Ephemeris for 1477
by Johannes Regiomontanus (1436-1476)
J. Müller: Nuremberg, 1474
The oldest book in our collection was written by Johannes Müller (1436 - 1476), better known as Regiomontanus. He was a brilliant German mathemetician, astronomer and scholar. His impact to the world of science is reflected by the fact that the crater Regiomontanus on the Moon is named after him. He was a much sought after astrologer and cast horoscopes for famous patrons of the court of Emperor Frederick III.
In 1471, Regiomontanus went to Nuremberg where he set up the first observatory in Germany, with the help of a wealthy benefactor. The observatory was equipped with scientific instruments crafted by Regiomontanus. It was here that he observed the great comet of 1472, later known as Halley’s Comet.
Ephemerides are astronomical almanacs consisting of tables showing the position of celestial bodies during the course of a number of dates in a regular sequence. They show the future positions of the sun, moon, planets, comets and eclipses. According to Manly P. Hall, the ephemerides of Regiomontanus were regarded as the most authentic of their time. This ephemeris for 1477 consists of fourteen unnumbered leaves printed on heavy handmade paper. It is very rare; complete copies are virtually unknown. The Ephemerides of Regiomontanus are believed to have been used by Christopher Columbus. They guided him on his journey to the New World, and enabled him to predict the lunar eclipse of 1504, which astonished the Indigenous peoples. They were so impressed by this prediction that they agreed to provide his crew with much needed food.
The invention of movable type by Johann Gutenberg in 1454 inspired Regiomontanus to set up the first printing house devoted to the printing and publishing of scientific books in Nuremberg. He realized the tremendous value of producing multiple identical copies of scientific texts would have on the advancement of scientific knowledge. This book was printed by his press.
The Special Collections section of the Philosophical Research Library has over 1,200 items including rare or unique books, manuscripts, photographs and artifacts. The materials span a wide range of topics including Alchemy, Astrology, Comparative Religion, and Philosophy. Many of these items are fragile and access must be restricted. This segment of our website will showcase items from this collection.