The Breakthrough

In the fall of 1503, Nicolaus Copernicus, age 30, took up his duties as canon of the Cathedral Chapter ofVarmia.As one of 16 canons, he would be involved in administering the lands and estates belonging to the diocese. In addition to his regular salary he received income from a small property, and also in that year he was awarded the income from a church school many miles away in Wroclaw. The income from the school meant he was responsible for making sure the teaching was carried out, but a...

Scholar in Italy

In September 1496, Nicolaus Copernicus set out for Bologna. After visiting friends in Torun and Cracow, he followed the busy five-hundred-mile packhorse route through Vienna to Venice. Seventy miles farther on lay the ancient city of Bologna, already important as a crossroads in Roman times. This walled city of a hundred towers amazed Nicolaus with its many covered sidewalks, so different from the more open construction of Polish cities. Lectures at the University of Bologna began near the end...

School Days in Poland

Celestial Sphere Diagram Seasons

Nicolaus Copernicus, the youngest of four children, was born on February 19, 1473, in Torun, a thriving town on the banks of the Vistula River in Poland. He was named after his father, a prosperous merchant, who had moved to Torun from Cracow. In his early 40s, he married Barbara Watzenrode, who belonged to a prominent family of merchants in Torun. Nicholas is the English spelling of the name Copernicus's parents gave their second son. It may have been originally Niklas, and he may have been...

The Busy Canon

Nicola Bedord

April 1513, Item Doctor Nicolaus has paid into the treasury of the chapter for 800 bricks and a barrel of chlorinated lime from the cathedral work-yard. When Copernicus moved to the cathedral in Frombork, he occupied a tower in the northwest corner of the defensive wall. His living and working space comprised three floors of about six hundred square feet each. The top floor had a number of windows and gave access to a balcony. As the balcony did not look out on all sides, he used the bricks and...

At the University in Cracow

Regiomontanus Epicycle

The Vistula River is navigable for another four hundred miles south ofTorun.Three or four days on a barge brought Nicolaus within sight of the royal city of Cracow, with the spire of the cathedral on the hill looming skyward before him. Beside it was a massive Gothic castle, the residence of King Casimir IV. Casimir's father, Wladyslav II Jagiello, founder of the Jagiellonian dynasty, had given his name to the university in Cracow almost a hundred years earlier. Cracow was several times larger...

An Earth Shaking Development

Ptolemy's widely-used planetary theories appear to correspond adequately with numerical observations. However, they seem quite doubtful, because they require the use of certain equant circles. As a result the planets do not move uniformly either about their deferent spheres nor about its own center. A theory like this does not seem to me to be complete enough nor sufficiently pleasing to the mind. When I became aware of these defects, I often pondered whether a more reasonable arrangement of...

On the Revolutions

Nicola Bedord

For some years after 1529, Copernicus engaged in the arduous task of putting all his astronomical researches together. He undertook to write a book that would replace Ptolemy's Almagest. His book would use his own recent observations to bring Ptolemy's theories into the 1500s. And it would prove that putting the earth into motion was not a foolish daydream. In other ways, Copernicus's book was old-fashioned. It reads almost as if he intended to bring out a new edition of the Almagest, revised...