RE: Did Kepler poison Brahe?

From: Mccarrick, Alan D CIV NSWCCD Philadelphia, 9212 <alan.mccarrick@navy.mil>
Date: Wed Aug 17 2005 - 08:14:19 EDT

Ted,

I did a paper on some aspects of 17th century medicine using some books from Drexel's rare books collection (such as it is). liquid mercury was indeed prescribed for various conditions including as I remember, heart palpitations. I have a vague memory that depression may have been one of the conditions also.

Al

-----Original Message-----
From: asa-owner@lists.calvin.edu [mailto:asa-owner@lists.calvin.edu]On
Behalf Of Ted Davis
Sent: Tuesday, August 16, 2005 11:22
To: asa@calvin.edu; garrisonp@uthscsa.edu
Subject: Re: Did Kepler poison Brahe?

I'm not a Kepler expert--although I once had serious intents about doing a
dissertation on him. I have discussed "Heavenly Intrigue" with a leading
Kepler expert and have been privy to the opinions of some other experts.
Their views are the same as mine: the novel is very interesting, partly
based on fact (it's a fact that Tycho ingested a relatively high amount of
Mercury within hours of his death), but also highly speculative in its
interpretation of Tycho's death and very strongly biased in its
interpretation of the two principal characters (Tycho and Kepler).

Let me refer ASAers to the review of this book that appeared in the Journal
for the History of Astronomy, ol. 35 Part 4, November 2004. The review is
not available online, but a friend sent me an electronic copy prior to
publication. Gleiser, a physicist at Dartmouth, is writing his own novel
about Kepler--one of these days, someone is going to make a film about
Kepler, a film that could be pretty darn good if it's done properly, he was
IMO the single most interesting important scientist in history, there are
already some novels as well as Koestler's novelesque biography, "The
Watershed."

Gleiser sees the argument as having 3 parts: (1) the claim about Tycho and
mercury; (2) Tycho was murdered; and (3) Kepler did it. "Step one is
believable, step two is doubtful, and step three verges on the
preposterous." Kepler is depicted as so driven by his concept of cosmic
order that he murdered the admirable Tycho--or so the authors have it. In
reality, Tycho was "far from magnanimous, ... a tremendously aggressive and,
at points, an evil character, pretentious and tyrannical," and at the same
time "there is nothing whatsoever in Kepler's writings, or in his conduct
toward Tycho or any other person, however angry and short-tempered, to
suggest that he would be capable of murder." Perhaps (I say perhaps,
following Gleiser) Tycho hastened his own death (he was suffering,
depressed, and in "serious financial difficulties"), or perhaps he was given
a draft by his attending physician, but there is no reason to look in
Kepler's direction for Tycho's demise.

Ted
Received on Wed Aug 17 08:17:42 2005

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