Bologna: Sebastiano Bonomi for Geronimo Tamburini, 1620.
First edition of Biancani’s rare treatise on astronomy which “brought Clavius’s Sphaera up to date, incorporating in it the discoveries of Galileo, Kepler, and others, and enthusiastically endorsed the advances being made in astronomy” (Wallace). This is the first book in which the word ‘telescope’ was used extensively. On the basis of the third appendix of the book, Echometria, Biancani is considered the founder of geometrical acoustics..
First edition of Biancani’s rare Jesuit treatise on astronomy which “brought Clavius’s Sphaera up to date, incorporating in it the discoveries of Galileo, Kepler, and others, and enthusiastically endorsed the advances being made in astronomy … [Biancani] defended Galileo’s stand regarding mountains on the moon—which elicited a long letter from Galileo to another Jesuit astronomer, Christopher Grienberger, in which Galileo states that he is “infinitely obliged” to Biancani. Unfortunately this student of Clavius got too enthusiastic in Galileo’s cause, and his remaining writings were never passed for publication by the censors of his Order” (Wallace 2003, pp. 108-9). “In 1620 there appeared an important treatise on astronomy which consistently and repeatedly used the word telescope. This was the Sphaera mundi of Josephus Blancanus, or Giuseppe Biancani … [He] was the first to employ exclusively and repeatedly the term ‘telescope’ in an extended treatise. More importantly, however, is the fact that his example and influence undoubtedly hastened general acceptance and use of the term” (McColley, pp. 364-5). “In present-day literature [Biancani] is sometimes depicted as an opponent of Galileo and the new science, but his exchanges in the unpublished sources with several Jesuit censors over his two main books show that quite the opposite was the case. These documents clearly reveal a split within the Jesuits at that time between the philosophers of orthodox Aristotelian persuasion and a group of mathematicians and astronomers, including Biancani, who advocated the autonomy of astronomy and mathematics and a more quantitative and descriptive approach, which resulted in some quite anti-Aristotelian views. Thus although he disputed some of Galileo’s calculations, Biancani agreed that the surface of the Moon was mountainous and not a smooth sphere; he also maintained that the heavens were composed of fluid matter, not solid spheres, another anti-Aristotelian view” (Blackwell, pp. 148-9). Blackwell even sees Biancani’s book as precipitating, via Grienberger’s support, “the beginning of the end of classical Jesuit science” (p. 152). Biancani was perhaps the first to suggest, in this book, that comets may return (Thorndike VII, p. 51). The third appendix of the book, Echometria, is devoted to the study of acoustics. “Giuseppe Biancani can be considered as the founder of geometrical acoustics (1620), a theory that – from the time of Athanasius Kircher until at least the end of the 18th century – was traditionally used to explain how speaking- and hearing-trumpets worked” (Barbieri, p. 156). Pages 387-414 contain a very interesting bibliography of books in the mathematical sciences (in their widest sense) including astronomy, physics, perspective, music, mechanics, etc. ABPC/RBH list just one copy (and that with a defective title page).
“Giuseppe Biancani, the author of the Sphaera mundi (1620), tied his book to Clavius’ farewell injunction: ‘in view of what Galileo diligently and accurately set forth in his Nuncius sidereus, astronomers should see how the celestial orbs are to be constituted so that these phenomena can be accounted for.’ Biancani’s solution, worked out partly in correspondence with Grienberger, was to adopt Tycho’s system and justify it and other statements about the constitution of the world by appeal to ‘the best astronomers’ or ‘the common opinion of astronomers.’ The closer to physics, the more diffident the statements. Are the stars carried by a rigid firmament, like rivets in steel? Probably. Do the planets move through the heavens like fish in the sea or birds in the air? ‘Incompertum mihi est’, I do not know.’ Under this cover, Biancani delivered a very good textbook, filled with information indifferent to the choice of world systems (calendars, eclipses) and descriptions of the new phenomena – the mountainous moon, spotted sun, horned Venus, companions of Jupiter, bumps of Saturn. The sun sits in the middle of the other planets, except for the moon, as if their Lord, “according to the common opinion of astronomers.’ Copernicus, Tycho, and Kepler all teach that the planets circle the sun as the moon does the earth. The statement was strictly true and patently false, a perfect, even a Jesuitical equivocation, since the earth is a planet to Copernicus and a unique something else to Tycho. Biancani ended his celestial survey with comets. Again he follows Tycho in placing them in solar orbit above the moon. The arrangement agreed with observations by Jesuit astronomers in many parts of Germany and Italy of the brilliant comet first seen in late November 1618” (Heilbron, p. 232).
Biancani had been censured by the Jesuits for his astronomical teachings even before the condemnation of Copernicanism in March 1616. The initial area of dispute with the censors occurred over Biancani’s Aristotelis loca mathematica (1615), a systematic and highly critical analysis of the passages in Aristotle pertaining to mathematics and its use in the sciences. “In the meantime Biancani had written another book for which he is more famous and which was directly devoted to astronomy, his Sphaera mundi, seu cosmographia. This book must have been completed in penultimate draft form sometime late in 1615, and then submitted to the censors as usual.
“Of the numerous reports from the censors on this book, by far the most significant was writtem by Grienberger, a close friend of Biancani, and who, judging from his comments, must have been personally in agreement with him and also anguishing over the same problems of intellectual freedom. On the second page of his long and undated censure appear the following most significant remarks.
‘He [Biancani] says on page 91b, line 14, that astronomers, whom he names, and especially Copernicus, use diagrams in determining and explaining celestial motions, and they call them hypotheses. But in other places Copernicus does not speak hypothetically, but definitely tries to prove that the system of the world is such as he has imagined it to be, and as a result he tries to refute arguments which assert the contrary. This is the main reason why his book has by recent decree been prohibited until corrected, which I understand has been done although it has not yet been promulgated …’
“Grienberger’s discomfort with this dramatic turn of events [the decree against Copernicus] and his sympathy for Biancani’s dilemma become more evident as his report continues. He points out that Aristotle’s view that the heavens are inalterable is refuted by many changes observed in the heavens in recent years … At the end he adds a plea for intellectual freedom written at a moment of great pressure, but which unfortunately was fated to go unheard.
‘A new Cosmographia seems to be necessary because the old one has been changed a great deal in our day and many embellishments have been added to it. But the question has been raised as to whether it is proper for us Jesuits to do this. It seems to me that the time has now come for a greater degree of freedom of thought to be given to both mathematicians and philosophers on this matter, for the liquidity and corruptibility of the heavens are not absolutely contrary to theology or to philosophy and even much less to mathematics … It seems that he [Biancani] has not exercised his talents sufficiently in writing the Cosmographia. But I am quite willing to excuse him about this. For up to now his hands have been tied, as have ours. Thus he has digressed into many less important topics when he was not allowed to think freely about what is required.’
“This unheeded plea may well be the beginning of the end of classical Jesuit science. Although Grienberger, the successor to Clavius, was a major player in the scientific circles of his day, he never wrote a major treatise on science. One wonders whether this was the reason. Biancani’s book waited four years before it would be published. The language was softened, but all the new ideas and theories were still reported for the reader’s information, although in a neutral vein. When Biancani reached the critical section of his book, ‘On the Motion of the Earth,’ he reviewed all the available theories, ancient and modern. Referring specifically to the heliocentric views of Copernicus, Kepler, and Gilbert, he comments:
‘By this hypothesis they not only save all the appearances but also think that they have easily answered the arguments of all the adversaries. That this opinion is false and should be rejected (even though it is established by better proofs and arguments) has nevertheless become much more certain in our day when it has been condemned by the authority of the Church as contrary to Sacred Scripture.’
“The dilemma of the Jesuit scientists could hardly be more explicit: truth or obedience. Copernicanism is to be rejected on grounds of religious authority, even though it is “established by better proofs and arguments” than its rivals … But despite Biancani’s struggles for precisely the opposite results, it has been his fate in history to be identified as an enemy of Galileo and the new science. He deserved much better treatment from both sides” (Blackwell, pp. 151-3).
Biancani’s Sphaera is completed by three appendices on topics only loosely related to cosmology. The discussion of the origin of mountains in the first of these appendices influenced Bernhardus Varenius in his Geographia generalis (1650), the founding work of geography as a branch of applied mathematics (later revised by Isaac Newton). “In his lengthy treatment of the original earth, Varenius followed the Sphaera mundi (1620) of Joseph Blancanus, though he also introduced ideas that had come into thinking during the intervening decades. Few writers had been as consistent as Blancanus in their belief in the symmetry and proportion God had given the earth, in which the highest mountain exactly corresponded to the lowest depth of the sea. The original earth had emerged on the third day as a smooth sphere. Had it been affected only by natural law, it would have remained in that form, but the miraculous hand of God had scooped out the channel of the sea and created the Alps and other mountains. If left to its own nature, the world would perish as it had begun, in water. But God would not permit such natural metamorphosis: the world would perish by fire. Following Blancanus, but improving upon him in various ways, Varenius found the origin of terrestrial mountains in water. To the general reader, particularly the poet, the most impressive parts of the Geographia generalis were sections in which Varenius sent his imagination over the globe, calling a catalogue of the ranges and peaks in every continent, as they rise, sometimes in majesty, sometimes in terror. Theology still clouded Varenius' eyes to some extent in his mountain-passages, though even the three decades since Blancanus had made him basically more scientific” (Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Vol. 3, pp. 256-7).
The second appendix, Apparatus ad mathematicarum stadium, that is, a preparation for learning and advancing the mathematical disciplines, is clearly addressed to Biancani’s students. In this he indicates that mathematics, like other sciences, can be divided into branches that are speculative and practical, pure and intermediate. The speculative branches are six in number, two of which – geometry and arithmetic – are pure, and the remainder of which, perspectiva or optica (including catoptrica and dioptrica), mechanica, musica, and astronomia – are intermediate. Biancani incudes a bibliography of works in each of these areas. This is followed by a discussion of the nature of mathematical proofs. Biancani “characterizes mathematical resolution not as a general method applicable to all the sciences and arts, but rather as a special method that assists one in finding geometrical demonstrations quickly and easily. Earlier he had pointed out that geometers use basically two methods in their proofs, one direct, that of ostensive demonstration, the other indirect, that of reduction to the impossible; at this point he turns to explaining how resolution and composition are useful for uncovering either … He then explains what Euclid means by them … Blancanus concludes his explanation with the remark that it is easier to see this method in use than it is to describe precepts for its use, and refers the reader to Euclid, Apollonius, Archimedes, and Pappus for clear exemplifications of it” (Wallace 1992).
In the third appendix, Echometria, Biancani initiates the science of acoustics. “Towards the end of the 16th century, with the rediscovery of conic sections and burning glasses of Archimedes, the propagations of sound was associated – for the first time – with that of light rays. According to the Jesuit Giuseppe Biancani (1620), Ettore Ausonio, a doctor and mathematician working in Venice in the second half of the 16th century, was the first to hypothesize the existence – in burning glasses – of a dualism between light and sound … However, none of Ausonio’s writings on the subject have survived …
“These speculations on the sound-light dualism, however, lay forgotten until 1620 when they were taken up and amplified in the Echometria of Biancani, who can therefore be considered the founder of geometrical acoustics. In fact, it was this work that inspired the first applications founded on this schematization: applications that above all involved architectural acoustics and certain windpipes. Biancani himself defines his Echometria as a ‘new part of the mathematical sciences’, or more precisely, one could add, of the mathesis mixta. In fact, this short treatise can be considered the first to be entirely devoted to this new discipline. Moreover, it was precisely from this schematization that the discipline subsequently developed until it assumed the name of ‘acoustics’” (Barbieri, pp. 161-2).
Giuseppe Biancani (1566-1624) entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus on 4 October 1592. He studied mathematics under Christopher Clavius at the Collegio Romano in Rome; between 1596 and 1599, he was studying at the Jesuit College in Padua. Galileo had been appointed professor of mathematics at the University of Padua in 1592. In a letter he wrote on 14 June 1611, Biancani referred to his friendship with Galileo: ‘I love and admire Galileo, not only for his rare learning and invention, but also for the old friendship that I had with him in Padua, where I was overcome by his courtesy and affection, which bound me to him.’ In the early 1600s Biancani, having completed the long training period for the Jesuit order, went to the Jesuit College in Parma where he taught mathematics for the remainder of his career. During his final four years at Parma, from 1620 to 1624, Biancani taught Giovanni Battista Riccioli who mentions him with gratitude and admiration and later named a lunar crater after him.
Copies of this work are described in bibliographies as having one, two or even three plates. The present copy, with one folding plate is complete. Three plates were originally printed on two folded sheets. On the sheet with two plates, one plate was intended to be cut out and mounted as a volvelle on p. 227; the other was to be joined with the plate on the other sheet to make one large folded plate, which was too long to be printed on a single sheet. Sphaera mundi was republished in 1630, 1635 and 1653; the last two editions have appended a posthumous work of Biancani’s, Novum instrumentum ad horologia describenda, which describes his method for constructing a sundial.
Riccardi I, 127; Carli-Favaro 83; Cinti 95 (third ed.); Jesuit Science in the Age of Galileo 5. Barbieri, ‘The Jesuit acousticians and the problem of wind instruments (c. 1580-1680),’ Analecta Musicologica 38 (2007), pp. 155-204. Blackwell, Galileo, Bellarmine, and the Bible, 1991. Heilbron, Galileo. McColley, ‘Josephus Blancanus and the Adoption of Our Word ‘Telescope’,’ Isis, Vol. 28 (1938), pp. 364-365. Wallace, Galileo’s Logic of Discovery and Proof, 1992. Wallace, ‘Galileo’s Jesuit connections and their influence on his science,’ pp. 99-126 in Feingold (ed.), Jesuit Science and the Republic of Letters, 2003.
4to (220 x 160 mm), pp. [xxiv], 445, , with volvelle at p. 227 and one large folding plate. Title printed in red and black, numerous woodcut diagrams in text. Contemporary vellum, manuscript title along spine, remains of ties. Inner front hinge starting, light sporring throughout. In a ll very fine and completley untouched copy.