The Century of Kircher

Michael Keevak

in The Story of a Stele

Published by Hong Kong University Press

Published in print February 2008 | ISBN: 9789622098954
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9789882207608 | DOI:
The Century of Kircher

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This chapter traces how the stone was received once it had become better known to the broader scholarly world, covering the first 100 years of its new life in the West. Real credit for the stone's introduction is due to Athanasius Kircher. He was strongly influenced by the Renaissance hermetic tradition of scholarship that subscribed to an almost mystical belief in the primacy of ancient Greek and Egyptian culture. It is clear that Kircher was not interested in interpreting the stone as a crucial moment in Chinese history, which was precisely what many of the missionaries were attempting to do, but instead as one more link in a network of interrelated specimens of linguistic and philosophic knowledge with Syriac, Coptic, and, ultimately, hieroglyphics at its center. The chapter then addresses some of Kircher's earliest responders, among them Georg Horn. Kircher's canonization of the stele had already become an indispensable part of the way in which China would become “illustrated” for a European audience, and as seventeenth-century accounts of China gradually gave way to the eighteenth-century rêve chinois, the stone continued to play a fundamental role.

Keywords: Athanasius Kircher; stone; Chinese history; Coptic; Syriac; hieroglyphics; Georg Horn; China

Chapter.  10546 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Asian History

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