Clio meets Hera, or: A Report from Tallinn

I am writing this post at the Riga International Airport. I have just arrived from Tallinn, Estonia, where attended the so-called match-making event organized by HERA, and since I have still few hours left to my return flight to Warsaw, I decided to take advantage of this opportunity and note down some thoughts about what I saw for the past two days. I hope that in a way they will reflect the experiences of other participants and will also answer some questions raised by those who could not make it to Tallinn this week.

HERA a research consortium created by 24 research councils from the European Union member countries. The main goal of HERA is to provide financial support for European research groups that include representatives of at least four countries that belong to the consortium and whose proposals are written in reply to the particular call for applications. While the two previous editions of HERA were dedicated to the issues of cultural dynamics and role of the humanities, and cultural encounters, the current call for papers brought invitation to submit proposals related to the “uses of the past”. Such events as the one that took place this week are expected to serve scholars to find possible partners and collaborators for their intended research enterprises.

One may obviously bridle at the vagueness and generality of the call yet these are the realities one needs to face if he or she decides to operate at the intersection of one’s actual research area and the pan-European research policy which is aimed at the integration of research efforts, creation of new research networks and providing knowledge that could have some impact on the awareness of the common European identity outside the academia.

These phrases sound terribly technocratic, are largely based on the jargon of EU officials and could be easily produced ad infinitum whith the help of Lullian combinatorial diagrams, yet I understand they should be as broad as possible to create room for all possible scholars who work in the humanities. However, what is really important about such events as the one in Estonia is the opportunity to meet scholars from the entire continent and learn more about their current topics of research and studies they would like to create within the HERA scheme.

Thanks to the explicitly historical element in the call for proposals the meeting in Tallinn gathered a large representation of scholars who, while coming from different corners of academia (like literary studies, sociology, archaeology and last but not least, history), express in one way or another concern with the way past is reinterpreted, used, recycled, or even abused. It is difficult to tell if this group is representative for the historical community. I believe it’s not and there are several reasons why. Firstly, not everybody could come to Estonia as there was a preselection of participants. Secondly, not every scholar interested in HERA was actually interested in attending the meeting – some networks are already established and they simply write their applications. Finally, not every European scholar is interested in applying for such a grant. There are other financing mechanisms, some scholars do not want to waste their time to write application which has very small chances of winning the actual money (success rate is very low), some are simply afraid whether their home institutions, if they get the grant and become project leader, will be able to handle the administration of such a large amount of money and its distribution among other partner institutions in other countries.

No need to mention that the “uses of the past” catchphrase makes me react like Pavlov’s dog. I have a number of ideas, not necessarily of calendrical and chronological nature, that could be included into a pan-European, comparative historical study which could not only recapitulate separate, national or even regional studies, but also tell us, not only students of the past, but also European societies, something more about our shared past(s). I am really happy that I was given the opportunity to meet a great group of scholars, most of them earlymodernists (a kind of historian which turned very rare bird in Tallinn). These meetings, arranged in a form of academic speed-dating (20 minutes for bilateral meeting – bell rings! – next round! – move from table 27 to table 58 to meet another possible collaborator), and continued later less formally during the break, were extremely important for me. I learned a lot about what kinds of sources people want to study, what are their interests, goals, expectations. I believe we have found some common ground which could be explored further if we had more time. I also hope that we will continue the exchange initiated in Tallinn, with or without HERA.

As much as I enjoyed the meetings, I also share the doubts described above with a considerable number of scholars. And while I was travelling to Tallinn with naïve hope that something will nearly automatically emerge out of this meeting, I am going back with serious concerns about the feasibility of what I intended. However I am sure I want to and will stay in touch with the people I met, now I realise fully how difficult enterprise HERA is and that making the final decision regarding application won’t be as easy as I assumed. I cannot remember if there are any myths that would involve Hera and Clio and whether the Greek goddess was in good relations with one of the Muses, yet I know that the contemporary link between these two not as easy as one could think in the first instance.


P.S. As my current research interest are with every month turning more and more towards the Baltic region, thanks to the fantastic sources related to the early modern intellectual, both scientific and educational centres located on the Southern Baltic coast, I really enjoyed the opportunity to visit Tallinn, really picturesque former Hanseatic city with marvellous Old Town, full of winding streets, amazing works of medieval art and craft in the St. Nicholas church museum and amazing city walls. And while I had only about three hours to look around I also experienced something what I would call “living history”. After the meeting we decided to go out to one of the restaurants. Some places that pretend to be centres of cultivation of medieval history make me grit my teeth yet this time it was really funny. And one of the waitresses, dressed up in medieval costume, asked us if we were merchants and if we had by any chance few barrels of salt to sell. Or furs. And the dialogue went on:

“We’re not into that kind of business, m’am!”

“So who are you?,” asked the waitress with well-acted impatience.

“We are scholars”, I answered.

“Who would believe you?”, I heard.


The Times We Had

In the year 252525…, or: How to bore your opponent to death

All the readers of “Chronologia Universalis” probably heard at some point the 1969 hit by the Zager and Evans duo. In it, the musicians propose a pessimistic, if not apocalyptic, insight into the relatively distant future, asking questions about such important issues as the survival of humankind by the year 9525 and so on and so forth. At the moment of its premiere, the song somehow reflected all the Cold War-related uncertainties and concerns, just as did other kinds of popcultural texts preoccupied with apocalyptic visions and predictions. To say that I like the song would be an overstatement, yet I must confess I could not get it out of my head while I was working on one of the texts that belongs to the long line of polemical writings related to the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. And although I intend to include it in the critical edition of these sources, there are moments when I wonder whether this decision won’t turn as suicidal.


What I would like to propose you today is to make a thought experiment. Instead of two pop-rock musicians singing about what may happen in the distant future imagine a Catholic priest of Armenian origin, sitting in his studio and writing. The whole scene is settled in the city of Lviv somewhere in 1660’s. Jakub Gawath (1598-1679), the priest in question, is in his sixties and is already know as the author of a number of religious texts. Some of them will have to wait for their publication by the 1690’s, but at the moment when we meet Gawath he is working on something really special – the ultimate argument for the acknowledgement of the Gregorian calendar.

The harbinger of this argument was Gawath’s 1661 brochure entitled Pokazanie jawnej omyłki starego kalendarza w święceniu Wielkiejnocy (The Demonstration of the Blatant Error of the Old Calendar with regard to the Celebration of Easter). In it, Gawath developed a brief and rather loose line of argumentation about the reasons why the Gregorian calendar should be acknowledged by the Uniates and Orthodox Christians. Once again, following into the footsteps of his predecessors, Gawath made use of the standard arguments such as references to the early Christian synods, citations from the Church Fathers, scriptural arguments, etc. although he put them in a somewhat different form than the one employed by Joannes Broscius, Kasjan Sakowicz or even Jan Dubowicz. From the structure of The Demonstration it can be easily of observed that Gawath had some real difficulties in organizing this text around one idea and he could not resist the temptation to use all arguments that he had at hand. What the readers got in result is a loose combination of images and arguments of all possible kinds, a real mishmash which is still comprehensible, yet a bit annoying.

Jakub Gawath, The Demonstration of the Blatant Error of the Old Calendar..., Lviv 1661, title page

Jakub Gawath, The Demonstration of the Blatant Error of the Old Calendar…, Lviv 1661, title page; Cracow, Princes Czartoryski Library, shelfmark 63682 I

The function of The Demonstration, however, was to prepare the ground for the ultimate battle. In 1665 Gawath brought out the big guns although he masked them wisely with a verbal camouflage. If you see two titles, The Demonstration of Blatant Errors… and the other, i.e. A Supplement to Two Treatises on Calendar (Supplement dwóm traktacikom o kalandarzu), you quite naturally expect that the supplement will be simply a supplement, nothing more, nothing less and will be shorter than the basic text. But this is not the case of Gawath as his supplement is several times longer than his previous works on calendar and goes well beyond the standard polemical argumentation as it also includes several featuers of a computistical manual.

Gawath’s Supplement is a text difficult to read for a number of reasons. Although by the moment of its publication the Polish ortography has been adopted for print quite well and seemed to be pretty stable, the Supplement brings a set of quite puzzling attempts to write down words in a completely new, sometimes amusing, way. The same goes for punctuation. In the Old Polish prints it was based not on the logical division of the text, be it a sentence or paragraph, but on the intonation. In case of Gawath’s treatise (oh pardon, supplement to treatises) punctuation marks were used without any visible rules, some long sentences merge into one mega-sentence or sentence-like structure because either the author or the typesetter did not know where to put a full stop. Sometimes, just like in the case of the Oxford comma, the enumerations become rather confusing as it is difficult to determine wheter a series of words should be treated as a list of, let’s say, four items or a list of three items determining the fourth one – both options make sense and this is a real challenge for an editor. The general impression is that the text was prepared for print by a typesetter who got drunk or by an absolute newcomer to the profession. (Needless to say that there is no Erratum at the end of the brochure…)

Jakub Gawath, Supplement to the Two Treatises on Calendar..., Lviv 1665; Cracow, Princes Czartoryski Library, shelfmark 63681 I

Jakub Gawath, Supplement to the Two Treatises on Calendar…, Lviv 1665; Cracow, Princes Czartoryski Library, shelfmark 63681 I

However, once you get accustomed to the peculiarities of Gawath’s logic, punctuation and ortography, you can try to figure out what he had in mind and why he decided to publish his Supplement. It turns out that the basic idea was to make his readers aware of the long-distance consequences of the fact that the Orthodox Christians decided to keep the Julian calendar and treated the recognition of the new system of time reckoning  as an act of treason against the tradition established at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. A similar attempt has been already reported by Joannes Broscius in his Apology of the Roman Catholic Calendar, where the Cracow scholar suggested that if the calendrical divide lasts long enough, the Orthodox Christians and Uniates will celebrate their Easter in the summer. Broscius however, although he had all qualification to do this, did not decide to involve calculations or tables that would prove his readers that he was right. Such a paradox, if put in a witty way, could do its job as a link in the long line of argumentation. You can show the implications of this fact in few sentences and ask rhetorically your readers if they really want to sentence the next generations to the everlasting, totally errant celebration of the Easter. This could also gain you some respect among the learned who could share your love for puns and paradoxes and appreciate the knowledge of astronomy. Finally, it could also serve as a quite evocative argument to those who are less educated as the image of Easter celebrated in the summer, during the harvest, could be really appealing even to the imagination of less educated public.

Unlike Broscius, Gawath decided to do the opposite as he made a risky attempt to tell something what should be presented in a tabular form. At the moment of the introduction of the reform in 1582 the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars amounted to 10 days. To keep the spring equinox in its place, i.e. on the 21st of March, just as it was decided in Nicaea in the 4th century, the Gregorian calendar brought a new system of leap years, which eventually lead to the growth of difference between the two calendars. This could be easily shown in a neat and elegant table, as there is nothing difficult in showing the growing difference between these two systems in few colums.

Gawath took the road less taken and presented the tabular data in a narrative form. This decision resulted in a kind of an obscure litany to the old and new calendar, in which he enumerated the crucial moments in the future when the divergence between the two systems will be growing and provided some computistical calculations of the golden number and epacts, giving the exact dates of Easter that could be of use for the generations of Christians who would come hundreds or even thousands of years after his own generation. Needless to say that this makes his text really annoying: one, two or three paragraphs of this kind are fine and they give you the general idea, but the fourth, fifth … and the fifteenth make you a bit impatient and you start peeking at the next pages, just to make sure this sequence will finally conclude at some point. This is as if Gawath decided to bore his Orthodox oponents to death, or at least exhaust them to a point when they would be ready to admit that the Gregorian calendar is a much better and more precise tool for time reckoning than the old Julian calendar.

Gawath's Supplement, p. 4-5, an example of his calendrical litany - evey paragraph begins with a reference to another year which is important for his argument

Gawath’s Supplement, p. 4-5, an example of his calendrical litany – evey paragraph is dedicated to a single year which plays significant role in his entire argument on the desynchronization of two calendars

The radicality of Gawath, however, consists not only in his attempt to rhetoricize something which is completely at odds with rhetoric, but in the fact that at some points he seems to suggest that he assumes quite an optimistic view that in the year 48900 A.D. we as a humankin will still be here on Earth, arguing about the dating of Easter and the legacy of the synod of 325 A.D.. Up to a point, this attitude seems to clash with the apocalyptic and millenarist tendencies of Gawath’s times, when the Second Coming and the Last Judgement seemed to be right behind the corner. If you assume that the date of the Easter in 48900 A.D. is really an issue, the perspective of salvation becomes nearly unavailable, especially for those who are particularly impatient. The long-term scenario outlined by this Armenian Catholic priest had obviously nothing to do with the doctrine of salvation and interpretation of the Scripture but it is an interesting paradox, however, how these two attitudes towards time coexisted – the impatient awaiting of the Second Coming and the quiet, yet still quite apocalyptic, calculations of the disorder of time in the 488th century C.E.

Maybe, then, if one is looking for some antecedences of apocalyptical images of the future in early modern texts, he or she should turn not only towards the literary works that offered imaginary narratives to the Moon and other celestial bodies or utopian visions of the future that would come within the period of two or three hundred years, but also to the texts that were created for completely different reasons and purposes.

If the coexistence of two systems of time reckoning in early modern Christianity caused so many difficulties, imagine the social consequences of the further desynchronization of calendars in the future. Thus, the Zager and Evans-style question, “In the year 252525, will the Easter be on time?” seems to promise quite an intriguing starting point for an apocalyptic novel.

P.S. Those of you who are awaiting the Part 2 of the series dedicated to the manuscript of Jan Latosz’s Przestroga are kindly asked to have patience. The next post will appear here within the next few days.

A Warning, part 1, or: Read the catalogues!

Jan Latos (or Latosz, known also under Latinized name as Joannes Latosinus, 1539-1608) is perhaps one of the most controversial and mysterious figures in the debate around calendar reform that took place in early modern Poland-Lithuania at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries. He openly questioned the astronomical foundations of the reform introduced by the pope Gregory XIII and propagated by Christoph Clavius and thus he got into real trouble. He was first banned to speak freely in 1580’s and for several years he focused on regular astrological practice. At some point in the 1590’s he decided to reexamine the reformed calendar and ignored the ban. In turn he got expelled from the Academy of Cracow and was ridiculed by the Jesuit preachers in their brochures and public sermons, becoming also immediately a synonym of a backwardness and obscurantism. In the modern secondary literature Latosz is usually presented as an example of a scholar who did not have observation techniques and mathematical tools precise and sharp enough to verify the calculations proposed by more advanced astronomers and architects of the calendar reform yet at the same time was stubborn enough to maintain he was right. This attitude lead him to a paradoxical situation in which he found an ally and patron in the person of the Orthodox duke Konstanty Wasyl Ostrogski who was fervent defender of the Orthodox tradition and probably treated Latosz as an useful asset to his own political agenda. Latosz got lost somewhere in the middle of the road between the two calendars: he did not stick to the Julian calendar by all means as he was aware of its errant mechanism yet at the same time he could not accept the reform of 1582. Thanks to Ostrogski’s support he found shelter in the town of Ostróg and become a professor at the local academy but he was also accused of converting secretly to the Orthodox faith or at least being in the Orthodox Churche’s favour.

In my quest for primary sources that constitute the basis of my research I cultivate the belief that even if we do not know what is the exact current location of some manuscripts or unique prints, in case of large number of them it is still reasonable to assume that they will be revealed some day and we will have to rewrite all these footnotes that tell stories about “unknown locations” and “lack of extant copies” of works that could be of great significance to our research if only they had survived the fire, war, flood, robbery and other calamities. In case of Latosz, as only few copies of his works survived until nowadays and his major work on calendar reform, which was supposed to be presented at the papal court in Rome, went missing probably already in the 16th century and most likely never even arrived to the Vatican. While some of his works are still available in a considerable number of copies (this is the case of his Latin Prognosticon of 1594 dedicated to Rudolf II), few of them are known in unique and damaged copies (this is the case of his two astrological prognostications preserved in the Jagiellonian Library in Kraków), and some of them are considered to be irretrievably lost.

This list of irretrievably lost sources might be a bit shorter if we all read carefully the catalogues published by the librarians. By the last September I assumed imprudently that I knew the catalogue of the manuscripts of the National Library in Warsaw pretty well, my list of manuscripts manuscripts I should examine in the next two years of my project is complete and I had the idead what should be done with those I had seen so far. Oh how wrong I was! And how haughty! At some point in early October I took the seventh volume of the catalogue in order to browse the index in search for some name or term I do not even remember right now when to my inexpressible surprise I noticed a familiar name. This was the name of Jan Latosz and it lead me to the “discovery” that the National Library is in the possession of a seventeenth-century copy of the text of Latosz’s Przestroga (A Warning or A Caution), a short astrological and chronological treatise that was originally published in Polish in Kraków in 1595. I immediately ordered the microfilm and checked once again whether the three copies known before 1945 and now considered to be lost have still this status. It turned out that none of these three copies, nor any copy unknown to the pre-war bibliographers was revealed and apparently the manuscript from the National Library is the only witness to this text.

I put aside the list of manuscripts I was goint to examine in the fall semester and delved into the 24 folio pages of the alleged copy of Latosz’s work. With every page my interest grew bigger and bigger and so did my certainty that this document is a credible source for the reconstruction of Latosz’s astrological and chronological views. And I do not even know when I started transcribing its fragments in hope that I will make use of some excerpts, then decided to transcribe the entire text (as you know, part of me is a scribe). As for now I have prepared an article in which I gave the Warsaw manuscript an introduction to the scholarly audience. It was accepted by Terminus, a Kraków-based journal on classical reception and Old Polish studies and should appear soon. I have completed the transcription of the entire manuscript yet it still requires some revisions from the point of view of historical ortography and punctuation. In the nearest future, hopefully this winter, I am going to prepare a critical edition that will be preceded by an introductory essay in which I am going to discuss the ideas presented by Latosz in his treatise and consider some hypotheses on the late, mid-seventeenth-century reception of a text that by any possible rule should have been forgotten by then.

In the second part of the Warning Story (I guess this time it will be a diptych), I will write something more about the contents of the manuscript and a number of questions it raises. As for now, I would like to leave the readers with two things.

The first one is a moral: even if you are sure that everybody is right about the existence or non-existence of a certain source and you trust their authority, go and check it yourself. And read the catalogues from cover to cover. Always. (This may seem as stating the obvious but when one thinks that the whole army of historians, including the author of an entry in the Polish Biographical Dictionary who certainly did a meticulous survey, overlooks the existence of a certain manuscript, perhaps it is worth reminding.)

The other thing is a picture of the opening page of the manuscript. Since the Warning by Latosz is an astrological work which contains [spoiler alert!] some apocalyptic predictions, I thought that the ominously looking photograph of the microfilm of the manuscript will do the job as conclusion:

Jan Latosz, Przestroga, title page of the 17th-century manuscript copy of a printed work (Warsaw, National Library, MS 6631 III)

Jan Latosz, Przestroga…, title page of the 17th-century manuscript copy of a 1595 print (Warsaw, National Library, MS 6631 III)

Thinking about Berlin

While Simon and I are looking forward to reading proposals for our “Tree of Knowledge” seminar which is about to take place at the end of May, I am also thinking about the event that will take place in Berlin in late March, namely the 2015 annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America. The readers of “Chronologia” may remember a call for papers that was posted here some time ago and was also circulated around the web. Those of you who digged through the entire program of the meeting probably already know that, nevertheless I am happy to inform you that there will be actually four sessions dedicated to the chronological inquiries in the early modern period. I cannot find words to say how happy I am that this call for papers raised such a great interest and that I will have the occasion to attend this gigantic meeting of the great international community of Renaissance scholars at the campus of the Freie Universität Berlin.

I encourage all of you to explore the rich and multifaceted program of the Berlin meeting and to find your own path through several dozen concurrent sessions and three days of proceedings. And for those of you who share the interest in early modern reflection on time with the contributors to the chronological panels I am pasting below the program of our four sessions.

Early Modern Chronologies

RSA 2015 Annual Meeting, Berlin, 26–28 March 2015

Date & location: Friday, March 27, Hegelplatz, Dorotheenstrasse 24/3, First Floor, 3.134


8:30–10:00 am

Early Modern Chronologies I

Chair: Anthony Grafton

Philipp E. Nothaft (The Warburg Institute, London), Walter Odington’s De etate mundi and the Pursuit of a ‘Scientific’ Chronology in Fourteenth-Century England

Leonardo Ariel Carrió Cataldi (École des Hautes Études, Paris, France & Scuola Normale Superiore, Firenze) Chronology and Cosmography in Early Modern Iberian Peninsula

Michał Choptiany (Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw), Bartholomaeus Scultetus’s unpublished manuscript of Ephemerides bibliorum (1583) and the problem of chronology of the Old Testament


10:15-11:45 am

Early Modern Chronologies II

Chair: C. Philipp E. Nothaft

Respondent: Darin Hayton

Andrea Worm (University of Graz & Israel Institute for Advanced Study, Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Universal Time and Christian Chronology in the Fasciulus Temporum

Luís Miguel Carolino (ISCTE – Lisbon University Institute / CEHC, Portugal) Millenialism, chronology, and astronomical calculations. The case of Manuel Bocarro Francês/Jacob Rosales (ca. 1593–ca. 1662)

11:45–1:15 pm


1:15–2:45 pm

Early Modern Chronologies III

Chair: Darin Hayton

Alexander D. Campbell (Queen’s University, Canada), The pedagogical context of Robert Baillie’s Operis Historici et Chronologici (1663)

Cornelis J. Schilt (University of Sussex), The Dating Game Revisited: The Chronology of Isaac Newton’s Chronology


3:00–4:30 pm

Early Modern Chronologies IV

Chair: Michał Choptiany

Julia A. Major (independent researcher), Connected Histories: Melanchthon and Protestant Cosmopolitanism in England

Sepp Rothwangl (independent researcher), The Echo of the Great-Year-Doctrine of Antiquity and the 6000-Year-Period in Kepler’s Calculation of the Creation

Lydia Janssen (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), Timing the national past. The functions of chronology in ‘antiquarian’ historiography


CfP: The Tree of Knowledge

I am pleased to inform you that my faculty colleague, Simon Burton and I are organizing a seminar on late medieval and early modern theories of knowledge in East-Central Europe. As I have Ramist background thanks to my PhD on Ramist rhetoric, Simon continues in Warsaw his Ramism-related research he initiated with his doctorate on Richard Baxter, and we are both closely related to the Committee on the Study of the Reformation, we quite naturally came up with an idea of organizing an event that would gather scholars who share our interest in, or even enthusiasm for, brackets, divisions, diagrams and theoretical reflection on sciences and arts and its implementation in the medieval and early modern classrooms. I hope some of the readers of “Chronologia Universalis” will be interested in joining us in Warsaw this May and we look forward to your proposals. For more details see the call for papers below.


The Tree of Knowledge: Theories of Sciences and Arts in Central Europe, 1400−1700

Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw, Poland
Date: 28th–29th May 2015

Call for Papers

We invite submissions for papers to be given at the forthcoming seminar on theories of knowledge in late medieval and early modern Central European sources. The seminar is open to all scholars working in the field of early modern intellectual history, or related disciplines such as history of philosophy or theology, but contributions from younger scholars (doctoral candidates and post-doctoral fellows) are particularly invited. It seeks to investigate the way in which new currents of reflection on epistemology, the structure of knowledge, and the relations between arts and sciences impacted the intellectual culture of Central Europe on a variety of different levels: from philosophy of knowledge and theoretical reflection, through pedagogical organisation and methodology – the reform of schools and universities, to the wider dissemination of knowledge through print, and the fostering of national and international intellectual networks. A particular focus will be on Ramism and the reception of Ramist, pre-Ramist and post-Ramist models in diverse intellectual and religious milieus of Central Europe. In this way the seminar aims to place Ramism (broadly understood) in a wider intellectual trajectory, stretching back to the Middle Ages and Renaissance and looking forward to the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution.

Topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:

• The medieval and Renaissance roots of Ramist method and pedagogy.
• The metaphysical and anti-metaphysical dimensions of Ramism.
• The development of Ramism and its relation to competing Aristotelian, Lullist, Baconian and Comenian methodologies.
• Central European readers of Ramist, Lullist and related sources.
• New models of knowledge and their relation to the new natural sciences.
• Ramism, the confessionalisation of knowledge and ‘universal reformation’.
• The impact of new models of knowledge on the teaching of particular arts in Central Europe.
• Students’ notes as a source of knowledge on pedagogical practice.
• New models of knowledge and publishing in early modern Central Europe.
• The relation of Central European intellectual developments to those elsewhere in Europe or the New World.

Proposals should be sent to the following address: arborscientiarum2015[at] Abstracts for papers of 20 minutes should be between 250 and 350 words in length. All applicants are also required to submit a brief biography of 200 words or less. The deadline for paper proposals is 31st March 2015. The organisers reserve the right to select up to 20 papers. All applicants will be informed about the results of the selection process in the first week of April. All participants will be invited to submit a draft version of their papers to the organisers before the seminar in order to enable the circulation of manuscripts among the participants before the seminar. The conference fee is € 50 and will partially cover the costs of organisation.

Serendipity in provenance research, part 3

Recently on Provenance Research: The author of “Chronologia Universalis” carries out a preliminary survey in the Special Collections Department of the University Library in Toruń. By a complete accident he receives a copy of Kepler’s Strena that contains marginalia made by a suspiciously familiar hand. After having a closer look at the notes left by this mysterious early modern reader he realizes that what he has on his desk is a copy that belonged and was used by Joannes Broscius, whom he studied for the past five years and never expected to dig up one of his books here, in Toruń. The author disappears for six months, leaving the mini-series unfinished and marking his existence only with a brief note sent from Galway.


The best part of the discovery of Broscius’s copy of Strena is not the fact that the existence of this volume remained unknown to all scholars interested in the marginalia left by this scholar, but the fact that the minor notes he left in his Kepler can be linked directly to one of his own works. It is natural that we, students of Broscius are happy about that, but what makes us even happier is the fact that by this discovery we have yet another piece of the puzzle that can be tied together with particular scholarly effort made by Broscius and have a look at the way he worked with texts that served as direct stimuli for his own work.

In his “New Year’s gift”, dedicated to Johannes Matthaeus Wacker von Wackenfels, an imperial councillor at the court of Rudolf II, Kepler tried to solve the problem of the regularity of snowflakes and derive from these tiny ice structures geometrical rules that would underpin the entire reality. As such, Strena should be and is actually being read in the context of the entire corpus of Keplerian cosmology and metaphysics – without that it would be just a geometrical exercise part of which would remain illegible. And although the entire text of Strena is filled with word-plays based on the ideas derived from the vanity of a snowflake and he seems to diminish things he accomplished in his work in the eyes of the addressee, it does not change the fact that the actual goal of his work was quite an ambitious one and went far beyond geometrical observations.

Leaving Kepler’s accomplishments aside, one needs to realize that his work inspired a young, 25 years old Cracow scholar, Joannes Broscius, who following the ideas of the author of Astronomia nova, tried to solve the problem of the regularity of the structure of the honeycomb. At the turn of the first and second decade of the 17th century Broscius was at the very beginning of his academic career so his attempt to solve this Keplerian problem should be read as an attempt to enter the world of academic discussion and scholarly publishing.

It was in 1611 when Broscius published a quasi-Keplerian work of his own, i.e. Problema geometricum. This tiny brochure in quarto, counting only 7 leaves including the title page, was published in the printing office of Andrzej Piotrkowczyk in Cracow and survived until nowadays only in one copy which is preserved in the Old Prints Department of the Ossolineum Library in Wrocław (shelfmark XVII-847). For Polish-speaking readers the text of Problema is also available through the Polish translation which was published in the second volume of Broscius’s Selected works in 1956, along with his Dissertation on the comet of Astrophil and excerpts from his Apology of Euclid and Aristotle against Peter Ramus and others.

Joannes Broscius, Problema geometricum, title page

Joannes Broscius, Problema geometricum, title page (Wrocław, Ossolineum, shelfmark XVII-847)

The text of Problema was dedicated to Jan Żółkiewski, the castellan of Kiev and son of Stanisław, the Crown field hetman and should be seen as yet another example in the long line of attempts to seek patronage for his scholarly enterprises. No wonder then, that Broscius is trying to convince his noble reader that what is most valuable in geometry is not the beauty of its purely theoretical structures but the fact that these structures can be implemented into the real life practice. In the dedicatory letter, which serves also as a kind of accessus ad auctores, he invokes the authorities of Socrates, Euclid, Archimedes and several other Greek mathematicians in order to convince his patron that the real geometry should be somehow involved in the real life and should be aimed at solving actual problems, making our life more rational and simply better. Since Broscius addressed his later works to other patrons it seems that Żółkiewski either did not find his arguments convincing or was not interested in patronage. Despite this failure, Broscius’s letter remains interesting as an explicit declaration of practical way of thinking about the patronage over the exact sciences.

Problema geometricum, fol. A2r: Broscius's dedicatory letter to Jan Żółkiewski

Problema geometricum, fol. A2r: Broscius’s dedicatory letter to Jan Żółkiewski

The text of Problema is much shorter than the one of Kepler’s. While Strena has a narrative form and Kepler is leading his reader by his or her hand, Broscius limited the structure of his dissertation to the logical skeleton which consists of nine main propositions (propositiones). His line of argumentation is simple and could be boiled down to a number of theses. Broscius, while examining the regularity of the honeycomb, takes an assumption that the honeycomb structure is not a result of accident, nor is the byproduct of the insect anatomy, but is the direct effect of the general mathematical rules that govern the entire reality. This lead him to yet another presupposition that the geometrical structures that underlie the everyday phenomena are somehow rational and as such are aimed at reaching the greatest efficiency. Having assumed this, he examines the regular figures, the equilateral triangle, square and hexagon, in search for the proof that the last figure guarantees the best ratio of the lenght of sides to the measure of angles and surface. As moder scholars have observed, Broscius argumentation is not free from mistakes as he seems to completely forget about the fact that the honeycomb is a spatial, three-dimensional structure, not the flat drawing on a sheet of paper. This fact should have lead Broscius to the examination of solids made of regular polygons but for some reasons he did not do this, leaving thus his proof incomplete and a bit unconvincing.

Among numerous manuscripts left by Broscius and books he annotated the Toruń copy of Strena is the first document that can be linked directly to his work of 1611. What is curious about it is the fact that it does not bring any dense comments about the structure of Kepler’s argumentation, nor does it reveal any information about what he might liked or disliked, agreed or disagreed with in Kepler’s opusculum. The volume also does not help in the search for answer to the question of the incompleteness of Broscius’s argumentation Actually, from the point of view of marginalia lover, this volume could be treated as a real disappointment – only few minor annotations, most of them based on the phraseology of Kepler’s text and one attempt to render Keplerian phrase in Polish does not make one’s hart beating faster. But for me the lack of marginalia makes a memento that the chase for annotations has its own limits and rules and that the process of reconstruction of one’s reading list and working methods is not a mechanical activity. It would make things much easier if Broscius annotated everything, laying his cards on the table and leaving them to the future researchers. But this is not the general rule, neither in case of Broscius, nor in the case of any early modern reader whose library survived the historical turmoils. And such ‘negative facts’ as the lack of long and rich annotations in a text that was the main inspiration for creating one’s own work as well as the lack of references to this inspiration in the published text are also meaningful.

What’s the moral of this Serendipity Trilogy, then? I guess I can draw at least two. The first one is quite obvious: you should keep your eyes open, expect everything and let the collection you are working with surprise you. The second one is a preliminary observation: the history of not-annotating or not-leaving notes is the inherent part of the history of the book and reading and the lack of notes does not mean by necessity that the unannotated volume did not play role in the creative process and served merely as decoration.

Problema geometricum, fol. Bv, detail

Problema geometricum, fol. Bv, detail