Books for Copernicus

In what follows I am playing blog ping-pong that is adding some thoughts of my own to a post from another blog. This is always a pleasant activity when the original post is, as in this case, one of the excellent missives posted by Darin at PACHS. In the post in question Darin looks at the activities of Georg Tannstetter (1482 – 1535) as a book editor. Now it is unlikely that readers of this blog are particularly familiar with the name Georg Tannstetter who was a Renaissance mathematicus closely associated with the Second Viennese School of Mathematics, which flourished at the beginning of the 16th century. I wont go into more detail here as I’m writing a separate post on this subject. Tannstetter is not famous as a creative scholar in his own right but he is acknowledged as one of the best and most influential teachers of the mathematical sciences in the Renaissance.

Like all good teachers Tannstetter made sure that his students had access to the best text books available, in his case literally as he edited and published important editions of the best scientific text of the age and it is some of these books that Darin discusses. I would like to draw attention to two of these.

One of the books that he edited and published was a new edition of Georg Peuerbach’s (1423 – 1461) Theoricae novae planetarum. Peuerbach together with his predecessor Johannes Gmunden (1384 – 1442) and his student Regiomontanus (1436 – 1476) formed the core of the First Viennese School of Mathematics, which flourished in the middle of the 15th century. The Theoricae was the draft of his lectures on cosmology made by students, which was printed and published by Regiomontanus in Nürnberg (that’s Nuremberg for the English) in 1471 and is the earliest known printed book on the mathematical sciences. This book together with the Epytoma in almagesti Ptolemei (a digest of Ptolemaeus’ Syntaxis Mathematiké started by Peuerbach and finished by Regiomontanus after his death and first published in Venice in 1496) became the standard textbooks for astronomy and cosmology in the 16th century used by all of the leading astronomers including Copernicus.

Another of the books discussed by Darin is Witelo’s Peri Optikes, which Tannstetter edited together with his most famous pupil the astronomer Peter Apian (1495 – 1552) and which was printed and published in Nürnberg by Johannes Petreius (1497 – 1550) in 1535. This was the first printed edition of Witelo’s work, which was the most important European book on the theory of optics produced in the Middle Ages. Kepler’s first book on optics Ad Vitellionem Paralipomena, Quibus Astronomiae Pars Optica Traditur published in 1604 was as the title says an appendix to Witelo’s book. Petreius is of course best known as the printer publisher who published Copernicus’ De revolutionibus in 1543. When Rheticus (1514 – 1574) left Nürnberg in 1539 on his journey to Frauenburg, where he would persuade Copernicus to publish his magnum opus he took with him  a gift of six books one of which was the Tannstetter edition of Witelo. In my opinion the Witelo together with three other works out of Petreius’ printshop were intended to demonstrate to Copernicus how well Petreius would present his book if he allowed him to publish it.*

*This last sentence is part of an unpublished paper by yours truely on the publication of the De revolutionibus. It’s unpublished because as usual I’m incapable of finishing it. The journal editor who wants to publish it has given up asking!


Filed under Early Scientific Publishing, History of science, Renaissance Science

2 responses to “Books for Copernicus

  1. Pingback: Highlinker: The can be many « Evolving Thoughts

  2. Thony, You are being too kind to me. And once again, you have added nice detail to my brief post.


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