The Timing of the “Rumor”

In the August 19, 1665 letter from Johannes Marcus Marci to Athanasius Kircher (claimed to have been found by Wilfrid M. Voynich in the famous “Voynich Manuscript”), Marci relates the rumor that he had heard about the authorship and previous ownership of the work. Although I contend that there are many reasonable concerns about the authenticity of the letter itself: its contents, and its back-story by Voynich… I wanted to focus on this one aspect, the rumor, in this post (well, I will also add some points about the De Tepencz signature, which coincide with these observations).

September 10, 1665 Letter from Marci to Kircher

September 10, 1665 Letter from Marci to Kircher

Here is the story in the letter:

“Doctor Raphael, the Czech language tutor of King Ferdinand III as they both then were, once told me that the said book belonged to Emperor Rudolph and that he presented 600 ducats to the messenger who brought him the book. He, Raphael, thought that the author was Roger Bacon the Englishman. I suspend my judgement on the matter.” [Philip Neal translation].

On his site, Rene Zandbergen elaborates on the players, and the timing of this quote:

“The source of the acquisition by Rudolf is Dr. Raphael Mnišovský, once teacher to the young Ferdinand III, who later also was emperor of the holy roman empire. Mnišovský died in 1644, so this piece of information was more than 20 years old when Marci wrote his letter to Kircher. Furthermore, Mnišovský was referring back to events that took place at least 55 years before Marci’s letter, possibly even significantly longer. There are, however, reasons to believe that both men would remember the essential details correctly. Mnišovský was long interested in the manuscripts of Rudolf and the Voynich MS was something that deeply interested Marci since many decades. Still, it is certainly possible that the amount of 600 ducats is not based on fact, but possibly an exaggeration to interest Kircher”.

Now consider this against the timeline of all the letters of inquiry to Kircher which relate to the manuscript: Beginning with the (now lost but loosely described) 1636/37 letter, and the surviving 1639 letter, of Barschius to Kircher, we know that Barschius, Marci, and later, Kinner, were greatly interested in having Kircher identify the language, characters, illustrations and meaning of the book “uselessly taking up space” in Barschius’s library. It is conceivable that at the time he wrote his first two letters, Barschius did not know of the Roger Bacon/Rudolf II/600 ducats rumors, and so, did not include them. But I contend he most certainly would have included the rumors, had he known of them, as they would have certainly been deemed very helpful to Kircher in solving his riddle.

I will also point out here that Barschius made no mention of the De Tepencz “signature”, in the letter which survived. This should have been visible… as it was pre-1919 still visible… and it also would have been of great importance to the identification of the manuscript.

Now moving ahead to 1640, look at Marcus Marci’s letter to Kircher,

“The Sph*nx will understand from the attached sheet what my friend Mr Georg Barschius wanted to have written by me. Though he is undoubtedly a man of the highest quality and greatly skilled in chemical matters, he has not in fact achieved the real goal he longs for. He seeks it for the sake not of money but of medicine. [Philip Neal translation]”.

In this, we see that Marci has now taken up the cause of goading Kircher to solve the mystery of the Barschius (Voynich?) manuscript. However, he again does not mention the Roger Bacon/Rudolf II/600 ducats rumors to Kircher. This makes no sense, unless one wants to assume that Marci had not yet been told these rumors, by Mnišovský. The doctor was to live another four or so years, and perhaps only told Marci some time later, up to his death in 1644.

But Marci again does not write of the De Tepencz signature, which is inexplicable. Kircher had not yet seen the manuscript, and so anyone would consider this a valuable clue that Kircher should know.

A year later, in Marci’s 1641 letter to Kircher, Barschius is mentioned in passing, but the mysterious manuscript is not mentioned at all. No “rumors” mentioned, either, nor “signature”.

In fact, Marci does not again write of the Barschius Manuscript until the 1665 letter that Voynich claims to have found. But we know he would have heard the rumors at least by Dr. Raphael Mnišovský’s death in 1644. So why, on finding out the rumor, did Marci not immediately write Kircher and tell him? This very valuable information, so even if heard between 1641 and 1644, it should have… probably would have… been told to Kircher, to help him solve the riddle. It makes no logical sense that this was not shared. The most likely explanation is that this 1665 letter is a forgery, made up to add a valuable authorship and believable provenance to the manuscript.

From letter W. M. Voynich claims to have found in the Voynich Manuscript

From letter W. M. Voynich claims to have found in the Voynich Manuscript

Countering my suspicions, it has been recently (May, 2014) suggested on the Voynich-net mailing list, that the 1665 letter would have been “more convincing” as a forgery if the information in it was not stated as a rumor, but more directly. Meaning, if a hypothetical forger would have been more specific in their description of the authorship and provenance, perhaps description, while they had the chance, they would have done a better job of cementing the authenticity of the manuscript.

But this could not be done, and the chief reason is readily apparent: While sharing the Roger Bacon/Rudolf II/600 ducats rumors so late is somewhat damning to the authenticity of the 1665 Marci/Kircher letter, any direct claim of authorship and ownership, as fact, when not related earlier, would have been completely illogical, and revealed the letter as a fake. It would not be done if real, and could not be done, as a fake.

So told as a rumor only, years after Marci knew it, was the only way to even barely insulate the fact that this important news was held back so long. Stating it as rumor was the only way to get away with it at all. And it has worked, so far. But looking at it more closely, against the known timeline of letters: inclusion in this letter to Kircher, this useful and valuable information so late- casts serious doubts on the letter’s authenticity.

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7 Responses to “The Timing of the “Rumor””

  1. david Says:

    Hi Rich- Suspect the plot will thicken as these kinds of evidence mount up. By that I mean that the questions about authenticity will increase, not decrease, the incentive to “decode” the Vms.

    • proto57 Says:

      Thank you for the feedback, David. And I agree with what you say, that the incentive may increase… but also, the area, type and direction of the attempts would be different for a forgery, I think. So perhaps those interested will look at it in this way, and find the answer they would not find if considered genuine.

  2. Rene Zandbergen Says:

    There are many assumptions I need to disagree with here:
    – Whether or not Tepenec owned it at some point in time
    – Whether or not Rudolf owned it at some point in time
    – How much Rudolf paid for it
    Are totally irrelevant for someone who is looking for the meaning of the text.
    If Barschius did not believe that the MS is from Bacon, then bringing up this rumour would be highly counter-productive for his purpose.

  3. proto57 Says:

    Hi Rene: It seems that your points are that these ideas would not have helped Kircher solve the text, so this explains why they do not appear: except in the very last letter from Marci, about the manuscript.

    I do not think this is a good argument, partly for this reason: If these rumors were deemed of value in 1665, it would have been been so, earlier. It was not idle chatter or filler… it is clear from the letter that Marci thought it important to impart this. It cannot be both unimportant enough to be left out, then important enough to be let in. It is one, or the other.

    As for, [Barschius] “… did not believe that the MS is from Bacon, then bringing up this rumour would be highly counter-productive for his purpose.” That is a highly subjective guess about what Barschius would consider important, or harmful, to the investigation. Think about both your arguments: On the one hand, not mentioning it by Marci earlier may have been because the he did not consider it helpful (but must have agreed it possible, as he related it), on the other, Baresch may have believed it wrong, and so left it out.

    But these men clearly had NO idea what this was, from what they did write. I see nothing in there that would suggest they had a strong enough opinion to rule out Bacon, or anyone, or certainly hold such an opinion strong enough to want to keep it from Kircher, lest they spoil the pot. Nor, that this is explained by one thinking it wrong; the other, right, but unimportant.

    No I think the implication is far simpler than that, and as stated, in the post: It should be in there, if the last Marcy letter is real… but it is not.

  4. nickpelling Says:

    I agree with Rene, but I also think you may be missing the point of Baresch’s letter – which was that he already thought he knew its origins (and that these were nothing to do with Roger Bacon). So why complicate the picture with rumours which he was sure were false?

    • proto57 Says:

      Nick! The speculation that Baresch knew of the rumor, but left it out because he felt it countered his own ideas, is in my opinion countered by his seeming uncertainty about those ideas, one, and two, the lack of description of really much of what the manuscript contains*. I mean, if what you both say is true, then he was less trying to solve the mystery, and more, trying to get Kircher to give a very specific verdict.

      But that does not fit with the nature of his request to Kircher. It seems instead a genuine attempt to get an honest answer out of a man who awed them with his knowledge, and so I don’t think it would have been done in this way.

      But it is true, there are those who only ask to get an answer they want… to get an endorsement. Was Baresch one of them? Rich.

      * (one of the confounding things about the Baresh description).

  5. josefzlatodej Says:

    Hi Richard.
    The most important thing in a letter Marci – Kirchner is. ( 1666).
    Marci writes in it. That manuscript writing Barbora Cellska !

    Barboa was the wife Emperor and King Bohemia.
    The wife of Sigismund Lucemburg. ( Czech – Zikmund Lucemburský).

    This information is published only with my autorization. Thank you Josef.

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