Practica auff das M.D.XLvj. jar/ durch Doctorem Achillem P. Gasser L. zu Feldkirch gemacht. Achilles Pirmin GASSER.
Practica auff das M.D.XLvj. jar/ durch Doctorem Achillem P. Gasser L. zu Feldkirch gemacht.
The First Printed Reference to Copernicus' Heliocentrism in a Modern European Language
Nuremberg, J. Petreius, 1545.

Practica auff das M.D.XLvj. jar/ durch Doctorem Achillem P. Gasser L. zu Feldkirch gemacht.

4to, [20.5 x 15.4 cm], (12) ff. With two title woodcuts of Mars and Luna. Paper over modern vellum with title plaque and leaves expertly reinforced at fold. Paper has even browning, some faint waterstaining, and thumbing, with marginal notations on one leaf. Only known copy.

Sole known copy of a prediction pamphlet for 1546, containing “the first explicit mention of Copernicus in any publication in the German language” (Danielson), as well as the first reference to heliocentrism in a vernacular language. Achilles Gasser’s remarks on heliocentrism, written a mere two years after the 1543 printing of De revolutionibus, are highly progressive. Early references to Copernicus tend to focus on his calculations, and are either silent on his heliocentric hypothesis or dismissive of it; to encounter a positive reception of one of the turning points in the history of science in a popular medium, and only two years after its publication, is also highly unusual.

The now little-known astronomer Achilles Gasser (1505-1577) was intimately connected with the rise of heliocentrism through his patronage of Georg Rheticus, Copernicus’ student, who facilitated the first publication of De Rev. Gasser was one of the first to read Copernicus’ completed work, as its printer, Johann Petreius (who also published the present pamphlet), sent Gasser a copy (still extant, and with Gasser’s annotations, B.A.V. I.99). His Copernicus reference in the present volume appears in his dedicatory letter to Caspar Joachim Täntzl, a Tyrolean nobleman whose family mining business brought him an amateur interest in science. The letter, likely composed in German to accommodate the non-academic Täntzl, refers to the heliocentric ‘hypotheses’ in a strikingly favorable light:

“ . . . the most learned and wonderful man Dr. Nicolaus Copernicus, away off in Prussia, has taken up the task with such seriousness, diligence, and steadfastness, that for the establishment and restoration of astronomy he has had to lay an utterly and completely new foundation, unheard of before, or rather has been compelled to posit hypotheses not employed by other scholars (namely, that the Sun is a light for all creation and stands unmoved in the midst of the whole universe . . .) and thus has not only demonstratively proven his theory among the mathematicians, and with great pains restored the portrait of Astronomy, but has also immediately been regarded as having perpetrated a heresy, and indeed—by many others incapable of understanding this matter—is already being condemned.” (Danielson, trans., pp 464-5)

Indeed, as Gingerich remarks, only a handful of readers would have been able to understand the technical details of Copernicus’ calculations. Gasser’s dual implication—that his addressee is not one of those “incapable” others who ignorantly condemn the new theory, and that those select few who do understand it, have praised it—suggests a desire to stimulate reception of the new theory beyond the Wittenberg academicians.

On completing this praise, he reminds the nobleman of his promise to give him a spherical lodestone from the family mine, a magnetic object that Gasser could use for further study of the rotation of planetary bodies in miniature. He may well have received his boon from Täntzl, for he would produce a book on lodestones in 1558. Yet Gasser’s German letter boldly overstates the positive reception of Copernicus’ work. Indeed, Gasser dedicated his Latin edition to Rheticus, exhorting the scholar to make good on his claim that Copernicus had already “demonstratively proven his theory among the mathematicians.” The recently-deceased Copernicus required a new “Theseus,” to disseminate his theory—a position only Rheticus could fill.

Numerous scholars penned prediction tracts in this era (including another Petreius author, Johannes Schöner); Gasser wrote one for each year from 1544 and 1547. He makes general predictions for the luckiest days of 1546 (B4v)—as well as specifics relevant for mine owners like Täntzl—the relative value of precious metals (B3). Part farmer’s almanac and part horoscope, Gasser’s predictions depend on the movement of celestial bodies. His investment in propagating the importance of heliocentrism in these seemingly modest tracts should therefore come as no surprise.

Sole known copy in German.
English translation (Without a preface): (BSB, Bodleian)
Latin version: (Bibliotheque de l’Institute de France; 2 copies)

* Danielson, “Achilles Gasser and the Birth of Copernicanism,” Journal for the History of Astronomy, 35/2004, 457-74.

Price: $48,500.00

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