Today, I was on jury duty. At the entrance of the courthouse, right next to the x-ray machines there was a large commemorative plaque about Copernicus. I don’t know why it was there but I was very happy to see that Copernicus is celebrated in American courthouses.
Nicolaus Copernicus is a Latinized version of his Polish name Mikolaj Kopernik. He was a Polish polymath: astronomer, mathematician, physician, classics scholar, translator, governor, diplomat, and economist.
In his book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), published just before his death in 1543, he proved that Earth and other planets revolve around the Sun. This correct theory became known as heliocentrism which was very controversial in the 16’th and 17’th centuries.
The established church doctrine at that time claimed that Earth was at the center of the universe and the Sun revolved around the Earth. When Galileo Galilei promoted the heliocentric theory of Copernicus he was tried by the Roman Inquisition in 1615. Gelileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Galileo’s books were banned for more than a century until Pope Benedict Benedict XIV (Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini) authorized the publications of the scientific works of Galileo Galilei in 1741.
Complete Works of Copernicus
In 1972 the Polish Academy of Sciences under the direction of J. Dobrzycki published critical editions of the Complete Works of Copernicus in six languages: Latin, English, French, German, Polish, and Russian. The first volume was a facsimile edition. The annotations in the English translations are more comprehensive than the others. The English edition was reissued as follows:
Minor Works, 1992, trans. E. Rosen, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press (originally published as volume 3 of Nicholas Copernicus: Complete Works, Warsaw: Polish Scientific Publishers, 1985).
On the Revolutions, 1992, trans. E. Rosen, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press (originally published as volume 2 of Nicholas Copernicus: Complete Works, Warsaw: Polish Scientific Publishers, 1978).
Copernicus spoke Latin, German, and Polish fluently. He also spoke Greek and Italian but he wrote in Latin which was the language of academia in Europe. Latin was also the official language of the Roman Catholic Church and of Poland’s royal court.