Iter exstaticum coeleste.

Würzburg, Johann Andrea Endter, 1671.


4to. pp. (xxiv) 689 (xv). Roman letter with Italic, occasionally Hebrew. Added engraved t-p with Theodidactus and angel Cosmiele (left), schema of the heavens (right) and divine tetragram (above); full-page engraved arms of Joachim, Earl von Gravenegg to t-p recto; nine engraved fold-out tables and three engravings with schemas of the heavens and planetary motions; decorated initials, head- and tailpieces. Intermittent age browning, added t-p and t-p a bit thumbed, faint water stains generally to outer margins, occasional ink spots, minor paper flaw to upper outer corner of one fol., some slight marginal foxing, clean horizontal tear to one fold-out table slightly affecting text. A very good, well-margined copy in splendid contemporary (probably French) crimson morocco over pasteboards, gilt double-ruled border with round dentelles, centre panel with gilt large fleurons to corners and gilt unidentified arms bordered with floral decoration, red and sprinkled brown chevrons painted to fore-edge. Rounded spine in six compartments, gilt double-ruled border with dentelles and gilt heraldic rampant lion with fleur-de-lis to each, gilt title. Illegible early inscription to front pastedown.

Very good, well-margined copy of Athanasius Kircher’s ground-breaking work on astronomy—in the second edition as revised by the Jesuit scientist Kaspar Schott—now considered among the fundamental texts for the development of modern science fiction thought from early theories of natural philosophy. Kircher (1602-80) was a German Jesuit and polymath, author of works on linguistics, mathematics, medicine, geology, biology, magnetism, visual perception and music. Inspired by the ‘heretic’ natural philosophy of Giordano Bruno, ‘Iter exstaticum coeleste’ presents in the form of a dialogue between Theodidactus (Kircher’s persona) and the angel Cosmiele a compendium of knowledge, shaped by Tycho Brahe’s theories, of the celestial heavens. Within this daring, anti-Aristotelian universe of numberless spheres, it discusses the phases, spots, influx and nature of the Moon and other planets, the harmony of the world and the presence of human and natural life on other planets. As during a religious ‘extasis’, Theodidactus experiences with his angelic guide supernatural situations like exploring the bottom of the seas, breathing on the Moon, seeing the earth from the heavens (partly ‘lucidissima’, partly surrounded by clouds and fogs), and the close ‘nothingness’ of ‘imaginary space’ (‘but can “nothing” exist in God’s creation?’) upon reaching the known boundaries of the universe. The majestic product of the imaginative efforts taught by Jesuit spiritual exercises, tempered with great intellectual humour, Kircher’s philosophical treatment of cosmological systems and infinite spatial dimensions remained out of reach of the Roman Inquisition, having been printed in Germany.

BL STC C17 Ger. II, K259; Brunet III, 667; Graesse IV, 21; Caillet, 5776. I.D. Rowland, ‘Athanasius Kircher, Giordano Bruno, and the Panspermia of the Infinite Universe’, in Athanasius Kircher: The Last Man Who Knew Everything, ed. P. Findlen (New York, 2004), pp. 191-206.


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