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A Brief Chronology of the Life of Maria Cunitz

1604? - Maria CUNITZ [Cunitia; Kunicia; Cunitiae] - The birth date (indeed year) of Maria Cunitz is at present uncertain; it is certain she was born before 1610. She was the eldest daughter of Maria Schultz and Dr Henrich Cunitz, a learned physician of Schweidnitz, and apparently from a well-to-do family

Early Education - Denied any form of university education, Cunitz received instruction from her father during these years. By one tradition she mastered seven languages (Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, Polish, Italian, French) and was widely known for her skills in painting, music, and poetry, not to mention the "masculine" pursuits of mathematics, medicine, and history. Private correspondence further shows her continued interest in horoscopes and genealogy.

1627 - 14 December, Maria Cunitz and her husband observe the planet Venus; see UP, 86. Further observations of the planet Jupiter were made in April; see UP, 90.

1630 - Maria Cunitz marries Dr Elias von Löwen (Elie de Loewen; Lewen; Leonibus; d. 1661), a physician at Pitschen in the Duchy of Brieg in Silesia.

1650 - Cunitz publishes her Urania propitia, sive Tabulae Astronomicae mirè faciles, vim hypothesium physicarum à Kepplero proditarum complexæ; facìllimo calculandi compendio, sine ullâ Logaithmorum mentione, phænomenis satisfacientes... Oels, Johann Seyffert (for the author), 1650.

Cunitz offers a Dedication to Emperor Ferdinand III (1608-1657) and contains an important preface by her husband which disclaims his authorship, clearly attributing it to Cunitz. Following an introduction in Latin and German (or high Dutch) Urania proptia provides an astronomical ephemeris based on Kepler's Rudolphine Tables. Cunitz was unhappy with the so-called Danish Tables of Longomontanus, they were in error, and although the Rudolphine Tables of Kepler were more accurate, they were very difficult to calculate and apply as they employed logarithm. Cunitz, like most contemporaries, severely criticized the Tables of Lansberg.

In January 1650 Cunitz and her husband begin an exchange of letters with Johannes Hevelius, the noted Danzig astronomer, which continued for several years. Through the efforts and contacts of Hevelius, Cunitz begins communications with Ismaël Boulliau, the noted French astronomer, as well as with Pierre Desnoyers, Secretary of the Queen of Poland, and others, among them Johann Albrecht Portner (Ratisbon).

Discussing the merits of astrology, Boulliau told Cunitz he had given up his longstanding belief in astrology, inherited from his father, claiming boldly that he showed astrology 'his middle finger' because he no longer believed in fate. Boulliau acknowledged the handy character of the Tables of Cunitz, and their ease of calculation, but claimed his Philolaic Table (Paris 1645) were more accurate for most of the planets.

1656 - On the evening of 25 May, at 10pm, a fire brokeout that destroyed not only a major part of her city but her home, library, and all of their equipment. Most significantly, at least for historical purposes, the fire also destroyed all of her letters, letters both to and from the major scholars and astronomers of Europe. Further, over 200 of her astronomical observations were lost.

1661 - The husband of Cunitz dies, Dr Elias von Löwen, a physician from Pitschen (Duchy of Brieg) in Silesia.

1664 - Maria Cunitz dies at Pitschen, 22/24 August 1664.

1756c - A-G Pingré (1711-1796) - claims that the Tables of Cunitz represent 'd'un usage plus facile que toutes celles qui avoiten paru jusqu'alors, mais qui malheureusement ne se sont point accordées avec le ciel.' Annales célestes, Edited by G. Bigourdan (Paris 1901).

1821 - In his translation of the Commentaire de Théon Alexandrie, Abbé Halma sketches the life of Maria Cunitz and calls her the 'Second Hypatia'.

1851 - In his classic study of the history of astronomy, J-B Delambre calls Cunitz the Pallas silésienne, stating that no woman since Hypatia had been so generously acclaimed; later, Delambre, true to form, raised a number of objections to her work, claiming, in good positivist fashion, that she offered nothing to the history of astronomy but to 'disfigure the Tables of Kepler in order to make them more commodious'. But this claim is both historically jejune and technically silly. Today we can forgive Delambre for the same reason he condemns other earlier astronomers -- historically, Delambre was blinded by positivist hindsight and blinkered by historical ignorance.

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