Kircher and the mystery of the fourth hidden side of Obeliscus Panphili

L'Obelisco della Minerva

Obelisk of Minerva

In 1615 Pietro della Valle, roman knight  and patrician, found in Cairo an old Coptic-Arabic dictionary. He broght it to Rom.

In Rome, Nicolaus Fabricius, senator in Aquisgrana, asked Athanasius Kircher, his good friend, for translating it into Latin. Kircher accepted and pope Urbano VII called him in Rome to do the work. Kircher’s translations have always considered incorrect by scholars. In 1821 the french scholar Jean-François Champollion would interpret correctly hieroglyphic writing.

La Stele di Rosetta (British Museum di Londra)

Rosetta’s Stone

Kircher method for interpreting hieroglyphic writing was completely different from what nowadays considered correct: Kircher believed that each symbol had infinite meanings, revealed directly from God to writer.

Nonetheless, in 1665,  a fact happened hard to explain:

Dominican monks discovered in their garden, in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, a little obelisk, in excellent condition. Kircher, director of the near Collegio Romano is the top-expert in hieroglyphic writing and they called him. He couldn’t go and examine the obelisk because he was going to have his yearly retreat at Mentorella’s shrine.

Padre Giuseppe Petrucci, a Jesuit and his personal collaborator went, agreeing to inform the director. When he came to the Dominican garden, the obelisk lay still down and only three of its four sides were visible. He drew the three sides of the obelisk and sent the drafts to his director.

When  Padre Petrucci, some weeks later, received Kircher’s answer, got astounded: Kircher had sent him a sketch of the forth side of obelisk and was absolutely corresponding to the just unveiled one.

I quattro lati dell'obelisco disegnati da Athanasius Kircher

The four sides of Obelisks Panphili by Athanasius Kircher

Kircher managed to imagine hieroglyphic symbols of forth side of obelisk after seeing the other three. Is it so granted that Kircher’s magical and strange method to interpret hieroglyphic writing couldn’t permit him to deeply understand the sacred Egyptian writing?

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Il Gesuita e L’Uroboro

uroboro

Dettaglio dell’Uroboro disegnato dal padre gesuita Athanasius Kircher sull’Obelisco realizzato per la regina Cristina di Svezia nel 1654, che riportava la seguente iscrizione: “La Grande Cristina, Iside Rinata, erige, elargisce e consacra questo obelisco su cui sono iscritti i segreti simboli dell’Egitto”, oggi presso il museo del Liceo Ginnasio “Visconti” a Roma (ex Collegio Romano della Compagnia di Gesù).

 

Nell’ottobre del 1633 giunse a Roma lo studioso ed egittologo gesuita, Athanasius Kircher, all’epoca trentaduenne. Era stato raccomandato al cardinale Francesco Barberini, nipote di papa Urbano VIII, dall’intellettuale francese Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peirsec, un amico personale di Tommaso Campanella (che era stato ospitato a casa di de Peirsec ad Aix-en-Provence dopo esser fuggito da Roma). Kircher fu chiamato ad insegnare nel Collegio Romano matematica, astronomia e l’ebraico. Avrebbe conosciuto in quegli anni Gian Lorenzo Bernini e collaborato con l’artista ad alcuni progetti architettonici, tra i quali la realizzazione del complesso scultoreo della fontana di piazza Navona, caratterizzati dall’esaltazione di diversi antichi obelischi egizi.