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MONCONYS, Balthasar de

Balthasar de Monconys (1611-1665) was a French physicist and judge, born in Lyon. In 1618, Monconys' parents sent him to a Jesuit boarding school in Salamanca, Spain, as a plague had broken out in Lyon. Monconys was deeply interested in metaphysics and mysticism, and studied the teachings of Pythagoras, Zoroastrism, and Greek and Arab alchemists. From a young age, he dreamed of travelling to India and China. However, he returned to Lyon after finishing his studies. At the age of thirty-four years old he was finally able to leave behind the safety of his library and the theoretical speculation of the laboratory, and become a tireless traveller in Europe and the East.

Monconys travelled to Portugal, England, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Istanbul and the Middle East with the son of the Duke of Luynes. Even in his very first journey to Portugal, it is obvious that in each city Monconys is very soon able to connect with mathematicians, clergymen, surgeons, engineers, chemists, physicians and princes, to visit their laboratories and to collect “secrets and experiences”.

After Portugal, Monconys travelled to Italy, and finally departed to the East, to study the ancient religions and denominations, and meet the gymnosophists. In 1647-48 he was in Egypt. Seeking the Zoroasters and followers of Hermes Trismegistus, he reached Mount Sinai. In Egypt, the 17th century European was lost in a labyrinth of small and winding streetlets, and discovered different cults and religions, the diversity of ethnicities and their customs: Turks, Kopts, Jews, Arabs, Mauritans, Maronites, Armenians, and Dervishes. He followed several superstitious suggestions and discovered marvellous books of astronomy in Hebrew, Persian and Arabic. Later on, after his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he crossed Asia Minor and reached Istanbul, from where he planned to travel to Persia. For once more in his life however, the plague forced him to change his course; he left for Izmir, and returned to Lyon in 1649.

Fron 1663 to 1665 Monconys travelled incessantly between Paris, London, the Netherlands and Germany. He visited princes and philosophers, libraries and laboratories, and maintained frequent correspondence with several scientists. Finally, after consequent asthma attacks he passed away before his travel notes could be published.

His travel journal (1665-1666) was edited and published by his son and by his Jesuit friend J. Berchet. The journal is enriched by drawings which testify to the wide scope of Monconys' interests. Monconys collected a vast corpus of material which includes medical recipes, chemistry forms, material connected to the esoteric sciences, mathematical puzzles, questions of Algebra and Geometry, zoological observations, mechanical applications, descriptions of natural phenomena, chemistry experiments, various machines and devices, medical matters, the philosopher's stone, astronomical measurements, magnifying lenses, thermometres, hydraulic devices, drinks, hydrometres, microscopes, architectural constructions and even matters connected to hygiene or the preparation of liquors.

The third volume includes a hundred and sixty-five medical, chemical and physics experiments with their outcomes as well as a sonnet on the battle of Marathon. There are five detailed indexes for the classification of the material. At the same time, this three-volume work permits the construction of a list of names (more than two hundred and fifty) of scholars, physicians, alchemists, astrologists, mathematicians, empirical scientists and other researches. From Monconys' text and correspondence a highly interesting network emerges, as it is possible for specialists of all disciplines to reconstruct the contacts between scientists and scholars of Western Europe, for a period spanning more than a decade in the mid-17th century.

Monconys' work is written in a monotonous style, but nevertheless possesses a perennial charm, as it is a combination of a travel journal and a laboratory scientist's workbook. The drawings accompanying the text make up a corpus of material unique in travel literature.

Written by Ioli Vingopoulou

MONCONYS, Balthasar de - Istanbul

MONCONYS, Balthasar de - Rest Images