Linguist, archaeologist, and exceptional scholar, Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) was the last true Renaissance man. By profession a Jesuit priest, he made himself an authority on almost every subject under the sun. To Kircher the entire world was a glorious manifestation of God, and his exploration was both a scientific quest and a religious experience. His works on Egyptology (he is credited with being the first Egyptologist), music, optics, magnetism, geology, and comparative religion were the definitive tests of their time - and yet they represent only a part of his vast range of knowledge. A Christian Hermeticist in the mold of Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, his work also examined alchemy, the Kabbalah, and the Egyptian Mystery tradition exemplified by Hermes Trismegistus. Kircher was the first to map ocean currents; the first to offer a comprehensive theory of vulcanism; the first to compile an encyclopedia on China, a dictionary of Coptic, a book dedicated solely to acoustics; the first to construct a machine for coding messages and another for composing music. His museum in Rome was among the most famous 'cabinets of curiosities', visited by everybody in the intellectual world.
The Hermetic cast of Kircher's thought, which was foreign to the concerns of those propelling the Age of Reason, coupled with the breadth of his interests, caused many of his contributions to be widely overlooked--an oversight now masterfully rectified by Joscelyn Godwin. It has been said that Kircher could think only in images. While this is an exaggeration, 400 of the stunning engravings that are a distinguishing feature of his work are included here so we may fully appreciate, learn from, and see for ourselves the life work, philosophy, and achievements of 'the last man who knew everything.'