International symposium on the history of science in the Rudolphine period underway in Prague

Tycho de Brahe

Prague is currently hosting an international symposium on the history of science in the Rudolphine period, organized on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the death of Tycho de Brahe, a famous Danish astronomer, who lived towards the end of his life at the imperial court of Prague. Alena Skodova reports.

Tycho de Brahe
Emperor Rudolf II was one of only a few Czech rulers who moved his court from Vienna to Prague. At the end of the 16th century, his court was one of the most famous in Europe, as Rudolf was an ardent lover of art and science and he used to invite prominent figures from both fields to Prague to perform research. One of the scientists was the renowned Danish astronomer Tycho de Brahe. I spoke with professor Owen Gingerich from the Harvard-Smithonian Centre for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, about de Brahe's work..

"He was living in Prague towards the end of his life, he was relatively arrogant, he was self-directed in doing something very unusual for a nobleman namely to write and publish books, which was very strange in those days and also, of course, to be making all of his observations with those fabulous instruments that he was building."

Tycho de Brahe is regarded as the greatest astronomer of his time, using sophisticated devices which he himself constructed. But as we hear from professor Gingerich, Rudolf wanted to keep Brahe's talents all to himself:

Astronomie Mechanica by Tycho de Brahe
"When he came here, he was looking for a castle, the Benatky Castle North of Prague, where he settled down and started to put the instruments back-up so that he could continue with the observations, but then Rudolf II decided that he needed Tycho Brahe to be here, so that Tycho could cast horoscopes for him and give him that kind of advice. And that was greatly to the detriment of his observing programme. He, I suppose, had enjoyed life with people here who had very large libraries and the aristocracy, but he preferred to be able to carry out his astronomical observations and moving to Prague was not the most favourable thing from the point of view of astronomy."

Do there exist records or manuscripts from which we can learn more about the work of this famous astronomer?

"Of course, Tycho Brahe published a number of books on his works, the last one was brought out by Kepler here in Prague, but in addition, the observation manuscript survived. There's one set of them in Copenhagen, and another set that is in the library in Vienna. The major part of what we know of Tycho Brahe's library remains here in Prague, in the Klementinum. There are about 100 titles bound in fifty some volumes and these are a very precious source to see what kind of material Tycho Brahe was reading."