KIRCHER, Athanasius

KIRCHER, Athanasius. Geisa near Fulda 2.5.1602 — Rome 27.11.1680. S.J. German Polyhistor and Oriental Scholar, a Pioneer of Coptology, a Precursor of Egyptology, a Sinologist, etc. Son of Johann K., Doctor of Divinity and teacher of Benedictines. Novice of S.J. 1618 in Paderborn, took his first vows 1620. In 1622 fled war to Cologne, 1623 transferred to College of Heiligenstadt (taught there mathematics, Hebrew and Syriac), then in Aschaffenburg in court of the Elector-Archbishop of Mainz and at Mainz College. In 1628 ordained priest. Served in Speyer and Würzburg, in 1630 vainly applied for becoming missionary in China. In 1631 he fled from the Swedes to Mainz and soon to Avignon. From 1635 until his death living in Rome pursuing many kinds of studies and teaching mathematics and Oriental languages at Jesuit College. In addition to Hieroglyphic and Coptic studies, Chinese culture and Semitic epigraphy, he made a “reconstruction” of Noah’s Ark and of the Tower of Babel, studied on topography of Latium, musical theory, astronomy, magnetism, geology, physics and chemistry, etc. His Hieroglyphic interpretations were pure fantasy. Now he never left Italy. He collected antiquities for his own Museum Kircherianum.

In addition to Hieroglyphic and Coptic studies, Chinese culture and Semitic epigraphy, Kircher made a “reconstruction” of Noah’s Ark and of the Tower of Babel, studied on topography of Latium, musical theory, astronomy, magnetism, geology, medicine, physics and chemistry, etc. He was among early users of microscope. His Hieroglyphic interpretations were pure fantasy, but he was the first to propose the link between Old Egyptian and Coptic. In his book on China he published Grüber’s account of his Tibetan travels and H. Roth’s information on India (Devanāgarī script and the Avatāras of Viṣṇu).

Publications: Ars Magnesia. 63 p. Würzburg 1631; Primitiae gnomonicae catoptricae, hoc est horologiographucae nouae specularis. 14+228+12 p. Avignon 1635; Scrutinium pestis physico-medicum. 11+240 p. Graeci 1640; Magnes sive de Arte Magnetica. Rome 1641, 2nd ed. 26+797+39 p. 1643; Ars magna lucis et umbrae. 810 p. Rome 1646; Musurgia universalis. 1-2. Rome 1650; Itinerarium exstaticum s. opificium coeleste. 1–2. Rome 1656-57; Diatribe de prodigiosis Crucibus. Rome 1661; Polygraphia nova. Rome 1663; Arithmologia. Rome 1665; Historia Eustachio-Mariana. Rome 1665; Mundus subterraneus. 1-2. 366+507 p. Amsterdam 1665-78; Ars magna sciendi sive combinatoria. 482 p. Amsterdam 1669; Latium. Amst. 1671; Phonurgia nova. Kempten 1673; some minor works.

Prodromus Coptus sive Aegyptiacus. 338 p. Rome 1636; Lingua Aegyptiaca restituta. 1-3. Rome 1643-44.

Obeliscus Pamphilius. 560 p. Rome 1650; Oedipus Aegyptiacus. 1-3. Rome 1652-54; Obelisci Aegyptiaci nuper inter Isaei Romani rudere effossi interpretatio hieroglyphica. 146 p. Rome 1666; Sphinx mystagoga sive diatribe hieroglyphica. Amsterdam 1676.

– China monumentis, qua sacris qua profanis, nec non variis naturae & artis spectaculis, aliarumque rerum memorabilium argumentis illustrata. 5+71+237+8 p. 2 maps, 23 pl. 59 ill. Amsterdam 1667, German transl. 1668, French 1670.

Arca Noë. 12+240+14 p. Amsterdam 1673; Turris Babel sive archontologia. 357 p. Amsterdam 1679.

Sources: Dawson & Uphill, Who Was Who in Egyptology. Rev. 2nd ed. 1972; J. Godwin, Athanasius Kircher. A Renaissance Man and the Quest for Lost Knowledge. L. 1979 (with picture and bibliography of and on Kircher); *S. Kratzsch, “Die Darstellung der zehn Avatāras Viṣṇus in A.K.’s “China illustrata””, AOF 9, 1982, 133-144; Wikipedia with bibliography, further references and portrait (also a *separate article on the China illustrata).

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