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  • Mysteriöse historische Kometenbeobachtungen

    08.09.2011, Göran Johansson
    Ich stehe vor einem Problem, von dem ich glaube, dass es mit Regiomontanus in Nürnberg verknüpft ist. Alexandre Pingré veröffentlichte 1783 seine berühmte "Cométographie". Der vermutlich älteste Eintrag in seiner Liste von historischen Kometensichtungen lautet: "Drei Tage vor dem Tode Methusalems war ein großer Komet im Sternbild der Fische zu sehen, unterhalb des Planeten Jupiter. In einem Monat oder 29 Tagen lief er durch alle 12 Zeichen des Tierkreises und verschwand am 16. April." Die jüngsten Einträge stammen aus dem 15. Jahrhundert.

    Ungefähr 100 Einträge in Pingrés Liste sind unerklärlich, insoweit sie nicht in bekannten antiken oder mittelalterlichen Quellen zu finden sind. Pingré verweist auf Quellen, die in Deutschland gedruckt wurden. Aus verschiedenen Indizien schließe ich, dass die Autoren dieser Quellen ihre Angaben letztendlich aus einem Manuskript zogen, das mit Regiomontanus zu tun hat. Wahrscheinlich ist es ein byzantinisches astrologisches Werk. Da die Beschreibungen sehr kurz sind, handelt es sich bei ihnen möglicherweise um Fußnoten in einem bereits bekannten aber bisher unbeachteten Manuskript.

    Mein Problem ist nun, dass ich griechische und lateinische Texte nicht im Original lesen kann. Deshalb suche ich Hilfe. Leider gibt es nur wenige Leute, die an Regiomontanus und mittelalterlichen Manuskripten interessiert sind. Vielleicht gibt es unter den Lesern von SuW Leute, die meine Indizien nutzen und zur Aufklärung der mysteriösen Kometenbeobachtungen beitragen können.

    Wer etwas mehr Information über meine Indizien haben will, der kann entweder mich direkt kontaktieren (Adresse siehe unten) oder zunächst den ausführlicheren englischen Text zu meinem Problem lesen, den ich unten anhänge.

    Göran Johansson
    Tordönsvägen 4 G, 1tr
    SE-222 27 LUND

    The following book has put me in a frustrating situation. A.G. Pingré, 1783, Comètographie ou Traité historique et Théorique des Cometes, Imprimerie royale, Paris, tome I.

    Pingré mentions many early comets. In some cases he gives reference to some text from Classical Antiquity. But when he can't give reference to some known text from Classical Antiquity, he instead gives reference to some early printed book. The following is the earliest record, as translated into English, from page 244 in Pingré's book. "Three days before the death of Mathusalem, a big comet could be seen in the constellation Pisces, below the planet Jupiter, in one month or 29 days, it went through the dozen of signs in the zodiac, it disappeared 16 of April."

    For many of the records, it is mentioned in what constellation the comet was seen, often also the duration but rarely the time of the year. And only constellations in the Zodiac are mentioned. There are roughly 100 records which are unexplainable. The youngest ones are from the 15th century.

    The problem is: What is the source for these comet records?

    I have tried to find whatever relevant that has been published. Which means that I have read the following books, and several more: Leandro Cantamessa: Astrologia opere e stampa. Milano 2007, Sara Schechner Genuth: Comets, Popular Culture, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology. Princeton 1997, Claudia Brosseder: Im Bann der Sterne. Philipp Melanchthon, Caspar Peucer und andere Wittenberger Astrologen. Berlin 2004, Paola Zambelli: Astrologi hallucinati. Stars and the End of the World in Luthers' Time. Berlin 1986, Günther Wartenberg and Hans-Peter Hasse : Caspar Peucer (1525 - 1602), Wissenschaft, Glaube und Politik im konfessionellen Zeitalter, 2004, Lynn Thorndike, A history of Magic and Experimental Sciences, Ernst Zinner, as translated by Ezra Brown: Regiomontanus: His life and work, Amsterdam 1990

    If somebody can tell me about any relevant modern text which I have missed, that would be nice.

    In practice Pingré borrowed these items from the following four books:

    Georgii Caesii, Catalogus omnium Cometarum, Norimbergae 1579 or 1589

    Davidis Herlicii, Descriptio Cometae, 1607

    Abrahami Rockenbackii, exempla Cometarum = De cometis tractus novus methodicus, Witebergae 1602/1619

    Henri Eckstormius, un Traite des Cometes, 1621? (presumably the book Historiae eclipsium, cometorum et parheliorum)

    The following books are also mentioned by Pingré, but one person who tried to help me stated that these authors in practice borrowed from those four mentioned right above:
    Johannes Hevelius, Cometographia, Gedani 1668

    Stanislaw de Lubienietz, Theatri Cometici pars Posterior, Lugduni-Batavorum 1666-1668

    Joanne Zahn, Specula Physico-Mathematico-Historica, Norimbergae 1696

    Lubienitz's book says that the first three persons to mention the Flood comets were Caesius, and Caspar Uttenhofer (presumably his book Judicium de nupero Cometa Astrologo Historicum, 1619), anonymnous Nürnberg mathematician (astrologer?)

    Since the books by Caesius and Uttenhofer were published in Nürnberg, the last author is possibly the same as one of those, even though it is written in such a way that I would prefer to assume that the anonymnous author was Zahn. The statement is also problematical since both Herlitz and Rockenback were published before Uttenhofer.

    Schechner Genuth's book told me that at least the Flood comet was also mentioned in: Conrad Dieterich, Ulmische Cometen-Predigt, 1618/1620

    I don't know Latin so I am the wrong person to read those early printed books, but if those authors had mentioned some known text from Classical Antiquity, Pingré would have told so. As far as I understand the situation, none of these authors mentioned where they found those records.

    To solve the problem, I try three different approaches.

    1. I have tried to find out what the authors had in common. This has given me the impression that the solution should be among the Wittenberg astrologers. Preferably Phillipp Melanchthon or Caspar Peucer.

    2. In 1524 many astrologers discussed the possibility that there would be a Flood, which would had given an ideal opportunity to discuss Noah's comet.

    But since I don't know Latin, I am the wrong person to check early printed books, so this has not helped me to solve the mystery. So I try a third possibility.

    3. Some details in the records have given me the impression that we are dealing with a text written in Greek, and presumably translated into Latin after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. So a prime suspect is cardinal Bessarion who was in contact with the astronomers Georg Purbach and Regiomontanus. And some of the Wittenberg astrologers used Regiomontanus's manuscripts. Bessarion's manuscripts are preserved in Biblioteca Marciana in Venezia, and a lot has been published, but I know neither Greek nor Italian, so I have not been able to check.

    Taking into account the differences between what the authors say, I would prefer to believe that we are dealing with a text written by somebody who used Arabic rather than Roman numerals. Regiomontanus was one of few 15th century scholars who both wrote in Greek and used Arabic numerals.

    There is also a logical reason why Regiomontanus would be related to these records. Regiomontanus wanted to measure distances to comets, so he needed positions. So a list with comets with known positions would had been interesting for him, even though the positions are very crude.

    After Regiomontanus died in 1476, his unpublished manuscripts were preserved in Nürnberg, which is the place were the unidentified records were first published. Caesius admits to have borrowed from Regiomontanus, but he doesn't give any details. And Zahn, who was the last to publish the comets is also related to Nürnberg.

    Yes, I understand a problem with suggesting Regiomontanus. Johannes Schöner tried to earn as much money as possible by printing works attributed to Regiomontanus, and he had access to the manuscripts left when Regiomontanus died. Schöner died in 1547. If Schöner didn't publish the comet text, then he probably didn't know about it.

    But, but, but. I feel that I have a number of clues which probably point in the right direction.

    From Cantamessa's book I discovered one thing. The time distribution for publishing astrological works is highly uneven. Those authors who published the unidentified comet records were active when the demand was largest for omens found in old manuscripts. So the source for the unidentified comet records may easily have been known both long before Caesius and long after Zahn.

    Brosseder mentions two interesting details in her book:
    Page 87: Schedel's Weltchronik (published in Nürnberg) mentions that in 1472 there appeared a comet in January in Taurus which was visible for 80 days. A record written in the same way as those mentioned above. Page 148: Camerarius found in Nürnberg a wonderful manuscript copied by Regiomontanus.

    Zinner mentions some interesting details in his book:
    Page 24: There was important German work in 16th century if the future can be predicted by planetary positions, conjunctions respectively comets. And the comet records in Pingré are written in such a way that I have the impression that we should look for the solution in some astrological manuscript.

    Pages 129-130: A prophecy has been falsely attributed to Regiomontanus since the middle of the 16th century, namely that the end of the world would come in 1588. The prophecy was written in Latin by the monk Johann Hilten from Eisenach und spread by Stöffler in German quatrain. I can easily imagine that Caesius checked Regiomontanus's manuscripts in order to find that prophecy, and instead found the comet list.

    Page 224: Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum VII. Codices Germanicos descripsit Franciscus Boll. Brussels 1908. Item 42 is codex Norimbergensis. Bessarion and Regiomontanus are mentioned. The manuscript includes Tetrabiblos. I tried to find somebody who was willing to investigate the Greek text. But I was told that: 1. Nothing was noticed in 1940 when the manuscript was used in the creation of a modern edition of the astrological book, and: 2. It would take a week for somebody who knows Greek to go through the text.

    I don't know if the comets are in codex Norimbergensis. Or in some other surviving manuscript. But I think there is enough evidence for somebody to start a search.

    I would not be surprised if the text we are looking for was very short. It may be as little as 20 kilobytes. And it may easily have been unedited also. I can easily imagine that we are dealing with footnotes in the margins to some manuscript.

    I have also been thinking about another possibility. Regiomontanus died in Rome, visiting the pope for correcting the calendar. I can imagine that he had the comet text with him when he died. Decades later, somebody interested in Regiomontanus contacted the Vatican library. Due to this, the comet text, or a copy of it, was sent to Nürnberg. If the text reached Nürnberg no earlier than the mid 16th century, it would explain why Schöner didn't publish it.

    Yes, I know that many early printed books and Mediaeval manuscripts have been uploaded on the internet. And I know that catalogues for libraries and archives are also on the internet. I also know that microfilm copies of Mediaeval manuscripts can be purchased. But it doesn't help me since I am the wrong person to read old texts. Neither do I have any assistant who is willing to read old texts.