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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/118

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

and intimate. The bishop of Ermeland was a great noble in a place of power. Affairs of much import to the church had to be treated. The knights of the Teutonic order (founded at Acre in 1190) had conquered the Duchy of Prussia in the thirteenth century. West Prussia had been ceded to Poland in 1466, while East Prussia, including Ermeland, was a Polish fief. A part of the policy of the order was to extend the lordship of their metropolitan Bishop of Riga over the diocese of Ermeland. It was the policy of Bishop Lucas to oppose all such efforts, to attain entire independence, and even to become spiritual over-lord of a part of the territory of the Teutonic order. These plans came to nothing; but a legacy of hatred remained among the knights, who left nothing undone to provoke and degrade the Ermeland bishop and his friends, and to excite disorder in his own territory. The pressure of the invading Tartars on the borders kept the knights occupied, however, and left them little leisure for hostile action. Constant vigilance was required on the part of the bishop, and many journeys to different parts of the bishopric were required.

Copernicus was charged with missions of this sort from the very first. It was during one of these journeys to Petrikau in 1509 that he printed his Latin version of the 'Epistles' of Theophylactos. Greek epistles—invading Tartars—feudal rights—church privileges—Polish and Prussian politics—these were the preoccupations of his mind. We can hardly think that much time was left for astronomy, yet the lunar eclipse of June 2, 1509, was duly observed. One of Copernicus's biographers calls him 'a quiet scholarly monk of studious habits—in study and meditation his life passed—he does not appear as having entered into the life of the times.' This is the legend. It is obviously only a small part of the truth. In March, 1512, the bishop of Ermeland died and Copernicus returned to his cloister at Frauenburg. He was now thirty-nine years old.

In the dedication of his 'De Revolutionibus' to the Pope (1542), Copernicus says that it is now 'four nines of years' since the heliocentric theory was conceived. Strictly interpreted this brings the date of its birth to 1506. It is, at all events, safe to say that the idea was elaborated on German, though it may have been born on Italian, soil.

From 1512 to 1516 Copernicus was in constant residence at the Cathedral of Frauenburg, where indeed the greatest part of his life was spent. For two periods (1516–19 and 1520–21) he lived at Allenstein, administering certain estates belonging to his chapter. His observatory was on one of its towers and commanded a wide horizon. Few observations were necessary for his great discovery of the heliocentric motion. He knew beforehand the phenomena to be explained. Ptolemy had offered a solution that had been accepted for fourteen