The Origin of Copernicus’s Heliocentrism Reconsidered

André Goddu


The essay re-examines the detailed arguments by Ludwik Antoni Birkenmajer (1855–1929) and Curtis Wilson (1921–2012) about how Copernicus’s rejection of Ptolemy’s solution to the problem of the non-uniform motions of the planets and the Moon led him to his first version of the heliocentric theory. The essay then acknowledges the speculative character of their reconstructions, the problem of anachronism in both accounts, and the mistakes that Copernicus himself made. By following their basic insights, however, readers can understand how the inconsistency in Ptolemy’s preservation of the axiom of uniform motion motivated Copernicus – first, to seek an alternative solution, and, second, to question eccentrics, which, in turn, led him to investigate epicycles. The concluding section complements their accounts, leading to an original interpretation of Copernicus’s reliance on medieval Polish developments in dialectical reasoning and on a comment in one of the books (now at Uppsala) that he annotated to develop his new vision and to construct the postulates near the beginning of Commentariolus (ca. 1510).

Słowa kluczowe: Albert z Brudzewa, Ludwik Birkenmajer, Commentariolus, Mikołaj Kopernik, kosmografia, topika dialektyczna, deferenty i epicykle, ekwanty, postulaty, ruch jednostajny, Curtis Wilson

Critical literature

Birkenmajer L.A., Mikołaj Kopernik, Część pierwsza, Studya nad pracami Kopernika oraz materyały biograficzne, Cracow 1900.

Birkenmajer L.A., Stromata Copernicana: Studja, poszukiwania i materjały biograficzne, Cracow 1924.

Goddu A., Copernicus and the Aristotelian Tradition: Education, Reading, and Philosophy in Copernicus’s Path to Heliocentrism, Leiden and Boston 2010.

Goddu A., Copernicus’s Annotations—Revisions of Czartoryski’s ‘Copernicana’, “Scriptorium” vol. 58, 2004, p. 202–226.

Goddu A., Copernicus’s Mereological Vision of the Universe, “Early Science and Medicine” vol.14, 2009, p. 316–339.

Goddu A., Ludwik Antoni Birkenmajer and Curtis Wilson on the Origin of Nicholas Copernicus’s Heliocentrism, “Isis” vol.107, 2016, p. 225–253. [accessed 20.11.2018].

Knoll P.W., “A Pearl of Powerful Learning” The University of Cracow in the Fifteenth Century (Education and Society in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, 52), Leiden 2016.

Swerdlow N., The Derivation and First Draft of Copernicus’s Planetary Theory, “Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society” 117, p. 423–512.

Wilson C., Rheticus, Ravetz, and the ‘Necessity’ of Copernicus’ Innovation, [in:] The Copernican Achievement, ed. by R.S. Westman, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London 1975, p. 17–39.



Brudzewo A. de, Commentariolum super Theoricas novas planetarum Georgii Purbachii per Mag. Albertum de Brudzewo diligenter corrogatum A. D. MCCCCLXXXII, ed. by L.A. Birkenmajer, Cracow 1900.

Copernicus N., Commentariolus, tr. by E. Rosen, [in:] N. Copernicus, Complete Works. Vol. 3: Nicholas Copernicus Minor Works, Warsaw 1985.

Kepler J., Gesammelte Werke, ed. by W. van Dyck, M. Casper, Munich, 1937–, vol. 13, no 63.

Kopernik M, De hypothesibus motuum caelestium a se constitutis commentariolus, ed. by J. Dobrzycki, [in:] Pisma pomniejsze. Dzieła wszystkie,vol. 3, Warsaw 2007.

Retyk J.J., Narratio Prima. Relacja pierwsza z ksiąg O obrotachMikołaja Kopernika, transl. by I. Lewandowski, introduction by J. Włodarczyk, Truszczyny, Warsaw 2015.

Rheticus G.J., Narratio Prima, Gdańsk 1540.