Francesco Maurolico bigraphy, stories - Mathematicians

Francesco Maurolico : biography

1494 - 1575

Francesco Maurolico (Greek: Φραγκίσκος Μαυρόλυκος, Frangiskos Mavrolikos; Latin: Franciscus Maurolycus; Francisci Maurolyci; Italian: Francesco Maurolico; September 16, 1494-July 21 or July 22, 1575) was a Greek mathematician and astronomer of Sicily. Throughout his lifetime, he made contributions to the fields of geometry, optics, conics, mechanics, music, and astronomy. He edited the works of classical authors including Archimedes, Apollonius, Autolycus, Theodosius and Serenus. He also composed his own unique treatises on mathematics and mathematical science.


Born in Messina of a family of Greek descent who originated in Constantinople, they settled in this Sicilian city after the Fall of Constantinople (1453). Recent studies seem indeed indicate that the family settled in Messina at the end of 14th century (Moscheo). Maurolico received a solid education. His father, Antonio, had been a physician and studied under the famous Hellenic scholar Constantine Lascaris and later became Master of the Messina mint. The Maurolico family had a villa outside the city.

In 1521, Maurolico took holy orders. In 1550, he entered the Benedictine Order and became a monk at the monastery of Santa Maria del Parto à Castelbuono. Two years later, he was consecrated as abbot at the Cattedrale San Nicolò di Messina.


Like his father, Maurolico also 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. Maurolico tutored the two sons of Charles' viceroy in Sicily, Juan de Vega, and had the patronage of many rich and powerful men. He also corresponded with scholars such as Clavius and Federico Commandino. Between 1548 and 1550, Maurolico stayed at the castle of Pollina in Sicily as a guest of the marquis Giovanni II Ventimiglia, and utilized the castle tower in order to carry out astronomical observations.

Maurolico's astronomical observations include a sighting of the supernova that appeared in Cassiopeia in 1572. Tycho Brahe published details of his observations in 1574; the supernova is now known as Tycho's Supernova.

In 1569, he was appointed professor at the University of Messina.


Category:1494 births Category:1575 deaths Category:People from Messina Category:16th-century mathematicians Category:16th-century Greek people Category:16th-century astronomers Category:Greek astronomers Category:Sicilian mathematicians Category:Greek mathematicians Category:Roman Catholic cleric–scientists Category:Greek Roman Catholics Category:Greek Benedictines Category:Sicilian Greeks

Death and legacy

He died at Messina.

The lunar crater Maurolycus is named after him.

There is a school in Messina with his name.

In 2009 the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage has ordained the establishment of the Edizione nazionale dell'opera matematica di Francesco Maurolico (National Edition of Maurolico's mathematical oeuvre).


  • Maurolico's Photismi de lumine et umbra and Diaphana concern the refraction of light and attempted to explain the natural phenomenon of the rainbow. He also studied the camera obscura. Photismi were completed in 1521, Diaphana first part 1523, the second and third ones in 1552, but all the material was published posthumously only in 1611.
  • His Arithmeticorum libri duo (1575) includes the first known proof by mathematical induction.
  • His De momentis aequalibus (completed in 1548, but first published only in 1685) attempted to calculate the barycenter of various bodies (pyramid, paraboloid, etc.).
  • In his Sicanicarum rerum compendium, he presented the history of Sicily, and included some autobiographical details. He had been commissioned to write this work, and in 1553 the Senate of Messina granted him a salary of 100 gold pieces per year for two years so that he could finish this work and his works on mathematics.
  • His De Sphaera Liber Unus (1575) contains a fierce attack against Copernicus' heliocentrism, in which Maurolico writes that Copernicus “deserved a whip or a scourge rather than a refutation”.
  • Maurolico published a Cosmographia in which he described a methodology for measuring the earth, which was later employed by Jean Picard in measuring length of meridian arc in 1670.
  • Maurolico published an edition of Aristotle's Mechanics, and a work on music. He summarized Ortelius's Theatrum orbis terrarum and also wrote Grammatica rudimenta (1528) and De lineis horariis. He made a map of Sicily, which was published in 1575.
  • Maurolico worked on ancient mathematical texts: Theodosius of Bithynia, Menelaus of Alexandria, Autolycus of Pitane, Euclid, Apollonius of Perga and Archimedes. He didn't make new translations, but working on the existing ones, he provided new and sound interpretations of Greek mathematics.
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