Saturday, June 13, 2009

June 13: Giovanni Antonio Magini

Giovanni Antonio Magini
June 13, 1555 – February 11, 1617

Giovanni Antonio Magini (in Latin, Maginus) was an Italian astronomer, astrologer, cartographer, and mathematician. He was born in Padua, and completed studies in philosophy in Bologna in 1579. Dedicating himself to astronomy, in 1582 he wrote Ephemerides coelestium motuum, translated into Italian the following year.

In 1588 he was chosen over Galileo to occupy the chair of mathematics at the University of Bologna after the death of Egnatio Danti. Magini supported a geocentric system of the world, in preference to Copernicus’ heliocentric system. Magini devised his own planetary theory, in preference to other existing ones. The Maginian System consisted of eleven rotating spheres, which he described in his Novæ cœlestium orbium theoricæ congruentes cum observationibus N. Copernici (Venice, 1589).

In his De Planis Triangulis (1592), he described the use of quadrants in surveying and astronomy. In 1592 Magini published Tabula tetragonica, and in 1606 devised extremely accurate trigonometric tables. He also worked on the geometry of the sphere and applications of trigonometry, for which he invented calculating devices. He also worked on the problem of mirrors and published on the theory of concave spherical mirrors.

He also published a commentary on Ptolemy’s Geographia (Cologne, 1596).

As a cartographer, his life's work was the preparation of Italia or the Atlante geografico d'Italia (Geographic Atlas of Italy), printed posthumously by Magini's son in 1620. This was intended to include maps of every Italian region with exact nomenclature and historical notes. A major project, its production (begun in 1594) proved expensive and Magini assumed various additional posts in order to fund it, including becoming tutor in mathematics to the sons of Vincenzo I of Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, a major patron of the arts and sciences. He also served as court astrologer. The Duke of Mantua, to whom the atlas is dedicated, assisted him with this project and allowed for maps of the various states of Italy to be brought to Magini. The governments of Messina and Genoa also assisted Magini financially in this project. Magini did not do any of the mapping himself.

He was also interested in pursuits which today would be considered pseudoscientific. A strong supporter of astrology, he defended its use in medicine in his De astrologica ratione (Venice, 1607). He was also interested in metoposcopy.

He corresponded with Tycho Brahe, Clavius, Abraham Ortelius, and Johann Kepler. His correspondence was edited in 1886 by Antonio Favaro.

The lunar crater Maginus is named in his honor.

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