunger." 

Thanks to his three laws Kepler could happily complete his elabora- 
tion of Brahe's observations. In 1627, the Rudolfine Tables (named thus 
in honor of Emperor Rudolf) were published at Ulm. The archduke 
of Tuscany, perhaps upon Galileo's suggestion, sent Kepler a golden 

Thus Kepler fulfilled the requirements he formulated at the age of 
thirty: "He who predicts as completely as possible the motions and posi- 
tions of the heavenly bodies, fulfills his duty as an astronomer; but he 
who in addition advances true theorems about the form of the world 
achieves even more and deserves even greater praise. For the former 
reveals the truth in so far as it can be perceived by the senses; the latter 
satisfies not only the senses by his deductions, but also reveals the inner- 
most essence of nature." 

As Kepler himself put it, he discovered the concealed riches of the 
Copernican doctrine. He proved that only it could exactly represent 
the planetary motions. With his three laws and his presentiment of 
the force active in the solar system he paved the way for Newton. (He 
was also Newton's forerunner in the science of optics.) 

At the age of forty Kepler lost his wife, a favorite son and his emperor: 
In 1611 Rudolf was compelled to abdicate and a year later he died. 
Rudolf had prevented Kepler from accepting a professorship at Linz 
in order to keep him as court astrologer. Mathias, the new emperor, 
who did not need an astrologer let him go. Kepler retained the tide 
of imperial mathematician, but his salary was reduced to three hundred 
and fifty gulden. His old claims on the imperial treasury were converted 
into municipal obligations: Memmingen and Kempten gave him debt 
certificates; Nuremberg, recently looted by Wallenstein, declared itself 
bankrupt. In the end, the emperor transmitted Kepler's total claims, to 
the amount of 11,817 gulden, to Wallenstein; the latter did not pay them 
either; thus Kepler died without ever collecting his money. 

From his fortieth to his fifty-seventh year he was mathematician at 
Linz with a salary of four hundred gulden a year. Among his other 
duties, he was charged with drawing the map of Upper Austria; some- 
times he also had to accompany the imperial court or the emperor on 
official journeys. 

Soon after the death of his wife, Kepler took another. He examined 
all the women he knew in a businesslike manner. Then he considered 
eleven of the most likely ones; of these one was too old, another too 


fat (as he described in detail in a letter to a friend), a third so unattrac- 
tive that she would be stared at in the street, another of ill repute, still 
another lazy, or noisy, or stupid. Finally he chose Susanne, the daughter 
of a carpenter from Efferdingen; a Countess Stahremberg had paid for 
the schooling of this orphaned girl for twelve years. Of her Kepler wrote: 
"Her person and manner are convenient to me. She has strength for 
work. She is middle-aged, and willing and able to acquire whatever she 
wants." On October 13, 1613, they celebrated their nuptials. He had 
seven children with her. Altogether he had thirteen children. None of 
them inherited his genius. 

Johannes Kepler, the famous defender of the hated Copernican sys- 
tem, the heretic who made the planets move in elliptical curves instead 
of in circles, was the target of religious persecution in Linz, too. Hitzler, 
an evangelical clergyman, refused him the sacraments, thus excluding 
him from the community and branding him publicly as a heretic. Now 
the inhabitants of Linz threatened to drive him out. 

Incidentally, the more gentle souls among his countrymen described 
the only great Swabian scientist as "a swindling little brain." 

In Linz he was also approached by the Jesuit Guldin who promised 
him the greatest imperial favors if only he would accept Catholicism. 

In reality Kepler was a deeply pious man, who saw in God the loving 
Creator of the universe, the Father of men, who warns His children 
through the positions of the stars, but who can decide to act differently 
if He so pleases. Kepler composed edifying writings for his household 
which expressed his unshakable faith. 

When Emperor Ferdinand extended the Counter-Reformation to 
Upper Austria, there were peasant riots and Linz was besieged. Kepler's 
library was locked up and sealed and he was attacked by the Jesuits. 

Kepler travelled a great deal through the country trying to find a new 
post and printers for his books. He refused invitations to go abroad, to 
England and Bologna. 

To Bologna where he was invited to succeed the famous astronomer 
Magini, he wrote in 1617: "I am a German by origin and by inclination, 
grown accustomed to German habits . . . Even though fame tempts 
me, and the hope of a better post beckons me . . . the period of my life 
in which one might be stimulated by new living conditions and might 
wish for the beauties of Italy and expect long enjoyment from them is 
past. Moreover, from my youth until the present time, as a German 
among Germans, I have enjoyed a freedom in behavior and speech, whose 
use, if I went to Bologna, might easily, if it did not endanger me, at 
least expose me to insults, suspicion and denunciation by giddy minds. 


I hope you will not take it amiss if I . . . have persuaded myself to 
practice a perhaps superfluous caution." 

In brief, Kepler told the Bolognese almost in so many words that he 
wanted to spare them the trouble of burning him as the Romans burned 
Giordano Bruno or handing him over to the Jesuits, as the Florentines 
had done with Galileo a year before. 

Nevertheless, at the same time it cost him the greatest efforts to pre- 
vent his old mother* from being burned as a witch in Swabia. In the 
summer of 1617, in order to defend her, he had to write the following 
letter to the Vice-Chancellor in Stuttgart: 

". . . Since witches have been apprehended in the Leonberg region 
and their harmful arts have gradually spread there among the unin- 
telligent and superstitious people, a woman named Ursula Reinhold 
appeared in Leonberg, who was not quite right in her mind and was ill- 
reputed because she had been punished for public lechery. Before then, 
she had got into a quarrel with my brother, a tinsmith, for reasons of 
business, and as always in such cases, first my brother and then also 
my mother reproached her for her shameful deeds. Since that time she 
has had an irreconcilable hatred for them. Driven by this passion and 
remembering confessions made by witches about similar evil doings, she 
began to accuse my mother of mixing poison, and asserted that the elderly 
lady had once handed her a drink which had immediately given her a 
disease of the head. Rumor is an evil that spreads faster than any other. 
Among the highly superstitious people this suspicion spread immediately 
in secret. Confirmation of it was sought in the age of my seventy-year-old 
mother and in a few bad qualities such as loquacity, curiosity, irritability, 
viciousness and querulousness, qualities which are frequent at that age 
in this locality. 

"Hence people began to ascribe an evil meaning to meetings with my 
mother and to make her responsible in vague rumors for the death of a 
few domestic animals. On August 14, 1615, the crazy person ... ad- 
dressed herself to the bailiff, and her husband and brother, the latter a 
citizen of Tubingen, surgeon and barber to the young princes, with 
one of whom he happened to be that day in Leonberg, assisted her. My 
mother was summoned and the accusations against her were aired. My 
mother defended herself, while the barber confused the real facts and 
uttered evil curses and terrible threats. Finally he grazed my mother's 
breast with a bare sword and swore with curses that he would kill her 
unless she cured his sister. The bailiff looked on for a long time and then 
stopped the quarrel. My mother could not let this incident go unnoticed, 
otherwise others might have followed his example, and come forward 



with similar accusations. She brought proceedings against the offender." 
Her witnesses were supposed to be heard before a year passed; then 
she was officially denounced because a certain Burga, a debtor of Mrs. 
Kepler, maintained that the latter had bewitched her eight-year-old 
daughter. Burga attacked Kepler's mother with a knife and cried out 
that the witch must cure her daughter. The bailiff who sent out the 
legal notice was promised a gift by Kepler's mother if he withdrew it. 
He concluded that she had a bad conscience and declared he would arrest 
her and put her to the torture. 

"What could my brother," Kepler went on, "and my brother-in-law, 
pastor Binder in Heumaden, do, since they had already incurred great 
expenses and each had to be concerned over his own safety? They held 
council and persuaded my mother to come to me at Linz, whither I had 
previously invited her most urgently. My mother listened to them, al- 
though very reluctantly, and went as far as Ulm. Only there great colds 
came prematurely and she went back home. ... My brother led her 
away, although she again resisted, then he set out hastily to find me and 
arrived at Linz on December 3/13. . . ." 

In the summer of 1617 Kepler went with his mother to Wurttemberg 
to see that the trial took place without further delay, saw that the authori- 
ties only wanted to curb her spirit, and by the end of 1617 took her back 
to Linz. 

The trial was held on November 10, 1619. Individual witnesses main- 
tained that their catde or they themselves had become sick through Mrs. 
Kepler's having touched them or after drinking drinks she had brewed. 
Mrs. Kepler denied this. She had only prepared medicated wines. She 
was also accused of having asked the sexton of Leonberg to dig up her 
father's skull which she allegedly intended to frame in silver and send 
to her son in Linz as a symbol of the transitoriness of things. 

Now public opinion was against her. On August 7, 1620, she was 
arrested. Upon the suggestion of her son Christoph, a tinsmith who 
feared for his reputation in Leonberg if his mother were tortured in 
their own town, she was transferred to Giiglingen where she was chained 
in the tower at the city gates. Her son Johannes faithfully stood by her 
and insisted on going ahead with the proceedings. The indictments were 
finally placed before the juridical faculty of Tubingen which rejected 
the state attorney's proposal that a confession be extracted from her by 
torture. However, in view of the number of witnesses for the prosecu- 
tion, the faculty recommended that she be taken to see the instruments 
of torture and told their exact use in the hope that the fear of torture 
would induce her to confess. On September 27, 1621, the ordeal took 


place. The bailiff Aulber had her led to the torture chamber; she re- 
mained steadfast — a worthy mother of Kepler. She was taken back to 
prison; then, by order of the ducal council a new court was summoned 
which acquitted her. 

This acquittal did not put an end to her persecution. The municipal 
council of Leonberg publicly excoriated the old woman. The original 
accusers came forth with new accusations. Mrs. Kepler too sued again 
for the costs of the trial. Only her death ended the six-year-long litigation. 
It had consumed the mother's last years and all her remaining fortune. 

In 1623 Kepler wrote: "Our family is free from danger, and all of 
us from abuse and shame." 

Throughout his life Kepler suffered from the religious persecution 
mania of his century. When conditions in Linz grew hopeless and he 
no longer knew where to go with his wife and six children, he wrote (at 
the age of fifty-six) to a friend in Strassburg offering to teach at the 
university there; he wanted, he said, to instruct a few of the students 
in his Rudolfine Tables that had just been published — or in astrology. 

The Strassburg Council refused a chair to Germany's most famous 
astronomer, but offered him the right to reside in the city. 

Incidentally, why did not Kepler announce any lecture on his planetary 
theory? Was he not the only theoretical astronomer in Germany? But 
already the Bavarian Chancellor Herwart had declared that except for 
himself not a single man in Munich was interested in Kepler's investi- 
gations. During the Thirty Years' War Germany lost her inhabitants, 
her good sense, her morality, freedom, wealth and culture. She reaped 
only pestilence, savagery, and religious quarrels. 

Since the Emperor was now unable to pay Kepler, the great scientist 
at the age of fifty-seven became Wallenstein's court astrologer and 
moved to the latter's residence at Sagan. Twenty years earlier he had 
cast the general's horoscope; Wallenstein sent it back to him after 
eighteen years to have it corrected, for none of the prophecies in it had 
come true. 

In Sagan Kepler composed yearbooks and was again excommunicated. 

He refused to accept an invitation to the Wallenstein University at 
Rostock* unless the general redeemed his promissory notes to the amount 
of twelve thousand gulden, in cash or certificates for goods. Although 
Wallenstein was supposed to be the richest man in Germany, nothing 
came of this invitation. Soon the imperial general fell into disfavor, and 
in August, 1630, was dismissed. This made Kepler's promissory notes 

In the fall Kepler rode to the Electors' Diet at Regensburg by way of 



Leipzig. He hoped to be able to settle his financial affairs in Regens- 
burg. He arrived on November 3 with a fever, had a bloodletting and 
on November 15, 1630, died at the age of fifty-nine. The Evangelical 
cemetery including Kepler's tomb, was destroyed soon thereafter by 
armed pious men, who smelled heresy even under the gravestones. 

Kepler's estate consisted of 70 ducats, 22 thalers, 13 gulden and three 
promissory notes for 84 gulden, 11,817 gulden and 2,500 gulden— all 
these notes had equal worth, that is to say they were not even worth the 
paper they were written on. As late as 1717 Kepler's heirs vainly sued 
the Austrian Emperor for their money. 

Kepler had always criticized himself sharply, and at the same time 
had always thought highly of himself. Persecuted by many churches, 
left in the lurch by emperors, he fell from one private misery into the 
other. A terrific hypochondriac, he never bathed in his life and begot 
thirteen children. (Most of them died like flies.) 

This professional astrologer and maker of almanacs destroyed the 
foundations of astrology which he himself called "this bastard of science." 
During his best years this nearsighted astronomer had to suffer from 
schoolchildren's pranks and the moods of another astronomer; while 
his pupils were already professors, he vainly offered his services to uni- 
versities, and in his old age became the astrologer of a soldier of fortune. 
In his sixtieth year he was still riding after his paper fortune, a beggar 
and creditor of emperors. He rode from the north to the south of Germany, 
caught a cold and died. 

One of the world's keenest calculators, he was often obscure as only a 
German provincial philosopher can be. 

He disclosed his poverty and illness to all the world; his "secret of the 
universe" concerned the moon and the stars. 

The adviser of emperors and generals, whose prophesies perhaps helped 
to shape the destinies of great empires, he now and then induced a small 
peasant, by means of his almanac, to plant, let us say, barely instead of 


He was tactful with emperors, dignified with scholars. He recognized 
other people's merits without envy, and his own errors with wisdom. 

He occasionally refused to accept too thick flatteries, but he told Count 
Bianchi, who prided himself on his noble ancestry, that his great grand- 
father had been dubbed knight by the emperor. 

His contemporaries did not value him as he deserved; posterity ac- 
cepted him among the geniuses of science only after long hesitation. 

In the nineteenth century, the great astronomer Arago wrote: "The 


glory of Kepler is written in the heavens." Kepler in a self-written epitaph 
had boasted: 

"I have measured the heavens, now I measure the shadows of earth, 
My spirit was of heavenly nature, my body's shadow rests here." 

"He who is convinced that he is a priest of the highest God," he wrote 
at the age of twenty-seven referring to astronomers, "does not lightly 
publish anything but what he himself believes and does not impudently 
change the accepted hypotheses, unless he is able to explain the phenomena 
in another way with certainty. 

"He gives in to his sacred madness .' . . and will wait a hundred years 
for his reader . . . after all, God himself has waited six thousand years 
for the discoverer" (of Kepler's laws). 

Throughout the decades of the Thirty Years' War, while Germany, 
struggling for the best religion, went to the dogs, he completed an 
enormous work with iron diligence, and, as it were, against his own 
eccentric genius. 

"When a storm is raging," he wrote at the age of fifty-seven, "and 
shipwreck threatens the ship of state, we can do nothing more dignified 
than to cast the anchor of our peaceful studies in the bed of eternity." 

All his life he travelled with his whole family from place to place, 
hated by clerics and reactionaries, and was never too tired to fight for 
the new doctrine. Born about a hundred years after Copernicus, Kepler 
was the first great Copernican, and in the name of the old canon of 
Torun this stubborn Lutheran wrote the laws of modern astronomy. 



"Yes, it moves, I will prove that by a thou- 
sand arguments!" 


"/ believe that there is no greater hatred 
in the world than the hatred of ignorance 
for knowledge." 


WHEN Galileo saw the proofs of the Copernican theory in the heavens 
through his telescope, he lost all fear of making himself ridiculous and 
braved all risks, until his seventieth year when in order to escape torture 
he suffered worse torture, and instead of dying as a martyr sacrificed 
his conscience and his freedom. 

Then all his books, even the future ones, were forbidden. His work 
was to be erased, his memory extinguished, his teaching condemned 
forever. He felt that he was Italy's greatest natural scientist, and feared 
the suppression of all his discoveries. Kneeling before ignoramuses in 
purple robes he was compelled to swear the famous recantation, because 
Rome did not want the earth to move. 

"Eppur si muovel" posterity replied about 1761 (in Abbe Trailh's 
Querelles Litteraires) . 

Galileo was born at Pisa in 1564 and died at Arcetri in 1642. His father, 
a cloth merchant from Florence, set Ugolino's complaint to music and 
sang it in a beautiful tenor to the accompaniment of the lute. Galileo, 
the oldest of seven children, was sent to a monastery at the age of eleven 
and taken out of it at the age of fifteen so that he would not end up as a 
monk. He was supposed to become a cloth merchant, he wanted to be- 
come a painter, but at the age of sixteen he went to Pisa to study medicine 
and for that purpose naturally attended courses on Aristotle. Even as a 
boy he was an amateur constructor. Almost every one of his scientific 



discoveries is connected with the invention, rediscovery or improvement 
of an instrument. 

In his college notebook from Pisa there are. four lines about the Coper- 
nican system. Even as a young student he allegedly protested against 
the dictates of Aristotle and discovered the isochronism of the pendulum. 
At nineteen he is supposed to have observed to his surprise that at the 
cathedral of Pisa a chandelier which was set into motion by the sexton 
lighting it swung at equal intervals of time although its vibrations grew 
gradually smaller. 

At nineteen Galileo left Pisa and medicine without passing his ex- 
aminations and studied Euclid and Archimedes under Ricci, a teacher 
at the Art School of Florence who had a liking for practical mechanics. 
At twenty-two, under the influence of his studies of Archimedes, he in- 
vented a hydrostatic balance. For four years he made a living by giving 
private lessons, and in 1589, after many vain attempts at Rome,- Padua, 
Bologna and Florence, he obtained a professorship at Pisa where, for a 
miserable sixty scudi a year, he had to teach astrology and Ptolemaic 
astronomy in addition to Euclid. 

The young professor is said to have made his glorious discoveries in 
his youth at Pisa, intuitively and independently. He is also said to have 
climbed the leaning tower of Pisa in view of all the professors and 
students, and thrown down two weights, one of ten pounds, the other 
of one pound, at the same time, whereupon the assembled Aristotelians 
declared that the simultaneous arrival of the two weights was the effect 
of sorcery and not a refutation of Aristotle who had taught that heavy 
objects fall faster than light objects. But Galileo speaks of the "thou- 
sands of hours" during which he brooded over the simple problems of 
his theory of motion; he based himself upon his predecessors, and his 
development was gradual. 

Galileo had no sooner left Pisa before the end of his three-year con- 
tract, probably because of his unsatisfactory position and low salary, than 
his father died, leaving Galileo in charge of the whole family. 

"Verily, I cannot see you in this position at Pisa," wrote his patron, 
the wealthy geometer, Marchese dal Monte, who had himself procured 
it for him more than two years earlier, and now obtained a better one 
for him at Padua, where the university enjoyed a certain amount of 
intellectual freedom under the Venetian Republic. Shortly before, the 
Jesuits had been driven out of the university of Padua and in 1606 they 
were compelled to leave the territories of the Venetian Republic. The 
Inquisition, too, was supervised by the Republican authorities. Never- 
theless, shortly after Galileo's inaugural lecture the Signoria handed the 


Copernican Giordano Bruno over to the Roman Inquisition (in January, 

Galileo who drew most of his income from his private pupils and 
boarders, lived eleven of his years in Padua with a Venetian girl, Marina 
Gamba, who bore him three children, Polissena, Virginia and Vincenzio; 
he furnished trousseaus to his sisters and procured a post of court musician 
at Munich for his brother. 

He lived in Padua for eighteen years altogether — and in his old age 
he called these years his happiest. Finally he was given a life post. His 
salary had been raised from one hundred eighty to one thousand florins. 
In his mechanical workshop he built his instruments with the help of 
assistants. Before he left the city he had become a celebrity. His compass 
that he invented in 1597 is still used today. In order not to be plagiarized 
he published a description of it nine years later; less than six months 
passed when a certain Capra translated Galileo's Italian work into Latin 
and published it under his own name at Padua accusing Galileo of 
plagiarizing him. Galileo sued him through the university, had Capra's 
book destroyed by court order, and published a pamphlet against Capra's 

Until the age of forty-two when he published his first book, Galileo 
had led the quiet life of a scientist; now by one stroke his life became 
turbulent, there came enemies and suits for plagiarism, numerous pupils 
and intrigues, sensational successes and persecutions, Inquisition trials, 
tortures, imprisonment, conspiracy and blindness. 

In Padua Galileo founded his theory of motion and his science of the 
strength of materials (which is of the greatest importance for the construc- 
tion of buildings and of machines); he began his telescopic discoveries; 
he wrote Italian poems, comedies, literary criticism; he attacked Tasso's 
"Jerusalem Liberated"; he wrote marginal comments on the Orlando 
Furioso of Ariosto whom he worshipped, corrected the great poet's 
metrical and stylistic "errors," and purged the sensual passages from his 

The Italian language was his proper inheritance, and suitable for the 
expression of his ideas. Galileo became a teacher of Europe by the power 
of his language no less than his discoveries. 

In Padua Galileo led a double intellectual existence; compelled by the 
state and church he taught Aristotle and Ptolemy at the university; at 
home he rejected them both and followed Copernicus and his own 
genius. At an early date he had begun to investigate the physical causes 
and laws of the double motion of the earth and quietly worked on his 
Copernican "System of the World." 


How and when did Galileo become a Copernican? 

In the "Dialogue of the Two Systems of the World," one of the 
speakers relates his conversion to Copernicanism. "I was still very 
young, had barely finished my course of philosophy, then dropped it to 
devote myself to other occupations, when a foreigner from Rostock — 
I think his name was Christian Vurstisius (Wursteisen) — a partisan of 
Copernicus' views, happened to come to our place and delivered two 
or three lectures on this subject in an academy; many listeners came, 
I think more on account of the novelty of the thing, than for other 
reasons; but I did not go, because I believed that such an opinion could 
only be a magnificent piece of foolishness. Later when I questioned sev- 
eral people who had been present, I heard them all make fun of it, and 
only one told me that the thing was by no means ridiculous, and as I 
knew that he was a very intelligent and judicious man, I repented not 
having gone." 

Galileo professed his adherence to Copernicus in his first letter to 
Kepler (and shortly before also in a letter to Mazzoni, 1597). When 
Kepler called upon him to make his views public and wrote him in order 
to reassure him: "For the Italians are not alone in being unable to 
believe that they move when they do not feel it; in Germany, too, one 
finds little favor with this theory," Galileo did not reply. This German 
always appeared alien to him; later he said: "His manner of philoso- 
phizing is not mine." 

Galileo could find another Copernican in Christoph Rothmann, the 
director of the famous observatory of the Landgrave of Hesse in Tycho 
de Brahe's "Astronomical Correspondence," and he found a third Coper- 
nican in William Gilbert, author of De Magnete: next to Archimedes and 
Copernicus, Galileo praised no one as highly as this grandissimo filosofo, 
William Gilbert, who founded all scientific studies of magnetism, and 
discovered the magnetism of the earth. However, all these declared 
Copernicans were Protestants in Protestant countries. In Catholic coun- 
tries, the only declared Copernican had been dubbed a heretic before 
thousands of people in Rome and liquidated by pyrotechnics— the un- 
fortunate runaway monk, Giordano Bruno. 

The appearance of the new star of 1604 gave Galileo the pretext and 
the courage for a public profession of Copernicanism. Already Tycho 
had seen the strongest proof against the Aristotelian thesis of the un- 
changeability of the firmament in the new star of 1572. The new star 
of 1604 too appeared among the fixed stars and did not change its 
position. It was greater than all the stars of the first magnitude and 
vanished without a trace after eighteen months. 


Before the whole University o£ Pisa Galileo demonstrated in three 
lectures that the new star was high above the sphere of the moon, and 
even of Saturn, in the sphere of the fixed star; he declared it was a 
magnificent confirmation of Copernicus. (A Paduan philosopher had 
heard that the new star, like all fixed stars, had no parallax, and asked 
Galileo: What is a parallax? I want to refute it I) 

Galileo was forty-six years old when he heard of an instrument "through 
which one could see very distant objects as distinctly as from close at 
hand." As he tells shortly afterwards in his "Messenger of the Heavens," 
letters from a Parisian scholar confirmed to him the existence of this 
Dutch invention. Galileo "directed all his thoughts toward investigating 
the causes and finding the means enabling him to invent a similar instru- 
ment, and on the basis of the theory of refraction . . . soon found it." 

Shortly thereafter he came to Venice with a telescope that magnified 
nine times. Procurator Priuli relates in his chronicles that together with 
Galileo and seven nobiles he ascended the bell-tower of San Marco, "to 
see the marvels and curious effects of Mr. Galileo." 

Three days later Galileo gave his telescope to the Signoria, which on 
the next day confirmed Galileo's Paduan professorship for life, with a 
thousand gold gulden a year, as a reward for his invention which he 
"based on the profoundest theoretical considerations of optics" and the 
exclusive patent for which he promised the Signoria. 

This took place at the end of August, 1609. As early as October 2, 1608, 
the Dutch Estates General had deliberated on the telescope of Hans 
Lippershey, an optician from Middleburgh; on October 17, 1608, Jacob 
Adriaanszon, called Metius, from Alkmaar, offered them his telescope; 
shortly afterwards another inventor made himself known, Zacharias Jan- 
sen from Middleburgh. And in April, 1609, Parisian spectacle makers 
offered the new lunettes for sale in their stores at low prices. 

Procurator Priuli writes in another passage of his chronicles: "Such an 
instrument had not been seen in Italy, even though others say that it 
was not Galileo's invention, but was invented in Flanders; it seemed a 
miracle of art, although later countless others were made and sold at a 
very low price and were in everyone's hands." 

Galileo constructed a second, third and fourth telescope, each stronger 
than the preceding one. He directed the fourth telescope toward the sky 
and was the first of all human beings to see the new, but very ancient, 
miracles of the universe. He saw mountains and valleys in the moon, 
and saw that this planet was like the earth. Since people carry their 
prejudices, and scientists their hatreds, into the very lap of God, Galileo 


saw in the moon the profound errors of Aristotle, who had thought that 
its surface was completely smooth and round. 

The moon's resemblance to the earth became Galileo's favorite argu- 
ment for proving its planetary nature, and thus the truth of the Coper- 
nican system. 

Amidst the intoxication of astronomical discoveries Galileo published 
his first account, Sidereus nuntius (Messenger of the Heavens). There 
he announces his main work, the System of the World. "We shall prove 
a hundred times," he declares, "that the earth moves like a planet and 
surpasses the moon in brilliance, but is not the motionless scum and dregs 
of the world." 

By his sensational discoveries (and despite his enthusiastic advocacy 
of the Copernican system!) Galileo became a celebrity in Europe. 

He saw with his own eyes the greatness of the world that Copernicus 
had only sensed and computed. That winter he saw through his telescope 
the planets like little moons, and the stars like points of light, "so numer- 
ous that it almost seemed incredible." "And the Milky Way is nothing 
but a mass of countless stars in clusters." 

On January 7, 1610, he directed his telescope at the planet Jupiter and 
saw "three little stars, very bright, near the planet, two east of it, one 
west; on the next evening, to his great surprise, he found all three stars 
to the west of the planet." On January 10, he already thought that the 
"change in position was not that of Jupiter, but of the stars"; on the 
thirteenth he saw a fourth star in this region and knew that he had dis- 
covered the four moons of Jupiter. 

And all these discoveries seemed to him marvelous proofs of the 
Copernican system. 

The Aristotelians accused Galileo of error or fraud. Seven was a sacred 
number, there could be only seven planets. Sizzi, a Florentine astronomer, 
wrote: "We have only seven windows in our heads, two nostrils, two 
eyes, two ears, one mouth." Clavius, the famous Jesuit mathematician of 
the Roman College, "laughed at the idea of the four new planets that 
one probably had to stick in one's telescope to see. May Galileo persist in 
his opinions and be happy. I persist in my opinion." 

When Libri, a philosopher who had refused to look through a tele- 
scope, died, Galileo wrote to a friend of his that he would perhaps see 
the moons of Jupiter on his way to Heaven. To Kepler he wrote: "Just 
as snakes close their ears, so people close their eyes to the living truth. 
Such types do not seek the truth in the universe or in nature, but in 
comparisons between texts!" 

Simon Mayr (Marius) from Gunzenhausen, the physician and mathe- 


matician to the margrave of Ansbach, began a priority dispute with 
Galileo on the question of the moons of Jupiter. 

Kepler, who at that time was living at Emperor Rudolf's court in 
Prague, wrote an enthusiastic letter dated April 19, 1610, and printed 
it in Prague together with Galileo's "Messenger of the Heavens." In his 
eyes, Galileo's discoveries were the most splendid confirmation of the 
Copernican theory of the moon (but also a refutation of Giordano Bruno's 
"terrible philosophy" of the plurality of the worlds, and curiously enough, 
a new proof of the privileged position of the earth and its inhabitants!). 

At a time when the mountains of the earth had not yet been measured, 
Galileo measured the mountains on the moOn and wrote to the court of 
the Medici: "I am full of infinite astonishment and also infinite gratitude 
to God that it has pleased Him to make me alone the first observer of 
such wonderful things that in all the past centuries remained hidden." 

In his intoxication over his astronomical discoveries Galileo also re- 
nounced his "free" position with the Venetian Republic in order to 
become court philosopher to the absolutist Duke of Tuscany. For this 
reason he had baptized the moons of Jupiter Sidera Medicea, the Medici 
Stars. He offered his "hereditary prince and master" his future inventions 
if the latter would assure him one thousand scudi as an annual salary. 

He was annoyed by his double intellectual bookkeeping; he did not 
want to go on publicly drinking the water of Ptolemy and secretly drink- 
ing the wine of Copernicus. He was fed up with doing astrological work 
for money; he was fed up with keeping boarders, even if they were 
princes; he was fed up with teaching students. He had neither enough 
time nor money, at Padua. From his fortieth year on he was also tor- 
mented by his "sinister companion," a malicious rheumatism. 

On September 12, 1610, he moved to Florence. Experienced eroticists 
and Galileo's biographers have made Marina Gamba responsible for the 
fact that he left Padua in a manner resembling flight. Actually he did 
terminate his relation with her at that time; a few years later Marina 
married Signor Bartoluzzi, and Bartoluzzi later took money from Signor 
Galileo on several occasions. Galileo took his daughters to Florence to live 
with his mother; Marina kept the four-year-old son. 

Padua and Venice were displeased at Galileo's sudden departure. In 
his haste he forgot to give official notice that he was abandoning his 
professorship. Procurator Priuli says in his chronicles that he never wanted 
to hear the name of Galileo again. Sagredo, a friend of Galileo's, wrote 
sorrowfully : "I am extremely worried that you should be in a place where 
the fathers of the Society of Jesus enjoy high esteem." 

Then Galileo discovered "a new extraordinary marvel." On July 30 


he wrote from Padua that Saturn was formed of three stars; later he 
saw "two handles of Saturn." (The ring of Saturn was discovered only 
in 1655, by Christian Huygens.) 

At the beginning of 1611 Galileo published his discovery of the phases 
of Venus. According to the Copernican system these had to exist. But 
to the naked eye Venus had always appeared round. Lacking better 
proof, Copernicus had counted upon God's eventual help. With his tele- 
scope Galileo was able to see the sickle-like shape of Venus. 

At the beginning of 1611 he discovered the spots and protuberances 
on the sun. Soon he deduced that the sun rotated. For the first time the 
rotation Copernicus ascribed to the earth appeared visibly in a heavenly 

Christoph Scheiner, a Jesuit father at Ingolstadt, Thomas Harriot at 
Isleworth and Johann Fabricius at Osteel in Friesland discovered the 
sunspots independently of Galileo. 

The entire Roman College in Rome denied Galileo's discoveries. 
Jesuits and Dominicans threatened to condemn the whole Copernican 
school. In March, 1611, Galileo went to Rome to defend the Copernican 
system against its threatened stigmatization as heresy. He was allowed 
to kiss the Pope's feet. After a conversation with Galileo about the motion 
of the earth, Cardinal Bellarmin, an important member of the Inquisi- 
tion, said to the Tuscan ambassador: "We have the greatest regard for 
everything concerning the serenissime duke, but should Galileo go too 
far here, it will be impossible not to call him to account." 

Shortly before Galileo's departure a note was published in the record 
of the session of the Inquisition held on May 17 to the effect that it should 
be checked whether the name of Galileo was mentioned in the trial of a 
certain professor suspected of heresy. 

Such was the triumph of the scientist in papal Rome — he was imme- 
diately declared suspect by the Inquisition! 

Galileo who saw only his triumph, and not the beginning of his perse- 
cution by the ecclesiastical secret police, declared (in his Discourse on 
the bodies that float on water, 1611) that Aristotle's authority had no 
validity whatsoever in physics. 

In his Letters on the Sunspots in 1613, Galileo demanded the liberation 
of astronomy from the chaos of epicycles and excentrics. This time he 
had not hurried to publish his findings. Fabricius and later Scheiner had 
made the same discovery public as early as 1612. In these letters Galileo 
attacked Scheiner's priority claims and anti-Copernicanism. Thereupon 
the whole Society of Jesus declared war upon Galileo. It had ordered 
that Aristotle be strictly defended in a decree of 1593. 


Thomas Campanella wrote from his dungeon in the kingdom of Naples 
to Galileo: "All the philosophers in the world receive their law from 
your pen, because it is impossible to philosophize truly without a sure 
system of the world structure." 

Only in Italian jails did one speak so freely, and only this one impris- 
oned Dominican who was a martyr of freedom; he had allegedly wanted 
to liberate Naples from Spanish tyranny and for twenty-seven years had 
sat in Neapolitan dungeons; when Naples released him, the Inquisition 
locked him up for three more years in order to test him! 

Galileo's friends admonished him to be cautious; his enemies quoted 
the passages in the Bible that speak against the motion of the earth. On 
All Souls' Day 1612, a mendicant monk named Niccolo Lorini preached 
from the pulpit against Galileo's theories. 

Galileo, too, intervened in the struggle of the theologians against the 
laws of nature. At the Grand Duke's table someone asked once more 
whether the Medici Stars were real or an invention of Galileo's. In her 
own room Christine of Lorraine, the Duke's dowager, asked Pater 
Castelli, who was professor of mathematics at Pisa upon Galileo's recom- 
mendation, whether the Holy Scripture did not contradict the idea of 
the motion of the earth. Castelli defended Galileo before the Princess and 
informed him of the discussion. 

Thereupon Galileo wrote his long letter "On bringing the Holy Scrip- 
tures into scientific discussions" (December 21, 1613). The Holy Scrip- 
tures cannot lie or err, he said. But its interpreters can err, especially the 
literal ones. It was blasphemy, he went on, even heresy, to believe that 
God had hands, feet, eyes, that He felt anger, hatred, remorse, that He 
sometimes forgot the past or did not know the future. The Holy Scrip- 
tures are the last place to look for a statement of the natural laws. The 
theologians wanted to make science a handmaiden of religion, but Galileo 
advised against interpreting the Scriptures in such a way that they agreed 
with the laws of nature. "The Holy Scripture and nature," he says, "are 
emanations of God's word; the former was dictated by the Holy Ghost; 
the latter is the executrix of God's commands." 

On the fourth Sunday of Advent in 1614, Father Tommaso Caccini, 
like Lorini a Dominican of the Savonarola monastery, attacked Galileo 
and Copernicus from the pulpit. He termed mathematics a devilish art, 
and the mathematicians the originators of all heresies. He demanded 
that they be driven out of every country. It is said that his sermon began 
with the words from the Acts of the Apostles: "Ye men of Galilee, why 
stand ye gazing into Heaven?" 


In view of the growing threat against free science and this denunciation 
of Galileo, his friends advised him to be cautious. 

At this time, a copy of Galileo's letter to Father Castelli on the Bible 
and science fell into the hands of the Jesuits; they transmitted it to 
Father Lorini who sent it to the Roman Inquisition together with a 
denunciation. The Jesuits hoped that the Inquisition would at least con- 
demn Copernicus' book and doctrine. 

Shortly afterwards the bishop of Fiesole resumed the attacks and threats 
against Galileo in the cathedral in Florence. 

On February 25, the Roman Inquisition deliberated on Father Lorini's 
denunciation. Galileo's letter, we read in the short announcement of this 
meeting, contains erroneous assertions about the meaning and interpre- 
tation of the Holy Scriptures. 

Meanwhile Father Caccini had arrived in a Roman monastery and 
expressed the wish to make a deposition before the Inquisition "in order 
to unburden his conscience." The Pope gave orders that he be heard. On 
March 20, 1615, Caccini appeared before the Commissioner General of 
the Roman Inquisition. "I wish to inform the Holy Office of a public 
rumor that Galileo holds the following two propositions to be true: The 
earth moves as a whole with relation to itself, and also in daily motion. 
The sun is motionless. According to my conscience and understanding, 
these propositions contradict the divine Scriptures as they are interpreted 
by the Holy Fathers, and therefore contradict the faith." Moreover, he 
said, Galileo was personally suspect, because he was a good friend of and 
corresponded with that terrible Fra Paolo Sarpi of the Servite Order, 
who was notorious in Venice for his godlessness and had a hand in the 
expulsion of the Jesuits. 

During the following session the Pope ordered that a copy of the 
record be sent to the Florentine Inquisitor and that the latter question 
Father Lorini and Father Ximenes, Caccini's witnesses. 

Meanwhile Galileo heard vague rumors of the secret proceedings 
against him or Copernicus, and sent his friends in Rome his letter to 
Castejli, asking them to show it to Cardinal Bellarmin. In his innocence 
Galileo feared that he was being judged on the basis of a falsified copy. 
Soon his friends answered him that his letter had displeased various 
princes of the church, who advised him to confine himself to mathematical 
analyses. Monsignor Dini wrote Galileo that Cardinal Bellarmin did not 
think Copernicus would be prohibited, but that only a few sentences 
would be inserted in order to explain the hypothetical character of his 
theory. "Write freely," Dini wrote, "but stay outside the vestry." 

Galileo immediately answered his Roman friends that it was impossible 


to "moderate" Copernicus, that "one had either to condemn him entirely 
or leave him as he was." 

In the interests of the church he composed an apology of the Copernican 
theory against false exegetists, his "Letter to the Dowager Grand Duchess 
of Tuscany." Here he wrote: "If it were enough to close an individual's 
mouth in order to eliminate this view and doctrine from the world, this 
could be done extraordinarily easily; but this is not the case; in order to 
carry out such a decision not only Copernicus' book -and the writings of 
other authors adhering to the same theory would have to be prohibited, 
but also the entire science of astronomy, and even more, the people them- 
selves would have to be forbidden to look at the heavens." 

Galileo's friends advised caution, and he postponed publication of his 
"Letter." He did this all the more willingly because at the same time a 
clever and fearless advocate of his theses came forth, who in addition to 
other advantages enjoyed the privilege of being a clergyman. When 
"The Letter of the Carmelite Monk Paolo Antonio Foscarini to Sebastian 
Fantoni, the General of his Order, about the view of the Pythagoreans 
and Copernicus" was published at Naples, its author happened to be in 
Rome as a preacher by order of his superiors. Foscarini believed in the 
truth of the Copernican theory. It had made a hundred fictions superflu- 
ous and simplified the theory of the structure of the world. And Galileo's 
discoveries and Kepler's laws were its most beautiful confirmations. Fos- 
carini only wanted to eliminate its apparent contradictions with the 
Scriptures. "His letter could not be published at a more favorable mo- 
ment," Prince Cesi wrote to Galileo. 

Upon receiving his publication Cardinal Bellarmin answered Foscarini 
that he did not believe in the existence of proofs of the motion of the 
earth; that Solomon had written: the sun rises and sets and goes back to 
its place ... but that concerning the sun and the earth no sensible 
person needs to correct an error because he clearly perceives that the 
earth is motionless and that the eye is not deceived when it judges that 
the moon and the stars are moving." 

Foscarini sent a copy of this first quasi-official pronouncement in the 
great dispute to Galileo, who "at that time was surrounded by physicians 
and medicines." 

Meanwhile the Florentine Inquisitor questioned Caccini's witnesses. 
Lorini referred to Ximenes; Ximenes referred to the priest Attavanti, 
saying that the latter was a pupil of Galileo's, and that in his cell he had 
heard Attavanti advance heretical propositions to the prior, propositions 
which doubtless originated with Galileo. Attavanti swore that he was 
neither a pupil of Galileo's nor knew him personally. The allegedly 


heretical propositions of Galileo that Father Ximenes had overheard 
were propositions from St. Thomas' disputations. 

After the minutes of the Florentine proceedings were read in the 
palace of the Roman Inquisition, the cardinals ordered only that "certain 
letters of Galileo, which have been published in Rome under the title 
of Delle macchie solari / on sunspots / be investigated." 

On December 3, 1615, Galileo (perhaps warned by Attavanti) went 
of his own free will to Rome, resolved to fight for the Copernican system. 
In Rome he soon realized that in this fight he stood alone. 

Guicciardini, the Tuscan ambassador, who was supposed to take care 
of Galileo's personal needs and furnish him with an apartment in his own 
house, a secretary, a servant and a mule, wrote to Florence: ". . . and this 
is not a country in which one can dispute about the moon. . . ." 

After only a few weeks in Rome Galileo realized that he was entangled 
in a devilish net. On February 6, 1616, he wrote: "My business is entirely 
settled, in so far as my own person is concerned . . . but because my private 
affair is connected with another one, which does not concern me more 
than any of the others who for the last eighty years have adhered to a 
certain view and theory and who are the subject of discussions, and 
because I may be able to be helpful in so far as the outcome depends on 
the knowledge of scientific truth, I cannot and must not fail to give this 
help, to which I am urged by my conscience as a zealous and Catholic 
Christian." Thus Galileo was already afraid of mentioning Copernicus' 
name in his letters. Galileo and the Copernican theory had already become 
the objects of an Inquisitorial trial. 

Galileo hoped in vain "to get the better of the clerics in Rome" (as 
Guicciardini wrote with equal contempt for Galileo's Quixotism and the 
ignorance of the clergy) and ran from one cardinal to the other, even 
receiving the denunciator Caccini in his home (during this visit he 
laughed at Caccini's ignorance, and Caccini laughing at Galileo's naivete, 
sounded him out). And while the famous fifty-year-old scientist vainly 
proved the laws of nature and the existence of the stars before the great, 
he became a playball for the snobs and scoffers, and his theory was de- 
clared absurd and heretical by the church. 

In the last days of 1615 Galileo was still allowed to expound his views 
on the connection between the tides and the motion of the earth to his 
eminent patron, a twenty-two-year-old fop named Orsini (Cardinal 
Orsini!). At the young man's invitation he wrote down his explanations 
and they became the basis for his "Dialogue on the world systems"— 
a skillfully expounded error, which Galileo considered the most irre- 
futable proof of the motion of the earth. 


In Rome Galileo's hopeless isolation in his struggle for the recognition 
of the Copernican theory made itself felt with increasing sharpness. 
Several cardinals warned him. He continued trying to enlighten them, 
but only succeeded in wearying them. His bold plan called for con- 
verting the Pope to Copernicanism. He induced his young friend Cardinal 
Orsini to speak with Paul V. On February 20, Galileo wrote a hopeful 
letter to Florence; on the previous day, by order of the Pope, the In- 
quisition submitted the following two propositions to the examination 
of all the theologians of the Holy Office: (1) "The sun is the center 
of the world and entirely motionless as regards spatial motion." (2) 
"The earth is not the center of the world and is not motionless, but 
moves with regard to itself and in daily motion." 

The Inquisition took this nonsensical formulation from the informer 

The Congregatio Qualificationis sat on February 23. On February 24 
the youthful Cardinal Orsini is said to have spoken on behalf of Galileo 
in the papal consistory. The Pope merely replied that Orsini should 
rather advise his protege to renounce his opinions. When Orsini in- 
sisted, the Pope cut him short and declared that he would submit the 
matter to the Holy Office. 

On the same day the report on the propositions that had been examined 
was turned in. As for the first of these, all the wise men declared that 
it was foolish, philosophically absurd and formally heretical, in so far as 
it explicitly contradicted many passages of the Holy Scriptures literally 
and according to the unanimous interpretation of the Holy Fathers and 
the theological doctors. As for the second proposition, the same authori- 
ties declared that from a philosophical point of view it was just as cen- 
surable and with regard to the theological truth was at least erroneous 
in religion. Eleven theologians, for the most part Dominicans, had signed 
this opinion. 

The "Report on the Assertions of the Mathematician Galileo" was 
submitted to the Inquisition on February 25; it was a sword against the 
Copernician theory. 

At first the Inquisition proceeded against Galileo, the alleged advocate 
of the condemned propositions (which derived neither from him nor 
from Copernicus, but were based on Caccini's gibberish). Immediately 
after the report was read, Pope Paul V ordered Cardinal Bellarmin to 
summon Galileo and demand that he give up the views outlined in the 
propositions; if he refused, the Commissioner of the Inquisition was to 
command him before a notary and witnesses to refrain from teaching 


or advocating such views or discussing them; if he did not submit to 
this command, he was to be thrown into jail. 

On the following day, February 26, 1616, Galileo appeared in Cardinal 
Bellarmin's palace. In the presence of the Commissioner of the Holy 
Office the cardinal pointed out the errors of his views and advised him 
to give them up. 

Galileo declared that he submitted. 

Thus ended the proceedings of the Inquisition on the basis of Lorini's 
and Caccini's denunciations. 

Now the Index Congregation proceeded against Copernicus. During 
the session of the Holy Office of March 3, 1616, the decree of the Con- 
gregation against the writings of Copernicus and his adherents was 
read and its publication ordered by the Magister of S. Palatium. The 
decree against Copernicus repeated the report of the theologians but 
left out the word "heretical." It ran as follows: "Whereas it has come 
to the knowledge of the Holy Congregation that the false Pythagorean 
theory of the motion of the earth and the immobility of the sun, which 
runs completely counter to the divine Scriptures and which Nicolaus 
Copernicus teaches in his book 'De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium' 
and Didacus a. Stunica in his 'J°b,' has spread and been accepted by 
many, as can be seen from the printed letter of a certain Carmelite monk 
entided Lettera del R. P. Maestro Paolo Antonio Foscarini Carmelitano, 
sopra I'opinione del Pittagorici e del Copernico della mobilita della Terra 
e stabilita del Sole, e il nuovo Pittagorico Sistema del Mondo. In Napoli 
per Lazzaro Scorriggio, 1615, in which the above-mentioned Father 
tried to show that the said theory of the immobility of the sun in the 
centre of the world and the mobility of the earth conforms to the 
truth and does not contradict the Holy Scriptures: Therefore, in order 
that such an opinion not continue to stalk the land and bring about the 
perdition of Catholic truth, the Congregation resolved that the above- 
named books of Copernicus 'De revolutionibus orbium' and Didacus a 
Stunica on 'Job' be suspended (usque corrigatur) until they are corrected, 
and entirely to forbid and condemn the book of the Carmelite P. Paulus 
Antonius Foscarini, and to forbid all the other books that teach the same 
thing, as all of them are by the present decree respectively forbidden, 
condemned and suspended." 

This decree was preceded by an explicit reminder of the general regu- 
lations: "No one of whatever rank and position, under the penalties 
provided for by the Council of Trent and the Index of forbidden books, 
is allowed to undertake to print or publish the said writings, to possess 
these in any form or to read them, and, under the same penalties, those 


who at present possess or will in the future possess these writings, are 
bound, as soon as they have learned of the present decree, to deliver 
them to the ordinarii or Inquisitors concerned." 

This decree was published on March 5, 1616, under the heading "To 
be published everywhere!" Copies of it were sent to all the Inquisitors 
and apostolic nuncios. 

In a circular letter Cardinal Sfondrati emphasized that the books in 
question were highly dangerous. The Pope in person, he wrote, had 
ordered them to be prohibited; the rules of the Index must be strictly 
observed and the Inquisition must be informed immediately if a sus- 
picious book was discovered anywhere. 

Cardinal Gaetani was assigned the noble task of improving Copernicus. 

Galileo stayed for some time in Rome in order to prove to all the 
world that he himself had been neither condemned nor punished, as 
certain rumors in Florence and Venice pretended. He was allowed to kiss 
the Pope's feet. He waited in Rome until the arrival of Cardinal Medici 
and was allowed to kiss the rim of his cloak in the garden of the Villa 

Before Galileo left Rome he asked Cardinal Bellarmin for a testimonial 
against his slanderers. The cardinal attested "that Galileo did not abjure 
to him, nor, in so far as he knew, to anyone else, in Rome or elsewhere, 
any opinion or theory he held, and that neither salutary nor any other 
penance was imposed upon him; he was only informed of the declaration 
issued by His Holiness and published by the Index Congregation, which 
says that the theory ascribed to Copernicus, according to which the 
earth turns around the sun and the sun is in the renter of the world 
without moving from east to west, runs counter to the Holy Scriptures 
and therefore must not be defended nor held to be true." 

Rehabilitated as a Christian, ruined as a scientist, discredited as a 
man, Galileo returned. He was full of hatred, anger and contempt. A 
few months later he wrote in a confidential letter: "I believe that there 
is no greater hatred in the world than the hatred of ignorance for 

Three years after the much publicized decree of Rome against Coper- 
nicus, the third edition of the Copernican "Revolutions" prepared by 
Mulerius was published in Amsterdam; it does not mention Rome's 

Only in 1620 did the church publish the indispensable corrections of 
the "Revolutions," nine in all, to the effect that the earth was not allowed 
to move, that it was not a planet, and similar pious wishes of the church. 

True, there was some limit to this censorship. The national, linguistic 


and religious fetters on science had been partially broken. Astronomy 
took refuge in Protestant countries. The Roman censorship stopped 
neither the Copernican theory nor the motion of the earth — it only 
succeeded in hampering the development of science in the Catholic 
countries, especially in Italy. 

Old Maestlin exclaimed bitterly : "Are there not at least a few among 
the cardinals who are versed in mathematics and astronomy?" And 
further: "Have the authors of the censorship decree ever seen Copernicus' 
work or do they even know when and whether he lived? They dis- 
cover in a letter of a brave Carmelite monk that Copernicus' views are 
beginning to spread, and then they condemn a work of truly super- 
human labor. . . ." Maestlin refused to speak of Foscarini and Didacus 
a Stunica — he did not know them. But to correct Copernicus? "Who is 
supposed to do it? Copernicus himself who has not been among the 
living for more than seventy years? More enduring and stronger than 
Copernicus himself was his astronomy — Kepler's work proved this. Thus 
it can be justly said that the condemnation of those censors and the judg- 
ment of a blind man on colors are of equal value." 

In 1618, without having heard of the Roman censorship decree, Kepler 
published the first part of his "Outline of the Copernican Astronomy," 
which was immediately suspended in Rome. Kepler learned of this 
only through Galileo's request to Archduke Leopold for a copy of 
Kepler's suspended work. Kepler at once wrote to Johannes Remus, the 
archduke's physician in ordinary and mathematician: "I beg you most 
urgently to send me a copy of that condemnation and to let me know 
whether it would endanger the author if he went to Italy and whether 
he would be asked to recant. I am also anxious to know whether this 
condemnation will also be valid in Austria. Should this be the case, I 
would not only be unable to find a printer in Austria but ... it will also 
be intimated to me that I must renounce my teaching of astronomy now, 
that I have become almost aged lecturing on that science, without ever 
being opposed; finally, I will have to give up my stay in Austria if here 
too no room is left for the freedom of science." 

Immediately after the decree of 1616 against Copernicus the Neapolitan 
printer of Foscarini's prohibited letter was thrown into jail. "He is being 
prosecuted," the cardinal of Naples wrote to the Roman Grand In- 
quisitor. "That is what I call well done!" the Roman Grand Inquisitor 
wrote to the cardinal of Naples. 

The Inquisition was storming the Copernican heaven. In its left hand 
it held the pitch-torch with which, it lighted the stake; in its right hand 
it brandished the clattering censorship scissors of the Index. From the 


wide holes of its fluttering monk's cowl peeped contented litde Aris- 
totelian gargoyles and Ptolemaic elves. All around it things stood still, 
the earth, the sciences arid mankind. 

The burning of the Copernican Giordano Bruno in 1600, the con- 
demnation of the Copernican Foscarini in 1616, the correction of Coper- 
nicus' Revolutions which was for all practical purposes a prohibition, the 
attempt at intellectual assassination' of the most famous Copernican, the 
Florentine court philosopher Galileo, all these were death sentences 
against intellectual life in the Catholic world. 

Only from the Neapolitan jail came the solitary voice of the imprisoned 
martyr of freedom, Thomas Campanella, loudly protesting against the 
enslavement of Europe. In 1623 his Apologia pro Galileo printed in 
Germany came to Rome, and was forbidden. 

The denunciator Caccini called the partisans of Galileo "prigs" (bell' 
ingegno). Trembling they now fell silent, and with them trembled the 
freedom of the mind, and the Muses, too, fell silent. With the decree 
against Copernicus began the intellectual vacuum, the "de-spiritualiza- 
tion" of Italy. 

Galileo remained silent for seven years. His conscience was sick, and 
this made his body sick. He was a devout Catholic; he had said so often 
enough; he wanted to remain one. 

"Ignorance, envy and malice, the too-powerful architects of my fate," 
he wrote twelve days before his submission in 1616. Two years later he 
wrote the Archduke Leopold in Innsbruck about "that Copernican theory 
I once deemed true, a poet's dream, a nothing, to which I clung as some- 
times poets cling to their fantasies." Now he had to acquiesce in the deeper 
insights of his superiors! 

Then again the heavens intervened and there appeared the three 
terrible comets of the fall of 1618, the first year of the Thirty Years' 
War. Christendom expected the usual terrors and interpretations. People 
looked to Galileo. He was silent. Finally, one of his disciples published 
his theory of comets. The Jesuit Father F. Grassi of the Roman College 
published two works against it. In the name of the College he reproached 
Galileo with ingratitude and error, referred maliciously to the telescope 
as "not his /Galileo's/ child, to be sure, but still his pupil," and threatened 
him with a censorship decree. 

In 1623 Galileo finally replied with his "Assayer" (77 Saggiatore). 
Just as Pascal in his Lettres Provinciates fought against the moral dis- 
honesty of the Jesuits, so Galileo fought here against their intellectual 

The Dominican Father Niccolo Riccardi, the censor of the Inquisition 


who granted permission to print the "Assayer," wrote that he considered 
himself happy to be born in the age of Galileo and visited the great man 
in Florence. 

Both Galileo and Grassi were wrong in their theories of comets. But 
Galileo wanted to hit the Jesuits, the enemies of modern science; he 
wanted to ridicule the old pedantic methods of the Aristotelians and 
Scholastics. In this most extensive of his pamphlets he refuted the enemy, 
proposition by proposition, at the cost of three years' labor. "Woe to me!" 
he exclaims, "and I do not even notice that the hours are flying by, and 
waste my time on such childish nonsense!" 

In 1623 Urban VIII was elected Pope. For a long time he had been an 
admirer of Galileo; now he had parts of the "Assayer" read to him and 
graciously accepted its dedication. Galileo's friends foresaw a "regime of 
the arts and sciences," and a "supreme Maecenas," and Galileo finally 
took new hope. At the age of sixty he had not yet completed his main 
work "On the System of the World" for reasons of censorship; after all, 
he did not wish to teach against the Church, he wanted to convert the 
Church to Copernicanism! 

To his favorite daughter in the monastery at Arcetri he sent a whole 
bundle of letters that the Pope had addressed to him in former times; the 
enthusiastic daughter who had chosen her father's name as the name 
of her favorite saint was enraptured when she read how the Holy Father 
admired her father. 

Once again Galileo was determined to convert the Pope! 

The Pope asked Prince Cesi: "Is Galileo coming? When will he come?" 
Galileo was ill, the winter was severe; in April, 1624, he finally made the 
trip. He kissed the Holy Father's feet. Urban VIII granted him six 
audiences, and gave him gifts, agnus dei tokens, commemorative medals 
and a pension for his son, Vincenzio. 

At Galileo's suggestion, Cardinal Zollern, chief of the German mis- 
sion, told the Holy Father how much harm was done to the reputation 
of the Catholic Church in the Lutheran countries by its prohibition of 
the Copernican theory. Urban replied that the Church had not con- 
demned it as heretical and would not do so, but only as foolhardy; more- 
over, that there was no fear that any compelling proof of its truth would 
ever be found. 

At the age of sixty Galileo suddenly became afraid of death. He had 
dined gaily with the Cavalier d'Este; three days later Este was dead; 
a spur, writes Galileo, a warning to me, too, that time is rapacious! 

So he returned home. The Pope sent a brief to Tuscany: "For a long 



time we have extended our fatherly love to this great man whose fame 
shines in heaven and marches on earth." 

Galileo who is said to have been Urban's teacher at Pisa thought he 
had a friend in him. In a "Letter to Francesco Ingoli," an anti-Coper- 
nican Jesuit, Galileo wrote in 1624: "In natural things man's authority 
is not valid. . . . Nature, Sir, scorns the orders and decrees of princes, 
emperors and monarchs, and will not change an iota of its laws and orders 
by their command. Aristotle was a man, he saw with his eyes, listened 
with his ears and thought with his brain. I am a man, I see with my 
eyes, and much more than he did; as for thinking, I believe that he 
thought about more things than I have; but whether he thought more 
or better than I about the things that were objects of thought for both 
of us — this will be shown by our reasoning and not by our authorities." 

In 1626 Galileo bought himself a villa, at Arcetri, one mile from Florence, 
in order to be close to his two daughters in their convent, especially 
his favorite, the gifted, cheerful, charming Suor Maria Celeste, who 
from her poor cell sent her father flowers, delicacies, little gifts and tender 
letters, receiving letters and little gifts in return. As his old pupils dis- 
persed, Galileo constantly won new ones. His correspondence spread all 
over Europe and increasingly revealed his encyclopaedic interests. 

In April, 1630, he finally completed his main work, his Dialogo dei 
due massimi sistemi del mondo, Dialogue of the two greatest world 

He was sixty-six years old and he thought his time had come. Until 
then he had published only pamphlets and occasional writings. His pupils 
were already university professors and were giving public lectures about 
him. He was the chief of the modern school in Europe. He was the great 
enemy of the Aristotelians, the scholastics and the reactionaries. He had 
become the representative man of his century, and his greatest work 
was still in manuscript form. 

In his Dialogue three characters converse about the systems of the 
world: Salviati, Sagredo and Simplicio. They are in the palace of a 
Venetian nobleman, they sail in a gondola, they read and they argue. 
Salviati and Sagredo are portraits of two of Galileo's deceased friends. 
Salviati is the spokesman for the Copernican theory; Sagredo, with his 
common sense, his buon naturale, is the mediator between Salviati and 
Simplicio, the Copernican and the Aristotelian; Simplicio is so named 
after the famous Sicilian commentator on Aristotle, Simplicius; he is 
a scholastic and defends the systems of Aristotle and Ptolemy. 

Galileo wrote this book in a popular manner. He wanted to prove 


the truth of the Copernican system and defend it against all the argu- 
ments of the old school. 

These dialogues give us hardly any astronomical discoveries, in con- 
trast to Kepler's "Outline of the Copernican Astronomy" published 
a few years earlier. Indeed, here, as throughout his life, Galileo ignores 
Kepler's planetary laws. In Kepler's eyes, these were the main things; 
the arguments in favor of the motion of the earth were most important 
in Galileo's view; Kepler produced such arguments only incidentally. 

The great merit of these dialogues is that they founded the new 
physics. Aristotle, in his physics, determined the nature and mechanics 
of the heavens assuming that the earth was motionless. Galileo created 
the new mechanics and dynamics of the heavens assuming that the 
earth moved. Here he presents the new science coherently, as applied to 
the Copernican theory. And he taught that scientific knowledge permits 
human reason to partake of divine reason. The Inquisition termed this 
idea heretical. Indeed, this idea implied the concept of unlimited progress, 
although it was also responsible for the fragmentary nature of Galileo's 

Galileo grasped the philosophical, moral and scientific revolutions 
initiated by Copernicus. 

Urban VIII once said casually to Thomas Campanella who, finally 
released from thirty years' imprisonment, had come to Rome in 1629 and 
been graciously received by the Pope: "If it had depended upon us, that 
decree [of 1616] would not have been issued." And to Cardinal Zollern 
he said: "Out of sheer respect for the memory of Copernicus I would 
not have permitted his condemnation, if I had been Pope at that time!" 

Galileo heard of this and went to Rome with his manuscript. He 
arrived on May 3, 1630, and during an audience with the Pope explained 
the intention of his book: he wanted to produce all the existing proofs 
of the Copernican theory in order to show the world that Rome had 
not acted from ignorance when it condemned the Copernican theory. 

Urban demanded that the book contain no theological considerations; 
that the Copernican system be represented only as a mathematical hy- 
pothesis; that Galileo clearly stress the purpose of the dialogues, that is, 
to make it clear that Rome had not acted from ignorance of the Coper- 
nican proofs and that he replace the title "Dialogues About the Ebb and 
Flow of the Tides" by another. 

Galileo found it hardest of all to renounce his title; as is often the 
case in such matters, he clung to his false hypotheses about the tides 
more passionately than to many of his correct discoveries. He submitted 


his manuscript to the censorship of Riccardi, Master of the Sacred Palace, 
who received the Pope's instructions. 

Galileo was also willing to write a preface and conclusion recognizing 
the omniscience of the Church without reservations. Riccardi demanded 
only minor changes; Galileo gave his consent, and Riccardi his im- 
primatur. Since the title and certain passages still had to be modified, 
the permission could only be conditional. 

Galileo entrusted his friend Cesi with the printing, returned home 
contented and soon afterward received the news of Cesi's death and a 
warning from his friend Castelli advising him to publish his book in 
Florence, "and as soon as possible . . . and for many cogent reasons 
that I do not wish at present to trust to paper." 

On September 11, the Florentine Inquisition put its imprimatur under 
the Roman one, but to Galileo's request to Riccardi for permission from 
the Roman Inquisition to print the book in Florence, the Master of the 
Sacred Palace replied that he had to undertake a new revision and asked 
for the manuscript or a copy of it. 

The horrified Galileo wrote that the plague and the quarantine made 
it almost impossible to send such a bulky manuscript to Rome and asked 
permission to send only the introduction and conclusion, adding that 
these could be changed at will. 

Thanks to the tender solicitude of the wife of the Tuscan ambassador, 
Niccolini, Riccardi agreed to Galileo's proposal, provided that an expert 
theologian of the Dominican order revised the manuscript in Florence. 
Months went by. The introduction and conclusion did not return from 
Rome nor did Father Stefani, the consultant of the Florentine Inquisition, 
receive the order to revise the manuscript from Rome. 

Meanwhile the winter passed. "And so my work is in a trap," wrote 
Galileo, "my life is passing away, and I spend it in constant pain." 

The Grand Duke of Tuscany began to exert pressure on Riccardi. 
Riccardi, just as he had done before with Galileo, fed the Grand Duke 
with vague promises and put the matter off from one day to the next. 
He obviously feared unpleasantness for Galileo and himself, and said so 
in one of his letters. 

"This is not easy to bear!" wrote Galileo. Riccardi's letters gave him 
the feeling that he was sailing an ocean without shore or harbor. Only 
the Grand Duke, he said, could still help him. He resolutely rejected 
a remark made by Niccolini that "his opinions were disliked." "For 
the opinions that are disliked," wrote Galileo, "are not my own, and my 
own are those which are professed by St. Augustine, St. Thomas and 
all the other Holy Fathers." 


Finally, by the end of May, the Florentine Inquisitor received the con- 
ditions for printing the manuscript; he was allowed to proceed inde- 
pendently of the Roman revision and to give or refuse his imprimatur. 

He gave it. The title and a few expressions were changed. A few weeks 
later the printing began. But months still had to pass before Riccardi 
sent in the revised introduction and conclusion. Riccardi wrote the 
Florentine Inquisitor that according to the Pope's order this revised 
introduction had to tally with the conclusion, and that Mr. Galileo might 
add the reasons communicated to him by His Holiness and based on 
God's omnipotence, intended to appease the understanding, if it could 
not escape from the Pythagorean reasons by other means. 

Urban had asked Galileo: "Cannot God, by virtue of His infinite power 
and wisdom, give the element of water the alternating motion that we 
observe in it, by any other manner than by moving the bottom of the 

sea?" . 

Galileo put this question in the mouth of Simplicio at the end of his 
dialogue and makes one of his characters answer him as follows: "If 
the assumption of a miracle is indispensable, we shall move the earth 
by miracle and consequently the sea in a natural manner." 

In February, 1632, the book was published with the double imprimatur 
of Rome and Florence. The preface inserted upon the insistence of the 
Church authorities contradicted the book both in its tone and in its 
contents, just as Osiander's preface had contradicted the Revolutions. 
Copernicus had been done violence by the Nurembergers. Galileo sacri- 
ficed his conscience voluntarily. He thought he had the right to be 
Jesuitical with regard to the Jesuits. But his circumspection did not do 
him any good. n 

In this preface he defends the decree of 1616 as a "salutary edict ;^ he 
celebrates Italy as the homeland of dogmas and keen discoveries "for 
the contentment of minds." 

The book at once aroused intense passions of love and hate. It made 
many readers feel, as Sagredo puts it in the dialogues, like liberated 
prisoners. Others took pleasure in the many physical experiments de- 
scribed, still others enjoyed the animated dialogue, the changing scenes, 
the comic situations, anecdotes and fairy-tales. The work gained im- 
mediate popularity and renown. Hugo Grotius declared that it could 
not be compared to any book of modern times while Thomas Campanella 
saw "the true system of the world assured." 

In the dialogues Galileo again ridiculed his old enemy, the Jesuit 
Father, Christoph Scheiner of Ingolstadt, as a plagiarist. It was said 
of this man that because he was secretly convinced of the truth of the 



Copernican world system, he publicly persecuted the Copernicans with 
particular fury. Later everyone held this Scheiner responsible for Galileo's 
second trial by the Inquisition. 

By the end of July Galileo learned that the Pope and the Inquisition 
were examining his dialogues. As early as August, 1632, only a few months 
after their publication, the Roman Inquisition forbade Galileo and 
Landini, the printer, to sell copies of the book. The remaining copies 
were to be handed over to the Inquisition. 

The Tuscan government, through its representative in Rome, im- 
mediately expressed its surprise that a book so thoroughly scrutinized 
before publication and approved by the Roman and Florentine Inquisitor 
should be suspended. Rome replied that out of regard for the Grand 
Duke the book had been submitted for investigation not to the Inquisition 
but to a special Congregation. 

The Jesuits in Rome were already circulating reports that the teachings 
expounded in the dialogues were most reprehensible, worse than all the 
heresies of Luther or Calvin; that despite all the submissive pious ad- 
ditions the book was still Copernican; that the censors had been bluffed 
by the preface and conclusion; and that Galileo had only made fun of 
them. Worst of all, they convinced the Pope that Galileo had held him 
up to ridicule in the character of Simplicio. Urban was an Aristotelian; 
he had often argued with Galileo about the Copernican theory, and 
could not fail to recognize his own arguments in many of Simplicio's 
arguments; in fact, Simplicio refutes the proof of the earth's motion by 
the existence of the tides with the Pope's own words, and makes it un- 
mistakably clear that he had adopted this counter-argument from an 
eminentissima persona. 
Urban VIII now made it his own business to persecute Galileo. 
On October 1 the Florentine Inquisitor summoned Galileo, and in 
the presence of a notary and witnesses informed him that he must appear 
before the Commissioner of the Inquisition in Rome before the end of 
the month. Galileo was horrified. He appealed to the Minister and to 
the Grand Duke. He was advised to obey. 

To Cardinal Barberini, a relative of the Pope, Galileo wrote: "When 
I think that the fruit of all my work and efforts now result in a subpoena 
by the Holy Office, such as is issued only to those found guilty of severe 
crimes, I am so affected that I curse the time I have spent on these 
studies, by which I hoped to rise somewhat above the beaten path of 
science. I regret that I have communicated part of my results to the 
world and I feel inclined to suppress and consign to the flames what I 


still have on hand, thus completely satisfying the wishes of my enemies to 
whom my ideas are so burdensome." 

Galileo asked that he be spared the trip to Rome on account of his 
advanced age — he had attained seventy years — and his many ailments, 
to which insomnia had now been added. The plague and the long 
quarantine, he said, would make this trip mortally dangerous for him. 
Could he not be granted an examination of his case by correspondence, 
or could he not be heard in Florence? Naturally he would travel if the 
authorities insisted on it, for he valued obedience to them higher than 
his own life. 

He won only a few weeks' delay by these entreaties. He was still tarry- 
ing in Florence when a second order was followed by a third one, even 
more peremptory. Now Galileo sent in the report of three highly reputed 
physicians, according to whom the slightest accident might cause the 
death of the sick and aging man. 

Urban VIII who was directing the proceedings against Galileo gave 
orders to inform the Florentine Inquisitor that His Holiness and the 
Holy Office could not tolerate any excuses, and that, if necessary, they 
would send a commissioner and a physician to examine Galileo. If they 
found him transportable they would bring him to Rome in chains as 
a prisoner. Should the trip really be dangerous for him because of his 
condition, "his intermittent pulse, weakened senses and humors, frequent 
spells of fainting, melancholies, weak stomach, insomnia, stitches in the 
side and severe rupture," that is, should a delay be found to be imperative, 
he would be brought to Rome in chains as a prisoner immediately upon 
his recovery or the elimination of immediate danger to his life. And 
Galileo himself was to pay the travelling expenses of the commissioner 
and the physician! 

The Grand Duke is said to have been indignant at the tone of this 
order, but he severely admonished Galileo to submit to the Pope. In the 
middle of the winter (January 26, 1633) he set out on his journey. 

He was surprised by the indictment. He had discussed his manuscript 
with the Pope and the Roman and Florentine Inquisitors, he had sub- 
mitted to their revisions on every point, he had obtained a double im- 
primatur, his book was formally justified and protected. If it nevertheless 
proved dangerous later, it could after all be prohibited. But the author 
was guilty of no crime — except the one that had been manufactured to 
do him injury. 

In 1812, the records of the Roman Inquisition concerning the trial of 
Galileo were transferred from Rome to Paris by order of Napoleon. 


They lay there for thirty-five years, but the French scholars published 
only a few pages of them, and these were injurious to Galileo's character. 
In 1847 the records were returned to Rome. Marini, the director of the 
papal archives, published extracts that Wohlwill, Galileo's biographer, 
called a falsification. In 1867, the greater part of the record was published 
by Henri de l'Epinois. It shows that the indictment of 1633 was based 
on a strange prohibition dated 1616. While the above-quoted document 
of February 25, 1616, confirms that Cardinal Bellarmin was supposed 
to send for Galileo and call upon him to renounce his opinion, and only if 
he refused, to forbid him to teach, defend or discuss it, and only if he did 
not comply with this, to put him in jail, a sinister document dated Feb- 
ruary 26, 1616, runs, on the contrary, as follows: "Friday, February 26, 
1616, in the palace of Cardinal Bellarmin, the cardinal . . . admonished 
the said Galileo to renounce the above-mentioned opinion, and im- 
mediately afterward ... the above-named Pater Commissarius ordered 
Galileo in the name of His Holiness the Pope and the whole Congrega- 
tion of the Holy Office to give up the above-mentioned opinion . . . 
wholly and entirely and furthermore never to hold it for true, or teach 
it or defend it in any way, in words or writings; otherwise the Holy 
Office would proceed against him; and Galileo accepted this order and 
promised to obey it. ..." * 

On February 25 the Pope had ordered that the complete prohibition 
be made only if Galileo refused to accept the first admonition. The 
report of February 26 contradicts all the depositions of Galileo and the 
testimony of Cardinal Bellarmin. According to this report Galileo prom- 
ised to obey at once. 

For this reason Wohlwill assumes that this document, although dated 
February 26, 1616, was actually written in 1632 and interpolated into 
the record. The first authentic report on this dangerous document dates 
from September 11, 1632; on that day Niccolini wrote to Florence that 
he had just learned from Riccardi under the seal of secrecy that "it was 
found in the archives that in 1616 the order had been given Galileo in 
the name of the Pope and the Inquisition to renounce any discussion 
of the Copernican theory. This alone, the ambassador added, was suf- 
ficient to ruin Galileo." 

It was sufficient. When a tangible proof of Galileo's guilt was lacking 
it was— found. Now the later permission granted by the Inquisition, the 
double imprimatur lost all value. The censors had given it without 
knowledge of the order of 1616. According to the indictment Galileo had 
fraudulently concealed this order. 

On February 3, 1633, after a long quarantine Galileo reached Rome 


in the Grand Duke's sedan chair— a mark of his favor. For the time 
being he was allowed to stop in the Tuscan ambassador's palace; but he 
was already under house arrest and forbidden to receive visitors. 

Only two months later, on April 12, was he summoned for the first 
questioning in the palace of the Inquisition. As in all Inquisition trials, 
what was in question was not the defense of the accused or the clarification 
of the facts, but a confession of guilt. If the accused confessed his guilt 
the Inquisition might order him to be burned and confiscate his pos- 
sessions; but if he failed to confess, he was burned and his possessions 
confiscated for that failure. 

Galileo was supposed to confess his guilt, that is to say, the violation 
of the forged order dated February 26, 1616. 

The technique of the Inquisition is well known. Galileo never saw 
the bill of indictment against him, he never saw the dubious record of 
the proceedings of February 26, 1616. His persecutors only alluded darkly 
to his dark guilt. Confess, they demanded, confess! Confess everything! 
What words had been used sixteen years before; which witnesses had 
been present at the time; what this one or that one had said according 
to the minutes, all these matters were discussed. At no point was Galileo's 
book or his theory discussed. 

Urban directed the examination of the defendant, he never presided 

at the trial. . 

During the first examination Galileo declared spontaneously that his 
dialogues did not defend the Copernican theory, but rather refuted it; 
that desirous of doing everything in the proper fashion he had submitted 
his manuscript to the Roman and Florentine Inquisitions and humbly 
accepted every change they suggested. True, he had not mentioned Bel- 
larmin's admonition, because, after all, it did not occur to him that it 
was applicable to this book in which he demonstrated the untenability 
of the Copernican arguments. And he submitted a copy of Bellarmin's 
testimonial of May, 1616, to the effect that no penalty had been imposed 
on Galileo and that only the text of the decree against Copernicus had 
been transmitted to him. 

Now the Inquisition kept Galileo in its palace as a prisoner,, from 
April 12 to April 30. He fell sick in jail, and appeared for the second 
examination completely broken. He declared that he had just reread his 
book for the first time in three years; that he had noticed that in certain 
passages he had been led astray by his pleasure in his own skill in de- 
bate, so that some arguments against Simplicio had turned out to be 
fairly cogent, even quite credible. But he intended, he said, to expand the 
book in order to make it quite clear that he did not then and did not now 



in any way share the condemned opinion that the earth moves. "Since 
on this occasion I will have to add one or two dialogues, I promise to 
take up again the arguments in favor of the opinion considered false and 
condemned and to refute them in the most conclusive manner that our 
merciful Lord will inspire in me. Accordingly I beg this high court to 
assist me in this good resolve and to enable me to carry it out." 

On April 30 he was allowed to return from the jail of the Inquisition 
to Ambassador Niccolini's palace where he remained under house arrest. 
He brought a document containing his defense to his third examination 
on May 10. He stated that the text of the order of 1616 was entirely new 
to him; that he had obeyed Bellarmin's order and that he would do every 
penance imposed upon him by the Holy Office. He asked the cardinals 
"to consider his wretched health and his constant anguish of heart during 
the last ten months, and the discomfort of his long hard trip during the 
worst season, at the age of seventy, and the fact that he had already lost 
the greater part of the year, and that all these sufferings were already a 
sufficient punishment for his errors which they should ascribe to his 
senility. He also recommended to them his honor and reputation against 
the slanders of his enemies intent upon besmirching his good name." 

Six weeks later he received his last summons, on June 21. Galileo ex- 
pected to be acquitted. The examining magistrate made him give the 
usual oath that he would speak the truth. He asked Galileo whether he 
had anything to say. Galileo answered: "I have nothing to say." 

Once again he was asked whether he held for true, had held for true 
and since when he had held for true that the sun was the center of the 
world and that the earth daily moved around it. 

Once again Galileo declared that before the decree of the Index in 
1616 he had held that both opinions, those of Ptolemy and of Copernicus, 
were worthy of consideration; after the decree "every doubt vanished 
from my mind, and I held and still hold Ptolemy's opinion that the 
earth is motionless and that the sun moves as absolutely true and in- 

Once again he was told that it was clear from his dialogues that even 
after that time he had believed in the motion of the earth; and he was 
asked freely to tell the truth: whether he now considered this opinion 
true or had considered it to be true. 

Galileo reiterated that after the decision of the authorities he had not 
considered the condemned opinion true. 

The judge reiterated that, nevertheless, the dialogues suggested that 
he did consider Copernicus' opinion true; and that if he did not make up 


his mind finally to confess the truth, the proper legal proceedings would 
be taken against him. 

Galileo declared: "I do not consider Copernicus' opinion true and have 
not considered it true, since I was ordered to renounce it; for the rest, 
I am here in your hands, do with me what you please." 

Once again the magistrate asked him to speak the truth, and said that 
if he did not, he would be tortured. 

Galileo replied: "I am here to submit, but I have not held this opinion 
for true since the decision, as I have said." 

According to the text of the minutes as it stands today he was there- 
upon sent back to his dungeon in the palace of the Inquisition. But the 
minutes seem to have been tampered with at this point. From the verdict 
against Galileo it can be inferred that at least the "first degree of torture," 
the territio realis, that is to say, a cross-examination in the torture chamber 
in view of the instruments of torture, was applied to him. 

Thus, by order of Pope Urban, the employees of the famous inter- 
national institute for torture displayed before the creator of modern 
mechanics their latest machines for dispensation of "justice" and explained 
to him in the minutest detail what parts of his flesh they would twinge 
and which of his bones they would break unless he finally confessed his 
belief in the motion of the earth. Galileo must have cast a long glance 
at the Church's mechanical arguments before finally admitting in the 
torture chamber under duress what the very next day he was compelled 
to recant in the monastery under the same duress, to wit, the Coper- 
nican theory of the earth's motion. 

According to another record the verdict had already been prescribed 
on June 16, five days before its final examination, by order of the Pope. 
Here we read: "Sanctissimus gave orders that Galileo be questioned de 
intentione, under threat of torture, as though he were to be submitted 
to it, and then that he be made to recant before the full Congregation of 
the Holy Office, and be sentenced to imprisonment, at the discretion of 
the Holy Office." 

On the day following his last examination the seventy-year-old Galileo 
who was suffering from several ailments, was compelled to kneel down 
in a penitential robe in the presence of seven cardinals at a solemn 
session of the Inquisition in the great hall of the Dominican monastery 
of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome; he was compelled to take a 
Bible in his hands to abjure the error of thinking that the earth moves 
by reciting a long and ignominious formula: "I recant, curse and 
execrate with sincere heart and non-hypocritical faith all these errors 


and heresies, as well as all other errors and opinions, which are contrary 
to the teachings of the Holy Catholic and Roman Apostolic Church; I 
also swear that in the future I will neither orally nor in writing say or 
maintain anything that might justify a similar suspicion of heresy against 
me; and should I know a heretic or anyone suspect of heresy, I will re- 
port him to the Holy Office or the Inquisitor or the bishop of my diocese." 
The Inquisitors then read the verdict. Galileo was condemned to formal 
imprisonment in the dungeons of the Holy Office for an undetermined 
period at the discretion of the Inquisition. For three years he was to 
recite the seven penitential psalms once a week; he was "extremely sus- 
pect to heresy." The Dialogues were prohibited. 

These Dialogues were no more examined in 1632 than Copernicus' 
book had been in 1616. The Church was not interested in the truth, it 
was interested only in obedience. 

Soon after hearing his sentence Galileo wrote to a friend of his the 
remark of the Jesuit Father Grienberger who was well versed in 
astronomy: "If Galileo had known how to win the sympathy of the 
Fathers and the College, he would have lived gloriously in the world, 
and none of these misfortunes would have befallen him; he would have 
been able to write freely on any subject, even about the motion of the 
earth." "And so you see," Galileo commented, "it is not this or that opinion 
that has conjured up the war against me, but only the disfavor of the 

Galileo remained a prisoner of the Inquisition until the end of his life, 
for almost nine years. From June 21 to June 24 he languished in the 
dungeons of the Inquisition. Then he was placed in the Villa Medici. 
Then, from July 6 until December 1, he was imprisoned in the palace of 
Archbishop Ascanio Piccolomini, a pupil of a pupil of his who was 
courageous enough to give shelter to the outlawed scientist in his home at 

Galileo left his jail in Rome "quite broken, dejected and disheartened." 
At Siena he "recovered his peace and freshness of mind amidst the many 
sufferings," and after a few days began to work again; in July, 1633, one 
month after his condemnation, he sent his forbidden "Dialogues" by secret 
channels to Bernegger at Strassburg asking him to translate them into 
Latin, but to conceal the fact that he had suggested this. 

Matthias Bernegger, professor at Strassburg, had previously translated 
Galileo's treatise on the compass. In 1635, the "Dialogues," together with 
the Letter to the Grand Duchess Christine and Foscarini's prohibited 
pamphlet, were published in Holland; in the words of the preface, "with- 
out the author's foreknowledge and very much against his will." This 


new edition, Galileo wrote, made him feel that he had "his revenge, 
because now the disgrace redounded upon the traitors and the representa- 
tives of ignorance." Through the Parisian scientist Elias DiodaU, all of 
Galileo's works reached the circle of the faithful and were published and 

saved from oblivion. . . ... 

By the end of 1633 Galileo received permission to live in his own villa, 
"II Giojello," at Arcetri, one mile from Florence, as a prisoner of the 
Inquisition. Informers and spies, paid and voluntary servants of the In- 
quisitors watched him. He was most strictly forbidden to visit Florence 
or to move more than a few steps away from his vdla. It took courage 
for anyone to visit him, for the Florentine Inquisitor watched all those 
who came to his house. . , 

Galileo's sister-in-law and her family who had moved into his house 
aU died of the plague soon after his return. 

His favorite daughter, Suor Maria Celeste, the nun of the San Matteo 
convent, had urged her father in the tenderest terms to confess everything 
to the Inquisition and thus save his life; she was ill and wrote that she 
feared she would never see him again. In March, 1634, Gahleo finaUy 
arrived at Arcetri, and she saw him. She took upon herself the task of 
reciting the penitential psalms for him, but not for long, for she died 
on April 2, at the age of thirty-three. The anguished father wrote after 
her death: "I feel that my beloved daughter is constantly calling me! 
Because he believed his end was near, he did not allow his son Vincenzio 

to make a journey. . . T 

Meanwhile Pope Urban had punished the Roman and Florentine In- 
quisitors and the Master of the Sacred Palace Riccardi, and dismissed 
Ciampoli, the papal secretary. He had ordered that the verdict against 
Galileo and his recantation be posted at all public places and that the 
bishops and nuncios in the whole Catholic world, and especially the uni- 
versity professors of mathematics and philosophy and the educated clergy- 
men in the monasteries be informed of them. AU the copies of the 
Dialogues that could be laid hands upon, were destroyed. 

No university protested. No scientist objected. No one dared even to 
express himself privately on this matter. Castelh, Galileos pupil and his 
Send for forty years, voiced the depth of his despair in confidential letters. 
The French scientists mentioned Galileo's name in their letters with 
embarrassed pity. Even Gassendi who had shortly before been enthusiasm 
over the Dialogues did not venture a word of sympathy Tellernent 
ZuteTchases sZ chatouUleuses de cc c6tS IT (so ticklish » everything 

"^^t^Habod his 7W* * Monde containing 


an outline of a system of the world based on Copernican principles. 
Galileo's tragedy impressed Descartes a great deal: he did not publish 
this important work. He printed his Method only a few years later. 

Galileo's influence remained confined to the natural sciences. Only 
Locke gave final philosophical form to his conception of the world which 
leads to deism. 

In the spring of 1634 Galileo petitioned Rome to be allowed to receive 
more frequent visits from his physician; his request was harshly refused. 
Further petitions were strictly forbidden him in advance, otherwise, the 
Holy Congregation threatened, it would be compelled to consign him 
once more to its Roman dungeons. 

Galileo fell silent. Year after year protectors and friends vainly renewed 
their appeals on behalf of the old scientist. Only Comte de Noailles, 
Richelieu's ambassador, succeeded once in obtaining a short respite for 
Galileo and met him at a place between Siena and Florence. Later Galileo 
dedicated his Discorsi to him; they were published "under the banner 
and protection" of a foreigner, because Tuscany could not or would not 
protect them. 

Immediately after his condemnation Galileo resumed work on his 
second principal book. One year after his return to Arcetri he wrote to 
the Dominican Father Micanzio in Venice that ". . . the treatise on 
motion, new from beginning to end, is in good order . . . although my 
restless brain cannot stop brooding with great waste of time, because 
the new ideas that recently have occurred to me throw overboard my 
previous results." 

Early the next year he sent the completed first parts to Father Micanzio 
in Venice, where he hoped to obtain permission to print his book. When 
Father Micanzio inquired of the Venetian Inquisitor if he might print 
it, the latter replied with a document that had been sent to all the In- 
quisitors in the world and contained the strictest prohibition of all the 
previously printed and future works of Galileo. 

After similar experiences in Bohemia or Vienna Micanzio with great 
effort obtained an introduction to the famous Dutch publisher, Ludwig 
Elzevir. One of the Elzevir brothers came to Italy, and Galileo handed 
him one part of the manuscript of the Discorsi. He sent the rest to 
Holland by a circuitous route through sure friends. 

Galileo, the most famous Catholic scientist, could now find only 
Protestant publishers in Leyden and Amsterdam. He had to give his life- 
work to Elzevir secretly in order to say publicly and thus protect his life, 
that Elzevir was a pirate who had obtained his manuscript by dishonest 


The "Discourses on Two New Sciences" contained Galileo's theory of 
motion and theory of coherence. Here for the first time : he ^omplrfely 
expounded and explained the discoveries with the he P of which he had 
created the science of mechanics, the laws of free fall, fall on the in- 
clined plane, projectile motion, the laws of the pendulum and the theorem 
of the parallelogram of forces. Again we have dialogues among Salviati, 
Sagredo and Simolicio. They speak as though they had never been 
snfnced by the Inquisition. This is Galileo's irony. The scene of these 

dialogues is the arsenal of Venice. ...... T . r ,i:u„ was 

In 1638, when the Discord were published in Le yden Gahle o^ was 
seventy-four, blind and infirm. The year before he had lost the sight of h« 
right eye, then that of his left eye. He comforted himself that since .Aim 
no man had seen as much as he had. The unfortunate has the pnvileg :ol 
not being envied by the fortunate. At that time he made his last dis- 
covery, the daily and monthly librations of the moon. . 
T Y l letter dated January 2, 1638, he wrote to his Parisian friend 
Diodati- "Ah! Your poor friend and servant is entirely and incurably 
SnlThif heaven, this earth, this universe, that I have extended a 
thousand times beyond the limits of all past epochs by wonderfu ^observa- 
tion, have now shrunk to the narrow confines of my own body. Thus 
God likes it; so I, too, must like it!" , , 
And Father Castelli echoed him: "The noblest eyes that nature had 
ever created grew dark; eyes so privileged, endowed with such rare 
™STthat verily it may be said of them that they had seen more than 
^e^bSAco and that they opened the eyes of all those who 

ThtTeuerGahleo always indicated his address as "From my prison 

^Hnany'the Inquisition grew more considerate toward the blind old 
man The Grand Duke of Tuscany visited him several times as well as 
Sodad Gassendi and Milton. A few years later Milton, in his ^peech 
for the freedom of unlicensed printing, referred to his vmt to Galleo. 
£ prisoner to the Inquisition for thinking in Astronomy otherwise than 
the Franciscan and Dominican licenses thought. 

When Galileo's friends in Rome petitioned that the blind old man 
be My allowed to consult his physician in Florence, Rome instructed 
the Florentine Inquisitor to visit Galileo with a physician and g^ve his 
oplnbn aTto whether Galileo, if granted a temporary stay in Florence 
Lr he purpose of consulting his physician, woud not again try to 
propagate hfs condemned theory of the earth's motion in meetings and 


So the blind and infirm star-gazer was crying for his doctor? Very 
well then, the Inquisitor, accompanied by its official doctor, would come 
to the home of the seventy-seven-year-old scientist and by order of the 
highest authorities check to see whether this blind man was really 
blind, this infirm man totally infirm. And they found him incurably 
blind, and totally infirm, and sleepless too, with a hundred pains haunt- 
ing the head and the foot of his bed. Those who lived with him com- 
plained that out of the twenty-four hours of the day he scarcely slept 
one. The miserable wretch was more like a corpse than a living man. 
The Inquisitor wrote: "The villa is so far from the city and from all 
inhabited places that he can obtain the visit of a physician only with many 
difficulties and at great cost." 

In view of the scientist's wretched condition the Inquisitor thought 
there was no great danger that he would talk; at any rate a vigorous 
admonition would suffice to keep him within bounds. 

At last Galileo was granted permission — for a short time — to consult 
his physician in Florence, but was given meticulous instructions that 
he must not discuss the motion of the earth — under the penalty of ex- 
communication and severe lifelong imprisonment. 

To attend mass, once, he had to obtain a special permit from the In- 
quisition. Otherwise he was not allowed to leave his home or see anyone; 
in Florence he suffered from this seclusion even more than at Arcetri. 

In 1639, the seventeen-year-old Viviani joined Galileo's "family"; in 
1641, Torricelli moved into his house; later they were temporarily joined 
by Father Castelli, and the three formed the subsequently famous 
"triumvirate." The Grand Duke had sent word to Father Castelli that 
Galileo was old and would take much knowledge with him to his grave 
if someone did not have a talk with him, and that Castelli should obtain 
a few months' furlough from the Pope for this purpose — the Grand 
Duke would pay the expenses of the trip and the sojourn. When Castelli 
in an audience with Urban asked for a few months' furlough in Florence, 
Urban told him straightaway that he knew he intended to visit Galileo. 
Castelli admitted that he would be unable to avoid meeting him and was 
given permission to speak with him in the presence of an official of the 

In the end the Inquisition also got wind of Galileo's secret dealings with 
the heretical Estate General of Holland concerning the correct method 
of determining geographical positions. A means of exactly determining 
latitudes at sea was greatly desired by the colonial powers. Galileo on the 
basis of the fairly accurate tables of the moons of Jupiter, which he had 
drawn up two years after discovering their existence, elaborated a method 


of determining latitudes on the open sea by means of the frequent 
eclipses of these moons; he offered his procedure first to the Spaniards, 
then to the Netherlanders. An academy created by Richelieu was also 
trying to solve this problem in Paris. 

From 1635 to 1641, Galileo conducted a long scientific correspondence 
on this question with many European scientists. After very detailed 
negotiations, the Estates General sent Hortensius, an Amsterdam pro- 
fessor of mathematics, accompanied by a thoroughly trustworthy person, 
with a heavy golden chain and flattering letters to Galileo. Informed of 
this by his spies, the Florentine Inquisitor reported it to Rome and was 
told to forbid Galileo to receive the announced visitor and his gifts or to 
have any further relations with heretics. Thus ended the first international 
effort in a new science that many contemporaries compared in importance 
with Caesar's reform of the calendar. 

This last great act of intervention by the Inquisition cut Galileo off 
from the world even more than before. The Florentine Inquisitor wrote 
to Rome: ". . . the completely blind scientist can better be described as 
having his head in the grave, than having his mind in the clouds of 
mathematical speculations." Thus the Church spoke of Galileo. At the 
same time Hugo Grotius praised him as the "greatest mind of all 

"I resign myself to my misfortune," the seventy-four-year-old prisoner 
wrote to Diodati. He had no sooner completed his Discord than he 
began his work on the motions of animals, outlined instructions for 
making exact astronomical observations, and as late as 1641 tried to use 
the pendulum as a clock regulator. 

In his last scientific letter, dated January 16, 1641, Galileo wrote to 
Liceti: "If philosophy were what is contained in Aristotle's books, Your 
Grace would surely be the greatest philosopher in the world, you are 
so much at home in him and have all his passages ready at hand. How- 
ever, I think that the book of philosophy is what is constantly open before 
our eyes. But since it is written in different characters than those of our 
alphabet, it cannot be read by everyone; the letters of such a book are 
triangles, squares, circles, spheres, cones, pyramids and other mathematical 
figures that are very useful in reading it." 

Galileo was dictating to his disciples, Viviani and Toricelli, his ideas 
about the theory of impact, when the slow fever began that was to 
consume him in two months. 

The seventy-eight-year-old prisoner of the Inquisition died in the arms 
of his disciples on January 8, 1642. 

When he was already blind, he wrote in one of his last letters: "I have 


always considered myself so unable to fathom what light is, that I would 
have agreed to spend my life in a dungeon with only bread and water if 
1 could thus have gained this unattainable knowledge." But no one in 
aU the millennia before him had said such cogent things about the nature 
of light as he did. 

One of his favorite sayings was: "I have never met a man so ignorant 
that I could not learn something from him." He also wrote: "It is not 
worthwhile to engage in refuting a dumbbell." 

He was red-headed, of more than average size and squarely built. He 
gave to the poor and helped the talented. He loved to see company and 
to work in his vineyard. His house was as full of people as an Italian 
tarce so hospitable was he. He was never idle and often melancholy. 
Quick to anger he was quickly appeased. He loved life in the country, 
and he loved life in the city. As a result of his habit of making nightly 
astronomical observations, he was inclined to sleeplessness. He had 
faery eyes was rheumatic from the age of forty, published books from 
the age of forty-four, was prohibited to publish from the age of fifty-two 
was condemned at seventy and imprisoned after that; blind at seventy- 
tour, he still hoped for complete freedom. 

His library and wine-cellar were small, but select. He never spoke of 
Aristotle with contempt. He called only Archimedes "master." He com- 
pared those who read Ariosto after Tasso to those who could eat onions 
attcr melons. At court he was a courtier, to princes he wrote like a 
Byzantine, his wit spared none; but he paid dearly for it 

In the eyes of some of his biographers he was not courageous enough 
in 1633. He should have consented to be burned for their satisfaction! He 
chose to complete his Discorsi, which contains investigations made over 
a period of thirty years. He chose to save his main works from destruc- 
fcon by gettag them secretly across the frontiers and publishing them in 
Holland. He was as little scrupulous about his oath extorted by the 

TblTh Ch r h u 3S hiS PerSeCUt ° rS > ^ ' esuits > were ««Nou. 

about their means of achieving a desired end. 

For the sake of science he did not spare even himself, and he did not 
respect even his own honor. 

Galileo won his place in the history of astronomy chiefly by his 
telescopic discoveries. No one before him had seen so much of the universe 

clS XlC. 

He was the first to term the so-called "third motion" introduced by 
Copernicus a superfluous complication. 
His worst error was his ignorance of Kepler's discoveries. In 1609 


Kepler published his first and second laws, in 1619 his third law. Galileo 
passed over them in icy silence. 

He committed his two capital errors, his theory of the tides and his 
theory of comets, because of his eagerness to defend the Copermcan 
theory. He came close to the idea of universal gravitation and anticipated 
many important natural laws. 

His greatest merit is said to be his contribution in founding the science 
of mechanics. He was the first to grasp clearly the idea of force as a 
mechanical agent. He transferred the concept of the invariability of cause 
and effect to the outer world. 

These achievements of Galileo promoted the triumph of the Copermcan 
system much more than his numerous arguments for the motion or the 

eE He taught that astronomical problems should be regarded as essentially 
mechanical problems. He popularized the idea that force derived from 
motion. Of Newton's three laws of motion the first was developed from 
Galileo's law of inertia, the second from his law of the proportionality of 
force and velocity. Galileo also had a presentiment of Newton s proposi- 
tion that action and reaction are equal and opposite. 

He swept away a whole mass of scholastic, Aristotelian and popular 
errors. He came at the right moment, with the necessary power for the 
struede against the Aristotelians, in a field in which no one had as ye 
oppSed them. He is regarded as one of the fathers of experimental 

SC1 He Ce combated the scholastic distinctions between destructible and inde- 
structible substances; between absolute heaviness and absolute lightness; 
between natural and violent motions. He taught that heaviness and light- 
ness were relative concepts; that all bodies were heavy, even invisible 
ones, like the air; that motion was the result of force, direct or con- 
tinuous; that weight was a constant force pulling toward the center of 
the earth; that in a vacuum all bodies would fall with the same velocity; 
that the inertia of matter included both permanent motion and permanent 
rest. And that the substance of the heavenly bodies was as corruptible as 

th ?t°required rt a' powerful man and a powerful effort to explain these 
elementary ideas and spread them. They became sources of umversal 

" Galileo also tried to solve the problem of squaring the circle. He was 
one of the first to introduce infinitesimals into geometrical demonstra- 
tions. He combined experiment with calculation, knew how to deduce 


the abstract from the concrete, and was inexhaustibly patient in checking 
his results. ° 

Did Galileo deserve his bitter fate because in regard to the great ques- 
tions of civilization he turned to the people instead of to the specialists? 
Did not Pythagoras, Copernicus and Goethe recommend exclusiveness ? 

Copernicus wrote for mathematicians. Tycho remolded the Copernican 
system in a manner to satisfy the theologians. Kepler was absorbed in 
mystical dreams. All of them wrote in Latin. 

Only Galileo, the greatest master of Italian prose between Machiavelli 
and Manzoni, told the open secrets of the sky and of physics to the people 
in the language of the people. In addition, he supplied tangible popular 
arguments for his scientific theories. This last creative mind of the 
Renaissance was a forerunner of the eighteenth-century enlighteners and 
friends of the people. 

This champion of the autonomy of science fought against the authority 
of Aristotle and of the Church in every one of his writings. He fought 
against aU authority. Like Socrates, he was a victim of the fatal persecu- 
tion of the spirit by might. While the Athenian did not resist death, 
OaWeo, the modern hero of common sense, managed to survive in order 
to be right in the end Better to stay alive and lie publicly, when con- 
fronted with torture, than to let the truth wait! He was the sober 
enthusiast who m a note to Thomas Campanella, another martyr for 
freedom and the Copernican theory, explained: "Even to discover an 
unpretentious truth is more important than to discuss the highest things 
in detail without ascertaining any truth." 

Crowds of pupils surrounded this friend of the people, in the end they 
almost formed a private order. Princes from many countries were his 
boarders even in his Padua days. Cardinals and kings boasted of his 
friendship. This oudaw was an authority in Europe. The mighty Pope 
could be easily persuaded that Galileo had called him a simpleton and 
ridiculed him before the entire world ... 

A ^£ e T?T IC ™T M °} d man iD R ° me! A few da y s a*** Galileo's 
death Urban VIII sent for Niccolini to prevent the Florentines from 
burying Galileo beside Michelangelo. The Florentine Inquisitor had in- 
formed the Roman Inquisitor by messenger that a large sum of money 
had been collected in Florence for a monument to Galileo and that the 
Grand Duke intended to bury his court philosopher beside the mighty 
sculptor. The Pope immediately informed the Grand Duke through the 
Inquisitors that no monument could be erected to a heretic condemned 
by the Church. For the Inquisition, the death of one of its victims did 


not make any difference. It prosecuted even corpses, especially when the 

heirs were well-to-do. 

Niccolini described the seventy-four-year-old Urban as a hving corpse 
whose head was so sunken in that it seemed to be on a level with his 
Thoulders. A living corpse-but his hatred for the corpse in Florence 
was arch-alive! He hated Galileo as bitterly as during the first days of 
the trial. He cursed him and his opinions, he abused him as a disgrace 
to all Christendom. "And when he came to speak of mdmdual assemons 
and of the answers that he himself had given Gahleo and that the latter 
had made it known how he ridiculed a better man than he, much time 

W Like e his°cor^ C t and his coffin, Galileo's memory and work remained 
under the ban of the Church. 

Mne years after Galileo's death the Jesuit Father Riccoh pubhshed at 
Bologna his Almagestum novum, a detailed exposition of the two systems 
of the world, with an extensive critique of the Coperrucan system and 
an apology o the Inquisition decree; this was the official rep y to Galileo s 
nrohEd Dialogues. At the end of his book, Riccioh tells the whole 

Galileo's formal recantation. For a long time obedient Cathohc readers 
could learn of the Copernican system and get the detads of the famous 
trial only in this book, naturally in the version of me Inquisition 

After Riccioli's death, twenty-five y^^. ^'^^ 
mathematician Montanari wrote to his friend Viviani: "Oh how often 
have I bought with anger on how badly the Father / Ricaoh / treated 
Sec,, and sometimes I even had the impulse to take up his defense 

and write his apology." , T fn lian 

This was the only time in the seventeenth century that an Italian 
scienXt spoke even of a fleeting impulse in favor of Galileo. He goes on 
to say feint-heartedly: "But this sect is all too powerful! f n 

A few years after Galileo's death an Inquisitor compelled a p ofessor to 
changfthe adjective "highly famous" before GalikVs name to "generally 
known" in his book "On Metempsychosis, Accordmg to P**-*™-; 
However, in 1655/56, a selection of Galileo's writings was published wi h 
the plrrnission of the Inquisition-naturally without the prohibited 

D « biography, the only one of consequence written in the seven- 
teenth century, was not published until the eighteenth century. And thi 
■Sfpup^nd first biographer of Gahleo did not relate the first :w* 
at all and the second only with extreme caution and brevity. He wrote 


this biography as a young man. Throughout his long life he collected 
manuscripts, letters and reminiscences concerning Galileo, and tried with 
might and main to obtain the lifting of the prohibition of the Dialogues. 
But in 1693: "there is question of issuing general prohibitions against all 
the authors of modern physics, long lists are being drawn up and they 
are headed by Galileo, Gassendi, Descartes, etc., as most dangerous for 
the purity of religion." 

Viviani died in 1703. In his v/ill he asked that his body be placed beside 
Galileo's in the chapel, until his master's tomb should be erected near 
Michelangelo's, and then that his body be buried at Galileo's feet. 
Viviani's biography was published in 1717. 

Leibniz vainly attempted to obtain the abolition of the decrees against 
Copernicus and Galileo in Rome. 

In 1737 the remains of Galileo and Viviani were solemnly interred 
beside Michelangelo's tomb. In 1744 a new edition of the Dialogues was 
published in Italy, but accompanied by the Inquisition's decree of con- 
demnation and a Jesuit Father's treatise on Hebrew astronomy. 

Chiefly at the instigation of Boscovich, a Jesuit Father and astronomer, 
the Congregation of the Index resolved in 1757 to leave out the general 
prohibition of all books teaching the motion of the earth in the new 
edition of the Index of 1758. However, still explicitly prohibited as before 
were Copernicus' Revolutions, Kepler's Outline of the Copernican Astron- 
omy, Foscarini's Letter, Didacus a Stunica's Commentary on Job, and 
Galileo's Dialogues. 

Lalande, the French astronomer, tried in vain during his visit to Rome 
to have Galileo's Dialogues taken off the Index. The 1819 edition of the 
Index still contained the five forbidden titles. 

Canon Guiseppe Settele, a professor in Rome, finally induced the 
Church to correct its own censorship instead of Copernicus. In 1820 the 
Inquisition had forbidden the second volume of his Textbook of Optics 
and Astronomy, because he presented the Copernican theory of the earth's 
motion not as a hypothesis, but as a scientific truth. In a detailed mem- 
orandum Settele asked the Pope for a new examination of his case by the 
Inquisition. His petition led to the decisions of September, 1822, which 
explicitly permitted the printing and publication of books dealing with 
the motion of the earth in accordance with the general opinion of modern 

Canon Settele wrote a diary and began it with the enumeration of his 
own noble deeds; at the head of these he placed his contribution to that 
tardy decision of the Church censorship. 

In 1835 there was published the first edition of the Index Librorum 


Prohibitum that did not cite the" book, of Copernicu, Galileo Fos- 
carini Didacus a Stunica and Johannes Kepler. Most of the great 
granJsons of those pious Catholics who in 161 6 had -sed ^n 
Cooernicus Galileo, Foscarini and Didacus a Stunica, and n 1619 had 
SaTreading Joh nnes Kepler's book, now had their golden oppor- 
unfty, now with good conscience they could share the sweet and mtoxx- 
caSg knowledge that they were living on a doubly moving earth! 



Ich haufe ungeheure Zahlen, 

Gebirge Millionen auf, 

Ich seize Zeit auf Zeit und Welt auf Welt 

zu Hauf 


Vuimus Troes 


Once again we have been beguiled by that 
arch-humorist Nature 


AFTER Kepler and Galileo, Newton contributed most to the triumph of 
the Copernican theory. His law of gravitation governs the falling apple, 
the course of the moon around the earth, the course of the earth around 
the sun, and the sun, too. Thus he put an end to the fatal dualism of 
heaven and earth. 

Isaac Newton's Principles (Philosophiae Naturatis Principia Mathe- 
matka, 1687, printed at the expense of Edmund Halley, his colleague) 
gathered all previous discoveries together and laid the foundation for all 
future discoveries. It is an elementary textbook of modern physics and 

Newton clarified the fundamental notions of mass, weight and force. 
He formulated the three laws of motion and the law of gravitation and 
postulated their universal validity. He was one of the fathers not only 
of modern astronomy, but also of modern mathematics and physics. At 
the same time as Leibniz, he discovered the differential and integral 
calculus. He discovered the spectrum by decomposing the light of the sun. 

Newton went beyond Kepler's planetary laws by his discovery of the 
mutual disturbances of the planets as a result of gravitation. He explained 
the motions of the satellites and comets, the precession and the tides. 
He computed the form of the earth after having calculated its flattening 



at the poles. He computed the masses of those heavenly bodies that exert 
a visible effect upon the others, and their specific weight. He computed 
the motions of the axis of the earth and its swing (nutation). 

Here are three outstanding examples of that "astronomy of the invis- 
ible" which was derived from the law of gravitation: 

Edmund Halley prophesied the return of the comet named after him 
at the end of seventy-five years. Clairaut, on the basis of disturbances 
of the comet by Jupiter and Saturn, calculated a more exact period of 
about seventy-six years. The comet actually did reappear at about the time 
calculated by Clairaut, on March 12, 1759. 

In 1845, Urbain J. J. Leverrier of Paris, on the basis of the disturbances 
in the course of the planet Uranus, computed the size and course of an 
unknown planet. He sent his computations to the Berlin astronomer 
Galle, who with their aid discovered the planet Neptune in 1846. 

In 1930, Dr. Percival Lowell of the Flagstaff Observatory in Arizona 
discovered the planet Pluto in a similar manner. 

The world of Copernicus and Kepler— the planetary system — was 
within the sphere of the fixed stars which floated at an indefinite distance. 
In the center of this world rested the sun. Around it moved the planets 
with their satellites and moons. One of the smallest of these planets was 
the earth. Kepler explained the motions of these planets in his New 
Astronomy. The motionless fixed stars were conceived as invariable with 
regard to one another, but the whole firmament completed one rotation 
in the "Platonic" year which is equal to twenty-six thousand of our years. 

Further proofs of the Copernican system were supplied by the Copen- 
hagen astronomer Olaf Roemer (1644-1710) who discovered the velocity 
of light; the English astronomer Bradley (1692-1762) who studied the 
aberration of light, and Edmund Halley (1656-1742) who demonstrated 
that the fixed stars had a motion of their own. Later Friedrich W. Bessel 
was the first to measure the parallax of a fixed star (in 1838) and on 
this basis calculated its distance from the earth; and Leon Foucault (1819- 
1868) devised a pendulum which demonstrated the rotation of the earth 
(in 1851). 

Copernicus enormously extended the universe, showed the smallness 
and subordinate position of the earth, and pointed out the gigantic dis- 
tances of the stars. 

Modern astronomy enlarged the universe to seemingly absurd dimen- 
sions, and developed the mechanics of the sky into the physics of the sky. 
William Herschel (1738-1822), the founder of stellar astronomy, made 
the gigantic step from the tiny and subordinate solar system to the uni- 
verse of the Milky Way and the stars. Thanks to the Prague mathe- 


matician, Christian Doppler, and his Doppler principle established in 
1842 (according to which the light of a white star seems bluish if it is 
moving closer to us, and reddish when it is moving away from us, and 
this with an intensity proportionate to its velocity), the astronomers 
were able to measure a star's velocity in the line of sight (the radial 
velocity) by one measurement of its spectrum. And the spectral analysis 
discovered in 1859 by Robert Wilhelm Bunsen and Robert Kirchhoff 
enabled the astronomers, in favorable cases, not only to study the chem- 
ical composition of the stars but also their physical condition, pressure, 
temperature, atmospheric density, their distance from us, the velocity 
with which this distance increases or decreases, and perhaps even the 
weight of the stars and the velocities with which they move in their orbits. 
Thanks to astrospectroscopy, positional astronomy today often appears 
to be only a branch of astrophysics. > 

Photography opened up a new era in astronomy. The connection of 
the photographic plate with the telescope, by the end of the nineteenth 
century, enlarged the perceivable world as tremendously as only the 
telescope had done before. Then began the great period of precise posi- 
tional astronomy. 

The most comprehensive catalogues of the positions of the stars 
obtained before the invention of photography were the Bonner Durch- 
musterung (1859-1862) of more than 324,000 stars down to the ninth 
magnitude of the northern skies, and its complement for the southern 
skies, Gould's Cordoba catalogue. Catalogues of nebulae were also made, 
the first of these by W. Herschel (2,509 star clusters and nebulae), the 
second, by Dreyer (in 1888, listing 13,223 nebulae), etc. Sir David Gill 
began to establish photographic maps of the firmament. In 1900, Pro- 
fessor J. C. Kapteyn at Groningen, on the basis of photographic pictures 
taken at the Cape Observatory, determined the positions of more than 
450,000 stars (in the Cape Photographie Durchmusterung). Also the two 
fundamental catalogues were made, the Berlin FK 3, and the American 
catalogue of Boss. 

If until then astronomy had been the geometry of light rays, now 
measurements of intensity gained significance. By the turn of the century 
of photometric classifications of the stars according to their relative 
brilliance were made, as, for instance, the Harvard Photometry, which 
measured the brightness of 9,110 stars above the 6.5 magnitude. The 
nine volumes of the Henry Draper Catalogue of the Harvard Observa- 
tory classified the spectra of about 225,000 stars. It was found that the 
chemical composition of the stars was largely identical. 

As compared to the Copernican picture of the world in the sixteenth 


and seventeenth centuries, today, after the revolution in physics, the 
world looks more or less as follows: 

Millions of stellar systems are distributed over a space that is measured 
by hundreds of millions of light years. The planet closest to us, Venus, 
at its perigee is 26 million miles from the earth; the Proxima Centauri, 
the closest star, is 25 billion miles from the earth. 

The closest stellar systems — such as the great nebula in the Andromeda 
— seem to the naked eye only weak spots of light; in the largest mirror 
telescopes they disintegrate into individual stars. The most distant stellar 
systems leave only barely recognizable traces on the photographic plate 
after hours of exposure. 

Through the great 100-inch telescope of Mount Wilson, 2 million 
extra-galactic nebulae are visible; their average distance is 15 hundred 
thousand light years; the most distant is about 100 million light years 

Each of these stellar systems with diameters from 10 thousand to 100 
thousand light years is an accumulation of several billion shining suns, 
some of which are joined together in couples, threes, or larger groups in 
a smaller space; as double stars or multiple stellar systems they move in 
their courses, obviously following the same laws as the planetary system. 
In between, there are star clusters, looser groupings like the Pleiades or 
the Hyads, spheroid star clusters formed of hundreds of thousands of 
gigantic suns, luminous or dark inconceivably thinned gaseous masses, 
non-luminous matter in solid particles from the tiniest dust to fist-size 
stones, "cosmic dust." 

The Copernican system is situated somewhere in the outside regions 
of such a galactic system. There the sun proceeds in its course, with its 
appendage of planets, moons and smaller bodies, a dwarf star distin- 
guished in nothing from millions of other stars. 

The growing range of the telescope has discovered ever-growing stellar 
spaces. Our most refined telescopes, it is said, show us only one millionth 
of our universe. 

Our Milky Way alone perhaps contains 200,000 million stars. According 
to Pieter Johannes von Rhijn, our sun is a tiny star among the 30,000 
millions of stars in its stellar system; and our stellar system is only one of 
80,000 million Milky Ways. 

We live on one of the satellites of the sun — insects on the surface of one 
of the smallest satellites of a dwarf star in a local system of one of the 
millions of milky ways. 

And we do not know whether in the billion-fold world there are other 
living creatures like ourselves, trying to fathom the secret of the universe 


from their doubly uncomfortable position deep inside or extremely to one 
side. What we have found is perhaps only one local view of the universe. 

According to Eddington, our sun belongs to a system containing only 
3,000 million other stars. The stars are globes of about the same size as 
the sun, with diameters of about one million miles. According to him, 
the universe is not so much wasteful with stars as with the space between 
the stars. What characterizes the modern universe is not the immense 
number of stars, but the desolate emptiness between the stars, the incon- 
ceivable vast desert, where a star is a grain of sand. If stars were equal in 
size of a grain of dust, the average distance between one star and another 
would be, according to James Jeans, about eighty miles. 

If there were only thirty cricket balls within the earth, Eddington 
explains, the space occupied by these cricket balls would correspond to 
the space occupied by the stars in the universe; and the risk of their 
colliding with one another is as small as the risk would be of thirty 
cricket balls distributed over our entire planet colliding with each other. 

One drop of water, says Eddington, contains several thousand millions 
of millions of millions of atoms. The diameter of an atom is about one 
hundred-millionth of an inch. Within the atom, immeasurably smaller 
electrons follow orbits like planets around the sun, in a space that is not 
less vast relatively to their size than the solar system. 

Almost in the middle between the atom and the star, says Eddington, 
there is no less wonderful structure — the human body. About 10 27 atoms 
form a human body; about 10 28 human bodies would supply enough 
matter to form a star. In terms of time, too, the lifespan of a human being 
is somewhere between that of an "excited atom" and a star. Eddington 
himself calls this idea only a fantasy with a serious moral: "We shall 
have to consider periods of time which appall our imagination. We fear 
to make such drafts on eternity. And yet the vastness of the time-scale of 
stellar evolution is less remote from the scale of human experience than is 
the minuteness of the time-scale of the processes studied in the atom." 

Certain modern astronomers think they have discovered distinct traces 
of a law of motion within the spatial order of the universe. All existing 
spectrographic studies of the galactic systems show a red displacement 
of the spectral lines which, according to the Doppler principle, leads to 
the conclusion that the entire universe is in process of expansion. De 
Sitter, a Dutchman, advanced such a cosmology in 1917. 

Are there frontiers of the universe? Is it expanding or exploding? 

According to Einstein's theory of relativity, space, although unlimited, 
is finite in extent. Thus, as a result of its curvature, the earth's surface, 
although unlimited, is finite in extent. Similarly, the total volume of 


the space in the universe is limited in mass, because the universe bends 
back on itself and closes up. According to Einstein's cosmology the 
dimensions of space are determined by the mass of matter contained in it 
or by its average density. This is estimated at about 10" 30 of that of water; 
the radius of the universe is estimated to be 32,000 million light years or 
300 times the distance of the remotest nebula visible today. Einstein's 
universe stood still in static space. The objects in it moved only relatively 
to one another. 

On the basis of the measurement of electrons, Eddington tried to 
estimate the mass of the universe, and obtained that it was equal to 
1.08 x 10 22 suns; this would give an Einstein universe a radius of 1,068 
million light years. By assuming that the universe began as the Einstein 
universe and would end as the Sitter universe, Eddington obtained that 
the density of matter has so far diminished one thousand times, and 
that the radius of the present universe is 10,000 million light years; but 
according to De Sitter it measures only 1,000 million light years. And 
according to Eddington's theory of the expanding universe, its age is 
100,000 million years. But from geological and atomistic-physical data it 
has been estimated that the universe is 5 to 10 billion years old. So there 
are several contradictions here. 

In Professor A. E. Milne's cosmology the universe behaves like an 
exploding grenade; the different splinters, each equivalent to a galactic 
system composed of billions of suns, are hurled away from the place of 
explosion with velocities ranging from one hundred to tens of thousands 
kilometers. According to Milne, all the nebulae are moving in a non- 
curved space identical with the space of our everyday experience. 

In addition to the exploding universe De Sitter also considered one 
that begins in expanded form, contracts to a minimum and then again 
expands limitlessly; or the oscillating universe in which expansions and 
contractions follow one another regularly. 

All these hypotheses, however, are only several of the many possible 
interpretations of the observed displacement of the spectral lines. Upon 
the correctness of the interpretation of this displacement depends the 
whole thesis of an "expanding world" and all its consequences. 

Some modern astronomers also fear the absolute end of the universe, 
just as Buffon foresaw the end of the earth. According to them, the solid 
substance of the universe is constantly disintegrating in imperceptible 
radiation. Yesterday, the sun weighed 360,000 million tons more than it 
does today: the difference corresponds to the weight of its radiation in 
twenty-four hours. The same transformation of weight into radiation is 
going on in all the stars (to a smaller extent in the earth too, where 


complex atoms like those of Uranium constantly transform themselves 
into simpler ones, like those of helium, and in the process release radia- 
tion; but the earth loses only 90 pounds a day). 

Because energy must in the end lose all capacity for transformation, 
the absolute end of the universe seems inevitable. However, the modern 
astronomers promise our universe billions and billions of years of life, 
while the chiliasts of 999 A.D. announced the end of the world for the 
year that followed. Many of these pessimistic astronomers grant that, of 
course, in the meantime the laws of nature may change, not to mention 
the theories of the astronomers, mathematicians and physicists. 

Are you dizzy, dear reader? Do you distrust the exaltation of the 
mathematicians, the physicists and the astronomers, their machines, tele- 
scopes, spectroscopes, microscopes and photographic plates? 

Copernicus' neighbors refused to feel dizzy. They made a carnival 
farce out of his theory that our good, solid, enormous motionless, cen- 
trally situated earth was rushed around itself and around the sun in 
double (or even triple) motion, at a heady speed. But the powers-that-be 
sensed Copernicus' revolutionary implications and began their life-and- 
death struggle against his theory. Under many names, in many fields 
and on many levels, this immense struggle between the world-revolution 
and world-obscurantism continues. 

Copernicus triumphed everywhere long ago; even his enemies call 
themselves Copernicans today — and continue to combat him. 

But the revolution initiated by Copernicus is still going on too. This 
"sceptic Copernicus," as one of the advocates of "orthodoxy" called him, 
was the quietest noise-maker in the world. 

. . . And was he not perhaps the mightiest revolutionary of our epoch? 


After an old copper engraving by Jerzv Braun-1572