De Revolutionibus

by cheri block

De Revolutionibus (day revolutee-OWN-ee-bus) is a thick book bound in black leather. Its first edition was printed in Nuremberg, Germany and the second in Basel, Switzerland.

Scholars believe that the original run was 500 copies. Two editions came out, the first in 1543 and the second in 1566.

Only 600 of the 1000 or so  books have survived water, fire, war, and storage.

With the exception of the first chapter, the book is unreadable unless one is a patient mathematician and reads Latin.

Was this the book that nobody read?

Author and astrophysicist Owen Gingerich set out to locate all extant copies of the first and second editions of De Revolutionibus and to  look inside each  to see if the books’ owners had annotated the margins (and thus had read the books). He spent 30 years traveling the globe (the one that Copernicus determined was moving!) and amazingly viewed about 600 copies. He chronicles his long search in a first-person narrative titled The Book That Nobody Read.

Was this the book that nobody read?

Hardly. He found German mathematician, Rheticus‘ book. He found Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe’s book. He found Galileo and Kepler’s books. He examined books in Beijing, in Brazil, in Moscow–all over the our revolving earth (the earth traveling the ecliptic around a sun that Galileo determined also moves!). Gee whiz.

By 1616, the Catholic church had censored De Revolutionibus and placed it on the  Index of Prohibited Books.

De Revolutionibus was Copernicus’ mathematical treatise on a heliocentric universe.

Last month, I put De Revolutionibus on reserve at the library and journeyed there to hold it in my hands (and inspect it to see if there were any annotations).

As I turned each 468-year-old page, I thought about Copernicus’ genius and Galileo’s bravery. I thought about Giordano Bruno’s execution in the Roman square in 1600 for advocating Copernicanism. I wondered how much this book was worth.

I thought about the scientific revolution that came about, in part, because of this book, De Revolutionibus.

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About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
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20 Responses to De Revolutionibus

  1. I can’t think of a better recommendation for a book than to have it banned by the Catholic Church!

  2. Cyberquill says:

    Clearly, Copernicus was a Communist, and his so-called “magnum opus” is but a thinly veiled propaganda tract to spread atheism around the world. Nice try, Nikki!

    That said, I just downloaded a sample chapter of Gingerich’s book to my new Kindle. In it, the author dates the second edition of De Revolutionibus to 1566, not 1560.

    And just for the record, I strenuously object to your characterization of me as “He also has some annoying characteristics of pedants, Austrian, German, American, French or whatever.”

    No idea what you’re talking about.

    • Cheri says:

      Peter,
      Thank you very much for that correction to the record. You are correct. I will amend my post with the date of the second publication 1566.

      Sorry about the quotation. Let me amend that one too:
      “He also has some annoying characteristics of pedants.”

      Does that help? 🙂

      • Cyberquill says:

        Yes, thank you. I wasn’t sure whether to bring up the missing serial comma after French, but by amending your sentence thus, the issue has been rendered moot, and I can now turn my attention to other matters, i.e., go annoy other people on other blogs.

  3. Cheri says:

    I’m reading about Galileo’s “self-fashioning” which allowed him into the de Medici court.

    You, too, are very good at such self-fashioning.

    If truth be told, I find you rather entertaining, smart, and cynical. I’m honored that you occasionally visit my blog and read. Seriously.

    You are flattering yourself (as Galileo Courtier) if you think you are annoying lots of people. 🙂

    • Cyberquill says:

      Oh, until I got to “annoying” in your last sentence I couldn’t quite figure out who you were addressing.

      Your serial comma after “smart” has been noted.

      Not sure about annoying “lots” of people, but judging from the average number of times per month I get blocked or defriended, am given the demonstrative cold-shoulder treatment, or am told point-blank to go and do you-know-what with myself (online or off, using these or synonymous terms), I’m not exactly counting on my winning the Mr. Congeniality title anytime soon.

      Now, the part about Galileo’s “self-fashioning” must come after my sample chapter ends. I adore my new Kindle, but this sample function coupled with one-click ordering straight from the wireless device seems designed to bankrupt even the most affluent reader in no-time, let alone a have-not like myself … um, I shall rephrase: let alone a just-have-enough-to-buy-a Kindle like myself.

      Not to be pedantic. Just accurate.

  4. That Virtual Pen is a fascinating character.

  5. Was the text in one long sentence, without punctuation and paragraph indents?

    Also, the year of the first printing seems to be just before, or simultaneous with, Gutenberg’s printing press. So this was either one of the first books ever printed in the West, or perhaps manually copied?

    What goes through a writer’s mind when he knows he has turned the world upside down but nobody will understand or sympathize, when he knows his book may not be read by anybody ever, even though if somebody some day does read it, nothing will ever be the same again….

    • Cheri says:

      The text (if I remember correctly) did have minor paragraph breaks but visually looked to be one long sentence. To be honest, I was so thrilled and awed to be examining this book by myself, that I held my breath often (which has affected my memory of the details). Next week, I am going to look at Galileo’s Dialogue of the Two World Systems. I must remember to breathe when in the presence of civilization-changing antiquities.

      Gingerich gives the following pieces of information about the printing:
      1. “A 16th-century press could print both sides of a ream of paper in a day;that is, 480 sheets. Each sheet in De Rev contained four pages and there are 400 pages in the book.
      2. That means that at high speed a single press could have printed 480 copies of the book in a 100 days or four months.
      3.The printing began (by the printer Johannes Petreius) in the spring of 1542…but wasn’t complete until the autumn because of the having to cut 142 woodblock diagrams.

      As you may or may not know, Copernicus died shortly after the book was printed. Were it not for his one student, Rheticus, who insisted that he (Rheticus) be in charge of getting the book to press, the work may have been lost or fragmented.

      Amazing story.

  6. Richard says:

    Egocentricity and now geocentricity. Are we to assert there is too much of someone else yet not of something else?

  7. wkkortas says:

    If Copernicus had only had the foresight to sprinkle in the odd tormented teen vampire here and there; his descendants would be Trump-esque in their wealth and splendor.

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