Writer of the Week: Nicolaus Copernicus

It’s not often that Writers of the Week are from the fifteenth century, but when they are, you know they’ve made their impact. Nicolaus Copernicus was one such person. Born on February 19, 1473, Copernicus lived a childhood filled with wealth and luxury. His affluent parents, both of them merchants, managed to secure Copernicus with enough money to last long after their deaths, when he was sent to his uncle in Krakow. There, he advanced quickly, though he never graduated. Instead, he declined to take a place in the canonry of Warmia and traveled to Bologna, Italy, where his interests changed from canon law to astronomy.

Copernicus’ interest in astronomy was immense, so much so that he devoted the next forty-five years of his life to it. In Bologna, he delivered numerous lectures on astronomy, both to current masters of the science and students. Then, in 1501, he decided to abruptly move on to study medicine. As was tradition for Copernicus, he did not stay at the University of Padua long enough to graduate with a degree, but it is doubtles that he learned everything he needed to in that time. With his knowledge of medicine vastly expanded (which included astrology, considered a critical aspect of health at the time), Copernicus turned his studies back to the stars, where they would remain until his death.

Surprisingly, Copernicus only wrote a single astronomy book in his lifetime, and it was near the end of his life that it was finally published. De revolutionibus orbium coelestiam (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) was his greatest creation, and also his most influential. There’s a reason he was considered the spark of the Scientific Revolution: his ideas that the Sun was the center of the universe and not the earth weren’t wholly accurate, and they were often ridiculed by a church that widely accepted geocentric astronomy, but this new line of thought brought with it studies of other planets, of stars, and even of gravity.

Being from the fifteenth century, Copernicus is, unfortunately, dead. His works, however, live on to this day. IF you want to read the De revolutionibus orbium coelestiam yourself, you can find it here. If you just want to take a closer look at Copernicus’ life, here’s where to go.