Retrospective justifications

Lawyers may have ‘learned friends’; scholars only colleagues.

I’m going to be away for some weeks, so here’s an extra-extra-long post (originally designed as five separate posts) to serve as holiday reading while I’m gone. ūüôā

NB. To skip the preliminaries, start from the heading: ‘Living Ivy’.

Abstract:¬† The Yale facsimile edition includes an essay predicated on the theory that the plant-pictures in the Voynich manuscript are related to the European ‘herbals’.¬† In that essay a comparison is offered which, if it were it valid ‚Äď might constitute the long-sought (but¬† never found) proof for that theory, and further indicate that a niche exists for the Voynich plants within the stemmata for copies of the Tractatus de herbis type.¬† Credit for a comparison or¬† ‚Äėpairing‚Äô of folio 35v with¬† ‘oak and ivy’ from the ‘Manfredus’ herbal¬† is claimed by Rene Zandbergen, whose influence on the study has been constant since the early 2000s.¬† The following considers that experience, weighing the probability and evidence for and against such an interpretation of the image on f.35v.

 

WHEN later generations¬† consider Rene Zandbergen’s contributions to Voynich studies, rating high on the list will surely be his constant presence.

For at least two decades Zandbergen has been constant in reading and collecting work and ideas related to this study, incorporating his selections from such matter into his website (since 2010), and¬† sharing¬† information more widely in comments to group discussions and in private communications. Voynich studies needs people with long memories;¬† given the high turn-over in¬† researchers and degrading standards for credits and documentation of precedents, for any true history of this study we must depend increasingly on the memories of a few among the old guard and the energetic efforts of even fewer among the new. Attempting to discover whether precedents exist before embarking on a line of investigation can be very hard work indeed, and whether one of the ‘old guard’ will trouble to consult their own memories can be a bit touch-and-go.¬† After all, the study has devolved into a permanent ‘groundhog day’ since the early 2000s to the point where now any genuinely new insights are soon swallowed up in the mist, grabbed and repeated without mention of the source and then endlessly re-used and¬† ‘re-discovered’ by amateurs – many of whom confuse original contribution with ‘unprecedented invention’ and fear to admit their debts lest it cost them glory.Trying to work against that tide, to disentangle genuine from spurious claims of ‘discovery’ would require an entire team of fiercely determined and rigidly ethical members of an¬† ‘old guard’. And what Voynichero would care to spend more time on seeing justice done than on following his own area of interest?¬† But, as and when they choose, ‘old-timers’ such as¬† Pelling and Zandbergen are our best hope.How many hours Zandbergen has devoted to building his¬† website one cannot imagine. It has now become the ‘go to’ site for newcomers, journalists and others who want a quick key, to check details of dates or of¬† biographies.¬† It has also provided Zandbergen himself with a ready reference from which he, no less than journalists or newomers, can draw in writing essays.Despite this time-consuming project, Zandbergen¬† has still found enough time (almost every day)¬† to be present in most often-visited public arenas and there to take account of the discussions and contribute to them from the mass of material at his fingertips.His early achievements include his¬† translation into machine code of Gabriel Landini’s transcription of Voynichese – giving us EVA.¬† Another was his liaison with an Austrian television company which commissioned certain scientific tests.For all this – as Zandbergen reminded members of a forum just today – his qualifications are not in any field relevant to medieval manuscript studies, history or art and he should be regarded as an amateur.Few amateurs having twenty years’ interest in anything could resist the temptation to “puff” rather more.Also of value have been Zandbergen’s computing skills which produced the graphs and diagrams used to illustrate the information collected into his website.

As constant as that work has been, and his presence in most public conversations about the Voynich manuscript, so too he has shown unwavering fidelity to a theory which he and his co-author, Rafel Prinke, espoused early – perhaps as early as 2000.

At the time it was a ‘fringe’ theory, asserting that the manuscript had been made in German-speaking regions and was in some sense an expression of central European culture, and more specifically with content congenial to the interests of Rudolf II and other members of the central European nobility.While the evidence for this variation on d’Imperio’s version of the Wilfrid-Friedman theory is no more than it was two decades ago, the intervening period has seen constant efforts at its retrospective justification: German calendars have been hunted for images of Saggitarius with a crossbow and other German-language or German-made works hunted for costume which could be argued similar to costumes seen on figures in the Vms. An enormous amount of time and talk has been expended on a couple of lines of marginalia which are claimed German.¬† ¬† For lack of other researchers as constant and equally consistent in enthusing others to collaborate,¬† ¬†material accumulated today not only leans heavily to that side of the scales but almost entirely on it.¬† Today the ‘central European’ idea has achieved the status of what Santacoloma might call canonised myth, but which is better described, I think, as the process¬† by which ‘I feel’ becomes ‘it might have been’ and gradually via ‘it could have been’ is taken for ‘it must be’. The process has taken twenty years and the labour of a great many co-operating ‘ants’ as Ellie Velinska once called that group.Without being strident, Zandbergen has also quietly and unwaveringly introduced an idea that not only Rudolf, but Rudolf’s brother Matthias (Corvinus) owned the manuscript.Whether the notion that the manuscript was stolen by Jesuits originated with the Prinke-Zandbergen theory or not is another point difficult to determine but as yet there is no evidence offered by the manuscript or by any document of which I’m aware to justify either the the ‘Corvinus’ idea or that one.¬† ¬†On the face of it, the Jesuits’ acquisition of the work is perfectly transparent: it became a Jesuit possession when gifted to Athanasius Kircher by Marcus Marci – and we have the letter of gift to prove it.Otherwise, the Prinke-Zandbergen narrative appears to maintain the standard ideas in, or extrapolated from, Wilfrid’s tale of 1921 – such as that the manuscript is obscure only because meant for a social and intellectual elite, and that it is at base a manuscript composed of ‘ordinary’ European material including occult and/or scientific matter such as alchemy, magic, astrology and medicine in which Rudolf II (1552-1612) and his aristocratic circle were most interested.Here, however, we must be grateful for the radiocarbon dating which permits us (if we wish) to limit the range of Voynich research to the terminus ad. quem of 1438.I say this because it is easy to imagine where the ‘Corvinus’ idea might lead theorists less self-controlled than Zandbergen.¬† ¬†Matthias was initially given control over Hungary at a time when a large part of it was owned by Rudolf’s close contemporary Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614) and within modern Hungary there is a popular movement re-inventing her image to have Bathory a nice aristocratic woman interested in women’s medicine. It takes little imagination to see how such an idea could be imposed on the manuscript’s content.But, as I say, we can halt if we choose at 1438 and maintain a proper level of skepticism not only about the ‘Corvinus’ idea but about the third-hand rumour of Rudolf’s supposed ownership.My own position is best expressed by quoting Patrick Lockerby, one of the very few left standing when the vellum’s radiocarbon date-range was published.¬† Well before the test was run he had said:

My dating of the manuscript is 1350 to 1450. From that perspective, whatever happened .. after 1450 is of no relevance in formulating any theory about the Voynich ms.

~ Patrick Lockerby.

________________

Zandbergen has proven no less constant in maintaining his opinion of the plant-pictures, assuming (as had almost all before him) that these must constitute a variant form of Latin herbal: that is, a catalogue of medicinal plants employed in Latin (western Christian) Europe.

During the nineteen-twenties or -thirties when the manuscript was generally believed personally written by Roger Bacon, the limited horizons* of Wilfrid’s narrative and of any dependent on it permitted few alternatives.

*for those limited horizons and¬† reasons for them see ‘Fear of the Unknown and Raft Elegant‘.

However, one might have supposed that by 2000, with nine decades’ of failed attempts to discover in the Latins’ herbals any matching images – that is, matching in sequence and in style of drawing –¬† and with Tiltman’s negative judgement on that score expressed in the late 1960s, that researchers might have begun casting about more widely: extending the research laterally (to include other regions and peoples) or vertically to consider plant-imagery made to other purposes and/or in other media.

It didn’t happen –¬† not even when Tiltman’s paper was released by¬† NSA in 2002, under the Freedom of Information Act, or when qualified persons differed from the conservatives.¬† Those who were not ignored (as Mazars and Wiart were for years), were met with the usual methods by which the most conservative element avoids discussion of evidence and argument.¬† ¬†On a personal note, I gained most amusement from Pelling’s suggesting that in explaining the botanical imagery and the role of mnemonics¬† that I suffered from pareidolia.¬† The role of mnemonics in imagery had been unexplored by the Voynicheros before then, but the term is now constantly used, even if rarely informed by knowledge of the scholarship or of any work later than Yates – Yates being mentioned by d’Imperio.¬† Carruthers’ revolutionary studies have been often recommended by the present author, but no evidence of them appears in other Voynich writings to date.

Part of Tiltman’s verdict was quoted earlier,¬† but here it is in more detail:

if the plain text of the Voynich manuscript belongs to the illustrations on the same pages, as we have a right to expect in the complete absence of evidence to the contrary, then much the greater part of that text is related to plants. However, I have to admit that to the best of my knowledge no one has been able to find any point of connection with any other mediaeval manuscript or early printed book. This is all the stranger because the range of writing and illustration on the subject of the plant world from the early middle ages right through into the 16th and even 17th centuries is very limited indeed.

  • [pdf] John H. Tiltman, ‘The Voynich Manuscript: ‘the most mysterious manuscript in the world’ [released by NSA under the Freedom of Information Act, 23-Apr-2002¬† (Case #19159)

Tiltman was not a man to accept hearsay and I think we may take it that he spoke from personal knowledge of the Friedman groups’ range of research.¬† It is possible that some combined list of works they consulted might one day be found among documents still at the NSA, or in the George C. Marshall Foundation.

 

[Part 2] What was it which prevented Tiltman’s pronouncement’s being taken seriously, and the lesson taken from the failures of the preceding decades?

It is an interesting question and deserves more than the briefest answer, but in the space of this post the short answer will have to do, and it is this:¬† that by the time the first mailing list closed there was a small but growing and determined ‘conservative’ element which adopted d’Imperio’s version of Wilfrid’s narrative with others of the Friedmans’ ideas as constituting a final word on the manuscript’s history and character, and perceived its own task less as work of investigation than of retrospective justification for that matter.

Before the 1960s, none had looked further than Europe because they supposed the manuscript’s composition coeval with its manufacture and they supposed all due to a single author imagined European.

After the early 2000s, any who began to consider any but a Latin European as determining the manuscript’s content was¬† discouraged from doing so by the ‘mass’ online – and often as much by personal ridicule¬† as by reasoned argument.¬† Of this unpleasant tactic – playing the man, not the ball – a precedent was also provided by reports of the Friedmans’ mockery of others, including of Professor Romaine Newbold.¬† ¬†Jorge Stolfi was among the first of the more recent ‘scalps’ taken by such means.

A hardening ‘conservative’ position presented itself as the¬† ‘common sense’ position, and for the new wave of Voynicheros who appeared in public conversations after c.2004 or so, these now-entrenched ideas were accepted as if they had been established from solid evidence: they served as premises rather than as speculations to be tested – and most obviously with the ‘softer’ narratives about theoretical histories for the manuscript or notions about its imagery.

Efforts to describe,¬† explain, decipher or translate Voynichese remained generally subject to more rigor and overall remained focused on the researcher’s work not his character. Critics were expected to explain their criticisms in detail; and (unlike other areas) no¬† vague assertion that the researcher was ‘talking nonsense’ was enough. Witness the technical and well informed criticisms of even so patently nonsensical a paper as Cheshire’s.

But with that difference between standards for discussing ‘Voynichese’ theories versus historical or iconographic matters, there began the dichotomy which exists today.¬† Opinions about the written part of the text usually weigh the statistical and linguistic evidence, but those focused on the pictorial content or historico-social environment regularly witness the personality-centred sort of attack as theory-defence.¬† It is a pity that this dividing fence has been flattened recently – again with criticisms of Cheshire as example.

Any Voynich researcher or writer soon becomes aware that ad.hominem regularly meets dissent from the ‘conservative’position in certain areas and almost invariably follows criticism of any opinions or theories particularly associated with a few of the best known ‘Voynicheros’.

Here, Nick Pelling has a well-earned reputation for directing fluent streams of vitriol against any who are less than approving of his friends’ theories and methods and, to a lesser extent of his own.¬† In general, however, he has an equally well-earned reputation for permitting free expression in comments to his blog, sometimes extraordinary patience with the most ‘out there’ theorists, and his academic standards in keeping clear the difference between his own work and others’ remains impeccable.

In one way, there can be no criticism made of any blogger’s choice of opinion, or of response to comments to their blog, ¬†but given Pelling’s large following, high profile and standing as one of the ‘old guard’, the old problem of influence and responsibility must arise.¬† ¬†Knowing that any who would subject Pelling’s “machine-plants” idea to detailed criticism and dismissal, or dispute Zandbergen’s ‘oak-ivy’ comparisons as I’m about to do may incur public denigration of their intelligence, competence, motives and personal character is certainly a deterrent to putting higher value on the manuscript’s accurate evaluation than on the ‘Voynich community’s bonhomie.¬† The revisionist might hope for both, but I should think not in this generation.

Specifics

Since my own is the only name I feel entitled to mention, I’ll say that during the near-decade in which I offered historical notes and analytical-critical commentary on the Voynich manuscript’s imagery the work received only two types of response from the ‘conservatives’:¬† results gained from that original research were taken and re-presented without acknowledgements, and/or were met by ‘criticisms’ of the ad.hominem sort.

There was just one informed criticism made over the entire period:  a correction to my description of the religious order to which Hugh of St. Victor belonged.

No qualified person in my field had been involved in the study, as far as I could discover, since the 1930s and that might explain the resort to personal criticisms by persons lacking the wherewithall to make comments of any other type.¬† ¬†Recently, the well-qualified¬† ¬†Alexandra Marracini¬† has produced a paper which reminds me of my very first essays on the subject of this manuscript, when I still thought I’d be dealing with nothing more¬† unusual than the home-made book of some amateur western Christian author.

It was from about 2010, once I began sharing online and it became clear that this material could not be made to fit a ‘central European’ or ‘Latin cultural expression’ theory that the nasty response began.¬† ¬†From the first it was of the ‘no-holds-barred’ type and was disseminated as brainless and information-zero ‘memes’, inventing which seems to be the one real skill that a couple of ‘Voynicheros’ may claim.

My persistence in seeking to read, and then to acknowledge precedents – if any – for my views was re-interpreted by ‘meme’ as an effort to claim credit: ‘to make a name’ as that meme had it.¬† Another meme that I recall said that some students of mine were not real people (the reason being, apparently, that we decided their only access to the ‘Voynich-Colosseum’ should be through my own email address).¬† The result of that little ‘meme’ was abuse which the students, their parents and the school found as irrational as it was unmerited, and the ‘Voynich’ option was terminated.¬† ¬†You may be pleased to hear the credits were made transferrable since cyber-bullying should not cost credit-points.¬† ¬†Another slander-meme impugned by qualifications;¬† the least principled did not think it too grubby for them to start memes calling me a liar, or when that one didn’t quite catch on, upgrading it to mental derangement.¬† ¬† Of late, it seems, the one or two core bullies have been toning it down a bit: perhaps someone explained to them in one-syllable words the meaning of ‘fact’ ‘fiction’ ‘slander’ and ‘libel’.

The meme of the month¬† – towards me; but I’m not the only¬† troublemaker – is ‘nonsense’.¬† Not exactly the quality of a Times Higher Education review for the amount of research it tries to cover, is it?

It wasn’t the memes, or even the fools who are unable to find better ways to defend their theory which bothered me most; it’s the number of sheep who, when the water-cooler guy says ‘Bah! duly say¬† ‘Baaah’.

I had supposed that with a manuscript which presents so many non-trivial problems, the sort of person who’d stick around would be one having the type of critical intelligence which likes difficult problems.

But of course, anyone with that sort of intelligence can’t be hypnotised into saying ‘baaa’ just because the chap next to them got it from someone who was told it by someone else.

They say instead – ‘where did you get that idea?’ and ‘Show me your evidence’ and.. in this particular case ‘And exactly what does this tell me that might help me better understand Beinecke MS 408’?

 

And so back to that more interesting matter…

The ‘Oak and Ivy’ comparison in the Yale facsimile essay.

In its premises and its approach the ‘herbal’ essay in the Yale facsimile edition has much in common with the book by Tucker and Janick, in that it aims only to illustrate and thus to convince readers of its premises and its premises are its (foregone) conclusions.¬† It is an engaging history of the medieval herbal manuscript, but one illustrated by ‘pairings’ from the Voynich manuscript – pairings whose validity is treated as self-evident.

Among them is one which – were it valid – would be of enormous importance for this study for it would offer the long-sought proof for that ‘variant herbal’ speculation, and indicate that within the stemmata for copies of the Tractatus de herbis¬† mss exists some niche for the Voynich manuscript’s plant-pictures.

Because it could be of such great importance, it has to be treated seriously and seriously evaluated.¬† ¬†One might wish it were not a ‘pairing’ for which the credit falls to a member of the ‘old guard’ but the credit is claimed by Rene Zandbergen.

He presented his ‘match’ some years ago in a power-point presentation, later passing it to others to re-present (with credit accorded him)¬† as e.g. to Ellie Velinska.¬† Still later, it was used in forum discussions where again the thanks and credit were received by Zandbergen.¬† Finally, with acceptance already general among the ‘online community’ the same pairing was included in the Yale essay.

On occasion Zandbergen has mentioned that Edith Sherwood had ( I am told ‘earlier’) compared¬† folio 35v with one in a medieval manuscript.¬† Zandbergen’s comment takes the following form in one forum exchange:

EllieV – 11-02-2016 The most popular example is the oak/ivy combination found by Rene in other old herbals

ReneZ – 11-02-2016 Edith Sherwood independently noticed the similarity, in her case with the Sloane MS, while I saw it in the Paris BN manuscript.

The British library’s Sloane collection includes more than one herbal, as does the collection in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France but I note that where Sherwood’s habit was always to pair a picture from the Voynich manuscript to some later botanical illustration or to a modern photograph of her preferred ‘i.d.’, some images are now included from medieval manuscripts and now she pairs folio 35v with¬† an image of oak-and-ivy from¬† Brit.Lib. MS SLoane 4016 (folio 38v) –¬† to which I’ll return further below,

About¬† Zandbergen’s alleged ‘match’¬† only one point need be addressed and I’ll treat the vine-like element.¬† To discuss the pairing in full detail (as I’ve done elsewhere) would quadruple the length of this post.

 

__________

Zandbergen’s Resources:

Zandbergen’s discussion of the plant-pictures, from 2000 until the Yale essay was published has relied in one sense on generations of the ‘Voynich herbal’ idea but more particularly on¬† Minta Collins’ book to which Zandbergen has constantly referred, and just as constantly referred others.

Published in that year (2000), Collins’ Medieval Herbals: the Illustrative Tradition became available two years before the NSA released Tiltman’s paper of 1967/8.¬† ¬†It would be two years later still before we had Touwaide’s critical review of Collins’ book in 2004, but that appears to have escaped general notice for the following decade and more, until the present author brought it to the attention of Voynich ninja members.

  • Minta Collins, Medieval Herbals: the Illustrative Tradition.(2000)
  • the above, reviewed by Alain Touwaide¬†– Isis, ¬†Vol. 95, No.4 (2004) pp. 695-697.

Meanwhile, constant mention and recommendations of Collins’ book within the ‘Voynich community’ had seen it elevated to a status almost equal to that accorded d’Imperio’s Elegant Enigma – whose quotation some suppose a final word.¬† ¬† This same period saw escalate a trick of equating conservative ideas with the ‘good and sensible’ to the point where those engaging in original lines of research were discouraged –¬† and if not easily by ‘blanking’ or by citations from the two ‘bibles’ or items extracted from German medieval works, then next by comments suggesting that¬† only a ‘bad or irrational’ person would oppose the ‘central European cultural expression’¬† theory.

By about 2013-14,¬† assertions of ‘likeness’ met positive comment only if the comparison came from a Latin herbal or from central European manuscripts and books made between the thirteenth-mid sixteenth centuries – unless it were to ‘prove’ the work a Latin product.¬† Velinska’s ‘Duc de Berry’ theory was exempt.¬† ¬†The temporal range narrowed somewhat after 2013, as challenges to the radiocarbon dating of 2011 fell silent.¬† The conservatives’ geographic bounderies are widening a little further today but speculations about alchemical content, inherently anachronistic, remain current and so widely believed that to so much as doubt them has recently evoked an ‘eye-rolling’ from Pelling.¬† It would seem that another myth has achieved canonisation.

Zandbergen has displayed the same constancy in maintaining¬† the Voynich plant pictures a ‘herbal’ as he has shown in all else,¬† discouraged neither by Tiltman’s negative judgement nor by a century’s failure to find any place for them in that tradition. It is not an idea of Zandbergen’s invention, merely maintaining the speculations and assumptions of Wilfrid Voynich in 1912 and by the Friedman groups from 1944 onwards.

 

[Part 3] The ‘Manfredus herbal’

Against this pairing by Zandbergen of an image from the Voynich manuscript with one from the ‘Manfredus’* herbal we have the general objection that the ‘herbal’ idea remains a speculation and that were it well-founded there is a low probability that the same alleged ‘match’ would have passed all earlier notice. Believing the labels might offer a key to Voynichese, the Voynich plant-pictures and accompanying text have always been a focus of¬† study.

*properly:¬† Tractatus de Herbis, de Avibus et Piscibus, of Manfredus di Monte Imperiali, Paris, BNF ms. lat. 6823, but very often seen as ‘Manfredus de Monte Imperiali’

The Manfredus ‘herbal’ has been among the best- and most widely known of all medieval Latin copies of¬† the¬† ‘tracts on herbs’ and was so before Wilfrid had ever seen his ‘ugly duckling’ manuscript.¬† By then the ‘Manfredus’ was already in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and detailed knowledge of it had spread across the Atlantic, in proof of which I’ll cite the book-length monograph by Edward Sanford Burgess, published in 1902.

Burgess was then a resident of New York and was still so¬† when Wilfrid migrated to that city from London, bringing his widely-advertised ‘Roger Bacon manuscript’ – most of it filled with plant-pictures.

Burgess’ book-length monograph had been published by the Torrey Botanical Club journal (which is still in publication).¬† As handy guide to the text, Burgess included a ‘Tabular view of Plant-writers before 1600’ and as you see from the clip below (from p.98) the ‘Manfredus’ manuscript is included, dated it to c.1400.

 

  • Edward Sandford Burgess, ‘Studies in the History and Variations of Asters: Part 1: History of PreClusian Botany in its relation to Aster, Memoirs of the Torrey Botanical Club, Vol.10¬† (22 November 1902), pp. iii, v, vii-xii, 1-5, 7, 9-93, 95-447.r

Within his monograph, in speaking of Dianthus, Burgess says, “… I have seen the plant pictured in a book which is written by Manfrńďdus de Monte Imperiali.” (” Librum de simplicibus , qui in bibl. Parisina latet,”said Sprengel of Manfred’s work, in 1797 ; Fabricius knew of a copy in Paris about 1750..” (p.380)

Today, the date offered for Manfredus manuscript – that is, the digitised copy – at Gallica is again circa 1400, but the¬† Biblioth√®que nationale de France has¬† 1330-1340, leaving place of manufacture unspecified.¬† A website called ‘Manuscript Miniatures’ ascribes it to Pisa without explanation. And to Lillian Armstrong it was ‘Lombard’.

  • Lillian Armstrong, ‘The Illustration of Pliny’s Historia naturalis: Manuscripts before 1430′, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes¬† Vol. 46 (1983), pp. 19-39.

Some of those earlier attributions to place may owe less to consideration of the drawings or palette than to interpretations of the description ‘… Monte Imperiali’ –¬† on which subject the present writer’s opinion as offered¬† after looking into the question in 2016.¬† ¬†Taking it that the¬† ‘di’ here signifies “sent out from” rather than “born in” I concluded the post by saying:-

I see no reason why the ‚ÄúManfredi di maestro Berardo da Montepeloso medicus‚ÄĚ listed by Calvanico [on whom see Collins n.119] should not be the same person as that associated with BNF Lat 6823…Nor is it difficult to suggest why a clerk sent ‚Äėabroad‚Äô on behalf of Maestro Berardo might choose to describe himself in that way rather than as from Montepeloso.¬† A mere clerk, coming to an urban centre from the remote south of Italy – and from a place called ‚ÄúMount Hairy‚ÄĚ – would surely be sensitive to the sort of ridicule which urban lads would delight in heaping on a lowly¬† ‘rustic’.¬† Nor would that description¬† be a lie, for¬† Montepeloso (mod. Irsina) and its castle were imperial possessions until Frederick II gave them to the then newly-sanctioned Francsican order of preaching friars.¬† Perhaps the local community itself had been used to speaking of the mount and its castle as ‘imperial’, but to determine the last point either way would require research of a depth it scarcely warrants.

D.N. O’Donovan, ‘A note on Manfredus di Monte‚Ķ’ voynichimagery, (July 10th., 2016)

At the time none of the items in that paragraph, save Collins’ reference to Calvanico, was to be found in any of the usual Voynich writers, though (as so often) the situation may have changed without notice.

Montepeloso (mod. Irsina) today. Image published earlier in post to voynichimagery ((July 10, 2016)

A more recent scholarly source is the following volume, with Givens’ valuable essay on the Tractatus de herbis:

  • ¬†Jean A. Givens, ‘Reading and Writing the Illustrated Tractatus de herbis, 1280-1526′ in Givens, Reeds and Touwaide (eds.), Visualizing Medieval Medicine and Natural History, 1200-1550¬† (2006). pp.115-156.

 

In c.2010, the idea was prevalent in Voynich forums that¬† ‘Manfredus di Monte Imperiali’ was son to Frederick II.¬† This is not so, though he may have been a namesake and the same idea is found in other and older writings. It is not inexplicable if we suppose it due to a misinterpretation of the dedication which the noble Manfredus included in a thirteenth-century copy of Pseudo-Aristotle’s ‘De pomo’.¬† That dedication is quoted in

  • Lynn Thorndike, ‘The Latin Pseudo-Aristotle and Medieval Occult Science’, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Apr., 1922), pp. 229-258.¬† (n.39¬† ¬†p.237).

[Part 4] So, to return to Burgess.¬† A botanist with a particular interest in the history of plant-pictures and -texts made within the Greco-Latin world and to the 17th century lives in a city to which there comes a much-advertised ‘Roger Bacon manuscript’ filled with what are thought to be herbal pictures.¬† ¬†His particular focus is on antique and later mentions of the ‘aster’ family.¬† Does it seem likely that he could resist trying to discover what members of that family were recorded by Roger Bacon, an idol of the time?

And if he were to go to Wilfrid’s bookshop to express interest in the manuscript, would Wilfrid deny a potential buyer?¬† And seeing those images, is it likely that Burgess (among the many others, including Fr. Petersen or members of the Friedman groups) would consistently fail to notice that folio 35v was ‘identical’ or even a ‘close match’ for an image in the well-known¬† ‘Manfredus’ manuscript?

I do not know if Burgess ever saw the Voynich manuscript, though I suspect Tiltman saw Burgess’¬† ‘Tabular view’ and that it is among the reasons he can speak with such certainty of the “very limited range” of¬† “writing and illustration on the subject of the plant world from the early middle ages right through into the 16th and even 17th centuries”.

But Burgess’ example illustrates my point that the Manfredus ‘herbal’ was well and widely known to specialists on both sides of the Atlantic even before Wilfrid bought the ‘ugly ducking’.¬† Seeking precedents those as interested and well informed as Petersen was and as dedicated as the Friedman groups were could hardly have failed to hunt it for something ‘like’, whether or not they heeded the vital point already made by RIchard Salomon in 1936, that locating precedents or antecedents means matching style of drawing and comparable sequences.¬† I’ve already quoted that letter to Anne Nill in full, but here’s the critical sentence:

“‚Ķ I am convinced that the only possibility of deciphering would be given by finding an older series of plant pictures corresponding in its sequence to the arrangement of pictures in the Voynich manuscript.”

Richard Salomon to Anne Nill (July 9th., 1936 ),

Altogether the circumstances offer an a priori¬† argument against Zandbergen’s ‘match’ being valid –¬† at least within the historical and social context he presumes – but here it will be enough to address just one of the many points at which the ‘match’ fails –¬† the vine-like plant which Zandbergen claims equates to the Manfredus’ image for ivy.

Living Ivy.

Unless employed for purely decorative effect (e.g. ivy-rinceaux), or as crown for Dionysos or something of that kind,  the depiction of ivy in medieval Latin graphic art identifies a living plant by two elements, only one of which is invariable.

The leaf was drawn (European ivy is evergreen) and if any form of support was shown, the image emphasises the ivy’s clinging character.¬† That second is the invariable element .¬† ¬†It is clear, too, that to the medieval draughtsman, ivy’s clinging was tp be depicted as ‘twining’ – akin to that of the bean or of the Convolvulus.

Sherwood’s current comparison for f.35v, as I mentioned before, is Brit.Lib. MS SLoane 4016 folio 38v.¬† This certainly does show ivy (accuracy in a manuscript’s labels are not to be presumed), and it is equally clear that this draughtsman expresses himself through the usual conventions of Latins’ art; his ivy is denoted by its twining habit.¬† He has also included the umbels of black berries.¬† His leaves are given five lobes.¬† Neither of the last two features is invariable.¬† The ‘clinging’ character is.

Climbing ivy has leaves of varying form, with those of a non-flowering stem having 3‚Äď5 triangular-shaped lobes and those of flowering shoots being oval to eliptical. There is also a ‘ground ivy’ depicted in some herbals, but the point is that when shown with any supporting object or plant, the medieval image tells the reader it is an ivy plant by means of that character of ‘clinging’ which is depicted as a twining about the support.¬† ¬† Not what we see in folio 35v of Beinecke MS 408, where the vine-like plant is not only shown to be unable to cling, but lacks any leaf.¬† If the latter was intended to signify the plant a deciduous one, then it cannot be European ivy.¬† Again, though perhaps less significant, is the fact that the berries are not depicted using the convention of that ‘fan-shaped’ umbel.¬† Whether the supporting plant is meant for an oak is a separate question, but the fact remains that if the vine was not intended to be read as ivy, Zandbergen’s comparison and claimed ‘match’ is invalid and once more we have no reasonable evidence, documentary or otherwise, retrospective or otherwise, in support of the constant assertion that the Voynich plant-pictures should belong in the Latins’ ‘herbals’ tradition.

Another ‘Sloane manuscript’¬† Sherwood had noted,¬† inspiring¬† Zandbergen to find more, was Sloane MS 56 (f.81r).¬† Once again, the ‘twining’ habit and a leaf.

The next example (below, right) comes from another of the best-known Latin (western Christian) herbals, Brit.Lib. MS Egerton 747, and yet again we see that to define ivy it was not the flower or any set form for the leaf which was employed, but that close-clinging habit envisaged as twining.  The suckers which we now suppose essential to the ivy are not depicted.

But here’s the interesting thing; that other Sloane manuscript (MS 56) noted by Sherwood is not a herbal. It’s an early fifteenth-century copy of John of¬† Arderne’s Liber Medicinalis.

[Part 5] John of Arderne’s glossary and its images

In a passing comment to Pelling’s blog, in 2009, Zandbergen mentioned a different copy of it, though also from the Sloane collection (Brit.Lib. Sloane 335), saying under Pelling’s post, ‘Pre-1450 German possibility’- Dec.21st., 2009) :

‚Äú To add to the confusion…¬† I just found a very nice illustration from a pre-1450 manuscript which is more Voynich Herbal-like than anything I can remember, yet is neither from Italy nor from Germany:. ‚ÄĚ

He omitted there to mention that it was English or to give any details or date, but in the British Library catalogue Sloane MS 335 is dated to the ” last quarter of the 14th¬† or 1st quarter of the 15th century”.

I find no evidence that Zandbergen explored the perceived similarities – nor did he specify any – but I agree that there are valid points of comparison to be found in some drawings from that manuscript and some few of the Voynich plant-pictures.

Still other copies remain of Arderne’s Liber Medicinalis and I think readers will be most interested in the catalogue record provided with another copy (made c.1475-1500) and now in Glasgow University’s Special Collections as¬† MS Hunter 251 (U.4.9). Part of that record reads:

Arderne’s style of Latin is rather colloquial; indeed, his texts may almost be described as polyglot as his use of Latin is somewhat inconsistent. As well as providing glosses in English and Anglo-Norman, the text occasionally lapses in to sections written in English for no apparent reason. Although it is impossible to say whether this was how Arderne himself originally composed his work, or whether such anomalies crept in as his texts were copied from manuscript to manuscript, it nevertheless demonstrates the multilingual nature of literate medieval English society.

From the university’s website – Glasgow University¬† (Special Collections¬† .

More, the pictures of interest in Sloane 335 follow after Arderne’s brief ‘glossary’ of the ‘French’ plant-names used in Paris in his day.¬† This raises the interesting question of whether the pictures in the earlier copy (Sloane MS 335) may derive from a source which Arderne had copied in Paris during the first half of the fourteenth century.¬† (He is mentioned as serving at the Battle of Crecy). Here, some of the pictures

image above from the British Library Illuminated Manuscripts site. (Not¬† yet on its¬† ‘Digitised Manuscripts’ site).

.. and below Arderne’s brief ‘glossary’ courtesy of the University of Glasgow and the internet archive, reproduced from a paper which¬† D’arcy Power delivered in 1913 to the 17th. International Congress of Medicine in London.¬† (Note: Power used the letter i in isolation to signify (that is…) which we normally render as ‘i.e.’.

Stylistic tricks in common.

The drawings do share certain stylistic tricks in common with some in the Voynich manuscript, but the comparison offers no easy key to the Voynich drawings; it is important to distinguish between the graphic techniques employed by draughtsmen and the objects of their attention.

Buds or fruit are shown emerging from the calyx in similar ways, in two cases in Sloane 335 and as comparison the image from folio 1r.

(left) detail from Brit.Lib. MS Sloane 335 folio 82r.   (right) detail from Beinecke MS 408 fol. 1r.

More interesting is the placement of just one black dot on each of a plant’s leaves.

The Sloane drawing appears to me (correct me if you know better) to use the dots to mean ‘burres’ or burrs.¬† It may – but need not – carry the same sense in the Voynich image, though we note the leaves there are are also given spines, or bristles, along the leaf-margins

I would agree then with Rene’s observation, quoted above, that the drawings made in England about the same time as the Vms – but possibly from a French exemplar – display points in common with some in the Voynich manuscript, and that they look¬† “more¬† ‘Voynich like'”¬† than anything I’ve seen so far cited by a Voynich writer – certainly more ‘Voynichlike’ than any image cited from a Latin herbal including the Tractatus de Herbis, de Avibus et Piscibus, of Manfredus di Monte Imperiali, (Paris, BNF ms. lat. 6823).

Notes:

  • When commenting earlier on these drawings from Sloane 335 (in a postscript to ‘The Matter of “alchemical herbals”‘, voynichimagery, (April 8th., 2013), I added mention of a Peter of Arderne, referring to:¬† ¬†Stewart C. Easton, Roger Bacon And His Search For A Universal Science (1952) pp.120-121.

Among other pointers to an Anglo-French environment for manufacture of the Voynich manuscript and its early use are that the month-names are closely similar to the Anglo-French forms; that (as I first pointed out), the linguistic link between a crossbowman and Sagittarius is offered by entries into the English military rolls where ‘Sagittario’ (and variants) are found used for crossbowmen hired for service in Calais, and again¬† (this being now much re-used without mention of the present author), similarity in form between the type of¬† ‘cloudband’ seen in some manuscripts of John Gower’s¬† Vox Clamantis and (in those same), use of the ‘orb’ in three divisions to represent the world –¬† replacing the older ‘T-O’ form.¬† That ‘orb’ form is seen used for the same purpose in works by Roger Bacon and has been attributed to him.¬† I won’t elaborate now, having already published several posts on these matters at voynichimagery.

Noting that in¬† 2014 Ellie Velinska had described an incidence of this form as an ‘inverted T-O’, the present author provided in August-October 2017 its history in brief, explaining its evolution within Christian imagery, and this ‘orb’s replacing the the earlier ‘book of the world’ emblem, first in English works. detail from Brit.Lib. Arundel 83 f.130 (c.1310-1320). See also Pelling’s comments on Ellie’s post (ciphermysteries. Oct.18th., 2017).
detail from Bodleian MS Laud Misc. 719 f.21r (1425-1450). Introduced in ‘The Orb, the Book and Equivalence Part 2’¬† voynichimagery (Mon. November 20th, 2017) and a detail (below) illustrating its style of ‘cloudband’ – this item from the author’s research having been shared with¬† members of the voynich.ninja forum at that time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In closing, readers please note that by c.2010, Dana Scott was alone convinced of an English provenance for the Voynich manuscript and he continued actively engaged in investigating English sources when I last saw his comments to the second mailing list.¬† Any researcher finding him/herself moving towards a similar position should not neglect to consult the work Dana has done over so many years, nor to credit him by name when taking any of it… up.¬† The second mailing list is still running, thanks to the generosity of Rich Santacoloma and I believe Dana remains a member.

 

typo corrected (thanks, Michael).25th May 2019; abstract added May 27th., 2019 and clarifications for the sense in which ‘Tractatus de herbis’ is used in this paper.

June 1st – Gower images added at Dr.O’Donovan’s instruction. June 3rd, detail from Brit.Lib. Arundel MS 83 f.130. L.S.

Notes on Panofsky’s comments 3 – hesitations

Header Illustration: (left) detail from Bodleian Library MS Marsh 144  p.211 11thC ; (right) detail from Sassoon MS 823 / UPenn LJS 057 Catalonia 1361 AD.

Two previous

 

Notes 2, 3 & 4: dating and provenancing ‘shapely ladies’

second edition, edited and updated  Р15th. Feb. 2019

Anne Nill?  detail (reversed) from a photo posted at voynich.nu No source given.

Anne Nill wrote:

[on first seeing the copy, Panofsky]¬† became intensely interested and seemed to think the MS. early, perhaps as early as the 13th century2¬† … but as he came to the female figures3 in connection with the colours used in the manuscript4¬† he came to the conclusion that it could not be earlier than the 15th century!

*’colours’ – he was first shown worn black-and-white negative copies.

“13thC? …..15th? …. 

Anne Nill conflates a question about dating manufacture (‘range of colours’), with one about dating content ( ‘shapely ladies’)¬† though it’s true that both together had caused Panofsky’s hesitation.

Eight decades on, the revisionist can consider each item separately and¬† Panofsky’s original judgement appears justified on both counts: manufacture, 15thC;¬† matter gained from older sources.¬† Some of those sources may indeed have been thirteenth-century.

 

 

‘Colours’ – The manuscript’s Palette:

detail from: Bexur,¬†Driscoll, Lemay, Mysak, Stenger and Zyats, ‘Physical Findings’ in the Yale facsimile edition pp.23-37. original caption slightly edited but not altered.

Panofsky’s first dating manufacture of the manuscript to ‘not earlier than the fifteenth century’ would eventually become the consensus among persons whose work was in evaluating manuscripts.¬† By the early 1960s, as d’Imperio recorded:

“Helmut Lehmann-Haupt..stated in a letter to Tiltman dated 1 November 1963 that ‚Äúthere was near agreement on the date of the cipher manuscript as around, or a little after, the year 1400”.

Elegant Enigma (1978) p.8*

*note – typographic error in the original. Properly –¬† ‘Hellmut…’. [note added 26 April 2019]

These unnamed specialists, and Panofsky before them, were validated finally in 2011 by the vellum’s radiocarbon range : 1404-1438.

I’ll leave the subject of pigments for a later post, where I’ll compare Panofsky’s statement with Dr. Carter’s descriptive list of the palette¬† (recorded by d’Imperio), and by reference to a scientific study which was included in the Yale facsimile edition. Since the 1930s, and indeed since 1954 –¬† we have developed more precise techniques for analysis and identification.

 

 

Comment – Shapely figures


Panofsky was quite right to say that ‚Äėshapely‚Äô women¬†(whom we’ll define by their swelled bellies) would not become a Latin fashion until the fifteenth century, but with more medieval manuscripts known today, we can say his original opinion may not have needed second-thoughts on this account, for research into the imagery in Spanish-and-Jewish manuscripts indicates that the form does occur there earlier, though interestingly only to represent metaphorical or allegorical ‘bodies’.¬† The closest comparison¬† found so far – since we must take¬† both stylistics and apparent subject into account¬† – is the ‘Gemini’ in MS Sassoon 823 (now: UPenn MS LJS 057).¬† The remarkably close similarity suggests a need to revise much of what has been generally assumed about the Voynich ‘ladies’.

(detail) f.77r

As our header shows, the ‘swelled belly’ emerged as an effort to imitate drawings in the first (pre-Ulugh¬†Beg)¬† illustrations found in copies of al-Sufi’s Book of the Constellations. Those images in turn had reflected the traditions of¬† pre-Islamic peoples, including but not limited to, those of the Greeks and Romans. The rounded belly was most characteristic of an Indo-Persian style and we must consider that the works of al-Biruni may have had some part to play in¬† first formulation of the drawings illustrating al-Sufi’s tenth-century composition.

That remains to be seen.¬† However, the header for this post illustrates the progression of the style; the¬†left panel shows a detail from¬† the ‘Gemini’ in an eleventh-century Iraqi copy of al-Sufi’s text; the centre shows the Gemini from MS Sassoon 823, whose content is a compilation of astronomical works, out together in 1361 in Catalonia, and the third panel is from another compilation, in a manuscript made (as we know)¬†during the early decades of the fifteenth century.

The fourteenth-century Catalonian-Jewish figure has more in common with the Voynich manuscript’s unclothed figures than just the quirk which sees many of the bellies given a slightly-angular form.

They also have in common their curiously-formed ankles, flat feet and boneless-looking arms –¬† none of which elements appear in extant Islamic copies of al-Sufi’s constellation-illustrations, and none of which mars the later, more literal, fifteenth century ‘shapely women’ of Latin (i.e. western Christian) art.

There are differences evident, too. ¬†A majority of the Voynich figures have heads disproportionately large, as the Catalonian figure does not.¬† More importantly (because even rarer ) many are drawn with overly large thighs in combination with bone-thin shanks, something shown most clearly in the Voynich ‘bathy-‘ sub-section, and which again is present neither in the Catalonian figure, nor in any remaining copies of al-Sufi’s work of which I’m aware.

That stylistic habit is not absolutely unknown, though  since it speaks more to the route by which the material had reached the west than our present subject, I leave it aside.

On the matter of proportions, which topic I’d brought forward quite early for its significance, the general indifference saw it ignored at that time, but more recently we have had a¬† lucid ‘revisionist’¬†post on the subject by Koen Gheuens, which I recommend:

. . . . . . . . . .

the chief point to be taken from this is that Panofsky’s judgement of ‘southern and Jewish’ content again finds support in the style of that drawing in a manuscript¬† predating the Voynich manuscript’s manufacture by at least forty years, and perhaps as much as sixty.

The possibility that its precedents could date from as early as the¬† the reign of Alfonso X (1254-1282) relies on the context in which the Sassoon ‘Gemini’ occurs, for even in Sassoon 823 its style of drawing stands apart.¬† To clarify, I rely on a paper by Fischer, Langermann and Kunitzsch, describing in detail the sections comprising the compilation of Sassoon 823/LJS 057.¬† ¬†The optional Preface clarifies another ‘ground hog day’ issue but skipping it will not lose anything from the main topic.

 

 

Optional preface: History of Sassoon 823/LJS 057 in Voynich studies.


I came across a notice of sale and acquisition for MS Sassoon 823 in 2011 in the course of my principal (non-Voynich-related) research.

Its description contained a greater-than-usual number of points in common with the Voynich manuscript – though at that time I was still the only person in the second mailing list to hold that Beinecke MS 408 was also a compilation from several earlier sources. (Today, I daresay, most would claim it general knowledge, and some would assert having known it all along.¬† Perhaps, if so, they might have lent a word of support at the time.)¬† Hunting more details of the manuscript, I had only an abstract of the article by¬† Fischer et.al. when I posted a note (in my old blogger blog, Findings) on¬†Nov. 21st., 2011, listing the features I considered it had in common with the Voynich manuscript.¬† (At the time, a couple of the ‘German’ theorists were disputing use of the term ‘vellum’ and claiming the material could just as easily be described as German parchment.. which isn’t so, but they’ve come right on that matter since.)

A codex ‚Äď probably fourteenth century ‚Äď from the Iberian peninsula or thereabouts (Ceuta?) contains illustrations with human figures drawn short, and with distended bellies. One of these illustrations (for Gemini) is shown on p.288 of the article cited below.¬† ¬†That same article, written in 1988, provides the few details about the ms…

Article: Karl A. F. Fischer, Paul Kunitzsch and Y. Tzvi Langermann, ‚ÄúThe Hebrew Astronomical Codex MS. Sassoon 823‚ÄĚ The Jewish Quarterly Review , New Series, Vol. 78, No. 3/4 (Jan. ‚Äď Apr., 1988), pp. 253-292

which says that the ms in question is:
*Inscribed in an ‚Äėearly‚Äô Spanish hand.

*A florilegium ‚Äď i.e. a collection of extracts.
*Vellum (?) rather than parchment.
*Total number of pages is greater than the Vms… but
*quires are also 8 pages each.

adding:

There is also apparently a¬† book [which could be an intro. plus facsimile, at 292 pages]: Karl Adolf Franz Fischer, Paul Kunitzsch, Yitzhak Tzvi Langermann, The Hebrew astronomical codex ms. Sassoon 823, Center for advanced Judaic studies, University of Pennsylvania, (1994) ‚Äď 292 pages.

As you’ll see, some of those details were mistaken: the provenance is now established as Catalonia and the library presently holding it is clear about the date: 1361.

The next year, still unable to get hold of a copy of the larger study, and with the manuscript not (yet) online, I put out the word again –¬† through my still-fairly-new wordpress blog, voynichimagery¬†(‘Curiosities’, Friday, Nov.2nd., 2012)

Still no response from any of the thousand or so who read that post.

By¬† 2013, I was about to give it up, but because I had not found anywhere a drawing so like in both form and style to the Voynich ‘ladies’ as the Sassoon manuscript’s ‘Gemini’, I followed that manuscript’s progress after its purchase by the University of Pennyslvania (where it would be re-classified¬† Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection, MS 057).

By 2013 I was also frustrated that no other Voynich researcher had yet investigated exactly where and when ‘swelled belly’ figures begin appearing in Europe’s Latin (western Christian) art, so I set out to investigate both topics in parallel and in earnest.¬† I acquired¬†a photocopy of Sassoon 823/LJS 057… which was later digitised by UPenn.

Some of my research and results I shared in the context of posts about Beinecke MS 408, published at voynichimagery through 2013-2014.  Two, for example, are:

  • D.N. O‚ÄôDonovan, ‚ÄėThe ‚Äėbeastly‚Äô Lombardy Herbal Pt1 ‚Äď female forms‚Äô (22nd July 2013); and then (e.g.)
  • __________________,¬† ¬†‚Äė Talking about art and codicology‚Äô,¬†(¬†26th October 2014).

I referenced the paper of 1988 which I’d first read in 2011 – and from which I quote again further below.

  • Karl A. F. Fischer, Paul Kunitzsch, Tzvi Langermann, ‘The Hebrew Astronomical Codex MS Sassoon 823’,¬†The Jewish Quarterly Review, LXXVIII, Nos. 3-4 (January-April, 1988) 253-292.

The most important discovery, in my opinion, was that the Sassoon ‘Gemini’ served as support not only for Panofsky’s location and character for the Voynich manuscript, but also for my own conclusions (published as early as 2011) that it is not only the ‘ladies’ in the calendar’s tiers, but all of them (and associated males) which were intended for celestial/immaterial ‘bodies’/souls.¬† To some extent, Nick Pelling (among others?) had sensed something of this in calling the figures “nymphs” – but it was also understood or intuited as early as 1921, by Professor Romaine Newbold, albeit he had interpreted that idea within the terms of¬† late-classical¬† neoPlatonist philosophy, rather than those of pragmatic astronomies.¬† (Some years later, Koen Gheuens would do something of the same, but in terms of the Latin mainstream and its standard texts: For the record, my own view is that we are seeing an older, more pragmatic tradition whose closest ‘cousins’ in the western Mediterranean are those of the navigator and chart-maker, whose terrestrial and celestial grids are constantly superimposed on one another.¬† However…

Having followed the trail of Sassoon 823 after its sale, corresponded with the new owner, written about it in posts (which were then still online and with the blog’s ranking, highly likely to turn up on any search),¬† I was disappointed to see that Darren Worley failed to refer to the precedent when, in 2017, he left a comment at Stephen Bax’ site announcing¬† the existence of Sassoon 823/LJS 057 in a way suggesting it a newly idea within the study.

At that time I¬† had a manuscript – a set of twelve essays – in the last stages of preparation for publication at that time;¬† and since academic editors do prefer no doubt should exist about the originality of work they have commissioned,¬† I asked Darren to acknowledge the precedent for form’s sake.¬† He did not.¬† ¬†No-one wants to be put in the position of being asked, in effect, why if their work is original, the same material is now seen everywhere (including voynich.nu and wikipedia) with not a mention of one’s own name as the first to have contributed the research, conclusions or insight.

Given that this relatively minor incident was only one of the great many similar – and worse instances that I’d had to deal with over almost a decade, I had no option but to stop sharing original material online, and to close voynichimagery from the public¬† – which I did soon after.¬† The issue has nothing to do with money, or copyright; it has to do with transparency and the honest mapping of the subject’s development over time.¬† (see the ‘About’ page)

On a brighter note, Worley’s comment itself had value.¬† I recommend it for his observation about the¬† quire signatures which I have not seen made before.

 

  The TEXTS IN MS SASSOON 823 AND THEIR PICTURES: Bar Hiyya, al-Sufi and anonymous. NON-LATIN LINEAGE.

Sassoon 823/LJS 057 was made almost forty years earlier than the posited ‘1400’, and fully half a century before the Voynich manuscript was made.

Whether Panofsky was right or not in first attributing the content in Beinecke MS 408 to the thirteenth century, its ‘swelled-belly’ figures offer no objection to a ‘southern and Jewish’ character ‘with Arabic influences’¬† – for that is precisely how the manuscript is described which offers our closest-known comparison for the unclothed¬† Voynich ‘ladies’.

Of the astronomical drawings in Sassoon 823, Fisher et.al. comment:

¬†the figures found in the Sassoon manuscript cannot have been copied from a manuscript of the Sufi latinus corpus, and equally¬†not from an Islamic celestial globe. The only remaining possibility is that they were selected and copied from an Arabic manuscript of al-Sufi’s treatise.”

The text accompanying the Gemini figure (p.225) comes from an unnamed source, and the ‘Gemini’ image itself is not drawn in a way closely akin to any other, even in that manuscript.

The content in pages¬†195-228 is¬† described altogether as¬† “Astronomical Tables by Abraham bar Hiyya and others” and¬†¬†In bold letters at the top of page 195 is written:¬† “From here onwards, from the Jerusalem Tables of the Nasi’¬† R. Hiyya the Spaniard, of blessed memory”

Kunitzsch adding his comment:

‘I know of no medieval astronomer by that name; however, the Nasi’ R. Abraham bar Hiyya is, of course, very well known, and in fact the tables in this entry up to page 214 are indeed his tables. On the other hand, I know of no other reference to Bar Hiyya’s tables as the “Jerusalem Tables.” …¬†

The ‘Gemini’ image (p.225) belongs to the additional, anonymous, material occupying¬†pp. 215-28¬† which “deals mainly with astrology. Some of these tables are found in at least two other manuscripts which contain Bar Hiyya’s tables: Chicago, Newberry Library Or. 101, and Vatican Heb. 393.¬† ¬†Other items are unique to our manuscript…

ibid. p.272.

Chicago, Newberry Library Heb.MS 2 (unfoliated)

The ‘Gemini’ image may then have been brought into the Sassoon compendium with its anonymous(?) tables, not designed by Bar Hiyya but¬† found with his in at least two other manuscripts.¬† ¬†What is not known is how early the sources were joined – nor where – though ultimately the ‘Gemini’ (which we accept as deriving from an Arabic manuscript copy of al-Sufi’s ‘Book of the Constellations’ ) has to derive from the versions made before the time of Ulugh¬†Beg, after which Gemini is differently represented.

Bar Hiyya¬† was known to the Latins as Abraham Judeus, and was born¬† three generations after al-Sufi’s death. (Al-Sufi¬† 903-986; Bar Hiyya 1065‚ÄĒ1136 AD).

Those manuscripts cited as containing the same tables, together with Bar Hiyya’s are not both presently accessible online, and Vatican Ebr.393¬†(1497 AD) though¬† digitised contains contains no constellation drawings. (Catalogue entry¬†here.)¬† The Newberry Library informs me that the article by Fischer et.al. is mistaken. They have no ‘MS Or.101’, but they do have Heb.MS 2, whose content appears to be as described in that article. There are no constellation drawings in this copy.¬† At right, a reduced copy of one of the images very kindly sent me by the library.

Sidenote – ‘Jerusalem’.¬† ¬†David King demonstrated that in al-Andalus some at least had knowledge of Jerusalem latitudes;¬† an astrolabe¬† dated c.1300 has all its inscriptions save one in Arabic, the exception transliterating into Hebrew script the Arabic ”¬†ŔĄōĻōĪō∂ ō®ŘĆō™ ōßŔĄŔÖŔāōĮō≥ ŔĄō® li- ŅarŠłć Bayti ‚Äėl-Maqdis lńĀm bńĀ‚Äô” –¬† ‚Äúfor the latitude of Jerusalem, 32¬į‚ÄĚ.

  • Abu Zayed & King & Schmidl, ‚ÄúFrom a heavenly Arabic poem to an enigmatic Judaeo-Arabic astrolabe‚ÄĚ (2011), crediting¬†¬†the Khalili Collection, London for the image.
  • David A. King, ‘Astronomy in medieval Jerusalem’ (Pt.2), revised and shortened 2018, available through academia.edu

On Stephen Bax’ site (now in other hands) you will find various comments referring to Spain and to Spanish manuscripts, the work (chiefly by Darren Worley and Marco Ponzi) reviving and expanding the long-neglected opinion of¬† Panofsky, and later variation in Fr.Theodore Petersen’s work.

Checking the files of Reeds’ mailing list is always worthwhile; and I’d also suggest searching Nick Pelling’s long-running blog, ciphermysteries.¬† ¬†Running a search there before pursuing a ‘new line’ too far can often save you much time and effort – because even if Pelling has not looked at the subject himself, he may well mention that another researcher did.

A revisionist will want to revise past ideas and efforts, but it is always as well to begin by knowing what those were.

With regard to the ‘shapely ladies’ in Beinecke MS 408,¬† I should mention that the opinion of Fischer et. al. appears to preclude any close connection between them and the ’23 virgins’ which appear in a 9thC Byzantine diagram within Vat.Lat. gr. 1291.[Vatican City,¬†Lateran Palace¬†collection, Greek ms 1291]. The comparison has often – in fact continually – been re-produced since 2001 though without any effort to produce a formal argument, so far as I can discover.¬† ¬†It would appear to have been introduced to the study by Dana Scott in a post to Reeds’ mailing list (Mon. 12th. Feb. 2001), because ten days later (Thurs, 22nd. Feb 2001) Adam McLean refers to the diagram as if only recently mentioned.¬† The point remains a little uncertain because link to the image which Dana attached and labelled ‘Ptolemy’ no longer works.

 

 

Note: Swelled bellies in fourteenth century Bohemia.

Probably irrelevant to Beinecke MS 408,  I include this for the Voynicheros fascinated by Rudolf and his world.

The same essay continues:

To which globe are the (hemisphere) illustrations in the Sassoon manuscript most closely related? The answer is probably the globe of the King of Bohemia, Wenceslaus II (or III ?), which is now kept in Bernkastel-Kues and was first described by Hartmann.

The Spanish origin of the star catalogue in Sassoon 823 has already been established in Part I of this article (i.e. by Fischer, Kunitzsch and Langermann), .

Since the star illustrations in the Sassoon manuscript are similar to both Vienna codex 5318 [not digitised] which is considered to belong to the same family as Catania 87 [not found online] and the two hemispheres on pp. 112-13 of Vienna Codex 5415 [see Warburg database], and since both of these Latin manuscripts now located at Vienna originate from Prague, one ought to consider the possibility of Spanish influence on the manuscripts executed at Prague.

In the middle ages there were relations between the royal courts at Prague and Castile. The father of the present writer conducted research in Spanish archives before the civil war in that country which were destroyed in that conflict. He found there that the first known astronomer in Prague was sent as a “gift” by King Alfonso of Castille to Premysl Ottakar II King of Bohemia. …¬†Previous scholars have frequently noted that Prague was the place of origin of many astronomical atlases.

 ibid. p.284

(Premysl Ottokar II was King of Bohemia 1253 -1278;  РD)

The Bohemian line of development shows an absence of some characteristics shared by the Voynich figures and those in Sassoon 823. Nor does the Voynich calendar show Gemini in this form But for the ‘ladies’ in the Vms’ bathy-section and for some of the surrounding figures in the calendar, we may suggest as one explanation, common emergence from that earlier, non-Latin al-Sufi textual tradition current in Spain,¬† the Bohemian works having been gained by second-hand exposure to them.¬† Of three examples illustrated by Fischer in another paper, it is only that¬† dated c.1350 which distinguishes the female figure by small, high breasts and none shows similar style for the limbs and hair as we see in the Sassoon manuscript.

 

Another section Sassoon 823 (pp. 25-29) contains extracts from Abraham Ibn Ezra’s astrological works – interesting in view of our earlier reference to the Voynich calendar’s month-names and their orthography.

Ibn Ezra, who also translated Ibn al-Muthanna’s commentary on the tables of al-Khwarizmi,¬† is recorded – in the Parma version –¬† as saying “The tables in the Almagest are useless”

  • above quoted from p.255 of Fisher et.al., ‘Hebrew Astronomical Codex….’

and just to show that the eastern ‘swelled belly’ was often difficult for Latins to interpret, here’s what was made of it c.1300 by a draughtsman in Paris: the belly becomes a rib-cage, twisted sideways.

 

 

Prague 1350 AD

 

 

Few heeded the distinction between dates of composition and those of manufacture: 

The point is that this distinction between dates for manufacture and for content, when considered in concert with other items of evidence, (some of which have already been mentioned in these posts) obliges us to take seriously the possibility that our manuscript is a fifteenth-century copy of material gained from sources which may date to the thirteenth century – or earlier.

This is something which had been suggested even while the cryptanalysts were involved, half a century ago. In 1969 Tiltman seems to attribute to both Panofsky and the keeper of manuscripts his saying:

… the manuscript as we have it may be a copy of a much earlier document.

Quotation above from¬†[pdf] John Tiltman, ‚ÄėThe Voynich manuscript: ‚Äúthe most mysterious manuscript in the world‚ÄĚ‚Äė(1968).

 

Afterword:

Other than John Tiltman, the record of d’Imperio’s Elegant Enigma shows that¬†the cryptanalysts around William Friedman evince a lack of regard for opinions of specialists in their own subjects.¬† Friedman is recorded complaining of the ‘naivety’ of university men and his behaviour towards Newbold and towards Panofsky reinforces this impression.

That curious indifference may be due partly to the diversity of those opinions, partly to individual bias, and in the case of Erwin Panofsky partly his uncooperative response in 1954,¬†but more than those – so it appears to me – was the dichotomy presented by those opinions versus the cryptanalysts’ confidence that they had a role, and an important role, to play in the manuscript’s study.

Had they accepted the opinion of early fifteenth century date, they would have had to abandon their fixed belief that the written part of the text was ciphertext – one so resistant to their cryptological attacks¬† that they must presume it the invention of a highly sophisticated Latin, one having access to techniques not attested until the …¬† late fifteenth century…¬† early sixteenth century…¬† ¬†late sixteenth century… early seventeenth century…

Marcus Marci’s reporting the Rudolf-rumour had one clear benefit for this study. It set a definite limit on such rovings. Rudolf’s death occured in 1621.

Today, the ‘cipher-or-language… or other’ question remains unresolved, but the date for manufacture is set within narrow limits and obliges us to date the content, therefore, before that period 1404-1438.

And the content, like the ‘shapely ladies’ may derive from sources considerably earlier – as two of those specialists had pointed out.

In sum: Panofsky dated the pigments – and hence manufacture – in the fifteenth century.¬† He was right.¬† By reference to the ‘swelled belly’ figures, Panofsky felt his initial view of the content as “early… perhaps as early as the thirteenth century” could not be correct, and since he had no knowledge of that custom in art of the western Mediterranean before the fifteenth century, so he felt he must shift the date for content to co-incide with than of manufacture: 15thC.¬† ¬†Given the resources available today, we are able to say he was right about a pre=fifteenth-century date for composition,* since the ‘Gemini’ in Sassoon 823 is in a manuscript dated 1361, and made as he said by Jews of ‘Spain or somewhere southern’.

*the ‘pre=‘ dropped out during editing. Replaced today (15th Feb. 2019) with apologies to readers.

Moreover, that image occurs in a manuscript whose matter dates to a much earlier period and some of which is, in fact, dated to the thirteenth century and the time of Alfonzo X, a court in which (again as Panofsky said) you find influence from Islamic art in Jewish – and in Christian – art.

 

Notes 6 & 7¬†¬†...¬†shows strong Arabic¬†6and Jewish influences.7¬†“

So far¬† little to oppose, but much to support this part of Panofsky’s original assessment.

 

 

Next post:¬† Notes 8 ‘Kabbala’; Notes 12 & 13:¬† Salomon and Liebeschutz.