Until recently, if you wanted to leaf through Athanasius Kircher’s Mundus Subterraneus, you had to sneak into a university’s rare book collection at night, Wilbur Whateley-style. Now the complete work, with its many bizarre and fantastic illustrations, is available at the Internet Archive—enjoy. John Glassie has an excellent piece on it at The Public Domain Review:
Just before Robert Hooke’s rightly famous microscopic observations of everything from the “Edges of Rasors” to “Vine mites” appeared in Micrographia in 1665, the insatiably curious and incredibly prolific Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher published what is in many ways a more spectacular work. Mundus Subterraneus (Underground World), a two-volume tome of atlas-like dimensions, was intended to lay out “before the eyes of the curious reader all that is rare, exotic, and portentous contained in the fecund womb of Nature.” There is an “idea of the earthly sphere that exists in the divine mind,” Kircher proclaimed, and in this book, one of more than thirty on almost as many subjects that he published during his lifetime, he tried to prove that he had grasped it.