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But perhaps the whole thing is just a hoax? Esoteric Antiquarianism 36 2. How to Get Ahead in the Republic of Letters 71 3. Oedipus in Rome 4. Ancient Theology and the Antiquarian 5. The Discovery of Oriental Antiquity 6. Erudition and Censorship 7. Symbolic Wisdom in an Age of Criticism 8. This opinion of mine now has the consent of all Europe, which approved it not so long ago, but attributed it to Newton, in his calculus.
But Kircher came before Newton; and lest someone thinks that I am daydreaming, I would have him read carefully and with an unprejudiced mind those things that Kircher wrote in the last chapter of Coptic Forerunner and Egyptian Oedipus. John of Jerusalem. Following high-level ne- 1. Supplementorum liber , It is irksome to examine and refute each thing that he imagines here, since I do not have time to consider difficult trifles and rightly consider it to be a foolish work of absurdities.
John and the lucrative office of coadjutor of the Grand Priory of Germany. It was a poor match. In place of books, schools, and the accumulated learning of millennia, Descartes substituted a method based on the principle of accepting nothing as true that could not be demonstrated by a sequence of clear and distinct ideas.
Beginning with only the indubi- table cogito ergo sum I am thinking, therefore I exist , he proved the reality of God, the human soul, and inert matter that could be studied through a mathematical science of nature. For the rest of the seventeenth century Cartesian philosophy was a lightning rod—scourge of traditionalists and rallying cry of moderni.
Descartes famously attributed his breakthrough to a period of forced isolation. Serving in the army of Prince Maurice of Nassau, he was detained one winter in Germany, where he found himself with abundant free time and few external distractions, such as books or conversation partners.
Descartes, Discourse on Method , 5. Supported by powerful patrons, he was at work on an ambitious research project whose goal was nothing less than to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphs. He had just published the first fruit of this research—a treatise on Coptic, which brought him a taste of literary fame—when Malta intervened. Feeling his talents waste away with the days, he sent letters to Rome, entreating his Jesuit superiors and influential protectors to release him from his exile.
Eventually, his pleas were heard: the general of the Society dispatched a substitute German priest-mathematician, and in Kircher returned to the Eternal City to resume his studies. But his idea of the scholarly enterprise was different. To a certain extent, he represented the bookish learning, rooted in ancient tradi- tion, which intellectual reformers like Descartes fought against in the name 4.
Descartes acknowledged the need for collaboration in building on the foundations ob- tainable by solitary ratiocination. See ibid. Kircher, Prodromus Coptus The instrument is described in Kircher, Specula Melitensis ; republished in Schott, Technica curiosa , — See also Holstenius to Barberini, Naples, 7 September , in ibid.
A quintessential polymath, of that soon-to-be-extinct academic species that eschewed specialization and as- pired to master the entire panorama of human knowledge, he was renowned for the vast range of his scholarly output.
Magnetism, music, optics, archeol- ogy, chemistry, geology, linguistics, cryptography, Lullism, and China were only some of the subjects to which he devoted substantial studies.
Like other Jesuits, Kircher sought an accommodation between tradition and innova- tion, striving to reconcile the Aristotelian philosophy officially espoused by the Society of Jesus with new intellectual trends. Mathematically identical to the Copernican model, it placed the sun and moon revolving around an immobile, central earth while the other planets orbited the sun.
But Kircher audaciously placed this geocentric planetary system within a quasi-infinite universe reminiscent of the views of Gior- dano Bruno, the Neapolitan heretic burned in Rome in After two decades of toil, Kircher brought this project to completion in his largest and most challenging work, Egyp- tian Oedipus, issued in four volumes in Rome in Like Oedipus answering the riddle of the Sphinx, Kircher believed he had solved the enigma of the hieroglyphs fig.
Together with its companion volume, 8. Kircher, Itinerarium exstaticum Kircher, Oedipus Aegyptiacus — The work was printed over several years. Kircher as the Egyptian Oedipus before the hieroglyphic sphinx. See chapter 4 for an explanation of the symbolism. Athanasius Kircher, Oedipus Aegyptiacus Rome, —54 , vol. Courtesy of Stanford University Libraries.
The resulting amalgam is, without doubt, impressive. But it can also bewilder. Once his proper measure is taken, he proves a useful figure for reassessing important aspects of seventeenth- century scholarship. By reading his hieroglyphic studies as a work of eru- dite historical research, instead of philosophy, I show that Kircher differed fundamentally from earlier writers in the so-called Hermetic tradition, whose work he has been seen as continuing, and that he shared more with his contemporaries than has usually been acknowledged.
Egyptian Oedipus was not quite so monstrous as Manuel imagined. As a case study of seventeenth- century scholarship, this book illuminates a complex moment when empiri- cism and esotericism coexisted, and shows how the discipline of Oriental studies was born from an early modern Mediterranean world in which texts, artifacts, and scholars circulated between Christian and Islamic civilizations. Kircher, Obeliscus Pamphilius Manuel, Eighteenth Century Confronts the Gods , — Such typography was expensive and technologically challenging in the seventeenth century.
Athanasius Kircher, Oedipus Aegyptiacus Rome: —54 , vol. Canopic jars from various collections. Fragments of hieroglyphic inscriptions and other Egyptian antiquities. A mummy and inscriptions documenting Egyptian funerary practices. After taking holy orders in , Kircher spent his tertianship the year after ordination designated for withdrawal and spiritual contemplation in Speyer, where he happened upon a book of engravings of Roman obelisks in the college library, which sparked his desire to decipher the hieroglyphs.
When Paderborn fell to Protestant forces in , Kircher narrowly escaped with his life. By he concluded that his prospects were brighter elsewhere. Bitterly commenting that Catholicism had enjoyed more success in India in seven Athanasii Kircheri , published posthumously by Hieronymus Langenmantel. Kircher was unsure of his birth year. He gave it as in Kircher, Magnes , after index, but as in his Vita.
Early archival records have e. The literature on the early modern Jesuits has grown vast. ARSI Rhen. The book was likely Herwart von Hohenburg, Thesaurus Hieroglyphicorum . Kircher arrived in Rome at a delicate moment. The Society of Jesus had been ambivalent about the Galileo affair. See below, n. Peiresc to Gassendi, 6 September , in Tamizey de Larroque, ed.
During his first years in Rome, under Barberini patronage, Kircher mostly put aside scientific pur- suits to study Oriental manuscripts and Egyptian antiquities. Kircher had an uncommon gift for ingratiating himself among the rich and powerful, a useful talent encouraged by the Society of Jesus.
Before completing his studies in Mainz, he had won the favor of the local arch- bishop, who took Kircher into his service after witnessing an impressive theatrical display that he designed. With only occasional teaching duties, and aided by a succession of younger Jesuit assistants, he could devote his ample energies to studying, experimenting, collecting, corresponding, and publish- ing, as well as strengthening his ties to the aristocratic world.
Only after he had achieved a certain stature and level of protection from outside the Society did Kircher broach controversial astronomical matters in Kircher, Itinerarium exstati- cum See references, n.
Vita, 32— Kircher greeting visitors in his famous museum at the Collegio Romano. The wood models of obelisks were recently rediscovered. Without pedestals, they measure about one meter tall. Major works like China Illustrated Amsterdam, and The Great Art of Knowing Amsterdam, were passed over in silence, and Under- ground World was mentioned only in passing to refer readers to its account Kircher, Mundus subterraneus Above all, he dwelt on his discovery and renovation of a ruined shrine in Mentorella, in the Roman countryside, where Saint Eu- stace had been converted by a vision of a cross between the horns of a stag.
Kircher saw his life as guided by special providence and believed that God had chosen him to achieve great things. In the scholarly realm, he discerned the divine plan most clearly in his hieroglyphic studies. The Yverdon Encyclopedia, published in Switzerland in the s, included an entry on Kircher, which repeated what were by then well-worn anecdotes: Everything that bore the mark of antiquity was divine in his eyes.
He also constructed mechanical devices of marvelous ingenuity, conducted scientific experiments, and seemed to know new and exciting information about virtually every subject under the sun, whose spots and firestorms he had observed with glee through his own telescope. Officially Father Kircher took up the chair in mathematics at the Jesuit Order's Roman College, the Collegio Romano, an imposing complex built over the ruins of the ancient Roman temple of Isis. It was a strikingly appropriate setting for the world's acknowledged master of hieroglyphics. Furthermore, an injunction from the powerful Cardinal Francesco Barberini, the intellectually inclined nephew of the reigning pope, Urban VIII, granted Kircher lighter teaching duties to give him more time to prepare his studies on ancient Egypt for publication. Kircher's first publication in Rome, The Coptic, or Egyptian, Forerunner Prodromus Coptus of , presented a brief introduction to Coptic, the liturgical language of Egyptian Christians, written in an alphabet adapted from Greek during the latter days of the Roman Empire. Although the Vatican Library had assembled a large collection of Coptic manuscripts over the centuries, almost no one in seventeenth-century Rome was able to read them; with the powerful Ottoman Empire in control of Cairo and most of the eastern Mediterranean, contact between Italy and Egypt had become precarious, dependent on crossing seas patrolled by the clashing forces of the Turkish navy and the Knights of Malta, and marauded by legions of pirates, both Christian and Muslim.
Oedipus Aegyptiacus is Athanasius Kircher 's supreme work of Egyptology. The three full folio tomes of ornate illustrations and diagrams were published in Rome over the period — Kircher cited as his sources Chaldean astrology , Hebrew kabbalah , Greek myth, Pythagorean mathematics , Arabian alchemy and Latin philology. The third volume of Oedipus Aegyptiacus deals exclusively with Kircher's attempts to translate Egyptian hieroglyphs.
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