Athanasius Kircher to King Frederik III of Denmark, from Rome, 14 January 1654
(Rigsarkiv, Copenhagen, T.K.U.A. Alm. del., Breve fra laerde maend, Litra K., Pk 57, 14/1 1654)
holograph, translated by Noel Malcolm
[printed, with minor modifications, in A. Schumacher, ed., Gelehrter Männer Briefe an die Könige in Dännemark, vom Jahr 1522 bis 1663, 3 vols. (Copenhagen and Leipzig, 1758-9), iii, pp. 374-5]
Most serene and most powerful King,
The bearer of this letter presents to your Majesty’s most serene eyes, on my behalf, a magnetical work; he is your client, and – not so much in the power of his mind, as in the sweetness of his temperament and behaviour – an angelic messenger. Truly, I shall count myself blessed if this little gift of paper may be found sufficient to withstand your extremely refined judgement, when it is weighed in the scales of your wisdom. However that may turn out, I rejoice in the fact that it has been sent to you – or rather, not so much sent by me, as violently attracted by your sacred Majesty, the most powerful magnet of all virtues. The magnet turns towards the north; and it is towards the King of the north, as if to some cynosure or magnet of all literature, that the hearts, efforts and pens of all writers are turned. I too turn in that direction, compelled by the attraction of some sort of hidden power. Activated by that same force, and drawn towards you by some sort of hidden bonds, an imperial work in four volumes (Oedipus aegyptiacus) will set off in your direction as soon as it has found its freedom and been released from the confinement of the press; I expect to be able to present it to your Sacred Royal Majesty within the coming year. Meanwhile the present work on magnetism precedes it: now in its third edition, it is richly endowed with many arguments that are new, rare, and perhaps not unworthy of the admirable curiosity of princes. It may act as a kind of herald, announcing my most humble devotion, most submissive enslavement and most complete subjection of my will to your Sacred Majesty. I confess that this work is inadequate, by a long way, to the sublimity of your intelligence; but I hope it may be not altogether displeasing to you on account of the fact that the person to whose august name it is dedicated directed that it should be sent to you. Farewell most powerful King, the glory and ornament of literature, and do not cease to be a patron, as you are accustomed to be, of my studies.
Your Sacred Royal Majesty’s most humble servant,
Rome, 14 January 1654
‘Sympathicum opus’ (‘a magnetical work’)] Kircher, Magnes, 3rd edn. (Rome, 1654). This volume, formerly in the Royal Library, is now in the Danish National Library of Science and Medicine; the binding dates from the reign of Frederik III, and bears his monogram ‘F3’ (information kindly supplied by Dr Torsten Schlichtkrull, of the Danish National Library of Science and Medicine). The book does not, however, contain any MS inscription.
‘annum futurum’ (‘the coming year’)] The printed dates of publication of Oedipus aegyptiacus, which was published in Rome in 3 vols. (usually bound in four), are 1652-4; however, the dedicatory epistle to vol. 1 is dated 1 January 1655 (sig. 2+2v), and the epistle to the reader by Caspar Schott includes a letter from Joseph Maria Suares (described as having been received while Schott’s contribution was being printed) dated 1 March 1655 (sigs. d1v-d2r). As such prefatory materials were usually printed last, this indicates a final date of publication in the spring of 1655.
‘is cuius Augusto nomine inscriptum est’ (‘the person to whose august name it is dedicated’)] The 1654 edition of Magnes was dedicated to Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. Friendly relations between Austria and Denmark were a consequence of geopolitics: they had collaborated as allies against Sweden in 1643-5 (and would do so again in the period 1657-60). Torsten Schlichtkrull points out that in the portrait of Ferdinand (facing the dedicatory epistle) in Kircher’s book, the Archduke is wearing the Order of the Elephant, the highest Danish order of chivalry.