The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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Athanasius Kircher’s Parastatic Microscope

June 9th, 2010 · 2 Comments


I recently obtained a copy of Joscelyn Godwin’s book Athanasius Kircher’s Theatre of the World (Inner Traditions, 2009)I mention it here so that I can plug it: it’s a wonderful overview of the 17th century savant, studded with 400 examples of his charts, maps, inventions, and other illustrations.  There’s been somewhat of a Kircher revival recently; this trove will fuel it.

Here, for example, is Kircher’s Parastatic Microscope: a glass disc, painted with small images, mounted in a wooden case.  The disc rotates; the images are viewed through a lens.  As Godwin points out, it’s much like a modern slide viewer.  And it comes close to providing a moving picture: all it needs is a shutter (like a film projector), or slits broken up with blackness (like a zoetrope or phenakistascope) to separate sequential pictures and trigger the persistence of vision.

(Posted by Doug Skinner)  

Tags: Diversions · Literature · Technology

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Angela // Jun 10, 2010 at 6:47 am

    genius! more Kircher please…is the Noah’s Ark plan an appropriate posting size? It sounds wonderful.

  • 2 Doug // Jun 10, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Kircher did several elaborate diagrams of the Ark — but they’re huge; they wouldn’t even fit on my scanner!

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