Introduction to The Complete Works of Copernicus

The year 1973 marked the 500th anniversary of the birth of Copernicus and to celebrate this event the Polish Academy of Sciences published a 3-volume work of the Complete Works of Nicholas Copernicus. It was published by the Macmillan Press, London, and the Polish Scientific Publishers, Warsaw, and the first volume appeared in 1972. We present the beginning of the Introduction to this publication below:


The five-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the great Polish astronomer Nicholas Copernicus occurring in 1973 is an event which calls for special celebration. Finely attuned to the times in which he lived and firmly attached to the soil on which he was born, Copernicus inherited the rich cultural and scientific tradition of his country. Under the rule of the Jagiellonian dynasty Poland was a flourishing and powerful land, which he devotedly served as administrator, economist, politician, and physician.

The great astronomer, born in Torun, acquired his basic intellectual training at the University of Cracow, which was in those days one of the leading centres for the study of astronomy. In Italy he was able to profit from Renaissance culture at the peak of its glory. From those two mighty sources Copernicus drew the inspiration for the many years of solitary toil spent in his beloved Varmia at the tasks of his life's work. Combining exact observation with rigorous reasoning, he was the first man to provide convincing scientific justification for placing the sun in the centre. In his highly successful endeavour he rose above the level of those around him and opened up new vistas for science. Though many of his contemporaries did not understand him, he remains for posterity the first of the great astronomers of modern times.

His profound desire to win a favourable reception for his heliocentric cosmology is attested throughout the earnest pages of his Revolutions, the product of the sincere mind and devoted character. Today, paying due homage to the tireless intellectual effort of previous generations, we voice our particular gratitude to this man, who furnishes a shining example not only by reason of the greatness of his achievement, but also by the sense of responsibility reflected in every aspect of his career.

The forthcoming anniversary provides an occasion for world-wide celebration and calls for a special effort on the part of Polish science. Polish scholars have undertaken an edition of the entire corpus of Copernicus's work. An extensive programme of Copernican research was announced in the Government resolution of 23 March 1967 and the Front for National Unity accordingly created a Committee to organize the celebrations. The Polish Academy of Science assumed the responsibility for the scholarly direction of the work, the main burden of which was carried out by the Research Centre for Copernican Studies of the Institute for the History of Science and Technology.

International cooperation was also secured owing to the helpful attitude of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science (IUHPS), which established a Copernican Committee for the purpose of coordinating the various research and publication projects undertaken in the member countries. It is to be hoped that the present edition may provide a stimulus for further Copernican studies throughout the world.

Last Updated January 2019