We are still considering the period 1912-2000, and matters other than ‘Voynichese’.
During those eighty years from 1912-2000, scholars expert in one or another aspect of Europe’s intellectual and artistic heritage could suggest not a single close comparison for the Voynich manuscript’s content and imagery from among the hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of Latins’ (western Christian) manuscripts they had seen – no matter what their area of specialisation,
It was always over the fence; ‘someone else’s problem’.
This is an interval post – just a pause for perspective.
not GERMAN-CHRISTIAN ART – Panofsky and Petersen
Erwin Panofsky and Theodore Petersen specialised in the Christian art of medieval and (northern) Renaissance Germany. Neither saw the manuscript as in that tradition.
In 1932, after spending two hours examining the manuscript in New York, Panofsky had correctly dated its manufacture: ‘1410-1420-1430’, an evaluation whose precision would not be matched until 2011, when radiocarbon dating returned the range 1404-1438.
Panofsky attributed its content not to Christian-German work but to “the southwest corner of Europe: Spain, Portugal, Catalonia or Provence; but most probably Spain” and to a Judeo-Arabic cultural environment. His reasons for saying otherwise in writing answers for Friedman’s ‘quiz’ questions in 1954 have already been discussed.
For Panofsky’s dating see the letter of ‘E.L.V’ to Professor Thompson transcribed in ‘Correspondence’ at the end of my post ‘Expert Opinions – Richard Salomon‘. The original letter is in the Beinecke Library, Yale.
…… and Panofsky was the first to cite any specific comparison but – as would thereafter become a constant in discussions of this manuscript – he compared just a single detail in it with a single detail from another manuscript, and did not even suggest the comparison close enough to call a ‘match’.
As Nill later wrote, “except for one page partly taken from Alfonso’s manuscript, [the Vms] was entirely unlike any manuscript known to him.” The comparison was between one diagram from the Voynich calendar and one from Alfonso X‘s Libros del saber de astronomía. That Panofsky knew the latter is an indication of his range, for it exists in a single manuscript, and that in Madrid. Consider the range of exclusion implied.
LATIN HANDS? – Salomon, Barrett and ‘not-saying-who’.
Richard Salomon, a specialist in Latin palaeography, recognised only one line of marginalia, which he read as medieval legal German – and whose date he then applied to the manuscript as a whole.
At that time, he had seen only a black and white photostat copy, and while an offer was made for him to see the original, I’ve found no record that he ever did. His circumstances after 1932 were so disrupted and so distressing that he was never able to return to his chief area of interest, lacking access to appropriate texts and references.
Of the hand(s) within the main text, and of that which wrote the month-names, I’ve seen no evidence of his saying anything before or after 1932, though something may yet be found in others’ letters from him.
Some Voynich researchers have guessed a Caroline hand; others as ‘influenced by the Humanist style’, but the specialists have said nothing, though not positively protesting Wilfrid’s opinion that the script was that of a thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman scholar.
Remarkably little time or attention was paid to this matter of palaeography, and for my knowledge of these views I am indebted first to Nick Pelling, and through him to the sources he cited, including Reeds’ mailing list and articles by Barbara Barrett. Pelling disagreed with the latter, but for the sake of balance referred to Barrett’s views anyway. Other sites have, since then, copied (and sometimes rightly attributed) the same material.
I’ve recently seen it asserted, with no evidence offered and my request for directions to the original argument refused with some vigour, that someone has argued a case for considering inscription of the German (and only the German) marginalia so closely contemporary with the rest of the work that we should believe the whole manuscript to be, in some sense, a product of German culture.
Given the non-German month-inscriptions, the character of the imagery overall, the Italian binding of the book-block, the opinion of consummate experts with no ‘guess’ to grind… and so on, it is not an idea I’m willing to take on faith. Perhaps someone would like to raise the question on a forum? Do leave a comment if you find a clear answer.
not EUROPEAN ALCHEMICAL – McLean
Adam McLean, a specialist in the history of alchemy, responded as the experts do: “S.E.P”. Since non-specialists enthusiastic about the ‘alchemy’ idea have continued to push it (though the radiocarbon dating silenced them for a time), I’ll reproduce McLean’s comments, taking them from Dennis Stallings’ report to the second mailing list: (09:40 AM 11/19/98 -0600)
Dennis had said: ‘Hello, Adam!.. Mary D’Imperio, in her survey of VMs studies up to 1978, thought that alchemy might be the key to understanding the VMs. However, current [mailing-list] members, including myself, see little if any alchemical content in the VMs. None of us, however, are experts. What is your opinion on this. What alchemical imagery can you see in the VMs?
to which Adam replied:
All I can say is that I have never seen an alchemical manuscript with the same imagery and pictures as are found in the Voynich. …The main ‘alchemical’ resonance is supposed to be the ‘balneological’ section, but here I find no parallels with alchemical manuscripts, except in a very general way. If this was an alchemical work one would expect to find some other alchemical manuscript with similar drawings – but I do not know of one. … I have an open mind on the subject, but have yet to see any real parallels. Perhaps one day I will find a manuscript that I recognize has common features with the Voynich – but not so far. I don’t think I could find any way at present to use alchemical manuscripts or ideas to throw light on the ‘Balneological section.
The plant drawings in the ‘Herbal section’ have many forerunners some going back centuries before the Voynich, as has been extensively documented. [This is still widely believed, but the ‘documentation’ is less, and less solid, than most suppose]. The drawings in the Astronomical section again seem to have many parallels in known manuscripts. [widely believed but ill-supported by evidence].…
.. but, once again, the expert’s view is ‘Not one of mine’. And rightly so. A specialist cannot blur the lines between what is demonstrably true, and what is desired true by others. Not that the others necessarily take heed.
‘alchemical’ notion revives, five years later… My apologies.
The ‘alchemical’ text notion – killed off after McLean’s expert dismissal in the 1990s – was well and truly dead in early 2013. Unfortunately in presenting the analytical-critical study for folio 4v, I gave it a whimsical title, ‘Alchemy’s sweet scent’ as summary of my findings. In short, that the plant-group referred to by the drawing was that of the eastern clematis and that what had previously been imagined a curious form for the root was, in fact, a depiction of the double gourd, whose place in culture and iconography of the regions from east Africa to southern China (essentially the medieval trade routes) I summarised and illustrated, mentioning that clematis was not much used in eastern medicine (nor was western clematis in the Latin tradition), but the wood and root of eastern species were used to make scented substances (perfumes and incense etc.), and when formed in metal the double-gourd was also used as a type of ‘small a‘ alchemical receiver, just as the ordinary sort was used for liquids.
As usual, I accompanied the point-by-point analysis with comparative imagery, textual and cultural notes, and in this case additional comments on the trade in scents and scented materials into Cairo for the Mediterranean trade and, further, on the important role of mathematics in this sort of compounding. It had originated in India, and the Indian model was employed in Cairo too, so as illustration I included a table from the Brht Samhita. Updating the botanical nomenclature was tiresome, but that was done too, and I cross-referenced any plants mentioned that I had previously identified in the botanical folios.
Being, from the first, under an informal ‘pay no attention’ ban by one of the most avid, and yet ill-equipped of the Voynicheros, who found it helpful to read, download and then disseminate my results verbally as anonymous ‘ideas’ yet to be explored, I did not expect my post to receive quite such widespread attention as it did. It received swarms of readers, throughout the period from 2013 until I closed voynichimagery in 2017. Imitators were numerous; some took this element from the post and some that, but among them a few were honest about their source, and others so inept that they brought a touch of humour.
One chap especially – a wild fan of Edith Sherwood, Rene Zandbergen and Sergio Toresella – was helping in some project aimed at producing ‘The Official Voynich Herbal’. His job was to collect and collate others’ work, omitting such details and names as were considered unnecessary by the project’s unnamed director/s.
Since very little new work was being done, just then, this chap got into the habit of taking nothing from my latest post but the name of the plant-group I’d given for the folio, reducing the name for a group to one name (to suit the western style of herbal), stripping out all the informing commentary, textual, iconographic, historical and cultural notes, archaeological studies (for proof of location and period), historical botany and information on use which provided evidence for the identification I’d offered.
That done, he would leap up in the second mailing list about a day later and proclaim with many marks of exclamation that a ‘new identification’ had been made. But in this case, he was faced with the fact that the European clematis had no place in the Latin pharmacopoeia, does not have a bell-shaped flower, nor narrow leaves. And double gourds aren’t exactly standard motifs in medieval Latin art, let alone to be seen in any of the herbals.
Rene Zandbergen (as I recall) kindly came to his rescue on the ‘gourd’ problem, showing an image of a vegetable garden in a copy of the Tacuinum sanitatis. Soon afterwards, the lad adopted the ‘foxy’ tactic of applying some new identification of mine to a different folio… more or less at random. The manuscript’s study is not only corrupted, but actively hindered by such practices, whose only benefit is to lend spurious credibility to persons or theories which have not deserved them. Lately, the most common tactic seems to be to use the mantra: ‘synchronicity’.
Another chap became excited about the ‘perfume’ thing – though I did tell him that it wouldn’t do; the botanical section contains many more plants than were used in any sort of perfume, scented powder, or insect repellent ( a use I’d identified for another of the pictured plants, and which then synchronistically appeared in a post by Ellie Velinska, another close associate of the old guard but whom I’m inclined one of the several innocents who simply believed, when handed an ‘idea’ that it sprang fully formed from the donor’s imagination).
It proved impossible to stem the ‘alchemical’ tide, to which that post seems to have acted as the bolt of electricity on Frankenstein’s monster, reviving the pile of dead matter abandoned since the 1990s. All I could do, and did, was to remind people of the more modest matter in my original post, which I re-published in a condensed and clearer form two years later, on 23rd August, 2015, under the title ‘Alchemy’s sweet scent made more readable’.
The manuscript deserves more respect than it receives when used only to puff theories or personal ambition. The way my analysis of folio 4v was misused is just an example of the great many so used, whether my work or others’ – since the early 2000s, and largely why the study fails to advance. I suppose the lesson for us all is not to buy second-hand ‘ideas’; demand the donor provide his/her primary evidence and explain to you in detail his/her line of reasoning. If they can’t, it might be as well to tell them to go away and do their own work for a change.
A LATIN/ARABIC or BYZANTINE HERBAL? H’hmm. – T.A. Sprague (and Alain Touwaide, 2015)
Dr. T. A. Sprague had travelled in the Americas as a botanist and as a taxonomist, spent time in northern India and served for forty-five years as a member of staff at Kew gardens, fifteen of them as Deputy Keeper of the Herbarium, and whose particular study of the Anicia Juliana codex required thorough knowledge of the Greek, Latin and Arabic herbals and their vocabularies. In 1947, shown some photostat copies of the plant-pictures, Sprague positively recoiled and railed at John Tiltman, “I have spent the last twenty years of my life trying to identify the plant drawings in the Juliana Anicia codex when the names of the plants are given in Greek, Latin and usually Arabic and you are asking me to identify these awful pictures.” It seems clear that none of them looked immediately familiar.
Alain Touwaide (2015}
More recently (2015) Alain Touwaide, whose field of study covers the Latin, Arabic and Greek history of medicine, drugs, herbals and medical manuscripts , wrote a seventeen-page essay published by the Villa Mondragone in a volume now, alas, out of print. There were no peer-reviews published in any Journal, so far as I can find, but the prominent enthusiast Rene Zandbergen sent a 1100-odd word summary-review to the late Stephen Bax’ site. The review began and ended with Zandbergen’s opinion that Touwaide added ‘nothing new’ to the manuscript’s study but had repeatedly returned to the possibility that the manuscript might be a fake.
In which case of course it would be again (apparently) ‘someone else’s problem’.
Alain Touwaide, ‘Il manoscritto piu misterioso – l’erbario Voynich’ in Marina Formica (ed.), Villa Mondragone ‘Seconda Roma’, (2015) pp. 141-158. out of print.
I’m sorry to add that certain comparisons widely offered as closely similar to pages from the Vms, and in some cases attributed to Touwaide, do not bear close analysis, but perhaps I’ll return to that matter at a later stage.
not MEDIEVAL EUROPEAN TECHNOLOGY / PLUMBING – Charles Singer
Charles Singer, editor of an encyclopaedic History of Technology had a number of ‘ideas’ about the manuscript, reported by d’Imperio. None relate to the history of technology, or offer support for the ‘bathy-‘ section’s being describing a plumbing system.
MEDIEVAL EUROPEAN BIOLOGY? – Charles Singer
D’Imperio reported that “Singer sees tubes, pulpits and pipes as ‘organs of the body.'” I’ve seen no evidence that he ever attempted to argue the case or – more to out present point – that he offered a single text or illustration from the European corpus as comparison. Nor, apparently, did his wife Dorothea suggest to him any among the thousands she had inspected and catalogued in the British Library under the heading of Science and Pseudo-Science, as Lynn Thorndike reported in 1921.
D’Imperio seems to think little of Singer’s ‘biological’ idea, saying in the same breath as she reports it that they recall ‘plant parts’ to her. (Elegant Enigma, p.21)
In recent years and beginning (so far as I can discover) with Ellie Velinska’s effort, this inherently anachronistic ‘biological’ notion – imagining the Vms contains biological drawings technical, and accurate to the microscope-level – has proved intriguing for some, but once more none of the recent writers have produced – no more than did Singer – any European manuscript or printed book made before 1438 which is claimed closely comparable. Now that the manuscript has been dated, Singer’s notion is revealed to be, as one might say, anachronism of the first water. 🙂
On Singer see also Rich Santacoloma’s interesting research-post, ‘The Voynich in 1905′, proto57.wordpress.com (19th. August, 2012).
LATIN/ARABIC SCIENCE, PSEUDO-SCIENCE or MAGIC?
Lynn Thorndike who wrote a multi-volume history of medieval science and pseudo-sciences and had every reason, if he could, to set the Voynich manuscript squarely within a context that would refute Wilfrid’s ‘Roger Bacon’ guess, to which he felt great aversion, expressed more than once in print.
But Thorndike offered no such argument, and never produced any other manuscript as close comparison for anything in the Voynich manuscript.
ASTRONOMICAL/ASTROLOGICAL? – To my knowledge, the only specialist to offer a comparison with any astronomical/astrological manuscript between 1912 and 2000.was Panofsky (see above).
and see also the opinions of two contemporary specialists:
Summary: “Not one of mine” is what the experts on western (and Arabic) manuscripts said of works from their own field, even while expressing, all the while, a feeling in some obscure way there’s something… Charles Singer, who claimed to see biology appears never to have suggested any comparable manuscript either.
Postscript (14th. Feb. 2020)
It is characteristic of the Friedmans, and thus of d’Imperio, that the informed judgements of specialists scarcely affected their confidence in their own theories. A passage from d’Imperio shows pretty well their intellectual ‘deafness’ to that message of ‘Not one of mine’. It slides by and is re-interpreted to mean that the pictures are just ‘bizarre’ and ‘less conventional’ and she shows no understanding that there is a *reason* that the images’ subject matter was so difficult to read. Note too that she imagines the specialists’ reaction is only due to their spending too little time looking at the manuscript. She is unaware that a specialist in medieval manuscripts can usually provide a general date and place of manufacture from looking at just a few folios. An inability to conceive of an ‘important’ text as other than European was fairly typical of America and Europe during the first half of the twentieth century, but here means that D’Imperio is inclined to blame the specialists and leaves her unable to abandon her own fixed ideas – which, of course were due to woring as part of a ‘team’ whose theories were dictated by Friedman, as leader. ‘Team work’ so very easily becomes ‘group-think’ -one is simply not free to pursue questions, or form theories of outside the ‘team’s working brief. And so the most basic questions were overlooked, and their own premises never questioned.
In any other field of study; if it were any other manuscript, there’s a logical inference that might be taken.
Salomon’s interest in Beinecke MS 408 is best told through Anne Nill’s correspondence, transcribed further below.
In 1932 Professor Richard Salomon received in Hamburg a full photostat copy of the Voynich manuscript, brought from America by Erwin Panofsky. At the time, Salomon was the tenured Professor of Diplomatics and Palaeography at Hamburg University and Dean of the Faculty at the Warburg Institute. The copy would remain in his keeping for twenty years.
A few months after receiving it, however, Salomon had been forced to leave. Administrators who had resisted the ‘indignation’-lobby finally bowed to pressure in 1933 when representatives of the Nazi Party complained in person that scholars of Jewish descent should still be there when they were now officially ‘undesirable’. (A number of other academics were affected, including Panofsky, compulsorily retired in absentia). Perhaps because Salomon had earlier converted to Lutheran Christianity his forced retirement was imposed in the following year, 1934.
Seeking refuge elsewhere was not as simple as booking the passage for England or America. Each refugee had to be sponsored by an English or an American institution. Salomon’s experience was less happy than Panofsky’s.
Salomon’s first, temporary, appointment to lecture in America was not gained until 1936, and then for the Spring – during which time he went to the Library of Congress, where Anne Nill happened to be working and she was introduced to him – delighted to discover that he was the scholar to whom the photostat copies had been given. Salomon then went on to England to deliver a course of lectures on Latin palaeography at the London Warburg Institute. No offer of further employment forthcoming from either country, Salomon was obliged to return to Germany where Hitler had been in power, now, for three years. Salomon sent a letter to Nill from his home in Hamburg and received her reply, which was doubtless a relief in those days. Soon afterwards he accepted a ‘rotating lectureship’ at the University of Pennsylvania and two of its subsidiary colleges – but as he later told Nill, they informed him – in 1939 – that his services were no longer required.
Gordon Chalmers saved him, offering a post at Kenyon College, Ohio.
The re-location took Salomon hundreds of miles from the east coast, from New York or Washington, and his initial lectures on papyrology saw him addressing students who asked him to explain the difference between papyrus and parchment and were not inspired by his enthusiasm, as we learn from the student paper, the Kenyon Collegian.
The different intellectual climate brought a radical shift in Salomon’s research: by the 1950s (when Nill renewed contact) most of what he is publishing are articles for local Church History Society. It appears that in the meantime – over most of the time between 1939 and the early 1950s – he had lost contact with his former colleagues, including Panofsky, though in a letter of ?1953 mentions that he returned the photostats to him ‘about a year ago’. It must have been earlier, since in writing to Friedman in December 1951, von Neumann mentions that Panofsky has one. We know that every copy made was accounted for by Anne Nill – to the point where she asks Salomon, in the 1950s – twenty years, a world war, and translocation notwithstanding – if he knew where his might be!
Early in the 1960s, by a happy chance, Salomon’s pre-war research into relations between the city Council of Hamburg and the Avignon Papal Court, left unfinished, was re-discovered by the city, which asked him to complete it and responded to his initial refusal by sending him all the original historical documents and his notes, which had been found with them. The study was completed by the end of January, 1966. Salomon died on February 10th. Panofsky would die two years later. Thus, in writing up the Friedman groups’ index to make her summary, Elegant Enigma, Mary d’Imperio was unable to consult either man.
Die Korrespondenz zwischen dem Hamburger Rat und seinen Vertretern an der päpstlichen Kurie in Avignon 1337 bis 1359. Bearb. von Richard Salomon. Veröffentlichungen aus dem Staatsarchiv der Freien und Hansestadt Hamburg, Bd.9, T.1, ca. 1966.
Catherine Epstein, A Past Renewed: A Catalog of German-Speaking Refugee Historians in then the United States After 1933. (1993) pp.285-291.
On February 8th., 1932, in New York, Anne Nill had left a full photostat copy of the Voynich ‘cipher-manuscript’ at Panofsky’s temporary residence, with a covering letter which reads in part:
“I am leaving for you, herewith, a complete set of photostats of our cipher manuscript. And here you have our address, in case you wish to have additional information about the manuscript, or will some day be able to write to us that your institute has succeeded where so many have failed. Mrs. Voynich and I feel that, even if nothing comes of your efforts, we have gained much from your visit. We learned many things from you last week, and are greatly indebted to you.
Panofsky replied the next day,
My dear Miss Niel (sic) I can hardly express my gratitude both to you and Mrs. Voynich for your generous gift. I shall do my very best to contribute to the solution of the problem… [though] I must repeat that I am very doubtful as to the success of our efforts….
Writing to Professor Thompson – in a letter undated but the same year, Mrs. Voynich says Panofsky intends particularly to ask Salomon’s advice. She mentions that Panofsky had spent two full hours examining the manuscript (in early February), and ..
“… went back to Hamburg, taking with him a complete set of photostats and promising to ask some of his colleagues there (including Prof. Salomon, who has deciphered a famous puzzle ms. For the Vatican) to try if they can solve the problem.
She also notes that Panofsky had (in 1932!) dated it “somewhere about 1410-20-30”; had said it was written in the “southwest corner of Europe: Spain, Portugal, Catalonia or Provence; but most probably Spain”; that “It shows Jewish or Arab influence, probably in connection with the Kabbala” and that
“except for one page partly taken from Alfonso’s manuscript was entirely unlike any manuscript known to him”
If he said ‘probably in connection with the Kabbala’, Panofsky believed the manuscript Jewish; there is no Arab ‘kabbala’. The ‘Arab’ influence would be reflected in the drawing-style or the manuscript’s format. His mentioning “Alfonso’s manuscript” followed from Mrs.Voynich’s showing him a photostat copy of some part of the Voynich calendar in advance of Panofsky’s seeing the original, so it seems fair to suppose he meant that one of those diagrams resembled in part some diagram in Libros del saber de astronomía. Which diagrams he meant, in either manuscript, iI can’t say, but link below is to a high res. copy of the whole of the Libros de saber de astronomic, which you can downoad and study for yourself. Do leave a comment for others to read if you think you have found the partial match.
[pdf]Libros del saber de astronomía (University of Madrid, BHI BH MSS 156)
William S. Heckscher, ‘Erwin Panofsky: A Curriculum Vitae’, Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University, Vol. 28, No. 1, Erwin Panofsky: In Memoriam (1969), pp. 4-21.
On March 14th., 1936, in Washington, Anne Nill writes to Mrs. Voynich (E.L.V) in New York. The letter provides a vivid picture of Salomon’s character and scholarly standing at that time:
“I must get today’s rather dramatic little episode (which was in the true Voynich style) off my chest at once…This morning I vaguely noticed that Dr. Jameson was taking a visitor, who looked obviously Jewish and obviously a scholar, through the manuscript division, and was introducing him to the more important members thereof. I paid little attention to them since, I, of course, was not introduced. …. … absorbed in my Index [I] forgot all about them. Suddenly I realised that the visitor was being brought by Wilson into “my” alcove. The latter looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, and said, “Miss Nill, I’d like to have you meet Dr. Salomon (pause……) of the Warburg Institute!
It seems (though I was blissfully unware of it) that as soon as Wilson learned that Dr. Salomon was connected with the Warburg Institute he asked him if he knew about the Voynich Cipher Ms.; and, as Wilson afterwards put it to me, as soon as Dr. Salomon learned of my presence in the Library [¬of Congress, where Nill was then employed] he became more interested in meeting me than in doing anything else there.
Well, to make a long story short, Wilson left us alone together, and we talked and talked, and the entire Manuscript Division was mystified as to why a distinguished visitor who had been taken about and introduced to all the high and mighty ones should wind up in my alcove and remain there in earnest conversation with me. It was all very funny.
To get back to more important matters. Dr. Salomon is none other than the very person for whom Dr. Panofsky took back our set of photostats…When he returned to Hamburg he laid them on Dr. Salomon’s desk (as I heard today), and said: “Here is something for you.” Do you remember Panofsky telling us that he wanted them for his colleague who was then working on a mysterious Vatican MS. (I wrongly got the impression that he meant Prof. Liebeschutz, the author of the book on Hildegard of Bingen). Well, Dr. Salomon is the one who has been working on the said Vatican Ms., and his book on it, by the way, is just about to be issued. He is coming back to the Library of Congress on Monday to show me the page proof (there will be more excitement in the Division when that happens).
R. G. Salomon mit beiträgen von A. Heimann und R. Krautheimer, Opicinus de Canistris; Weltbild und Bekenntnisse eines avignonesischen Klerikers des 14, Jahrhunderts, London, The Warburg Institute [Leipzig, Druck von B. G. Teubner] 1936
We talked about the Cipher Ms., German, the position of the Jews there, etc.
It appears that he has done considerable work on the Ms. (he says he takes it up every few months). He thinks it may be German (you will recall that Dr. Panofsky told me something of that when I ran across him in the Morgan Library in 1934), but that he is not yet absolutely certain of this. He is convinced it was written in the 15thC, possibly as late as 1450, possibly earlier in that century. He told me some interesting things about it but I have not had time to think about his remarks sufficiently to put them down clearly. .. Dr. Salomon thinks possibly this text may be of no great significance, but cautiously adds that until it is deciphered one cannot tell….
I asked Dr. Salomon whether he expects to be in New York and, if so, whether he would like to see the Ms. He says he plans to be there during the latter part of April, and that he would very much like to see it. I explained that you would be glad to show it to him. He has your address and will get in touch with you…
I think I shall also sound him out about Dr. Petersen. If he shows a desire to meet him I shall write to Dr. Petersen who could, undoubtedly go to New York for that purpose if he, on his part, wishes to meet Dr. Salomon. It would be a good thing if I could get those two together..
Isn’t all this amazing? To think of meeting unexpectedly here at the Library of Congress the unknown Hamburg scholar who has had our photostats since 1933, and just as I was thinking for the umpteenth time what a dull and unscholarly (for the most part) place the Library of Congress is.
… Oh, one more thing. I asked Dr. Salomon point blank whether he thought the Ms. could possibly be the work of a madman. He said very seriously that he thought that until it could be proved otherwise one should assume that it is not..
July 9th., 1936 To Nill, from Salomon in Hamburg.
Dear Miss Nill, … Some weeks ago, in London, I had a brief talk about the MS. with Mr. P .E. Goldschmidt, the antiquarian. I was astonished to learn that this eminent connoisseur of mss is inclined to put the Ms. as far back as the 13th century or, at least, not to deny the possibility of so early an origin. Nevertheless I, personally, stick to my opinions about the date as about the very method of investigation in this case … 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.
E. Weil, ‘In Memoriam: E. P. Goldschmidt—Bookseller and Scholar’, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Vol. 9, No. 2 (April 1954),pp. 224-232.
R.O. Dougan, ‘E. Ph. Goldschmidt, 1887-1954’, The Library, Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, June 1954/ pp.75-84
That letter is interesting as another instance of the constant split in opinion: 13thC or early 15thC. In general – though not in Salomon’s case – we find independent specialists who had not seen the original tend towards the former, while those who had (and there were not many) hold to the latter. The difference seems due to the strong impression made by the manuscript’s materials and palette where they were seen, and thus refer chiefly to date of manufacture. Those seeing only the black-and-white photostats necessarily focused on the layout, script and images alone. They are evaluating nothing but the content. It took a surprisingly long time before those interested in the manuscript realised that the ’13thC’/’15thC’ split was not mutually exclusive; the logical resolution being that the manuscript is a very close copy, made in the fifteenth century, from 13thC exemplars. In Salomon’s case, the problem may again be his having only black-and-white photostats, because he had no way to distinguish between the main text and marginalia, thus provenancing the whole text by reference to what we (and Panofsky) knew were post-manufacture additions. Had they both remained at the Warburg in Hamburg, no doubt Panofsky and Salomon might have conferred, but circumstances prevented.
Postscript: I have recently seen it asserted (without argument or evidence included) that the German marginalia are contemporary with the main text, but enquiries as to where one might find the first argument, and evidence, which permits this conclusion have met with determined silence. For me, then, it remains a ‘Wilfridism’ but should anyone else be met with a clear answer, do share in a comment. Our motto is: what can be tested, is good.
Reply from Anne Nill (November 7th., 1936 ) addressed to Salomon in Germany.
Next week, while in New York, I expect to have an opportunity to show the Ms to M. Seymour de Ricci, the editor-in-chief of the Census of Manuscripts in the United States and Canada, who is at present in this country. Needless to say, I shall be interested to his opinion as to its probable date.
. . . . . . . .
(Anne Nill happened on a mention of Salomon in one of the files she was working on, and wrote to that address on the offchance… He replied)
To Anne Nill from R. Saloman Salomon at Kenyon College (April 29th., 1953)
Dear Miss Nill, It was a great joy to see your friendly note. It is very kind of you to remember me… I still am a member of the Kenyon faculty, now teaching here for the 14th year… I came here in 1939, really by chance, in a rather precarious moment when after a two-year stretch at Swarthmore I was no longer wanted there. I accepted an invitation to Kenyon for one year, and after that for a second year.. most of my recent publications are in American Church history… The Voynich ms. Of which for a long time I had a photo(copy) lent me by Dr. Panofsky, came up time and time again during these years. I must acknowledge defeat – the heap of notes and jotting which I still keep only indicate that I have not come beyond the two statements which I made at my first acquaintance with the ms; it is 15thC and probably from Germany (the notorious geis mi(l) ch!). But you know that anyhow.
===Dear Ms. Nill,
Many thanks for sending the Feely opus – here it is, for well-deserved slumber in your collection. I duplicated Father Petersens’s half hour [reading it] with an identical result. Somewhere in Faust Mephistopheles says, ‘I feel as if I were listening to a full chorus of one hundred thousand fools….” What ideas [Feely has] about medieval Latin! … The complete set of photos [i.e. photographic copies] is in Panofsky’s hands. I returned it to him about a year ago..
Note: It may be this set of bound photostats which Jim Reeds’ noticed in 1994. He describes it as appearing to come directly from the 1920s and not – as d’Imperio says of those used by the cryptanalysts – off-prints of the offprints which Fr. Petersen had made in the 1930s. Of the copy taken to Salomon, and later returned to Panofsky in c.1952 as Friedman was urging a meeting – we see that Nill constantly refers to it as ‘our copy’ and it may have been Mrs. Voynich’s own. I have written to the archive to see if it is still to be found, but there is some suggestion that items from that particular file have been removed or lost. At one stage, a black-and-white copy of the ms was available through archive.org, but I cannot find it today.
and finally – from Anne Nill’s note-to-self, after Prof. Salomon had come to New York on July 16th., 1953. Whether he saw the manuscript I don’t know – there appears to be no evidence of anything except NIll’s effort to arrange it in 1936.
Herbals. Sequence of plants important. Even if we find only two plants in the same sequence this might help to determine archetype – or something of the sort. Prof.S. apparently has done a lot of work on herbals – in connection with our ms – and probably many lists of sequences. Said he consulted many herbals at Coll. Of Physicians (during his first years in U/S.),
Seymour De Ricci, Census of Medieval and Renaissance Mss in the United States and Canada. (Kraus reprinted it in 1961). 2 vols. (see Vol.2, pp.1845-1847.]
My thanks to the Librarians of the Beinecke Library for their assistance in locating the Salomon-Nill-ELV correspondence. Any errors in transcription are mine.
Next post: Expert Opinions – the ‘S.E.P’ phenomenon.
My thanks to Professor Bill Sherman, Director of the Warburg Institute and Head of Research at the Victoria and Albert Museum, for permission to re-print his transcription of Panofsky’s answers.
In 2014, at the Folger Library, Professor Sherman curated an exhibition in which Beinecke MS 408 was included. Some of Professor Sherman’s publications are cited in:
G. Stuart Smith, A Life in Code: Pioneer Cryptanalyst Elizebeth Smith Friedman (2017). see e.g. p.220.
Everyone’s thanks is due to Jim Reeds for first finding and transcribing the 1950s material and to Rich Santacoloma for doing the same for Anne Nill’s letter. (I should say now that I’m hunting another document whose content – if found – might make this whole post redundant. Fingers crossed!)
In what follows, my own commentary and its documentation is behind the black arrows. The post altogether is very long: more than 6,000 words if you expand it fully. But you can bypass the comments which make more than half of it, or come back some other time when you think they might be useful. The posts are published as notes and framework for the Bibliography.
What I have not fully described in this post is the early, keen interest felt by both Erwin Panofsky and Richard Salomon, Panofsky having been offered (in 1933) a complete photostat copy of the ms, taking it to Germany where he consulted gave it to Salomon. The latter showed keen interest in the puzzle and later came with Panofsky to talk with met Anne Nill at the Library of Congress (where Nill worked). I think it telling that Panofsky declines to speak of his own opinion in answering Friedman’s quiz.
Q – W. Friedman; A – E.Panofsky
Q 1: Have you examined the VMS itself.
A: I saw the Voynich manuscript in 1931. Panofsky doesn’t say that he was presented with a full photostat copy in 1933, lent it to colleagues (including Salomon) but had it returned to him at some time before 1953. I’ll come back to that in another post.
Note – Panofsky arrived in New York in September 1931, but Nill’s correspondence suggests he did not see the manuscript itself until early the next year. Twenty years later, Panofsky seems to have mis-remembered. The correspondence is detailed in a coming post, ‘Cryptanalysts – Panofsky’s comments on provenance 1932.’
Q 2: What is it written on; with what writing tool?
A: If you apply the words “parchment” and “vellum” in the strict sense (that “vellum” has to be made of the skin of calves* rather than other animals) I am not sure . However, the medium was certainly vellum in the more general sense and characterised by a fairly coarse-grained texture which in places caused individual strokes to appear like a series of dots when looked at with a magnifying glass. This, incidentally, may have caused the late Professor Newbold to believe that each of these dots stood for a letter and each letter for a whole word. The instrument used was doubtless a quill pen, the writing and the contours of the drawings being done in ink, the coloring, so far as I remember, in the kind of pigment usually described as “wash.”
Note: *the term ‘calfskin’ is sometimes seen used instead of vellum, but this can cause confusion given that ‘calfskin’ is often used, by itself, to mean calfskin leather. If using ‘vellum’ there is no need to add ‘calf-skin’ in front of it; vellum is made of calves’ skins by default. Uterine vellum is different again.
Q 3: What’s the date?
A: Were it not for the sunflower which, if correctly identified, would date the manuscript after 1492, I should have thought that it was executed a little earlier, say, about 1470. However, since the style of the drawings is fairly provincial, a somewhat later date, even the first years of the sixteenth century, would not seem[sic!] to be excluded. I should not go lower than ca. 1510-1520 because no influence of the Italian Renaissance style is evident.
(At my second reading through these responses, I laughed out loud here… -D)
It is a delightful moment of Panofsky wit – but since none of the cryptanalysts ‘got’ it and d’Imperio takes this answer at face value, as did Tiltman in 1968 and as current Voynich writers still do, I’ll spell out Panofsky’s ‘dig’ briefly here, having already discussed the “sunflower in the Vms” issue in a separate Page.
You should know first that no-one took O’Neill’s ideas seriously at the time. So, for example, Nill, had said in writing to Salomon in the previous year (April 28th., 1953) telling him of it and saying, “We do not think it is a sunflower, and neither does Fr. Petersen.”
Here, in answer to question 3, Panofsky says he could go as far as ‘even the first years of the sixteenth century’. Normally that would mean not after 1510. (otherwise, you’d say ‘early decades…’
Now – see how his response to Question 8 says that the ‘sunflower’ is the only plant Panofsky ‘recognises’? How can that be, because what he has to recognise first is the style of drawing, and it’s not that of the European drawings of the sunflower, the first of which appears in Dodoens’ book of 1568 – as Panofsky surely knew. The illustration had even been reproduced as recently as 1951 in an American journal. (see below)
Is Panofsky confused?… I don’t think so… because here’s the thing. … Dodoens described the plant as ‘Peruvian Chrysanthemum’. And guess when Europeans first invaded Peru.?.. yep. 1510. … Talk about ‘fairly provincial….’ 🙂
So as I read it, Panofsky’s underlying message is: “If that’s a sunflower, I’m a Dutchman”.. or a Peruvian. [yes, I know Dodoens was actually a Fleming… and we shouldn’t take ‘Peruvian’ too literally. But that’s how it was described by Dodoens and for some time afterwards]
So Panofsky’s pulling Friedman’s leg, knowing perfectly well that Friedman won’t realise it. There’s no other way to reconcile the answers given to questions 3 and 8 save a tongue-in-cheek logic which implies that for a manuscript to be ‘no later than the first years of the sixteenth century’ AND to show the ‘Peruvian chrysanthemum’ the draughtsman would have to be in Peru.
… Dodoens wasn’t born until 1517.
Luckily, Panofsky was not to see Tucker and Janick later insisting (Springer, 2018) that O’Neill was right to imagine a sunflower in the Voynich manuscript, and further that Voynichese was – if not Peruvian – some lost dialect of Nahuatl. On the other hand, I think Magnus Pharao Hansen’s swift, cool and learned rebuttal of their ‘Nahuatl-dialect’ argument might have pleased the Professor well. ( And really – the Voynich-books coming out of Springer of late make one wonder what that press is coming to!)
Hugh O’Neill, ‘Botanical Observations on the Voynich MS.’, Speculum, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Jan., 1944).
Charles B. Heiser, Jr., ‘The Sunflower among the North American Indians’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 95, No. 4 (Aug. 17, 1951), pp. 432-448.
Charles B. Heiser, Jnr., ‘Origin and Development of the Cultivated Sunflower’, The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 17, No. 5 (May, 1955), pp. 161-167.
But (now on the alert) back to the responses…
Q 4: Why do you think so?
A: The above date is based on the character of the script, the style of drawing and on such costumes as are in evidence on certain pages, for example folio 72 recto.
Panofsky indicates the criteria for dating content in a manuscript, but says nothing specific. Without further explanations given – or asked – the answer is one that would apply equally to whatever dates a person offered for any manuscript….We need to know how the ‘character of the script’ is perceived to accord with posited dates and, as importantly, with those of the place to which the item is being ascribed. The ‘style of drawing’, similarly… And just which dates (1470 or 1520 here, or fourteenth century as offered in 1931 1932) does he really think confirmed by the costume? He says the manuscript displays nothing of Italian Renaissance character.
The majority of more recent writers, however, who have shared with us their perception of the figures’ costumes argue that they are High [and thus Italian] Renaissance. To be clear, it is a position which the present writer does not share. However, most recent writers have also focused to a surprising degree, almost obsessive, on the calendar’s ‘Archer’ emblem where Panofsky draws attention instead to f.72r, Once again, it seems to me, Panofsky is making an oblique joke at Friedman’s expense though – I sense – also offering a genuine bit of information even if only for the specialist in philology and comparative palaeography.
Q 5: What’s it about?
After first turning the spotlight on that figure with a wand, Panofsky now says:
A: So far as can be made out before the manuscript has been decoded, its content would comprise: first, a general cosmological philosophy explaining the medical properties of terrestrial objects, particularly plants, by celestial influences transmitted by astral radiation and those “spirits” which were frequently believed to transmit the occult powers of the stars to the earth; second, a kind of herbal describing the individual plants used for medical and, conceivably, magical purposes; third, a description of such compounds as may be produced by combining individual plants in various ways .
‘Before the manuscript has been decoded’ is a slightly mocking comment; Panofsky’s life was spent ‘decoding’ pictures, for many of which no accompanying text was present. The error of supposing imagery’s understanding depends on accompanying text is another of those nonsensical ideas endemic in Voynich studies, and will be asserted by persons who, not knowing a word of Latin, still hunt manuscripts for images which they expect to find legible… and, of course, do find legible in a way they never find imagery from the Vms legible.
The lesson which should be taken from this is that (a) when imagery derives from a familiar culture, it is legible and (b) when it is not legible it’s not because some accompanying text can’t be read.
The fact is that Friedman did presume all about the manuscript was dependent on the text’s translation, and in 2008, when the present writer first came to the study and began explaining the imagery in terms of cultural and stylistic expression, she was informed that all comments on the imagery were “personal and subjective” or “theoretical” and that nothing certain could be said until the written part of the text had been read.
As to Panofsky’s speaking of “general cosmological philosophy…” etc. – he has made a fairly obvious collation, heaping together bits from Newbold’s paper of 1921, and standard medieval ideas, but then ‘occulting’ them by means of what I’d describe as a purple-prose code. With delicious wit, he plays on ideas and terms proper to cryptography, while referencing medieval ideas and Newbold’s neo-Platonic speculations in a way you might well describe as contrapuntal.
Panofsky is verbose; he uses substitutions (e.g. “astral radiation” for al_Kindi’s radii stellarum; “spirits” for angels)… and so on. This is typical of his multi-faceted commentaries on art and his well-known humour.
So now, bearing in mind that the figure from f.72r is likely to be ‘read’ by any European as bearing a magic wand, and that the Americans called ‘Magic’ the system of coded messages generated by the Japanese ‘purple’ machine – and Friedman’s involvement in breaking that cipher, so Panofsky writes, verbose, with substitutions, Magic-Purple (prose).. about the rotas of heaven and earth… combining individual ‘elements’ in various ways.. In short, envisaging a cosmic, yet elegant, ‘enigma’. Quite beautiful!
It wasn’t entirely nice of Panofsky, I suppose, to make sport of Friedman in that way, but it is a just parallel for the ‘sport’ which Friedman and his wife had made of Newbold.
Nor had Friedman quite broken ‘Purple’ before It had broken him. His mind had given way in the first year of the war (1939) and while he was institutionalised, others in his team continued the work, with Lt.Francis A. Raven completing it.
about Raven: various sources refer to an NSA publication (issued online as pdf), some sources even including the link, but these do not seem to be current. In case you may fare better, here are the details:
Mowry, D. P., “Cryptologic Almanac 50th Anniversary Series – Francis A. Raven.” NSA/Center for Cryptologic History, released Jun 12, 2009, FOIA Case# 52567.
Friedman again broke down while trying to ‘break’ the Voynich text, and again had to leave the effort to others including Tiltman and Currier. In the end, the Voynich text defeated all who tried to ‘break it’, but those who – like Currier, Tiltman and others – were content to make careful observations of script and text-distributions etc. did make a lasting contribution.
To see how Panofsky’s response to Q.5 reprised Newbold’s ideas is easy enough; the resources are online.
Some may not be able to recognise the ‘purple prose’ encoding of ordinary medieval ideas, though, so here are a couple of passages showing how the virtu in things of earth, each conferred in its turn during the year, was believed transmitted from the Divine to earth by the intermediary stars, identified by some Christians – and not by others – with the angels. The first passage is chosen only because it’s the neatest, and despite Tester’s having neglected to name the fifteenth-century German cleric who preached this:
As God gave their power to stones and to herbs and to words, so also he gave power to the stars, that they have power over all things, except over one thing. They have power over trees and over vines, over leaves and grasses, over vegetables and herbs, over grains and all such things; over the birds in the air, over the animals in the forests, and over the fishes in the waters and over the worms in the earth: over all such things that are under heaven, over them our Lord gave power to the stars, except over one thing. … man’s free will: over that no man has any authority save thyself.
Berthold of Regensberg. Cited from Tester, A History of Western Astrology (1987) p.178. edit Feb, 26th., 2019 – apologies to Tester; it was I who had omitted the speaker’s name from my own notes.
and see e.g. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part 1, Q.73, Article 1, reply to Objection 3;
“…Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning…”
or even the 2nd C eastern Christian, Theophilus of Antioch, contemplating the year’s interlocked rotas:
Consider, O man, His works — the timely rotation of the seasons, and the changes of temperature; the regular march of the stars; the well-ordered course of days and nights, and months, and years; the various beauty of seeds, and plants, and fruits; and the various species of quadrupeds, and birds, and reptiles, and fishes, both of the rivers and of the sea; or consider the instinct implanted in these animals to beget and rear offspring, not for their own profit, but for the use of man; and the providence with which God provides…
and especially see:
Edward Grant, chapter ‘Celestial Motion and its Causes’ in Grant, E., Planets, Stars, and Orbs: The Medieval Cosmos, 1200-1687. (1996)
NB Alan B. Scott, Origen and the Life of the Stars (OUP 1991)
Q 6: Are there any plain text books sort of [sic.] like the VMS?
A: Manuscripts in plain language remotely comparable to the Voynich manuscript are, unfortunately, of at least four kinds: first, herbals; second, cosmological and astrological treatises; third, medical treatises in the narrower sense of the term; fourth, possibly treatises on alchemy. As for the first kind, you seem to have more knowledge than I can claim. As for the second, I should advise to consult Sir Charles Singer, From Magic to Science, London 1928, and various publications by the same author; furthermore, it may be useful to consult Richard Salomon, Opicinus de Canistris, London, 1936; and F. Boll and G. von Bezold, Sternglaube und Sterndeutung, Second Edition (F. Gundel, Ed.), Berlin and Leipzig, 1926. As for the third kind, ample material is found in two serial publications, both edited by the late Carl Sudoff: Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin and Studien zur Geschichte der Medizin; of alchemy I know very little and can only refer you to the Entstehung und Ausbreitung der Alchemie by E.O. von Lippmann, Berlin, 1919 ff., as well as a fairly recent book by the famous psychologist C.O. Jung.
Don’t overlook the first conditional: ‘remotely comparable’. Again, Panofsky merely behaves as a Professor might towards a first-year student whose ‘theories’ outrun his basic knowledge. Panofsky here declines to discuss a single image from the Vms, or a single manuscript as ‘comparison’ for it, nor for a single detail in any drawing. As before, the basic message is, ‘Go away and read’.
So in this answer – as I interpret it, anyway – Panofsky has no intention of doing more than pointing Friedman towards basic texts and to certain individuals whose positions were secure. Panofsky’s conferring a knighthood on Singer is either a mistake or, as I think, an oblique comment on Friedman’s social pretensions, acting (for that reason) as antidote to any assumption of Singer’s inferiority by reason of Jewish inheritance. This bias is clearly reflected, though probably unconsciously, in d’Imperio’s account of the cryptanalysts’ “plan of Attack” in her Table of Contents, which I’ll treat later. Interestingly, Panofsky does not refer to Dorothea Singer, who was a fine medieval scholar, and who was referenced by Lynn Thorndike in 1921. Charles Singer’s book of 1928, however, makes no mention of Thorndike even though the first and second volumes of Thorndike’s A History of Science and Experimental Magic had been published five years earlier, in 1923.
Charles Singer wrote studies in the history of medicine for the first part of his career and then turned to writing history – notably editing the encyclopaedic History of Technology. What Panofsky doesn’t say, and perhaps didn’t know, is that Singer also knew Hebrew, Greek and Latin. He had been born in London. His father Simeon Singer was a rabbi and scholar. Singer was another scholar who had left his home to come with his wife in the 1930s to take up a post in America (UCLA), remaining until 1942. In that year, despite the great risk it entailed, he and his wife re-crossed the Atlantic to return to England. (British naval losses; American naval losses).
Singer’s ideas about the Voynich manuscript were apparently developed and communicated only by post and after 1954. What d’Imperio never says is whether such opinions were merely answers given a quiz such as that presented to Panofsky. It is quite likely they were; by 1957 Singer was in England and Friedman shows no interest in reading or learning about medieval art and manuscripts; he likes to have others do that sort of work, and then extract from them answers to set questions of his own devising, in way suited to ‘number-crunching’ and puzzle solving. Friedman relied heavily on feeding quantifiable data-bites into a computer as a means to ‘break the text’. So I think it probable that, rather than buy and read the recommended books, Friedman simply contacted the authors expecting short, easy answers to his own short, ‘baby-steps’ questions.
In Singer’s own Evolution of Anatomy, he says he will omit …
“Paracelsus, and Helmont, and their followers, since the movement they represent did not become important until the second part of the seventeenth century”…
yet he opines to Friedman by letter (responding to a quiz?) that his vague ‘feeling’ is that the Voynich manuscript might be of a Paracelsan and occult-alchemical character, and composed by an ‘author’ living in sixteenth-century Prague. As always, there seems to have been no effort made by the theorist to check whether their ideas were compatible with reality: that is, in this case, to see whether the manuscript’s materials, style of construction or ‘hand’ suited such an idea. (A: they don’t).
None of those “feelings” which Singer says more than once are vague impressions finds support from the manuscript itself, but they have found determined support among a group of Voynicheros whose members are quite determined upon.
I find Singer’s testimony most interesting as one more of the many instances where a scholar of eminence and wide knowledge of European medieval works can suggest no manuscript at all as close comparison for Beinecke MS 408. This is a point so widely un-noticed, and still less rarely considered for its implications, that it deserves a post of its own. I’ll call it ‘Angels and Fools’.
Two volumes of essays, dedicated to Singer, had been published in the year before Friedman was introduced to Panofsky.
E. Ashworth Underwood (ed.), Science, Medicine, and History: Essays on. the Evolution of Scientific Thought and Medical Practice. Written in honour of Charles Singer. Volumes I and Il. (1953).
Geoffrey Keynes’ review for the British Medical Journal neatly describes Singer’s character and publications. The British Medical Journal, Vol. 1, No. 4873 (May 29, 1954), p. 1247.
Charles Singer, The Evolution of Anatomy: A Short History of Anatomical and Physiological Discovery to Harvey: Being the Substance of the Fitzpatrick Lectures Delivered at The Royal College of Physicians of London in the years 1923 and 1924.
Richard Georg [sometimes seen as George] Salomon (1894-1966) – converted to Christianity in 1902; escaped Nazi Germany in 1937. At the University of Berlin, Salomon had studied eastern European history under Theodor Schiemann (1847-1921), Byzantine history under Karl Krumbacher (1856-1909), the history of medieval law under Karl Zeurmer (1849-1914), and Latin paleography under Michael Tangl (1861-1921), under whom he completed his doctoral dissertation in February 1907: Studien zur normannisch-italischen Diplomatik. His name was among the six (with Panofsky’s) listed for expulsion from Hamburg University in 1934.
Panofsky’s pointing Friedman in the direction of these men, and texts, was not only wise, but kind. If all Friedman wanted was quiz-answers and easy ‘sound-bites’ the men might provide them; if he he was seriously interested in the manuscript as a late medieval product, studying the texts would begin his education.
d’Imperio is dismissive of Charles Singer, though including in her Bibliography five of Singer’s works (p.130) and two articles by Salomon. (p.129). I add a further note on Charles Singer’s theory further below.
Q 7: What plain text have you found in the VMS?
A: So far as I know, plain language writing is found: first on the pages showing the signs of the zodiac (folio 70 ff.) which seems to be provincial French; second, on folio 66; and third, on the last page, folio 116 verso. The entry on folio 66 reads, as discovered by Professor Salomon of Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, “der mus del,” which seems to be ancient German for “der Mussteil,” which is a legal term referring to household implements and stock of victuals which, after the death of a husband, cannot be withheld from his widow. The little figure and receptacles accompanying this entry may or may not refer to this idea. The entry on the last page reads: “So nim geismi[l]ch o.” This is again old German, the first word generally introducing a sentence following a conditional clause; the translation would be: “[If such and such a condition prevails], then take goat’s milk.” The last letter “o” is most probably to be completed into “oder,” which means “or.” The inference is that the sentence is unfinished and that some alternative substance was proposed in case goat’s milk should not be available. I may add that recipes of this kind are quite customary in mediaeval and Renaissance medicine.
Granted that Panofsky may, or may not, have agreed with Salomon’s reading of that marginalia – extraneous by definition to provenancing the manuscript’s original content as Panofsky realised (“The little figure …. may or may not refer to this idea”) – there has been a recurring discussion/dispute of Salomon’s reading, with Koen Gheuens’ summary of the ‘pro-‘ position neatly put and illustrated (together with his own thoughts) in his post of July 11th., 2017: Note also that Panofsky is as rigorous as ever in his principles – attributing Salomon’s insights to their author; his very meticulousness in such matters permits us now to credit Panofsky with first attributing to a ‘regional French’ dialect (Occitan?) the inscriptions over the central emblems in the Voynich calendar.
Occitan became a topic on the first mailing list during discussion of a book whose narrative attributed this manuscript to the Cathars of Langedoc. The question of Occitan then became one in its own right.
1997 Dennis Stallings published a list of bibliographic and other items relating to Occitan in the first mailing list (10 Feb 1997) including the important note (which was later independently stated by Artur Sixto in a comment to ciphermysteries, (February 17, 2011) that Occitan and Catalan – or Judeo-Catalan – are closely similar.
2009, Pelling credited Stolfi. In other posts, Pelling thought it most like the dialect of Toulouse – though he may have changed his views since then. Pelling first, and others including Don Hoffman later, noted a closely similar orthography on astrolabe inscriptions dating to c.1400. I’ll return to this matter when we come to the astronomical themes.
2011Artur Sixto’s comment was made (February 17, 2011) at ciphermysteries.com, saying he thought the forms closer to Judeo-Catalan, and commenting on use of that dialect among emigrees into north-western France. Because so many comments were made to the same post by Pelling I quote here the whole of Sixto’s comment:
Sixto wrote, “To me the months [names] seem to correspond slightly better to Catalan than Occitan. June for instance, spelled with “ou” corresponds to Catalan pronunciation, in French writing. “ny” would be Catalan relative to Occitan “nh” or French/Italian “gn”. So the person might have ties with the North of Catalonia (and could have a French influence) …. Interestingly, many Jews in Catalonia spoke Catalanic, a Catalan dialect close to Shuadit, i.e. Judaeo-Provençal (i.e. Judaeo-Occitan).”
2015Commenting at Stephen Bax’s blog (May 18, 2015 – 11:14 pm) ‘Don of Tallahassee’ [Don Hoffman] noted similar forms for month-names used in Picardy, his examples taken from calendars in fifteenth-century Books of Hours.
Various others have reached similar opinions, often independently as a result of the ‘Voynich ground-hog day’ phenomenon.
On Salomon’s reading “der Mussteil,” see the lucid commentary by Koen Gheuens:
Salomon had consulted several secondary sources (which he cited in a letter of March 14th., 1936 to Panofsky or to Mrs.Voynich per Anne Nill), quoting in full an entry from:Der Sachsenspiegel (Landrecht) nach der ältesten Leipziger Handschrift herausgegeben von Prof. Dr. Julius Weiske. Neubearbeitet von weil. Professor Dr. Hildebrand. 8th.ed. Leipzig, O.R. Reisland, 1905 (Glossary p.28.)
Q 8: What plants, astronomical, etc, things have been recognised so far?
A: To the best of my knowledge, only the sunflower has been identified thus far.
To this I should have protested at first – had I been there – that Professor Panofsky must be joking, but then asked more of what he thought that might imply, if he really meant it.
Infuriatingly, if this is another reprise of things he had said at the meeting, it is another case of Friedman’s “blind spot” at work. An iconographic analyst of Panofsky’s calibre is (so to speak) the theoretical physicist of the art world; he has to know pretty much everything about everything expressed in visual form through the periods in which he specialises, and that includes the way plants and creatures are depicted in a given place at a given time AND what the depiction indicates about the signfiicance embedded in forms and details: that is, what non-superficial messages the image conveyed for persons of that time and environment. He would have to know the traditions of the bestiaries as well as the place of a creature in the schemes of Christian theology and moralia, as well as classical Greek and Roman lore. And so too for plants: is a rose intended as allusion to the Virgin Mary; to ‘Roman de la Rose’; to the physical rosa mundi; to an intended parallel between the pure soul of Mary as antidote to spiritual ills and the Rose as supposed protection against Plague … and so forth. This issue of intended significance is the one most noticeable by its absence in writings by persons who claim to ‘analyse’ imagery but who know nothing about it.
As regards plants, Panofsky’s well-known statement that “the rise of those particular branches of natural science which may be called observational or descriptive—zoology, botany, paleontology, several aspects of physics and, first and foremost, anatomy — was . . . directly predicated upon the rise of the representational techniques.” could not have been enunciated without a prior and thorough grounding in the way those fields of learning were illustrated before and during the period of the Renaissance.
Erwin Panofsky, Artist, Scientist, Genius: Notes on the “Renaissance-Dämmerung”, Lecture Given May 10, 1952 at the Fogg Museum Before the New England Conference on Renaissance-Studies. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1953). also included in Wallace K. Ferguson (et.al.), Six Essays on the Renaissance (1962).
[pdf] Claudia Swan, ‘Illustrated Natural History’ in Susan Dackerman (ed.), Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge , exhibition catalogue, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), pp.186-191.
On flowers, their perception, depiction and attitudes to cultivation from ancient to modern times, with emphasis on Europe’s medieval and Renaissance periods, see also
Jack Goody, The Culture of Flowers (CUP Archive, 1993).
reviewed by Chandra Mukerji in Theory and Society, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Aug., 1996), pp. 590-594
And quite apart from his professional studies, in which he discussed the symbolism intended by depiction of scarlet lilies, iris and honeysuckle, Panofsky’s correspondence shows a keen interest in the very practical aspect of botany: gardening.
Did he honestly mean that he could recognise not a single plant in the Vms? Not even in 9v, with its widely-accepted representation of one or more members of the viola-group?
Erwin Panofsky, Early Netherlandish Painting: its origins and character (1953) Vol. 1 pp. 333 and note 6 to p.416.
‘Nothing but the sunflower’?? Hmmmm.
Q 9: Is it all in the same hand?
A: In my opinion the whole manuscript is by the same hand with the possible exception of the last page; but I am by no means sure of that.
(Another answer that says nothing.. -D)
Q 10: Why was it written’?
A: My idea always was that the manuscript was written by a doctor or quack trying to impart what he considered secret knowledge to a son or heir.
I have no idea whether Panofsky really believed this. It echoes a view first put forward (whether Panofsky knew it or not) by Georg Baresch who said in his letter to Kircher, “… it is not inconceivable that some good man…”.etc. Panofsky does seem, overall, to have shared the usual assumption of contemporary and later Voynich writers in imagining the work to be all the product of a single ‘author-artist’. The solution to this problem may lie in that as-yet unseen report which Reeds mentioned in the 90s, and described as written by Panofsky to Voynich.
A: My guess is that the manuscript was produced in Germany, which is supported by the fact that the goat’s milk sentence is continuous with the text of at least the last page of the manuscript.
(I prefer to comment on this in the context of the first (1931 1932) evaluation. -D)
Q 12: What do you think of the Roger Bacon theory?
A: Quatsch. The Roger Bacon theory is in my opinion at variance with all the available facts and has been convincingly disproved by Mr. Manly. Further endorsement of Mr. Manly’s adverse criticism is found in a brief review of his article by the above-mentioned Professor Salomon which appeared in: Bibliothek Warburg, Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliographie zum Nachleben der Antike, I, Leipzig and Berlin, 1934, page 96, No. 386.
I can reproduce Salomon’s review here, thanks to the patience of the Beinecke staff who found it among Anne Nill’s files (July 9th. 1936) as a clipping to which Salomon added that there was “no one else save you, Dr. Wilson and Dr. Petersen who could possibly be interested in it”. HIs view was that finding an exactly similar sequence of plants was the only practicable key, and perhaps this inspired Petersen’s concerted efforts to identify the plants. D)
Q 13: Full title of the Dictionary of Abbreviations. Title of Hans Titze’s book on forgeries, & of Mibillon’s history of diplomatics.
A: The dictionary of abbreviations is by Adriano Cappelli, Dizionario delle Abbreviature Latine ed Italiane; my edition is the second, published 1912, but there may be more recent ones. The book on forgery in art is by Hans Tietze and entitled Genuine and False; Copies, Imitations, Forgeries, New York, 1948. As far as the book by Mabillon is concerned, I am afraid that I did not express myself with sufficient clarity. He did not write a book on “The History of Diplomatics” but his famous De re Diplomatica of 1681 laid the foundations of palaeography starting out with the investigation of documents which were supposed to be genuine and which he proved to be forgeries by studying the development of script. I should like to reiterate my opinion that the Voynich manuscript, whichever its place of origin, date and purpose, is certainly a perfectly authentic document.
I do not think anyone could mistake here the asperity with which Panofsky’s answers this question. His “I am afraid that I did not express myself with sufficient clarity’ is a very formal and very cold English- and European form of insult: there is everywhere a point at which extreme politeness becomes an insult. In modern American the equivalent might be: ‘Are you a total fool?’ Panofsky’s then explaining, in words of one syllable, the importance of Mabillon’s book (of which no genuine ‘student’ of medieval manuscripts could have passed three decades in ignorance), tells us yet again that Panofsky has been driven to the point of outrage: this is a venting of professorial wrath. And, need I say, Friedman remained quite unable to weigh the relative merits of amateurs against specialists; Panofsky had said, categorically, that the manuscript was genuine, and yet d’Imperio – who hasn’t any relevant training or experience to judge the matter – decides (as we see later) to keep the option open. The reason has nothing to do with the manuscript itself, but with two fixed yet unproven assertions: that the text is in cipher and that it is entirely the product of Latin (western) Christian culture.
Q14: What other scholars are interested in the VMS?
A: The only scholar who still takes some interest in the Voynich manuscript is, so far as I know, Professor Salomon, already mentioned twice.
“already mentioned twice.” (and doubtless also in the ‘conference’ shortly before). Panofsky has now quite lost patience with Friedman and his ‘quiz’. That Panofsky omits mention of Charles (or of Dorothea) Singer here, again suggests that they had not yet, to his knowledge, been involved with the study. Charles Singer’s opinions, as quoted by d’Imperio, come from letters dating to 1957 or so.
Q15: What do you think of the artificial language theory?
A: I do not feel qualified to pronounce about the probability of your [sic!] “artificial language” theory. I must confess that, for the time being, I am a little skeptical in view of the fact that, so far as I know, no attempts to construct such an artificial language can be shown to have been made until the beginning of the seventeenth century, whereas cipher scripts were developed and employed at a very much earlier date. As I mentioned in conversation, the Italian humanist, Leone Battista Alberti, welcomed the newly discovered “hieroglyphs” as a kind of writing that was independent of language differences and was therefore understandable to all initiated; but this would seem a rather different proposition because the hieroglyphs were not an artificial language developed, on systematic grounds, by a contemporary author but were reputed to be a sign language actually used by the Egyptians and therefore particularly attractive to the humanists who credited the Egyptians with a wisdom even more profound than that of the Greeks and Romans.
Panofsky’s comment about the dates being wrong for a deliberately-constructed artificial language (as such; not including newly-created scripts or alphabets to render a language) is absolutely right, and Friedman’s ignorance of even that – his own field – is once more evident. It is another item in proof that Panofsky was already better acquainted with the history than was Friedman. Panofsky also knows of O’Neill’s paper, published in 1944, though his knowledge of Alberti had long been part of his own scholarly repertoire. As, I expect, was his knowledge of medieval and Renaissance palaeography, essential to provenancing manuscripts and evinced by his familiarity with the books of which Friedman was still ignorant, though already had referred to them during their talk. His allusion to hieroglyphics is most likely to refer to the Hieroglyphica of Horapollo which has made such an impression on Dürer (among others). The edition by Boas includes some of Dürer’s drawings and an essay on the subject.
George Boas (ed. and trans.), The Hieroglyphics of Horapollo. (Boas’ translation was first published in 1950 but my copy is the 1993 edition which I think to be preferred. It includes a new foreword by Anthony T. Grafton)
SUMMATION: In my view, the assumptions made by Friedman, and the ‘theory’ on which his mind was already set – combined with his arrogance and ignorance of the basics needed to form a valid preliminary assessment of any medieval manuscript, but especially one whose content was obscure and imagery anomalous, effectively deterred Panofsky from bothering to provide Friedman with any informed comment on the manuscript’s imagery. It also – in my opinion- led him to avoid giving his personal assessment of the manuscript’s cultural origin, script or iconography. I read his responses chiefly as intended to ensure Friedman had no further excuse for contact.
Erwin Panofsky, Korrespondenz 1910 bis 1968. Eine kommentierte Auswahl in fünf Bänden, hrsg. von Dieter Wuttke (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag): Bd. I,Korrespondenz 1910 bis 1936 (2001); Bd. II,Korrespondenz 1936–1949 (2003). English reviews e.g. International Journal of the Classical Tradition, Vol.11 (2004) Dec (Issue 2), pp. 280-292.
NOTE: This document is reproduced by the present author by permission and should not be taken and re-used without (1) reference to the present author (as ‘finder’); (2) to this blog-post and (3) seeking permission for re-use from Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts library. A fee may be required.
Next post: Cryptanalysts – Panofsky’s comments on provenance 1931 1932.
Header Illustration: detail of plate on p.11 of the Supplemental Volume of De Re Diplomatica. Issued in 1707. following Mabillon’s De re diplomatica libri VI, published Paris, Louis Billaine, (1681). Note – the example is chosen at random; no argument should be inferred.
I’ve spent the last three posts explaining the background to Friedman’s questions and Panofsky’s responses. The aim is to understand why Panofsky says so little about the manuscript’s pictures and why his responses lack his usual warmth and erudition.
In the next post, when we look at Panofsky’s replies in full, we see that the questions caused offence: some by ignorance of good manners; others of art, of manuscript studies and of Panofsky’s work. (Remember, everyone had two years to think about the meeting).
A number of the questions have nothing to do with Panofsky’s interests, but are just about Friedman and his theories. Some assume Wilfrid’s narrative as ‘given’. Others make clear that Friedman had scarcely attended to what Panofsky had already told him. And others show extraordinary lack of awareness – as e.g. Q.3, Q.7, Q.10, Q.13 (!!!) and Q,15.
Take Q.13 for example: d’Imperio says (Elegant Enigma p.42) that William Friedman was “a devoted student of the Voynich manuscript from the early 1920s on”, yet Q.13 shows that thirty years later the ‘devoted student’ had not even heard of the (then-) fundamental texts in European palaeography: Mabillon’s De re diplomatica and Capelli’s Dizionario di Abbreviature Latini ed Italiani (Milan, 1912).
No matter that neither includes any simple comparison alphabet; the point is that in thirty years Friedman had not advanced his study as far as the introduction to ‘manuscript studies 101’. Nor does he seem to have realised, to that time, that dating and (if possible) placing the script is a vital part of provenancing any manuscript. [see earlier post, ‘Provenance: Wilfrid-style and real-world.’ (November 24, 2018)].
Friedman’s exaggerated sense of self-importance and expectation that others should serve his needs does not seem unusual for him. A number of comparable incidents are recorded by d’Imperio.
“On 25th May, 1944 William F. Friedman wrote a letter to the widow of Dr. Wilfrid Voynich .. requesting a photostat copy [of the entire manuscript]. The request was granted.” (Elegant Enigma p.39)
The war had not ended; Friedman was – according to the NSA biography – Colonel Friedman, Director, Communications Research, Signal Intelligence Service, (later Army Security Agency). During war-time the army has power to requisition, and one does not refuse a Colonel’s ‘request’. The inconvenience and expense was not minor – the cost about that of a week’s wages for a man. Mrs. Voynich first wrote to Friedman, pointing out that copies existed already, among them one in the New York Library and another with Fr. Petersen – but Friedman clearly preferred to have her bear the cost and trouble of providing him with his own copy; she complied. (Later we learn that Friedman also obtained Fr. Petersen’s copy ‘on loan’ – effectively preventing that scholar from continuing his own decades’ research).
So – again in connection with ‘making sport’ of Newbold – d’Imperio reports (p.42) that Elizebeth Friedman gave “an amusing account of the sport which she, William and Manly had together in demonstrating the ‘decipherments’ that could be had from Newbold’s texts…’
It was an insensitive thing to do to involve Manly, Newbold’s friend, in such ‘sport’ whether before, or after, Newbold’s suicide in 1926.
At the time, it was not done to refer openly to suicide. The act was considered a crime by the state, a shame upon the family, and a deadly sin by the Christian churches, so the usual practice was to add the oblique ‘suddenly’ to an obituary’s regular formula -such as ‘died in hospital’; ‘died at his home’ etc. This I take too as the implication of Newbold’s not being recorded as buried from a church, but only that “A memorial service was held for him in College Hall on the University of Pennsylvania campus.”
Works other than d’Imperio’s Elegant Enigma use “died suddenly.”
.. My point is not that Friedman had faults, but that when he commandeered the study from about 1952 or so, all commentary from better qualified people ceased. In fact the study of the manuscript itself ceased, and NOTHING by way of research was published for almost a decade, from 1953 until 1962 when Mrs. Voynich sold the manuscript to H.P. Kraus. What research was done was being circulated among the NSA cryptanalysts in-house or issued as very general popular articles. As we’ve seen, some of the NSA documents, including Tiltman’s paper, remained classified “top-secret” until the early 2000s. In Jim Reeds’ Voynich Bibliography publications for 1953-1962 include only these:
1953 E. Westacott, Roger Bacon in Life and Legend. New York: [Publisher?],1953. [A balanced writer whose errors are flaws in his sources rather than his apprehension of them. The text is online through the internet archive. – D.]
? W.F. and E.S. Friedman, ‘Acrostics, Anagrams, and Chaucer’, Philological Quarterly 38 (1959), pp.1-20.
1959 Jose Ruysschaert, Codices Vaticani Latini 11414 – 11709. Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, (1959). [Describes the MSs acquired by the Vatican from the Collegium Romanum, and mentions that W. Voynich bought a number of them which have been transferred to various American libraries, including the VMS.].
Note the above item, first noticed and commented on by Reeds, has recently been brought again to notice and much emphasised by Rene Zandbergen under the rubric ‘ 1903 catalogue’ because a lost document which was not a catalogue but which listed a number of books and was – as Zandbergen describes it – dated to 1903 was photographed at some later time and t(as Zandbergen describes it), the list or that photograph was what Ruysschaert was referring in 1959. Zandbergen has shown a certain impatience with persons trying to clarify his line of argument and evidence on this point, and I recommend any revisionist attempt the task for him/herself. (Richard Santacoloma’s puzzled comments are perhaps a little more indignant than the confusion warrants – but you must judge that for yourself).
1962 H.P. Kraus, Catalogue 100. Thirty-five manuscripts: including the St. Blasien psalter, the Llangattock hours, the Gotha missal, the Roger Bacon (Voynich) cipher ms. New York: H.P. Kraus,1962. [Beautiful reproductions of several leaves of VMS.]
and in the same year (1962)
June 25th., ‘Kraus Marks Anniversary With Catalog of Treasures’, Publishers’ Weekly, 181 (25 June1962) pp. 39-40. [Kraus auction – Vms listed but didn’t sell.]
June 26th., David Kahn, ‘The Secret Book’, Newsday. 26 June1962.
July 18th., Sanka Knox, ‘700-Year-Old Book For Sale; Contents, In Code, Still Mystery’, New York Times, 18 July1962, p 27, col 2. [Kraus auction. Includes picture of 85/86r4. .]
August 5th., Elizebeth S. Friedman, “The Most Mysterious Manuscript” still an Enigma’, The Washington Post, 5 August 1962, sec. E, pp. 1,5.
1963 Jan. Alfred Werner, ‘The Most Mysterious Manuscript”, Horizon, 5 (January,1963), pp.4-9.
… in all, nothing was published which might return the study to normal channels…
For those who believe the text is in cipher, all the above may seem fair enough. For those who doubt it, Friedman’s involvement and the long ‘block’ on the manuscript’s research hardly helped.
His ill-informed (and historically un-balanced) assumptions infused those of the NSA, as we’ll see later, by considering d’Imperio’s work, including its Table of Contents and Index (which will highlight their assumptions, and their information-gaps, respectively).
Those privvy to the NSA groups’ efforts, and who contributed something of lasting value, were those who contented themselves with making observations that they tested rigorously before sharing them: Currier’s work is well known; some of John Tiltman’s observations were much to the point.
Friedman’s ‘teams’ looked at what his own inclinations dictated; his ignorance of, and indifference to, anything but cryptology when combined with his arrogance alienated the more learned – and surely lost us the chance to have two early and expert commentaries in particular: Panofsky on the manuscript’s imagery and codicology, and Salomon on the script. (It is also noticeable that d’Imperio’s Index lists Charles Singer but makes no mention of Dorothea.).
Lacking the weight which such scholars might have brought to the study, Wilfrid’s first imaginative ‘history’ was soon to spiral into pure fantasy about the content.
Apart from individuals such as Currier, the Friedman groups early came to imagine that the manuscript must belong to the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and for the supposed connection to the mad emperor Rudolf II, that its content must relate to occult-alchemical ideas fashionable among the nobility in Prague at that time – several generations after the manuscript had been made in a clearly different environment.*
* four samples of vellum taken from the top 11 quires returned an adjusted radiocarbon range of 1404-1438 and the volume has been assessed recently as being made in northern Italy.
Lost opportunity: Richard Salomon on the script…
In d’Imperio’s book we find no sign that from the 1940s to her own time (1978) any of those working under Friedman even knew, let alone understood the significance, of Salomon’s having studied Latin palaeography under Michael Tangl (1861-1921), one of the main editors of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, nor that Salomon had made his doctoral dissertation under Tangl’s supervision. Its title was Studien zur normannisch-italischen Diplomatik (Studies in Norman-Italic diplomacy).
Had Salomon’s opinion been sought, it would have been an opinion with weight, and surely commenting on e.g. an apparent similarity between the Voynich ‘gallows’ glyphs and forms used in earlier religio-legal documents and diplomatic script.
‘Gallows’ glyphs – .
‘Gallows’ figures proper do not occur before the sixteenth century and are set in letters to warn the carrier to make haste. The forms which are habitually mis-called ‘gallows glyphs’ or ‘gallows’ letters in Voynich writings have no such intent – so far as we know.
Jim Reeds investigated Capelli’s Dictionary in 1994, sharing what he saw in Plate IV (Mon Jun 9th 1997), and quoting its Italian caption. Salomon and Panofsky had doubtless seen this illustration before Panofsky put it in his reading list for Friedman.
Thus Reeds: “Tavola IV … shows a letter ‘1172, Giugno 13 — Savino abbate del monastero di S. Savino in Piacenza investe il mugnaio Gerardo Albarola per se e suoi eredi maschi in perpetuo, di un mulio di ragione del detto moasstero — Scritura carolina. — Pergamena origen., conservata nell’Archivio di Stato di Parma, monastero di S. Savino.” with glorious gallows letters all over it.”
Jorge Stolfi (Fri, 6 Oct 2000), gave that information again to someone who’d missed it, translating “The date is on the “letter” itself, 13 june 1172. It is actually a notarial document recording the concession by the abbey of S. Savino in Piacenza of a mill of theirs to miller Gerardo Albarola and his heirs in perpetuity etc. etc. As I remember, it is signed by the abbot, several monks as witnesses, the miller (not sure), and the public scribe / notary who prepared it .”
Reeds’ find is now seen everywhere, though rarely with any mention of him – which omission inevitably leads to the newcomer’s supposing the careless copyist, rather than the researcher, should be credited with a particular contribution to this research; failing to go to the original discussion and so (not rarely) to waste their time re-researching and re-discovering things long ago discovered. Pelling once called this the Voynich ‘ground-hog day’ phenomenon and it is due almost entirely to absent or erroneous attribution.
The same example shown above, together with other items appear on a page from Rene Zandbergen’s website, re-presenting a selection of material from the past century’s shared research.
Stolfi’s last phrase provides the key:: “public scribe/notary”. Such elongated ascenders are most often found in documents of this type i.e. deeds of gift; deeds of establishment and other property-related matters and can be traced to similarly religio-legal documents as early as the tenth century in Spain. For a time a more ornate variant was used by scribes in the imperial scriptorium, but as I noted when treating this point and introducing the early examples from Iberia:
“The eleventh and twelfth centuries, lingering into the fourteenth, are when we see such forms in various parts of Europe, usually as part of some official decree or charter”.
‘Who wrote the ‘gallows’, voynichimagery, Oct. 7th., 2015.
If the apparent similarity between some Voynich glyphs and these earlier scripts is not deceptive (something which Salomon might have told us), then it is another item indicating that the content in the Voynich manuscript predates by some time the present volume’s manufacture in the early decades of the fifteenth century.
Capelli, Lexicon abbreviaturarum: Dizionario di abbreviature latine ed italiane, 6th ed. (Milan: Ulrico Hoepli, 1979).
[pdf] Heimann and Kay (trans.), Capelli’s ‘Dictionary… ‘ (1982). This pdf has no plates.
[read online or pdf] the internet archive has an edition in German to the front, and Heimann and Kay’s translation to the back. Includes between them Capelli’s Plates.
To that matter, I think, Panofsky was quietly directing Friedman by mentioning then-basic texts on palaeography and referring to just one comment by Salomon – on an item of marginalia. As far as the evidence shows, Friedman did nothing about either for, apart from a vague discourse about Salomon’s later study of Opicinus Canistris, d’Imperio’s book says nothing of him other than to repeat that same fragment cited by Panofsky twenty years earlier. Even then, d’Imperio sets it after her own, subjective, impressions.
Friedman’s character and self-important attitude could be predicted to alienate Erwin Panofsky and others of his standing in their own fields. His errors – including uncritical acceptance of much of Wilfrid’s quasi-history and Newbold’s categories – then created error exponentially.
Excessive reverence for Holy Roman Emperors and for the Friedmans – and for d’Imperio’s book – thereafter magnified those errors, to inform much of the baseless matter still asserted about this manuscript.
…. but to return to 1954 – all things considered (and though you are free to differ) – it seems to me that Panofsky had reason enough to give Friedman responses which said as little as possible, being restrained by caution; by awareness of the temper of the times; and by knowledge of by whom, and to what end, his statements might be used. Whether Friedman already had access to Panofsky’s assessment of 1931 1932, or whether Panofsky knew he did, if so, are other questions still undetermined and unaddressed.
Note: By 1954, Panofsky seems to have mis-remembered; Nill’s correspondence suggests he had seen the ms on the 5th Feb. 1932. the memory seems to have slippedCryptanalysts – Panofsky’s comments on provenance 1932.
The list of Friedman’s ‘Questions for Professor Panofsky’ (below) comes from Jim Reeds’ original paraphrase (Reeds’mailing list, Friday April 15th., 1994).
Have you examined the VMS itself?
What is it written on; with what writing tool?
What’s the date?
Why do you think so?
What’s it about?
Are there any plain text books sort of like the VMS?
What plain text have you found in the VMS?
What plants, astronomical, etc, things have you recognized?
Is it all in the same hand?
Why was it written?
Where & when?
What do you think of the Roger Bacon theory?
[provide Friedman with…] Full title of the Dictionary of Abbreviations. Title of Hans Titze’s book on forgeries, & of Mibillon’s history of diplomatics.
What other scholars are interested in the VMS?
What do you think of the artificial language theory?
Afterword: What’s Wrong with that?
It is understandable that a reader with little prior background might wonder if there’s really very much wrong with those questions. For those not asking this rhetorically, I provide more detail. (click the small black arrow).
As always, the things not understood manifest in absence, and silence, so let me illustrate Panofsky’s capacity for analytical-critical commentary, and then consider what we might have had from him if Friedman had better understood the discipline of iconographic analysis, or the calibre of the man to whom he had been introduced.
Consider, for example, the “ladies” pages in the manuscript, and their curious gestures. Now, here’s Panofsky’s commentary on one, simple, everyday gesture – a ‘snapshot’ from daily life: a man lifts his hat.
[Introduction] Studies in Iconology: Humanistic themes in the art of the Renaissance.
It makes no difference for our needs that modern scholars differ about the relative value of Panofsky’s analytical system, or debate his preference for ‘authorial’ art, nor even debate the relative value of scholarship he produced during his German period as against his time in America. It should be obvious enough from that one example what a depth of commentary he might have made had he been simply asked to share his thoughts on the manuscript’s imagery, or even just on the figures of the ‘ladies’. Had he not been approached in the way he was, or sent that prescriptive ‘quiz’, the manuscript’s study might have advanced far more rapidly, and along very different lines, than it did after 1954.
Friedman’s single-minded focus on the written text; his implicit belief that he was the most important person to study the manuscript; his belief that it was ‘enciphered’ or ‘encoded’ reflect habits of mind which made him such an effective code-breaker (self-confidence; self-reference; self-sufficiency; single-mindedness; unswerving determination and a habit of organising information into neat categories for cross-reference) also made him utterly unsuited to conceiving of the range and depth of learning which might be needed to understand so problematic a manuscript – or even to have Panofsky open up on the subject.
I find it telling that even Brigadier Tiltman’s paper of 1968 misspells Panofsky’s name and that, despite the amount of time Tiltman spends talking about the imagery, he refers in that paper more often to Charles Singer – a writer of popular histories of medicine and science- than to Panofsky.[note] One remark – unattributed – may be Panofsky’s, because it is the first instance I’ve seen so far of any cryptanalyst recognising the fundamental distinction between provenancing manufacture and provenancing content. (on which see ‘Provenance: Wilfrid-style and real-world’. (November 24, 2018).
Professor Panoffsky [in the questionnaire] and the keeper of the manuscripts at the Cambridge Library both independently insisted on a date within 20 years of 1500 A.D., and the manuscript as we have it may be a copy of a much earlier document.
In fact this mis-represents the case. What Panofsky said is that if it hadn’t been for [O’Neill’s claim to have identified] the sunflower as the subject of one image, he would have dated it to no later than 1470.
[pdf] John Tiltman, ‘The Voynich manuscript: “the most mysterious manuscript in the world”‘(1968). Paper released by the NSA under the Freedom of Information Act, 23rd April 2002.
Note added Jan.17th., 2009. I’ll come back to Charles Singer, in connection with the ‘S.E.P.’ phenomenon, and do him more justice than the brief mention above. Since my first degree was a double major in art and in the archaeology of industry, Singer (editor of the first encyclopaedic ‘History of Technology’) happens to be one of my early heroes.
After his first, brief survey of the Friedman-von Neumann letter-file, Jim Reeds told other list-members (9th. April 1994):
…A[p]parently Friedman and John v. Neumann had a chat with Panofsky and wrote down a list of questions, and Panofsky wrote a letter answering them. I will summarize their contents when I get the xeroxes..
Closer inspection showed otherwise: Von Neumann was Panofsky’s colleague who for two years (March 1952-March 1954) effectively stood between Panofsky and the somewhat importunate Friedman. von Neumann later made a point of saying that he just ‘sat in’ on their eventual meeting in March 1954.
Panofsky, Erwin. “Answers to Questions for Prof. E. Panofsky.” Letter to William F. Friedman, March 19, 1954. Correspondence between Friedman, Panofsky, and J. v. Neumann. Letters from Richard Salomon to Erwin Panofsky and Gertrud Bing. WFF 1614. (i.e.: George Marshall Foundation (library?) William F. Friedman Collection, file no. 1614.)
Though Bauer (2017 p.558) also mentions this correspondence between Salomon and Panofsky, it is not referred to by Sheldon
It is interesting to imagine how news of the planned meeting might have affected members of the FBI or HUAC. The ‘ciphertext’ had been touted by the late Wilfrid Voynich as of value to the military; its present owner, his widow, was known to have lived in Russia and sympathised with revolutionaries. Wilfrid’s BOI file presumably became an FBI file in 1938, and the FBI had already had reason to ‘chat’ with Panofsky, in 1950.
Add to this the fact that Friedman had a history of instability, that Tiltman represented a foreign government, and that von Neumann worked on America’s nuclear weapons program at Los Alamos, and you can see why the thought of their meeting would have raised hair on the neck of the good FBI man. Some surely doubted that they were intending to meet only to chat about medieval art.
Hostility towards Jewish academics did not come only from external agencies; some otherwise intelligent men and academics were bigots too. It has been pointed out to me that in the early 1950s, Revilo Oliver attempted to renew an early acquaintance with Friedman
George David Birkhoff – another of similar mind – headed the maths department at Harvard through the first and second world war (1912 to 1944). Birkhoff’s anti-Semitic views and remarks are well-documented but not unequivocal. Siegmund-Schultze discovered a letter of 1928 which shows that Birkhoff interviewed von Neumann in Paris in 1928. (see excerpt below). Birkhoff was interested in astronomy, as was Van der Waerden.
Reinhard Siegmund-Schultze, Mathematicians Fleeing from Nazi Germany: Individual Fates and Global Impact (2009).
On Birkhoff see also Steve Nadis and Shing-Tung Ya, A History in Sum: 150 Years of Mathematics at Harvard (1825-1975) (2013).
And while Panofsky was the last man in the world to be paranoid, it is understandable that he should prefer to keep to the world of colleagues students and the IAS, having as little as possible to do with bureaucrats. men in fedoras, and military chaps of the spies-and-ciphers sort.
We are looking into this to understand why, in writing responses to a ‘quiz’ framed by Friedman, Panofsky’s replies are so derivative and laconic.
If we take those responses at face value, we must suppose Panofsky considered the manuscript the work of a sixteenth-century German; it not, we must return to the privately-given opinion of 1931 1932 and suppose Panofsky’s opinion to be that the manuscript was Jewish and from ‘Spain or somewhere southern’. A southern locus better agrees with the orthography of the month-names; on the other hand some of the marginal inscriptions have been interpreted as German. (How much later they were added is uncertain).
“The Group of Four”
William Friedman was employed by the National Security Agency (See prior post, ‘Prelude’.)
Though a fine cryptographer he also had a history of instability. I’ll illustrate with a couple of quotations, the first describing an early incident involving John Tiltman.
[During Tiltman’s voyage to America by sea in 1942] he was made party to what amounted to a breach of security by the communications officer of the ship. Knowing something of Tiltman’s mission (the officer handled enciphered messages), he took it upon himself to show Tiltman the secure communications gear he was responsible for. Tiltman promised himself to cover the officer’s well-intentioned indiscretion by acting as if he had never seen the gear when he would be shown it officially. Upon his arrival in the U.S., both the Navy (in the person of Joseph Wenger) and the Army (through William Friedman) demonstrated the gear for him, each independently of the other. As it turned out, Wenger had received authorization for his actions. Friedman, much like the naval officer aboard ship, discussed the equipment on his own authority. This, according to Tiltman, led to a confrontation between Friedman and General Strong, the staff intelligence officer (G-2) for General Marshall, which may have led to one of Friedman’s breakdowns. (p.45)
There can be no doubt about that instability; most modern accounts of Friedman’s life speak of it, e.g.
Friedman’s life-long mental problems, particularly his depression, insomnia, and alcoholism, are summarized in a letter to his biographer, Ronald Clark, written by Friedman’s last psychiatrist (he’d consulted at least three for varying periods over the years), Zigmond M. Lebensohn, dated 10 May 1976. (Papers of Elizebeth S. Friedman, Box 13, File 30, George C. Marshall Library, Lexington, Virginia). Lebensohn’s letter notes that Friedman had been hospitalized with mental illness five separate times beginning in 1940. His last hospitalization was in late 1963.
[pdf] Colin MacKinnon, ‘William Friedman’s Bletchley Park Diary: A New Source for the History of Anglo-American Intelligence Cooperation’, Intelligence and National Security, (December 2005) note 9, pp.4-5.
In 1952 John Tiltman was still a member of CGHQ. The meeting with Panofsky was continually deferred by him, or by von Neumann until March 1954 – about the time Tiltman retired from GCHQ though still based at the British Embassy in Washington and still the senior British (UK) liaison officer to the United States.
Tiltman’s work in America was chiefly to assist the sharing of sensitive military intelligence between two of the three war-time allies, America and Britain, at a time when neither side felt complete confidence in the other…
The third participant was the true civilian, ErwinPanofsky. For those without previous knowledge of Panofsky’s work, I add a passage about perspective – in more senses than one – from a paper which he wrote in 1932, the same year he saw the Voynich manuscript.
Erwin Panofsky,‘ZumProblemder Beschreibung und Inhaltsdeutung von Werken der bildenden Kunst’, Logos 21 (1932): 103–19;
above paper, translated by Jas´ Elsner and Katharina Lorenz under the title ‘On the Problem of Describing and Interpreting Works of the Visual Arts’, Critical Inquiry 38 (Spring 2012): 467–82.
[For Lucian] to have been unambiguous would have been to have understood the work of art not from the vantage point of the second century AD but from that of the fifth century BC. He would also have needed to bring to mind identical comparable cases and thus to have been aware of changes in the possibilities of spatial expression over the period. In short, he would have to have modeled his description not on the immediate perception of a given object within the picture but on the knowledge of general principles of depiction, that include an understanding of style which only a historical consciousness could have provided.
In my work (both here, and in general), when I speak of ‘stylistics’ I’m referring to those things bolded in the quotation above.
Amos Morris-Reich, Race and Photography: Racial Photography as Scientific Evidence, 1876-1980. p.239 (note 165). A very interesting footnote shedding light on how Carl Neumann and Panofsky each regarded Dürer’s view of the Jews – when both men were in Germany and Hitler was coming to power.
John von Neumann, was Panofsky’s colleague and friend should not be confused with Carl Neumann.
Leaving Germany in the 1930s he had come to work, as Panofsky had done from 1933, at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies. One difference between them was that in 1943, von Neumann was personally invited by Oppenheimer to participate in the Manhattan Project. By 1952, von Neumann had effectively two sets of ‘colleagues’.
Still more likely to create a frisson among the McCarthyists and others if they heard of the meeting was that John von Neumann shared rights with Karl Fuchs for the patent on a top secret nuclear mechanism which Fuchs had certainly shared with America’s other (and now even more distrusted) war-time ally, Communist Russia! Fuchs had been convicted of spying just two years before Friedman started pushing to meet von Neumann’s ‘colleague’.
Given their positions, their eminence, their specialisations and the atmosphere of the time, one cannot suppose that any outsider – or that most of the insiders – could quite believe that none of the four had motives other than a desire to ‘have a chat’ about art.
Mutual uncertainty about motives might also explain why, for those two years, any proposed meeting date was found impossible either by von Neumann or by Tiltman. A disinclination for further involvement with Friedman (or Tiltman) and awareness for the need for care and discretion might do much to explain Panofsky’s responses, both to Friedman and to his ‘quiz’, which we’ll now turn to consider in the next two posts.
After Friedman informed von Neumann that he wanted to include ‘JT’ in the proposed meeting – or rather once von Neumann had time to learn ‘JT’s’ “avocation’ – the tone of the Friedman-von Neumann correspondence changes suddenly: from March 1952.
I am not implying any conspiracy between the four to exchange military secrets, but describing the context within which Friedman framed, and Panofsky responded to, the ‘Questions for Professor Panofsky’.
[pdf] Daniel Keenan, Kultur and acculturation: Erwin Panofsky in the United States of America, (PhD thesis), Glasgow University, 2014.