Egyptian Oedipus: Athanasius Kircher And The Secrets Of Antiquity

Paperback | May 22, 2015

byDaniel Stolzenberg

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A contemporary of Descartes and Newton, Athanasius Kircher, S. J. (1601/2–80), was one of Europe’s most inventive and versatile scholars in the baroque era. He published more than thirty works in fields as diverse as astronomy, magnetism, cryptology, numerology, geology, and music. But Kircher is most famous—or infamous—for his quixotic attempt to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphs and reconstruct the ancient traditions they encoded. In 1655, after more than two decades of toil, Kircher published his solution to the hieroglyphs, Oedipus Aegyptiacus, a work that has been called “one of the most learned monstrosities of all times.” Here Daniel Stolzenberg presents a new interpretation of Kircher’s hieroglyphic studies, placing them in the context of seventeenth-century scholarship on paganism and Oriental languages.
           
Situating Kircher in the social world of baroque Rome, with its scholars, artists, patrons, and censors, Stolzenberg shows how Kircher’s study of ancient paganism depended on the circulation of texts, artifacts, and people between Christian and Islamic civilizations. Along with other participants in the rise of Oriental studies, Kircher aimed to revolutionize the study of the past by mastering Near Eastern languages and recovering ancient manuscripts hidden away in the legendary libraries of Cairo and Damascus. The spectacular flaws of his scholarship have fostered an image of Kircher as an eccentric anachronism, a throwback to the Renaissance hermetic tradition. Stolzenberg argues against this view, showing how Kircher embodied essential tensions of a pivotal phase in European intellectual history, when pre-Enlightenment scholars pioneered modern empirical methods of studying the past while still working within traditional frameworks, such as biblical history and beliefs about magic and esoteric wisdom.

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A contemporary of Descartes and Newton, Athanasius Kircher, S. J. (1601/2–80), was one of Europe’s most inventive and versatile scholars in the baroque era. He published more than thirty works in fields as diverse as astronomy, magnetism, cryptology, numerology, geology, and music. But Kircher is most famous—or infamous—for his quixoti...

Daniel Stolzenberg is associate professor of history at the University of California, Davis.
Format:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 9 × 6 × 1 inPublished:May 22, 2015Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022627327X

ISBN - 13:9780226273273

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Table of Contents

Note on Quotations and Translations
Abbreviations

Introduction: Oedipus in Exile
1. Esoteric Antiquarianism
2. How to Get Ahead in the Republic of Letters
3. Oedipus in Rome
4. Ancient Theology and the Antiquarian
5. The Discovery of Oriental Antiquity
6. Erudition and Censorship
7. Symbolic Wisdom in an Age of Criticism
8. Oedipus at Large
Epilogue: The Twilight of Tradition and the Clear Light of History

Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Editorial Reviews

“In Egyptian Oedipus, Daniel Stolzenberg not only provides the first serious study of Athanasius Kircher’s investigations into the history and culture of ancient Egypt, but he also furnishes a perceptive critical evaluation of Kircher’s scholarship and persona, warts and all. Stolzenberg goes beyond Kircher’s programmatic statements to unveil his actual scholarly practices. In doing so, Stolzenberg has produced an exemplary case study of a polymath at work and has provided us with a more nuanced understanding of Kircher’s influence.”