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. BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Athanasius Kircher

Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) was a Jesuit Scholar and professor of Mathematics at the Roman College in Italy. He was one of the central figures of Baroque scientific culture, and probably the greatest expert on ancient and universal languages, archaeology, astronomy, magnetism, and Chinese and Egyptian culture in Europe at that time. However, because of his stature among European intellectuals, he also became the target of a number of hoaxes.

At one point, a rival named Andreas Muller concocted an unintelligible manuscript and sent it to Kircher with a note explaining that it had come from Egypt. He asked Kircher for a translation, and Kircher, reportedly, produced one at once.

At another time, some practical jokers sent a piece of silk paper to Kircher, similar to the kind known to be used in China. The paper was covered with strange characters. They asked Kircher to translate it, and Kircher duly set to work. After spending a few days attempting to interpret the inscription, he happened to see the characters reflected in a mirror, whereupon he saw that they were simply Roman characters printed in reverse. They formed this message written in Latin: ""Noli vana sectari et tempus perdere nugis nihil proficientibus," or, "Do not seek vain things, or waste time on unprofitable trifles."

Finally, a new building was being constructed in Rome. Some youths buried some stones on the construction site. On these stones they had carved various voluptuous figures and mysterious symbols. The stones were discovered when the foundation of the building was being dug, and they were widely admired as ancient relics. Kircher was asked to interpret them, and after admiring them he proceeded to give an elaborate interpretation of the circles, crosses, figures, and other meaningless signs with which they were inscribed.

This final prank served as the basis for a later hoax directed against a different scholar, Dr. Johann Beringer, in 1725.


    * Mencken, Johann Burkhard. The Charlatanry of the Learned. (De charlataneria eruditorum, 1715). Translated from the German by Francis E. Litz, with notes and an introduction by H. L. Mencken. "First edition." New York, London, A.A. Knopf, 1937.


. Author:  KIRCHER, Athanasius

Title: Physiologia Kircheriana experimentalis

Publication: Amsterdam Ex Officinâ Janssonio-Waesbergiana 1680

Reference No:   MU-RBL00011

Book Description

A Compendium of Kircherís Most Famous Observations and Experiments KIRCHER, Athanasius.
Physiologia Kircheriana experimentalis, qua summa argumentorum multitudine & varietate naturalium
rerum scientia per experimenta physica, mathematica, medica, chymica, musica, magnetica,
mechanica comprobatur atque stablilitur. Quam ex vastis operibus Adm. Revdi. P. Athanasii
Kircheri extraxit, & in hunc ordinem per classes redegit Romæ, Anno M. DC. LXXV. Joannes
Stephanus Kestlerus Alsata, authoris discipulus, & in re litterariâ assecla, & coadjutor.
Amsterdam: Ex Officinâ Janssonio-Waesbergiana, 1680. First edition. Large folio (14 3/8 x 9 3/16
inches; 365 x 233 mm.). [8], 248, [8, index] pp. Text in double columns. Added engraved
allegorical title (included in pagination), ten engravings and numerous woodcut diagrams and
illustrations in the text, decorative woodcut tail-pieces and initials. Contemporary vellum over
boards. Spine lettered in manuscript. Some slight discoloration to vellum. Engraved title cut and
mounted. Occasional light foxing, browning, or staining, faint marginal dampstaining to the first
fifty pages. Early ink signature of F.W. Ritter below engraved title. Overall, an excellent copy.
ďThis work, edited by one of Kircherís pupils, Johann Stephan Kestler, is a codification of
Kircherís observations and experiments across the entire spectrum of his researches in physics.
Naturally there are large sections on light and shadow, magnetism, acoustics, and music; but
there are also experiments and observations in hydrolics, alchemy, and a myriad of other topics.
This compendium was perhaps a response to entreaties from Kircherís fellow scientists, who
appreciated his keen observations and experiments but did not care to wade through some 40
volumes to glean them. The book is an example of shat Kircherís writings could have been like at
the hands of a good editor. Kircher died the year this book was published, and it is uncertain to
what extent he was involved in its publication. The Physiologia is not only a measure of
Kircherís scientific curiosity and the vast range of his scientific researches, but also a
barometer of his age, a catalogue of the scientific concerns of his timeĒ (Merrill). Brunet III,
col. 669. Caillet 5796. Garrison and Morton 580 (ďincludes the first recorded experiment in
hypnotism in animalsĒ). Graesse IV, p. 22. Merrill 25. HBS 48253.


. Author:  KIRCHER, Athanisius.

Title: d'Onder-aardse weereld in haar Goddelijk maaksel en wonderbare uitwerkselen aller dingen;
vervat in II deelen. Waar van dit eerste handeld van het wiskundig werkstuk des aardkloots in 't
heel-al. De konstige samenstel en schikking der bergen; de krachtige beweging der zeen en
rivieren; den oorsprong der onderaardse vuuren, winden en fonteinen; beneffens der selve woedend
vermogen in de tempeesten en aardbevingen; de vremde werkingen der wateren, baden en meiren; als
mede hoe en op wat wyse de souten, de metallen, de swavels en andere vruchten binnen d'ingewanden
der aarde, als door een konstigen werkmeester natuurlijk werden voortgebracht. Het tweede deel;
daar in de wonderbare kracht der werksame natuur in de voortbrenging der menigerlei schepselen,
en der selver gedurige op en ondergang, in V. boeken naauwkeurig beschreven wordt. Handelende van
de seldsaame aart der velerlei steenen, dieren, menschen en duivelen; de kracht en werking der
wateren en fonteinen; de groejing der mijnstoffen en metallen; de waare en valsche goudsoekerye;
de kracht der zaden en zadelijkheid; 't voorkomen der ondieren, planten en gewassen; de
nuttigheid der distilleerkunde en veel vermogende stofscheidinge, glasblasen en allerhande konst
en handgrepen die tot vermaak an algemeene dienst der menschen door arbeidsame geesten omtrent
alle geseide dingen konnen in 't werk gestelt worden. Uit het Latijn vertaalt.

Publication: Amsterdam, Heirs of Joannes Janssonius van Waasberge, 1682.

Reference No:   MU-RBL00031

Book Description

(20), 425, (11); (8), 415, (13) pp. Folio. 2 parts in 1 vol. Contemporary calf over wooden
boards, spine ribbed and richly gilt with red title-label, red mottled gilt edges, little leather
grips at outer margins for the easy finding of the various books and with 2 nicely ciselled brass
clasps. Fine copy in a firm contemporary binding.

With richly engraved allegorical frontispiece including various instruments of drawing, surveying
and measuring, large allegorical engraving on the first title including all kinds of subterranean
natural phenomena and creatures, large armorial engraving to the dedication, several tables in
text, over 200 woodcuts in text of geometrical and perspectival, geological and geographical
figures and illustrations in text, including full-page woodcut plates of distilling apparatus and
of man as microcosmos set within macrocosmos, 74 engraved maps and illustrations in text, several
full-page, and 13 full-page or folding engraved maps and plates, including maps of the moon, sun,
the subterranean waters, views of the volcanos Vesuvius and Etna, and view of the machinery in a
saltmine-shaft, signed by Bonzon. De Backer-Sommervogel IV, 1061-2; Honeyman Coll. 1823 (Latin
ed.); Poggendorff I, 1258-9; Caillet 5783 (idem); Ferguson I, p. 467: "opponent of alchemy and
wrote against it" in: Mundus Subterraneus; Sabin 37967; DSB 7, pp. 374-8; cf. Kemp, The Science
of Art, p. 280-1, et passim. First Dutch edition of one of the major scholarly works by the
famous German Jesuit, Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680). Born in Mainz, Kircher was educated in
humanities, natural science, and the various disciplines of 17th century mathematics. He also
studied hieroglyphics and observed the sunspots with a telescope of his own invention before he
was appointed professor in philosophy and mathematics, as well as Hebrew and Eastern languages at
the University of Würzburg in 1628. Here he also experimented with medicine and chemistry and he
published his first major work Ars Magnesia in 1631, in which he invented a method for measuring
magnetic power by means of a balance. But because of the 30-Year's War Kircher fled with his best
pupil Caspar Scott to France were he was appointed professor at Avignon. Here he met Hevelius and
Gassendi and corresponded with Schreiner. In 1633 he is appointed by Ferdinand II as professor in
mathematics at Vienna, but after some shipwrecks he arrived by chance in Rome and finds that he
was called there by Pope Urban VII. In Rome Kircher first worked independently and in 1638 he is
appointed professor of mathematics at the College, where he lectured for eight years. On the
whole Kircher devoted himself to independent studies in Rome for some 46 years until his death.
Rome was then the centre of a worldwide network of Jesuit missionaries and others who reported on
their journeys. Kircher's studies covered practically all fields in both humanities and sciences.
He wanted to comprehend as well as to disseminate all knowledge that was at his disposal. Kircher
published some 44 books and left over 2,000 letters and manuscripts, now in the Vatican Library.
Kircher published some richly illustrated compendia in various fields which became very popular,
such as an encyclopedical work on music Musurgia Universalis, published at Rome in 1650, and an
encyclopedic work on optics Ars Magna lucis et umbrae, published at Rome in 1646, etc. He also
invented an instrument, the "pantometrum", capable of measuring practically anything, which he
used for solving geometrical problems of measurement or perspective. Kircher's scientific
instruments also served for the experiments and explorations described in the present work. First
published in Latin as Mundus Subterranea at Amsterdam in 1665, the work is a real encyclopedia
containing all mathematical and physical science, including cosmography, chemistry, optics, etc.,
known at the time. It was partly based on Kircher's own experience of an earthquake in Calabria
and visits to the volcanos of Italy and Sicily, and it became Kircher's most popular book, often
translated as well. But the work also contained the most phantastic speculations about things not
yet explained by science, like the idea of an ever burning lamp under the ground, fed by the oil
springs Kircher discovered, or his believe in spontaneous creation or magical animals, like
dragons. But even his strange phantasies and amusing experiments, fed by an incredibly rich
imagination, greatly stimulated modern science. Kircher was active in so many fields, which now
are divided in as many independent sciences, that all he wrote about or experimented with is not
yet put to the test. Kircher was also the first to start the so-called Cabinets, which became
very popular in the 18th century. His Cabinet of Natural History and his Cabinet of Scientific
Instruments are for the greater part still preserved in the Vatican. The present work is
furthermore very richly and interestingly illustrated with both woodcut and engraved maps, views,
plates and illustrations of everything imaginable under the surface of the earth, including a
perfectly explained and illustrated mathematical description of the universe.

. Author:  KIRCHER,J.S

Title: Physiologia Kircheriana Experimentalis

Publication: 1680

Reference No:   MU-RBL00010

Book Description

(#90039) KIRCHER, Athanasis. Physiologia Kircheriana Experimentalis.Allegorical engraved title-
page, 3 ff., 248, [8] pp., numerous woodcut and copperplate engravings in the text. Folio, 365 x
233 mm, bound in contemporary (German?) ivory vellum (final endleaf watermarked Armoire: Cornes
de cerf), edges sprinkled blue. Amsterdam: Jan Waesberg, 1680. First Edition, an attractive copy
of this codification of Kircher's observations and experiments in physics, with large sections on
light and shadow, magnetism, acoustics, music, hydrolics, alchemy, and many other topics. The
volume was edited by one of Kircher's pupils, Johann Stephan Kestler, "perhaps in response to
entreaties from Kircher's fellow scientists, who appreciated his keen observations and
experiments but did not care to wade through some 40 volumes to glean them. The book is an
example of what Kircher's writings could have been like at the hands of good editor. Kircher died
in the year this book was published, and it is uncertain to what extent he was involved in its
publication. The Physiologia is not only a measure of Kircher's scientific curiousity and the
vast range of his scientific researches, but also a barometer of his age, a catalogue of the
scientific concerns of his time" (Merrill). This volume includes the first recorded experiment in
hypnotism in animals (Garrison/Morton). Title-page with three repairs (deleting old ownership
stamps?) affecting three letters and part of the imprint date; overall an outstanding copy in
bright, fresh condition. This copy collates as per the Brigham Young copy (Merrill's pagination
therefore includes frontispiece). Merrill 29. Brunet III, 669. Caillet no. 5796. Garrison/Morton
no. 580. National Library of Medicine (17th-Century) 6404.

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