New Voynich research

Postscript.

I owe an apology to my readers and to Vladimir Dulov.

A thoughtful member/lurker at the forum called ‘voynich ninja’ has been kind enough to let me know that within that forum, since the early months of 2021, another member – whose name is given as Vladimir Dulov – has been producing quite remarkable, even landmark studies of the manuscript’s codicology.

Because the forum’s policy is not to share some information with anyone but formally-registered members, information provided to members through links to blogs or photographs are not generally accessible (though the conversations as such are). For that reason. my correspondent does not feel able to direct me to Valdimir’s blog, or to a website or blog(?) where – as part of their conversation – Lisa Fagin Davis has also posted photographs.

Should any reader care to let me have those web-addresses [you may email voynichimageryATgmaildotcom, I’ll update this post again to help other scholars and researchers disinclined to join a forum. By all accounts, neither Fagin-Davis nor Dukov intended their sites to be accessed only by forum members.

I must apologise to my readers for having been unaware of this material, the earlier parts of which were published during my 12 months’ away. [note added 16th June 2021].

Three hours later… Well that was quick. Many thanks to Petr. I’ve added those details and links to the ‘Constant References’ section of the Cumulative Bibliography.

Readers should modify the rest of this post in the light of my ignorance at the time.

____________

Published during the months I’ve been away from this blog, two items especially deserve notice.

Emma May Smith has added posts to her ‘Agnostic Voynich blog’ and Lisa Fagin Davis has shared, through youtube, a lecture delivered to students of palaeography.

Dr. Fagin Davis’ introduction has some puzzling aspects. Among them are her repeating as if stating facts, various items from Wilfrid’s fantasy-romance. Another is her saying that the ‘Roger Bacon wrote it’ bit of Wilfrid’s fantasy should be attributed to Professor Newbold, something which is opposed by Wilfrid’s own testimony. It is evident that Fagin Davis has relied for some information, and to an extent perhaps greater than is wise, on persons other than her fellow professionals and -peers.

In that section of her talk the item I found most intriguing was her suggesting that some document has been unearthed which finally proves that there was some basis to the vague, previously-unsubstantiated rumour that the manuscript was once owned by Rudolf II. Fagin Davis includes among the items which her students must accept as being ‘what we know’ that Rudolph bequeathed the manuscript to Jakub Hořčicky – the manuscript’s first certain owner. This implies that, for example, some document has been recently found which records Rudolf’s testamentary gifts.

I’d heard nothing about such a find before and would love to know more. I do hope it isn’t another bit of narrative-tweaking from the same hand which, over the years, has asserted as fact variously that the manuscript was ‘known’ to be in Rudolf’s library; that it was stolen from the library during the 30 years war, and that it was ‘stolen’ by Jesuits. Fagin Davis seems to have had the ‘bequeathed’ idea related as if it a fact. I’m keen to hear about any evidence adduced.

Moving away from the quicksand no-man’s land between verifiable fact and theoretical narrative, into her own area of expertise, Fagin Davis’ talk quickens, gains point, and does make for enthralling listening for anyone who has been involved with this field of study very long. It contains some parts that really do qualify as new contributions to the study.

Other details, such as the issue of contact prints and the manuscript’s ‘disarranged’ quires she appears to believe are new contributions, though these were also treated by Pelling before and after his seminal study was published in 2006. Perhaps her sources of information were silent on precedents because Fagin Davis very obviously believes she is the first to raise some of the same points.

_____

added note (27th May 2021) I assume my readers will know of Pelling’s book, and his blog. His book (2006) was withdrawn from sale in … um.. 2019 but his blog is still going and you’ll easily find his posts there sharing his work on codicology. In fairness to my own readers I should say that I found Pelling’s book frustrating, in that it is half solid investigation of the manuscript, and half what I term ‘historical romance’ but Pelling regarded as the formation of an historical theory. He and I stand in very different camps when it comes to historical studies. I guess it’s because my sort of work hasn’t all that much use for guess-work. When I read someone’s assertions about this manuscript (or indeed any piece under investigation), I always begin by saying, ‘well if this is your answer, what was your question? And then weigh the range and balance of evidence and – most importantly – the method employed by that person in working towards their conclusions. When Nick is talking about material things such his observations on codicology, I’m all for him. But mostly I like his work because he never falls below academic standards in making clear the distinction between his own work and other people’s. It’s something not as common as it might be among Voynicheros.)

Anyway – go to Nick’s blog, ‘ciphermysteries.com‘, do a search and see what he’s written on codicology, quires, hands and so on.

____

I have to suppose that the work done by Pelling will be refined and improved thanks to Fagin Davis, and that Pelling’s name, together with those of genuine specialists such as Touwaide – the eminent specialist in medieval medical and herbal manuscripts – will appear on the student’s readings list.

Note – Professor Touwaide spoke at Mondragone in 2019. He noted the binding looked Italian-style to him and that his first impression of the manuscript reminded him of the sort of reference-book-handbook used in Byzantine hospitals.

While apparently not pausing to wonder just why a manuscript bound in Latin style (i.e. with sewing supports) should betray so much evidence of having been formed and made in ways that- as she says – [Latin] manuscripts ‘never are’, Fagin Davis moves on to identify the hand of five different scribes. ‘Five hands’ is how we describe it.

Personally, I was pleased to see her make the same distinction in terms of scribal hands that I had made some time ago on the basis of the imagery’s style and content – namely that the material found on the map’s reverse betrays a very different character and origin from what informs the map itself. (Another point on which her sources have apparently been silent is that there was published, over a period of three years, excerpts from a detailed study of the map, one which proved it to be a map, and a map from which mainland western Europe, like Rome, is absent, but whose content and final changes accord well with the political and economic situation in the eastern Mediterranean between c.1290 and c.1330.

Fagin Davis calls ‘Scribe 4′ the scribe responsible for the map and for much of the ladies’ sections.. or at least responsible for written text on those folios. This also accords with my findings which link the two.

I’m also glad to see that, thanks to Fagin Davis’ talk, I shall probably not again suffer that storm of abuse which met my sharing with the ‘Voynich community’ of 2010 that the manuscript could not be the creation of any single ‘author’. From 1912 – 2012, the opposite idea had been another of those things ‘known’ about the manuscript in the minds of that community. After Fagin Davis’ talk, I daresay we may hope that idea is finally not included in ‘what we know’.

Fagin Davis follows Pelling (perhaps unaware of doing so) when she takes the quires’ disarrangement as evidence of an early re-binding. On this I still reserve judgement because it is not the only explanation possible. In scriptoria and in the stores of stationers who maintained texts for students to copy, piecemeal, stacks of bifolia, like scrolls, might be stored for years, even for centuries without ever being bound, or which had long before been reduced to quires by disbinding a number of other manuscripts.

I prefer to leave open, still, the question of whether the current order of quires was an unintentional disarrangement or an intentional re-arrangement. For reasons I won’t discuss here, I’m equally well disposed to either one, if either should becomes sure.

I may have misinterpreted her on another point, but if I interpreted her meaning correctly, there may be yet another point on which Fagin Davis’ view accord with conclusions earlier gained by me. I’m not sure quite what should be inferred from her remark, though, so for now I won’t elaborate.

I rather wish that Fagin Davis had not supposed the wider audience would understand that her default for manuscript studies is Latin Europe’s manuscripts. Neglecting to make that clear may lead to misunderstanding on the part of that non-specialist audience. For example, when she says that a quire of x pages is really, really unusual, she means it’s not at all how manuscripts were normally made .. ‘in Latin Europe‘. My readers will know this already, from the posts here on codicology.

And again, when she says ‘scribes just didn’t do that’, she means “scribes didn’t do that in Latin Europe’s scriptoria and ateliers. I would have wished she had emphasised this, because in the normal way such difference from the Latins’ custom is taken as being significant in itself.

I daresay Nick Pelling will pass off lightly that Davis’ talk suggests she is unaware of his codicological work, but a scholar’s generosity in sharing research freely surely deserves the only fair reward – proper use and truthful crediting of the material to the person concerned.

A few other appropriately qualified people who are involved in the study. Just a short list, off the top of my head.

Nick Pelling has studied the philosophy of modern historiography I believe. He’s surely no hobbyist hoping to use connection with this manuscript to gain a halo or a glamour.

[update June 2nd., 2021]- I apologise for not including persons who are, or who are fairly deemed to be, expert in cryptology. Having no skill, inclination or interest in ciphers, I’m simply not qualified to have any opinion on the matter. You’ll have to ask the cryptographers about that – and I would think a logical place to ask is at ‘ciphermysteries.com’.

Emma May Smith is an expert in linguistic analysis.

Koen Gheuens might – but I’m guessing he won’t – claim expertise in historical linguistics..

Marco Ponzi is an expert reader and translator of medieval and classical Latin (though I daresay he too would refuse the title of expert, as did Philip Neal before him).

For those who’ve not heard Neal’s name mentioned before. Neal provided researchers with the first full, annotated, transcriptions and translations of the critical historical documents and seventeenth-century correspondence.

Slabs of his original work has often taken up and repeated, but far too often by persons who have re-presented it is such a way that an unwary reader would naturally suppose the work their own.

If you’re ever at a loss to know whether some reputed ‘Voynich expert’ is, or isn’t really a expert in something, signs of greed is enough. Scholars worth their salt don’t need to co-opt others’ hard work. They’ve got quite enough to do in their own area.

Postscript. To the reader.

This post replaces an earlier one in which I gave vent to a certain disenchantment with the state of this study.

Koen Gheuens left a comment which among other things suggested that I do this research, and share it freely, in order to make or keep a number of readers.

If this was your belief too, I’m sorry to say that it’s mistaken.

I don’t mind how many or how few readers I have, so long as they’re honest ones. When you come down to it, I do this for the manuscript and consider myself to be – as the members of the first Voynich mailing list called themselves – a ‘friend of the Voynich manuscript’.

It actually makes me wince to see how carelessly and thoughtlessly false statements, sheer fantasies, calumnies and detractions have been heaped upon it. It isn’t only people who deserve to be treated fairly, and some things are just plain wrong. The only real advice I can offer readers is this – try your best not to tell lies about it.

One thought on “New Voynich research

  1. I’ve added a sentence today, recalling now that some Voynicheros habitually – when they or their theory meet criticism – first look around with a ‘Who, me?’ expression and then shout to whoever is the most gullible, or most prestigious person in the room, ‘ooh, you were just insulted. It’s so terrible you should be insulted like that…’ etc..

    So let’s be QUITE clear – the criticism above was not aimed at Prof. Fagin Davis but at the type of plausible humbug-meisters.

    Like

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