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Athanasius Kircher (1602 - 1680)

Lot 3178: KIRCHER, ATHANASIUS (1602-1680),


March 15, 2007
London, United Kingdom

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4 parts in 3 volumes, 4to (349 x 230mm.), [96], 424, [40 (verso of final leaf blank)]; [2], 440, [30]; 546, [26]; [2], 590, [36 (verso of final leaf blank)] pp., illustration: 2 engraved allegorical additional titles (in volumes 1 and 2), portrait of Ferdinand III in vol.1, 2 folding maps in vol.1, and 13 plates bound as 16 (0+2+11), all but one folding, 12 engraved illustrations in text (2+1+9), some full-page, numerous woodcut illustrations in text (including 2 folding celestial woodcuts), some full-page, head- and tail-pieces and initials, binding: eighteenth-century mottled calf gilt, spines in seven compartments with raised bands gilt, lettered in the second and third compartments, some seventeenth-century marginal ink manuscript annotations in Latin (some cropped by binder), 2 leaves of ink manuscript notes in French loosely inserted, vol.2 lacking final blanks at end of parts 1 and 2, vol.1 leaf Ii1 and vol.3 Ee4 and Ii2 torn without loss, a few other short marginal tears (not affecting text), vol.2 leaf Mm1 repaired (slightly affecting text), printing flaw on S2 verso with loss of a few letters, vols. 1 and 3 lacking spine lettering piece, joints rubbed, spine ends somewhat chipped


Caillet 5788; Dünnhaupt II, 11.I-III; Sommervogel IV, 1052, 1053f; Hilmy I, p.343


first edition. "No work by Kircher contributed more to his ambiguous legacy than the Oedipus Aegyptiacus, published in Rome between 1652 and 1655. Along with its companion volume, Obeliscus Pamphilius (Rome, 1650), it set forth Kircher's solution to the riddle of the hieroglyphs. These works presented "translations" of hieroglyphic inscriptions - utterly mistaken, as subsequent Egyptology revealed - and claimed to recover the lost "hieroglyphic doctrine" supposedly encoded by the enigmatic symbols. Kircher argued that the legendary Egyptian sage Hermes Trismegistus had invented hieroglyphic writing after the biblical flood to encode and preserve the pure wisdom of the antediluvian Patriarchs. But later Egyptian priests polluted the hermetic wisdom with magic and superstition, creating a mixed legacy, which was then transmitted to different civilizations. Kircher proposed to translate the hieroglyphs by comparing the Egyptian inscriptions with texts from far-flung traditions that he believed to contain the same teachings. To a great extent these were the esoteric traditions associated with Renaissance occult philosophy and Neoplatonism: the Chaldean Oracles, the Orphic verses, the Kabbalah, the Corpus Hermeticum, and so forth. But Kircher gave pride of place to Oriental sources and claimed that he had been able to crack the hieroglyphs because of his use of hitherto untapped sources in Near Eastern languages" (Daniel Stolzenberg, Egyptian Oedipus: Antiquarianism, Oriental Studies & Occult Philosophy in the Work of Athanasius Kircher (PhD Dissertation, Stanford University, 2004)).

There was a substantial number of works by Kircher in the Macclesfield library, (see Macclesfield Science I-O, 14 April 2005, lots 1150-1164, which are preceded by a note on Kircher's life and work).

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