The Characters

Kepler’s stated appreciation of Albrecht Durer’s engraving titled “Knight, Death and Devil” may be an acknowledgment of his own possession of the qualities that he perceives in that work, “stoic grandeur and fortitude,” but it is an incomplete guide to his overall personality. There is no denying the astronomer’s tenacity and his commitment to his vision of the heavens: His seven-year obsession with the mathematical implications of his revolutionary insights dramatically attest these qualities. In addition, on the private front, his moral courage in the face of repeated frustration and loss is affectingly affirmative. As Kepler makes clear, however, what is most impressive about its protagonist is the range of his personality. There seems to be no one Kepler, but rather a not particularly harmonious aggregation of traits which are at once allied and conflicting. Given this makeup, Kepler provides an interesting contrast with the other main characters in the novel.

What characterizes his wife Barbara, mentor Tycho Brahe, and employer the Emperor Rudolph is a certain narrowness. It is as though all these personages have found a structure in the known world within which to shelter their personalities. In Barbara’s case, which is at once the most vulgar, the least original, and the most difficult with which to deal, the structure is money. For Brahe, rather more heroically, the structure is the epic of mathematical calculations...

(The entire section is 465 words.)

Characters Discussed

Johannes Kepler

Johannes Kepler (yoh-HAHN-ehs KEHP-lur), a brilliant mathematician and astronomer whose discovery that planetary bodies move in elliptical rather than circular orbits, with the sun as the focus, revolutionized philosophy and science during the seventeenth century. He is a shrewd, suspicious, and sometimes sarcastic man, frequently impatient with stupidity, but he is consistently honest and deeply compassionate toward his family and the helpless. In spite of being a German Protestant persecuted by the Catholic majority, he maintains his faith in God by finding science, especially geometry, to be a mirror of the divine plan. He views human nature optimistically by opposing Aristotle’s tabula rasa (clean slate) model of human consciousness and proposes that all knowledge resides within the human mind and is evoked by objects in nature. He dies at the end of the novel, after many trials and setbacks, in a state of deep gratitude.

Barbara Muller Kepler

Barbara Muller Kepler, Kepler’s first wife, whom he meets when she is twenty-seven years old. Carping, resentful, plump, and not very bright, she bears him six children during the course of their conjugal life; four die. She had been married twice before and outlived both husbands. She persistently chides him for not cooperating with the political and ecclesiastical authorities and modifying his philosophical principles to secure more lucrative academic positions. She dies before him and leaves him nothing in her considerable will.

Regina Ehem

Regina Ehem, Kepler’s beloved stepdaughter. Of all the children, she seems to understand and love her stepfather more than...

(The entire section is 725 words.)