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Rheticus, George Joachim

1. Dates
Born: Feldkirch, Austria, 16 Feb 1514
Died: Kassa, Hungary, 4 Dec 1574
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 60
2. Father
Occupation: Physician, Government Official
Town physician, executed for sorcery when Rheticus was still a teenager.
I assume prosperous.
3. Nationality
Birth: Feldkirch, Austria
Career: Germany, Poland, Hungary
Death: Kassa, Hungary [now Czechoslovakia]
4. Education
Schooling: Wittenberg, M.A.; Zurich (Carol); Prague (Charles), M.D.
He was first taught by his father, a physician, who was beheaded for sorcery in 1528. He was then taught at the Feldkirch Latin school.
1528-31, he studied at the Frauenmuensterschule in Zuerich under Myconius.
1533, matriculated at the University of Wittenberg. No record of a B.A., but I assume one.
1536, received his M.A. from Wittenberg.
1547-8, studied medicine in Zuerich with Conrad Gesner.
1551-2, resumed study of medicine at the Univ. of Prague. Burmeister assumes he got an M.D.
He may have studied medicine for a short time in Breslau under Crato.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Lutheran
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics, Astronomy, Cartography
Subordinate: Pharmacology, Astrology, Alchemy
Apparently also minimal activity in geography (which I subsume under cartography) and pharmacology. Although he practiced medicine, I see no evidence that he contributed to it as a science. It is dubious that he contributed to pharmacology.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Academia, Medicine
Secondary: Calendars, Astrology, Apothecary
1536, appointed to teach mathematicum inferiorum (arithmetic and geometry) at University of Wittenberg at a salary of 100 gulden.
1538, went on leave to visit leading astronomers, among them Peter Apian, Johannes Schoener, Philip Imser, and Copernicus. He arrived in Frauenberg in May 1539. He travelled to Danzig in September to publish the narratio prima.
1541, returned to Wittenberg and was elected dean of the arts faculty.
1542, was appointed professor of higher mathematics at the university of Leipzig. His original salary was 100 gulden, but he demanded and received a raise to 140 gulden. The faculty also presented him with a "Silberpokal" worth 15 gulden for his moving expenses.
1545, took another leave of absence, this time to Italy, where he visited scholars. His whereabouts are unclear for about a year and a half.
1546-7, he suffered a severe mental disorder in Lindau, but recovered enough to teach mathematics at Constance in latter half of the year.
1548, returned to Leipzig, having been elected dean of the faculty of arts. He was also the representative of the Bavarian nation, summer semester 1549. After his return to Leipzig he demanded to be and was made a member of the theological faculty.
Incidentally, Rheticus may have supplemented his income by making calendars. He planned to use the income from his calendar of 1550 to finance his ephemeris and calendar of 1551.
After a homosexual encounter with one of his students he was forced to flee Leipzig. He holed up first in Chemnitz, then went on to Prague. He was tried in absentia and sentenced to 101 years of exile. They also impounded his possessions.
1554, settled down in Cracow and practiced medicine for about 20 years. He supplemented this income by a little speculating, astrological readings, and pharmacology. He was also involved in a lengthy squabble over his sister's inheritance.
By 1574, he was in Kassa.
8. Patronage
Types: Eccesiastic Official, Court Official, Aristrocrat, Government Official
Achilles Gasser, the town physician in Feldkirch after his father, was close to Rheticus. He provided him with a letter of introduction to Melanchton when Rheticus went to Wittenberg. In 1538, Rheticus presented Gasser with an edition of Sacrobosco.
Melanchton was a major patron. He probably hand-picked Rheticus for the position at Wittenberg; he got Rheticus his leave in 1538, facilitated the transfer to Leipzig, and furnished him with letters of introduction. He dropped Rheticus altogether after his flight from Leipzig. Along with Melanchton and not always separable from his efforts were the efforts of Joachim Camerarius, who was head of the university at Tuebingen, and was responsible for the offer from Leipzig.
In Poland, Tiedemann Giese, the bishop of Kulm was his major patron. Copernicus and Rheticus took a vacation with him. Giese urged Rheticus to get Copernicus to publish. Rheticus's other major patron in Poland was Johannes von Werden, the mayor of Danzig, whom he visited while publishing the Narratio.
In the Ermland church, two possible patrons are the canon of Ermland, Georg Donner, to whom Rheticus had dedicated a copy of Coprnicus, and the bishop of Ermland, Johannes Dantiscus.
1541, he presented "Tabula chorographica auff Preussen und etliche umbliegende lender" to Duke Albrect of Prussia. His theoretical treatise on mapmaking Chorographia tewsch [in Vorarlberg dialect] is likewise dedicated to the Duke. Rhetcius constructed a small instrument for the Duke which showed the length of the day throughout the year. For these favors, Rheticus received a gold coin worth 10 ducats. What Rheticus may have been more interested in is Albrecht's connections with the Kurfuerst of Saxony, and this paid off: when he presented the instrument, he asked Albrecht to recommend both to the elector of Saxony and the University of Wittenberg that he be allowed to publish De revolutionibus..., and The Duke complied, requesting further that Rheticus be retained in his professorship. It is possible that the Duke's patronage was due to Hieronymus Schuerstab, a secretary through whom Rheticus's correspondence was undertaken.
At Leipzig, Georg Kummerstad (1498-1560), Doktor der Rechte and counsellor to the Kurfuerst, a great patron to the university, acted as Rheticus's patron. He was the one who told Melanchton to make Rheticus a member of the theological college (see above). Thereafter Rheticus dedicated his ephemeris of 1550 to him. A dedicatory epistle to his ephemeris of 1551 may have been an attempt to use Kummerstad as a shield to defend and protect the Copernican system.
He dedicated his 1549 edition of Euclid to Christoph von Carlowitz (1507-1574), a Saxon statesman and a friend of Melanchton and Camerarius.
1553, he received a call to teach mathematics at Vienna. He spent some short time there. He may have been offered a chair in mathematics, possibly at a salary of 200 gulden, but he never occupied it. It is unknown who might have been behind this.
The Emperor Maximilian II supported Rheticus's work on trigonometric tables, providing the substantial portion of the money with which Rheticus supported his assistants (see Technological Connections). In addition he received support from the Kurfuerst of Saxony, who paid an unknown amount for the printing of the Opus Palatinum; Kurfuerst Friedrich IV of the Pfalz; and Pfalzgraf Joachim Kasimir.
During the dispute over his sister's inheritance Rheticus dedicated his edition of Werner to Kaiser Ferdinand, perhaps in an attempt to influence the Kaiser, who was involved in the dispute.
He was offered travel expenses and a salary of 400 taler (800 gulden) to go to Romania ("die Walachei"), but turned it down. Also, in 1564 he received an unofficial invitation from Peter Ramus to teach at the University of Paris.
1574, he moved to Kassa at the request of the local magnate, Johannes Ruben.
L. Valentine Otho, Rheticus's disciple, got support to have Rheticus's work published from the Holy Roman Emperor. After the Emperor's death, Otho received support from the Kurfuerst of Saxony.
Finally, it was a habit of Rheticus to dedicate books, individual copies of books, and manuscripts to other scientists. I have not recorded these. Some representative examples are: Johannes Schoener, Achilles Gasser, Georg Hartmann, and Paul Fabricius. Generally, I have only recorded such dedications where Rheticus got or expected to get favors.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Instruments, Cartography, Navigation, Medical Practice, Pharmacology
He designed instruments: the one he gave to Duke Albrecht, (see above), and one described in the Chorographia, date from the first stage of his career. After moving to Cracow he was still involved in instrument making; in 1564 he was consulted about a Jacob's staff to be presented to the Polish King Sigismund II, for which he was paid 20 gulden.
In the Chorographia he deals with the theory and practice of navigational instruments, he made a sea compass, and he interviewed Danzig pilots to find out their navigational problems.
He also made a map of Prussia and included a section on the theory of mapping in the Chronologia.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
During his years in Cracow he operated what can be described as a research institute with six assistants. They had a large obelisk outside of town which they used for astronomical observations and an alchemical laboratory. He supported his assistants, 1556-68. He is known to have paid them at least 2200 gulden and probably paid 4400 gulden overall.
He corresponded with (among others): Joachim Camerarius (elder and younger), Kaspar Peucer, Viet Winsheim, Taddeus Hayck, Conrad Gesner, Pierre Ramus, and Crato.
  1. Karl Heinz Burmeister, Georg Joachim Rheticus 1514-1574, eine Bio- Bibliographie, vol. I (Wiesbaden, 1967). [QB36.R46 B9]
  2. Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, 28, (Leipzig, 1889), 388-90. [ref. CT1053.A4 v.28]
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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