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The letter of Georgius Barschius to Athanasius Kircher (1637)

Most Reverend Father

Without further ado, I pray for all happiness from the author of happiness to your Reverence.

Since a clerical individual is setting out for Italy and Rome itself I have seized the occasion to get him to take this letter with him. I hope it may reawaken your memory of a certain item of writing which I sent via the Reverend Father Moretus, priest of the Society of Jesus in Prague.

Your Reverence won worldwide acclaim by publishing the Prodromus Copticus. Now in it, among other things, you requested all those who might possess anything which might enrich the work for help with materials to increase the resources for bringing your work to fruition.

After that I do not doubt that people sent hordes of documents laden with such riches to the Universal City. Many must have turned up in person for the purpose of praising the author’s unprecedented efforts for the republic of letters and his near superhuman labours on the very spot where they took place. When this most welcome news reached me my source also showed me a brief synopsis of this astounding work which was to see the light in our time (and I say the sooner the better). He also informed me of your unheard of skill in untying the riddles of some very obscure scripts.

Now since there was in my library, uselessly taking up space, a certain riddle of the Sphinx, a piece of writing in unknown characters, I thought it would not be out of place to send the puzzle to the Oedipus of Egypt to be solved. And so I ordered a certain old book to be transcribed in part, with the writing closely imitated (the bearer of this letter will inform you that he saw it with his own eyes). A year and a half ago I sent that writing to your Reverence. My hope was that (if your Reverence should see fit to assign some working time to investigating it and correlating those characters of unknown devising with known letters) the effort might (to the extent that the matters concealed in the book proved to be worthy of such first class work) benefit its Oedipus, and myself, and the common good.

It did not seem advisable to commit the book itself to a journey so long and full of perils. I could only suppose from the fact that I have had no word of the matter after all this time that the previous consignment did not reach Rome. I had therefore just decided to repeat the exercise when the above Father Moretus informed me to my great pleasure that it had ended up in the City. It would be an even greater pleasure if the said book could be opened by your Reverence’s aid, and make all men of quality co-owners of whatever good it contains.

From the pictures of herbs, of which there are a great many in the codex, and of varied images, stars and other things bearing the appearance of chemical symbolism, it is my guess that the whole thing is medical, the most beneficial branch of learning for the human race apart from the salvation of souls. This task is not beneath the dignity of a powerful intellect. After all, this thing cannot be for the masses as may be judged from the precautions the author took in order to keep the uneducated ignorant of it. In fact it is easily conceivable that some man of quality went to oriental parts in quest of true medicine (he would have grasped that popular medicine here in Europe is of little value). He would have acquired the treasures of Egyptian medicine partly from the written literature and also from associating with experts in the art, brought them back with him and buried them in this book in the same script. This is all the more plausible because the volume contains pictures of exotic plants which have escaped observation here in Germany.

Your Reverence shines with ardour to bring the best things to light. I do hope you will not consider it beneath you to act for the common good and bring forth the good (if any there is) buried in unknown characters in this book. Indeed nobody here has the capability to take on the burden, seeing that it is of an obscurity requiring unique intelligence and mental dexterity or else certainly another method not easily grasped. I should be forever in your debt, not only for what the work contains but also for whatever it will make possible. I here append a line or two of the unknown script to revive your memory of it, having previously sent a whole file of similar characters.

With this I commend myself to your Reverence and I wish you a successful conclusion to your high labours. May God the Greatest and Best long preserve you for the republic of letters.

Prague AD 1639 27 April, on which day I once entered the Roman University of Wisdom to dedicate my work to medical wisdom.

Best wishes to your Reverence

Mr Georgius Baresch