Posts Tagged ‘voynich’

Sowerby’s Philippovitch

June 2, 2015

In E. Millicent Sowerby’s 1967 autobiography, Rare People and Rare Books, she gives us a wonderful insight into the world of bookselling in the 20th century. We are lucky that she includes a vivid description of her time with Wilfrid Voynich, his personality, and the workings of his concern just before WWI. Such descriptions are scarce, and when found, are often sketchy and inaccurate- such as Orioli’s (of Davis & Orioli, Booksellers) description of Voynich in his 1938 work, Adventures of a Bookseller. In contrast to this unfortunate case, Ms. Sowerby has done a great job in coloring out a seemingly accurate portrayal of Wilfrid, Ethel, and the many friends and associates who passed through the London offices.

And Sowerby is an impressive figure in her own right. She prepared the bibliography of the Thomas Jefferson collection for the Library of Congress, and before that, became the first woman in an expert workforce of an auction house, Sotheby’s. Her career in books spanned 30 years, including her stint with Voynich, Birkbeck College, Sotheby’s, The American Art Association, The New York Public Libary, the prestigious A. S. W. Rosenbach booksellers, and finally her magnum opus, the Jefferson Catalog for the LOC. She knows the field, and was a fortunate witness and recorder of what it was to live a life in this world. So it is with great interest that I read her chapter on Voynich, over and over again, to see what clues to his life and activities I can glean from it. And thanks to the modern internet, it becomes possible to fit Sowerby’s view of events against what we now know happened at her time, if maybe just out of reach of her understanding.

One such case is that of a mysterious “Mr. Philippovitch”. Sowerby relates that many different associates of the Voynich’s passed through the London office… various outcasts and possible revolutionary compatriots of Wilfrid, but this Philippovitch was a bit different: He was described by Voynich as the manager of his Florence branch, the Libraria Franceschini. This interested me most of all, because Voynich’s operations in that branch are somewhat clouded. He purchased it in 1908, left it by WWI, and it is unclear when he sold it (one account says about 1921). Considering it had over 500,000 items, for which we have no description, let alone any catalog, and the ultimate dispersal of which is unclear, I have been trying to find out anything I can about it. Certainly I was interested in finding out more about the branch manager, if I could.

My most recent attempt paid off: It turned out that Mr. Philippowitch is actually Tytus Filipowicz, a Polish national, and one of Voynich’s fellow anti-Tsarist revolutionaries. It was the version of his name that confused me, and as you will see, may have confused Ms. Sowerby also, who seems unaware of the man’s other accomplishments outside of bookstore manager and Revolutionary foot soldier. In fact, he became the first Polish ambassador to the United States.

But Sowerby’s knowledge of the man was reliant on what Wilfrid was willing to share with her. He was understandably secretive about his associates from that part of his life… the underground Revolutionary side of his life… and Filipowicz was a case in point. When Millicent had asked Wilfrid if she could go to Florence and catalog the Libraria’s books, considering it a potentially fantastic adventure, he refused her. And the excuse he used was Filiopwicz, “… he gave me as his chief reason that I should inevitably fall in love with his manager, and he with me!”. What Wilfrid failed to mention was that Filipowicz was actually married at the time (about 1911), and had been since 1908, and that his wife was actually in Florence during this time! But it seems, to poor innocent Ms. Sowerby, as she says “As I was young and unmarried, I could not see any objection to this, but Mr. Voynich was adamant”, the idea that anyone would suggest the possibility that a married man might become her love-interest had not occurred to her.

And when she did meet Tytus, she was somewhat wowed by him. She tells us, “When I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Philippovitch I quite saw the point. He was definitely one of the most fascinating men I have ever met. Tall, handsome, with charming manners, and moreover the Manager of a rare book shop in Florence– what more could anyone want.” Well, if she knew, I would guess she would have wanted a single man.

Years later, by my estimate about 1914/15, Millicent was at a party in London. She had not been an employ of Voynich’s for a couple of years, but at the party were Mr. & Mrs. Garland. Herbert Garland was manager of the London office, while Wilfrid was in New York City. She still had Filiopowicz on her mind, and asked Mrs. Garland about him, “After talking about him for some time, she took me aback somewhat by saying, ‘I wonder how she is and the baby'”. It was explained to her that Filipowicz had married “a Polish girl who in a burst of enthusiasm had shot a high Russian official. She had been rescued from the resulting predicament by an Austrian gentleman, who had made a ‘white marriage’ with her, thus giving her Austrian citizenship.”

Of course now it was possible to learn who this “Polish girl” was, and I was even more impressed by her story than Millicent was: She was Wanda Krahelska-Filipowicz, code name “Alinka”: Polish revolutionary fighter, would-be assassin, writer, editor, entrepreneurial publisher, and later a hero of WWII, as a pivotal member of Zagota, assisting in the escape of many Jews from Warsaw. After the War, she was active in the Warsaw reconstruction efforts.

Millicent got a few things wrong in relating these stories, and part of my interest was in trying to determine why that was. There can be many such reasons for this, in cases like this: Reluctance of the relater’s sources to reveal details, for one reason or another; a long passage of time between their being told the story to when they finally put it down on paper; and possibly, in some cases, a personal reason on the part of the relator to omit or embellish facts on their own. I get the sense from her book, though, that Millicent was not the type to shape an account to her own purposes. She seemed a very sincere, forthright narrator to her understanding of events. So I looked at the discrepancies, and tried to determine how they may have happened.

As for the belief that Wanda Filipowicz “… in a burst of enthusiasm had shot a high Russian official”, she was wrong with the “shot” part. Wanda, along with two associates, had actually dropped three bombs from a balcony onto the motorcade of one Georgi Skalon, who survived. No doubt she was “enthusiastic”, however: She was of course filled with hatred for the Russians, for both patriotic and personal reasons, not the least of which her previous husband had been tortured at their hands. And once released, he committed suicide. And one can imagine that while being told of her attempting an assassination, by Mrs. Garland, Millicent may have assumed a gun, and not bombs, were used.

As for Tytus Filipowicz, there are to me more troubling implications to her errors, but not with the fine Ms. Sowerby herself. Well, in the case of an earlier story about Tytus, that he had to be spirited away to the Continent by Mr. Garland and Mr. Voynich, in order to avoid extradition from England by the Russian police, she told of his joining the “Austrian Legion”. In point of fact, he, “In 1914–1915, he fought in the Polish Fifth Infantry Regiment of the Polish Legions.” I wrote to my friend Greg Stachowski, who is well-versed in the military history of Europe, to see why there might be this discrepancy. His explanation clears it up,

“… the Polish Legions were established by Pilsudski in 1914 in the Austrian-controlled partition of Poland. Nominally they were an independent unit of the Austrian army, hence Sowerby’s mistake (she probably wasn’t all that aware of the details, and in the 60s in the Cold War it was not something the Soviets particularly publicized).”

But then I come to the difficult problem of Voynich telling Sowerby she could not go to Florence, because she and Filiopwicz would fall in love, and not, apparently, telling her that he was married. And, also not informing her that this unnamed wife was actually in Florence, while he was supposedly the manager of his bookstore there. Wanda Filipowicz was, “… since 1911 in the Florentine Academy of Fine Arts. 30 May in Florence in 1913 was godmother Monica , the daughter of Stefan Żeromski. In Florence, she and her husband representative of the Temporary Confederated Independence.”

But there is more to the story than this simplistic admonition from Wilfrid, and so in understanding the situation, I can speculate on a possible motivation to the deceit on his part. First of all, in calling Mr. Filiopwicz his “manager” of his Libraria, I think is downplaying the man’s larger roles. For one thing, before, during and after the time Filipowicz was in Florence, supposedly “managing a bookstore”, he was actually writing. He wrote, “Poland and Autonomy” in 1907; “Political Dreams” in 1909; “The Problems of Progress” in 1910; “Confidential Documents of the British Government concerning the Insurrection in Poland 1863″ in 1914. But Millicent, it seems, did not know this. She did not know much about Filiopowicz, trusting Voynich and Garland for her sources, and, I think, not making a connection between her “Philippovitch” and “Filipowicz” by herself, or she would have colored out her description with his other, many, accomplishments. Certainly she would have been interested to learn that “her man” had become the Polish Ambassador, and may have been in Washington D.C. while she was working at the Library of Congress.

Polish Ambassador Tytus Filipowicz, right of center

Polish Ambassador Tytus Filipowicz, right of center

In my opinion, these anomalies are because of an attempt to keep her from poking around Florence, and have more to do with the possible, actual, role of the Libraria, than with any worries Voynich would have had about Tytus Filipowicz himself. The thing is, before Voynich purchased the store in 1908, it had been a working enterprise for decades, under its founder, Franceschini. And as such, it was not simply a quirky little bookstore (as Helen Zimmern attempted to portray it, and its founder, in her article), but a meeting place for left-wing activists and intellectuals. I have to wonder if its role as such continued under the auspices of Wilfrid Voynich, and that his reluctance to allow his unknowing Millicent Sowerby to be privy to such operations… which she surely would have been, working long hours there, digging through the mountains of interesting items.

That is, I think his ruse was to protect the Libraria as a Revolutionary operations center, a meeting house for activists, and maybe, a safe-house of sorts. And I do muse on an even darker, more secret use of this establishment, which is so far only the loosest of theoretical germs in my mind. This is of course all speculation on my part, and part of a much larger story I’ve been accumulating information for, and for which I think this little innocent and interesting anecdote our wonderful and trusting Millicent Sowerby has preserved for us. It is, to me, a “toe in the door” of what was really going on there. If not for her, that is, we would have no clue about Voynich, nor his relationship with Tytus and Wanda Filipowicz, nor their relationship with the Libraria. And I think Wilfrid Voynich would have liked it to stay that way.

Palazzo Borghese in 1822

Palazzo Borghese in 1822

Inking Pox Leber

May 31, 2015

There are several issues to address in this post, although they are intertwined: Certain characters in the Voynich which may read “pox leber”, the ink which was used to write them, and the various evidence behind both. But as is usual in many of these cases, the story of the inking of “pox leber” is, to me, more about the reaction to the evidence, than anything the evidence alone may be able to tell us. But still, the evidence itself is pretty cool.

Above you can see the characters referred to. They are the first “words” on the last page, f116v, of the Voynich Manuscript. That page only has a few lines, which use some Voynich characters, yet also intermingle them with Latin characters, and possibly Christian crosses meant to be word dividers… such as was commonly done in the distant past. I should interject here that I do not know what these words may be, or if they are words at all. On that, I’m pretty much sitting on the sidelines.

The reason it mattered little to me what this is, or when it was put there, is because the last page writing was long assumed by many to have been added at a later date, by a different person, than the main writing of the manuscript. It was considered be in a different style, or “hand”, with different content (which it does have), and also, for that matter, to be different than the other Voynich marginalia. So really who put it there, and when, and what it is, would have little bearing on any theories. Or so I thought.

First I’ll point out one of the more prevalent theories about this last page marginalia. At the Voynich 100 Anniversary Conference in Frascati, Italy in 2012, one Johannas Albus gave a lecture on his idea that this marginalia was a recipe,

“The present paper presents a new transcription and tentative reading of this text. It is written in a mixture of mostly Latin, some old German (and two unreadable words in Voynichese) representing the memorandum of a medieval medical recipe. The rather abbreviated style of the Latin words is typical for such a recipe. With the illustrations on the margin referring to the text, the recipe´s ingredients as well as the title point out to a wound plaster with a billy goat´s liver as its main remedy.”

And Albus is using “pox leber”, in the sense of “bocks leber”, or “billy goat’s liver”. I didn’t, and still don’t, necessarily have an opinion as to the plausibility Mr. Albus’s theory. Well maybe as far as to feel it loosely falls into the category I’ve often noted: Something looks a lot like something we know, but is just different enough to keep us guessing as to what it really is. But his claims did get him into the conference, and are interesting, and are accepted as plausible by many. And I was and I am fine with that. But then an interesting and unexpected thing happened.

The first inkling (pun) I had that something was up about pox leber was after I tried to track down the first use of the phrase. I was surprised to find that “pox leber” also grabbed the attention of at least one early 20th century scholar, who was studying the works of the poet Hans Sachs. In a discussion on the Voynich Mailing List in September 2014, a link to a blog post was suggested: http://voynichportal.com/2013/07/31/the-voynich-last-page-text/ The author of that blog wrote,

“In a philosophy thesis submitted to the University of Wisconsin in 1902, Charles H. Handschin references the phrase from a poet, “Ey, schendt sie pox leber und lung” and equates “pox” to “bock(s)” (buck/male animal/Billygoat) which, in turn, he equates to “teufel” (devil). It brings to mind the image of a man-goat (satyr).

“Handschin’s interpretation of a 16th century phrase might shed light on the meaning of pox leber, or it might be a stretch to assume similar meanings. Perhaps the VM is not “pox leber” at all, but “pox, leber, und lung” as in pox, liver, and lung but with minimal punctuation as is common to quickly written notes and many older manuscripts.”

So I looked up the reference… the work of Charles H. Handschin… and I wrote to the list,

“… it interests me that the form “pox leber”, which is so commonly assumed from the last page marginalia, actually exists in “… Handschin’s interpretation of a 16th century phrase.” I was curious to know where this paper is, and what poem he was referencing, and whom it might have been written by. Handshin probably got it from the 1883 “Neudrucke Deutscher Literaturwerke Des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts”… …by Max Neimeyer: http://books.google.com/books?id=2qwCAAAAYAAJ The line is on page 61, line 326…

“The play appears to be by Hans Sachs. However, a Walter Tauber gives some possible substitutes, which I think he means that Sachs may have derived “pox leber” from other forms…

“From page 123: “potz laus, botz mauss, botz corper, potz grind…”. Perhaps the work of these scholars, in trying themselves to determine the source of “pox leber” in literature, could give a clue as to what was meant by the Voynich marginalia author? I mean, that work seems to have been done already, long ago… and perhaps one of these forms mentioned could fit with some other phrases we think we see there.”

Innocent enough, right? I’m noting that 19th and 20th scholars were curious about the Hans Sach’s usage of “pox leber”, which they noted was first used in the 16th century, and I was wondering if this will help us understand where the phrase may have been derived. And also, since the “marginalia was added”, no one should care less that it was first used in the 16th century. Oh how wrong I was. The Vms-list erupted in a cacophony of varied objections, among them, “we don’t know how much earlier pox leber may have been used”, and the contrary, “it may not be pox leber”, and “google can’t find everything because everything has not been scanned”, and so on and so forth. In short, objections to when the phrase “pox leber” may have been inked on the last page of the Voynich.

This confused me for a time. I was trying to figure out why it suddenly mattered when this marginalia was applied. What difference did it make if the phrase came in the mid to late 16th century? Why was there this argument against this, against this seemingly useful and solid previous scholarship, from experts no less? I thought that everyone would be happy. But the negative reaction made me realize there must be something to this… if now the argument, mostly among “15 century genuine herbal” theorists, were adamant that this phrase might date to the Voynich radiocarbon date range (1404-1438), that this meant there was clue somewhere that they were aware of, but that I had missed. It was as though the protagonist in Poe’s “The Telltale Heart” kept telling me to go away, but also kept staring at the floorboards. So I pried up the floorboards.

I went back to the McCrone report for the Voynich ink, and re-read it with this curious concern in mind: What exactly did Joseph Barabe conclude about the marginalia ink, which may have caused such a radically new view on the marginalia? After matching up the sample numbers with the pages they were taken from, it turned out that sample 16, from the marginalia’s “black ink on text”, was included in the reports conclusion,

“All of the inks used for text or drawing were identified as iron gall inks. The variability of the amounts of iron present is not unusual in iron gall inks. We found no significant differences between the writing inks and the drawing inks used throughout the document and tentatively conclude that the text and drawings were most likely created contemporaneously.”

And Barabe also concluded that certain quire and page numbers were different than the main text inks, telling us that if the f166v ink were different, we would have been so informed. In effect, the conclusion tells us that the marginalia was applied “contemporaneously” with the main text ink! And there was my “smoking gun”, and the root cause of the paradigm shift from “marginalia added sometime later, by some later person”, to “marginalia added by the Voynich author, or from his/her inkwell”. And then, of course, anyone (me) pointing out that “pox leber” is about 130 years “too new” for the main text, if applied near the C14 dates range of 1404 to 1438, will be starting a fire.

In any case, I soon poured gasoline on that fire: By now pointing out that the ink of the main text and the “pox leber” marginalia are the same, according to the well-respected scholarship of McCrone, I found a new wave of objections. But as I also note, and have noted in the past, many of those objections are mutually, logically, exclusive of one another. That is, if person A believes in “pox leber” existing earlier than the scholarship tells us it did, but person B believes it does probably date from the 16th century, then A attacks “pox leber”, and B attacks the McCrone report, while they both claim the Voynich is a genuine, 15th century herbal. That is, something has to “give” in order for it all to make sense, and that something might be different for multiple genuine theorists. A list of some of the various arguments I met with, used against this uncomfortable conclusion:

  1. It’s not “pox leber”
  2. It is “pox leber”, but the phrase may have existed early enough for the C14 range
  3. I’m reading the ink report of McCrone wrong
  4. McCrone must have information they did not reveal, which will show the ink is not the same
  5. I’m reading it right, but ink always looks similar enough to be deemed the same
  6. “So what?” if the Voynich author also penned the f166v marginalia? They just decided to use a different style and characters
  7. Nobody ever said the marginalia was added later, anyway, and don’t look…

And remember, it really does not matter to me whether or not “pox leber” was written, nor when it was inked there. I was happy as a clam to accept that someone may have added the marginalia later, even, much later. Well almost, but there is another point I have made, which did make me suspicious of the marginalia: It is unreadable. It is as confounding, if in a different way, as the bulk Voynich text. And normally, in other cases, marginalia is usually understood to some extent: If not what it means exactly, then at least why it is there, or what it is referencing. But in the Voynich, we have at least three examples of marginalia, in different hands, claimed applied by different persons at different times… all as unreadable as the text. This is very odd, and so, has long suggested to me that the marginalia is there for a look, an effect, only… to make the Voynich look like other medieval or Renaissance manuscripts, poured over and marked on by centuries of subsequent scholars… but to not be readable. Readable text is a danger to all forgeries. If a forger does not copy verbatim, an existing example, they run the risk, a risk which only increases the more they add, of introducing a “tell” to their deceit. It is a toe in the door. It is key to many forgery reveals, and something a good forger would avoid.

So is “pox leber” one such “tell”, that crept through the normally careful attempt to hide the crime? Is the use of the same ink as the text a tell? Is it making the marginalia unreadable? In a purposefully different style and content? That is, are all of the above valuable evidence to forgery, our “tell tale hearts”, beating under the floorboards? I hear them, do you?

Harry Clarke, “Tell-Tale Heart”, 1919

“It’s Newer Than You Think”

May 24, 2015

The title of this post is a play on the frequent claim by my friend and fellow Voynich researcher, Steve Ekwell, who often warns us, “It’s older than you think”. However, ever since the beginning of Voynich research in the early 20th century, both professional and amateur investigators have noted the presence of images which look “newer” than one might expect, given the general style of the manuscript. That is, many think it looks pretty much like a 15th or 16th century herbal, in general, but then striking comparisons to items which could only be there if they were copied from much later are made. Near the beginning of Voynich research these included microscopic and telescopic observations, such as cellular structures and celestial nebulae. Then O’Neil famously believed that certain plants were an American sunflower, and a pepper.

More recently, in 2006, I noted the similarity of many of the cylinders to modern optical devices. Others have noted imagery from medical texts, and from other works, which should not be in a text which matches at all the radiocarbon dating of the leaves of the 15th century. As a side note, since very publicly working on my very controversial modern forgery theory, there seems to be an increased reluctance to posting such (supporting?) comparisons. That is, when there was no such theory being seriously proposed, and only casually mentioned in passing as a sort of quirky side not, it was common to read comments along these lines, “Look at how much this illustration looks like ABC! Of course it can’t be ABC, because ABC is too new“. So I imagine that these thoughts are still occurring, if not shared. Below is a list of past observations, both by me and others, which have been either posted on this blog, or on the Voynich Mailing List, or elsewhere. On the associated blog posts of mine, I may have earlier theories of why they are there, because of course my theories have evolved into what they are today.

Voynich Cylinders and 17th Century Spanish Microscopes

Since posting the above comparison, years ago, I have found the source of the engravings to the right: They are from a 1763 Spanish “Broadsheet” by a Pablo Minguet. It turns out that figures 8 and 9 are not of microscopes, but of a type of low power monocular, or “opera glass”. Nonetheless, the comparison I to these optical devices is striking to me, and also, clearly not alone in the Voynich. Many of the cylinders seen also exhibit the very “optical-like” features of parallel sides, multiple diameters (for sliding focus?), recessed tops (inset lenses?), “rimmed” sections, some with legs, similar coloration and decoration to early optics, and even, the much later knurling for “grip” when focusing. I show a page of some such comparisons here, but I will post one more on this current overview list:

Microscope Comparsion 1

The above is doubly interesting to me, because not only does the Voynich illustration show enough similarities to pass as a drawing of the actual microscope (actually a field tube from inside a microscope), but that same microscope was on display about a quarter of a mile from Voynich’s Libraria (his Florence Book Store) during the time he owned that store, and during the time he said he “found” the Voynich. In the past it was said that this microscope was “too new” for the Voynich, and also, “too new” for even my Drebbel and New Atlantis theories. Eventually I agreed with my critics, because the similarity is so good, especially in the context of everything else found in the Voynich. But it is not “too new” to have been copied from the display, at the time it was on display, about 1908 to 1910. As an appropriate aside, all of these observations, mine and those of others, always fit the requirements that they were accessible to Wilfrid Voynich: They were either in print before 1910, or were in a place he was known to have visited, if not in print (such as London, Rome, Paris, Florence, etc.). And further, no good comparisons have been made to items after 1910… no automatic transmission parts, no toaster ovens, no rockets, and so on. This latter observation implies that the modern comparisons are not coincidental, for if they were, they would not know a 1910 upper boundary.

f27v Root: What a puzzler!

f27v Root: What a puzzler!

Here is one that helped nudge me into the future, so to speak. It was one of those nagging signs of newness which I began to feel I was dismissing, as so many others were, based on only one basic premise: The Voynich must be old. Once one steps over that virtual line, so many hundreds of features make sense, and so many problems with the manuscript immediately evaporate. It is like many problems and puzzles in this way: Often, one single, and seemingly immense obstacle, stands in the way of understanding what it is; while many smaller obstacles, far more palatable ones, are stepped over to avoid it. What I read now, in my puzzle-root blog post from 2011, are among my first steps in understanding this. But at the time, truly believing this could be a modern work was still quite an outlandish thought. The post about the below image was similar, but from 2009:

Voynich Manuscript f79r

Voynich Manuscript f79r “floating man”

The thing is, I was still attempting to force-fit the comparison into my early 17th century New Atlantis theory (I still believe that the presence of many NA items is not a coincidence, however I feel they are there for a different reason than before). I mean, I argued that this 1636 illustration was close enough to “my” time frame of 1610 to 1620 to allow that someone may have seen an early version of it, or the actual device. But now that I’ve moved up to the 20th century, it clicks neatly into place: Like many of the illustrations of the Voynich, I believe they were collected and copied, accurately and not, from many previous sources, in print and person. And I think whomever copied Schwenter’s swimming girdle did not quite understand that is was supposed to be wrapped around the body, then inflated! So they had their Voynich nymph simply hook an arm on it.

Here is the Schwenter engraving:

Early Swimming Aide... the

Back to optical comparisons: The below comparison between a diatom engraving, and a “wheel” from the Voynich.

The thing is, I found myself once again seeing a great comparison, but being troubled by the fact that it came later than my theories. I was forced to assume that someone had seen one of these diatoms, discovered off the coast of Japan in the 19th century, and only apparent at over 500 times magnification, and only found illustrated in a late 19th century book. Like many of these comparisons, though, the problems fall away when we accept that the Voynich post dates the illustration (from William B. Carpenter’s 19th century “The Microscope and its Revealations”. The scientific name of this diatom is Arachnoidiscus Japonicus). But an odd thing now happens… while no comparisons have been made between thousands of illustrations, from thousands of books, several Voynich illustrations often resemble several illustrations from a few books. And while the detractors of the modern hoax theories have struggled very hard to come up with alternative comparisons, they always fail to match as well, on so many points, as these microscopic engravings. It is good, though, that the effort to do this is so strong, because if not for that, it might have been assumed better alternatives exist.

Too Close for Comfort?

The above is one of many examples of this effect… the comparison is also found in the same Carpenter microscope book (in error I wrote “Carters” on the image). There are at least two more, from that same book. And two other microscope books provide several other, and I feel very good, comparisons, to Voynich illustrations.

Above we see one of these comparisons, between the f85r2 circular illustration, and a microscopic cross-section of a wheat stem, from a 1909 book. But the comparison goes beyond that, for within the Voynich illustration are four people, one of whom could be clutching a bunch of wheat. They are arguably standing in a garden, and if so, the model of the microscopic cellular structure of the wheat stem may have been chosen as the microcosm to the garden’s macrocosm. In any case, there was no seeing such structures before the mid-18th century, when microscopes became powerful enough to do so. In any case, the illustration of this cross section first appears in a book from 1909, along with two other close matches to Voynich illustrations.

Well it is

Well it is “Spiral”, Anyway

Above we have one of the well known Mr. Romaine Newbold, the famous “nebula”. Again, “too new” for the Voynich, although he and Wilfrid, and others, tried to shoehorn the comparisons into an even earlier dating than we now know possible: the 14th century, and at the hand of Roger Bacon. But I think there is another possible explanation: The word nebula was whispered in Newbold’s ear, and he just picked the wrong one! But photographs of what were thought nebula… now known as galaxy’s, were in print by the end of the 19th century. Another possible, and very good, comparison to this illustration was made by Elitsa Velinska, to an illustration by D’Oresme, in the 15th century. So was the D’Orseme illustration used, and updated and adapted (spirals added) to represent a “nebula”, or is it an innocent, early work, influenced by D’Orseme, at the time? For another take, look at some notes by Robert Teague. But I suspect, like many images in the Voynich, they are copied, and modified, to both look like their original counterparts, but be “not quite enough” like them for a direct identification. Enough to suggest, little enough to be sure. And you see, we are not sure, on this, nor anything.

And the famous “armadillo” rears it’s pretty head. The interesting thing is, this looks much like an armadillo to almost everyone who does not know of the Voynich, nor care when it was made, but looks nothing like one to anyone who believes the Voynich was written and illustrated before Columbus. It becomes a pangolin, wolf, or one of many other creatures that were known to Europeans in the 15th century. You decide. But since writing about the armadillo “sighting”, and since opening myself to the early 20th century, I have noticed that there are stylistic similarities to several armadillo sources, all, if used, impossible for a work any earlier than the 17th century or so.

93r

An early (1944), and as usual controversial, comparison, was made by Hugh O’Neill. From Mary D’Imperio’s An Elegant Enigma,

“The most startling identification… …was folio 93, which is quite plainly the common sunflower. Helianthus Annuus L. Six botanist have agreed with me on this determination. This immediately recalls the date 1493, when the seeds of this plant were brought to Europe for the first time (by Columbus on his return from his second voyage). Again folio 101v shows a drawing which does not resemble any native European fruit, but suggests plainly Capsicum, a genus strictly American in origin, known in Europe only after the above date… …It seems necessary to consider this manuscript as having been written after 1493″.

Others have thought that the f33v plant may represent a sunflower, also. And, of course, there was a furor over O’Neill’s claims… long before the C14 dating placed the creation of the calfskin of the manuscript firmly in the 15th century. One may note, though, that even if O’Neill and his supporters, are correct, it does not place the Voynich in the 20th century, to me it is another indication that the images of the Voynich are drawn from, and modified from, many sources both before and after the radiocarbon dating of the leaves, up to 1909, when the newest such comparison can be made. That is, for anyone continuing to argue “15th century genuine European herbal”, they have quite a corpus of comparisons to dismiss, far beyond the few I alone have made, and dating back long before I was born.

The above are a selection of some of the more obvious comparisons that could possibly be made. But there are many possible such illustrations, and also writing styles, and other evidence in the Voynich, which support the possibility that the work is from Voynich’s time, and only copied from many sources, both printed and in person, from right up until it was created, as a modern forgery. And they come from all over: Nick Pelling has noted a possible toilet, which he attributes to the architect Averlino, in his theory. He also notes modern notation used for some numbers, and the quire notations, even pointing out that some quire numbers may have been made with a steel nib, only he feels that all these were added later. And he has long noted the similarity of many Voynich “jars” to Majorca… but with legs, which are from a much later time than the calfskin. And Nick even explored the possibilities of my optical comparisons, looking for instances “early enough” to be explained by an early Voynich ms., but like me, found none that satisfied from an early date. We just have different reasons they are not found, and so, I keep the comparisons, as I think they are modern, while Nick now (I believe) rejects them. Elitsa Velinska, while voicing strong objections to my modern theories, has come up with many very good comparisons with various anatomical details with illustrations in the Voynich. She does not believe these images are modern, while I would counter-argue (and do!) that the use and representation of many of them is more likely from a text more modern than the era of the calfskin they are applied on.

To this we can add so many more, only a few of which I can think of while writing this: My comparison of a certain version of the Heidelberg crest, and the f46v root being rejected as “too new”; the observation by several that the Voynich “foldouts” are too new for the 15th century; the possible presence of various people, such as Martin Luther by me, and Tycho Brahe and Kepler by Robert Teague. Robert also notes various possible celestial observations which can only been seen much later than the vellum. Tim Mervyn, who famously argues this as a possible work by John Dee and Edward Kelley, has made the same observation I have, that one of the men in the f57v “wheel” seems to be holding a speculum, and so, seemingly representing one of them.

And the list goes on… many people have voiced impressions giving them what I call “The Nagging Sense of Newness”, in many different ways, for decades… although they usually firmly reject what they seem to feel is a disturbing conclusion. And I ironically agree with their observations. In fact, I probably agree with more observations and comparisons, by more people, than anyone in the field. The difference with me is that I no longer find those observations at all disturbing, and so, I come to a very different conclusion as to why they are made in the first place.

Modern Voynich Myths

May 8, 2015

When I first learned of the Voynich Manuscript back in 2006, there was a certain, accepted baseline understanding of what it might be. This foundation was supported by many different factors, both real and assumed, or some combination of both. As my theories progressed, and as I examined the theories of others, part of the process of doing so was to examine that foundation, and the reasons it existed.

But over time I came to realize that many of the commonly accepted, and widely repeated, claims about the Voynich… often stated as facts… were not facts at all. In some cases they were simply wrong. In other cases, they turned out to be assumptions, and the assumptions were either based on errors, or simply guesses, based on the preconceptions of those stating them. Nonetheless, many of these errors are still “in print” on the internet, remain uncorrected, and are therefore a serious impediment to anyone trying to learn about the Voynich ms.. This is not to say that many of them are not still possible, only that the importance of them, and any belief in them as fact, is largely unwarranted. I call these, “Modern Voynich Myths”, and list them, here. I may still add to this list, as more of them occur to me and others.

1) Athanasius Kircher described the Voynich script as “Illyrian” in his 1639 letter to Th. Moretus: Not true, he was describing another work in this way, and possibly a printed sheet at that. In a 2014 translation of the letter by André Szabolcs Szelp, agreed upon by others, this is now clear. However, this untruth is continually repeated to support the fact that Kircher actually did see the Voynich, as many have thought the script shows a similarity to Illyrian, or Glagolitic.

2) That vellum/parchment was very expensive: It can be shown that vellum and parchment has, throughout history, often been rather inexpensive. Using the cost of vellum to create one of the first Gutenberg bibles, the material for the Voynich may have cost only a dozen shillings or so.

3) Vellum/Parchment was always used soon after preparation: Not true. I and others have been able to find dozens of cases of blank parchment being unused for centuries…. up to 400 years, and used up to 350 years after creation. When C14 tested in the 1970’s, several works were found to be made as many as 153 years after material creation.

4) The Kircher Carteggio (letters) was under “lock and seal”, so Wilfrid could not have seen it: Not known, in any case. There is no evidence that the Jesuits did, or would have, treated the Letters any differently than the Voynich (if they ever owned it, which is also not known), or the other books they sold to Voynich in 1911. In fact, the Villa Mondragone… where both the Voynich and the letters were stored… was a popular and respected college, which took students from the general (even non-Jesuit) population. In the summer it was a retreat for high ranking Jesuits, and even, a tourist attraction. Really anyone could get permission to visit. The photographer who took pictures of it for a 1912 tourist book was the same photographer who took pictures of Voynich’s bookstore in 1908. And Voynich was close friends with Father Joseph Strickland, the head of the Mondragone. And also, considering the great importance of Kircher to the Jesuits, it is implausible to consider they did not have some interest, and probably studied, his letters… while in their care.

5) Arthur Dee described the Voynich, which his father, John Dee, owned: Voynich posited this theory in his 1921 Philadelphia talk, and it has lingered ever since. But Voynich was well aware… as we know from his own notes on the transcript of the talk, because he cited the works that explain this… that Dee was describing an entirely different work, and even, what that work was. This “Dee Myth” took root way back then, becoming the basis for the idea that Rudolf II bought the Voynich from Dee as early as 1586. The thing is, even though a false claim, with no basis whatsoever, it has a life of its own. That is, although many do not realize the origin of the myth was in a purposeful error in a 1921 speech, the “idea” that Dee owned the Voynich continues to this day.

6) The Letters of the Carteggio describe the Voynich: The 1639 Baresch letter describes a manuscript, but it is too incomplete and poor a description to be known that he meant the Voynich. The other letters to not make a physical description at all, while are describing whatever Baresch saw. But the Baresch description only mentions “plants unknown to the Germans”, “stars”, “unknown script” or language, and possible chemical symbolism. This would describe many other herbals and pharmas of the time, in many of the languages unknown to these men, at the time. Left out are the Zodiac, the baths, the nude women, the weird animals, the strange cylinders, and really hundreds of other features that would have been of great interest and importance to anyone trying to impart even a hint of what the nature of the Voynich is. Could the Baresch Manuscript be the Voynich? Yes. But stating it is the Voynich is incorrect, and based on poor evidence.

7) The Voynich was owned by Tepenencz, or Horcicky, botanist and physician to Rudolf II: This is based on the name of Tepenencz written on the first page of the Voynich. But this is not provably a signature at all, and of course easily copied by anyone with minimal skills who may have seen one of the several copies of the true signature. And there is reason to believe it was not actually there at one point, since Baresch/Kinner/Marci/Kircher did not mention it, and Voynich himself says it was not visible… when it was. But today we still read, over and over, “Tepenenz owned it”, and, “Tepenencz was the first known author”. Read Jan Hurych’s excellent analysis before making up your own mind: http://hurontaria.baf.cz/CVM/b9.htm

8) The C14 dating shows the vellum/parchment is from 1420-1438: The published range is actually a conclusion determined by combining the very different results of the four samples tested. But when looked at separately, as would have been done if not found bound together, nor assumed to be made as the same time, the results show they could be 50 to 60 years apart. And taking into account the extremes of the error range of the samples, they actually could date to as much as 132 years apart:

Folio 8: 490±37, which works out to 1423 to 1497
Folio 26: 514±35, which works out to 1401 to 1471
Folio 47: 506±35, which works out to 1409 to 1479
Folio 68 (cleaned): 550±35, which works out to 1365 to 1435

The assumptions used to combine the results were clearly explained by Rene Zandbergen:

“A combined dating of the Voynich MS

The dating of each folio doesn’t allow a very precise dating of the MS. The uncertainty in age for each folio is some 50-60 years, and in the case of fol.68 even spans two centuries due to the above-mentioned inversions of the calibration curve. The book production process is likely to have taken considerably less time than these 50-60 years. Under the assumptions that:

– The MS was indeed created over a time span not exceeding (e.g.) 10 years
– It was not using parchment that was prepared many years ago

each sheet provides a measurement or ‘observation’ of the MS creation. Since they are likely to be from different animal hides, these are indeed independent observations. Combining these observations leads to a combined un-calibrated age of 1435 ± 26 years (1 sigma).”

From http://voynich.nu/extra/carbon.html (explanation since removed). From the above, it is clear that various unknowns were “assumed”, in order to “combine” the results into one, palatable range. These assumptions included a short range of creation time, and the use of fresh vellum… both things we may or may not assume, at our discretion, and which are in any case, not known (see points #2 and #3, above).

9) When the dates were revealed, it showed that the experts were correct about the age of the Voynich: Incorrect. Tallying the expert opinions, pre-C14, the majority of experts… I think it works out to about 14 out of 16 of them, by D’Imperio’s book, were dead wrong. In fact this was noted soon after the C14 was announced, in the 2009 ORF documentary, and its surrounding promotions: the results were touted as toppling the previous expert opinion, and being a total surprise. It was a surprise. But in a very short time, this reality morphed into “The experts got it right”, by using the two or so experts who did happen to have opinions near or in the C14 range, and ignoring the majority that were wrong. This new mythology is often used to support the false premise, “It cannot be a forgery, because how could a pre-C14 forger have happened to choose the ‘right parchment’?”. The thing is, they did not choose “the right parchment” for the work they laid on it, if forged.

10) Voynich found the book in the Villa Mondragone: This is still stated as fact, when most mainstream researchers understand this is not known, and, at best, based on shaky ground. Voynich himself claimed several, mutually exclusive places of origin for the ms., including “Castle in Southern Europe” and “Austrian Castle”. “Villa Mondragone” was to Ethel, in private, and only to be revealed after her death.

11) It was part of the Beckx library: There is no Beckx reference in or about the Voynich Manuscript, nor any written, descriptive tag assuring this. Only a printed Beclx “ex libris” tag, claimed by Voynich to be with the Voynich when he found it. The problem is, he owned many of these printed tags, known because a pile of them were found loose in his papers after his death. And, for that matter, also found were many of the written tags for other Beckx books… but none for the Voynich. That is, there is absolutely no evidence that the Voynich was part of this collection, yet it continues to be repeated as a known fact.

12) The Voynich contains structure of language: Well, it may… but we don’t know if the structure found… by Dr Marcelo A Montemurro, Tucker & Talbot, and others, cannot also be attributable to random written human output (RWHO). This, because RWHO has never been tested for its possible structure, and/or to see it is resembles actual language structure in any way. It may, it may not, contain said structucture. But evidence that it could is found in the compelling observations by different researchers interested in Glossolalia, such as the one of Hélène Smith, who believed she was channeling Martian in the late 19th century. There are other cases… but in short, it has been noted that the random spoken outputs resemble language structure to some degree. That is a hint it may be so, for RWHO. But the point is, we don’t know, and therefore immediately renders any claim that the Voynich must have an underlying meaning, because of any language structure found, moot.

13) The Voynich Ms. Cover was added in the 17th Century: While generally accepted that the cover supposedly found on the Voynich ms. does not date to the time of calfskin manufacture of the leaves, just how old, or when and where this cover was added is not known. It was never tested, and so any statements about any age of the cover, or when it was added… often claimed as known… simply are not known (thanks Berj Ensanian).

14) It is not a palimpsest: It may not be one. But I have been having trouble determining the basis for this claim, except for the observation that the signs of scraping of the surface, usual in palimpsests, are not there. However, there were various later chemical processes used to “bleach”, or erase writing on documents, and I worry that these were assumed to not be applicable, based on the preconceptions that the writing was applied long ago. Whether or not it is possible to test for the chemicals, I do not know.

15) Wilfrid Voynich never tried to sell the Voynich: In the strictest sense, that he did not list the ms. in his catalogs, nor otherwise publicly advertise the ms., this is true. But this becomes a myth in the way in which it is used: To imply that he did not intend to sell it eventually, nor intend to profit from it, and so stated so as to imply that he could not have forged it, because he didn’t want any money for it. But this is incorrect: Wilfrid wanted as much as $160,000 for it. And in a letter, he promised Romaine Newbold that if he, Newbold, could make a case for Roger Bacon as author, Wilfrid would pay him 10% of the first $100,000 realized, and 50% of any amount over that.

16) The ink was dated to the time of the calfskin: The McCrone report on the ink composition does not date the ink. There were no radiocarbon dating tests performed on the ink samples, perhaps because of their inorganic composition makes this impossible. So although it is frequently reported that the ink tests dated the ink to the 15th century, this is based on the fact that reviewers of the McCrone report have noted that the compositions found are consistent with ink formulas used during that time, and determined that no modern substances were found. However, such ink could have been produced at any time since the manufacture of the Voynich calfskin, up until the announced discovery, by Voynich himself. In fact, such inks were normally used for centuries after the C14 date ranges of the calfskin leaves. Furthermore, the report does include various tantalizing suggestions, such as the discovery of “copper and zinc” which are “a little unusual”, and an unidentified “titanium compound”. These are not explained, either by McCrone (and I have written to them about both, and not received a reply), or any reviewer of the report.

17) The Voynich would be time consuming and/or difficult to pen: (added to the list, May 25, 2015) In the few attempts I and others have made, it is clear that this it incorrect. Gordon Rugg took under two hours to make a fairly complex “botanical” page. I drew a much cruder, simpler, page in 13 minutes. When we were up in Toronto, helping with the Shatner “Weird or What?” episode on the Voynich, the professional calligraphers all blazed through a very good simulation of Voynichese, using Gordon’s grille method. And just this morning, I made the below practice sheet in under 15 minutes… coloring and all. And that is a short time, considering I was trying to emulate the style of the Voynich author… they didn’t have to, as it was their style. I made this with the intent to continue practicing, and eventually make a large, rosettes fold-out size complex page in the style of the Voynich.

First, fast, practice sheet: 15 minutes

First, fast, practice sheet: 15 minutes

There are many other beliefs and misconceptions about the Voynich, some unique and some related to the above, which may not rise to the level of outright myths. Perhaps they could be deemed “opinions misstated as certainties”. But many of those opinions are based on the above, not knowing they are formulating opinions based on chimeras. Eventually, blog posts, articles, and even documentaries and books state these falsehoods and opinions as known, true facts. I feel it does a grave disservice to present and future researchers by forcing them to expend untold hours, and even years, never realizing that the foundation they are basing their hard work on may not be as sturdy as long presented to them.

You Say “Tspenencz”, I say “Topenencz”

November 14, 2014

A recurring theme to many of the inquires which Voynich made, to various curators and expert scholars, was to ask questions which pointed them into certain directions, while at the same time professing to not know where that direction ultimately led. The result was that the answer he received would usually be “on target”, while the question would retain the impression… genuine or not… that Voynich himself did not already possess the answer he was seeking.

This effect is almost universal in Voynich’s dealings. And the archival remains of this process are almost indistinguishable from genuine inquiry, if not for the high number of really great, perfectly phrased, seemingly innocuous, questions, which actually contain most of the answer he was after. I feel the number of times I’ve observed this effect rises far above simple coincidence, or some sort of brilliant intuition, on his part. But there is to me a “smoking gun” in some of the inquiries, in that the question asked is just so close to the proper one, that it stretches credibility that he would not have already guessed it. One case I feel borders on the ludicrous, so I wanted to outline it, here.

I had written “A New Look at the Tepencz Signature”, after finding among the Voynich Papers at the Beinecke what seem to be the earliest images of the Tepencz name on f1r of the Voynich Manuscript. There is both a pre-chemical, and seemingly very early, and clear, post-chemical treatment images. Here is a close up of one of them (click for full size):

Pretty Crisp Looking, No?

Pretty Crisp Looking, No?

So Voynich saw this, and claimed to want to determine whose name this was. What would one think, though, on seeing this? What letter would one guess is between the capital “T” and the “p”? What do you see? And more importantly, what makes sense, in the context of the claimed provenance of the Voynich? Here is what Voynich wrote to the Director of the National State Archives of Bohemia, Prague, Czecho Slovakia, on February 9, 1921:

“I should be very much obliged to you if you could give me some information about a man who lived in Bohemia in the 17th century. His name appears on the first leaf of a very important manuscript in my possession, which he apparently owned at some time during the 17th century. As nearly as I can read the name it is Jacobij a Tspenecz or Topenecz, and I am enclosing [a] photograph of it.”

So whether or not one thinks that letter can be mistaken for an “o”, we have as his first guess, “s”. “Tspenecz”? Not only does that character look nothing like an “s”, but “Tspenecz” makes no sense… not as a name, nor as any word. We might allow “o”, though, as that makes some bit of linguistic sense. But then there is the problem that the letter, in that picture, actually does look somewhat like an “e”, with the downward points at the bottom, at the beginning and end of the “e” loop. So why no guess “Tepenecz”, when that makes so much more sense than Tspenencz, and also, looks pretty much like it?

Not to mention that Voynich got most of the other letters correct, when they are less visible. No, all in all, I find this a disingenuous request, meant to elicit a desired answer. The letter goes on:

“Through indirect evidence [1666 Marci letter?] I gather that he was a friend of the celebrated Prague professor, Joh. Marcus Marci, but although I have looked in every possible book in the British Museum and in the New York libraries I can find no reference to him. I also think he was personally acquainted with or at the Court of Ferdinand III, King of Bohemia, and that he knew a certain Dr. Raphael who taught Bohemian to the children of Ferdinand III [yep, the Marci letter…]. Incidentally I should be very grateful if you could give me some information about this Dr. Raphael, apart from ‘Jacobij a Tspenecz’.”

Well that is an awful lot of effort then, no doubt… but I might have suggested that while expending a search in “every possible book in the British Museum and in the New York libraries”, he might have wanted to try Tapenecz and Tepenecz, too.

Voynich ends the letter by saying he wanted the information to use in a talk that April 20th. That would be his famous lecture on the Voynich before the Philadelphia College of Physicians. I didn’t see the answer from Prague, but we we know it worked, because Voynich later thanked him for his answer, and mentions “Tepenecz”, who he says, “signed” his manuscript. But here is what Voynich had to say about it, in his lecture:

“Chemicals were applied to the margins and the autograph, Jacobus de Tepenecz, became visible, with some illegible figures below it”.

So now there is no mention of “s”, or “o”, only “e”. He goes on,

“Bohemian biographical dictionaries yielded the information that Jacobus Tepenecz was a Bohemian scientist, ennobled by Emperor Rudolf in 1608. He had the right only from that time to sign himself as ‘de Tepenecz.’ Earlier he was known as Horcicky, or, in the Latinized form, Sinapius.”

After this, he outlines in more detail the story of Tepenecz, and then gives credit to the source, “The director of the Bohemian State Archives has very kindly supplied me with a copy of Emperor Rudolf’s patent of nobility to Horicicky.”

Well at least the answer from the Archives cleared up the name, but without seeing the whole response from them, I am unclear just how much of the biography of Tepenecz was imparted by them, to Voynich, and how much of the “Bohemian biographical dictionaries” were used, by Prague in its answer, or found by Voynich, by other means. However, on May 27th, 1921, Wilfrid finally gets around to thanking him.. one “Dr. L. Kicman”,

“I feel under great obligation to you for sending me the information about Horcicky and Raphael Missowski, and also for the trouble you took to send me photographs of these men.

I am glad to say that all the material which you sent to me arrived in time for my paper before the College of Physicians, Philadelphia, in connection with the history of a Roger Bacon MS. in cipher which I possess.
“You are quite right in supposing that the MS. is connected with Bohemian history for to all practical purposes this remarkable MS. is preserved to the world thanks to the keen interest in it manifested by several seventeenth century Bohemian scholars.”

Do we see what happened there? Now it is the official director of the Prague Archives who was “… quite right in supposing that the MS. is connected with Bohemian history…”, not Wilfrid Voynich, who actually outlined the answer, before he received it!

In any case, make of it what you will, as I do. But with all these types of inquiries that Voynich made, and the wording and inconsistencies to the claims of provenance for this, and other works he owned, sold or not, I really have my doubts that many of these requests were little more than fishing for official opinions, which he could later append to future descriptions, signed by the provider. And each was was constructed with built-in, automatic disclaimers, in the somewhat parsed wording, hiding the reality that he was simply writing his own answers from the beginning.

UPDATE: A fellow researcher recently posted an excerpt from a letter Voynich sent from New York, to his London office manager, Herbert Garland, on February 25th, 1921:

“My Dear Mr Garland,

I most sincerely thank you and congratulate you upon the information you found about Tepenecz. Without your help I should have been unable here to discover that Sinapius was Tepenecz. I had all the details about Sinapius as I have the details of everyone connected with the court of Rudolph. In fact I even have the names of the lovers of his daughter, but I never connected Sinapius with Tepenecz.”

So it seems that Wilfrid Voynich had at least two people helping him on this, the Prague historian, and Garland, in London. But what this passage does is reinforce the possibly disingenuous nature of Wilfrid’s claim that he could not find anything on Tepenecz… because Garland had no problem. Whether Garland had a copy of the photograph, and thought that it read “Tepenecz” on his own; or whether he took it on himself to try “Tepenecz” in additions to Voynich’s suggested “Tspenecz” and “Topenecz”, without seeing the photograph… or lastly, whether Voynich himself suggested “Tepenecz” to Garland, when he did not, to Prague, we don’t know. But the fact that Garland was able to find the information, in London, when Voynich claims he could not, supports the idea that Voynich knew very well that this was Tepenecz, and only pretended to be confused, in order to elicit an answer from others, that he could then use to support his claim of provenance… while effectively insulating himself from any claim that he was in fact, simply inventing that provenance.

The Timing of the “Rumor”

May 27, 2014

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.

The Grolier Codex Forgery

February 10, 2014

In a recent discussion on the VMs-net List, a concept emerged that I’m only just beginning to explore. The premise was used that Wilfrid Voynich was not an expert in ancient manuscripts, therefore he could not have forged the Voynich. I thought about that line of reasoning, especially since I agree that Voynich was not a ms. expert (although he was an expert in finding, pricing and selling them), and wondered if the conclusion that could be drawn from his inexpert”ness”, was actually just the opposite of that suggested. That is, is it possible that the very wide range of contrary expert opinions on the Voynich, over the years is because it was forged by an inexpert forger?

I wonder if a genuine book does not usually receive as much diversity of opinion, since the content may tend to be more uniform? And then, if forged by one who better knows their subject, as an expert would, the examiners will pretty much agree on origin, age, culture, content? Of course such a book may end up being accepted as genuine, if good enough. But lastly, if a forger is inexpert, will the resulting work tend to have content that is improper, from a wide range of works, and/or eras, and/or in styles, that should not be in there, and therefore the bad forgery will elicit dispute among experts? And so, conversely, could a range of expert opinion on age, content, and/or meaning, possibly be a useful indication of forgery?

grolier_1_to_5

I came across the instance of a presumed pre-Columbian Maya Codex, the Grolier Codex. It was so named because it was on display in the Grolier Club after its discovery in the 1960’s. From the Wikipedia article on the Codex:

“English Mayanist J. Eric S. Thompson cast strong doubts upon the authenticity of the Grolier Codex in his 1975 article The Grolier Codex, published in volume 27 of the Contributions of the University of California. Thompson argued that the codex was a modern forgery and that the unusual mix of styles in the document was not due to the mixing of cultures but rather due to the hand of a forger. Thompson queried the illustration of all four stations of Venus in the codex, noting that other Mesoamerican codices only illustrated the more spectacular appearance of Venus as morning star.”

“the unusual mix of styles… …due to the hand of a forger”. I think it is reasonable to assume that the forger was inexpert in ancient Mayan Codices, or they would not have improperly mixed styles. Furthermore, the Codex’s usefulness is destroyed by the forger’s lack of understanding of the Maya calendar, “In 2002, French archaeologist Claude-François Baudez commented that the codex serves no divinatory purpose and was useless as an aid to a Maya priest; he believes that the document is the product of a forger using pre-Columbian materials but relatively ignorant of his subject.”

grolier_6_to_11

So the forged document appears the way it does, with varied and improper content, due to the fact that the forger was inexpert. It is also interesting to me that there are experts who believe the Grolier Codex is genuine, and so the argument continues. But at least it was carbon dated, so that ought to have put the issue to rest, no?

“The radiocarbon dating of an associated sheet of bark paper had been used to support a 13th-century date [1230 AD, ± 130 years] for the Grolier Codex.”

From this, one might assume that the Codex was genuine. One might reason that since bark paper must have been highly prized by scribes, and very valuable and rare, and also, very delicate and susceptible to the environment, that therefore no appropriate blank bark paper would sit around for decades, let alone hundreds of years, for a forger to use to make a fake Codex. That is the… it turns out, incorrect… reasoning used to dismiss a creation of the Voynich much later than the C14 date of the leaves. But then I read,

“Large quantities of pre-Columbian bark paper have been found in dry caves, so a genuine piece of blank pre-Columbian paper may have been used by a forger as a base for painting a falsified codex.”

Oh well.  The materials were found in some “Cave Libraria”, it seems. And this material sat unused for between 600 and 860 years, blank, before use, and the Grolier Codex may still be a forgery. But the experts still argue about it, and the reasons it has the baffling content that it does. Sound familiar, Voynicherios?

But back to the original concept: I would be interested to see other cases where manuscripts have a wide range of expert opinion as to content and meaning, and if this can be correlated in any useful way to the works of inexpert forgers. Rich SantaColoma

New Look at the de Tepencz “Signature”

July 14, 2013

An indisputable truth of historical research is that any conclusions drawn from the source material is inevitably shaped by subjective reasoning. This is why every researcher should always go back to the source to form their own opinion. Luckily we live in an age when a wealth of source material magically appears on our computer screens, only a click or two away… but far from all of it. The Voynich papers at the Beinecke library at Yale have not yet been digitized, and only have a cursory description at the website. Much of the current understanding of the provenance of the ms. is based on these papers, so I wanted to see them in person. This last June, I was able to spend almost two full days looking through them. And, also as expected, my impression was very different from that of others.

I will soon write up my findings, and opinions on them, in what will possibly be three or four blog posts. But as also often happens when searching for information in archives, you find more than you were looking for. In this case, I found two images of the f1r “signature” of Jacobus de Tepencz, which I thought I had not seen before. Although I am no expert on the signature, I felt I had enough of an understanding of it, and the stories and controversies around it, to believe these images were of importance. So I took a couple of pictures of them, and sent them to Jan Hurych- who wrote several articles about the VMs signature- and is also someone whose opinion I respect and admire. He affirmed my suspicion that these images may be previously unpublished, and possibly of importance to Voynich research. That was enough for me, and I told him I would write them up.

f1r Before Chemical Treatment

f1r Before Chemical Treatment

The first image, shown above (click on image for full size), first appeared to be a below average image of the familiar first page of the Voynich Manuscript, f1r. But the penciled note on the photo reads, “To be kept- Rotograph without autograph before it was chemically restored”. This is what caught my attention, because the “chemical treatment” of the signature- why and when it was done by Voynich- has been a long running controversy. For one thing, it has been surmised that Voynich treated this area to see IF there was a signature. Another claim was  that he “accidentally” spilled photo developer on it, revealing the unseen signature.

However, as you will see in the full size version of my photograph of the “Rotograph”, the signature is  at least partly visible. It is even more prevalent on the original, as I only shot this with a hand held camera under room and window light. In fact, almost all the letters are visible. So that begs the question, “Why?” would Wilfred apply chemicals to this? One clue may be in the penciled note, which I believe is by Anne Nill: Perhaps “chemically restored” then means that Wilfred was trying to “enhance” the signature.

Another issue is that it has been claimed the signature was originally “erased”. Perhaps erasure was attempted, and caused the signature to be in the lightened state seen above- but still, it is there, and visible, so it was not at least, totally erased.

As I said, I asked Jan Hurych for his opinion on this. He responded,

“The signature is apparently genuine and was not fabricated by Voynich. How could Voynich overlook it originally I do not know.  But considering he claimed he even  “originally overlooked the Marci’s letter” :-), everything is possible. Neither Baresch nor Marci mentioned the signature or the erasure in their letters, after all. As we can see, the original erasure leaves only light imprint of the signature but no other traces of the erasure itself.”

I agree with Jan that this find begs the question, “How could Voynich overlook it originally”, and also that it is possible that one interpretation is that it original- that is, not forged. I feel another interpretation of Wilfred’s claiming to having overlooked it is that it is forged, too, and that he or someone added it to give the mysterious manuscript needed and missing provenance. Also, it is important to remember that Voynich did not share this Rotograph, nor any description of it, as seen. It sat, hidden, in his papers, until his death. Why? There is no way to know of course.

Another consideration is that even if this signature was erased at some point, it is visible: so why didn’t Baresch, Marci, or Kinner mention it? That had not occurred to me, and yet is a very important point. I would add that the 1666 Marci letter is all about the possible provenance of the Voynich, and so it seems it would have been of great importance to mention the faded (if it was at the time, faded, or partly erased), but visible, signature. Yet, he did not.

Jan also wrote,

“Why Voynich had to use the chemicals on the original is still a mystery. True, it may have enhanced the signature but that could have been done on the copy or even by using colored filters or the negative as I did.  The longtime result of that chemical treatment  is that  the signature is now  less visible than it was right after the treatment. It is even less understandable since Voynich was originally a chemist.”

Absolutely. When one considers that from the very start, this was obviously a rare and dazzling manuscript find, combined with this untreated Rotograph image which shows the signature was readable, why would he risk smearing chemicals all over the first page? OK, I didn’t claim this image would solve the issues surrounding the signature, but I do think it alters the landscape a bit.

Pretty Crisp Looking, No?

Pretty Crisp Looking, No?

The second image, shown above, veritably leapt off the table at me when I uncovered it. I thought I had never seen such a good, crisp “signature” of our friend Tepencz, and Jan concurred, and feels this image,

“…shows the signature quite clearly…  …there are also some traces of liquid there, maybe it is the oldest picture “after treatment”. There were probably several chemicals used subsequently (as can be judged by contemporary colored scan)  and probably several  experiments were made directly on the original. That would explain the extensive damage we can see today. The chemicals are apparently still working, activated probably by light and other factors”.

Jan also helpfully provided a negative of the above signature, which helps to reveal further details:

Negative, prepared by Jan Hurych

Very striking, I think most Voynich researchers will agree. But what it all means, if anything, will be seen. As Jan says,

It looks like the whole signature business is only a superficial problem, however it is not. It is a VERY important problem. True, Horczicky himself did not add anything to the VM story, we even do not know if he ever tried to solve it. However his name was for Voynich the MISSING LINK between Baresh (or Marci) and Rudolph II (and from him to Bacon). Originally, Voynich claimed the writing was the dedication to Horczicky by Rudolph – he was of course only following Mnishowsky’s rumor, passed on by Marci. Now we know the writing is not in Rudolph’s hand and that Bacon is not the author (carbon dating). As far as we know now, Rudolph might not even have the VM at all, Horczicky could have got it elsewhere. As for Dee, he was first brought in the game by Voynich himself.

So we are stuck with Horczicky being the first directly proven owner of the VM. His name “Tepenec” gives us the temporary location of the VM (Prague) and the earliest date he possibly got it – his nobilization (1608), provided he wrote  that immediately afterwards  :-). It is actually the earliest date of the VM which is really DIRECTLY documented (by such signature). Then again, if it is not in his hand it could have been written there in any time later by anybody.
If however the signature is a hoax, we are left only with the letter by Baresch (1639, or 1637 if we consider the first, now lost letter) and we do not know where HE got it. There would be rather difficult to go then  further back in time, the way back to the author.

And so it is, we have a very small fire, with very little fuel- and perhaps each little twig of information will cause it to swell up a bit, and help in some small way to further illuminate this very intractable mystery.

Newbold’s “Nebula”

May 31, 2013

Anyone who has an interest in the history of Voynich is well aware of the unfortunate and disastrous attempts of William Romaine Newbold to solve its mysteries. Although an earnest and intelligent man, he could probably be considered the first to fall victim to the vast, nebulous, nature of the problem, in which one can often see any solution their individual proclivities lead them to.

But nebulous is a bit of an appropriate and even punny adjective, in Newbold’s case, as his most famous error was in believing that Roger Bacon not only wrote the Voynich, but possessed optical equipment which allowed him the ability to discern the spiral structure of the Andromeda Galaxy… or “Nebula”, in his time. I won’t here deal with the many other facets of Newbold’s infamous claims, not the least of which was the belief that each character was made up of microscopic segments, which were therefore coded information; or the resulting long strings of subjective results from those segments, which became immense anagrams which would and did yield infinite and diverse results.

What interests me are the Andromeda suggestions. It barely requires a detailed explanation as to why he was wrong, but very simply, the detail necessary to see the spiral nature of the Andromeda was not possible until the telescopes of the latter part of the 19th century allowed it. But if you are interested in a good dissection of the reasons why, read Norman Sperling’s excellent blog post on the subject, “Voynich: Spiraling into Folly”. As Sperling writes in his very first sentence, “William R. Newbold’s 1921 contention that the spiral graphic in folio 68r represents a spiral nebula is wild bunk.”

First Photograph of Andromeda Galaxy

Isaac Robert’s 1899 Photo of the Andromeda Galaxy

Above is the first picture of the Andromeda Galaxy, taken by Isaac Roberts, in 1895. As he described it in his 1899 book, “Photographs of Stars, Star-Clusters and Nebulæ”,

“That the nebula is a left-hand spiral, and not annular as I at first suspected, cannot now be questioned; for the convolutions can be traced up to the nucleus which resembles a small bright star at the center of the dense surrounding nebulosity; but notwithstanding its density the divisions between the convolutions are plainly visible on negatives which have a proper degree of exposure.”

Compare the Roberts photograph, and description, above, with the f68r image from the Voynich, below. Also note that the Voynich image spirals to the right, not the left, as the Andromeda does:

Well it is "Spiral", Anyway

Well it is “Spiral”, Anyway

So then Newbold showed the f68r spiral image (above) to one “Eric Doolittle of our Flower Observatory”, who (according to the Newbold/Kent book, “The Cipher of Roger Bacon”, told Newbold,

“…that in his opinion it unquestionably represented a nebula, and that the man who drew it must have had a telescope”.

This alone seems to have led Newbold to one of his purely speculative “decipherments” of the center of f68r’s spiral illustration. However note that Doolittle did not say which spiral nebula, and bear that in mind when considering that some spiral nebulas known, and photographed by that time, were actually seen as a circular shape… as f68r’s illustration shows… and not as an oval, due to an angle to the viewer, as the Andromeda does (see below, “Isaac Roberts M51 & M100 ‘Comæ'”). So we can’t really draw Doolittle into the web of error, considering this, nor knowing how the illustration was presented to him in the first place. However, Newbold takes the Nebula hint, runs with it, and translates the Voynichese at the center of the spiral,

“The legend is extremely difficult to decipher, but my first attempt gave the location of the object as between ‘the navel of Pegasus, the girdle of Andromeda, and the head of Cassiopea,’ and stated that it was seen in a concave mirror. The great Nebula of Andromeda lies within the triangle determined by these three points; it is there fore presumable the object which Bacon saw.”

And here, too, we see Newbold substituting Dolittle’s “telescope” with a “concave mirror”. I see in this a disingenuous, unscientific manipulation of the purely subjective results of Newbold’s, to reflect what he must have suspected: Telescopes were out of the question for Roger Bacon, but there were historic hints of concave mirrors being used in this capacity, at a very early date.

Look again at the f68r “spiral” in question. And below we see Isaac Roberts’ image of Nebulæ M51 and M100 “Comæ”, taken in the 1890’s. Comæ appears in his 1899 book. I feel these help to exonerate Doolittle to some extent, and further mire Newbold in a fog of questionable judgement. For I would have to say that if I saw the below photographs, and the above Voynich illustration, I would certainly have wondered, as Doolittle did, if there was a connection. At the very least I am certain that I would not have jumped to the oval-appearing Andromeda, as Newbold did, as it never appeared to me a good match. I also note they are right spirals, as f68r’s illustration is:

isaac roberts m51 and m100

I have of course, as others have, wondered if Romaine Newbold was a victim of an overabundance of imagination, which drove his wild speculations to their obviously incorrect conclusions. But at the same time I felt this may point at Voynich, and possibly others, having fed the poor man just enough Roger Bacon “winks and nods” to send him off the cliffs of self-delusion. Anyone who did study Bacon would soon become aware of his possible use of optics and code, which would have caused Newbold to pick them up with relish- well, we know he did- but then he charged off at light-speed down a road Voynich never intended, or imagined. But perhaps all Voynich really wanted was…

… for Newbold to simply see a few microscopes instead of “jars”, a couple of diatoms and such, and maybe, M51 from Isaac Roberts’ book. If this is the case, I would imagine Voynich’s great frustration. Rather than being handed the desired reasonable, and yet exciting, Roger Bacon attribution, Newbold instead managed to taint the image of the Cipher Manuscript, along with his own reputation, and even, a little bit, the name of Roger Bacon himself… and thereby destroy any chance Wilfred Voynich would sell this manuscript in his lifetime.

UPDATE, 6/11/14: Elitsa Velinska has found a really striking similarity to the f68r spiral, in Nicole Oresme’s, “Traité de la sphère”, BNF Français 565. It has the stars, the T/O center, and the “frills” around the edges, that the Voynich spiral all have. All that is missing are the spirals, really. This find, in my opinion, is so good that it alters my speculative reasoning as to the original purpose of the illustration in the Voynich manuscript: I don’t believe it would have been put there AS a nebula, to fool anyone… but probably was influence by the image of Orseme in some way, directly or indirectly. Of course, Newbold’s opinion on it, while wrong, still has certain implications and possible causes, some of which still stand, as stated above.

You can see Elitsa’s images and comments on her blog post, here: http://ellievelinska.blogspot.com/2014/06/the-voynich-manuscript-geocentric-model.html

UPDATE, 9/30/14: After much recent discussion about this image, which began when Robert Teague noted a very close alignment of the Oresme illustration with the f68r Voynich one, I’ve come to realize that the original possibility still stands: That perhaps the artist of f68r was a forger, and was intending to imply that this was a spiral galaxy… and that this was the original intention after all.

Of course that is purely speculative, and there is no way to prove it. It may certainly be wrong. But considering that these spirals, as attached to the Oresme-type illustration, are not found elsewhere so attached, nor is there any good reason for them to exist there (none at all, offered, as of this writing), in the first place, I have reconsidered, and think it possible that this “addition” could have been for this reason… and that Newbold simply “mucked it up” by going to Andromeda instead of M51 or M100. That is, that the f68r illustration is a false attempt to look like a 13th or 17th century astronomer’s version of a nebula, as seen and understood by an early 20th century forger, who was trying to imply the use of advanced optics by the author of the Voynich Manuscript.

The Green Microscope

May 18, 2013

When I first proposed my Voynich/Optical theories years ago, one of the most common criticisms of it was that some of the microscope illustrations I used as comparisons were from dates later than the time of my theory. This is true, and I did acknowledge it. Of course I would, and can, still use them, as the descriptions of 1610/20 optical devices, and even earlier ones in some cases, do show that later 17th century optical instruments do have many of the features of the earlier, often lost and not illustrated, devices.

Nonetheless, the problem did have an effect on the way I looked at this, but not necessarily the way the critics intended. They used this point to claim that the Voynich cylinders could not be microscopes, but at the same time, they were dismissing the fact that their observation also implies that if they were the microscopes they did agree they resembled, then the Voynich was newer than they, or even I, suggested. In effect they were ignoring an important implication, a possibility opened up by the very observation they were making.

This is even more apparent when you consider that at least three of the newer microscope illustrations I was comparing to the Voynich cylinders were such a good match, that they could arguably be the actual source of the Voynich illustration. The two most notable are the “Green Microscope”,  and of the ones in the Spanish engraving , both very similar to cylinders on the f101v pages. So if you take the critic’s point at face value, that the devices look “too new”, then one is open to any age for the Voynich between 1404 and 1912, when Wilfred said he found it.

Considering these points, and when I began to seriously consider the Voynich Manuscript may be a 19th century fake, I of course revisited many of my old ideas in a new light.

Microscope Comparsion 1

Here is the Green Microscope compared to an f101v cylinder. You can see that the coloration, proportion, the recessed top, the placement of the change in diameter, and the inclusion (if not the accurate representation) of decoration, show that the green microscope and this Voynich cylinder are strikingly similar. Even the green of the vellum covering, and the brown where the wooden portions of the microscope are bare, are seemingly represented. I think it can be said that if a person saw the actual microscope, and had the appropriate inks, pens and brushes, any resulting drawing would not be much different than the Voynich illustration.

But in order for the Green Microscope to appear in an early 20th century forged manuscript, it would have to be reasonable to expect that the suspected forger would have seen it. And they probably would have had to have seen the actual device, and not a picture in a book, because color photographs in books were very uncommon before 1912. I have not seen this one, in any case, in all the microscope books I have found, either in black and white or color, photographed or illustrated. So for the real Green Microscope to be the model, it would have to be reasonable that Wilfred Voynich could have seen it. I went back to the website of the Museo Galileo, the museum which has the microscope, to see if this made sense.

The Museo Galileo, it turns out, is in Florence, Italy. They have owned the Green Microscope since the early 18th century, as it is listed as a “Vincenzo Viviani” bequest. He died in 1703, so they have had it since about then. The museum does not apparently know the actual age or maker of this microscope… and it is listed as a “microscope part”, as they assume it is a “part of the body tube” of one… but they do speculate that it originates from the “late 17th century”. It was a practice at the time, on some microscopes, to have the central section of the device removable, in order to use it as a “field microscope”. Some were even made this way from the beginning, with no stand, to carry into the environment and study things in the field.

The location of the museum in Florence was encouraging start, because in the early 20th century, Wilfred Voynich was also in Florence. He had purchased, in 1908, the great Libraria Franceschini, on 110 Via Ghibellina. And this vast book emporium, containing over half a million manuscripts, incunabula, pamphlets, maps, and who-knows-what, has often been suspected as a possible, real, source of the Voynich… even as the place Wilfred may have unearthed the little pile of unused ancient vellum he might have used to forge his famous cipher manuscript. Voynich, and the Green Microscope, and a vast archive of vellum were all in the same city, at the same time!

But how close were they? The scientific instruments of the Museo Galileo were moved to the present location… only 1,900 feet from Voynich’s shop, as it turns out… in 1930. I needed to find out where it was before that, between 1908 and 1912, when Voynich was still there, and before he announced the manuscript. So I wrote to the Museo, and was told by a retired director,

“The Viviani collection was housed before at the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova. Then, in the second half of 19th century, it was given to the Museo di Antichi Strumenti (Museum of Ancient Instruments), located inside the today Museo “La Specola”.”

So La Specola was the home of the green microscope during the time of Voynich’s presence in Florence. And it was, and is, the location of the Trubuna De Galileo, a magnificent alcove with a statue of Galileo, a series of friezes with important scenes from his life, and surrounded by rooms which contained the collections of antique scientific instruments of the Viviani collection, and others. And it turned out that that collection was at  4 Via Georgio La Pira, a mere 1.3 kilometer, 15 minute walk from the doors of Voynich’s Libraria. The Green Microscope was 15 minutes from the man who “found” the Voynich Manuscript, which contains an image which virtually reflects the very same device.

A Short Walk

A Very Short and Pleasant Walk

But the fact he very well could have seen the Green Microscope has another implication, for those who consider the Voynich Manuscript is real: If Wilfred had thought he had found a precious “Roger Bacon” manuscript, he would have also known Bacon was believed to have possessed and used sophisticated optical devices…

Tribuna Di Galileo

Tribuna Di Galileo

… so then why did Voynich not see, and note, the similarity between one of the drawings, and the Green Microscope, himself? Because he could not point to it, any more that he could point directly to the Baresch letter, or any other possible sources for a fake… if he forged the Voynich Manuscript. Well, unless you want to theorize that he the man had very poor observational skills, or worse, that he was never tempted, at least once in 5 years, to take what must be a fantastic stroll through the streets of one of the world’s most beautiful cities, to the greatest collection of rare and important scientific instruments in the world.


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