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Nicolas Copernicus


The Recovery of the Ancient Learning

Astrology  & Astronomy in the Middle Ages.


By Michael Johnathan McDonald.

  • Nicolas Copernicus

  • Homemade astrolabe.

  • Astrology Pamphlets.

  • Nicolaus Copernicus twelve 30° Ages , at 2,150.029767 years.

Nicolas Copernicus

  Significance: A New Celestial World


"Nicolaus Copernicus (born February 19, 1473 – died May 24, 1543) was a Polish astronomer of German origin, who is remembered for providing the first modern formulation of a heliocentric (Sun-centered) theory of the solar system in De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. Copernicus worked as a church canon, governor, administrator, mathematician, economist, jurist, physician and astrologer. Amid all his responsibilities, he treated astronomy as a hobby"(Columbia ; Britannica).

Copernicus, attached geometrics to the principle of uniform circular motion which included the earth creating a new field of thought of a natural motion of the spheres. Copernicus, during his time was considered an avid believer and practitioner in astrology. Only a one-hundred years later he became myth by society's invention as the great astronomer of the middle ages. "...1543, Nicholas Copernicus proposed to increase the accuracy and simplicity of astronomical theory by transferring the sun's many astronomical functions previously attributed to the earth" ( Kuhn XIII).

  • Original name: Mikolaj Kopernik or Nicolaus Koppernigk

  • Father's name : Nicolaus Koppernigk,  business trading in copper in Torun, a civic leader in Torun and a magistrate.

  • Married  Barbara Watzenrode, a wealthy citizen.

  • Stats: Four children, two sons and two daughters, of whom Nicolaus Copernicus was the youngest. (St Andrews).

When young Nicolaus was ten years old his father died. His uncle Lucas Watzenrode, who was a canon at Frauenburg Cathedral, became guardian to Nicolaus and Barbara Koppernigk's four children(St Andrews).

A university education at Krakow provided him in his own words the education he needed to achieve his goals (St Andrews).

He took scientific courses of the middle ages which were mathematics courses which introduced Aristotle and Ptolemy's view of the universe so that students could understand the calendar, calculate the dates of holy days, and also have skills that would enable those who would follow a more practical profession to navigate at sea. Also taught as a major part of astronomy was what today we would call astrology, teaching students to calculate horoscopes of people from the exact time of their birth. He learnt his astronomy from Tractatus de Sphaera by Johannes de Sacrobosco written in 1220…Printed in Venice in 1492, and Regiomontanus's Tables of Directions (a work on spherical astronomy) published in Augsburg in 1490. Remarkably Copernicus's copies of these works, signed by him, are still preserved (St Andrews).

Around 1514 he distributed a little book, not printed but hand written, to a few of his friends who knew that he was the author even though no author is named on the title page. This book, usually called the Little Commentary, set out Copernicus's theory of a universe with the sun at its centre. The Little Commentary is a fascinating document. It contains seven axioms which Copernicus gives, not in the sense that they are self evident, but in the sense that he will base his conclusions on these axioms and nothing else. What are the axioms? Let us state them:

  1. There is no one centre in the universe.

  2. The Earth's centre is not the centre of the universe.

  3. The centre of the universe is near the sun.

  4. The distance from the Earth to the sun is imperceptible compared with the distance to the stars.

  5. The rotation of the Earth accounts for the apparent daily rotation of the stars.

  6. The apparent annual cycle of movements of the sun is caused by the Earth revolving round it.

  7. The apparent retrograde motion of the planets is caused by the motion of the Earth from which one observes.

(St Andrews).


Padua was famous for its medical school and while he was there Copernicus studied both medicine and astronomy. (St Andrews).

  • Copernicus fame results from a moral courage to go against the doctrinal authority of the Church, which ruled the  minds of the populous and that the Earth was the center of the Universe and therefore, the most important factory in human legitimacy.

  • Copernicus got rid of the equant circles. In doing so,

  • Copernicus replaced it by supplementary epicycles.

  • Therefore: A General View, Copernicus' Universe remains more complicated than Ptolemy's.

  • Copernicus' wealth created the leisure time required to tackle the extreme difficulty of restructuring a Solar System. He spent decades revising and rethinking his master work on a heliocentric universe.

  • How to argue his case.

  • 1. Retrograde

  • 2. Inferior planets elongations

  • 3. Epicycles

  1. He was not a mathematician in the sense  of Kepler's expertise.  He simply used Ptolemy's figures but changed the foci points.

  2. He attached the rule, or principle. of uniform circular motion., and he regarded it as the basis of his celestial mechanics (Koyré,59).

  3. Circular motion is caused by circular objects, he thinks? Bodies revolve because they are round. Aristotle thought so too, but Aristotle remained convinced that one needed a physical center to achieve this result. 

  4. Aristotle believed the velocity of each planet was constant with every planet but the distance factored in the slower revolution period around the earth. "Aristotle stated this in De Coelo, Lib. II, cap. 10; and Ptolemy agreed" (Koyré  150). Copernicus was in perfect agreement with this said system (Koyré 150). Kelper, however, asked the hard questions that the others did not want to face, or mere fact they didn't think to ask. Therefore the concept of astronomy needed changing. "...Equal (orbital) velocities, do not agree with the facts."  "Periods of revolution are not directly proportional to the distance" (Koyré 150).

  5. " Copernicus is, so to speak, a mid-path between pure kinematics and dynamics,  and that is why ( Ptolemy) he had no need to put anything whatever at the center of his celestial bodies or spheres; not even the sun" (Koyré 59).

What is kinematics? "The branch of mechanics that studies the motion of a body or a system of bodies without consideration given to its mass or the forces acting on it" (The American Heritage ).

What is dynamics? The branch of mechanics that is concerned with the effects of forces on the motion of a body or system of bodies, especially of forces that do not originate within the system itself(The American Heritage ).


"...Copernicus places the Sun at the center of the Universe, he does not place it at the center of the celestial motions: neither the center of the Earth's sphere nor that of the planetary sphere is placed in the Sun, but only near it, and the planetary motions are referred not to the Sun, but the center of the Earth's sphere --- eccentric with respect to the Sun. The center of the terrestrial sphere certainly revolves around the Sun; it is placed on a small epicycle whose deferent as the Sun for center, but its motion  is so slow --- the epicycles  make one revolution in 3434 years and the deferent in 53,000 years -- that for practical purposes, it does not enter into the calculations. as a result we have paradox, that the celestial mechanics of Copernicus the Sun plays a very unobtrusive part. It is so unobtrusive that we might say that it plays no part whatsoever. Its purpose is quite different: It gives light to the Universe, and that is all" (Koyré  59, 65).


Geometrization of the concept of form places the Earth amongst the stars, and raises it, so to speak , into the heavens. (Koyré, 59)
  • Copernicus didn't invent a new mathematical system for his universe. He just basically made some adjustments, such as getting rid of the "equants for the planets"k1, and swapping the center of the Universe with the sun in exchange from the earth. He made roughly only about 60-70 naked eye observations which he got many things wrong.

  • In 1514 he made his Commentariolus — a short handwritten text describing his ideas about the heliocentric hypothesis — available to friends.

  • Copernicus wasn't going to publish his finding due to uncertainty of some of his findings and the fact of society peer pressure, especially the common people Some in the church who were apprised to his work had no problem because of his professed hypothesis and not stating this is a fact that the earth is not the center of the universe. There is one man to thank.

  • Georg Joachim Rheticus, was a young professor of mathematics and astronomy at the University of Wittenberg (St Andrews).

  • Georg Joachim Rheticus, his student,  advocated for Copernicus and for a printing of the  work of De Rev.  He wrote on his hypothesis and sent letters to people. This helped to get the word out about this new finding. He probably helped out in alerting the ones who knew like Maestlin, who could understand its dynamics and thus be able to pass it along in academia.

  • Rheticus believed Copernicus was following Plato and Pythagoreans divine mathematics.

  • In 1542, in Copernicus' name, Rheticus published a treatise on trigonometry (later included in the second book of De revolutionibus). Under strong pressure from Rheticus, and having seen that the first general reception of his work had not been unfavorable, Copernicus finally agreed to give the book to his close friend Tiedemann Giese, bishop of Chełmno (Kulm), to be delivered to Rheticus for printing in Nuremberg (Nürnberg).

  • There is no autobiography by him, meaning that we do not know what went through his mind when forming his works. However, "the Narratio Prima helps us to understand the mind of Copernicus..." (Khun 32).

  •  Narratio Prima " was nearly always included with editions of De Revolutionibus Oribium Coelestium we find not only an excellent and very able introduction to Copernican astronomy and some very important biographical information, but also a very curious astrological account of historical events consequent upon variations in the eccentricity of the Earth's circle." (Khun 30).

Copernicus Historical Astrology


"Rheticus says, ' when the eccentricity of the Sun reached its maximum, the Roman government became a monarchy; and when the eccentricity had reached its limit, the quadrant of the mean value, the Mohammedan faith was established; another great empire was created and rapidly increased with the change in eccentricity. A hundred years hence, when the eccentricity will be at its minimum, the empire too will come to an end. In out time, it is at its zenith, from which , God willing, it will fall just as rapidly [ as it rose], and it will fall with a violent crash. We wait the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ when the center of the eccentric reaches the other limit of the mean value, for it is in that position at the creation of the world. This calculation gives the result which hardly differs form saying of Elijah, who prophesied under divine inspiration that the world will endure only for 6000 years, during which time nearly two revolutions are completed. It appears, therefore, that the small circle is verily the Wheel of Fortune, in virtue of whose revolutions the kingdoms of this world have their beginnings and vicissitudes.' (Khun 33).


The Narratio Prima  was well received. " Once the Narratio Prima  was published there was not need to delay the publication of De Revolutionibus Oribium Coelestium...Copernicus received  the first printed copy on his deathbed, 24, May 1543." (Khun 35).

  • Osiander  in a preface, made it clear that Copernicus's word was purely a hypothesis, and not fact. This, he claims was to ward off the Church's watch-dogs, and not get condemned.

  • Osiander and Copernicus didn't really get along. He asked Osiander not to put in a Preface that he Osiander wrote.

  • "Some are appalled at this gigantic piece of deception by Osiander, as Rheticus was at the time, others feel that it was only because of Osiander's Preface that Copernicus's work was read and not immediately condemned." (St Andrews).

"Copernicus's cosmology placed a motionless sun not at the centre of the universe, but close to the centre, and also involved giving several distinct motions to the Earth. The problem that Copernicus faced was that he assumed all motion was circular so, like Ptolemy, was forced into using epicycles . It was consequently considered implausible by the most of his contemporaries, and by most astronomers and natural philosophers until the middle of the seventeenth century. In the intended Preface of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium Copernicus showed that he was fully aware of the criticisms that his work would attract:-

Perhaps there will be babblers who, although completely ignorant of mathematics, nevertheless take it upon themselves to pass judgement on mathematical questions and, badly distorting some passages of Scripture to their purpose, will dare find fault with my undertaking and censure it. I disregard them even to the extent as despising their criticism as unfounded. "(St Andrews).

Copernicus revolution

Nature verses Geometry

Centrifugal Force


"The old argument that bodies not in contact with the Earth - clouds , birds -- should 'remain behind' in case of a rotating Earth, or that a body thrown up vertically would never fall again to the place whence it was thrown, Copernicus replied that these bodies, being ' terrestrial' and consequently sharing the nature of earth, share also its 'natural' motion of rotation which coexists within them together with their own proper motion". (koyre 57)

  • ID: Copernicus, attached geometrics to the principle of uniform circular motion which included the earth creating a new field of thought of a natural motion of the spheres. Why was this important?

  •  Aristotle and Ptolemy, and many more people before Galileo and Descartes,  understood the distinction between the 'violent motion' verses the 'natural motion' argument, but Copernicus assets that the same laws apply to the heavens as well as the earth. ( Kore 57).

"1543, Nicholas Copernicus proposed to increase the accuracy and simplicity of astronomical theory by transferring the sun many astronomical functions previously attributed to the earth" ( Kuhn XIII).

Copernicus was not a mathematician according to many investigators. He used Ptolemy's figures and just swapped the Sun's position for the earth. Therefore he is given the deed of changing from a geostatic to heliostatic which leaves the theory precisely unchanged (Koyré, 112).

Home Made Astrolabe


directions These are the azimuth lines projected form the bi-sect of N & K.


This is a simple homemade astrolabe set up for a zenith at 38°n, roughly Berkeley, Ca. United States of America.
This template I created to distribute my declinations for my ruler (index), and also to map-out my positions of stars on my rete.


Astrology, War  & Pamphlet Wars  - England


The most important book during the early renaissance till about the 1700s in Europe was the Almanac. It was said that the two most important books to own remained, first the Bible, which was handed down generation after generation, and an Almanac that one needed to purchase the new edition annually.


Pamphlet wars reached a statistical summit as the wars in England dethroned for a short time the monarchy.

Almanacs were the best sellers of the old-world. Even Benjamin Franklin, the American diplomat made his fortune off of these things. Franklin wrote on astrology  in the almanacs too, especially against the demise of his competitors, partly playing info-war games that did achieve results.


Parliament: William Lilly preached a proclamation on astrology

1660s Prohibition against Almanacs. End of Judicial Astrology. Astrologers had no part in decisions anymore.

  • "Rotation of the Trigon of Great Conjunctions." (See part three and Kepler's significance) Any one of the corners of the triangle or trigon will move through 30 degrees in about 200 years and completely around the Zodiac in 2400 years. The 20-year conjunction points are roughly one-third of the Zodiacal Circle around from each other. If the points are connected, they form a near equilateral triangle within the circle. Each successive 60-year Great Conjunction occurs an average of about nine degrees farther down the track, in the forward direction through the Zodiac, from the previous one. Therefore, the entire triangle can be thought of as rotating in the forward direction through the Zodiac in increments of nine degrees every 60 years.  (Terry).

  • Wallenstein, Albrecht von, a general in the Thirty-Years War. He was born with a Jupiter/Saturn conjunction. During his 40th year Jupiter and Saturn rejoined in conjunction. (( b. September 24 Greg. 1583). about 4:26 pm. Sid. Time 16:38:21. Hermanice CZ. 15e54.30  50n22 )

  • Copernicus, during his time was considered an avid believer and practitioner in astrology. Only a one-hundred years later he became myth by society's invention as the great astronomer of the middle ages.

Work Cited:


                                Britannica Encyclopedia Online <> 2006.

Khun S. Thomas. The Copernican Revolution 'Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought'. by the President of Fellows of Harvard. 1957. r. 1985. 30,32.


Heilbron, J. L. Astronomy and Astrology in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Represented in University of California Berkeley Reader. History 181A. January 2006.

( Astrolabe/23 J. L. Heilbron)


Alden, Terry. The Mill of Time: 'Celestial Cycles and the Ancient Mythological Sciences'.  see fig. 2. <> Feb. 2006.


Koyré, Alexander , The Astronomical Revolution: Copernicus-Kepler- Borelli 2nd ed. ( Ithaca: Dover Publications, Inc, New York),1992.


McDonald, Michael J.,  Photos of  Homemade astrolabe. February 2006.


St Andrews, School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Nicolaus Copernicus , Scotland, Nov. 2002,  <> 2006.


The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2000, Houghton Mifflin Company, <> 2006.

:<> 2006.


The Columbia Encyclopedia,  .6th ed. 2001-05. <> 2006.


Notes: I'm inclined to agree, but it's worth bearing in mind that in medieval
astrology (where they were very keen on the concept of "casting
rays"), planets aspecting the angles were considered important.

latitudes (almucantar-like) and longitudes (azimuth-like).


March 10th, 2006


Copyright © 2006 Michael Johnathan McDonald. . All rights reserved.






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