An Annotated Postcard

Last December, when I carried out phase I of my preliminary survey in the tremendous special collections of the Gdańsk Library of the Polish Academy of Sciences my dreams of a marginalia fetishist came true once again. It turned out that my hopes of finding Central European scholars annotating works on calendars and chronology and polemicizing with Scaliger, Clavius, Petavius, Calvisius et consortes by means of annotations left on the pages of their books won’t be limited to the (rich enough) set of glosses left by Joannes Broscius and a bundle of anonymous libri annotati found here and there but will be expanded by at least one more reader who can be identified and whose annotations can be linked with his own works. This is the case of Peter Crüger (1580-1639), professor of astronomy and poetics in the Gymnasium Academicum in Gdańsk, one of the three famous Lutheran educational centers in the broadly understood Pomerania region.

Gdańsk Library is well-known as a treasure trove of various unique primary sources to the intellectual history of the region and its institutions and it seems that even after many years of scholarly efforts there are materials that have never been studied closely or have been studied for wrong reasons. This is the case of Crüger, whose annotations, mostly those left in the 3rd edition of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus (now preserved in the Copernicus Museum in Frombork) attracted attention of scholars not due to the fact that he was an scholar in his own right, but mostly because he was a teacher of a much greater mind, i.e. Johannes Hevelius. This attitude can be best observed in a 3-pages long article published ca. 70 years ago by Tadeusz Przypkowski. In it, Przypkowski presented Crüger’s annotations in his copy of the 3rd edition of De revolutionibus but the conclusion he drew is somewhat surprising as he postulated creation of a monograph of Hevelius! It seems that only Owen Gingerich, in his Census of the first and second edition of Copernicus’s groundbreaking work did Crüger justice, presenting him as an actual reader and giving a very concise yet instructive report on the contents of his marginalia in one of the Moscow copies of De revolutionibus.

Title page of Astronomia instaurata (so-called 3rd edition of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus), owned in turn by Peter Crüger and Johannes Hevelius; Nicolaus Copernicus Museum, Frombork, Poland


Apart from these two volumes, notes in Crüger’s hand seem to be a virgin land and I am going to explore it a little bit, starting from the calendrical and chronological corner yet I guess there may be also some other areas that turn out worth exploring.

My December visit to Gdańsk proved to be only a beginning of a longer journey. After studying few books annotated by Crüger it turned out that one of them is preserved in quite a surprising location:


My March trip to the 2015 Annual Meeting in Berlin, where I organized a series of panels on chronology in the early modern period, seemed to be an excellent occasion to have a look at this volume. On Wednesday before the official proceedings of the RSA began, I spent a lovely morning at the Library of the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics in Potsdam-Babelsberg where a copy of Kepler’s Astronomia nova, owned in turn by Crüger and Hevelius, is preserved. It is a fine volume which was carefully restored in 1950’s and all the annotations except for few minor ones have survived until today in highly legible form. I am really happy for two reasons: this brief, technical visit allowed me to pick up a single yet quite substantial piece of a puzzle which can be somehow linked to the astronomical workshop of Crüger and at the same time, like all good marginalia (should) do, opens up new paths for further queries.

Two days after my visit to Postdam and just seconds after the chronological panels, a bucket of cold water was poured on my head. I went to the roundtable session celebrating the 25th anniversary of Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine’s seminal essay on Gabriel Harvey’s reading of Livy. One of the most important things I learned during this fabulous meeting is that Grafton and Jardine, calling themselves “granpa and grandma of marginalia studies”, are not satisfied with the way their article was applied and imitated in further studies on early modern readers and that they ment something different than establishing a simple generative model for writing an endless series of papers on ‘X reading Y‘. While I believe every case is different and it always depends on the skills and approach of particular historian what s/he will eventually do with such kind of primary sources as marginalia, I must admit that Grafton and Jardine diagnosed an important illness (or a sin) of letting oneself believe that finding a reader and his annotations is a sufficient condition to write yet another study following the rules established by their 1990 paper. I have spent few past years with annotations, either doing research for my PhD, then moving on to other fields, and it was last December when the symptoms of this illness (or inclination towards this sin) struck me for the first time. It was then when I saw Crüger’s annotations for the first time during my visit to Gdansk: they simply triggered a feeling of finding something familiar yet new, something that you dealt with earlier and you know how to proceed with this kind of sources (or at least you believe you know) and at the same time something idiomatic and unique, which will force you to find new way of writing on this kind of sources even if you feel OK with the way you wrote your earlier studies. This feeling of familiarity can be misleading and cannot end well and it always takes great effort to overcome one’s mental and scholarly habits in order to find new approach and I think the apparent ease with which the “Studied for Action” paper can be emulated is the main fault for the entire confusion about the method and purpose of studying marginalia.

Certainly, there are some aspects of early modern annotations that can be treated as basis for data-mining and large scale analysis based on a large corpora of libri annotati – this is mostly the purpose of a new exciting project on the “Archaeology of Reading” with Grafton and Jardine as principal co-investigators. I really look forward to the development of this enterprise and I can only imagine what kind of tools and results the project will bring over the years to come. Yet, being also an admirer of micro-narratives, I do not want to let early modern readers dissolve in the pool of hundreds and thousands of annotations. I am not sure if the authors of the paper celebrated in Berlin would agree with me that what makes the set of marginalia writing about is the fact that they allow one to go beyond the closed cycle of references between a series of books and look at the relationship between these annotations and some other kinds of evidence. It is really difficult to find such a link in some cases, sometimes it is not necessary – it depends on the kind of history you would like to write and how far your sources and your imagination can take you. And I believe that this fact gives me at least partial absolution: “my” readers were involved in public activity, both as teachers and polemicists, and even if large chunks of their annotations have a technical or theoretical character and create a coherent system of internal references between piles of books, some of them still extant, some of them perished, they can be linked to their involvement in the public sphere where they translated their professional knowledge into the more popular kind of discourse and tried to shape views of citizens without professional training in calendrical astronomy or training of any other kind.

Having said this, I must confess that my sin drove me again to Gdańsk where I arrived yesterday and will stay until Friday, carrying out phase II of my survey. Here I am, an irredeemable sinner, willing to study marginalia in hope that there is some kind of order that can be derived out of them and that they can create pieces of narrative that can be written on Crüger – not as an isolated scholarly reader but as a scholar who by means of reading and linking various texts laid foundation for education of next generations of citizens of Gdansk/Danzig and whose knowledge of astronomy and the way it can be applied to chronology allowed him to get involved into public debate on Gregorian calendar and use chronology as a vehicle for other kinds of knowledge. Having transcribed a large portion of Crüger’s notes today and awaiting to see some other of his volumes over the next four days, I am still thinking about differences and similarities between him and other readers I have studied or read about. When you are sitting in a reading room, trying to decipher Crüger’s tiny hand, focusing on direct relations between the note left in the margin and printed text, trying to figure out the real meaning of all these references to Josephus, Bucholzer, Tremellius, Scaliger, Casaubon, Kepler and Petavius – it is easy to forget about the reality outside the library. Bu the world behind the library’s walls does exist, just as it did in Crüger’s times – and this is probably one of the arguments which gives some value added to the study of annotations and makes this kind of scholarship useful not only for book historians and manuscript fetishists but also for people interested in social interactions and the history of shaping of public sphere through of education, scholarship, and debate.



Early Modern Chronologies in Berlin – updated schedule

Early modern chronologers loved repetitive series: all these short and long periods of time that, once imposed on the stream of historical facts, allowed them, especially to those with more speculative or historiosophical inclinations, provided a factual skeleton for their intellectual constructions and enabled further search for some traces of meaning or order in the past.

When I submitted four chronological panels for RSA’s consideration back in June 2014, they all consisted of 3 papers each. Yet it is quite natural thing with all sessions and conferences that some people cannot attend and have to withdraw their papers. And as much as this fact saddens me, I cannot help it. Over the past few months the four-element series of panels consisting of three papers (3+3+3+3) turned into a disturbing series of one full panel and three panels of 2 papers each (3+2+2+2). And since both chronologers and conference organizers like distinct rhythm, I was advised by the RSA’s organizing committee to consolidate the panels so that they keep up to the standard conference format. I hope that the future will bring me and speakers who won’t make it to Berlin some other opportunities to collaborate, yet in order to guarantee all the speakers equal time for discussion and its dynamics I decided to take care of the economy of time and follow the RSA’s advice. Therefore, I am pleased to present you the updated version of the chronological schedule for the RSA Annual Meeting in Berlin which consists of three panels instead of four and creates a regular series of 3+3+3. Please note that you can find it also in the online program of the entire event, where you can also read the abstracts of all papers and create your personal schedule which will help you find your way through this ocean of equally fascinating yet dramatically overlapping sessions.


Early Modern Chronologies

RSA 2015 Annual Meeting, Berlin

Friday, 27th of March

Venue: 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)

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


11:45–1:15 pm


1:15–2:45 pm

Early Modern Chronologies III

Chair: Michał Choptiany

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

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


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)

Explicit computus

For the last three days, I have been attending the 5th Conference on the Science of Computus which was held at the National University of Ireland at Galway and was organized by Dáibhí Ó Cróinín and Immo Warntjes. It was a pure pleasure to join the computus family and meet in person all these fabulous scholars whose work I have read and deeply admired ever since I got into the field of research on chronology and calendars.

Apart from the fact that the conference gathered a fantastic line-up of speakers, it served also as an occasion to launch two meticulous critical editions of primary sources which are of great importance to all historians of science who are interested in the evolution of the debate about the reckoning of time during the Middle Ages. The first book in question is Philipp Nothaft‘s edition and translation of six (actually seven) medieval Christian texts dedicated to the explanation of the mechanisms of Jewish calendar and Alfred Lohr’s critical edition and translation of the eleventh-century Computus Gerlandi. The computistical bookshelf is growing really fast and we should also expect further volumes documenting the proceedings of previous editions of the Computus Conference.

I hope that nothing will disturb the computations and the scholars working in the field of medieval computistics will gather at Galway in the early summer of 2016.

Meanwhile, explicit co[m]putus anno D[omi]ni mmxiv.

P.S.1. I wish to thank Dáibhí and Immo for inviting me to this conference and giving me the opportunity to share my research with this great audience, although the subject of my paper does not fit into the traditional timeframe of the conference (unless one decides that the Middle Ages ended up somewhere at the end of 17th c. …).

P.S.2. As for the details about my contribution to the conference, I have already made a promise that I will write a post about the late seventeenth-century MS of computus and I am going to keep it. The readers of Chronologia Universalis should expect this post within the next few days.

RSA 2015 CFP: Early Modern Chronologies


CFP: Early Modern Chronologies

Session organized for the RSA 2015 Annual Meeting in Berlin,
26–28 March 2015


The early modern period witnessed the full bloom of scientific chronology thanks to the development of new scientific and scholarly tools and (re-)discovery of certain historical sources. Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran and even Socinian scholars – among them philologists and astronomers, historians and astrologers – explored enthusiastically ancient and/or exotic languages, historical records and astronomical data in order to reconstruct and date events from the common Judaeo-Christian history and to synchronize their dating with other systems of time-reckoning.

This session will consider the role of chronology in the intellectual history of early modern period from various angles, among them: (1) relationship between chronology and other disciplines of knowledge in early modern period; (2) scholarly workshop of particular Renaissance chronologists; (3) teaching of chronology in early modern schools; (4) chronological models and their impact on historiography; (5) cultural and social impact of chronological disputes.

Please send paper proposals (150-word maximum) followed by a brief CV (300-word maximum) to me by May 26th.

Michal Choptiany (michal.choptiany[AT]

P.S. Please make sure to familiarize yourself with RSA obligations (membership, fees, travel costs, etc.). In order to do this please visit the conference homepage at

Chronologia universalis on the radio!

Calendar as a political instrument

Last week I was invited by Katarzyna Kobylecka from the Polish Radio 2 to talk about my project in her programme titled Treasury of Polish Science. We agreed to take Jan Brożek (Joannes Broscius) and his involvement in the quarrel about the Julian and Gregorian calendar as a starting point for the discussion as the invitation was a consequence of my participation in the INTER 2013 contest where I presented a project on Broscius. The competition was organized by the Foundation for Polish Science and up to a point one could compare its formula to such events as TED Talks or competitions like FameLab. It was a great deal of adventure to enter the lists with all my excellent colleagues who represent quite distant and scattered areas of modern science and humanities and to present my research to the audience. The last week’s broadcast was for me a fabulous occasion to present my research to the broader audience and I allowed myself to talk not only about Broscius and the social consequences of the calendar debate in the 1640’s. At some point of our conversation I moved towards several other fascinating primary sources I have been studying since October, among them chronological tables made by one of the scholars from the Zamojski Academy and chronological manuscripts left by a certain, nearly forgotten Görlitz astronomer, who will be the subject of my talk at the “Time and Early Modern Thought” seminar to be held this May in York.

I hope that the Polish-speaking readers will enjoy the podcast, which is available under the link at the top of this post, and pick up my enthusiasm! Message to both Polish and non-Polish readers: stay tuned for more news about chronology and calendars!

The theater of cosmic and human history

This post is a revised and modified English version of my guest post at the blog of the Digital National Library of Poland POLONA which was published on October 17, 2013.


Stanisław Lubieniecki’s Theatrum cometicum as a physical book is such a marvellous object that I should recommend all readers of this post to immediately locate the nearest copy, turn off the computers, go and see and feel it on your own. Theatrum, published in three parts is one of these pieces of early modern scholarship which can serve as a material proof of the great falsehood that stands behind the digital libraries, regardless of their size, scope and democratic character, starting from the private, corporate enterprises through the digitization projects carried out by the national libraries, to the digital repositories of academic, regional or even municipal libraries. There is no digital image, no file format that could either render or substitute the experience of having Theatrum at one’s desk in the special collections reading room. Furthermore, Theatrum’s three parts were bound quite often in one monstruous volume of about 1,5 thousand folio pages which, together with the weight of historical wooden and leather bindings, gives a massive brick that requires quite a lot of physical strength from both the librarians and researchers. But let’s leave the discussion of digital vs analogue for another occasion and focus on the very work of the Socinian astronomer.

The content of Theatrum is a subject that would require a separate study, perhaps even a book, which, to my amazement, have not been written thus far. The only longer monographs on Lubieniecki are K. E. Jordt-Jörgensen’s study of his theological views and Janusz Tazbir’s monograph which covers Lubieniecki’s biography and gives some general overview of his achievements in various fields, including his research on comets. The rest of information on Lubieniecki is scattered throughout academic journals, basically in articles and, at times, in brief reports on newly found manuscripts of his letters. The fact that both books on Lubieniecki have been published in the 1960’s and Tazbir’s study, which was actually his PhD dissertation, was republished in a slightly revised form in 2003, justify the claim that this early modern figure still awaits a scholar who, equipped with new research tools and awareness of new discoveries in early modern intellectual history, would encompass Lubieniecki’s scholarly workshop, link his theological inquiries with astronomical observations, reconstruct his theological position in the light of new scholarship on history of Socinian theology, have a look at his achievements in the field of historiography, perhaps shed some new light on the winding routes of his biography and, what seems to me the most important task that needs to be done with regard to this eminent figure, analyze his network of correspondents.

As for the Theatrum itself, suffice to say that the work’s main goal seems twofold: (1) to provide a catalogue of all comets that have been mentioned in historical records that were available in the mid-seventeenth century and which appeared on the firmament in the period between the biblical flood and the year 1665 C.E. and (2) to create a detailed documentation of comets that could be observed in Lubieniecki’s times. This was quite an ambitious enterprise, which perhaps exceeded the abilities of one, even the most talented and skilful scholar, and due to this fact Lubieniecki engaged a whole army of fellow scholars, whose names appear in front of us while we are leafing through the 1,500 pages of Theatrum. The volume as such, and its first part in particular, makes a gigantic research report on all matters related to comets that Lubieniecki found in received letters. In order to create a credible work that would be based on facts and observations, the Socinian astronomer created a whole network of correspondents which included such eminent figures of early modern European science as Henry Oldenburg of the Royal Society in London, Athanasius Kircher, the brilliant (and controversial) Jesuit inventor and scholar, and Johannes Hevelius, the famous Gdańsk astronomer, who gained renown thanks to his observations of the Moon and who published his own Cometography several years before Lubieniecki. Yet the exchange of letters and reports reprinted in the volume constitutes only one part of the whole text of Theatrum and at the same time these letters cover only a certain part of Lubieniecki’s correspondence − some of his letters were not included in the volume, yet they shed some light on both his biography and scholarly workshop. Analysis of these epistles and reports allows one also to look at one of the corners of the great lost continent of early modern res publica litteraria, which is currently restored to life by a growing number of projects. Taken as a whole, the first part of Theatrum makes a mozaic of multinational and interconfessional republic of learned men who stayed in touch despite the experience of a great political and religious divide which ran through the entire seventeenth-century Europe. Paradoxically enough, Lubieniecki as a member of the heterodox Unitarian community of Polish Brethren, which was despised by theologians of all Christian denominations, managed to gather under one roof Jesuits and Protestant scholars for the sake of one common scholarly goal.

Did Lubieniecki manage to succeed? The answer is ambivalent. On the one hand, he managed to collect an enormous amount of data which he incorporated into one, quite well organized conceptual structure. From this point of view Theatrum is an impressive piece of scholarly work and meets the expectations of a virtual early modern reader, especially with regard to the descriptions of the seventeenth-century comets. Through the first part of Lubieniecki’s work we can peek at early modern research procedures and protocols of remote collaboration between a number of astronomers. On the other hand, Theatrum is a broken work, a testimony of a desperate attempt to reconcile and combine in one work a series of various intellectual ambitions and at the same time a monument of the erudite, omnivorous, encyclopaedic spirit of the age. The reason for this is the fact that the pars posterior of Theatrum is not only a methodical attempt at reconstructing all occurences of frozen blocks of cosmic ice on the firmament but it is also a record of yet another, parallel enterprise. The other goal that Lubieniecki had in mind was to synchronize two separate orders of events or phenomena: the astronomical one, with comets and their interplanetary or even interstellar travels, and the earthly one which consisted of the events that sum up into the history of mankind.

Theatrum - title page fragmentApart from being astronomer, Lubieniecki was also a historian, an author of equally monumental History of Polish Reformation (Historia Reformationis Polonicae, published posthumously in Freistadt in 1685). These two professions of Lubieniecki’s met in the pages of Theatrum. On the one hand, he intended to create a purely astronomical work that would meet the expectations of the growing scientific community, while on the other hand he could not resist the temptation to make use of his astronomical knowledge in the field of historiography. On the title page of the whole work he announced that Theatrum, among many other things, is also a work on chronology and what its pars posterior became in the end is indeed a kind of a crypto-chronological treatise that could be put on the shelf with works by Joseph Justus Scaliger, Gilbert Génébrard or Sethus Calvisius. Although he put chronology in a series of other epithets describing his enterprise, I believe it is exactly this term which describes the best what he − willingly or not – actually achieved in the second part of Theatrum.

Chronology, a meticulous study of ancient and modern calendrical systems and their comparative analysis seems nowadays quite an obscure or even obsolete discipline, but back in the sixteenth and seventeenth century it was giving a serious headache to a vast number of scholars. As such it still awaits a thorough narrative that would embrace together the eminent figures of the intellectual firmament and a bit more provincial scholars who on their own tried to tackle such problems as the proper dating of the biblical flood or of Christ’s nativity and death. As a systematic method of “cartography of time” (to borrow the phrase coined by Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton in their marvellous study) chronology meets yet another type of scholarly, or even cultural activity. I believe that in certain parts of Lubieniecki’s work an attempt at sketching the detailed map of time was combined with the scientific visual culture, in particular with what Jerzy Dobrzycki and Jarosław Włodarczyk named once a “natural history of constellations”. It is the 84 figures which accompany the text of Theatrum cometicum that deserve also further scholarly attention as Lubieniecki’s work is not only a great emanation of a Baroque mind with all its twists and inclinations but also an attempt to give a suggestive (and visually appealing) representation of data collected in the volume. Between the pages of Theatrum we will find folded charts that contain drawings representing the trajectories of selected comets. Lubieniecki published his opus magnum in Amsterdam, being already a political and religious émigré who was forced to leave Poland on the strength of the resolution of the diet of 1658. His publisher, Franciscus Cuperus, has taken care of fine contractors. The engravings are stylistically varied and they oscillate between the richness of elements which leads almost to illegibility (G. Gerardi) and the delicate, contour stroke which at times resembles drawings by the members of the Art Nouveau movement (Gerritsz). In each drawing one can find a visual representation of the trajectory of either historical or contemporary comet. The reader’s eye has to get accustomed to the mass of elements before it begins to distinguish between the allegorical depictions of constellations (hence the “natural history” phrase) and quite a large amount of astronomical data such as the brightness and magnitude of stars or the route of the ecliptic.

The graphic layer of Theatrum is up to a point a place where all intentions of Lubieniecki meet. Suffice to have a look at a plate between pages 38 and 39 of pars posterior. The reader’s eye gradually notices successive elements of the surrealist collection that consists of a sailing ship, a cross, a chameleon, a lion, a bear and an upside-down Pegasus. The meticulously accumulated stars of various brightness and magnitude do not make this task easier.

1318When the reader starts to think that she finally knows what this is all about, she notices several dozen comets entangled between the stars that bear the dates of their appearance on their tails. All comets depicted in this plate occurred in our era (hence the “A.C.” by each date = “Annum Christi”). What could be the purpose of such a drawing (provided it is not only a showoff of the imagination and artistry of the graphic designer and engraver)? Due to the chronological current that runs through the whole of Lubieniecki’s work the answer is quite obvious yet at the same time astonishing. What we have in front of us is an elaborate, complex and artistic variant of a good old timeline. What then was a “general history of comets” became a joint “general history” of comets and men. If we assume that comets epitomize the whole spectrum of astronomical phenomena, then we can say that we are dealing here with is a general history of everything. It is finally worth noting that this could be perhaps one of the most extravagant of early modern timelines. If we assume for a while that the synchronization of two spheres, two orders, the heavenly and the terrestrial one was one of the main purposes of Lubieniecki, then what else could be said of a representation of history which requires connecting the dots which eventually give a huge knot which is nearly impossible to be untangled?


Lubieniecki lived in times when the belief in magical influence of comets was becoming more and more obsolete. The age of discussions which engaged his fellow-believer, Andreas Dudithius, started to fall slowly into oblivion. Nevertheless, Lubieniecki deciding to leave one comprehensive view of the world immediately entered another one; he rejected the assumption that phenomena from one sphere shape the things in the other, but instead he gave oneself over to the idea of mutual explanation of these two spheres. His Theatrum is a fascinating record (or even a monument) of these intellectual efforts.

All images in this post from: S. Lubieniecki, Theatrum cometicum, Amsterdam 1668; National Library, Warsaw, shelfmark BN.XVII.4.2660, digitized by Polish Digital Library POLONA.