Fascinating map of the mythical island of Atlantis, situationed in the Atlantic Ocean between Spain and America, which is named on the map.
Fascinating early map showing the mythical island of Atlantis in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, from Kircher's Mundus Subterraneus, first published in Amsterdam in 1669. Kircher's work was the first serious effort to describe the physical makeup of the earth, proposing theories (sometimes fantastic) in the areas of physics, geography, geology, and chemistry. The present example is from a Latin edition and includes 5 leaves (10 pages) of descriptive text, derived from Plato, but including significant details not in the modern editions of Plato's account.
Atlantis (named after the daughter of the Greek God Atlas) is a legendary island first mentioned in Plato's Timaeus and Critias. Plato describes Atlantis as a naval power lying "in front of the Pillars of Hercules," which conquered many parts of Western Europe and Africa 9,000 years before the time of Solon, or approximately 9600 BC. After a failed attempt to invade Athens, Atlantis sank into the ocean "in a single day and night of misfortune".
The possible existence of Atlantis was actively discussed and rejected throughout history. In modern times, the story of Atlantis was the subject of real debate. While little known during the Middle Ages, the story of Atlantis was rediscovered by Humanists in the Early Modern period. Plato's description inspired the utopian works of several Renaissance writers, like Francis Bacon's New Atlantis. Today, modern plate techtonics give additional credence the prospect that such and island could have existed, although the location of Atlantis will always be a source of intrigue and fascination.
Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680) was a Jesuit priest and a well-respected scholar known for his role in disseminating knowledge. Kircher was educated in Greek, Hebrew, and the humanities at Fulda, Paderborn, Cologne, Koblenz, and Mainz. After fleeing the Thirty Years’ War in Germany, Kircher worked as an academic at Avignon and, from 1634, Rome.
In Rome, Kircher served as an intellectual node, spreading information sent from around the world by Jesuit missionaries. Particular interests included ancient Egypt, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, music, and languages (both ancient and modern). He also made several maps and was a geographic compiler. It is likely he was the first person to depict the Pacific Ring of Fire on a map.
Kircher combined a mixture of hermeticism with nascent scientific inquiry, gaining him a reputation as one of the final Renaissance men. For example, he observed the eruptions of Etna and Stromboli. He had himself lowered into the crater of Vesuvius soon after an eruption to observe the changes wrought by the cataclysm. He experimented with bioluminescence by seeking the applications of firefly extract as a light source. He also made the first known Aeolian harp.
Kircher wrote 44 books, while over 2,000 of his manuscripts and letters survive. He also assembled one of the first natural history collections, the Museo Kircheriano or the Kircherianum, which was broken up after his death and became the foundation of several institutional collections.