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Odierna [Hodierna], Gioanbatista [Giovan or Giovanni Battista]

1. Dates
Born: Ragusa, Sicily, 13 Apr. 1597
Died: Palma di Montechiaro, Sicily, 6 Apr. 1660
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 63 2. Father, Art Vita Dierna was a mason. Earlier accounts used to say a shoemaker, but Pavone convinces me that he was a mason. Note that Odierna himself added the first syllable to his name. He is usually listed under "O" as Odierna, though Pavone establishes that he himself always used Hodierna. Pavone argues that Odierna took this name to identify himself with the mythical man "hoggidiano," which I gather we could translate as "modern man," in deliberate comparison to ancient man. I confess to not seeing how "hoggidiano" leads to "Hodierna." All accounts indicate that the status of the family was humble. I take this definitely to mean poor.
2. Father
3. Nationality
Birth: Italian
Career: Italian
Death: Italian
4. Education
Schooling: Religous Order, D.D.
Odierna was self-taught, at least in science. He does appear to have studied theology, initially, leading to his ordination, at a seminary in Syracuse. There does not appear to have been anything like a university education or a B.A. degree.
Apparently in 1644 he earned a doctorate in theology, probably at a monastic school in Palermo.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
Odierna was a priest, ordained in 1622.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Optics, Astronomy, Astrology
Subordinate: Natural History, Meteorology, Microscopy
He observed the three comets of 1618-1619, which spurred the famous polemic that culminated in Galileo's Saggiatore. Many years later Odierna published De systemate orbis cometici, 1654. His studies on the satellites of Jupiter were published in Medicaeorum ephemerides (1656), and he wrote a pamphlet on Saturn. His astronomy seems always to have verged toward astology, and titles on astrology bulk large in his corpus of work.
After studying the passage of light through prisms he offered a vague explanation of the rainbow and of the spectrum. His Thaumantia junonis nuntia praeconium pulchritudinis (1647), was followed by Traumantiae miraculum (1652).
In natural history his explanation of the structure and function of the retractile poison fangs of vipers anticipated the work of Redi.
Odierna developed an early microscope and studied the eyes of flies and other insects with it.
He pursued meteorological studies--cyclones, thunder, and springs.
In fact Odierna was something of a polymath, and if the file had room I could list as well Physics, Botany, Anatomy, Entomology, and Natural Philosophy. I think that I have listed the six disciplines that most occupied him (understanding the Botany, Anatomy, and Entomology to be included in Natural History and Microscopy). Doubt might attach to Natural Philosophy. His first published work Physiotheorica, 1629, was on natural philosophy in general (of an astrological sort, if I have understood). He also published Empedocles redivivus, 1655, and he seems to have dabbled a bit in corpuscular philosophy.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Patronage, Church Life
Secondary: Schoolmastering
From 1625 to 36, Odierna apparently functioned as a priest in Ragusa. And during this period he also taught mathematics and astronomy there.
Beginning in 1637, he served the barons of Montechiaro (who were also the Dukes of Palma) as chaplain and parish priest of the town of Palma di Montechiaro (well to the west of Ragusa near the southern shore of Sicily. They gave him an apartment on the high floor of their palace for his astronomical observations and later (1645), after endowing the benefice, named him archpriest and, in 1655, court mathematician.
8. Patronage
Types: Aristrocrat, Court Official, Eccesiastic Official
The barons of Montechiaro, see above. The Tomasi (the barons of Montechiaro) gave Odierna a good piece of land also and a house in which he lived. They financed the publication of most of his work, much of which was of course dedicated to them.
He also dedicated his first published work, Physiotheorica, to Don Vincenzo Arizzi, barone delle Serre, to whom Odierna had taught mathematics.
He dedicated Archimede redivivo, 1644, to Domino Palmeri, Barone del Solazzo, a relative of his primary patrons, the Tomasi.
He dedicated Thaumantiae miraculum, 1652, to Carlo Maria Ventimiglia, an intellectual and an aristrocrat.
He dedicated his Ephemerides medicaeorum, 1656, to the Grand Duke Ferdinand II.
Near the end of his life he dedicated works to the ecclesiastical authorities of Sicily.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Instruments, Cartography, Navigation
He devised some sort of microscope--called a camera obscura in one source--that magnified 2000 times (it says), and with it Odierna studied the structure of the eyes of insects and the poisonous glands of vipers.
He composed a manuscript on the longitudes and latitudes of a number of places in Italy.
His work on the satellites of Jupiter were directed toward the use of them to determine longitude at sea.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
He wrote an enthusiastic appraisal of Galileo's Sidereus nuncius. Apparently through Castelli Odierna got a manuscript copy of Galileo's Bilancetta, which Odierna published for the first time in his Archimede redivivo, 1644.
In Palermo he was acquainted with Carlo Varia Ventimiglia, and perhaps he participated in the Accademia dei Riaccesi in Palermo. He knew Schott who taught then in the Jesuit college in Palermo.
Correspondence with Huygens about 1656.
Correspondence also with Caramuel, when he was in Italy at the end of his life, and with Severino in Naples.
  1. C. Pighetti, "Giovan Battista Odierna e il suo discorso su 'L'Occhio della mosca'," Physis, 3 (1961), 309-35, with a bibliography of Odierna's works. Q54.P57.
  2. "Onoranze a D. Gioanbatista Hodierna della citta di Ragusa in Sicillia," Physis, 3 (1961), 177-9.
  3. Mario Pavone, La vita e le opere di Giovan Battista Hodierna, (Ragusa, 1986). This is the authority on Odierna. It includes an exhaustive bibliography of Odierna's works that supplants every earlier effort in that direction.
  4. P.A. Saccardo, "La botanica in Italia," Memorie del Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, 26 (1895), 119.
  5. A. Brancaforte, "Nota introdutteva su G.B. Hodierna, in G.
  6. Arrighi et al., La scuola galileiana, (Firenze, 1979), pp. 225-33.
  7. R. Salemi, "Sulla bibliografia intorno a G.B. Hodierna," in G.
  8. Arrighi et al., La scuola galileiana, (Firenze, 1979), pp. 235-40.
  9. C. Dollo, "Astronomia e profetismo nel Nunzio del secolo cristallino di G.B. Hodierna," in G. Arrighi et al., La scuola galileiana, (Firenze, 1979), pp. 241-53.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. G. Abetti, "Don Giovanni Battista Odierna" in Celebrazioni siciliane, (Urbino, 1939), pp.3-28.
  2. Mario Pavone, Introduzione al pensiero di Giovanni Battista Hodierna . . ., 2 vols. (Modica, Italy, 1981).
  3. A. Licitra, Studio su la vita e su le opere di Giovanni Battista Odierna, astronomo-matematico e naturalist ragusana, (Ragusa, 1899). F. Garafolo, Discorsi sopra l'antica e moderna Ragusa, con una biografia di Giovan Battista Odierna, (Ragusa, 1980).
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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