Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Henbane

The Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) is placed by Ethel Voynich/Theodore Petersen on fol. 31r of the Voynich manuscript and I agree it is a valid possibility. However, I will move it one page to fol.31v because of the shape of the fruits and their position compared to the leaves. It is not a perfect match, but I will leave it there for now. Henbane was part of medieval anesthetics and was used to relieve  tooth pain.

Coincidentally the leaf pattern on fol. 31v reminds of the picture of medieval dental scrubbers from 1531 edition of  Chirurgia Argellata cum Albucasis, National Library of Medicine (here). Pietro d'Argelata thought at the University of Bologna and performed the autopsy of Pope Alexander V (Peter of Candia) on May 3rd, 1410. Argelata died in 1423, but his Chirurgia saw many editions during the following century of printed books.



  1. Oh my, Ellie!

    They autopsied Alexander V -- great story! Did Argellata publish his findings in the Chirurgia? Do you recall that I suggested that Pietro of Candia may have died of mushroom poisoning? I wonder how the Chirugia findings may have matched up with the discussion of the look-alike Coprinicae mushrooms in Vms f 86 r 3. Fascinating!

    If I click on the link to the University, will I be able to review Argellata's works on that site? (I'm a former pre-med student.)


  2. Ellie, I may be repeating myself. My post of a few minutes ago hasn't appeared yet. My computer has been very slow/erratic for several days now. Here is my response:

    Autopsy on Peter of Candia (Pope V): Fascinating! It may tie up some loose ends I've discussed in Vms folio 86r3 (which I call the mushroom folio). I've been wondering if Peter of Candia may have been deliberately fed the "wrong" mushroom. Or it could be the case that the cooks who made the mushroom pies did not know the poisonous mushroom (Alcohol Inky).


  3. Hi BD, of course I remember the mushrooms. Argellata is considered the most famous surgeon of the 14th century. Since Peter of Candia (Pope Alexander V) died in Bologna where Argellata lived he was called to perform the autopsy. I read somewhere that he disposed of the stomach and intestines and this was considered suspicious by the conspiracy theorists of the time. The death of Alexander V was investigated later during the trials of the next Pope John XXIII (Baltasare Cossa) who was accused of many sins (many of which he probably was guilty of and possibly many he was not guilty of - the result of his conviction was, according to some, the Medici getting richer). However, Alexander V was in his 70s - with daily routine including overeating at all times and drunkenness - he was reportedly drunk when he ordered the burning of the Wycliffe's books - the account coming from a supporter of his. He may have had died from natural causes. Only God knows :)

  4. The reason I thought his death may have been from mushroom poisoning, whether deliberate or not, is that mushrooms figured in more than one Papal death over centuries. BUT, perhaps in this case it MAY have been a case of mistaken mushroom identification. The "Shaggy Mane" and the "Alcohol Inky" were nearly identical -- and both were considered "choice" eating. Alcoholic beverages of any kind, if imbibed within a week, either side of eating the "Alcohol Inky" could cause severe hallucinations, liver failure, and death.

    Anyway, the host of a very good blog on poisonous and hallucinatory plants, died recently His blog is still being maintained. If you'd like to read more about HENBANE and mandrake, search for keywords "Ambrosia Society" and or "Angels". Have fun, even if somewhat morbid!