Copernicus and His Revolutions

Copernicus 1: Introduction


Copernicus: “We are not sufficiently safeguarded to repel an attack and we fear lest the enemy, who is already so near, should besiege us also. Therefore, we humbly appeal to your Holy Majesty to come to our aid as quickly as possible and to support us. For we are completely devoted to Your Majesty, even if we were to perish.”(1)

In 1520, Nicolaus Copernicus appealed to the King of Poland for aid in defending the Castle of Allenstein. The Teutonic Knights, a German order of militant monks, were invading Warmia, a Catholic territory in which Copernicus served as a vassal to the Bishop. The Teutonic Knights inhabited lands to the east of Warmia, and were loyal to the Holy Roman Emperor rather than the King of Poland. The Knights intercepted Copernicus’ letter, and no aid came from the King of Poland. Yet the castle did not fall. Copernicus thwarted this early modern political revolution. However, his actions in defense of Allenstein pale in significance to the intellectual revolution attributed to his book, De revolutionibus, or, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs (Figure 1) . In 1543, Copernicus argued that the Sun rather than the Earth lies in the center of the universe. The Earth moves around the Sun as a planet (Figure 2) . Why did he do this? Why did he believe it? How revolutionary was De revolutionibus?

(Figure 3) (Figure 4) (Figure 5)

Explore these questions with the 3 exhibits in this series, Copernicus and His Revolutions:

I. Intro (Prologue, this page; Video 1)

II. The Renaissance Cosmos (Video 2).

III. Copernicus and the De revolutionibus (Videos 3-8).

Watch online videos of this group of exhibits by clicking the links to the right. The link for the streaming video will be the least taxing on your computer, and is recommended (although not in one sitting), but there are also videos that may be downloaded or watched in segments. The videos are much more effective than the text exhibit because they combine animations and images with the narration. Tips for using this exhibit and the videos are provided in the instructor's guide (link at right).

See Acknowledgments, next page.

Figure 1 Figure 1 - Return to Text

Copernicus, De revolutionibus (1543). Title page.

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Figure 2 Figure 2 - Return to Text

Copernicus (1543). The Earth (Terra) as a planet around a central Sun (Sol).

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Figure 3 Figure 3 - Return to Text

Small Portrait Collection.

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Figure 4 Figure 4 - Return to Text

Copernicus statue and painting, Torun, Poland.

Image credit: Duane H. D. Roller slide archive
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Figure 5 Figure 5 - Return to Text

Copernicus painting.

Image credit: Duane H. D. Roller slide archive
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Notes and References

  1. (Text) - 1. Jan Adamczewski, Nicolaus Copernicus and His Epoch (Washington, D.C.: Copernicus Society of America, 1973), 133.

Exhibit credit: Kerry Magruder.

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These teaching resources provided by the History of Science Department at the University of Oklahoma.

Unless otherwise indicated, all images courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries. Image Terms of Use.

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