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 polytheism?

One of the most amusing parts of reading through the vernacular sources related to the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is the possibility to get a closer look at the rhetorical invention of the authors involved in this debate or, as you like, a quarrel. I am hoping to create a catalogue of such arguments, enthymems, metaphors, images and analogies, in the future; some of them are quite funny, some are annoying and embarassing (especially those which are openly xenophobic, anti-Ruthenian or anti-Semitic), but each of them plays an important role in the disquisitions of particular authors. The list of such rhetorical and dialectical devices will appear here in due course, meanwhile l would like to draw the readers’ attention to one particular phrase which has been haunting me for some time.

In the previous post on Joannes Broscius’s vain search for citations of his works in Jan Dubowicz’s thesis on the true (i.e. Gregorian) calendar, I referred to Broscius’s two apologies of the reformed calendar. His contribution to the calendrical debate in Poland-Lithuania should not be limited, however, to these two small Polish prints. There is actually one more brochure, which was published right before the two Apologies came of the Kraków and Warsaw printing presses and for a change was written in Latin.

The brochure in question is Broscius’s Sermo, which is a transcript or rather an elaborated, longer mutation of a sermon that our Kraków astronomer gave at the provincial synod of the Roman Catholic dioecese of Lutsk in Volhynia.


Let’s put aside the rhetorical structure of the whole address and arguments employed by the author and focus on one particular passage. In it, on fol. B2r, the stream of Broscius’s fluent Latin ornated with citations from the Scripture, Galen, Hippocrates, Aurelius Augustinus, Cardinal Bellarmin, is interrupted by an alien object:

… Nunquam ego illos esse vere Unitos, credam, nisi quemadmodum unus est Deus, una fides, unum baptisma, unum quoque nobiscum Pascha confiteantur et celebrent; reliquis vero temporibus simul nobiscum laborent, simul a laboribus quiescentes Sanctorum festa et memoriam devote recolant: ac ne illud rudes e plebe Rutheni usurpent: “Mnoho se Bohow narodiło”. Simul nobiscum Christo Domino e Virgine Sanctissimae nato, aurum, thus et myrrham offerant …

The phrase in quotation marks is an attempt to transcribe a Ruthenian quote with use of Latin alphabet and it means literally “Many Gods were born”.

mnohoBut what does this phrase actually mean? One could begin to wonder, whether perhaps it is some kind of theological or even, God forbid, cosmological thesis? Was Broscius a hidden follower of Giordano Bruno’s theory of the infinite number of worlds? Did he believe in the actual existence of numerous, parallel Earths with their own Jesuses, Bethlehems, Crucifixions and Resurrections. No matter how tempting this may seem and no matter how much one would like to see Broscius as a model for one of the protagonists of Umberto Eco’s fantasy on Baroque science, i.e. the 1994 novel The Island of the Day Before, or as an ancestor of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz or David K. Lewis, I must disappoint you – this is not the case. As far as I can tell, Broscius was neither of them. One should also rule out suppositions of some unknown kind of polytheism.

Nevertheless, the whole concept of the “plurality of Gods” adds some metaphysical spice to the Catholic-Uniate-Orthodox calendrical affair and takes the whole discussion to a new level, at least in the mind of an ontologically-sensitive reader. It is difficult to find either Broscius’s Sermo or in any other polemical writings some traces of reflection on what the actual liturgy and the liturgical year is. Yet, despite this lack of elaborated theory, there are bits and pieces of “folk theology” in which the liturgical year, with Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Ascension and Pentecost is a cyclical, repetitive reenactment of the life of Jesus, in which the symbolic, commemorative sphere of liturgy and the actual life of Jesus are so close, that one could say that the events described in the Gospels actually take place in an annual cycle. And everything would go well if not the discrepancies between the two calendars. The use of two systems of measuring of time caused various problems on the high, social, theological, scientific level, but it had also its own representation in the popular culture and popular discourse of the time. The image of “many Gods” who “were born” and, to follow up, were crucified and resurrected a respective number of times, reflects up to a point the popular understanding of the conflict between the two calendars. Hence the paradoxical situation in which one (Catholic) Jesus is born in Bethlehem, while the other (the Uniate and Orthodox one) is still in Mary’s womb, or a parallell image in which the Catholic Jesus has already resurrected, while the Uniate/Orthodox is just on his way to Jerusalem (at least in these years when the delay of the Orthodox Easter amounts to 7 days). Although this reasoning is based on the reading of the liturgical commemoration in realistic terms, hence it qualifies as a logical fallacy, it makes a highly stimulating image which can easily appeal to one’s imagination.

Finally, one should ask about the origin of the whole phrase in question. Since it comes from the popular or folk discourse, it is difficult, if not impossible, to indicate a source or give credits to one, particular author. In this case, however, we are lucky as Broscius left us a note. One can find it in a sammelband that belonged to Broscius’s library and which contains three works by Peter Crüger, a Gdańsk/Danzig astronomer, correspondent of Broscius and teacher of Hevelius. In the sammelband (Kraków, Jagiellonian Library, shelfmark Mag. St. Dr. 54955−54957 II P), on the upper endleaf, there is a note in Latin which reads as follows:

Cum esset innovatum Calendarium alioque iam de Nativitatis Christi a Latinis celebraretur quam a Graecis Ruthenis quidam [?] camino quasi [?] dixit: Mnoho se Bohow narodiło Id audivi ab illustrissimo Domino Nicolau Pac Episcopio Samogitiae Patavii.

As much as helpful this note may be, it still leaves us on the level of the learned Catholics, as the informant of Broscius was not a Ruthenian nobleman or cleric, not to mention a servant or a peasant. The “Dominus Nicolaus” in question is Mikołaj Pac, the bishop of Samogitia (Żmudź), who travelled to Italy in the early 1620’s, met Broscius in Padua, and died in this city in 1624 at the age of 54. And since at our disposal we have only a reference to the oral testimony of a Catholic bishop who ruled the multiconfessional dioecese (Pac “dixit” Broscius), it is difficult, or even impossible, to tell whether it would be ever possible to track down the original roots of this concept. The Ruthenian phrase scribbled down by Broscius and incorporated into the printed text of the Latin Sermo of 1641 make the only two know occurences of this concept and I am not even sure if I should even expect finding more of them as my research moves forward. Despite these uncertainties, the image of „many Gods” remains a powerful and even witty concept which epitomizes well the conflict of two calendars under one roof of the 17th-century Polish-Lithuanian state.

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.