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In Focus – MIKOŁAJ KOPERNIK (Nicolaus Copernicus)


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“To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge” (Nicolaus Copernicus)

Mikołaj Kopernik (Nicolaus Copernicus) was a Renaissance polymath, astronomer, mathematician, canonist, lawyer, physician and economist.

His most important work is the treatise “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres”, in which he described the heliocentric vision of the universe.

Mikołaj was born 550 years ago in Toruń. His father was a merchant, and his uncle was the bishop of Warmia. Thanks to his uncle’s protection and financial support, young Mikołaj could start his studies at the Cracow Academy and then continue them at the best European universities. He studied law in Bologna, medicine in Padua, and in Ferrara he got a doctorate in canon law.

After returning from his studies, he lived in Olsztyn, then settled in Lidzbark Warmiński and became his uncle’s secretary and a canon of the Warmia chapter. Later on, he moved to Frombork, where he devoted himself to scientific work.

Based on The Portrait of Nicolaus Copernicus by Ignacy Łopieński.

“He stopped the sun…”

It was probably in Frombork where Copernicus wrote his revolutionary work “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres”, in which he established that the Earth rotates around the Sun, and not vice versa, as previously thought. Published on March 21, 1543, only at the end of Copernicus, it has been one of the most important treatises in the history of science, and Copernicus himself is known as the father of modern astronomy.

Not just an astronomer

Copernicus, as an economist, for years advised the Royal Prussian sejmik on monetary reform.

In 1526 he wrote a study on the value of money, “Monetae cudendae ratio” (“The Treatise on the Coin”), in which he formulated an early iteration of the theory, nowadays called Gresham’s law saying that “bad” (debased) coinage drives “good” (un-debased) coinage out of circulation — several decades before Thomas Gresham.

He also, in 1517, set down a quantity theory of money, a principal concept in economics to the present day. Copernicus’s recommendations on monetary reform were widely read by leaders of both Prussia and Poland in their attempts to stabilize the currency.

In the years 1516 – 1521, when Copernicus administered the property of the chapter from the fortress in Olsztyn, the Polish-Teutonic war was going on. The astronomer, as a commander handled the defense of Olsztyn. Thanks to his actions this one of the most important forts of southern Warmia did not fall into the hands of the Teutonic Knights.

He was also a translator, lawyer, and doctor.

He died on May 24, 1543.

The solemn burial of Nicolaus Copernicus took place in the Frombork Cathedral on May 22, 2010. Previously, the remains of the astronomer rested in a nameless grave.

To learn more about Copernicus check www.culture.pl

You can check how much you really know about him by taking a short quiz here