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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/117

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COPERNICUS.

practical ethics resting on philosophy. Belief is not needed as a basis for ethics—not by cultured men, at any rate. He is the first writer within the christian communion to attempt to establish morality on a foundation of reason. He is a Stoic. "The essential reward of virtue is virtue itself," he says; "the punishment of the vicious is vice, than which nothing can be more wretched and unhappy." Future rewards and punishments are not invoked.

It is worth our while to pause here and reflect that we are hearing a teacher to whom Copernicus listened; to whom all Italy, nay all Europe, attended. This teaching was permitted in Italy. It influenced thousands upon thousands of hearers. Perhaps the tolerant treatment of Lutherans in Ermeland by Copernicus when administrator of his diocese may have had its origin in ideas received at this time.

There were other men in the faculty with a message for pupils of genius. Aristotle and Plato were expounded from original Greek texts, and the mazy fabrics of the commentators were swept away. Fracastor, who was, by and by, to become an opponent of the heliocentric theory, was a teacher there. He was the first to teach that the obliquity of the ecliptic changed uniformly (1538), in which respect—only—his doctrine was more sound than that of Copernicus. Medicine was expounded by four professors, and dissection of the human body was practised. Marc Antonio della Torre, the instructor of da Vinci, was one of the anatomists. So far as is known, Copernicus did not take his doctor's degree in medicine.

He was, however, skilled in physick, after the fashion of his day, and practised the art during all his life. He was considered, some of his biographers say, 'a second Æsculapius.' We know nothing definite of his medical practise until his later years. From 1529 to 1537 he treated Bishop Ferber, who praises him as the preserver of his life. Duke Albrecht of Prussia called him to Königsberg in 1541 to treat one of his court, and it is of record that the patient recovered.

It does not appear that Copernicus returned to Frauenburg before 1506. He was then thirty-three years of age. All that the world had then to offer in the way of culture was his. He had followed university studies in theology, philosophy, logic, medicine, mathematics and astronomy. He had mastered Greek, and practised painting. He had been the friend or pupil of the greatest teachers of Italy for ten years, and was now established as physician to his uncle in the bishop's palace at Heilsberg, in high station, with an assured income. Up to this period he had shown no original power; but there can be no doubt that he was universally regarded as a man of the highest culture.

His relation to his uncle was that of Achates to Æneas, affectionate