The reception of Copernicus as reflected in biographies
Proceedings of the 2nd ICESHS (Kraków, Poland, September 6–9, 2006)
Problems of the early modern Copernicus biographies
The biographer of a person who was living in the 19th or 20th century is usually confronted with an abundance of material that he has to choose, sort and evaluate in order to separate substantial from insubstantial information. Nicolaus Copernicus’s early biographers, in contrast, had a rather small amount of biographical material that, in addition, sometimes seemed to be of questionable value or veracity. These meagre and dubious sources were determined by several events that mostly occurred in the first hundred years after Copernicus’s death and have a continuing influence up to now.
Copernicus’s only disciple, Georg Joachim Rheticus (1514–1576), knew many details of his teacher’s life and a letter from Copernicus’s friend and Confrater Tiedemann Giese, dated July 26th, 1543, tells us that Rheticus had written a biography or at least made a draft of one shortly after Copernicus’s death. For unknown reasons, this manuscript has neither been printed nor even found. A few published biographical notes, for example, in Rheticus’s preface referring to the Ephemerides of 1551, give us an impression of how much information about Copernicus’s life has been lost.