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.

Theory wars – an illustration

When readers comment via the contact form, I answer the first couple, but if more are about the same sort of thing, it’s worth a post.

Comments on the previous post were along the lines:¬† ‘theory wars – so what?’ or ‘it will be a good thing when there’s just one opinion’ or ‘complaining about lots of opinions is just your resentment’.

The one I thought worth a post is the¬† ‘theory war, so what?’. It means deferring mention of Rich Santacoloma’s work, but it’s obviously an issue readers think about.¬† ¬†I’ve had to spend a few days thinking¬† how best to illustrate the effect of a¬† ‘theory-war’ on attitudes to the manuscript’s research.

There’s also the fact that decade’s close study of the primary document has naturally led me to form¬† opinions from that evidence, so it would be right to say that I have a theory too, but I’d say it is a theory in the stricter sense of the term. I have no hesitation in changing my views should better and more solidly-based information turn up,¬† ¬†The aim is to ‘get it right’ not to adopt the pose of Delphic oracle.

So then, perfectly aware that the old saying about stones and glass houses might apply,¬† I’ve taken a tiny detail from folio 102, and traced the attitudes informing its discussion before, and then since 2012, when¬† ‘theory-war’ really took hold.¬† ¬†In my opinion, this very interesting manuscript deserves more care and more respect than it receives.

It isn’t easy, knowing how one flounders in the early stages, to now criticise offerings from people further back on the road. It seems hypocritical but then confusing discussion of method and standards in this study with attacks on personality is a particular habit of the theory-driven sort, and we mustn’t fall into that trap.

The sections average a bit over 1,000 words each.

I’d suggest you read one ‘phase’¬† and then take some time – perhaps a day –¬† to think about that before reading the next.

But it’s up to you.

 

Phase 1:¬† Scott and O’Donovan (a conversation – ‘book’? ¬†‘block of indigo’?).

Folio 102 is part of the manuscript’s ‘root and leaf’ section, yet it includes the small drawing of a block, directly below which is another detail also coloured blue, though in an even deeper hue and whose tag has three or four glyphs in common with that above the block. (‘Four’ if it were supposed that the last glyph of the block’s tag were a final form of the other’s fourth glyph).

Apart from these details, and a couple¬† discoloured, the remainder of that folio shows¬† ‘leaf and root’ details in the usual colours of green and brown. The block thus presents an anomaly.

 

It would seem reasonable to begin by expecting both ‘blue details’ on folio 102 to be in some way¬† connected to plants and to materials derived from them, and further that the draughtsman/painter intended his readers to understand that some more direct connection exists between these two blue items. Yet – though having a brushful of the blue to colour the block – the draughtsman/painter took another, and much deeper, blue to paint the lower detail.¬† They are thus linked in one sense but distinguished in another.

top – detail of object on f.102; centre – detail of vessel. Shang dynasty; detail 17thC Chinese silver.

In the left hand margin, level with these registers is an object set on ‘knife-blade’* legs of a sort not European, but attested in the east from a very early period indeed, and revived to as late as the seventeenth century.

*described in some sources as ‘tiger-claw’ legs. They are seen on objects intended to stand over a fire.

These items of information conveyed through the imagery, made sense in terms of indigo, its trade and use (as I’ll explain below), and though I read more before offering an opinion publicly,¬† by 2011¬† I was ready to make a brief comment to the second mailing list.¬† What I said was that I thought the block meant for a block of indigo.

Readers may find it useful to know that as a dyestuff, indigo is extracted from leaves of indigo tinctofera in the east, though another type of indigo plant, native to north Africa, had been brought into medieval Sicily.¬† ¬†I knew that the dyestuff¬† was sold in pressed blocks –¬† wrapped and stitched into cloth during the medieval period* – and that it had still been brought into the Mediterranean at that time from further east, just as¬† during¬† the earlier Christian centuries – which last is attested by the Periplus Maris Erythraei, a work written in execrable semi-Greek around the 1stC AD and often called the ‘Periplus of the Erythraean_Sea’.

* today it is sold held together just by a lattice of thread – as in our header.

§39. The ships lie at anchor at Barbaricum but all their cargoes are carried up to the metropolis by the river, to the King. There are imported into this market a great deal of thin clothing, and a little spurious; figured linens, topaz, coral, storax, frankincense, vessels of glass, silver and gold plate, and a little wine. On the other hand there are exported costus, bdellium, lycium, nard, turquoise, lapis lazuli, Seric skins, cotton cloth, silk yarn, and indigo. ..

No-one from the mailing list asked to know more of my reasons or evidence but Dana Scott was  kind enough to reply, at least,  saying he thought, rather, that it looked like a codex*, and linking to the illustration shown at left.

*BL MS Royal 19 D II – Bible Historiale of John the Good. Made in Central France (Paris) c. 1350-before 1356.

So far so good.

While I believe Dana thought¬† -and perhaps still thinks – the manuscript reflects a Norman Anglo-French environment (and I’d agree that its later phases reflect that character), the conversation was not a theory-war about nationalities or personalities, but a discussion of what a draughtsman had intended his audience to see in a particular small drawing. It was a conversation about the primary evidence.

And that’s as far as it went in the mailing list.¬† Though my comment elicited little response, there was no sniping or efforts at ‘put down’ in that brief conversation.

As I recall, it ended by being turned back to the central European theme by Zanbergen’s mentioning a herbal owned by a Bohemian king in which was reference to papyrus.

I did make a post for readers of my old ‘blogger’ blog Findings, (September 19, 2011) and later put a brief note about it at voynichimagery.¬† There I gave a list of references and explained that the context in which the block appears on folio 102 was an essential part of my reasoning and the item’s location in terms of both history and geography.

This was done because, before the ‘theory-war’ took hold, it was expected that a case should be presented fairly and with enough detail to show it wasn’t just a flight of imagination but potentially something on which others could rely and use in their own research.

I showed why the identification was compatible with the internal and external evidence, including the testimony provided by other details from the ‘leaf and root’ section, and how it is that, altogether, these indicate first composition for the content during the earlier, rather than later centuries AD – but within the environment of an east-west network that could reasonably have brought such matter to western Europe before 1440 1400-1440.

I added that,¬† if the draughtsman had wanted the block to be read as ‘indigo’ it would make sense to leave it pale save the dash of lighter blue, because not only was indigo pressed and sold stitched into a cloth wrapper, but the first stage of the process when the matter is extracted from the leaves results in what is known as¬† ‘white indigo’ (the pure dyestuff). It is then combined with liquid in the vat,¬† ¬†the cloths soaked, but only when they are removed and the dye re-oxygenates do they display that deep colour we call ‘indigo’.¬† ¬†The dyed fabric (which I think the subject of the detail under the block) has its deeper colour then reasonably explained..

I went into the question more deeply¬† – because it was still a question – finding in one medieval trader’s account – which I’m sorry to say I did not record in my notes –¬† that traders were permitted to make a small hole in the cloth wrapper to test the content’s quality (and, I suspect, its identity) .¬† ¬† This offered a reasonable explanation for the draughtsman’s troubling to add upon a drawing no more than a centimetre square, the two small circles we see placed at the seam-line in the upper middle and left-hand corner of the facing side (left). It might be meant to serve as reminder that with this good, one was permitted to inspect.

I won’t include much of my original reading list, but add a few first sources, and others I’ve noticed today.

A good first, overall view online in 2011 and  still going Рis  here:

Jenny Balfour-Paul is the expert on Indigo in the Islamic world

  • Balfour-Paul J.,”The indigo industry of the Yemen”,¬† in¬†Serjeant, R.B., Bidwell, R.L., ed(s). Arabian studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1990) pp. 39-62. and then
  • Jenny Balfour-Paul, lndigo in the Arab World (1997).
  • On Jews of the medieval Yemen, see ‘Habbani Jews

and today I’d add:

  • India Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (Publications Division),¬†India ‚Äď Govt. and Economic Life in Ancient and Medieval Periods. (2017).
  • Sarah Davis-Secord, Where Three Worlds Met: Sicily in the Early Medieval Mediterranean (2017).
  • ҆elomŇć Simonsohn (ed.), The Jews in Sicily: 383-1300.¬† Two good recent sources.

 

… and that was that.

 

********

Move forward a few years…

 

Phase 2: Velinska¬† (‘believe me… it’s easy’)

Ellie Velinska is a respected member of the ‘central European’ theory group, with a leaning towards the Duc du* Berry and one suspects largely responsible for the elasticity now given that group’s re-definition of ‘central Europe.’ (corr. *sp. ‘de’)

In October of 2016, she picked up Dana’s ‘codex’ idea, first offered (as we saw) on the mailing list in the presence of a leader of that central European theory, Rene Zandbergen.¬† Neglecting to mention Dana as precedent, Velinska’s post adds¬† circumstantial detail to Dana’s proposal, mentioning others only in a final cursory comment:¬† “there are other interpretations of the cube drawing – most often it is perceived as a mineral.”

Nothing is provided that might help readers find and weigh those ‘other interpretations’ and in 2011, so far as I’m aware, there had been none save Dana’s ‘codex’ and my own ‘indigo’. Indigotin is not a mineral.¬† Readers who know of earlier or other views published before 2016 are welcome to leave a comment here; I’m always happy to receive better information.

Keeping readers’ attention ‘on message’ and taking care not to let them be distracted by ‘unhelpful’ information is typical of the theory-war.¬† It is a different thing from offering detailed commentary on some aspect of a six-hundred year old manuscript, and different again from setting out a personal opinion with some, at least of its informing evidence, as proof of honest intent.

The theory-first style relies on assertion and persuasion, of suggesting that ‘ideas’ unsupported by evidence can be accepted on the basis of sounding sensible or plausible. It relies to an extraordinary extent on personalities.¬† The theorists think one should believe a team-member one of ‘the good guys’ and damn the others as ‘bad guys’ (bad, mad, or stupid – it’s all the same).

Velinska convinces because understanding her material takes so very little effort. Her posts offer a short, pleasant, undemanding read,¬† clearly informed by belief in the unmentioned ‘theory’.

Her comments don’t try to engage the reader’s brain, but their emotions –¬† and there’s little¬† so emotionally convincing as conviction, especially when combined with a light-hearted¬† fraternal nudge and grin at the expense of the ‘opposition’ – at all of which Velinska is very good.

For the Eurocentric crew, whose theory has a bloodline which can be traced through d’Imperio directly to Wilfrid Voynich’s tale of 1921, the theory-war is not unlike the weekly football match.¬† Lots of team spirit;¬† furious efforts to keep total possession of the ball; cheers from the crowd, hi-fives at every point scored against the ‘others’ … and not a moment’s thought spared for the ball’s opinion of it all.¬† In this case the ‘ball’ is the manuscript.

Velinska interprets the faint yellow wash on the block’s edges as ‘faded yellow’ and then without further reason given, and without any apparent need to do so,¬† extrapolates that impression into an argument that it was meant for gilded page-edges.¬† ¬†As support for this implication that manuscripts were provided with gilded edges by central European binders before 1438, Velinska offers no evidence at all.¬† She includes¬† one composite illustration, formed of undated and unprovenanced details, and one image which is probably a modern reproduction* labelled¬† “Bridgeman Art Library, Italian 15thC”.

*Bridgeman describes itself as “one of the largest archives for reproductions of works of art in the world”.

As ‘evidence’ for an opinion about a medieval manuscript, it is a positive insult to readers’ intelligence.

Having thus asserted (caveats notwithstanding) that the block is a book, and a book with gilded pages, Velinska next explains the oddly-positioned circles as holes for  book-clasps, although offering no example of a medieval European manuscript having two clasps, one positioned at top centre and one at its extreme edge.  Perhaps Velinska knows one, but if so she should have referenced it, because I should think it quite rare.

Though phased as a tentative suggestion, Velinska’s post implies throughout that it is the only suggestion a sensible person should accept.¬† For the ‘clasps’ idea she says this:

If we imagine for a moment “the blue cube” to be a book these dotted details could represent some kind of book clasps.

Dana did not go that far, and Velinska’s use of the speculative mood serves less as caution to the reader that the idea may be baseless, than as means to deflect¬† criticism or demands for solid evidence. You don’t fall into line because the argument is valid, but because… well, because Ellie’s a nice person and she’s not saying you have to believe her.

One may believe, or not, but in the theory-war¬† it becomes a form of ill-manners to withhold belief pending the presentation of evidence. That is, if the speaker is a member of a major theory-group who is supposed to need not to prove anything which adds another pebble to the mound.¬† ¬†On the other hand, the theory-driven see dissenters and non-believers as if members of a lower stratum of society – and¬† in seeing them off,¬† ‘manners’ don’t apply.¬† ¬†It’s a war, after all.

One may wonder if Velinska troubled even to establish whether central European bookbinders did, in fact, gild page-edges before 1438.¬† Gilding page-edges was binder’s work, not the scribe’s.

The Director of the Milanese Historical Archives and Trivulziana Library, Giulia Bologna, says this:

In Northern Italy, above all in Milan, the influence of Leonardo da Vinci extended in no small degree even to this minor art form. Thus, to attain a more exquisite effect, new die stamps styled with leaves and flowers were constantly being designed. They were called aldi after Aldo Manuzio: aldi pieni, vuoti and al tratteggio (solid, blank and broken line). Combined with spirals and volutes they were applied to the empty spaces in geometrical patterns of lines and friezes with striking and stylistically perfect results. Up to the end of the 16th century, bindings with this kind of goldwork were found all over Europe, most of them from Italian prototypes originating in Venice, Milan, Mantua, Turin, Genoa, Ferrara, Bologna, Florence and Rome. Some were quite magnificent, classical but original in composition, endless in variety and harmonious in general appearance. The décors included structural compositions, scrolls and plaques in goldwork, intervening sections with gold dots, lively colour effects obtained with leather appliqué work and lacquer paint. All this gave resplendence to 16th century bindings. It was during this period that decorative work was first used on inside covers and the edges finely gilded.

Da Vinci wasn’t born until 1452 and died in 1519, Bologna is talking about the sixteenth century.

How can Velinska suggest, and invite readers to adopt the idea,¬† that a manuscript made during the first four decades of the fifteenth century, before Leonardo was born – and containing matter demonstrably earlier than our present manuscript’s manufacture –¬† should be believed to include in the ‘root and leaf’ section an image of a book with gilded page-edges?

Easily. It suits the theory.

Failures in rigor do not necessarily mean that the ‘answer’ is wrong: that’s the difference between the pragmatic and critical sciences.¬† It is still possible that Dana and she are right in general; the ‘cube’¬† might have been meant for a book, but in that case readers are entitled to some informed explanation for the item’s being in the ‘leaf and root’ section,¬† the presence of those¬† ‘knife-blade’ legs on an object in the same register, and the possible linguistic connection between the block and the item directly below it.

Nor is it beyond possibility that the Director of the Milanese Historical Archives and Trivulziana Library is mistaken, and that another source might provide evidence that binders in some part of Europe were gilding pages before 1438.¬† If the question we ask¬† of others’ proposals¬† is, ‘Is that true?’ rather than ‘does it suit my theory’ it is right to be as slow to disbelieve as to believe, and the manuscript’s study is better served.

We cannot accept Velinska’s composite illustration as contradiction of Bologna’s account, because none of its details were provided with¬† date and source. Neither has Velinska considered literal against purely aesthetic elements.¬† Items gilded in a picture may or may not have been gilded in reality.¬† In this case, documentary evidence and/or reference to an extant example was required. (Consideration of e.g.¬† Brit.Lib. Arundel 131 is enough* to show this).

*an impression of its having gilded pages soon¬† dispelled by consulting the Library’s catalogue entry:¬† “Binding: B[ritish] M[useum]/BL in-house. Edges yellow; rebound in 1962.”

I haven’t much time to do this myself on her behalf, but I do note that in 1928, there was published in London and in Boston a two-volume work entitled¬† Gothic & Renaissance Bookbindings Exemplified and Illustrated from the Author’s Collection. Its author was E.Ph. Goldschmidt, the same who eight years later told Richard Salomon that he was “inclined to put the [Voynich] Ms. as far back as the 13th century or, at least, not to deny the possibility of so early an origin”. (Salomon accidentally transposed Goldschmidt’s initials in his letter reporting this to Anne Nill).

I am told that somewhere in those volumes (to which I have no easy access at present), Goldschmidt mentions in passing that edges of a medieval manuscript were, very rarely, gilded.¬† That’s all the information I have, but it leaves the window open a little, and¬† Velinska or those inclined also to hope the ‘block’ meant for a book might care to see if they can find evidence for Velinska’s ‘gilded page edges’.¬† ¬†Failing that, the practice of creating a montage or mosaic of undated and unprovenanced details as if the sheer number of inappropriately selected items were sufficient to argue and prove a theoretical argument, is much to be regretted.¬† It seems to have begun with the ‘new crop’ of Eurocentric Voynich bloggers who arrived in 2012, but from whence comes its ‘Warhol’ style, one cannot say.

  • [pdf] Giulia Bologna, “Gold in Book Binding: the origins of the craft”, The Gold Bulletin, 1982, Vol. 15, (1).¬† pdf accessible through SpringerLInk.
  • Henry Bohn’s Catalogue of books and printed works (1847) includes reproductions of numerous medieval books of hours described as if they were originals, and which were provided with lovely morocco bindings and gilded edges.

Note – Responding to a comment by Nick Pelling below her post, Velinska said,¬† “in war and Voynich manuscript studies all is fair ūüôā

There’s another proverb, isn’t there –¬† about war’s first casualty?

 

********

 

Phase 3: Jules Janick and Arthur O. Tucker (… no alternative)

In 2006, Nick Pelling published a book called ‘Curse of the Voynich’.¬† If the manuscript has been cursed, it’s with theory-driven individuals and, more recently, this ‘theory-war’ mentality.

Before turning to the way Janick and Tucker treat that detail on folio 102, let’s have a minute’s silence for the first, consummate expounder of a ‘Voynich’ theory, Wilfrid Voynich himself.

In ‘Voynich’ usage, thanks to Wilfrid’s example, ‘theory’ means some idee fixe¬† elaborated, then adorned with oddments of historical fact but never formally argued, devoid of documentary evidence for its tenets, disdainful of debate and presented with¬† an air of authority and a certain internal consistency. Thus Wilfrid:

¬†To summarize, then … we¬† must conclude that, [composed by Roger Bacon], it rested in some monastery in England, where Roger Bacon’s manuscripts remained until the dissolution of the religious houses in the sixteenth century. At that time, together with other treasures from these disbanded libraries, it probably passed into the hands of one of the receivers of this spoil, the Duke of Northumberland. It was very likely one of the manuscripts probably found in this family’s possession by John Dee, who certainly early in his career obtained a collection of Bacon manuscripts. During one of his visits to Prague, Dee undoubtedly presented it to Emperor Rudolph II, from whose possession it passed into the hands of Jacobus de Tepenecz not earlier than 1608.

in which, not one of the assertions made about the manuscript is worth a grain of salt, save its association with¬† Jakub¬† who became -‘de’ or -‘z’ Tepenecz thanks to Rudolf and before 1622.

So now to Janick and Tucker, who make no pretence of objectivity. They say¬† plainly that their aim is neither to study the manuscript, nor to evaluate O’Neill’s speculation, but¬† merely ‘to confirm’ it.¬† Their indifference to the manuscript-as-manuscript (codicology, palaeography etc.) is staggering.

 

At first, they described the detail on folio 102 as ‘most probably’ boleite. If this is their idea of hard evidence, I’m in the wrong office…)

though later they dropped the ‘probably’:

Pure Wilfridism.

These authors don’t even try to rationalise the cube’s being in the¬† ‘pharmacy’ section.¬† ¬† A central European-ist convert would at least say something like:¬† ‘Mexicans ‘probably’ used boleite in medicine’.

By the time we get to Ch.4 of their book, they’re saying no other explanation is possible:

‘Plate 56’ from Janick and Tucker, ‘Unravelling the Voynich Codex’

1. Folio 102r #4 Boleite (Plate 56). This image¬† includes a cubic (isometric) blue mineral resembling a blue bouillon cube. This can only (sic!) be boleite ….. The only sources for large crystals of this quality and quantity are three closely related mines in Baja California Sur, Mexico, …

What quantity? What quality? A specimen measuring 8 millimeters – yes millimetres – square is above average size.¬† I know this because the authors’ ‘Plate 56 was taken from the following advertisement, which they duly footnoted.

from a commercial site.

So –¬† the authors omitted mention of the fact that (a)¬† no-one seems to have known boleite .. at all … until 1891 and (b) there is no record of any use for the indigo-blue type, and for the clear type none until the end of the nineteenth century,

But it fits the theory!! 

There’s a certain beauty to this non-argument in a way.

It is ‘Voynich’ theorising in purest form, unfussed by evidence, by reason, by effort to contextualise details, by any sense that one has to justify assertions made about a medieval manuscript.

Or even that their subject is a medieval manuscript.

Quite beautiful, if you like abstraction.

Postscript – thinking hard as to what might be said for the ‘boleite’ idea, I can only think of one thing.¬† We know that Columbus equated whatever he found in the New World with valuable items¬† imported into Europe from the east.¬† Among Europe’s prized eastern imports was Afghanistan’s lapis lazuli which, when ground into a powder became the pigment¬† Latins called ‘ultramarine’ -‘over the sea’.¬† A wiki article shows boleite in association with malachite and atacamite (a copper-derived mineral created by dessication).However, Europeans also used¬† a different copper-derived mineral which they called azurite, and it was this which McCrone’s tests identified in the manuscript in 2009. Admittedly they were obliged to work within the pre-emptive limits set by the client who commissioned the study, and further by the limits which were inevitable given the destructive methods specified by the same client.McCrone’s letter to the Beinecke library can be downloaded from its site.

And that’s what you get with a theory-war.

********

 

(preamble shortened – 8th April.)