Cosmic Canvas: Kircher's 'Mundus Subterraneous'


'Mundus Subterraneous' Oxford Science Archive/Print Collector/Getty

Above we see a sectional view of the Earth, revealing its "central fire" and active volcanoes from 1665's "Mundus Subterraneous" by Athanasius Kircher. The Jesuit polymath researched and wrote on a variety of scholarly topics, but this beautifully-illustrated tome served as the culmination of his geological interests.

It's worth noting that Kircher provided a mostly-correct explanation of how igneous rock forms, and provides a view of the inner Earth that's appropriately complex and grounded in natural processes. But he draws in various erroneous theories as well, everything from the lost continent of Atlantis to giants and dragons that reside in the subworlds. As always, you have to judge such a text within the context of its own time.

I can't do the work justice here, but the Public Domain Review features an excellent overview of the book and its author right here.

Now let's look at an additional illustration that shows us how the planet's "fire and water sweetly conspire together in mutual service."

'Mundus Subterraneous'
Oxford Science Archive/Print Collector/Getty

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.