Leopold Prowe

Leopold Prowe

Leopold Friedrich Prowe (1821 - 1887) was a German historian and gymnasium instructor, born as the son of a town councillor of Thorn (Toruń) in West Prussia, the town where Nicolaus Copernicus was born in 1473. Prowe compiled a comprehensive German language biography of Copernicus, titled Nicolaus Coppernicus, according to the spelling often used by the astronomer.

Prowe studied in Leipzig and then returned home to become a teacher at the gymnasium of Thorn. A local Coppernicus society, Coppernicus-Verein für Wissenschaft und Kunst zu Thorn, had been founded with the intention to erect a monument, which was created by Friedrich Tieck of Berlin, and erected posthumously in 1853. It was titled Nicolaus Copernicus Thorunensis, terrae motor, solis caelique stator (Nicolaus Copernicus of Thorn, mover of the earth, stopper of the sun and the heavens). As a member of the Coppernicus-Verein, Prowe researched the local archives of Copernicus' birthplace, as well as those of other towns in Prussia where the astronomer had worked and lived.

His biography of the astronomer is the most comprehensive in German, if not in any language. It is considered the best since the one compiled by Pierre Gassendi (1592 – 1655). Prowe also traveled abroad, e. g. to the places in Italy where Copernicus had studied - or not. Carlo Malagola, who had discovered that according to the note Dominus Nicolaus Kopperlingk de Thorn - IX grossetos the young Prussian had enrolled in 1496 for 9 Groschen in the Acta nationis Germanorum at Bologna, revealed that the librarian Nicolò Comneno Papadopoli in Padua had falsely claimed in 1726 that he had seen an entry of Copernicus in records of a "Polish nation" at the university. In the century that had passed since, this claim had been widely published and "found a place in all subsequent biographies of Copernicus, but the decorative particulars added by the historian of the Patavian university have been shown to be wholly incorrect" and utterly baseless.

In 1934, an asteroid was named 1322 Coppernicus according to the spelling preferred by Prowe. For the 400th anniversary of his death, German government picked the spelling Kopernikus as standard, though, which since remains as the common spelling in German.

Since the 1970s, the Nicolaus Copernicus Gesamtausgabe (complete edition) expands on Prowe's work. It is published in several volumes by Akademie Verlag in Berlin.

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