Tuesday, June 4, 2013


In a matter of weeks, I will be accompanying my wife (Vartan Gregorian Assistant Professor of Archaeology and the Ancient World and Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies) to the Golden City of Prague. While she will be attending the 7. Tagung zur Königsideologie congress, I hope to find myself willfully lost on a daily basis—drawing, painting, writing, investigating—gleefully searching out the historical remnants of Brahe, Kepler, Bürgi, the MaHaRaL himself, perhaps even those legendary cloth-covered remnants of once-living clay in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue. Chances are the last of those will come only as inspired sketches in my notebook. 
And yet there is one small thing, one mystery I really do hope to shed some light on in Prague: that of a legendary automaton created for Emperor Rudolph II and then (supposedly) owned by Johannes Kepler himself; a clockwork monk referred to in more modern times simply as the Praha Automata. Reportedly quite similar in size and form to a more well-known clockwork monk created in 1562 for Spain's King Phillip II to miraculously save the ailing Crown-Prince Don Carlos, the Praha Automata however proved a more intricate creation, its internal and external movements more extensive and complex, to the point that Kepler seemed convinced of coded patterns and geometries within its walking movements. It has even been said that among these fantastic tracings was included a miniaturized walking route through the streets of Prague to some unnamed secret cache of learning—a treasure map of sorts contained in clockwork. One only needed a properly scaled map of the city and knowledge of the true starting point (secrets in and of themselves, of course) in order to be "taken" there. Whatever the ultimate truth of this story (no rigorous evidence outside of [admittedly] cryptic references by Kepler himself in respective letters to Michael Maestlin and David Fabricius* has ever been provided of the Praha Automata's  existence), it does seem unlikely such a cache was ever found.
And so, as I begin my little foray into proper Czech pronunciation and standard "tourist phrases," I do wonder what I myself may find in the Golden City. 

*Johannes Kepler Gesammelte Werke (1937- ), Vol. 13, letter 58a and Vol. 16, letter 27a

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