November 19, 2023

Athanasius Kircher, Dude of Wonders



Athanasius Kircher (2 May 1602 – 27 November 1680) was a German Jesuit scholar and polymath who published around 40 major works of comparative religion, geology, and medicine. Kircher has been compared to fellow Jesuit Roger Joseph Boscovich and to Leonardo da Vinci for his vast range of interests, and has been honoured with the title "Master of a Hundred Arts". He taught for more than 40 years at the Roman College, where he set up a wunderkammer. A resurgence of interest in Kircher has occurred within the scholarly community in recent decades.

Kircher published many substantial books on a wide variety of subjects such as Egyptology, geology, and music theory. His syncretic approach disregarded conventional boundaries between disciplines: his Magnes, for example, ostensibly discussed magnetism, but also explored other modes of attraction such as gravity and love. Perhaps Kircher's best-known work is Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1652–54), a vast study of Egyptology and comparative religion.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology:

It is difficult to accurately summarize the breadth of activities explored and mastered by the 17th century Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher. Inventor, composer, geographer, geologist, Egyptologist, historian, adventurer, philosopher, proprietor of one of the first public museums, physicist, mathematician, naturalist, astronomer, archaeologist, author of more than 40 published works: Kircher was one of the preeminent European intellectuals of the Seventeenth century. A contemporary of Newton, Boyle, Leibniz and Descartes, Kircher's rightful place in the history of science has been shrouded by his attempt to forge a unified world view out of traditional Biblical historicism and the emerging secular scientific theory of knowledge.

When, on Nov 27, 1680, Kircher died, he left behind numerous manuscripts, notebooks, and a voluminous backlog of correspondence, much of which was published piecemeal over the following decades. Over the years, Kircher's name was consigned to the ignominious status of a footnote in the history of science. As interest in the reconciliation of scientific and spiritual models of the universe has revived in recent years, however, Kircher's name has regained currency and his contributions have begun to be reassessed. Today it seems inevitable that Athanasius Kircher will in time be recognized as one of the greatest and most open-minded scientific imaginations of his own or any other age.

Video Title: Athanasius Kircher, Dude of Wonders. Source: Cosmic Polymath. Date Published: September 25, 2022.

Video Title: Real Mad Scientists: Athanasius Kircher. Source: Channel Legendarium. Date Published: October 23, 2021.

Video Title: Paula Findlen Athanasius Kircher's Marvelous Machines. Source: Bell Gallery. Date Published: June 11, 2020.