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The Great Comet of 1680

Scarce map showing passage of the Great Comet of 1680, which appeared in Merian's Theatri Europaei, Zwölffter Theil.

The map illustrates a comet seen by Sir Edmund Halley in 1680 and 1681, notably the year prior to his discovery of Halley's Comet.

The map is illustrated superimposed onto a model of the Celestial sky, showing the Equator, Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, astronomical symbols, etc.

The translation of the accompanying text in German from Merian reads as follows (excerpted from :

Dreadful comet shows up in Europe

Of all the marvelous signs visible in the Heavens and on Earth none of the least is the dreadful comet which showed himself Thursday December 16, 26 just after the fall of night. The star itself was not seen a lot, and considered as bright as the stars of the second of third brightness, but very fiery but also gloomy was its tail, that when the star stood just about on the horizon would stretch from South-West to North-East and would cover most part of the sky. The tail was bright and clear, but transparent, so that the fixed stars underneath it were clearly visible and recognisable. It rose, as stated, during nightfall and set about 10 or 12 during Night.

At that time the comet stood 46 Degrees from the bright star of Lyra (Vega), from the star of Cygnus (Deneb) 50 and from the neck of Pegasus the Horse (Markab) 75 Degrees. 3 Days passed in which nothing could be seen, but on January 1st it appeared 11 Degrees and 10 Minutes from the heart of Aquila (Altair), 39 degrees from Lyra (Vega), and also that far from the Neck of Pegasus the Horse (Markab), so that it had moved already 11 degrees, nevertheless its tail had lost a little of its length, because it stretched for about 67 degrees to the star Cassiopeia (Schedar). The next day it was seen again, but it had moved 5 degrees.

Obscured skies made it 3 days invisible: on January 7 it had moved again from its previous position and was between the Neck (Markab) and left foot (Scheat) of Pegasus, eight degrees from Delphinus, 50 degrees 40 Minutes from Lyra (Vega), 32.5 degrees from the tail of Cygnus (Deneb) and 27 degrees 15 Minutes from Andromeda's head (Alpheratz). The tail, although brighter, was 56 degrees, near the left foot of Andromeda (Alamak) and the middle star of Cassiopeia (gamma Cas) all the way to the head of Perseus (gamma Per).

After this it became fainter and fainter / and it became undistinguishable at the end of January, although it shined till the end of February on several places in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Poland and Moscow.

It is worth noticing that the comet was seen all over Europe, in Italy, Spain, Portugal, England, France, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Poland and Moscow, and even in Turkey. Men of learning, among them the Professor Juris Primarius of the principality of Hesse Johannes Tesmarus (1643-1693) in Marburg, shared their thoughts on this star with the world, and where similar heavenly signs are considered evil and pernicious by almost everyone, these men pointed out and showed from old and new writings that, to tell the truth, to their opinion, from future vision neither misfortune nor change of regime could be concluded. Yes, even that from it sometimes more good times as bad times will come; Thank God, this great comet appearance only led to many fruitful years, no less, and sweeping victories over the birth enemy of Christianity.

Matthaus Merian Biography

Mathaus Merian (1593-1650) was the father of engraver Matthäus the Younger, and of the painter, engraver, and naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian. He was born in Basel, Switzerland and trained in engraving in Zurich. After a time in Nancy, Paris and Strasbourg, he settled in Frankfurt. While there, he worked for Johann Theodor de Bry, the publisher and son of the travel writer. In 1617, he married Maria Magdalena de Bry, Johann Theodor’s daughter. In 1623, Merian took over the de Bry publishing house upon the death of his father-in-law. Merian’s best known works are detailed town views which, due to their accuracy and artistry, form a valuable record of European urban life in the first half of the sixteenth century