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Scholar of the Month - Athanasius Kircher

* 02.05.1602 in Geisa near Fulda   † 27.11.1680 in Rome

1614    Visit of Jesuit College at Fulda
1618    Entrance into Society of Jesus
1622    Escape from protestant troops to Cologne
1628    Holy order
1629    Chair at University of Würzburg
1631    Escape from protestant troops to Speyer, later to Lyon and Avignon
1633    Acceptance of a chair at Collegium Romanum
1637    Greater research trip to Malta, Sicily und others

Refugee, Adventurer, Scientist

The archive of Julius-Maximilians-University Würzburg is proud to launch the new series of the ‘Scholar of the Month’ with an impressive personage. By all accounts, from a present-day perspective the life of the Jesuit padre Athanasius Kircher can only be described as dazzling. As a scholar, a researcher, war refugee and adventurer he travelled most uncommon places of Europe. He was desperately seeking to seize every opportunity he was given to do justice to his reputation as a polymath and to increase his knowledge as well as sharing this information in his lessons.

Between Genius and Fortunate Coincidence

Even if the research of Kircher might be rather considered as ‘good intention‘ than methodical accuracy from a modern perspective he was able to achieve results which were ahead of the times. For instance, the discovery of animalculae (named ‘little creatures‘) which he was able to find in a microscopy investigation of blood from people suffering from the plague. Furthermore, he connected them with the spreading of the disease, even if it is assumed today that he actually had seen just red and white blood cells. Moreover, Kircher can be named as the inventor of a calculating machine or a predecessor of modern film projection.

The Polymath at the Alma Julia

Kircher accepted the chair for mathematical sciences as well as Hebrew and Syrian language at the young University of Würzburg in 1629. Unfortunately he had to abandon this chair just two years later, because of the occupation of Würzburg in the Thirty Years War in 1631. Nonetheless, he began his publishing career with his first release about magnetism which was discovered just a short while ago. Through his student and friend Caspar Schott, who later accepted the chair of mathematics at Würzburg University, he bequeathed his influence.

[Translate to Englisch:] Bild: Kirchers Berechnungen zum Turmbau zu Babel
Kircher calculated that the Tower of Babel never could have reached the moon, because the following preponderance would have levered out the earth from its centre position. (Release of Kircher in his book "Turris Babel" from 1679)
Source: CC-BY-SA 3.0 – University Archive Heidelberg, Q 763-8 Folio RES, S. 38.
[Translate to Englisch:] Bild: Querschnitt des Ätna
On his journey through Italy Kircher found excitement for volcanos and the interiority of the earth. For his investigations he rappelled down to the crater of Vesuv. (Published by Kircher in addition to his journey through southern Italy)
Source: CC-BY-SA 3.0 – University Archive Heidelberg, O 2526 A Folio RES, 1-2, [Insert acc. to p. 200].

Recommended reading:

Glassie, John: Der letzte Mann, der alles wusste. Das Leben des exzentrischen Genies Athanasius Kircher, Berlin 22015.
Stolzenberg, Daniel: Egyptian Oedipus: Athanasius Kircher and the Secrets of Antiquity, Chicago 2013.

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