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Maurolico [Marul, Marol], Francesco

1. Dates
Born: Messina, Sicily, 16 Sept 1494
Died: near Messina, Sicily, 21/22 July 1575
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 81
2. Father
Occupation: Physician, Government Official
Antonio Maruli was a Greek physician who had fled the Turkish sack of Constantinople. In Sicily he became Master of the Messina mint--i.e., a governmental official.
The family had a villa outside the city as well as a house in it. On Maurolico's tomb (in the cathedral) his father is called a patrician of Messina. The family had a chapel in the cathedral. Maurolico's nephew (son of his brother) was the Baron della Foresta. From his dependence on patrons I conclude that the family was not wealthy; they were certainly affluent.
3. Nationality
Birth: Messina, Italy
Career: Messina, Italy
Death: near Messina, Italy
4. Education
Schooling: No University
Learned Greek, mathematics, and astronomy from his father. Maurolico immersed himself in the humanistic revival of Greek culture, for which he was so well prepared. There was no mention of a university.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
He received orders in 1521. When he became abbot of S. Maria del Parto in 1550, he probably took the Benedictine vows. This was the only benefice he ever held.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics, Astronomy, Optics
Subordinate: Mechanics, Music, Geography
Photismi de lumine et umbra was completed in manuscript form in 1521 but published only in 1622, with his Diaphana, which was also an early work.
Maurolico made extensive plans and preparations for the publication of the major works of classical Greek geometry, correcting earlier editions which he found highly defective. With one exception he was not able to carry these plans all the way to publication, although a number of the works were published from his manuscripts after his death.
He published a Cosmographia (Ptolemaic, in the same year as Copernicus' De revoutionibus) and observations of the new star of 1572.
He also published an edition of Aristotle's Mechanical Problems, and a work on music.
Toward the end of his life he compiled a summary of Ortelius's Theatrum orbis terrarum and a geographical work on the islands of the world.
Maurolico also wrote a long letter on Sicilian fish, but he disclaimed extensive knowledge of this branch of philosophy.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Personal Means, Church Life, Patronage
Secondary: Academia, Government
There is no information on his livelihood until about 1530, but there is strong evidence that he was living on means inherited (as the oldest surviving son) from his father who died about 1525. And throughout most of his life he appears to have lived primarily on his own means.
1550, received the abbey of Santa Maria del Parto.
He held a number of civil service commissions in Messina. He was head of the mint for a time, in charge (with architect Ferramolino, again only for a time) of maintaining the fortifications of the city on behalf of Charles V, and was commissioned to write a history of Sicily, Sicanicarum rerum compendium (Messina, 1562). In 1553 he was given a salary by Messina of 100 gold pieces for two years to complete his mathematical work and his history of Sicily.
He had the patronage of a number of men, especially the Ventimiglia family. From a dedication we know that he instructed one patron in geometry, and later he tutored two sons of the viceroy, Juan de Vega.
He held public lectures at the university of Messina. In 1569, he was appointed professor. He apparently laid down this position after only a year because of ill health.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Government Official, Aristrocrat, Eccesiastic Official
Maurolico dedicated his first published work to his student Bernardo Faraone. Earlier Francesco Faraone had been Maurolico's tutor. The Faraone family keeps showing up in his life, but I do not know who they were.
He dedicated Grammatica rudimenta, 1528, to Ettore Pignatelli. Again I do not know who he was.
Maurolico dedicated De lineis horariis to the governor of Messina, Francesco Santapacio. A number of governors of Messina show up as patrons. Note that they were appointed by the viceroy; I classify them as governmental officials.
At the request of the governor, Giovanni Marullo (who was present) Maurolico lectured on the Sphere of Sacrobosco and the Elements of Euclid in 1528.
In 1535 Maurolico helped to prepare the celebration of Messina for a visit by Charles V. Later on Maurolico was preparing to dedicate a work to Charles (the letter of dedication survives), but Charles abdicated before it could be done. That, plus a work dedicated to a viceroy that he asked to be sent on to Philip II is the extent of his connection with, and probably minimal patronage by, a court.
He dedicated Cosmographia to Card. Pietro Bembo, who aided its publication. The letter in which Maurolico requested permission to make the dedication and Bembo's reply accepting it survive.
Rose speaks of Maurolico's patron Girolamo Baressi of Messina. He was yet another governor and the lord of Pietra Perzia.
In 1548 Card. Ranuccio Farnese urged Maurolico to accept a gift of 500 scudi and to settle in Rome under the protection of the Farnese. He was doing well with his patrons in Messina and declined.
Giovanni Ventimiglia, and his son, Simeone, both Marquises of Geraci, Princes of Castelbuono, and Governors of Messina were major patrons. Maurolico lived at their estate for extended periods during 1547-50 and in 1559 at least. It was Simeone who in 1550 conferred upon Maurolico the abbey of Santa Maria del Parto, near Castelbuono after the Ventimiglia had set him up in the 40's with a small observatory. First Giovanni drowned and then Simeone died prematurely in 1559 as he was setting up a press at his estate to publish Maurolico's works. Maurolico never found other patrons ready to support the publication of all his work, so that the deaths of the Ventimiglia seriously hampered his plans of publication.
Juan de Vega, Charles V's viceroy of Sicily, took over as Maurolico's principal patron. He entrusted Maurolico with the mathematical education of two of his sons.
In 1553 the Senate of Messina (apparently at the instigation of de Vega) granted Maurolico a salary of 100 gold pieces per year for two years in order that he complete his mathematical works and his chronicle of Sicily.
Maurolico initially dedicated his edition of Theodius' Spherical Elements to Charles V. When Charles died before publication was complete, he rededicated it to La Cerda, Vega's replacement as Viceroy, requesting that the work be forwarded to Philip II.
He dedicated his Arithmetic and his edition of Aristotle's Mechanical Problems to Card. Marc-Antonio d'Amula.
He also spoke of Pope Marcellus II as his patron, but the details are lacking.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Military Engineering, Cartography, Instruments
See about the defenses of Messina above,
1541, at the request of Jacopo Gastaldo he made a map of Sicily (published 1575).
He published on the construction of the astrolabe and on astronomical instruments in general.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
He corresponded with Commandino and Clavius.
  1. Edward Rosen, "Maurolico was an Abbott," Archives internationales d'histoire des sciences (1956), 349-350. [Q1.A734]
  2. Paul L. Rose, The Italian Renaissance of Mathematics, (Geneva, 1975), pp. 159-84. Marshal Clagett, Archimedes in the Middle Ages, 3, Part III, (Philadelphia, 1978), Chap. 5, Section 1, pp. 749-70.
  3. _____, "The Works of Francesco Mauolico," Physis, 16 (1974), 149- 98.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Giuseppe Rossi, Francesco Maurolico e il risorgimento filosofico e scientifico in Italia nel seculo XVI (Messina, 1888).
  2. Giacomo Macri, Francesco Maurolico nella vita e negli scritti, (R. Accademia Peloritana, Commemorazione del IV centenario di Francesco Maurolico, Messina, 1896). D. Scinà, Elogio di Francesco Maurolico, (Palermo, 1808).
  3. F. Napoli, "Intorno alla vita ed ai lavoeri di Francesco Maurolico," Bullettino di bibliografia a di storia delle scienze mathematiche e fisiche, 9 (1876), 1-121.
  4. Rosario Moscheo, "L'Archimede del Maurolico: Genesi, sviluppi ed esiti di una complessa vicenda editoriale in età barocca," in Corrado Dollo, ed. Archimede: Mito, tradizione, scienza, (Firenze, 1992), pp. 111-64.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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