Prodromus coptus sive aegypticus.

Rome, S. Congr. de propag. Fide, 1636.


FIRST EDITION. 4to. pp. (xxiv) 338 (ii). Roman letter, with Italic, Greek, Coptic, Arabic and Ethiopian, occasional Hebrew and Chinese. Printer’s device to t-p, c.15 woodcuts of epigraphic inscriptions, coins, hieroglyphs and diagram of the Egyptian cosmos, decorated heads- and tailpieces. Light age browning, heavier to a few gatherings, faint spotting in places, lightly smudged offsetting and marginal repair to two ll. A good, well-margined copy in C17 vellum over boards.

A good copy of Athanasius Kircher’s fundamental study of the Coptic language. Kircher (1602-80) was a German Jesuit, author of works on linguistics, medicine, geology, biology, magnetism, visual perception and music. Beside Hebrew and Syriac, essential for biblical exegesis, Kircher taught non-European languages at the Collegium Romanum, including Chinese and Egyptian. Based on epigraphic inscriptions and texts in the Vatican Library, his ‘Prodromus’ was the first of several ground-breaking works on Egyptology. Kircher shifted orientalist and esoteric Renaissance antiquarianism, led by Valeriano’s ‘Hieroglyphica’ (1556) and based on Horapollon’s ancient theories, onto the plane of linguistic science. Whilst most of his translations from Coptic and Egyptian are now deemed incorrect, he was the first to explain the phonetic value of hieroglyphs and to prove that Coptic was the precursor of the Egyptian language. With masterful scholarly syncretism, the ‘Prodromus’ dissects the history and workings of Coptic—e.g., its etymology from the city of Copta and its institutions, the history of the Copto-Ethiopic Church and their ritual texts, the colonies established by Coptic Christians in India and China, linguistic parallels showing the unrelatedness of Egyptian to oriental languages and its derivation from Coptic, a study of hieroglyphs on inscriptions and coins, and the customs of the Egyptians. The final section presents the first detailed Coptic grammar teaching numbers, pronouns, declensions and conjugations—a monument to the Jesuits’ linguistic ‘scientia’.

BL STC It. C17 p. 463; Brunet III, 668.


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