A brief sketch – resources on Sozomeno’s teacher

This has to do with a possible intersection of Nick Pelling’s “block-paradigm paradigm” ( YouTube interview 12:48-18:55)  for attacking the Vms’ written text, and Michelle Smith’s bringing to notice a school-boy’s note book,  produced for his teacher –  Maestro Antonio di Ser Salvi Vannini.

(detail) from the schoolboy’s notebook:  Pistoia Biblioteca Forteguerriana Manoscritti A 33

Now, when you think about it, the real mind behind a schoolboy’s book produced in a fifteenth-century school (where corporal punishment wasn’t always unknown or even particularly disapproved of), has to be the school-master’s.  These can’t be a boy’s idle doodling – and there are signs not only that the master checked the copies made of the classical texts but added his own notes.  So not the sort of scribbling a student could get away with.  (See previous post).


So the person who was teaching the students to lay out their pages in such a way; to write in this or that scribal hand and to memorialise the text’s content with marginal drawings is the person of interest to us.

“Maestro Antonio di Ser Salvi Vannini de Sancto Geminiano”

[ corrections made to this section – 10th Feb 2018]


Sozomeno describes Vannini as “venerabilis doctoris magistri … de Sancto Geminiano” and at that time the description ‘of San Geminiano’  instilled immediate respect, thoughout Italy certainly but also through the whole of western Europe.


Records of Pistoia show that where a tutor generally received about 25 ducats salary a year, Vannini’s salary in the years he taught Sozomeno (among others) was 100 ducats a year plus an additional 12 ducats to cover his rent.


Robert Black, Education and Society in Florentine Tuscany: Teachers, Pupils and Schools, c. 1250-1500. (2007). See Appended tables.


From San Geminiano, during the fourteenth century, came the two most influential works  of that century:   Liber de exemplis et similitudinibus rerum  by the Dominican, Joannes de S.Geminiano (d. 1333), and   Meditationes vitae Christi by a Franciscan whose identity is debated but who is known to scholars as ‘Pseudo-Bonaventura’.  McNarmer speaks of the Meditationes  as “the single most influential devotional text written in the later Middle Ages”. It was composed between c.1336 and 1364, perhaps as a Franciscan ‘answer’ to the Liber de exemplis.

  • Sarah McNamer, ‘The Origins of the Meditationes vitae Christi’, Speculum, Vol. 84, No. 4 (October 2009), pp. 905-955


Written in Latin, the Meditationes  was rapidly disseminated, translated into all the major European vernaculars including English, French, German, Irish, Spanish, Catalan, and Swedish, but for reasons not yet well understood, only central Europe showed a similar enthusiasm for Johannes’ Liber de exemplis…   For his own part Vannini added to the town’s literary renown in a small way, by composing a Grammar – which, no doubt he tried out on  Sozomeno.


For those interested in the heritage of  S.Geminiano and its pedagogic style – and how this might have influenced  Sozemeno’s schoolbook,  the ongoing project for the Liber de exemplis… includes a map showing the whereabouts of known copies. See the  Project’s website.

Liber de exemplis here’s a bit of a page from one edition, to which I’ve added a few notes to start you off if you want to take it further.

I won’t because (as ever)  the written part of the Vms is not my area/problem/brief.



1.Preaching Orders, languages, travel and manuscripts–  ( not part of a theory)


  1. As the first order of preaching friars, the Dominicans had begun with greater enthusiasm and sense of destiny than any sense of perspective about their relative importance (or lack of it) to other and foreign peoples.  They soon learned that the natives did not respond to them in quite the way people had responded to the first apostles, especially when sermons were being delivered in the market place in a foreign language or some version rendered by a less than competent  translator.  For the humour in this situation, the Latins’ initial obliviousness as well as an account of their efforts to address the problem, I have only one Voynich-related essay that I can cite (sorry).


If, however, there is some  precedent study  on the same matter that you know about, do  leave me a comment.  It will help other readers, and me, and will make you look a lot smarter than you look if you don’t.


2.  Wilfrid said the manuscript looked as if it might belong to Roger Bacon, a thirteenth-century Franciscan, which isn’t an unfair comment as I’ve shown.


See e.g..


2. Voynich Manuscript as Moral Text.


At least  two persons  have interpreted the Voynich text as a religious, polemical and/or moralistic work.


  • John Stojko with his alleged translation, Letters to God’s eye (1978)
  •  Michael Hermann, author of a pdf-only paper entitled ‘The Cannabis Page of the Voynich Manuscript’  Michael does not explain his thinking about the botanical image, nor how he came to suppose it a Cannabis plant.  Nor does he credit anyone else as his source.  Most odd.    Perhaps he got the idea from a travelling wikipedia peddler. 🙂   Still, he’s not far wrong and I shouldn’t be too hard on someone whose specialities are in a field so far distant from medieval history and manuscript studies.  According to the  University of Edinburgh:


Dr. Michael Herrmann …  In 2008, after a temporary position … at the University of Goettingen,..was appointed to the post of Lecturer in Robotics at the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh


Dr.Herrmann  offers a translation of some text and it certainly comes out sounding like a sermon.

But…  honestly..why can’t the IT guys  do history?

Dr. Herrmann’s  15thC ‘cannabis pipe’…  Schlock-Horror)

If Dr. Herrmann  comes to the view that the Vms text – composed though it was before 1438 – was written in a Persian-ish language  by some person who was quite surrounded by cannabis-puffing types and who then felt the need to warn others of the evils of smoking cannabis, then at least  Dr. Herrmann might have hesitated long enough to discover whether or not  pipes were known at all in Persian-ish territory before 1438.



Look, even a wiki…


A number of Native American cultures have pipe-smoking traditions, which have been part of their cultures since long before the arrival of Europeans. Tobacco is often smoked, … though other mixtures of sacred herbs are [were?] also common. … In Asia during the 19th century, opium (which previously had only been eaten) was added to tobacco and smoked in pipes. … According to Alfred Dunhill, Africans have had a long tradition of smoking hemp in gourd pipes, asserting that by 1884 the King of the Baluka tribe of the Congo had established a “riamba” or hemp-smoking cult in place of fetish-worship. Enormous gourd pipes were used. – wiki ‘Pipe-Smoking’


for the Persian environment and his posited word for pipe:   wiki ‘Hookah’


If there’s any truth to Dr.Herrmann’s translation, and if cannabis was being smoked in a pipe of any sort before 1438, then we’re in Africa. Persian-ish African, Dr. Herrmann?



  1. In fairness to Dr.Herrmann, and to allow the possibility that his “pipe” was meant to describe some form of injecting-tube..

    A Nestorian (eastern Christian) book of medicines contains a phrase mentioning smoke, cannabis seeds and some form of tube.. In Wallis Budge’s translation from the Syriac (and Arabic) the passage reads:

    “Or heat mustard in the same way and let the smoke enter
    into the patient’s mouth. Or …. heat the seed of the hyoscyamus plant over a fire [apply the smoke as before], and it will relieve the pain. Or inject into the nose of the patient extract of fresh kunbare ( cannabis seed), or …

    here’s the link.


    There’s a whole chapter on Jaundice-related diseases and -medicines. Same volume.

    For ‘puffed up’ one might of course say ‘swollen’… and so forth. (But NMB.)


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