Athanasius Kircher's Theatre of the World: The Life and Work of the Last Man to Search for Universal Knowledge

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9781594773297: Athanasius Kircher's Theatre of the World: The Life and Work of the Last Man to Search for Universal Knowledge

Book by Godwin Joscelyn

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HERMETIC STUDIES / ALCHEMY Linguist, archaeologist, and exceptional scholar, Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) was the last true Renaissance man. By profession a Jesuit priest, he made himself an authority on almost every subject under the sun. To Kircher the entire world was a glorious manifestation of God, and his exploration was both a scientific quest and a religious experience. His works on Egyptology (he is credited with being the first Egyptologist), music, optics, magnetism, geology, and comparative religion were the definitive tests of their time--and yet they represent only a part of his vast range of knowledge. A Christian Hermeticist in the mold of Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, his work also examined alchemy, the Kabbalah, and the Egyptian Mystery tradition exemplified by Hermes Trismegistus. Kircher was the first to map ocean currents; the first to offer a comprehensive theory of vulcanism; the first to compile an encyclopedia on China, a dictionary of Coptic, a book dedicated solely to acoustics; the first to construct a machine for coding messages and another for composing music. His museum in Rome was among the most famous "cabinets of curiosities," visited by everybody in the intellectual world. The Hermetic cast of Kircher's thought, which was foreign to the concerns of those propelling the Age of Reason, coupled with the breadth of his interests, caused many of his contributions to be widely overlooked--an oversight now masterfully rectified by Joscelyn Godwin. It has been said that Kircher could think only in images. While this is an exaggeration, 400 of the stunning engravings that are a distinguishing feature of his work are included here so we may fully appreciate, learn from, and see for ourselves the life work, philosophy, and achievements of "the last man who knew everything." JOSCELYN GODWIN, musicologist and translator, is a professor of music at Colgate University. He first explored the life and work of Athanasius Kircher in 1979 in his book A Renaissance Man and the Quest for Lost Knowledge. Godwin was educated at Cambridge and Cornell Universities and has authored and edited many books on Hermeticism and music, including Cosmic Music, The Golden Thread, The Harmony of the Spheres, and Arktos: The Polar Myth. He is also known for his translations of the works of such figures as Fabre d'Olivet and Julius Evola and the first complete English translation of Francesco Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. He lives in New York state.


" . . . a valuable addition to the history and philosophy of science shelves, offering valuable insight into the life of one of the world's last true polymaths."

" . . . the main thing to say about this book is that it is a stupendously good piece of design. Every illustration is reproduced in exactly the right place; the captions are superbly apt and very clearly signaled; the sidebars are tactfully positioned and filled with exactly the right amount of information. The paper is heavy and rich, and properly bound. The author and the publisher have taken real, prolonged, and exhaustive pains to make a beautiful book, and succeeded."

"Almost any modern work on archaeology, geology, science, medicine, or even Egyptian or Chinese history will present some intriguing fact . . . with a footnote referencing a work by Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680). The work of the polymath Jesuit richly rewards pursuit, and Joscelyn Godwin, a distinguished translator and professor of music at Colgate University, is the ideal guide. Not least of Godwin's services is placing Kircher in his intellecltual context. . . . What makes Kircher endlessly fascinating, as Godwin amply demonstrates, is the sheer breadth, depth, and expansiveness of his ever-curious mind. . . . Godwin and Inner Traditions deserve congratulations for a superb book, complete with bibliographies of Kircher's works and works about him."

"Despite the constraints of his religious order, Kircher and his publishers engaged engravers, printers, and patrons to finance and produce a series of learned volumes on his subjects. He was at the heart of a global system of knowledge transfer, and was usually first to hear of geographical or scientific discoveries, as missionaries sent reports to him from all over the world. . . . The illustrations remain breathtaking . . ."

"Godwin's magisterial tome explains Kircher's many achievements (among them a prototype of the magic lantern, the ancestor of the slide-projector), and contains many of his astonishing illustrations, accompanied with detailed captions. He has been well served by his publisher, which has presented exemplary texts with masses of Kircher's fabulous images as a beautiful, absorbing and utterly wonderful book."

"Here we have a virtual window into the mind of a 17th century genius. "Athanasius Kircher's Theatre of the World" fully and masterfully examines every area of Kircher's wide field of study and accomplishment. The large volume is magnificently illustrated with the stunning engravings from Kircher's work."

"Kircher obviously had his books of ideas copiously illustrated with expensive copper engravings . . . the engravings were largely ignored. But now they are shown to advantage in Joscelyn Godwin's new book, a wonderful theatrical feast of architecture, mythological figures, curiosities such as moon dials and sunflower clocks along with machines which embrace both the past and the future. This is not to mention images of fabulous cities and the deities which were believed to have inhabited them, plus a sensational engraving of the Tower of Babel."

"Kircher's lasting legacy has been his prodigious outpouring of scientific tomes, copiously--at times fantastically so--illustrated by a variety of highly skilled artists to help articulate his often startling and marvelous postulations. . . . a charming, hugely knowledgeable and delightfully droll guide to this fascinating seventeenth-century personage who embodied the intersection of science, art, and the imagination. In the end, it is his unrelenting spirit of inquiry that stands out as the thing that we, as present-day readers, can learn from. Making the most of his situation, station, and formidable intellect, Athanasius Kircher embarked on a life-long, all encompassing scientific enterprise on a scale that is nothing short of staggering."

"The great show in this beautifully produced book is the illustrations themselves, and the huge range of ideas they occupy. . . . Kircher might not have been hugely influential, might not have been the 'Renaissance Man' that, say, Leonardo was, but just looking at these pictures shows he ought to be more widely known. The beauty of many of the pictures is obvious, but with so many of them, covering such a broad array of inquiry, the effect of Godwin's book is to excite admiration for an extraordinary mind."

"The reproductions are good, and Godwin deserves considerable praise for his close observation and background research"

"There was a slightly surreal side to 17th century science, too . . . His [Athanasius's] mind resembled a chamber of curiosities: full of strange and astonishing objects."

." . . an encyclopedic feast of extraordinary images, all fascinating, and many exotic . . ."

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