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Johannes Müller von Königsberg (June 6, 1436July 6, 1476), known by his Latin pseudonym Regiomontanus, was an important German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer. He was born in the Franconian village of Unfinden near Königsberg, Bavaria (not to be confused with the East Prussian city of Königsberg, now known as Kaliningrad).

He is also called Johannes Müller, der Königsberger (Johannes Müller of Königsberg). His full Latin name was Joannes de Regio monte, which abbreviated to Regiomontanus (from the Latin for "Königsberg"—"King's Mountain").

At eleven years of age, he became a student at the university in Leipzig, Saxony. Three years later he continued his studies at Alma Mater Rudolfina, the university in Vienna, Austria. There he became a pupil and friend of Georg von Peurbach. In 1457 he graduated with a degree of "magister artium" (Master of Arts) and held lectures in optics and ancient literature. That same year he built an astrolabe for Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor, and in 1465 a portable sundial for Pope Paul II. His work with Peurbach brought him to the writings of Nicholas of Cusa (Cusanus), who held a heliocentric view. Regiomontanus, however, remained a geocentrist after Ptolemy. Following Peurbach's death, he continued the translation of Ptolemy's Almagest which Peurbach had begun at the initiative of Johannes Bessarion. From 1461 to 1465 Regiomontanus lived and worked at Cardinal Bessarion's house in Rome. He wrote De Triangulis omnimodus (1464) and Epytoma in almagesti Ptolemei. De Triangulis (On Triangles) was one of the first textbooks presenting the current state of trigonometry and included lists of questions for review of individual chapters. In it he wrote:

"You who wish to study great and wonderful things, who wonder about the movement of the stars, must read these theorems about triangles. Knowing these ideas will open the door to all of astronomy and to certain geometric problems."

In the Epytoma he critiqued the translation, pointing out inaccuracies. Later Nicolaus Copernicus would refer to this book as an influence on his own work. In 1467 Regiomontanus left Rome to work at the court of Matthias Corvinus of Hungary. There he calculated extensive astronomical tables and built astronomical instruments.

In 1471 he moved to the Free City of Nuremberg, in Franconia, then one of the Empire's important seats of learning, publication, commerce and art. Regiomontanus remains famous for having built at Nuremberg the first astronomical observatory in Germany, perhaps in Europe. There he published many astronomical charts.

In 1475 he went to Rome to work with Pope Sixtus IV on calendar reform. While there, Regiomontanus died mysteriously: some say of plague, others by (more likely) assassination. That was on July 6, 1476, when he had just turned forty a month earlier.

Domenico Maria Novara da Ferrara, the teacher of Nicolaus Copernicus, referred to Regiomontanus as having been his own teacher.

A prolific author, Regiomontanus was internationally famous already in his lifetime. Despite having completed only a quarter of what he had intended to write, he left a substantial body of work.

It is not true that he came to be called posthumously after the place of his birth, Königsberg (in Latin, Regiomontanus). In Regiomontanus' day it was common for scholars to publish their works under Latin pseudonyms. Copernicus did likewise, which is why we do not know him today by his actual name, Mikołaj Zepernik.

Regiomontanus and Astrology

One biographer has claimed to have detected a decline in Regiomontanus' interest in astrology over his life, and came close to asserting that Regiomontanus had rejected it altogether. But more recent commentators have suggested that the occasional expression of skepticism about astrological prognostication reflected a disquiet about the procedural rigor of the art, not about its underlying principles. It seems plausible that, like some other astronomers, Regiomontanus concentrated his efforts on mathematical astronomy because he felt that astrology could not be placed on a sound footing until the celestial motions had been modeled accurately.

In his youth, Regiomontanus had cast horoscopes (natal charts) for famous patrons. His Tabulae directionum, completed in Hungary, were designed for astrological use and contained a discussion of different ways of determining astrological houses. The calendars for 1475-1531 which he printed at Nuremberg contained only limited astrological information—a method of finding times for blood-letting according to the position of the moon; subsequent editors added material.

But perhaps the works most indicative of Regiomontanus' hopes for an empirically sound astrology were his almanacs or ephemerides, produced first in Vienna for his own benefit, and printed in Nuremberg for the years 1475-1506. Weather predictions and observations were juxtaposed by Regiomontanus in his manuscript almanacs, and the form of the printed text enabled scholars to enter their own weather observations in order to likewise check astrological predictions; extant copies reveal that several did so. Regiomontanus' Ephemeris would be used in 1504, by a Christopher Columbus stranded on Jamaica, to intimidate the natives into continuing to provision him and his crew from their scanty food stocks, when he successfully predicted a lunar eclipse for February 29, 1504.

Regiomontanus did not live to produce the special commentary to the ephemerides that he had promised would reveal the advantages the almanacs held for the multifarious activities of physicians, for human births and the telling of the future, for weather forecasting, for the inauguration of employment, and for a host of other activities, although this lack was again made good by subsequent editors. Nevertheless Regiomontanus' promise suggests that he either was as convinced of the validity and utility of astrology as his contemporaries, or was willing to set aside his misgivings for the sake of commercial success.

External links

fr:Regiomontanus sv:Johannes Regiomontanus is:Johann Müller pl:Regiomontanus ru:Региомонтан sl:Regiomontan zh:约翰·缪勒


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