KIRCHER, Athanasius

KIRCHER, Athanasius. Geisa near Fulda 2.5.1602 — Rome 27.11.1680. S.J. German Polyhistor and Orientalist, 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 to become missionary in China. In 1631 he fled from the Swedes to Mainz and soon to Avignon. From 1635 until his death lived in Rome pursuing many kinds of studies and teaching mathematicsand 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, he 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. Würzburg 1631; Primitiae gnomonicae catoptricae. Avignon 1635; Specula Melitensis encyclica. Naples 1638; Scrutinium pestis physico-medicum. Graeci 1640; Magnes sive de Arte Magnetica. Rome 1641; Ars magna lucis et umbrae. R. 1646; Musurgia universalis. 1-2. R. 1650; Itinerarium exstaticum. R. 1656; Diatribe de prodigiosis Crucibus. R. 1661; Polygraphia nova. R. 1663; Arithmologia. R. 1665; Historia Eustachio-Mariana. R. 1665; Mundus subterraneus. 1-2. Amsterdam 1665-78; Ars magna sciendi. Amst. 1669; Latium. Amst. 1671; Phonurgia nova. Kempten 1673; some minor works.

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

Obeliscus Pamphilius. Rome 1650; Oedipus Aegyptiacus. 1-3. Rome 1652-54; Obelisci Aegyptiaci nuper inter Isaei Romani rudere effossi interpretatio hieroglyphica. 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. Amsterdam 1667.

Arca Noë. Amsterdam 1673; Turris Babel. 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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