Copernicus in the Cultural Debates of the Renaissance

Reception, Legacy, Transformation


In Copernicus in the Cultural Debates of the Renaissance, Pietro Daniel Omodeo presents a general overview of the reception of Copernicus’s astronomical proposal from the years immediately preceding the publication of De revolutionibus (1543) to the Roman prohibition of heliocentric hypotheses in 1616. Relying on a detailed investigation of early modern sources, the author systematically examines a series of issues ranging from computation to epistemology, natural philosophy, theology and ethics. In addition to offering a pluralistic and interdisciplinary perspective on post-Copernican astronomy, the study goes beyond purely cosmological and geometrical issues and engages in a wide-ranging discussion of how Copernicus’s legacy interacted with European culture and how his image and theories evolved as a result.     
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Biographical Note

Pietro Daniel Omodeo, Ph.D., Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, is member of the Collective Research Centre Episteme in Bewegung, Freie Universität Berlin. His research focuses on science, philosophy and literature in the Early Modern Period, as well as on historical epistemology.

Review Quotes

'Wer an der Astronomiegeschichte der Frühen Neuzeit interessiert ist, wird dieses Opus gerne zur Hand nehmen.'
Günther Oestmann, in: Beiträge zur Astronomiegeschichte, 13, p. 321-322.

Massimo Bucciantini, in Il Sole 24 Ore, 4 Ottobre 2015:
'Pietro Daniel Omodeo indaga settant'anni di cosmologia e astronomia a cavallo di due secoli decisivi per le sorti dell'umanità, dove quei saperi sono inseparabili dalle filosofie e dalle teologie del loro tempo. E procede con passo spedito, ma ben equipaggiato e ben allenato ai lunghi viaggi, facendoci conoscere non solo gli attori principali ma anche i tanti personaggi spesso a torto considerati minori, alcuni dei quali pochissimo noti in Italia.' ( Pietro Daniel Omodeo investigates 70 years of cosmology and astronomy between two centuries that were crucial for the fate of humanity, years when those sciences were inseparable from philosophy and theology. He proceeds fluently, ‘well equipped’ and ‘well used’ to long journeys by getting us acquainted to the main and to the less known characters, some of them not enough known in Italy.)

'Cliò che subito colpisce è l'attenzione alla pluralità che scaturisce dai tanti modi in cui venne letto Copernico. Sono le molteplici interpretazioni a rendere peculiare questo lavoro.' ( What’s remarkable is the attention to a pluralistic perspective emerging from all the different ways in which Copernicus was read. The multiple interpretations make this work special.)

'Attraverso l'esame di un numero impressionante di testi Omodeo ci restituisce la fotografia di un'epoca animata da un susseguirsi interminabile di discussioni filosofiche e controversie scientifiche.' ( By examining an impressive number of texts, Omodeo gives us a picture of an age animated by a succession of never-ending philosophical discussions and scientific disputes.)

'Trai capitoli più interessanti del libro ci sono quelli dedicati ai matematici luterani allievi di Filippo Melantone.' ( The chapters devoted to the Lutheran mathematicians, alumni of Filippo Melantone are among the most interesting ones.)

'Siamo di fronte a un libro per lettori esigenti che, non accontentandosi delle troppo lineari ricostruzioni manualistiche, sono disposti a inoltrarsi - e con gusto a perdersi - nell'intricata selva dei molteplici e immaginifici universi che popolano la seconda metà del Cinquecento e i primi decenni del Seicento.' ( This is a book for demanding readers, who are not satisfied by the too simple/linear reconstructions of usual handbooks, and instead are willing to dive in – and be happily lost in – the intricate wood of the multiplex imaginative universes of the second half of the sixteenth century and early seventeenth century.)

Table of contents

Acknowledgments ix
List of Illustrations xi
List of Abbreviations of Journals and Reference Books xii
Introduction 1
1 Copernicus between 1514 and 1616: An Overview 11
1 Copernicus’s Connection 11
2 Platonizing Humanists 15
3 Rheticus and the Printing of De revolutionibus 19
4 The Network of German Mathematicians 23
5 Italy 25
6 France 31
7 Spain and Flanders 35
8 England and Scotland 37
9 Central European Circles and Courts 43
10 The Physical-Cosmological Turn 48
11 Heliocentrism between Two Centuries: Kepler and Galileo 51
12 Geo-Heliocentrism and Copernican Hypotheses 53
13 The Difficult Reconciliation between Copernicus and the Sacred Scripture 56
14 Copernicus before and after 1616 59
15 Summary of the Main Lines of the Early Reception of Copernicus 63
2 Astronomy at the Crossroads of Mathematics, Natural Philosophy and Epistemology 66
1 A Split Reception of Copernicus 66
2 Copernicus Presents Himself as a Mathematician 70
3 Cosmology and Mathematics in Copernicus’s Commentariolus 71
4 A Clash of Authorities: Averroist Criticism of Mathematical Astronomy 76
5 Fracastoro’s Homocentrism 79
6 Amico on Celestial Motions 82
7 Osiander’s Theological Instructions 85
8 Melanchthon’s Approach to Nature 87
9 Rheticus’s Early “Realism” 92
10 The Elder Rheticus and Pierre de la Ramée against the Astronomical Axiom 94
11 Facts and Reasons in Astronomy according to Melanchthon and Reinhold 97
12 Reinhold’s Astronomy and Copernicus 100
13 Epistemological Remarks on Reinhold’s Terminology 104
14 Peucer’s Continuation of Reinhold’s Program 107
15 Wittich’s Combinatory Games 112
16 Brahe as the Culmination of the Wittenberg School 116
17 Beyond Selective Reading 120
3 Beyond Computation: Copernican Ephemerists on Hypotheses, Astrology and Natural Philosophy 124
1 A Premise: Gemma Frisius as a Reader of Copernicus 124
2 Frisius’s Cosmological Commitment in Stadius’s Ephemerides 127
3 Stadius and Copernicus 130
4 Ephemerides and Astrology 132
5 Some Remarks on Rheticus’s Challenge to Pico 134
6 Giuntini’s Post-Copernican Astrology 136
7 Magini: Copernican Ephemerides, Astrology and Planetary Hypotheses 139
8 A Dispute on the Reliability of Ephemerides in Turin 142
9 Benedetti’s Defense of Post-Copernican Ephemerides and Astrology 145
10 Origanus’s Planetary System 149
11 Origanus’s Arguments in Favor of Terrestrial Motion 151
12 Conclusions 156
4 A Finite and Infinite Sphere: Reinventing Cosmological Space 158
1 The Finite Infinity of the World Revised 159
2 Cusanus’s Two Infinities 161
3 Cusanus’s Role in the Copernican Debate 164
4 The Invention of the Pythagorean Cosmology 167 5 Pythagoreanism and Cosmological Infinity according to Digges 170
6 The Infinity of Space and Worldly Finiteness as a Restoration of the Stoic Outlook 173
7 Benedetti’s Approach to the Copernican System 175
8 Stoicism in Germany: Pegel’s Cosmology 179
9 Bruno’s Pythagorean Correction of Copernicus’s Planetary Model 183
10 Bruno’s Defense of Cosmological Infinity 186
11 Homogeneity, Aether and Vicissitude according to Bruno 188
12 Kepler’s Anti-Brunian Pythagoreanism 191
13 Conclusions: Eclectic Concepts of Cosmological Space in the Renaissance 195
5 A Ship-Like Earth: Reconceptualizing Motion 197
1 The Connection between Cosmology and Physics in Aristotle and Ptolemy 199
2 Copernicus’s Physical Considerations 203
3 Nominalist Sources on Terrestrial Motion 205
4 Calcagnini 209
5 Renaissance Variations on the Ship Metaphor 213
6 Bruno’s Vitalist Conception of Terrestrial Motion 216
7 Benedetti’s Archimedean Dynamics 219
8 Benedetti’s Post-Aristotelian Physics and Post-Copernican Astronomy 220
9 A New Alliance between Mechanics and Astronomy 223
10 Brahe’s Physical Considerations 225
11 Concluding Remarks 230
6 A priori and a posteriori: Two Approaches to Heliocentrism 234
1 Mästlin’s a posteriori Astronomy 235
2 The Young Kepler and the Secret Order of the Cosmos 238
3 Kepler Defends and Expounds the Hypotheses of Copernicus 242
4 The Distances of the Planets: Mästlin’s Contribution 243
5 Mästlin: Finally We Have an a priori Astronomy 245
6 The Sun as the Universal Motive Force 248
7 The New Astronomy 250
8 Natural Arguments in Astronomy 251
9 Gravitas and vis animalis 254
10 Celestial Messages 257
11 First Reactions to the Celestial Novelties 263
12 Kepler’s Discourses with Galilei 266
7 The Bible versus Pythagoras: The End of an Epoch 271
1 Condemnation 271
2 First Scriptural Reservations in the Protestant World 272
3 Rheticus and the Scriptures 274
4 Spina and Tolosani 278
5 Rothmann’s Opinion on the Scriptural Issue 281
6 Censorship in Tübingen 284
7 Scriptural Defense of Terrestrial Motion by Origanus 286
8 In Iob Commentaria 287
9 Bruno, Copernicus and the Bible 290
10 The Galileo Affaire 293
11 Foscarini pro Copernico 297
12 Galilei to Christina of Lorraine 303
13 Foscarini to Bellarmino 304
14 Bellarminian Zeal 307
15 Campanellan Libertas 309
16 Campanella’s Cosmologia 311
17 Apologia pro Galilaeo 314
18 Conclusions: Accommodation and Convention 318
8 Laughing at Phaeton’s Fall: A New Man 322
1 Holistic Views in the Astronomical-Astrological Culture of the Renaissance 323
2 The Ethical Question in Bruno: Philosophical Freedom and the Criticism of Religion 332
3 The Reformation of the Stars: a Metaphor for the Correction of Vices 335
4 A Copernican Sunrise 339
5 Beyond the Ethics of Balance 342
6 Heroic Frenzy 344
7 Actaeon: The Unity of Man and Nature 347
8 Bruno’s Polemics, Banishments and Excommunications 350
9 Cosmological and Anti-Epicurean Disputations at Helmstedt 352
10 Mencius against Epicurean Cosmology 354
11 Bruno’s Support of Atomistic Views 356
12 “New Astronomy” at Helmstedt 358
13 Liddel’s Teaching of Astronomy and Copernican Hypotheses 360
14 Hofmann’s Quarrel over Faith and Natural Knowledge 363
15 Franckenberg and the Spiritualist Reception of Bruno and Copernicus 365
16 Hill and the Epicurean Reception of Bruno and Copernicus 372
17 A New Imagery: Phaeton’s Fall 378
18 Conclusions: The New Humanity 382
Bibliography 387
Index of Names 425
Index of Places 432


All readers interested in Renaissance studies, in particular in early modern astronomy and philosophy.

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