Station One: Wadham Astronomy

Nicolaus Copernicus

De Revolutionibus (1543)



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De Revolutionibus open at the title page

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De revolutionibus orbium coelestium ('On the revolutions of the celestial orbs') (1543) is one of the most famous books in the history of science. Copernicus (1473-1543) presented his motions as a full physical theory, that is to say he claimed that he accurately described celestial mechanics and was not simply offering a mathematical model independent of physical truth. However, his work was published with a preface by the Lutheran theologian Andreas Osiander, who perhaps sought to cushion the reception of Copernicus by stressing that mathematicians might accept his working without believing it to be physically true. And indeed the acceptance of 'full' Copernicanism was thereafter both gradual and uneven, with many more readers willing to accept the mathematics than the physics of the book.