Georg Joachim Rheticus

Georg Joachim von Lauchen Rheticus was born in 1514 at Feldkirch, Austria and died in 1574 at Kosice, Hungary. He was a cartographer, navigational and other instrument maker, medical practitioner, teacher.

His father had a medical practice in Feldkirch. When he was executed Achilles Gasser took over the practice. Gasser helped Rheticus continue his studies and was a strong support to him. Rheticus took on this name for the former Roman province of Rhaetia and studied at Feldkirch, Zürich and the University of Wittenberg, where he received his M.A. in 1536.

Philipp Melanchthon, the theologian and educator, greatly assisted Rheticus in obtaining appointments at several universities. During the time of the Reformation Melanchthon reorganized the whole educational system of Germany, reformed and founded several new universities. In 1536 Rheticus was aided by Melanchthon in receiving the appointment to the teaching position in astronomy and mathematics at the Wittenberg university. Two years later Melanchthon arranged for Rheticus to visit and study with the noted astronomers of the day. Rheticus took this to visit Copernicus in Frombork (Warmia). On the way he first went to Nuremberg and visited the publisher Johann Schoener and the printer Petreius. From there to Peter Apianus in Ingolstadt and Joachim Camerarius in Tübingen, then to Achilles Gasser in his hometown. In May 1539 he arrived in Frombork (Warmia). There he spent two years with Copernicus. In September 1539 Rheticus went to Gdansk, just west of Frombork, and visited the mayor of Gdansk. The mayor gave Rheticus some financial assistance to publish the First Report or Narratio Prima. This Narratio Prima, published by Rhode in Gdansk in 1540, is still considered to be the best introduction to Copernicus' De Revolutionibus. While in Gdansk he interviewed the pilots to find out navigational problems. Rheticus had also visited the bishop of Chelmno Tideman Giese of Gdansk.

In August 1541 Rheticus presented a copy of his work Tabula chorographica auff Preussen und etliche umbliegende lender (map of Prussia and neighboring lands) to Duke Albrecht,Albert of Prussia. Duke Albrecht had been trying to compute the exact time of sunrise. Rheticus made an instrument for him, that determined the length of the day. Rheticus asked and received the permission of the duke for the publication of the Copernicus De Revolutionibus. Albrecht requested of Rheticus that he return to his teaching position. He returned to the University of Wittenberg in October 1541, after earlier publishing the trigonometrical sections of the Copernicus De Revolutionibus. In 1542 he traveled to Nuremberg to supervise the printing of the Copernicus material, published upon Copernicus' death in 1543.

The canon of Warmia Georg Donner and the bishop of Warmia Johann Danticus were both patrons of Rheticus. Rheticus was also commissioned to make a staff for king Sigismund II of Poland, while he held a position as teacher in Krakow for many years. From there he went to Kosice (Kassa) in Hungary, where he died in 1574.

Bases on: Richard S. Westfall, Indiana University

JJ O'Connor and EF Robertson, University St. Andrews, Scotland


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