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Nicolaus Copernicus, Astronomer and Physician

Nicolaus Copernicus, Astronomer and Physician

By R.E. Chantry-Price

History of Medicine, Vol. 7:1-2 (1976)

Portrait of Copernicus, woodcut attributed to Christoph Murer, from Nicolas Reusner’s Icones (1587).

Introduction: Recently astronomers have celebrated the 500th anniversary of the birth of Nicolaus Copernicus, the Polish cleric who laid the foundations of our views today concerning the structure of the solar system. During his lifetime Copernicus was famous as a physician and administrator throughout northern Poland, and his accomplishments as an astronomer were unrecognised.

Unfortunately it was not until after his death and the publication of his book De Revolutionibus that he achieved an international reputation in this field and hte wisdom of his words were appreciated.

Copernicus was born on the 19th February 1473 in the town of Torun, a prosperious town in northern Poland. His father died when he was only ten and from then onwards his education became the responsibility of his uncle, Lukasz Watzenrode, who shortly afterwards became the Bishop of Warmia, a diocese in what is today termed the Oltzyn district of Poland. This district was to the east of the city of Gdansk or Danzig.

At the age of eighteen Copernicus was sent to the Jagiellonia University of Cracow to read for a degree in the Faculty of Arts and it was here that he started to become interested in astronomy.

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