The Black Sea – Treaty of Milan Pt.1a

This series sits between the ‘Clear Vision’ posts and those scheduled to appear  as ‘Greater Khorasan..’

‘Clear vision’ treated folio 5v in some (but not complete) depth as a relatively accessible example of the manuscript’s approach to mnemonic imagery, and also with an aim of offering  detailed comment on one detail of the many  which, by 2011, had led me to conclude that most of this botanical imagery saw its first enunciation in the Hellenistic period and in a specifically Hellenistic environment – albeit  one influenced by Egypt.[1]

Folio 5v also allowed me to raise two questions I consider important but which were previously unexamined: first, why anyone  native to medieval Europe should have found such curious images of interest and, secondly, why they should have been of such interest that no effort was made to render the information they convey into such forms and conventions as would have made it  intelligible to a western audience; that is, employing the pictorial language and -grammar of the western tradition.

That the imagery was not ‘translated’ into Latin terms certainly made easier the present task of identifying its original character and subsequent stages of alteration (chronological stratigraphy). But it also meant that Latins of the  medieval period would have found most of the botanical imagery as incomprehensible as did Europeans of the seventeenth-, nineteenth-, twentieth- and earlier twenty-first centuries, for reasons and in ways analogous to those which render the written text unintelligible.

One must suppose, then, that for some time the manuscript was being passed down in conjunction with its explanation, and that it became useless only when that direct line of transmission-and-explanation was broken.  For want of certain knowledge, I have merely supposed that that this break occurred in the late sixteenth- or in the early seventeenth century, possibly with the expulsion of the Jews from Prague in 1561, or with Jacub Hořčický’s sudden remove from Prague, subsequent imprisonment (1620) and a period of exile so soon followed by his unexpected death in in Mělník,  fifty kilometres from Prague, in 1622.

Whether  Jacub or some other person inscribed his name on it (scholars argue over whether the form is the Czech ‘z’ or not), and how Jacub had come by the manuscript (if he had) is still unknown.[2] Nor do we know how or when it was given into the keeping of Georg Baresch – though by 1640 he had been labouring over it for some time.[3]

These current posts, intermediate between the ‘Clear Vision’ series with its emphasis on the botanical imagery and the ‘Great Khorasan’ series which will focus on folios containing those figures termed ‘nymphs’ will explain why I assign to the second half of the thirteenth century or early years of the fourteenth century the transmission of both sections – from regions east of the Bosphorus to the western Mediterranean.

Our present manuscript, exclusive of marginalia, is thus argued to have been derived from exemplars to which it is remarkably faithful.

We are also interested in what the manuscript’s internal evidence, and the historical sources, suggest as the most likely group or groups to have served as agents of transmission, and whether it is possible to identify the region of the western Mediterranean into which the matter was first brought.



[1] Recent Voynicheros may associate a Greek- or a Hellenistic theory with Koen Gheuens, who has taken it up with some enthusiasm, but as my more enduring readers will know, I reached that conclusion about the botanical section in the early stages of my research, publishing both evidence and the conclusion in my research blog ‘Findings’ before 2011. I have found nothing in subsequent investigation of other sections to contradict that conclusion, but much to support it and so have continued to assert the same ever since. Some of the Hellenistic-Egyptian imagery in the manuscript has roots older still, but one doesn’t wish to cause alarm and so I have forborne from explaining much of that. 🙂

[2] I consider the ‘Mnishovsky rumour’ near-worthless as historical testimony; because Mnishovsky could not have witnessed the alleged event; because the person repeating Mnishovsky’s alleged comments (themselves hearsay) would within eighteen months have ‘lost his memory of almost everything’ as an old friend writes to Kircher; and because if one accepts at face value the late account of some long-ago bit of hearsay, then there can be no reason to reject the attribution to Roger Bacon as author, and the bit about Rudolf’s paying some anonymous traveller/carrier  600 ducats (enough to pay for a scribe to make a 100 copies), yet accept the notion that ‘Rudolf once owned it’.  The three items of this questionable hearsay are all of a piece, and no one item can be rejected without rejecting the rest so long as none of it has found any independent or objective historical support. Even Marci cannot have believed it, for although he had known  Baresch, and Kircher and of the manuscript, for more than thirty years, he had evidently never thought it worth passing on before!

[3] An interesting version of the signature can be seen on one of the early, investigative posts at ciphermysteries (Jan.7th., 2009 ).  The way the initial letter ‘J’ is rendered – in Pelling’s processed image – is reminiscent of the Voynich script’s “ornate P” – just btw.

Baresch evidently knew that the botanical folios depicted exotic plants, not ones native to the Mediterranean. He says so in his letter to Athanasius Kircher. “.. the volume contains pictures of exotic plants [NB not: ‘herbs’] which have escaped observation here in Germany.”  (PUG 557 f. 353rv ). See the transcription and translation by Philip Neal.


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