THEODORUS MORETUS or THE MESSENGER TO ROME
Jan. B. Hurych
Theodorus Moretus was born in Antwerp, Netherlands, in February 1602. When he was sixteen years old, he entered the Jesuit order and studied in Louvain, Belgium, a city with famous old University.
Sometimes he is listed as of Dutch nationality, the other time as a Belgian.
Louvain was also famous for its workshops, where many medieval manuscripts were copied, although in Moretus's time it was not as much as before the invention of press. The hand copying was cumbersome so they preferred the manufacturing of fraudulent manuscripts instead those being more profitable when sold as originals.
He studied there mathematics and actually so well that in the year 1629, he already became a professor of mathematics in the German city of Munster.
His career in the Bohemia begins when his former teacher of mathematics from Louvain, pater Gregorius, in that time teaching in Prague, became ill.
In 1630, Moretus was sent to his assistance.
The state of health of his professor later deteriorated even more and when in 1631, Gregorius left the Bohemia, his place is taken by Moretus.
At that time he did not know yet that he would never leave Bohemia till his death, in 1667.
He taught there at Jesuit University called Clementinum.. Strangers as they all were, of Clementinum achieved the privilege of supreme power over the original Czech university Carolinum and all later over all Czech education as well.
They also claimed to abolish the Golden Bull of the Emperor Charles IV (which confirmed in 1356 the establishment of the Carolinum university (1348) as well as its rights). Thanks to interference of archbishop Harrach, the friend of Marci, they did not succeeded to abolish it completely. In the year 1638, some of Jesuit monopoly was withdrawn by Ferdinand III, giving Carolinum the independent faculties of law and of medicine and Marci became the dean of it. The same year Marci travels to Rome, probably to fight for more freedoms for Carolinum and there he also met with Kircher.
But Jesuit intrigues continued and later again the Jesuits won. In the year 1654, much younger Clementinum (est.1562) was joined with Carolinum (est. 1348) into Karl-Ferdinand University, and much older Carolinum became a subject of Jesuit ill will and harassment. In the new university, Jesuits got the politically more influential faculties, i.e. philosophy and theology. It lasted that way until 1882, when the universities were finally separated into independent Czech and German Universities. The humiliating of the famous Czech university was done in spite of the fact it was Czech students of Carolinum who actually stopped Swedes in 1648 at Charles's bridge barricade thus proving their valor and loyalty to Emperor. They were lead by Marci himself who afterwards received the aristocratic title "de Cronland", not so much for his bravery but rather to break his resistance to Jesuit usurpation of his old university. In 1662, Marci became the rector of the joined university, but only for one year.
Now let's return to father Moretus. In Bohemia, he changed several times his locations as a teacher. Being the Doctor of Philosophy and Theology, he taught mostly mathematics, geometry and astronomy - in places like Olomouc, Znojmo, Jihlava, Breznice, Klatovy (1667) and also Nisa and Hlohova. He may have been for some time even in Wroclaw, Poland, but most important was his stay in Prague, where he appeared actually several times (1634-39, 1641-42, 1646-1656).
His scientific work was very fruitful: he made various discoveries in physics and astronomy, hydraulics and music but mainly mathematics and Jesuits called him proudly "our Archimedes". His research in optics brought him even fame among such scientists as was Robert Hooke, Drebbel, Kircher and Marci. His books were mostly technical: Tractatus physico-mathematicus de aestu maris (1665) or Propositiones mathematicae ex hydrostaticaa de prima suppositione Archimedis (written together with Josephus Nicotius,1667). Several of his manuscripts with mathematical subjects still exist and are stored in Czech National Library in Prague (see Reference 1 at the end of article). He probably wrote some mathematical textbooks as well (see Reference 10). He also has a crater on the Moon named after him ( as Kircher and Marci both have) which certainly confirms his scientific achievements.
Today is the name Moretus known more under the "Plantin-Moretus Museum" in Belgium, a printing museum, named by UNESCO as one of the worlds cultural sites (in 2001). That of course needs explanation: Christoffel Plantin was the famous printer, specializing in printing of scientific and humanistic books. In 1575 his print shop had already over seventy employees. His printing empire was extended after his death (1589) by his son-in-law Jan Moretus, who began printing books of other topics as well. Whether he was the relative of Theodorus, who lived rather later (1602 to 1667) we do not know, but I recently discovered that Theodorus was the son of Peter Moretus and Henrietta Plantin, so there is some relationship, maybe they were relatives of Jan and Christoffel. Family Moretus was already in good relations with Jesuits, since at the end of 16th century they were awarded by Pater Provincial the printing rights for all Jesuit books in Belgium (1593). No wonder that Theodorus decided to become a Jesuit and felt among them like at home . . .
His first five-year period in Prague (1634 to 1639) is the period of his trip to Rome, which Baresch mentioned in his second letter to Kircher. He was bringing Kircher the first letter of Baresch (written 1637). There is no record about that letter elsewhere except the second letter by Baresch which states that Moretus confirmed he delivered the first letter to Kircher (or to his office). What happened to the letter, we do not know - there was no answer by Kircher. However, Baresch himself in his second letter to Kircher (1639) tactfully suggested - even if we see that he did not believe it - that the first letter was probably lost somewhere. He was apparently trying not to offend Kircher and made an excuse why he did not get any response from Kircher ( not even the confirmation Kircher got that letter).
This can be explained the way Kircher simply did not bother to write, being once duped by Miller to decrypt a fraud and becoming the subject of laugh afterwards. In addition, Kircher was known as an expert on hieroglyphics, but now we know now that his system was entirely wrong, in spite of the all glory he received. So he simply did not want to get involved. Of course, after the second letter of Baresch was found (and it still exists), it is quite unlikely that the first letter was simply lost. it.
The package also contained the samples of the VM folios - actually only copies - which is also mentioned in Baresch's letter. Kircher's impolite silence is of course inexcusable, especially when Moretus claimed he delivered the package. However, it is possible that Kircher only sent back the verbal message by Moretus with the promise that he would review it. But in that case Moretus did not deliver the full answer, only confirming the delivery but no response . . .
But there are other letters in Museo Kircheriano, from Moretus to Kircher and in very friendly tone, so it is almost certain that Moretus then directly met with Kircher a became his pen pal. For example, there is a letter to Kircher from 1638, that is a year after his visit to Rome, already suggesting to us they might have met even sooner, before Moretus's visit to Rome, maybe for some mathematical dispute. They both lectured mathematics at universities and in addition to their membership in Societas Jesu they had apparently one common passion: to confide to each other the various gossips. Especially Moretus, judging from the letters with his complaints. He apparently he did not like Prague, neither the city nor its people and of course they did not like him either, simply because he was a Jesuit and a foreigner.
However, what we do know about Moretus a man? During the time of his successful scientific career he did not obtain any higher position in the society SJ - he was always called the Reverend Pater only with no other titles. Was he so modest, with no ambition or just unsuccessful in inner politics of the Society? On the other hand, he might have been conspiring against others too much so he became rather unpopular with his superiors. I do not believe that he would have liked being moved too often all around but the reasons of his transfers are not known.
The Museo Kircheriano has those letters he wrote to Kircher from Prague 1638, 1639 and a also from his second stay in Prague, in 1642. They have basically some scientific content, mainly a description of what he did and some technical questions. For example, he wanted to know from Kircher how large is the congio Farnesiano ( the Roman liquid volume of about 3.3 liters). Elsewhere he asked how long is "Roman foot" - it is clear he wanted it for his hydraulic, mechanical or other studies. Kircher was also interesting in the physics of fountains. Those measurement units were important for his calculations - the use of improper units would give wrong numerical values.
In addition -and that is only my speculation - there are also some rumors in his letters, of personal nature. For example, he calls somebody, not too politely, as an "old Villapandus." Of course, Joannes Villapandus did exist, he was a Spanish Jesuit, who wrote three architectural books (1596) with illustrations, describing Greek Corinthian arcs and - at that time already destroyed - Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. He even "knew"exactly about its treasures and the total cost of the building. That was of course a rather ridiculous claim, especially to scientists and mathematicians like Moretus and Kircher. At the time Moretus used his name, Villapandus was already dead, while it seems Moretus wrote about someone who still alive. True, the text is not clear whether there was indeed a mockery neither it named the person who was the target of the mockery. Similarly, Moretus wrote about somebody in Prague, the person surely known to Kircher, as "losing" his memory, without mentioning the name. Pater Kinner was straightforward: he wrote to Kircher the same about Marci but more politely).
With little imagination, we can assume this: both Moretus and Kircher were members of Society Jesu, both were mathematicians, both in a foreign country and particularly for Moretus, it is clear that he was not too happy being in Bohemia. They both would have underestimated Baresch, especially when he bragged he studied in layman's university Sapienza, which was probably underestimated by Jesuits, being a competitor to their Collegio Romano. Of course, Baresch got his baccalaureate in Prague's Clementinum, before the time foreign mathematicians were employed there. It is also a known fact that Jesuits mocked mainly non-Jesuits.
Since we never found the letters from Kircher to Marci (or to Baresch, but I doubt if he ever wrote to him at all) we do not know what was the real relationship of Kircher in regard to Marci. We know that Marci did not make any secret about his admiration of Kircher - well, he even donated the VM to him. Nothing of that sort of admiration can be said about Kircher, in spite of the fact he is called by some researchers to be "the friend of Marci". One example says it all: on August 19, 1666 Marci sent the now famous letter to Kircher, together with the VM manuscript, in his words "by Pater Provincial" and we know Kircher received both since we found them. However in the letter dated 5th of January 1667 Pater Kinner (that was another Jesuit from Prague who also wrote to Kircher and apparently for some time worked as an assistant to almost blind Marci) wrote to Kircher and forwarded him in his letter the request by Marci asking how is Kircher progressing with his study of the VM.
It is incredible that Kircher, after receiving such valuable gift, would let Marci wait for half a year for answer! Kircher also already knew about Marci's deteriorating health. Soon afterwards, Marci actually died, in April 1667 and most likely still without any answer from Kircher! That is not a behavior of the friend. It seems that Marci was always treated by Jesuits with despect,refusing to be one of them. According to historical records, Marci signed on his mortal bed the document he did not even see - since he was totally blind then. Maybe he was told it was just his last will, but it was actually his declaration of voluntary joining of Jesuit order! Victory of Jesuits over the old, brave rector of Czech university was then complete . . .
There was no reply from Kircher to Baresch's first letter and apparently not even to the second one. They both were obviously delivered to Kircher (the first one, in 1637, directly by Moretus, and the second, from 1639, even survived) . The second letter also contained samples of the VM folios, but then followed another letter, this time by Marci, who was recommending Baresch to Kircher, apparently on Baresch's or Kircher's request (1640).
It is my impression Moretus mocked in his letters to Kircher somebody in Prague, maybe Baresch and/or Marci, especially since Moretus did not mentioned names - so Kircher must have known them too. We can go even further in our suggestion: when Moretus met in person with Kircher in Rome, it is almost certain that Kircher asked Moretus to tell him his opinion about Baresch, since Kircher personally did not know him. If so, he could have got from Moretus some information either before or even after reading the letter. Thus his opinion could have been prejudiced by Moretus's response. It is possible that "old Villapandus" could have been Baresch who apparently was known to Prague Jesuits by his theories about the VM and considered by them to be rather eccentric. It is almost certain that the one who "lost his memory" was Marci himself. Also, in one of his letters Moretus spoke ironically about someone in Prague who was solving the quadrature of circle - we know from Marci's books he was the one who is trying to do that. Of course even Moretus's teacher Gregorius tried that and it was possible that in that time it was already considered an impossible task and later became a synonymum for foolish things (as I recall from my school days).
What Moretus told to Kircher regarding Baresch, we do not know,he surely did not praise him, otherwise Kircher would soon contact Baresch himself and start cracking the VM. If he however pictured him as someone obsessed by chimera or even as an old fool, we suspect that Kircher would throw away the samples and would not even bother to answer. Of course, if Moretus gave Kircher some bad references, it would have been only verbally and he certainly would not mention it to Baresch nor to Marci. Since in his second letter Baresch wrote he "once again" sent the samples and that "the holder of the letter has seen them", Baresch most probably gave Moretus the whole book to see - and probably even expected him to assure Kircher that the manuscript was genuine and fill him with details . Moretus, of course, might not do exactly that. Maybe he considered the content of the book as some black magic and refer to it that way and Kircher would then hardly touch that stuff. There might have been also some other reasons for him to give Kircher negative appraisal of the VM and/or Baresch.
It is quite possible that Kircher's behavior was mainly influenced by the information given to him by Moretus. In their letters, Moretus and Kircher wrote to each other as one colleague to another, almost as equals, with certain sympathy for each other. This could also influence Moretus to sincerely advise Kircher not to take the VM seriously, in spite of the fact he surely knew how important was Kircher's expertise to Baresch. He also apparently knew about Marci's friendship with both Baresch and Kircher.
Kircher might however changed his mind again, apparently asking one year after the second Baresch's letter since Marci himself wrote letter to Kircher (1640) in which he recommended Baresch as worthy of his trust. Whether it was the response to a query by Kircher we do not know, but it was possible, since Kircher at that time already received two letter from Baresch plus his samples.
So it is also possible that Kircher, in spite of negative report by Moretus, still seemed to be interested. However, there is no record about any response by him to Baresch. We must admit that all this is only our speculation but it would explain the unreasonable bias Kircher had against Baresch. Maybe our hypothesis would not do Moretus justice, but what about Kircher?
It is certain that Marci sent Kircher the VM after Baresch's death because he guessed (or read in one of the missing letters from Kircher to him) that Kircher was curious enough and really wanted to see the original. Baresch would of course, while he lived, never send the original to Kircher. Kircher then would not be able to solve the VM from few samples only (we cannot do it even now, from the almost complete original :-). If there are some hidden signs in the VM suggesting how to solve it, one would surely need the whole book to search for them and Kircher knew it. Baresch certainly wanted to get the hidden secrets in the VM only for himself. He planned to use - or misuse - Kircher for the cracking of the alphabet only, without revealing the content, the real secret. That was of course an impossible task indeed.
Interestingly enough, it may be that by sending the VM to Kircher, Marci actually did his dead friend Baresch disservice. Baresch was apparently offended by Kircher's silence, otherwise he would let Kircher have his book at least after his death. Marci, who was almost blind already, had no use of the book and sent it to Kircher as a great favor since we know he could have sold it for good money. On the other hand, he provided him with some facts and rumors as he heard from Mnishowsky but he was clearly reserving any judgement as far as their veracity.
In my article about Kircher ( Athanasius Kircher - The VM in Rome) I described his use of secret manuscript written in Arabic by rabbi Barachias, explaining the meaning of hieroglyphs. Due tot he fact he never shown it to anybody, he was richly quoting it in his books. Since Kircher's theory about hieroglyphs was utterly wrong, there is a suspicion that such manuscript never existed. If the VM would later proved to be a fraud, the public would surely suspect the other manuscript to be a fraud as well. Considering all that danger, we can see how easy could have been to convince Kircher that the VM is indeed a fraud.
We may have doubts if Marci's last letter found inside the VM is referring to VM. It could have be easy to plant the letter there since there is no detail mentioned in it that would fit the VM appearance or content. Besides, the letter was - as per Voynich - inserted in the manuscript but by he himself later separated it and we have no witness he was there first place. Even if laboratory test would prove it was there before, how we can be sure it was Marci who put it there? The letter of course seems authentic even if it was written most likely by Marci's scribe. It is mentioning the manuscript without name and "from Prague" only but fortunately, the description found in Baresch's letter has some details that fit the VM well, namely the "exotic flowers, which are not known in Germany, alchemistic recipes . . " and the like. Voynich apparently did not see that letter, otherwise he would use it conveniently as a part of the provenance, not waiting for the "miraculous" resurrection of Horczicky's "signature".
It is curious that Voynich never found the accompanying notes by Baresch - that were part of the package . Surprisingly, Voynich never mentioned them and we may either assume that they were not in Mondragone - or if there were, there were not offered for sale. Most likely, they were overlooked when the VM was transported from Rome. Or they may be at Villa Mondragone still :-)
Kircher certainly got the VM but for some reason never answered or thanked to Marci himself. For what reason? Is it possible that researchers who call Kircher "Marci's friend " were wrong after all? Perhaps he could not forgive Marci that he resisted Jesuit's overtaking his Carolinum and fought for its complete autonomy. As we saw above, Kircher was Jesuit first and he owed to Societas Jesu very much. While he collected Marci's letters and perhaps even acknowledged Marci's scientific achievements, he may never been in reality his true friend. How else can we explain that even during the last Marci's illness accompanied by blindness, he could not even write him how much he appreciated his valuable gift? It seems that Kircher and Moretus had something more in common than just their mathematics . . . (the end)
1) For personal and other data about Moretus I used those in the site http://www.math.muni.cz/math/biografie/theodorus_moretus.html and elsewhere from Net.
2) Propositiones mathematicae ex hydrostaticae the first suppositione Archimedis ... by Theodorus Moretus and Josephus Nicotius, the 1667
4) Tractatus physico-mathematicus de aestu maris, by Theodorus Moretus
5) Principatus incomparabilis primi filii hominis, Messiae, et primae parentis Matris Virginis by Theodorus Moretus
6) Propositiones mathematicas ex harmonica de soni magnitude, by Theodorus Moretus
7) Tractatus in octo libros physicorum. . , Theodore Moretus et Paulo Schabone, 1633
8) Mathematici Tractatus (Prague, 1641), T. Moretus Moretus
9) The luna pascali and solis motu (Wratislaviae, 1666), T. Moretus Moretus
10) Mechanics and mechanical philosophy in some Jesuit mathematics textbooks of the time during seventeenth century, issued by Springer Netherlands, 2007
11) Doc. RNDr. Ing. Ing. Ing. Karel Mack, CSc. Theodorus Moretus, provinciae nostrae Archimedes, Technical University of Liberec
16th August 2009