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Athanasius Kircher, “the master of hundred arts”

I’m always up for a good polymath bio but I didn’t know about Athanasius Kircher. The Public Domain Review takes us through John Glassie’s book about one of Kircher’s great masterworks Mundus Subterraneus. A two-volume tome of atlas-like dimensions, intended to lay out “before the eyes of the curious reader all that is rare, exotic, and portentous contained in the fecund womb of Nature.”

Athanasius - dragon

The “prodigious volcanoes and fire-vomiting mountains visible in the external surface of the earth do sufficiently demonstrate it to be full of invisible and underground fires,” he wrote. “For wherever there is a volcano, there also is a conservatory or storehouse of fire under it…. And these fires argue for deeper treasuries and storehouses of fire, in the very heart and inward bowels of the Earth.”

Athanasius - interconnectedness of water

More than once, Kircher compares the movement of the earth’s water to the circulation of the blood in the body as described by William Harvey. The water of the oceans follows its “secret motions” up and around the globe toward the North Pole.

Athanasius - interconnectedness of fire

His fascination with volcanoes and the underworld took him to Malta, Sicily, Calabria, and the Vesuvius.

“After having diligently searched out the incredible power of Nature working in subterraneous burrows and passages,” he wrote, “I had a great desire to know whether Vesuvius also had not some secret commerce and correspondence with Stromboli and Aetna.”

Athanasius - volcano