Who Wrote to Kircher?

Kircher’s correspondents included some of the leading personalities of his day, as well as a variety of lesser-known figures. On this page you will find featured profiles of some of his  correspondents and a comprehensive list of people who sent letters to Kircher with some basic biographical data about them. Click here to download the Kircher_Correspondents.
Please help us figure out who the unknown correspondents were! Your comments are welcome below. Since this is a collaborative project, we also invite you to contribute profiles of the correspondents you study. Please email srsuther@stanford.edu.

Juan Caramuel Lobkowicz (1606-1682). On August 4th, 1663, Juan Caramuel Lobkowicz received Kircher’s New and Universal Polygraphy, a text which detailed Kircher’s ideas for a new, universal language that would finally liberate humankind from the curse of Babel. Caramuel – who allegedly knew 24 languages himself – was so transfixed by Kircher’s scheme that he sat down to write a letter to Kircher in the universal language the very same day (and translated it into 6 other languages). His effort has been preserved in the correspondence collection and remains the only surviving text written in Kircher’s language. From the 1640s to the 1670s, Caramuel wrote 17 other letters to Kircher on topics such as astronomy, cryptology, and hieroglyphics. The half-Spanish, half-Czech polymath occupied a prominent role in the Habsburg intellectual world, writing a vast number of books spanning mathematics, architecture, grammar, and logic. Caramuel was an international figure who led an itinerant life: born and raised in Madrid, he was admitted to the Cistercian order and lived in Flanders, Austria, Bohemia, and Lombardy. He was connected to other major Kircher correspondents such as Jan Marek Marci, Bernhard Ignaz Martinitz, and the Duke of Diano. Caramuel was sympathetic to the Jesuits, having received a Jesuit education in Madrid, and was known as an uncompromising Catholic reformer in Bohemia, where he served as Grand-Vicar to the Archbishop of Prague. He moved up the ecclesiastical hierarchy, ending his career as Bishop of Vigevano in northern Italy. text by Suzanne Sutherland Duchacek

Juan Caramuel Lobkowicz to Kircher in Kircher’s Universal Language. No place, 4 August 1663.

Bernhard Ignaz Martinitz (1615-1685). As the second son of Jaroslav Bořita Martinitz and Maria Eusebia Sternberg, Martinitz was predestined for a church career but had to change paths after the death of his older brother John Jaroslav in 1636. Nonetheless, he was renowned for his outstanding piety throughout his life. As president of the Bohemian court of appeals, chief judge of the land, chancellor, and the Grand Burgrave of Bohemia, Martinitz became the foremost domestic politician of his generation. His loyalty to the Habsburgs is indicated by his induction into the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1657 and his appointment as Privy Councillor to Leopold I in 1679. Today he is mostly remembered as an enemy of Bohuslav Balbín (1621-1688), who wrote four satiric epitapths about him, presenting him as an opportunistic, difficult, and ruthless politician. This was mostly because Martinitz prevented the publication of Balbín´s Epitome historica Rerum Bohemicarum seu Historia Boleslaviensis. However, he defended Balbín´s other Jesuit colleagues like Tomáš Pešina. His relationship to the Jesuit order was complicated, as he had to defend the rights of the nobility against the church, but he was a major patron of the Franciscans, Servites, Theatines, and Piarists. Well-educated and quite erudite, he wrote a history of Ferdinand III´s campaigns and he corresponded with Juan Caramuel Lobkowitz and the imperial librarian Lambeck, in addition to Athanasius Kircher. Martinitz organized Caramuel’s arrival in Bohemia and introduced Caramuel to Cardinal Ernst Adalbert Harrach. He was in close contact with Marcus Marci as well and it was he who recommended Marci to Kircher in Rome.  The main topics of his letters to Kircher are steganography and the universal language, about which he demonstrates a considerable level of knowledge. However, the vast majority of his 28 letters deal with formal matters like organizing supplies of books and gifts from Kircher to the Emperor and with arranging the Emperor´s pension for Kircher. text by Iva Lelkova Bernard Ignaz von Martinitz to Kircher. Prague, 25 July 1665.

Jan Marek Marci of Kronland (1595-1667) is best known for sending Kircher a mysterious illustrated manuscript written in an unknown script, known as the Voynich Manuscript today. An outstanding physician, Marci had been rejected by the Jesuits on account of his poor eyesight and weak health. In the summer of 1640, he met Kircher on a tour with the Bohemian nobleman Franz Mathias Karl von Sternberg and established a lifelong friendship with him. With 43 letters sent to Kircher, Marci is one of Kircher’s most frequent correspondents. Marci studied medicine in Prague and soon after became the personal physician to Emperor Leopold I. In the struggle for Prague University he defended the rights of the Medical Faculty and thus surprisingly opposed the Jesuits, which he finally joined on his deathbed.  In addition to Juan Caramuel Lobkowitz and Godefried Alois Kinner, he took part in the defense of Prague from Swedish troops in 1648. He was invited to teach at Oxford University and to become a member of the Royal Society towards the end of his life. He published mostly on medicine but was also deeply interested in mathematics and optics.  Marci wrote ingeniously on squaring the circle and independently of Galileo postulated isochronisms of the pendulum. He also anticipated Newton´s theory of light and color in his writings on the rainbow.  However, he was probably most progressive in his work on embryology, the localization of psychical functions in the human brain, the relationship between organs and their function, or the principles of biological propagation. His letters to Kircher deal to a great extent with his studies of Arabic and are partly written in Arabic as well. He took part in Kircher´s supposed visit to the imperial court and wrote to him about a broad range of subjects including astronomical observation, alchemical experiments, squaring the circle, establishing longitude, the news from China, healing springs, missionary literature and, of course, the Voynich Manuscript. text by Iva Lelkova

Left: Jan Marcus Marci of Kronland to Kircher, Prague, 23 February 1654. Right: the Voynich Manuscript

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