41. Francesco Maurolico (1494 – 1575)

Mathematician and astronomer born in Messina, Maurolico, influenced by his upbringing, he entered the Church and was ordained a priest in 1521. When the plague spread through Messina killing many, including Maurolico’s father, two of his brothers and his sister, he left the city for a while to escape from the deadly illness and moved to Rome. After his father’s death, Maurolico inherited sufficient wealth to allow him to live without working for several years, concentrate on his scholarly pursuits and produce significant contributions in a broad range of different topics.

Like his father, Maurolico became head of the Messina mint and for a time was in charge of maintaining the fortifications of the city on behalf of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. He tutored the two sons of Charles’ viceroy in Sicily, Juan de Vega and had the patronage of many rich and powerful men including the Governor of Messina, Marquis Giovanni II Ventimiglia who, between 1548 and 1550, hosted him in the castle of Pollina, Sicily, to carry out astronomical observations.

Maurolico wrote important books on Greek mathematics, restored and translated many ancient texts such as those by Euclid, Archimedes and Apollonius. Maurolico proved secant = radius / cosine and secant = (radius × tangent) / sine and gave a table of secants from 0° to 45°. He also worked on geometry, the theory of numbers, optics, conics and mechanics.

Maurolico made many astronomical observations, in particular he observed the supernova which appeared in Cassiopeia in 1572 -now known as ‘Tycho’s supernova’- but never published his discoveries. While Tyco Brahe published details of his observations in 1574, Maurolico’s notes were only rediscovered in 1960. His manuscript was dated 6 November 1572, five days before Brahe made his observations. Perhaps there is an argument for renaming ‘Tycho’s supernova’ as ‘Maurolico’s supernova’. He died of the plague in Messina in 1575.

Interesting fact: The lunar crater Maurolycus is named after him.

Read More:
1. Treccani, http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/francesco-maurolico_(Dizionario_Biografico)
2. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francesco_Maurolico
3. University of St. Andrews, http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/history/Biographies/Maurolico.html

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