February 5, 2013

Kircher's Journey into the Earth

        I've been reading Vernes's Journey to the Interior of the Earth (blog post here), and couldn't help but think that this is the perfect time to share a couple more cool prints from Athanasius Kircher.  (If you don't remember Kircher, check out my introduction to him here.)  In Journey to the Interior of the Earth, the intrepid and obsessed Professor Liedenbrock is inspired by the discovery of a three hundred year old account of an underground expedition.  Kircher's Mundus subterraneus would have been only two hundred years old at the time when Professor Liedenbrock was looking for inspiration, but it's just about 350 years old now, and would be just the sort of mysterious ancient tome where you might expect to read about a fabulous expedition into the depths of the terrestrial globe.
        Kircher has two illustrations of the interior of the Earth that I find especially pleasing both as art and as fantasy inspiration.  The first represents the system of water and heat within the Earth, while the second illustrates the system of underground fire (with the largest chamber in the center being Hell).  As art I think they look almost abstract, with their different patterns of shapes and lines, and their rich layers of texture.  I also love the tiny sailing ships poking out along the surface of the ocean.  As fantasy I can see these images as maps that might inspire someone like Verne or Professor Liedenbrock.  I don't know whether Verne would have seen these illustrations, but I can imagine him picturing his underground sea in much this way (even if Liedenbrock didn't believe in a fiery core for the Earth).  But I can also see these images as magical diagrams, illustrating how to harness elemental powers.  Good stuff!

[Pictures: System of underground water;
System of underground fire, copper engravings from Mundus subterraneus by Athanasius Kircher, 1665 edition (Images from OU History of Science Collections).]

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