THE LORD OF URANIBORG / by Caitlin Murray


Philipp Melanchthon - Philippism (Lutheran universities - acceptance of seven liberal arts - church as educational institution - Lutheran universities had at least one chair in mathematics (largely focused on astronomy) whereas in England there was not a single chair in mathematics throughout the whole of the sixteenth century)

Sacrobosco's On the Spheres and Peter Apian's Cosmography

When the time came to take the Grand Tour that had become a standard feature of the education of Danish aristocrats, Tycho followed the path of the Billes and Oxes to foreign universities, rather than the path of the Brahes to foreign wars / 15 years old - left Denmakr on 14 February 1562

the celestial maps of Albrecht Durer

Lacking a proper instrument, Tycho could only check the predictions of the ephemerides by lining up a planet and two stars by means of a taut string and estimating the positions of the planet from the positions of the two stars on his little globe (size of a fist) / the terrestrial effects of celestial influences / the horoscopes of famous men / building up a large body of observational data / recognizing Ptolemaic errors - off by a month

navigating, surveying, instrument making

the cross-staff instrument as a metaphor for Tycho's "coming of age"

the lunar eclipse of 28 October 1566 / as a result of analyzing it, Tycho concluded that it foretold the death of the Turkish sultan, Suleiman the Great (who died six weeks later) / also in 1566 the duel resulting in his disfigurement

Paracelsus : (11 November or 17 December 1493 – 24 September 1541) was a Swiss German Renaissance physician, botanist, astronomer, alchemist, and general occultist. He founded the discipline of toxicology. He is also known as a revolutionary for insisting upon using observations of nature, rather than looking to ancient texts, in open and radical defiance of medical practice of his day. He is also credited for giving zinc its name, calling it zincum. Modern psychology often also credits him for being the first to note that some diseases are rooted in psychological illness / believed that the spirit of God permeated and unified all of Nature and that there must therefore exist in the bowels of the macrocosm (the earth) mineral remedies that could alleviate any of the ills that could inflame the bowels of a microcosm ( person) - strong doctrine of empiricism ran through Paracelsan alchemy - truth is to be found in nature, rightly observed / His motto was "Alterius non sit qui suus esse potest" which means "Let no man belong to another who can belong to himself."


Danish Reformation - 1536 / Tycho b. 1546

Activities at Herrevad Abbey in the early 1570s - largely alchemical but also papermaking / "composed a poem calling on the women of Denmark to sacrifice some of their linen to help publicize the deeds of their ancestors" / Tycho said of himself that he worshiped all the"most delightful Muses surrounding Apollo"

16th century movement of thought to build a unified view of nature (celestial and terrestrial) in the spirit of Plato, to replace that of Aristotle / medicine - theories of Galen - four humours, restore balance by introducing opposite humour : these ideas rejected by Paracelsus, who asserted that each human being is a microcosm of the universal macrocosm - disease as something from outside the body - the balsam: a celestial substance found in plants, animals, and minerals - filled the body and gave it color and vitality / the development of anatomy

11 November 1572 - the formal beginning of Tycho's career as an astronomer - Tycho noticed an unfamiliar starlike object in the sky, one alien to the constellation in which it appeared but also brighter than any star or planter that he has ever seen / these are the only observations of his entire career that are known to be lost

The New Star: previously thought, since Aristotle, that celestial change was restricted to the sublunary world

(the universe itself is the best book of theology)

SIDEREAL contemplation : of or with respect to the distant stars (i.e., the constellations or fixed stars, not the sun or planets) / (Sidereus Nuncius, or Sidereal Messenger, a scientific work by Galileo Galilei)
a solar day vs. a sidereal day: Because the Earth moves in its orbit around the Sun, the Earth must rotate more than 360 degrees in one solar day / A solar day lasts from when the Sun is on the meridian at a point on Earth until it is next on the meridian. A solar day is exactly 24 hours (of solar time). Because of the Earth's revolution, a solar day is slightly longer than a sidereal day. In every day life, we use solar time /  The Earth must rotate an extra 0.986 degrees between solar crossings of the meridian. Therefore in 24 hours of solar time, the Earth rotates 360.986 degrees / Because the stars are so distant from us, the motion of the Earth in its orbit makes an negligible difference in the direction to the stars. Hence, the Earth rotates 360 degrees in one sidereal day / A sidereal day lasts from when a distant star is on the meridian at a point on Earth until it is next on the meridian. A sidereal day lasts 23 hours and 56 minutes (of solar time), about 4 minutes less than a solar day.

Thus, although both Tycho's star and the supernova of 1054 were visible in daylight to anyone who knew that they existed, neither was to bright as to arrest the attention of the untrained eye (no one in Copenhagen had noticed it) / Philosophers had agreed that the celestial world could not change and scientists through thousands of years had found that the stars remained unchanged in number, position, order, and so forth (yet Hipparchus had seen a new star - Pliny)

the astronomical portends of the new star : the new star observed by Hipparchus some 125 years before Christ has been a herald of cataclysmic change in the civilized world - the spiritual and political decline of the Jews and the transfer of Mediterranean hegemony from Greece to Rome

Mathematical contemplation of Tycho Brahe of Denmark on the new and never previously seen star just now first observed in the month of November in the year of Our Lord 1572

[CHAPTER 3: Becoming a professional]

disappearance of the star in March 1574

Tycho's first quadrant - decorated with an allegorical painting : "By the spirit we live the rest belongs to death"

"Some investigate in solitude lofty matters which are far beyond the grasp of common people: Saturn, the highest star, had formed them felicitously. Some are more interested in judicial and political affair, over which the splendor of Jupiter shines. Some breath nothing but war, slaughter, tumult, and quarrels: these the fervor of Mars agitates. Others seek honors, dignity and dominion over affairs because of the ambitious influence of the sun. There are those who spend their lives in loves, pleasures, the fine arts, and other pleasant pursuits: Venus, the enticing star, has enchanted these. Others dedicate themselves totally to practicing ingenious crafts or even commerce: these have been stimulated by Mercury. Some, influenced by the lunar nature, spend the course of their lives in popular affairs, pilgrimages, voyages, fishing, and the like. In this way, the great variety of temperaments can be seen to be like the influences from the seven wandering stars. Many people are affected by diverse combinations of these planets and they pursue different types of activities at diverse times in their lives, at one time being occupied with this business and at another time with another, as they are subject at various times to the secret influxes of this or that planet.

God so created man that he can overcome all malevolent influences of the stars if he wills to do so

There was no good reason in the 16th century for believing that the earth was in motion / Copernicus's view mainly viewed as figurative until the seventeenth century / Unlike most of his contemporaries, Tycho both understood that Copernicus has presented his system as a physical reality and agreed that astronomy could aspire to physical reality - but it was difficult for him to accept that the earth was moving

. . .

King Frederick II of Denmark - offer to Brahe - island of Hven / Pratensis to Brahe : "Apollo desires it, Urania recommends it, Mercury commands it with his staff"

[CHAPTER 4: THE FIRst years on hven - 1576-1579]

23rd May 1576 : "to our beloved Tyge Brahe...our land of Hven, with all our and the crown's tenants and servants who live thereon, and with all the rent and duty which comes from have, enjoy, use, and hold; free and clear without any rent, all the days of his life"

building / Vitruvius - Ten Books on Architecture - an expression of one's understanding of the universe / Palladio's Four Books of Architecture / the basic structure of the house would be square, bisected in each direction by corridors that subdivided it into four square areas of equal size - on the north and south sides of this living area Tycho planned large rounded towers appended to the square to form the working areas of the house, and at the ends of the other corridor he added smaller portal towers to formalize the two entrances - axial symmetry  (URANIBORG) - in later years, Tycho enclosed the manor grounds with a a great earthen wall and constructed outbuildings at its four corners / the house Tycho designed for himself would be built to reflect in its proportions the order of the heavens and earth, both the great cosmos and the cosmic dimensions of humanity

(sixty fish ponds)

13th November 1577 - COMET - supralunary  - a celestial body, counter to the teachings of Aristotle - orbit circling the sun - many who stated it was a presage of the apocalypse - Brahe's position was that rational exercise of free will could moderate or control the predictable effects of the comet and other cosmic events / rather than taking refuge in anguished prayers for general deliverance from divine wrath, Brahe wished to treat those specific forebodings of the comet that might be mitigated by appropriate policies. 

I have suitable instruments, partly now ready to be erected, partly under construction, which I believe to be inferior to none, either ancient or modern, in size, craftsmanship, accordance with their purpose, great cost and labor incurred in their construction, and in their extraordinary accuracy. I have planned a building that is to be as well suited as possible for these instruments and for the observation of the stars in comfort. For this reason, I have withdrawn to this isle in order to devote myself to philosophical and astronomical studies without disturbance.

Tycho was never to achieve the great wealth of his father, but he did set a new standard for the financial support of scientific research (his income was far more than any other man of learning in Europe) / As of 1579 he was using that support primarily to build the establishment in which he would conduct his research


(plants painted on the ceiling)

the construction of new, permanently installed instruments / began to dream of having his own instrument shop, where he could convert skilled craftsman into specialists, by hiring them to devote their time exclusively to his projects and to work where he could conveniently supervise every phase of the activity - a "workshop for artisans" / his ambition was nothing less than to reestablish the empirical foundations of the science of astronomy - to this end he published an account confirming the general superiority of all his instruments -   Mechanica / Instruments for the Restoration of Astronomy (detailed pictures and extensive descriptions of each of his 22 most important instruments) / no one before Tycho had both cared about accuracy and taken the steps to achieve it / the inefficiency of the widely accepted pinhole method

clocks - a precision instrument that could record the exact times at which stars crossed the meridian -  proved not as accurate as his instruments

his great globe : covered in brass / when Tycho was doing his star cataloging he entered on the globe each completed position - "If it has been done well enough, it has been done quickly enough"

the mural quadrant : practical, but also a parlor piece - a section of wall oriented and constructed along an astronomically precise north-south line

+++ plus more instruments +++

"Neither wealth nor power, but only knowledge, alone, endures"

In 1584, Tycho established his own press, also his own paper mill

From the instruments available to him before his ship began to produce them in 1581, he obtained observations averaging errors of about 4'. Although this was better than anyone before him had done, it was far short of the 1' accuracy that he demanded. By the time of the comet of 1585, however, Tycho had achieved his goal.

[CHAPTER 6: the flowering of uraniborg]

eight room garret on the top floor for assistants / these assistants recorded some of the stranger details of Tycho's life on Heven:  that there was a dwarf named Jeppe at Uraniborg "whom Tycho believed had some kind of prescience" and that Tycho was superstitious about both rabbits and old ladies and would return home if either crossed his path while he was out on an errand

Around 1582, for approximately 5,000 days Tycho had various of his associates record each day's weather - cloudy, rainy, windy, along with any unusual meteorological appearances / in 1584, this undertaking expanded to include other news such as the arrival and departure of island personnel and visitors, fierce storms, house fire, washed up body on shore, shipwrecks, incarcerations, deaths - some 700 items

the incommensurability of the university education of the day and the research that Tycho was doing on Hven / the credentials that the students brought to Hven were of very little value to Tycho / "whether or not he has obtained the M.A. degree is immaterial to me. I would prefer that he really be a master of arts, rather than just have the degree. But that is no easy matter , so it will suffice if he is a serious student"

For observation : Tycho was probably using a recording crew of three : one to hold the lantern and read out the sightings, another to use the log to make entries, and the third to stand by the clock and call out time as readings were recorded

The role of theology at Uraniborg - Platonic immanence - according to this philosophy, the two spheres of matter and spirit overlapped or interpenetrated to such a degree that comprehension of either one was impossible without a thorough understanding of the other - In this view, Nature and the Bible were equally authoritative theologically

in map making - the modern method of triangulation - one of the pioneers of cartographic measurement

Despiciendo suspicio (By looking down I see upward)
Suspiciendo despicio (By looking up I see downward)

Tycho kept daily records of the weather on Hven, eventually accumulating fifteen years of empirical data, which included the sighting of the first lark or stork in spring

pragmatic prognostication


serious nighttime observation

(ego non capio)


prosthaphaeresis - addito-subtraction

And through a career in which he developed instruments whose accuracy rose higher and higher above any standard previously achieved, he never documented any attempt to detect the stellar parallax that alone could verify the annual motion of the earth / although Tycho was capable of entertaining individual Copernican theories for the planets, when he was thinking technically, the framework within which he viewed them was Ptolemaic / Until the advent of the telescope, at the very earliest, the available evidence did not render belief in the mobility of the earth even plausible, let alone convincing - By extricating the geometry of the Copernicun system from the controversial company of Copernicus's moving earth, Tycho provided an important technical service to his discipline and almost surely hastened acceptance of the motion of the earth

[CHAPTER 9: HIGH TIDE: 1586-1591]

bothered by summer tourists

a considerable portion of Tycho's instincts rested on the quasi-theological conviction that God could not have been so inefficient as to have created a universe containing all the wasted space implicit in a Copernican system


the duke of Brunswick took his half-meter-high revolving statue of Mercury