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Wittich, Paul

1. Dates
Born: Breslau, c.1546
Died: Vienna, 9 Jan 1586
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 40
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
Although nothing is known about the father, we do know that Wittich's uncle, Balthasar Sartorius, was a physician in Breslau.
I think we have to say that the family was at least affluent. Wittich appears never to have been under pressure to develop a career; rather he travelled around, perhaps teaching some, but not even that in any clearly organized way. He was well enough to do that he was able to own four copies of Copernicus' De revolutionibus, which was quite an expensive book.
3. Nationality
Birth: Breslau, Silesia [now Wroclaw, Poland]
Career: Germany
Death: Vienna
4. Education
Schooling: Leipzig, Wittenberg, Franfurtan Order
Wittich matriculated at Leipzig in 1563.
He matriculated at Wittenberg in 1566.
He matriculated Frankfurt an der Oder in 1576.
There is no mention of a degree from any of them.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Lutheran (by assumption)
During Wittich's lifetime, Breslau was in a section of Silesia which, though the Reformation had advanced far, was not entirely protestant (see Hubert Jedin et al., eds., Atlas zur Kirchengeschichte (Freiburg: Herder, 1970), p. 73, 76 [Ref. G1046.E4 A88]).
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics, Astronomy
Wittich is known for two things, his method of prosthaphaeresis, a method based on trigonometric identities that allowed you to multiply and divide by adding and subtracting trigonometric functions (a predecessor of logarithms) and his notes commenting on Copernaicus's De revolutionibus, where something like the Tychonic system appears.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Personal Means
Secondary: Schoolmastering, Patronage
I need to be clear that the role of personal means is inferred by me rather than stated in the sources. Wittich never had to pursue a career and he was able to travel around Germany pretty much at will.
In the summer of 1580, he arrived at Hveen with a letter of introduction from Hagecius, and worked with Tycho Brahe for four months at Uraniborg.
He left Hveen "temporarily" to collect on an inheritance from a rich uncle (or so he claimed), and never returned.
1582-5, he taught mathematics in Breslau. Gingerich and Westman say that he was an itinerant humanistic tutor to men who valued astronomy, but frankly I did not see the evidence on which this assertion was based.
In 1584 he was in Kassel, and he left before 1586. According to Günther, he worked for the Landgrave as an observer, though this doesn't seem to jibe with his ability, which was as a mathematician and not an astronomer. He is known, though, to have passed on certain mathematical formulae and information about Tycho's instruments to the Landgrave.
8. Patronage
Types: Scientist, Court Official
Since he stayed on Hveen for four months, Tycho should certainly be counted as a patron inasmuch as he supported his guests and assistants with room and board at least. Wittich and Tycho were students together at Wittenberg, and Wittich was a valuable collaborator to Tycho.
Wilhelm IV, Landgrave of Hesse, was probably also a patron of sorts, though little detail is known about Wittich's stay in Kassel. I do find in a letter by Tycho that Wilhelm gave Wittich a gold chain in return for his suggestions about improving his instruments.
An obituary of Wittich clearly implies that he was enjoying the patronage of the Emperor when he [Wittich] died.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Instruments
For the Landgrave Wittich designed an astrolabe. He also talked about the design of astronomical instruments, though it is far from clear that he was doing more in this respect than passing on information about Tycho's instruments.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Connections: He worked with Tycho Brahe in 1680, and at least visited, and perhaps worked with, Joost Bürgi and Wilhelm IV.
Wittich corresponded with Hagecius (a court physician in Prague). He was a friend of Dudith in Breslau, and of Praetorius in Nuremberg.
Sources
  1. Günther, Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, 43, 637.
  2. Victor E. Thoren, "Tycho Brahe as the Dean of a Rennaissance Research Institute," in Margaret Osler et al., eds., Religion, Science, and Worldview (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 281-2. 2.Victor E. Thoren, The Lord of Uraniborg: A Biography of Tycho Brahe, (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 236-49, 267-71, 280-3.
  3. Owen Gingerich and Robert Westman, The Wittich Connection: Conflict and Priority in Late Sixteenth-Century Cosmology, (Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 78, Pt. 7), (Philadelphia, 1988).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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İ1995 Al Van Helden
Last updated
 
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