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Jon Jakobsen Venusinus (c. 1557-1608?) is a Danish poet, theologian, philosopher, physicist and historian.

His Look

A portrait of Venusinus, probably painted in the period 1600-1606, was offered to the University Library in 1585 by Peder Hansen Resen. It was destroyed by fire in 1728 and is only known through Resen's description: "Tabulæ et imagines, quas Petrus Resenius una cum sua bibliotheca Hauniensi consecravit Athenæo [...]. Imagines hominum ora eorum et faciem exprimentes" (No. 37 of 47). Venusinus's face may have been used as model for one of the elements painted on the left top of the portrait that Tycho had made in Germany in 1597. From his poem Ad Catharinam uxorem, we know that Venusinus was bald. His lack of hair is indirectly confirmed by his mentioning of Synesius's homage to baldness in the Copernican speech from 13.07.1602 (Hansen's book, p. 122).

His Family

His Life

According to his own statements, Jon Jakobsen was born on the small island Hven (today Ven) in the strait of Øresund between Zealand (Denmark) and Scania (today Sweden). In Denmark, he is better known under his pseudonym Venusinus. He claimed to be the son of Jakob Jonsen who might have been pastor on Hven in the 1550's. However, Jonsen is only recorded as pastor in Landskrona (Western Scania) from 1563 till 1600. Venusinus seems to have spent a part of his childhood in this coast town, but he is first recorded in 1577 as student in Rostock. He then called himself Coronensis in reference to Landskrona. He used this name until 1590.

Jakob Jonsen was married three times: with Gertrud Ibsdattter at least until 1568, with Margrethe until 1572, and with Inger Pedersdatter until 1585. Gertrud is supposed to me Venusinus's mother and she is not known to have had other children. Margrethe was accused of infidelity by Jonsen and she confessed sexual intercourse with her husband's superior, the bishop of Lund (Western Scania). Jonsen obtained the divorce, and Margrethe was probably burned. Jonsen soon remarried and he wrote a Latin epitaph when her third wife died from a plague in 1585. According to this poem, Inger gave him seven children.

During the trial against Margrethe, Venusinus did not live in Landskrona anymore. As a boy, he was sent to Zealand and spent six years at the royal boarding-school founded by Frederick II in 1568 for Denmark's future elite at the castle of Frederiksborg in Hillerød (Northern Zealand). After these studies, Venusinus probably spent some time at the University of Copenhagen. He may have attended the astronomical lectures that Tycho gave there in 1574.

Between 1577 and 1584, Venusinus studied abroad. Until 1579, he stayed in Rostock and one of his professors was David Chytræus. This German historian recommended his Danish student to Frederick II and the king granted Venusinus 100 thalers a year. Immediately, the Dane undertook a long journey through Europe. He was in Bratislava in December 1579 and the following year he obtained the magister degree in Wittenberg. At this protestant university, he met the young aristocrat Sivert Grubbe. In his diary, this Dane describes Venusinus as one of the most learned of all students in Wittenberg at that time. The two fellow-students stayed friends during their entire lifetime. After short studies in Wittenberg, Venusinus went to Austria, Italy and arrived at Basel in 1581. In this town, he met the Swiss botanist Gaspard Bauhin and probably also his own fellow-citizen Anders Krag. Venusinus may have spent the following three years in France together with this Danish student and later physicist. After his return to Denmark, Venusinus knew enough French to name a poem Vive le Roi. It is now lost. According to two testomonies, it was written in Danish, but if it was composed in French, Venusinus must have learned this language in France.

In 1584, Venusinus was appointed as pastor in the parishes of Herfølge and Sædder (Southern Zealand) and as dean of the corresponding district of Bjæverskov. He seems to have owed this vocation to Sivert Grubbe's father, the chancellor Ejler Grubbe who was the steward of Tryggevælde, a manor in Southern Zealand. Short after his return to Denmark, Venusinus attended the homage to the seven-year-old crown prince Christian in Ringsted (Southern Zealand). Ejler Gruppe died in 1585 and his successor as steward and chancellor was Arild Huitfeldt. Venusinus kept a close relationship with this aristocrat throughout his life. They exchanged books and manuscripts and were both interested in history. Between 1595 and 1603, Huitfeldt published the first history of Denmark written in Danish.

In 1587, Venusinus obtained a promotion and left the province. He became pastor at The Church of the Holy Spirit (Helligåndskirken) in Copenhagen and he kept this vicarage for thirteen years. Venusinus was an opponent to traditional exorcism at the christening of small children and after Frederick II's death in 1588 he once omitted this medieval ritual during a ceremony. The regency council immediately suspended him, but he was allowed to resume his job after swearing fidelity to orthodox liturgy.

Between 1590 and 1596, Venusinus met Tycho several times and he wrote at least five poems to the astronomer: an elegy about Tycho's marriage with Urania, a comparison of the astronomer with Atlas and Hercules, two anagrams on Tycho's name, and a panegyric to the liberator Hercules. On Hven, Tycho published the elegy and the poem about Atlas and Hercules. The astronomer was so flattered with these panegyrics that he took inspiration from Venusinus's compliments. In two of his own poems, Tycho compared himself selfishly to Hercules.

During the conflict between the king and the astronomer (1596-1597), we do not know much about Venusinus's position. In 1595, he tried to publish a Latin treaty about religion, philosophy and philology, but it was censured and it seems to be lost now. His first important publication was a translation of Thomas a Kempis's religious book De imitatio Christi. It came out in 1599 in Copenhagen with the title Om Christi Effterfølgelse. Venusinus dedicated his translation to his aristocratic friend and former fellow-student Sivert Grubbe.

As scientist, Venusinus was a "quite free-thinking scholar" (liberior academicus), as a contemporaneous writer called him. Venusinus was a skeptical man, once a keen friend of Tycho, and very occupied with scientific observations in all directions. In the linguistic and philosophic domains, Venusinus seems to have supported the French humanist Peter Ramus who alleged: "All the things that Aristotle has said are inconsistent". The Frenchman tried to reform the local orthography, and so died his Scandinavian admirer in Denmark. In 1594, Venusinus published a poem with a new letter (å) borrowed from the Swedish arch-enemy in substitution of the traditional Danish spelling (aa). This revolutionary proposal was vainly renewed in 1743 and once again supported by a Danish grammarian in the 1820's. Only in 1948, Venusinus's letter was finally accepted by his fellow-citizens. After five years of German occupation, the Danes had at last reconciled with their Scandinavian neighbors.

After the censorship of 1595, the pastor of The Church of the Holy Spirit wrote a letter to an Icelandic friend and he signed it with the new pseudonym "Venusinus". It referred to the island Tycho had given an international celebrity and which the pastor claimed to be his birth-place. Through his new pseudonym, Venusinus became homonym with the Roman poet Horace from Venusia (Southern Italy). During his time as pastor, Venusinus devoted himself more and more to poetry. His verses were mainly written in Latin, but some were also composed in his native language.

Although Venusinus did not entertain smooth relations with the learned men at the University, they finally had to admit him in their close circle. After Christian IV's coronation, the pastor of The Church of the Holy Spirit succeeded in gaining the young king's and the chancellor Christian Friis's favor, and in 1600, the academic scholars were forced to appoint Venusinus as professor of physics at the University "on royal recommendation". He was even granted a new apartment in the so-called study-house (Studiegården). In this building adjacent to the University, the students exercised themselves in Latin disputations and they were offered a free meal twice a week. If they got too noisy, they were locked up in a special room which was used as prison by the University. Venusinus was often disturbed by the noise, but he could eventually retire in a botanic garden planted next to his apartment. Botany was one of Venusinus's secondary occupations. At his arrival at the University, the rector claimed the new apartment for himself, but his protests were ignored.

In his new function as professor, Venusinus gave lectures on Platon and defended this Greek against the prevailing Aristotelian philosophy. The new professor of physics was the first person at the University of Copenhagen and even in whole Scandinavia to assert the Copernican system. A revolutionary lecture on heliocentrism and the saying "God is a geometrician" was given on the 13th of July 1602, only seven months after Tycho's sudden death in Prague. The deceased astronomer had been the last important scientist to assert the immobility of Earth in the center of Universe. In Copenhagen, Venusinus also gave lectures on magnetism. He may have presented this force as an invisible energy able to keep the moving Earth in a stable orbit around the Sun.

After the historian Niels Krag's death in 1602, Venusinus was appointed as royal historiographer and granted a lucrative deanery in Ribe (Southern Jutland). It had also been owned by his predecessors in the position as royal historiographer. However, Venusinus did not move to Ribe, but stayed at the University where he exchanged his chair of physics with that of rhetoric or eloquence.

At the same time, Venusinus gave lectures on ancient Danish history and he roughly attacked the legendary part of Saxo's Gesta Danorum from the early 13th century. This nationalist work about the Danish kings had been printed in Paris in 1514 and it contained a long relation about Amlethus. Gesta Danorum begins about 30 generations before Christ with the coronation of the first legendary Danish king Dan. He established the monarchy and gave his name to his subjects and his land. In his lectures, Venusinus was eager to construct another past. He thus related the Danish name to the Danube and other similar words recorded in ancient literature long before Saxo.

As royal historiographer, Venusinus was supposed to continue Saxo's Gesta Danorum until the present time. Instead of doing his official duty, he wrote a new version of Umbra Saxonis ("Saxo's Shadow"), the only Danish book relating legendary events in Denmark before the establishment of monarchy. This text was written by the Scanian pastor Niels Pedersen in 1579 and it described how Noah's descendants left Asia and immigrated through Europe into Jutland some 200 years after the Deluge. Thus, the colonization of Denmark took place more than thousand years before Dan's coronation. In these Golden Ages, Denmark was called Cimbria and it was a Republic governed by wise judges. Venusinus was too skeptical to believe in the legend but he was a Republican dreaming of a radical political change.

Between 1602 and 1606, he published several theses. In the two most important theses from 1604 and 1605, he dealt with history and literature. He was the first Danish writer to publish theoretical works on these subjects. His Theses de fabula is a poetical handbook inspired by Horace's Ars poetica. In his theses on literature, Venusinus recommended Aesop's fables and criticized Homer and Saxo for their lack of honesty.

When Christian IV went to England in Summer 1606 to visit his brother-in-law James I, he was accompanied by Venusinus as his personal orator and court poet. At that occasion, the professor of eloquence wrote a panegyric and gave it to the English king. As a reward, James I was willing to accept the Danish poet in the English aristocracy. Venusinus may have declined the royal offer by giving this answer: "I am a liegeman to the Dane" (Hamlet I,1).

During his absence from Copenhagen, Venusinus's envious enemies plotted against him. After his return to Copenhagen, he lost a theoretical dispute about exorcism. He was probably accused of defending the Devil. Anyway, after the publication part one of a thesis on eloquence, Venusinus was removed from Copenhagen. In 1607, he was given the abbey of Sorø (Southern Zealand) and he was officially appointed as the new headmaster of the royal academy which had been established in the abbey for the sons of wealthy noble families. Nothing is unknown about Venusinus after his departure from Copenhagen in May 1607. According to two independent testimonies, he died in Sorø on the 29th or 30th of January 1608. Part two of his thesis about eloquence was never published and probably never written.

All Danish scholars stress Venusinus's charismatic personality, but they ignore the largest part of his poetical work. In his home-country, Venusinus is still widely unknown and he is mostly described as a theologian or a historian. His academic theses have hardly been studied for the last 400 years and only a couple of his short poems have been edited yet. Until 2009, his Latin main-work Urania Titani (1601) was ascribed to Tycho, because the poem was found among the astronomer's papers in Prague. Although Danish scholarship hitherto did not recognize that these 600 verses were in fact written by Venusinus in Copenhagen and sent to Bohemia, Urania Titani was unanimously considered to be the apex of Latin poetry in Denmark. Venusinus's Danish masterpiece is a prose text currently called The Chronicle of Hven (1603). It is a fairy-tale, the only one written in Denmark before Hans Christian Andersen's lifetime. Venusinus's anonymous story was discovered in the early 19th century, but it was soon dismissed as non-sense by the leading Danish scholars. They thought the fairytale to be a meaningless deformation of the old German legend about the Rhine Gold. In The Chronicle of Hven, the legendary treasure is surprisingly located on Venusinus's own island Hven. No contemporaneous Danish scholar has ever mentioned this sophisticated fairytale with a single word. Abroad, Venusinus is best known under disguise as the Shakespearian character Horatio. Somehow, the Danish poet managed to give his English colleague crucial information for Hamlet.

Little is known about Venusinus's private life. In 1585, he married Agathe Sascerides, the daughter of a Copenhagen professor of theology. After her death in 1589, he seems to have spent a couple of years as bachelor. For some time, he lodged his old friend Sivert Grubbe in his vicarage. At some unknown date before December 1594, Venusinus married again. His second wife Catharina Dankertsdatter had been a widow since 1587 and she had a son Dankert Lejel from her first marriage with a canon in Roskilde. Venusinus never got any children himself, but he adopted his stepson and took care of him as a father.

Venusinus was brought up as Jakob Jonsen's son, but this pastor may not have been his biological father. Venusinus spent a large part of his childhood at Frederiksborg in Frederick II's presence and the king may have been his real father. The arrival of the young boy from Landskrona at the royal boarding-school is surprising, and the yearly scholarship of 100 thalers granted by Frederick II in 1579 is even more intriguing. Moreover, Venusinus's first pseudonym Coronensis referred to a crown which is not necessarily the last syllable in Landskrona. One of the most amazing coincidences is the fact that Venusinus's departure from Denmark fell in with the official crown prince Christian's birth in Spring 1577. After seven years abroad, Venusinus came back just for the homage to the crown prince who was officially elected king of Denmark in July 1584. Finally, Venusinus's appointment as pastor in Herfølge and his quick move to the capital confirm the exceptional favor he enjoyed during Frederick II's lifetime.

The Ring Fable

The Ring Fable was recorded and perhaps invented by Peder Hansen Resen in the 1660's. This Danish scholar found inspiration in the German Historia von Doktor Johann Fausten from 1587 and in the Icelandic Edda which he was the first to publish in 1666. About 1230, the Icelandic aristocrat Snorri Sturluson had invented the legend about the cursed ring that became world-famous thanks to Richard Wagner and Tolkien.

"Majores de eodem Venusino narrant in juventute comparasse sibi annulum, cui familiaris, ut appellant, rectius malignus inerat spiritus, cujus quidem suggestionibus et monitionibus magnam sibi solertiæ et eruditionis acquisiverat, famam, eo adjuvantem, ut et Havniæ fieret professor, et Soræ oeconomus. Sed eventu alio quam optaverat: quippe præter votum nactus sibi cacodæmonem in annulo adeo assiduum socium, ut familiaritate ejus solvi neutiquam posset. Abjectus enim in pyras, in latrinas immo in profundum quoque maris redibat, ut miser digito sentiret impressum, cum nihil minus exspectaret. Quorum omnium ultimus finis erat, ut in puteo Sorensi Venusinus reperiretur tandem suffocatus, sive per generis humani hostem, sive per suam ipsius desperationem."

Old people tell about Venusinus that in his youth he bought a ring which enclosed a servile spirit, as they say, but this spirit was rather evil. Thanks to the spirit's suggestions and warnings, Venusinus acquired great fame and he got reputed for his experience and erudition. The fame helped him become professor in Copenhagen and head-master in Sorø. But things did not turn out, as he had wished. Against his will, he had made the bad demon in the ring to so assiduous a companion that he could not get rid of him by any means. When this miserable man threw the ring into the fire, into the latrines and even onto the bottom of the ocean, he always felt the ring again on his finger when he expected it least. After all these events, Venusinus was finally found suffocated in a well in Sorø. This was either due to the enemy of mankind or to his own desperation.

This biography is mainly based on Holger Frederik Rørdam's biography from 1904.

© 2010, Vinilandicus

© Vinilandicus 2010

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