Institute and Museum of the History of Science, Florence, ITALY

Kircher's Mathematical Organ

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A surviving example of Kircher's Organum Mathematicum, housed in the Museum of the History of Science, Florence

Kircher designed this device to contain all of the mathematical knowledge required by a young Baroque prince - Archduke Karl Joseph of Austria - in a single box. By manipulating the wooden rods in the box, simple arithmetical, geometrical and astronomical calculations could be carried out. The organ could also be used to write messages in cipher, design fortifications, calculate the date of Easter and compose music. Although Kircher promised to make the acquisition of mathematical knowledge an effortless process with the aid of his invention, the book describing the use of the mathematical organ published by Kircher's disciple Gaspar Schott in 1664 ran to over 850 pages in length, and many of the operations required the apprentice mathematician to memorize long Latin poems.

Further reading

Back to Athanasius Kircher Correspondence Project