Ukrainian mentor of Copernicus

17.09.2010 | Text: Andriy Kislov

Philosopher, astronomer and astrologist Yuriy Kotermak went down in history as Georgius Drohobych of Russia. He was the first Ukrainian author of a printed book and the first Ukrainian medical doctor


Whas learned that the Yuriy Kotermak Masonic Lodge will soon open in Ukraine. The Free Masons choice of the name of this scientist was not accidental. Kotermak belongs to the circles of humanists that held secret meetings in secluded places to discuss philosophic issues, just as the Masons do to this day

The life of the rector of the University of Bologna and professor of the University of Krakow, who among other things was a teacher for Nicolaus Copernicus, totally reflects the Renaissance era and faith in the greatness of the human mind. The vastness of the skies is distant from our eyes, but not remote from human mind, wrote Kotermak in his letter to Pope Sixtus IV.

Astrologer from Galicia

Kotermak was born in 1448 or 1450 in Drohobych (Lviv oblast) to a family of a salt worker named Mykhailo Donat Kotermak. The young Kotermak received his elementary education in a parochial school at St. Georges Cathedral and a school in Lviv. Later he moved to Krakow, where he entered the renowned Jagiellonian University, in those years Krakow Academy. In two years Kotermak received a bachelors degree and in 1473 a masters degree.

In those days the cycle of seven academic disciplines grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy was referred to as the free arts or free sciences. Mastering such sciences was considered to be important for gaining knowledge about the environment. These subjects were studied according to specifically defined system: initially, the first three sciences, the so-called trivium, and then the next four ones the so-called quadrivium. The last of the free sciences astronomy was more like modern astrology and was closer to an applied science.

Back in those days people believed in a connection between world events and the movement of celestial bodies. All outstanding philosophers of the Renaissance era, such as Giordano Bruno, Francis Bacon and Johannes Kepler, took interest in astrology.

King Casimir IV appointed Kotermak

Georgius de Leopoli

Upon receiving a bachelor´s and then master´s degree from Uniwersytet Jagiellonski in Krakow, Kotermak set off for Bologna. The famous University of Bologna was an example for the university in Krakow and was a leading educational institution in Europe at the time. There Kotermak received a PhD in 1476 and an M.D. degree in 1482 and then gave lectures on astrology.

In the records of the University of Bologna, Kotermak is known as Georgius de Leopoli de Russia. He shared the department of astrology with the co-founder of medical astrology Girolamo Manfredi. The latter was the first astrologist to publish calendars with medical advice denoting favorable and unfavorable days for taking medicines and undergoing operations.

Georgius de Russia was given a double-chamber and 200 liras instead of the standard 100 liras as a lecturer. In 1481, Kotermak was elected to the position of rector of the University of Medicine and Free Arts one of the three universities in the composition of the so-called general school in Bologna.

At the young age of 30, Kotermak was not only in charge of the educational process and economic activity of the university, but also had civil and penal authority over all individuals under the jurisdiction of the learning institution. He simultaneously practiced astrology and wrote theses on astronomy. Only seven of these theses signed by Magistri Georgii Drohobich de Russia have preserved to the present day.

Nicolaus Copernicus was among Kotermak´s

Applied astrology

Magistri Georgii Drohobich de Russia Iudicium Pronosticon Anni 1483 Currentis (Prognostic Estimation of the Year 1483) was published in February 1483 in Rome. The treatise in Latin was Kotermaks first published book, which opens with a verse dedicated to the customer, Pope Sixtus IV. The Ukrainian scientist directly advised the pontiff to use his mind to avoid prophesied disasters and misfortunes.

Besides the astrological calendar that accurately predicted two lunar eclipses, the book also defined the motion of planets and included a weather forecast for an entire year. The book also included research in the fields of geography, astrology and meteorology. Specifically, Kotermak pinpointed the coordinates of Vilnius, Lviv and cities in Western Europe. The author emphasized that Lviv and Drohobych did not belong to Poland, but to Rus. The treatise also warned of epidemics and wars and persecutions, suppressions and dangers related to fire were prophesied for non-Christians.

Today, it is difficult to say whether it was the prediction of an astrologist or a political scientist, but it was in 1483 that Tomas de Torquemada was appointed Inquisitor General and initiated the mass burning of heretics at the stake.

Later, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote that too many mistakes were hidden under the cloak of the Popes authority. In two years Kotermaks patron Pope Sixtus IV (after whom the Sistine Chapel was named) died and Drohobich left Italy.

A monument to Kotermak in his native Drohobych

of Copernicus

In 1486, Kotermak returned to Krakow, where he was granted the title of professor of medical sciences and royal physician. King Casimir IV Jagiellon appointed him physician-in-ordinary, a position which he retained in the court of King Jan Olbracht (John I Albert). In 1488, Kotermak started lecturing at the Jagiellonian University when Nicolaus Copernicus was a student there. In 1492, he was appointed dean of the medical department.

It was customary in those years that humanist lecturers and scientists shared their discoveries and secret knowledge distinct from the official scientific doctrine with students during unofficial meetings. Copernicus visited such gatherings. Later his theories published in his paper the Revolutions of Celestial Spheres overthrew the established views about the Universe. Humanity learned from him that the Earth and other planets rotate around the Sun, not the other way around. His theory was formulated into comprehensive heliocentric cosmology, which displaced the Earth from the center of the universe.

In his scientific position Kotermak continued to write papers on eclipses. He frequently visited Lviv and became an abbot in a local church, having been given this rank as a bonus to his professorship. Kotermak took seriously to his new duties and initiated the publication of the first books in the Church Slavonic language in Krakow. He also edited and published Chasoslovets in Ukrainian. Kotermak died on February 4, 1494 in Krakow.

There is a monument to Kotermak in Drohobych. His portrait was placed on a postage stamp and a commemorative medal. Recently, a Masonic Lodge was named after him. We can only guess what members of this lodge will discuss at their meetings, how many secrets are hidden in Masonic archives and whether Yuriy Drohobych of Rus left behind any prophesies for the future of Ukraine. It would be interesting to know what he foresaw.

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