Who is Who in Dubrovnik: Marin Getaldic

Lauren Simmonds

Continuing our look at some of Dubrovnik’s most important historical characters, let’s meet the famed Ragusan mathematician, scientist and physicist, Marin Getaldic.


(image credit: DuList)

Marin Getaldic was born as one of six children into a respected local family on October the 2nd 1568. It became quickly known that the young Marin was an especially gifted child, requiring a lot of mental stimulation and possessing a clear propensity for further intellectual development. While little is known of his childhood (and what is alleged to be known is often disputed), it can be confirmed that Getaldic studied in various other European countries, including England, Belgium and and Italy. He was also one of the very few, very select students of the famed French mathematician Francois Viete. This fact alone proves his genius, as Francois Viete rarely took on students without more than good reason.

In his adult and professional life, he is perhaps most renowned for his expertise in optics, his application of algebra in geometry and for his extensive research within the complicated field of geometrical optics, about which he wrote an impressive seven works and produced several leaflets. He was a pioneer in the engineering of conic lenses, and was the constructor of the parabolic mirror, which is a reflective surface used to collect and/or project energy forces such as radio waves, sound and light. It can be seen today at London’s National Maritime Museum. He was offered the position of Professor of Mathematics at Leuven, Belgium, which was one of the most acclaimed, prestigious universities in Europe at the time. A friend of Francois Viete, pope Urban VIII and Italian astronomer and polymath Galileo Galilei; Getaldic was a living example of ”birds of a feather flocking together”.

In fact, Getaldic and his scientific work were held in the highest of esteems all over the continent. Despite the incredible set of skills and vast knowledge he so obviously possessed, Getaldic made a living working in various public service roles, as a notary for some time, as well as partaking in various diplomatic missions for the Dubrovnik Republic, including taking up the role as envoy to Istanbul. The Dubrovnik Republic (Ragusa) was not always full of praise when it came to theory based discoveries, preferring practicalities above all, which led Getaldic to voice his numerous complaints in letters sent to his acquaintances, complaining avidly about the negligence of the local government and administration of the time and questioning why there was such a lack of interest on their part in the legitimate progression of theoretical discoveries.

Marin Getaldic passed away prematurely on the 11th of April, 1626. He was aged 57.

Numerous ingenius contributions made by Getaldic to the field of optics and science went on to be cited by the English astronomist Edmond Halley (known for computing the orbit of what is now called Halley’s comet) and the prominent Dutch physicist and mathematician Christiaan Huygens. Two locations in the Dubrovnik area associated with Getaldic’s name are Bete’s cave, in which he impressed his fellow citizens with his various mirror experiments and at Podzvizd, a strategic tower in the nearby walled town of Ston. There is also a school named after him in the City of Dubrovnik. 


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