Re: Johannes Kepler and the "murder" of Tycho Brahe?

From: Randy Isaac <>
Date: Fri Nov 18 2005 - 20:50:50 EST

I passed this on to the expert, Owen Gingerich, who wrote the following for
all of us:

I have to say that I consider the Gilders's book something of a
speculative travesty. At the time of Tycho's death, Tycho was just
arranging for Kepler to be appointed Imperial Mathematician. To murder
Tycho would be like killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

Assuming that the measurements are accurate showing that Tycho had a spike
of mercury intake a day or so before he died, we still don't know if that
was the cause of his death, as he had been very sick with a urinary
infection. Tycho was well known as an alchemist, and mercury was a
well-known ingredient in alchemical potions. It is even speculated that
Rudolf II's madness might have been aggravated by Tycho's prescriptions.
We know very little about the specifics of Tycho's remedies, since these
were carefully guarded trade secrets. I have heard it said that mercury
compounds were particularly used for urinary problems, but knowing next to
nothing about alchemical medicine I can't vouch for this. However, it
would made sense to me that if Tycho did get a dose of mercury compounds
around the time of this death, it would be extremely likely to be

In their scenario, the Gilders have to assume that Kepler knew something
about alchemy in order to have administered a deadly dose to Tycho. But
there is nothing in the record to show the slightest interest by Kepler in
alchemy, much less any knowledge of it, and Tycho was almost paranoically
secretive, so a man who would barely reveal his astronomical data would
hardly share even more lucrative alchemical secrets.

The Gilders also have to claim that descriptions of Kepler's personaility
have been whitewashed by his fans, and they have to take to extremes
little self-critical remarks that Kepler himself makes. But there simply
isn't material in the quite substantial corpus of personal letters, or in
contemporary remarks about Kepler, to suggest that he would be capable of
murder. Of course, Robert Oppenheimer tried seriously to strangle one of
his acquaintances, as the recent biographies show, so maybe we are missing
something with Kepler. But I doubt it.

OWEN GINGERICH----- Original Message -----
From: "Clarke Morledge" <>
To: <>
Sent: Friday, November 18, 2005 10:33 AM
Subject: Johannes Kepler and the "murder" of Tycho Brahe?

> Hi. I am new to the ASA and new to the mailing list. Just as a bit of
> introduction, I am currently a computer network engineer at the College of
> William and Mary. Some twenty years ago I received a Bachelor's in
> Mathematics at Washington and Lee, and eight years ago I received a
> Masters in Theology from Fuller Seminary.
> I have taught adult education at my church (Williamsburg Community Chapel)
> and I have been involved in a number of science/faith conversations with a
> fellow ASA'er, Dick Terman, who is a professor emeritus in biology at
> William and Mary. Dick suggested that I look into joining the ASA.
> I am working on developing a history of Christianity and Science class for
> my church, and I ran across a very curious book that attacks the character
> of Johannes Kepler:
> In _Heavenly Intrigue_, the authors make the claim that Kepler was
> obsessively jealous of Tycho Brahe. They even suggest that Kepler
> murdered Brahe. Since I've always considered Kepler to be a hero of mine
> in terms of positively integrating evangelical faith and scientific
> investigation, I was a bit bummed out by the claims of the book.
> Can anyone on the list tell me if the idea of Kepler's disturbed
> personality is true or if this is simply a case of revisionist history
> gone bad?
> ... or, to go even a step further, have there been any geocentrists who
> have used this "evidence" against Kepler to try to associate heliocentrism
> with moral failure (Kepler being a heliocentrist and Brahe being a
> geocentrist)?
> Thanks.
> Clarke Morledge
> College of William and Mary
> Information Technology - Network Engineering
> Jones Hall (Room 18)
> Williamsburg VA 23187
Received on Fri Nov 18 20:54:36 2005

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