Lawyers may have ‘learned friends’; scholars only colleagues.
Added note – 13th. March 2022. I’d prefer to add this as a ‘Comment’ but wordpress having decided comments are closed, I must add it here.
I have today received an email in which the writer expresses themselves rather strongly on what they see as my ‘hypocrisy’ for complaining about mis-use, co-option and so on of earlier writers’ work. They point to this post in particular, saying that I have wrongly credited Rene Zandbergen with making the ‘oak and ivy’ connection, and that Zandbergen simply took a different copy of the same work, then asserting or permitting others to believe it a discovery gained by him as result of original effort. If that is so, my apologies to Edith Sherwood and I agree that precedents should always be honoured even if a person later reaching the same opinion was, at the time, ignorant of that precedent. Sherwood is of course not the author of the email but is the person whom the correspondent asserts should be credited with that ‘find’. Since – as you’ll see from the post below, I dispute Zandbergen’s idea, and have not seen the precedent by Sherwood, I can only report the complaint publicly and apologise should an apology be in order. If anyone would care to provide me with evidence of Sherwood’s having earlier made that connection, I’ll happily accept it and add the details here. In the absence of date-able evidence, however I must leave the original post (below) as it is.
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. 🙂
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 – 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 ‘pairing’ 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.
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.
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.
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 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 Manfrēdus 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 Bibliothèque 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 “Manfredi di maestro Berardo da Montepeloso medicus” 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 ‘abroad’ 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 “Mount Hairy” – 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…’ 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.
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:
“… 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.
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 3–5 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) :
“ 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:. ”
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.
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.
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).
- 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.
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.