The Life and Work of Georg von Peuerbach

Georg von Peuerbach

Georg von Peuerbach: Theoricarum novarum planetarum testus

On May 30, 1423Austrian astronomer, mathematician and instrument maker Georg von Peuerbach was born. He is best known for his streamlined presentation of Ptolemaic Astronomy in the Theoricae Novae Planetarum. Furthermore, he promoted the use of Arabic numerals (introduced 250 years earlier in place of Roman numerals), especially in a table of sines he calculated with unprecedented accuracy.

There is not much known about Peuerbach’s early life. However, he probably entered the University of Vienna in 1446, when he was already 23 years old. It is believed that he spent much time traveling through Italy prior to his formal education at Vienna. There, it took him two years to earn his Bachelor degree and in 1451, he received his MA. It is assumed that most of his studies contained humanities courses. After his studies, Peuerbach began teaching, at first mostly poetry and dialectic. Regarding his knowledge on astonomy, it has not quite become clear where he received his knowledge from. Peuerback apparently began teaching astronomy and mathematics and worked together with Johann von Gmunden, himself an astronomer, mathematician, humanist and early instrument maker.

Probably in 1454, Georg von Peuerbach was appointed court astrologer by King Ladislaus V of Hungary and of Bohemia, who was only 14 years old at the time. Ladislaus spent most of his time in Prague and Vienna and Peurbach was able to also teach at the University of Vienna. However, it is possible that his teaching was mostly in humanities instead of astronomy. After the unfortunate death of the young leader, Peuerbach was appointed as court astrologer to the Holy Roman emperor Frederick IIIFrederick was mostly interested in astrology, magic, and alchemy.

To one of Peuerbach’s most important students at the University of Vienna also belongs Regiomontanus who graduated at the age of 15 and started working together with the scientist afterwards for a period of several years. Their working relationship was very fruitful. ‘Theoricae Novae Planetarum’ was completed in August 1454 and in it, Peuerbach attempted to present Ptolemy’s astronomy in a more elementary and comprehensible way. He believed that the planets were in solid crystalline spheres although he believed that their motions were controlled by the Sun. The book was based on lecture notes of courses given by Georg von Peuerbach at the University of Vienna. It turned out a great success and soon managed to become a standard work for teaching astronomy. Further, Peuerbach made several significant advances to the field of mathematics including his contributions to the sine tables, the observations of comets and instrument building.

Georg von Peuerbach died in 1461. It is believed that during his lifetime, he had a close and romantic relationship to a monk who is said to have committed suicide. Peuerbach then wrote several poems in the name of his love in Latin in order to honor his partner.

At yovisto, you can learn more about the scientific, social and religious impact of the ‘Copernican Revolution’ with the lecture ‘Mathematics, Motion, and Truth: The Earth goes round the Sun‘ by Jeremy Gray of Gresham University.

References and Further Reading:

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