Like Leonardo da Vinci, the German scholar Athanasius Kircher (ca. 1601-1680) was a true “Renaissance man.” Interested in both the arts and sciences, he wrote several dozen books on everything from medicine and geology to Egypt, cryptography, Noah’s Ark, and musical harmony. Kircher was especially interested in the history of languages, and just a year before his death, he published Turris Babel, a history of the Tower of Babel.
LSU Special Collections recently acquired a copy of this important work for the library’s Rare Book Collection.
According to the Bible, the people of Babylon attempted to build a huge tower that would reach all the way to heaven. After learning that they were constructing the tower for their own glory rather than His, however, God punished the Babylonians by making them all speak different languages. No longer able to communicate with each other, they stopped work on the tower, left Babylon, and went their separate ways. The tower not only became a symbol for human pride, but also helped explain the origin of languages.
In Turris Babel, Kircher suggested that rather than creating hundreds of languages at one stroke, God preserved Hebrew, which continued to be spoken by the descendants of Noah’s son Shem, and then created four new languages, which he assigned to the descendants of Noah’s other sons. These languages subsequently split apart even further over time, resulting in all the languages that are spoken today. Kircher singled out a few languages for special attention in the second half of his book. Considered the father of Egyptology, he was especially interested in Egyptian hieroglyphics, and he expands on one of his earlier works on this subject here.
Also of interest are several large engravings depicting the Tower of Babel, the hanging gardens of Babylon, the labyrinth of the Minotaur at Knossos, and other mythical sites. Visitors are welcome to use this book in the special collections reading room during the library’s regular hours.
— Michael Taylor, Assistant Curator of Books