Duracotus studies with the students of the astronomer Tycho Brahe at the Uraniborg observatory on the island of Hven
After studying at Uraniborg for years, Duracotus returns to Iceland and his mother Fiolxhilde, who thought him dead
Fiolxhilde reveals the occult art of conversing & travelling with certain ‘wise spirits’ encountered in Iceland
from the Frederick III Ordway Collection, US Space & Rocket Center:
The first two notes prepared by Kepler for his Somnium, which was published posthumously in 1634. In the first note he referred to the name Duracrotus (the book’s hero) and to the fact that “The sound of this word came to me from a recollection of names of a similar sound in the history of Scotland, a land that looks out over the Icelandic Ocean.” In the sec¬ond note he begins by explaining that Iceland, Duracrotus’s home, “means ‘land of ice1 in our German language. I saw in this truly remote island a place where I might sleep and dream and thus imitate the philosophers in this kind of writing. . . .”
Duracrotus is usually given as Duracotus (with no second ‘r’) by most translators of Somnium to English.
The notes on this page by Kepler also notes the legend related by Plutarch (46 – 120 AD) in a discussion of the moon and other matters, that distant and mysterious Iceland was said to be a gateway to other worlds.
After a major erruption in 1107, the Helkla volcano in Iceland acquired a reputation throughout Europe as the “Gateway to Hell” and witches were said to gather there at Easter. Kepler explains in his footnotes that he chose Iceland as the setting for the early part of the Somnium because of an apparently ancient myth, recorded by Plutarch, that it was said to be the location of a gateway that allowed travel to other worlds. Fiolxhilde, the mother of Kepler’s hero Duracotus, is described gathering magical herbs on the slopes of the Hekla volcano, and reveals the secret of conversation with interplanetary daemons who can travel to the Moon.
In 1615, Johannes Kepler’s mother Katharina Kepler was arrested and accused of witchcraft, amid rumours that the descriptions in Somnium were a veiled account of the magical arts of Kepler’s mother:
Katherine Kepler was well known for her vile temper and generally cantankerous disposition, not to mention the fact that the aunt who had cared for her as a child was burned at the stake as a witch. The stage was set, charges were leveled, and in 1615 Katherine Kepler was arrested on suspicion of practicing witchcraft.
A long, tedious, and taxing legal battle resulted: only after five years, part of which his mother spent in prison, was the old woman released; but the damage had been done. Katherine Kepler died in April of 1622 from causes directly attributable to the rigors of her imprisonment; her son had been able to do little significant work while trying to obtain his mother’s release; and the publication of the Somnium, at least for the present, was out of the question.