Auction of first published book describing Copernicus’ heliocentric theory

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Got some spare cash? On July 13, the auction house Christies in London will be selling a first edition of the first book ever published describing Copernicus’ theory that the Earth orbited the Sun.

De Libris Revolutionum Eruditissimi Viridoctoris came not from Nicolaus Copernicus, but from his only student, Georg Joachim Rheticus, and when published in 1540, provided the momentum needed for Copernicus to finally have his landmark De revolutionibus orbium coelestium published in 1543.

Rheticus (1514-1574) published this first book on the subject based on his studies under Copernicus, all the while imploring his master to finally publish the master work which had been finished for 25 years. Copernicus resisted publishing De revolutionibus orbium coelestium for 30 years due to his fear of the Catholic Church, but when Rheticus published this book in 1540, Copernicus finally gave Rheticus the go ahead to publish the major work for him.

One comment

  • Localfluff

    I’ve heard historians say that Copernicus maybe did not delay the publication because of the Church, but because his heliocentric theory didn’t seem to work so well. It did not predict planetary movements any better than Ptolemy did 1400 years earlier. The attractive thing about it was that it nicely explained the retrograde movements of the planets, but it was more complicated and less accurate in other respects.

    But the publication certainly must’ve inspired men like Brahe, Kepler and Galileo to think about astronomy. That and the supernova in the late 1500s must have given a hint that there might be some new yet undiscovered way to think about cosmos.

    Here’s an interactive illustration of the cosmological models of the day:
    It was mentally so hard to let go of Aristotle’s perfect circles that the thinkers actually went around in circles themselves. They didn’t really invent anything new, they just moved the frame of reference around in the same model, without realizing it. Kepler, the genius, showed this. One could as well put the Moon in the center of the universe:
    (That site has a great and accessible study guide to Kepler’s New Astronomy)

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