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Historisk tidskrift 125:4 • 2005

Innehåll (Contents) 2005:4

Uppsatser (Articles)

Profeten Tycho Brahe. Astrologi och apokalyps i 1500-talets naturvetenskap

Håkan Håkansson

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Tycho Brahe the Prophet. Astrology and Apocalypse in Early Modern Science

The Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546–1602) is often portrayed as an absolute empiricist whose observations laid the foundation for the later works of Kepler and Newton. But Brahe was also a practicing astrologer who viewed the celestial bodies as divine governors of human history. Tracing Brahe’s development as an astrologer from the early De nova stella (1573) to the monumental Astronomiae instauratae progymnasmata (1602), this article shows how Brahe’s attitude visà- vis astrology depended on a distinction between ‘lower’ forms of astrological prognostications, such as individual horoscopes, and ‘higher’ forms of prophecies, concerning the future of Christendom and the world. Though Brahe seems to have grown increasingly sceptic towards ‘lower’ forms of astrology, his belief and engagement in ‘higher’ forms clearly remained intact throughout his career.

An important feature in Brahe’s ‘higher’ astrology was the apocalyptic and millenarian themes he developed at length: the idea that the new star of 1572, as well as the comet of 1577, were God’s instruments for ushering in a new era, a golden age of earthly peace and happiness, before the Last Judgement closed the circle of history. Such views were far from uncommon in early modern culture, but their prominent place in Brahe’s scientific works provides an illuminating example of how scientific thought intersected with theological concerns. Brahe’s astrological views make it possible to situate his work in the context of a Reformation culture in which the practicing of natural science was intimately tied to Christian conceptions of scriptural exegesis, history, and the coming end of the world.