Tycho Brahe and Poetry

Poetry was an important medium of expression in the courtly and scholarly spheres of the sixteenth century, and Tycho both wrote verse and was honoured in it on many occasions. The De nova stella (1573), for example, opens and closes with laudatory poems written by friends of Tycho, and contains his own 230-line Elegy to Urania, in which he deprecates the traditional pursuits of the nobility and praises the study of the heavens. In 1575, Tycho published a poem exhorting the women of Denmark to contribute to the publication of a translation of the Danish chronicler Saxo Grammaticus (c. 1140-1206) by providing linen rags for making paper. In 1585, he addressed a 288-line poem to the Danish Chancellor Niels Kaas, contrasting the neglect of astronomy in much of Europe with its flourishing condition in Denmark, but also hinting that continued state support was necessary if Tycho was to continue working in his homeland. The same year he addressed another poem to Heinrich Rantzau (1526-1599), governor of the Duchy of Holstein. This responded to Rantzau's mention of Tycho in his Catalogue of the Emperors, Kings and Princes who have loved, honoured and practised the Astrological Art (1580), chiding him for referring to Uraniborg merely as a watchtower.

Tycho's book of 1588 contains no poetry other than extracts from the De rerum Natura of Lucretius and Aratus' Phenomena. But the Epistolae Astronomicae (1596) opens with a series of poems praising Tycho, and ends with a memorial verse to Wilhelm IV of Hesse-Kassel (d. 1592). A letter to Wilhelm makes it clear that poetry was important to the decorative scheme of Uraniborg: Tycho had portraits of several famous astronomers, including Ptolemy and Copernicus, with laudatory verses underneath. The work also reproduces poems Tycho had exchanged with Moritz of Hesse, Wilhelm's son and heir. Tycho had promised that Moritz's verses would appear at the front of the Astronomiae instauratae progymnasmata (1602), following similar poems by King James VI of Scotland and I of England, but they are not to be found in this posthumous publication. Other poems by and about Tycho occur in the Astronomiae instauratae mechanica (1598) and as manuscript works.

Recommended Reading

J. Dreyer, Tycho Brahe: A Picture of Scientific Life and Work in the Sixteenth Century, Edinburgh 1890. Reprinted New York 1963

V. Thoren, The Lord of Uraniborg: A Biography of Tycho Brahe, Cambridge 1990

P. Zeeberg, "Alchemy, Astrology and Ovid: A Love Poem by Tycho Brahe", in A. Moss et. al. (eds.), Acta Conventus Neo-Latini Hafniensis, New York 1994, pp. 997-1007

Full Bibliography