Peurbach and Regiomontanus

The history of astronomy in the fifteenth century is dominated by two men, Georg Peurbach and Regiomontanus. The significance of their contributions comes, not so much from the technical content (their astronomy continued the medieval tradition), but from the fact that with the introduction of printing into Europe, their books became the first astronomy textbooks to achieve what might be described as a mass circulation.51

After receiving his master's degree from the University of Vienna in 1453, Georg Peurbach accepted the position of court astrologer to King Ladislas V of Hungary and later became the imperial astrologer to the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III. He is most famous for his New Theories of the Planets, an astronomical textbook he wrote following a series of lectures he gave in Vienna in 1454.52 The first printed edition was published by Peurbach's student Johannes Müller (better known as Regiomontanus, Latin for his place of birth, Königsberg) in 1472, and the book became very popular, going through nearly sixty editions in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Peurbach's work is based on Ptolemy's Planetary Hypotheses and is also influenced heavily by Ibn al-HaiÜiam's On the Configuration of the World. He described theories for the Sun, the Moon and the planets, in which each component of the geometrical mechanism was produced by the motion of a separate celestial sphere, and then provided a theory of precession based on the work of al-Battani and al-FarghänT A section on Thabit ibn Qurra's theory of trepidation was added in about 1460. The fact that Peurbach was aware of the significant role of the Sun in the geocentric theory is evident from the following passage:

... it is evident that the six planets share something with the sun in their motions and that the motion of the sun is like some common mirror and rule of measurement to their motions.

50 Different medieval explanations of what lay beyond the fixed stars are described in Grant

(1994), Chapter 9, an expansive study of medieval cosmology.

The first printed edition of the Almagest, a rather unsatisfactory medieval Latin version, appeared in 1515. A new Latin text was printed in 1528 (Boas Hall (1994)). The Latin title was Theoricae novae planetarum; it is translated in Aiton (1987).

In 1460, at the request of Cardinal Bessarion, the papal legate to the Holy Roman Empire and himself a scholar of distinction, Peurbach began work on an abridgment of Ptolemy's Almagest which, according to Regiomontanus, he knew almost by heart, and he completed the first six books of his work before he fell ill and died. Before his death he persuaded Regiomontanus (who took over Peurbach's professorship in Vienna) to complete the work, which he did over the next couple of years. This work, the Epitome of Ptolemy's Almagest, which provided a relatively simple summary of Ptolemy's treatise and served subsequently as Copernicus' guide to Ptolemaic astronomy, was first published 20 years after Regiomontanus' death, in 1496. Although the Almagest had been available in Latin translation for over 300 years, it is clear that it was not read widely and understood until the printing and wide circulation of Regiomontanus' Epitome, which also included material from later Arabic sources such as Jabir.

Before his death, Peurbach had been planning to travel to Italy so that he could study original Greek manuscripts, and this is precisely what Regiomon-tanus did for a number of years starting in 1462. On his return, he settled in Nuremberg and began an ambitious project of translating and publishing the great scientific works of antiquity. He did translate some Greek works, including Apollonius' Conics, but his untimely death put an end to his laudable endeavour. Regiomontanus was also the first in the Latin West to produce a systematic treatment of trigonometry, and he was well aware of how important this subject

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