Kepler in a witch’s world
The dust jacket on The astronomer and the witch features a portrait of Kepler, a small illustration of an elliptical orbit, and the word “astronomer” highlighted in bright red. This suggests that the book might be a biography of Kepler the astronomer, in which his mother’s witchcraft appears as a peculiar episode, but this is not the case. Nor, thankfully, does the book offer a presentist account of the trial that distorts the events to fit into a clumsy narrative about a conflict between science and religion. Instead, The astronomer and the witchis essentially two things. First, it is a sketch of a tense community during the early years of the Thirty Years’ War. On Rublack’s interpretation, the trouble began when residents of the German town of Leonberg released their pent-up anxiety about the war by accusing an old, meddlesome woman—Kepler’s mother, Katharina—of witchcraft. Second, the book is a family drama detailing Katharina’s troubled marriage, her strained relationships with...
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