The First Account - Aftermath - A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos - Dava Sobel

A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos - Dava Sobel (2011)

Part III. Aftermath


One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the Earth abideth for ever.

The Sun also ariseth, and the Sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

The wind … whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.

All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

The thing that hath been it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the Sun.


“A generation passes away, and a generation comes, but the Earth stands forever.” Does it seem here as if Solomon wanted to argue with the astronomers? No; rather, he wanted to warn people of their own mutability, while the Earth, home of the human race, remains always the same, the motion of the Sun perpetually returns to the same place, the wind blows in a circle and returns to its starting point, rivers flow from their sources into the sea, and from the sea return to the sources, and finally, as these people perish, others are born. Life’s tale is ever the same; there is nothing new under the Sun.

You do not hear any physical dogma here. The message is a moral one, concerning something self-evident and seen by all eyes but seldom pondered. Solomon therefore urges us to ponder.

—JOHANNES KEPLER, Astronomia nova, 1609

Chapter 7. The First Account

It is also clearer than sunlight that the sphere which carries the Earth is rightly called the Great Sphere. If generals have received the surname “Great” on account of successful exploits in war or conquests of peoples, surely this circle deserved to have that august name applied to it. For almost alone it makes us share in the laws of the celestial state, corrects all the errors of the motions, and restores to its rank this most beautiful part of philosophy.


No one knows what the brilliant, fervent young Rheticus said when he accosted the elderly, beleaguered Copernicus in Frauenburg. It is safe to assume he did not laugh at the idea of the Earth in motion. And maybe that was enough to make Copernicus open his long-shelved manuscript, and also his heart, to the visitor who became his only student. Rheticus’s enthusiasm for astronomy leapt the barriers of age, outlook, and religious difference that might well have separated the two men. As Rheticus recalled years later of their time together, “Driven by youthful curiosity … I longed to enter as it were into the inner sanctum of the stars. Consequently, in the course of this research I sometimes became downright quarrelsome with that best and greatest of men, Copernicus. But still he would take delight in the honest desire of my mind, and with a gentle hand he continued to discipline and encourage me.”

Nor does anyone know how Rheticus’s presence in Frauenburg escaped the wrath—or even the notice—of Bishop Dantiscus. Whether Copernicus intentionally hid the youth at first, or merely concealed his full identity, he soon hustled him out of town.

As Rheticus explained the situation later in a letter to a friend, “I had a slight illness, and, on the honorable invitation of the Most Reverend Tiedemann Giese, bishop of Kulm, I went with my teacher to Löbau and there rested from my studies for several weeks.” Once outside Varmia, Rheticus was safe from religious persecution. The peace-loving Giese, who had long prodded Copernicus to publish his theory, must have been ecstatic to learn of their visitor’s ties to a respected printer of scientific texts. For Rheticus had brought as gifts three volumes bound in white pigskin, containing an assemblage of five important astronomy titles, three of which had been set in type and ornamented by the eminent printer Johannes Petreius of Nuremberg.

By summer’s end in 1539, Rheticus had learned enough from Copernicus to write an informed summary of his thesis. He framed this précis as a letter to another mentor, Johann Schöner, a widely respected astrologer, cartographer, and globe maker in Nuremberg—and presumably the person who referred Rheticus to Copernicus in the first place.

“To the illustrious Johann Schöner, as to his own revered father, G. Joachim Rheticus sends his greetings,” the report began. “On May 14th I wrote you a letter from Posen in which I informed you that I had undertaken a journey to Prussia, and I promised to declare, as soon as I could, whether the actuality answered to report and to my own expectation.” He then explained how his “illness” had diverted him to Kulm for a time. After ten weeks of concentration, however, he was ready to “set forth, as briefly and clearly as I can, the opinions of my teacher on the topics which I have studied.”

Rheticus may have read a copy of the Brief Sketch in Schöner’s library before visiting Copernicus, or he could have come with only a vague notion of the new cosmology. Now he found himself one of two or at most three people in the world to have paged through the complete draft version of On the Revolutions.


The erudite Johann Schöner of Nuremberg, as painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

“My teacher has written a work of six books,” he told Schöner, “in which, in imitation of Ptolemy, he has embraced the whole of astronomy, stating and proving individual propositions mathematically and by the geometrical method.” Ticking off the topics covered in each of the six parts, Rheticus said nothing of what is today considered the work‘s most salient feature. Indeed, he remained strangely silent about the motion of the Earth until page nineteen of his protracted description. Perhaps he knew Schöner and other readers would find a moving Earth ludicrous, and so he avoided mention of it for as long as he could. Or, equally likely, he judged a different aspect of Copernicus‘s work to be more important, and therefore gave it precedence. This was the explanation of the eighth sphere, or how the daily spin of the heavens drifted slowly backward over time—the subject of Copernicus’s spar with Werner. Rheticus presented Copernicus’s numerical results without saying that the starry sphere remained stationary in the Copernican model. He concentrated instead on cyclic time patterns Copernicus had identified through observations of the Sun and stars. To Rheticus’s mind, these long cycles coincided with turning points in world history, and he seized on an interpretation that he believed Schöner would appreciate:

“We see that all kingdoms have had their beginnings when the center of the eccentric [here Rheticus refers to long-term changes in the Sun’s apparent position] was at some special point on the small circle. Thus, when the eccentricity of the Sun was at its maximum, the Roman government became a monarchy; as the eccentricity decreased, Rome too declined, as though aging, and then fell. When the eccentricity reached the boundary and quadrant of mean value, the Mohammedan faith was established; another great empire came into being and increased very rapidly, like the change in the eccentricity. A hundred years hence, when the eccentricity will be at its minimum, this empire too will complete its period. In our time it is at its pinnacle from which equally swiftly, God willing, it will fall with a mighty crash. We look forward to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ when the center of the eccentric reaches the other boundary of mean value, for it was in that position at the creation of the world.”

Surely Rheticus had found exactly what he had come for: Copernicus’s carefully developed mathematical treatise offered a firm new footing for the most momentous predictions of astrology. Nothing could extend Rheticus’s own longevity, of course, but in his short life he believed he might yet shape a destiny, and maybe even achieve glory, by bringing Copernicus out of the shadows.

“A boundless kingdom in astronomy has God granted to my learned teacher,” Rheticus interrupted his narrative to exclaim. “May he, as its ruler, deign to govern, guard, and increase it, to the restoration of astronomic truth. Amen.”

Next Rheticus boasted to Schöner how Copernicus had resolved the Moon’s motion without stretching or shrinking the lunar diameter. One could talk easily enough about the Moon’s going around the Earth without referring to the Earth’s motion. Only when he brought up the motions of the other planets did Rheticus finally concede that the center of the universe might shift in the new picture. And, almost in the same breath, he defended the switch: “Indeed, there is something divine in the circumstance that a sure understanding of celestial phenomena must depend on the regular and uniform motions of the terrestrial globe alone.”

The road ahead—meaning the struggle to convince others to accept Copernicus’s wisdom—would admittedly be difficult. But Rheticus had committed himself to this course and expected Schöner to do the same.

“Hence you agree, I feel, that the results to which the observations and the evidence of heaven itself lead us again and again must be accepted, and that every difficulty must be faced and overcome with God as our guide and mathematics and tireless study as our companions.” Even Ptolemy, Rheticus claimed, “were he permitted to return to life,” would applaud this “sound science of celestial phenomena.”

Rheticus whipped himself into a frenzy of enthusiasm as he appraised Copernicus’s labors. He found it almost inconceivable to contemplate the burden of effort that had allowed his teacher to take all the disparate phenomena of astronomy and link them “most nobly together, as by a golden chain.” Over the remainder of his sixty-six-page report (twice as long as the Brief Sketch and the Letter Against Wernercombined), Rheticus directly addressed Schöner a dozen times, as though to shake him awake to the new reality: “To offer you some taste of this matter, most learned Schöner,” “Let me in passing call your attention, most learned Schöner,” “But that you may the more readily grasp all these ideas, most learned Schöner,” and so on, leading up to a final impassioned appeal:

“Most illustrious and most learned Schöner, whom I shall always revere like a father, it now remains for you to receive this work of mine, such as it is, kindly and favorably. For although I am not unaware what burden my shoulders can carry and what burden they refuse to carry, nevertheless your unparalleled and, so to say, paternal affection for me has impelled me to enter this heaven not at all fearfully and to report everything to you to the best of my ability. May Almighty and Most Merciful God, I pray, deem my venture worthy of turning out well, and may He enable me to conduct the work I have undertaken along the right road to the proposed goal.”

The letter, had it been merely a letter, might have ended there. But Giese, together with Copernicus, hoped to see Rheticus’s report published as a test of acceptability for the heliocentric theory, and therefore the ending necessarily took a political turn. In his effusive concluding pages, Rheticus sang the praises of Prussia.

“You might say that the buildings and the fortifications are palaces and shrines of Apollo; that the gardens, the fields, and the entire region are the delight of Venus, so that it could be called, not undeservedly, Rhodes. What is more, Prussia is the daughter of Venus, as is clear if you examine either the fertility of the soil or the beauty and charm of the whole land.”

Rheticus extolled the Prussian forests teeming with stag, doe, bear, boar, aurochs, elk, and bison; the beehives, orchards, and plains; the rabbit warrens and birdhouses; and the lakes, ponds, and springs that he deemed “the fisheries of the gods.” He cited the famous personages of the land as well, bowing respectfully to “the illustrious prince, Albrecht, Duke of Prussia” and that “eloquent and wise Bishop, the Most Reverend Johann Dantiscus.”

Sometime between mid-May 1539, when Rheticus arrived in Varmia, and September 23, the date he concluded his report, Bishop Dantiscus likely discovered his presence through his network of informants. But he took no legal action. Perhaps Giese convinced Dantiscus of the visiting professor’s value in publicizing Canon Copernicus’s life work as a credit to Varmia. Or perhaps the Rheticus affair paled, in the bishop’s eyes, in comparison to the continuing “trysts” between Copernicus and Anna Schilling. She had never left town, according to the gossip Dantiscus heard from his closest ally in Frauenburg, Provost Pawel Plotowski. Here Giese in fact interceded by letter, imploring Dantiscus not to believe such groundless rumors. Further aspersions from Plotowski, however, continued to inflame Dantiscus’s anger.

“At his old age,” Dantiscus complained of Copernicus in reply to Giese, “almost at the end of his allotted time, he is still said to receive his concubine frequently in furtive assignations.” Dantiscus beseeched Giese to remonstrate with Copernicus on his behalf, and to speak as though he, Giese, were dispensing his own good advice. Reporting back to Dantiscus on September 12, 1539, Giese said he had reprimanded Copernicus as promised, but that his good friend denied all of Plotowski’s pernicious charges.

Winding up the final pages of his report, Rheticus crafted an elaborate thank you to Giese for his goodness and kindness, crediting the prelate with having served as Copernicus’s inspiration.

“His Reverence mastered with complete devotion the set of virtues and doctrine, required of a bishop by Paul. He realized that it would be of no small importance to the glory of Christ if there existed a proper calendar of events in the Church and a correct theory and explanation of the motions. He did not cease urging my teacher, whose accomplishments and insight he had known for many years, to take up this problem, until he persuaded him to do so.” This scenario, though otherwise undocumented, suggests that Giese became muse to Copernicus even before the heliocentric idea was born.

“Since my teacher was social by nature,” Rheticus continued, “and saw that the scientific world also stood in need of an improvement of the motions, he readily yielded to the entreaties of his friend, the reverend prelate. He promised that he would draw up astronomical tables with new rules and that if his work had any value he would not keep it from the world. … But he had long been aware that in their own right the observations in a certain way required hypotheses which would overturn the ideas concerning the order of the motions and spheres that had hitherto been discussed and promulgated and that were commonly accepted and believed to be true; moreover, the required hypotheses would contradict our senses.”

On the horns of that dilemma, Rheticus said, Copernicus had decided to “compose tables with accurate rules but no proofs.” In other words, he would offer instructions for deriving planetary positions without mentioning his mind-boggling rationale. Rheticus doubtless knew from his weeks in their company that Giese and Copernicus had reached just such a compromise in 1535. Their friend Bernard Wapowski, recipient of the Letter Against Werner, visited them in Frauenburg in the autumn of that year, while Copernicus was completing an abbreviated treatise with a complete set of tables. Wapowski took a copy of this almanac with him back to Krakow. In October he tried, through his royal connections, to have the work printed in Vienna, but the negotiations ended in November, with Wapowski’s death.

“Then His Reverence pointed out that such a work would be an incomplete gift to the world,” Rheticus went on, “unless my teacher set forth the reasons for his tables and also included, in imitation of Ptolemy, the system or theory and the foundations and proofs upon which he relied.” Thus Copernicus’s book had come to be. Though the author later put it aside, Giese had never stopped agitating for its release.

“By these and many other contentions, as I learned from friends familiar with the entire affair, the learned prelate won from my teacher a promise to permit scholars and posterity to pass judgment on his work. For this reason men of good will and students of mathematics will be deeply grateful with me to His Reverence, the bishop of Kulm, for presenting this achievement to the world.”

The other patron Rheticus esteemed loudly at the end of his report was Johann of Werden, the mayor of Danzig. “When he heard about my studies from certain friends, he did not disdain to greet me, undistinguished though I am, and to invite me to meet him before I left Prussia. When I so informed my teacher, he rejoiced for my sake and drew such a picture of the man that I realized I was being invited by Homer’s Achilles, as it were. For besides his distinction in the arts of war and peace, with the favor of the muses he also cultivates music. By its sweet harmony he refreshes and inspires his spirit to undergo and to endure the burdens of office.”

One would think Rheticus had laid on his hyperbole a bit thick, but his gushing got the First Account into the Danzig civic printing office, where it was published early in 1540. As soon as the first three sheets came off the press in March, a friend and classmate of Rheticus sent them to Philip Melanchthon in Wittenberg—evidence of what Rheticus, absent from the university for nearly two years now, had been doing with his time.

The title page of the First Account did not identify its author by name, but only as “a certain youth.”

Of the most learned Gentleman and
Most distinguished Mathematician,
The revered Doctor Mr. Nicolaus
Copernicus of Torun, Canon of
Varmia, By a certain youth
Most zealous for


Rheticus, who had cleverly inserted his full name into the salutation in the First Account’s first paragraph, could afford to be modest on the title page. He sent copies of the finished book to friends and acquaintances who had helped him along the way, beginning naturally with Schöner.

Among the early plaudits to reach Rheticus in reply was a congratulatory note from Andreas Osiander, the Lutheran theologian who had initiated Duke Albrecht’s conversion. As other excited letters from scholars also greeted the First Account, Rheticus realized he was about to become famous. He could return to Saxony a hero.

From Giese’s perspective, however, the publication of the First Account merely paved the way for On the Revolutions. He wanted the talented Rheticus to stay on in Frauenburg and help Copernicus prepare his lengthy manuscript for publication. Weary of finessing Rheticus’s illegal residence in Varmia, Giese wished to find him a new sponsor—especially after April 15, 1540, when Bishop Dantiscus enforced the king’s anti-Protestant decree by recalling all Varmian subjects “from the poisoned places of heretical Lutheranism,” and calling also for the destruction of Lutheran books or songs in anyone’s possession anywhere in Varmia. On April 23, Giese dispatched a copy of the First Account to Duke Albrecht at his palace in Königsberg. Writing in German to introduce the little Latin treatise, Giese asked “that Your Princely Eminence might look graciously upon this highly learned guest on account of his great knowledge and skill, and grant him your gracious protection.”

Rheticus apparently came under the duke’s aegis soon afterward, because he remained in residence. Except for a brief return visit to Wittenberg to give two lectures late in 1540, Rheticus continued working alongside Copernicus. Together they reorganized and rewrote several sections of On the Revolutions. They reviewed all the demonstrations describing the planetary motions and the directions for deriving specific positions in celestial latitude and longitude. Rheticus likely assisted Copernicus’s measurement of the partial solar eclipse that occurred over Frauenburg on April 7, 1540. Sixteen months later, when another partial solar eclipse visited the region on August 21, 1541—the fourth and last one that Copernicus observed—Rheticus was still at his side.

From conversations sustained over their long intimacy, Rheticus composed the only authorized biography of his teacher. Giese commended this prose portrait of Copernicus, but, unfortunately, Rheticus never published it, and the text disappeared.

However much Rheticus feared for his safety or suffered other anguish during the days and nights he spent in Varmia, he comforted himself with the pleasures of the new astronomy. “This and other like sports of Nature,” he reported, “often bring me great solace in the fluctuating vicissitudes of my fortunes, and gently soothe my troubled mind.”

In August 1540, several months after the First Account appeared, the expert printer Petreius penned an open letter to Rheticus and published it as an appendix to an astrology text he issued. Petreius hailed Rheticus for having traveled “to the farthest corner of Europe” to find Copernicus, and for writing such a “splendid description” of his system. “Although he does not follow the common system by which these arts are taught in the schools, nevertheless I consider it a glorious treasure if some day through your urging his observations will be imparted to us, as we hope will come to pass.” This encouragement was tantamount to an imprimatur from Petreius. A preeminent press—the leading printer in Nuremberg—stood ready to publish On the Revolutions.

Copernicus, however, had not yet committed himself to publication, but only to teaching Rheticus the intricacies of his theory. He devoted considerable time to instructing and sheltering his new disciple, while still shouldering his various administrative duties for the chapter. In September 1540, he registered with Rome his official request for a coadjutor. He was sixty- seven years old, and wished to see his young Danzig relative Jan Loitz, a boy of twelve, groomed to assume his canonry.

As part of the campaign to win Albrecht’s protection of Rheticus, Copernicus had offered to make his medical acumen available to the duke on demand. Albrecht found occasion to test this promise in April of 1541, when he wrote to say that “Almighty Sempiternal God is inflicting on one of my counselors and subordinates an affliction and severe illness which does not get better.” That same day, April 6, Albrecht also alerted the Varmia Chapter to the situation, in the expectation they would excuse Copernicus to make a house call. The chapter consented on April 8, expressing all the canons’ sympathy and announcing that Copernicus, “without any troublesome excuse, at his advanced old age,” would gladly comply.

Copernicus left immediately for Königsberg to do Albrecht’s bidding. Rheticus went along, as he could hardly remain in Frauenburg without his teacher—or pass up the opportunity to meet his royal patron. Soon after Duke Albrecht received them, he informed the chapter that Copernicus would need to stay a long while by the sick counselor’s bedside, “recalling that it is quite Christian and praiseworthy in such a case to act as a fellow-sufferer.” During the three weeks Copernicus tended to the invalid, he conferred by mail with the king’s physician in Krakow. Neither doctor could do much to soothe the patient, but at least he lived, and Albrecht felt thankful for that. Meanwhile Rheticus and Albrecht explored their mutual interests, which included mathematics, maps, and mapmaking.

Letters from Germany awaited both Rheticus and Copernicus when they got back to Frauenburg in May. Andreas Osiander had written to each of them individually, answering their requests for his advice. Osiander’s standing as both a theologian and an amateur mathematician—and a friend of the printer Petreius—uniquely qualified him to consult on how to publish Copernicus’s book without offending religious or Aristotelian sensibilities. To Copernicus, he suggested writing an introduction to make the point that mathematical hypotheses “are not articles of faith but the basis of computation; so that even if they are false it does not matter, provided that they reproduce exactly the phenomena of the motions.”

To Rheticus, he wrote: “The Peripatetics and theologians will be readily placated if they hear that there can be different hypotheses for the same apparent motion; that the present hypotheses are brought forward, not because they are in reality true, but because they regulate the computation of the apparent and combined motion as conveniently as may be; that it is possible for someone else to devise different hypotheses; that one man may conceive a suitable system, and another a more suitable, while both systems produce the same phenomena of motion; that each and every man is at liberty to devise more convenient hypotheses; and that if he succeeds, he is to be congratulated. In this way they will be diverted from stern defense and attracted by the charm of inquiry; first their antagonism will disappear, then they will seek the truth in vain by their own devices, and go over to the opinion of the author.”

A reprint of the popular First Account came out in Basel in 1541. This version prominently displayed Rheticus’s name on the title page. It also included an introduction by an old family friend of his, the physician Achilles Pirmin Gasser, predicting that the “contrary” sounding content would eventually establish “a true system of astronomy.” Although the reprint reached out to a wider audience of mathematicians, its real target seems to have been Copernicus himself—to erode the last shred of his reluctance to publish On the Revolutions. Gasser prophesied that support for the First Account would prompt “a greater stream of requests” to reach the author of “that rare and almost divine work (whose contents are here adumbrated),” thus “imploring him to allow the delivery of his whole work to us by means of the persistence, effort, and tireless diligence of my friend.”

The stream of requests indeed flowed swiftly. Even Bishop Dantiscus received an importuning letter from abroad—from Gemma Frisius, the polymath and instrument maker he had met in the Low Countries during his days as a diplomat. “Urania seems to have a new residence there with you, and raised up new worshippers who are about to offer us a new Earth, a new Sun, new stars, indeed a whole new world,”Gemma wrote. “I am filled with desire to see this business brought to fruition. And everywhere there are more than a few erudite men whose minds desire it no less than I do.” Dantiscus, inured by now to the Rheticus-Copernicus collaboration, dropped his air of grudging forbearance and finally got behind their project in earnest. In June of 1541, after meeting personally with Copernicus in Braunsberg, Dantiscus composed verses to be used as a foreword for the work in progress.

“I have received your Most Reverend Lordship’s very gracious and quite friendly letter,” Copernicus acknowledged. “Together with it you did not disdain to transmit also a truly elegant and relevant epigram for the reader of my book.” Copernicus promised to place the poem “in the forefront of my work, provided that the work is worthy to deserve being so highly embellished by your Most Reverend Lordship. Yet people who know more than I do, and to whom I should listen, say over and over again that my work is not negligible.” Even as he conferred with Rheticus throughout the summer to further revise and expand the text, he still felt qualms about publishing.

The bishop’s rhapsody undoubtedly loses much in translation, but says in part:

These writings show you the way to the heavens,
If you want to grasp with your mind the boundaries
Where the very beautiful universe expands its immense spaces,
Or the region of the heavens where the planets wander,
And the changes which their perpetual courses undergo …

Rheticus, a sometime poet himself and member of a poets’ circle in Wittenberg, resisted comment. With the bishop at last in his corner, he continued to court the duke. In August 1541 he sent Albrecht a copy of a booklet he had written about mapmaking, in German, called Chorography. The next day he sent another gift—most likely a gnomon, or shadow-casting instrument for gauging the length of days—along with a letter that begged a favor. The time had come for him to head home to Wittenberg, and he was not at all sure what sort of welcome awaited him there. A word from the duke would guarantee his reinstatement on the faculty, and also buy him time to see Copernicus’s book through production. Albrecht obligingly dictated a letter on September I to be sent to the Elector of Saxony, John the Magnanimous, with a copy to the university administration.

“Highborn prince, dear affectionate uncle and brother-in-law,” Albrecht called John. “Our especially beloved Georg Joachim Rheticus, professor of mathematics in Wittenberg, spent some time reputably and well here in these lands of Prussia. He also pursued his science of astronomy etc. in the same manner with divine grace and help. … Accordingly, it is our friendly request to Your Highness that in recognition of his skill, ability, and value, you may wish to validate and confirm him in the aforementioned professorship which he formerly held in Wittenberg. You may also wish graciously to allow and permit him to betake himself for a time, without interruption of his professor’s wages, for the sake of carrying out his intended work in the place where he decided to have his book printed. For our sake also, you may wish to show and evince to him all the gracious, beneficial good will, of which we have no doubt.”

Thus armed, Rheticus packed up a fair copy of Copernicus’s manuscript and said farewell to his teacher. Each knew he would never see the other again, and their emotions at parting probably blended grief with a measure of relief.

“Upon my departure,” Rheticus later remembered, “the great old man solemnly charged me to carry on and finish what he, prevented by old age and impending death, was unable to complete by himself.” In another context he wrote, “There has been no greater human happiness than my relationship with so excellent a man and scholar as he.”

When Rheticus arrived back in Wittenberg in October, the university immediately made him dean of the Faculty of Arts. This was probably as thankless a job then as now, and it burdened him with responsibilities that impeded his publishing agenda. He also acquired a new epithet, “Joachim Heliopolitanus,” or “one who comes from the City of the Sun.” Less a compliment than a mild condemnation of his adopted cosmology, the title clicked with an anti-Copernican comment Martin Luther purportedly dropped at lunch one day.

“So it goes now,” the great Reformer was overheard to remark. “Whoever wants to be clever must agree with nothing that others esteem. He must do something of his own. This is what that fellow does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down. Even in these things that are thrown into disorder I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the Sun to stand still and not the Earth.” Another diner recalled Luther’s branding Copernicus a “fool,” and perhaps he did use that word, though all the “Table Talk” is hearsay. Melanchthon, on the other hand, wrote a letter in October 1541 that expressed his annoyance with “the Polish astronomer who moves the Earth and immobilizes the Sun.”

Between teaching duties and presiding at graduation ceremonies in February and April, Rheticus could not break away to take Copernicus’s manuscript to Nuremberg. Perhaps out of frustration, he selected two chapters treating technical aspects of geometry, called them On the Sides and Angles of Triangles, and published them in Wittenberg in 1542 with full credit to “the most illustrious and highly learned Mr. Nicolaus Copernicus.” At the opening of this book, he included—or rather, unloaded—the poem by Dantiscus, without attribution.

Not till early May 1542, after his term as dean ended, did Rheticus arrive in Nuremberg to deliver the bulk of the copied manuscript to Petreius. Printing commenced immediately. By the end of the month Rheticus had already corrected the first two signatures of eight pages each. In August, with progress well under way, he reflected on his Frauenburg adventure: “I regret neither the expense, nor the long journey, nor any of the other hardship. Rather, I feel I have reaped a great reward, namely that I, a rather daring youth, compelled this venerable man to share his ideas sooner in this discipline with the whole world. And all learned minds will join in my assessment of these theories as soon as the books we now have in press in Nuremberg are published.”