Novara, Domenico Maria

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(b. Ferrara Italy, 1454; d. Bologna, Italy, 1504)


As is indicated by Novara’s surname (Novara or da Novara), that city in northwestern Italy had been the home of his ancestors. One of them, however, had been invited to move eastward to Ferrara, where Domenico Maria was born. 1. Hence he was variously known as Maria (as Kepler always cited him), Novara (or da Novara), and Ferrariensis (of Ferrara).2 In his own publications he usually called himself Domenico Maria da Novara of Ferrara.

In his publications Novara described himself as holding two academic degrees, Doctor of Arts and Doctor of Medicine. It is not yet known when and where he pursued these studies, but from 1483 to 1504 he taught at Bologna University. 3 As professor of astronomy, 4 he was, in addition to his teaching duties, required to publish a prognostication for every year. Such a slender and ephemeral forecast, of which only a relatively small number of copies was printed, has often perished without a trace. In Novara’s case, however, his writings were available as late as 1619.5 At present twelve of his twenty-one prognostications still survive 6.

After the return of Columbus’ crew from his first voyage to America, the outbreak of syphilis in southern Europe stimulated widespread discussion. According to a contemporary Bolognese writer, “The astrologers assert that the cause of his disease was the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on 9 November 1484, and they base this [date] on the very accurate observation of Professor Domenico Maria of Ferrara, this being the city where he was born but he has become a citizen of Bologna by virtue of his accomplishments and work.7 The foregoing statement has been misunderstood to mean “The astrologers, particularly Dominicus Maria of Ferrara, attributed this new disease to the conjunction of 1484. 8 What the astrologers took from the professor of astronomy, however, was the date of the conjunction, not the etiology of syphilis.

In his prognostication published in 1489, Novara declared that the latitude of Cadiz and of places in Italy was found in his own time to exceed by 1°10’ The corresponding latitude reported in Ptolemy’s Geography. Since this discrepancy occurred too often to be attributed to scribal error, Novara concluded that northern latitudes in general had been increasing imperceptibly since antiquity. This systematic displacement he ascribed to a gradual shift of the terrestrial north pole toward the zenith in a slow motion requiring 395,000 years to complete the circuit. Novara’s thesis was quoted in Giovanni Antonio Magini’s widely consulted planetary tables, from which it was repeated by William Gilbert, Willebrord Snel, Pierre Gasenndi, and Giovanni battista Riccioli. 9 While Novara’s greatest pupil, Copernicus, did not accept his teacher’s argument that the terrestrial pole had changed its direction, that mistaken view may nevertheless have encouraged him to doubt the traditionally asserted absolute immobility of the earth.10

Novar’s tombstone was erected by one of the two heirs to whom he had bequeathed all his modest worldly goods in the absence of a wife, children, and servants.11


1. Lorenzo Barotti, ed., Memorie istoriche di letterati ferraresi, II (Ferrara, 1793), 26–27.

2. Johannes Kepler, Gesammelie Werke (Munich, 1937-). II, 135:29 30; VII, 147:12; XIII, 114:63: XIV, 16:347, 26:191, 27:219, 55:315. 347:218, 352:389; XV, 308:94; XVII, 339:13, 353:82; Kepler, Opera omnia. Christian Frisch, ed., VIII (Frankfurt Erlangen, 1871), 235:25. The “Ferrariensis” who is cited three times in Galileo’s studem papers is someone other than Domenico Maria Novara of Ferrara, whom Galileo discussed in a marginal note in his copy of William Gilbert’s Magnet: Galileo Galilei. Opere, nat. ed, (Florence, 1890 1909; repr. 1968), I, 32:6, 76:33, 105:27; VIII, 625.

3. Umberto Dallari, ed., I rotuli del lettori legisii e artist dello studio botognese dal 1384 at 1799, I (Bologna, 1888). 121 185.

4. Not astrology, as in Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, V (New York, 1941), 234. The name of the regular course was changed from astrology to astronomy a decade before Novara was born; Dallari, I, 18, 21; with the single exception of 1463-I464, see I, 64.

5. Kepler, Gesammelte Werke, XVII, 339:9–12.

6. Gustav Hellmann, “Versuch einer Geschichie der Wetter-vorhersagc im XVI. JahrhundetV in Abhandlnngen der Preussischen Akademie der Wissemehaften Phys.-math.KJ. (1924), no. 1, 34.

7. Bartholomews Codes, Chyromantie ac physhnomie aitastasis (Bologna. 1504), bk. VI. eh. 24S, sig. T2r.

8. Thorndike, op. cit., V, 62–63.

9. More recently by Curize. “Ueber…. Schriften … Ferrara,” 519 520; by Boncompagni, “Sopra atcuni scritti … Ferrara,” 146 148; and by Antonio Favaro. ed., Cartteggio inedito di Ticone Brahe, Giovanni Keplero … con Giovanni Antonio Magini (Bologna, 1886), 80–81.

10. Edward Rosen, Three Copernican Treatises, 3rd ed. (New York, 1971). 323,

11. The tombstone no longer survives, and a transcription of it inadvertently postponed Novara’s death by 10 years in Roman numerals, an error corrected by Silvestro Gherardi, Di alcuni materiali per la Storia delta faeolid matcmatka nell’antiea Universita di Bologna (Bologna, IS46), 37–38. offprintcd from R. Accademia delle scienze detl’lstitUtO di Bologna. Stunt atmali delle scienze naturali 2nd ser., 5 (IH46), 161–187, 244–268, 321 356, 401 436. and trans. into German by Maximilian Curtze, in Archie der mathematick and Physik,52 (1871), 106 107. According to the transcription of the tombstone, Novara died on 1 Sept., whereas the university’s payroll records report his death on 17 Aug. and on 20 Aug.—Carlo Malagola, Della vita e delle opere di Antonio Urceo(Bologna, 1878), 350 351. The inventory of Novara’s bequeathed property was found and published by Lino Sighnolfi. “Domenico Maria Novara e Nicolo Copernieo alio Studio di Bologna,” in Studi e memorie per la storia detT Universitd di Bologna,5 (1920), 213 215, 235.


Novara’s writings are listed and discussed in the following (presented in chronological order): Maximilian Curtze, “Ueber einige bis jetzt unbekannte gedruckte Schriften des Domenico Maria Novara da Ferrara,” in Altpreassische Monatsschrift, 7 (1870), 515–521; Baldassarre Boncompagni, “Sopra alcuni scritti stampati, finora non conosciuti, di Domenico Maria Novara da Ferrara,” in Bullettino di bibliografia c di storia delle scienze matematiche e fisiche,4 (1871), 140–149, 340–341; Domenico Berti, Copernico e le vicendele del sistema copernicano in Italia (Rome, 1876), 34–42, 179–184; Gustav Hellmann, Beitragv zur Geschichte der Meteorologie, in Veroflentlichungen des K. Preussisehen Meteorologischen Instituts no- 296 (Berlin, 1917), 217; and Pietro Riccardi, Biblioteca matenuuica italiana, enl. ed. II (Milan, 1952), 205–207.

See also Luigi Napoleone Cittadella, “Domenico Maria Novara,” in Buonarroti,11 (1876), 157–163; Ferdinando Jacoli, “Intorno alia determinazione di Domenico Maria Novara delPobliquita dell’ecliuica,” in Bullettino di hihliografia c di storia delle scienze matematiche e fisiche,10 (1877), 75–88; Paul J. Melchior, “Sur une observation faite par Copernic et Dominique Maria,” in Bulletin de rAcademic r, de Belgiqtte. Classe des sciences, 5th ser., 40 (1954), 416 417; and Edward Rosen, “Copernicus and His Relation to Italian Science,” forthcoming under the auspices of the Accademia dei Lincei.

Edward Rosen