Regiomontanus and Books

When he moved to Nuremberg in 1571, Regiomontanus embarked, as part of his strategy for the reformation of astronomy, on a program of publication. The first work issued by his press was the Theoricae novae planetarum of his former master Georg Peurbach, which rapidly became one of the standard texts of university courses in astronomy. This was followed by the Astronomica of Marcus Manilius, his calendars in Latin and German for 1475-1531, and almanacs for 1485-1506. In 1474, he published a broadside tradelist naming both the books he had already printed and those he still intended to produce. Works by Ptolemy, Euclid, Theon of Alexandria, Archimedes, and Witelo were among those listed, as were many new translations, commentaries and treatises by Regiomontanus himself. Criticism of the lack of respect this list revealed for other authors and translators prompted him, in his pamphlet Disputationes contra Cremonensia in planetarum theoricas delyramenta (or Arguments against the nonsense in the Theorica planetarum of [Gerard of] Cremona), to deliver a trenchant defence of the necessity of emending and improving upon existing texts: For who does not realise that the admirable art of printing recently devised by our countrymen is as harmful to men if it multiplies erroneous works as it is useful when it publishes properly corrected editions?
Theorica Solis Theorica Solis, from an edition of Peurbach's In eorundem motus planetarum accuratissime theoricae published in Venice in 1482. In the Whipple Collection.

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The works which Regiomontanus printed were distinguished by the attention paid to all aspects of production in the interests of increased clarity and accuracy. The astronomer introduced the Italic font to Nuremberg, and used a more legible form of Gothic type for work in German. The almanacs were given a layout which facilitated their use, and the Theoricae novae planetarum was equipped with numerous diagrams (although fewer than contemporary manuscripts), hand-coloured to assist comprehension. (The figure shown here comes from the very similar 1482 Venice edition of the Theorica by Erhard Ratdolt). Finally, typographical errors in the various texts were corrected by hand before they left the workshop.

Regiomontanus' death in 1476 left the majority of his printing program unfinished. Subsequently, however, many of his own texts were produced through the efforts of later Nuremberg astronomers, and in particular the partnership of the mathematician Johann Schöner (1477-1547) and the printer Johannes Petreius (1497-1580).

Recommended Reading

J. Bennett & D. Bertoloni Meli, Sphaera Mundi: Astronomy Books in the Whipple Museum 1478-1600, Cambridge 1994, pp. 14-15, 32-44, 65

C. D. Hellmann & N. Swerdlow, "Peurbach", Dictionary of Scientific Biography, New York 1970-1990, vol. XV, pp. 473-479

F. Johnson, "Astronomical text-books in the sixteenth century", in A. Underwood (ed.), Science, Medicine and History: Essays on the Evolution of Scientific Thought and Medical Practice written in honour of Charles Singer, Oxford 1953, vol. I, pp. 285-302

O. Pedersen, "The Decline and Fall of the Theorica Planetarum: Renaissance Astronomy and the Art of Printing", Studia Copernicana 16 (1978), pp. 157-185

E. Zinner, Leben und Wirken des Joh. Müller von Königsberg, Osnabrück 1968. Translated by E. Brown as Regiomontanus: His Life and Work, Amsterdam 1990

Full Bibliography