Monday, June 3, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: the Original Theory

If we speculate that the Voynich Manuscript is the book found in the royal baggage of Charles VIII, King of France, during the battle of Fornovo in 1495, then the original theory about the VMs belongs to Alessandro Beneditti. He was professor of anatomy and surgery at the Padua university. At the time of the battle of Fornovo he was serving the Holy League on the field. He wrote detailed account of the events (read here, Thanks to Nick Pelling for the link).

Alessandro Beneditti saw the book, now lost for history, with his own eyes, according to his words:

...There were also precious books from the holy chapel, a plaque inlaid with gems and deserving of reverence for its sacred relics, and rings loaded with jewels. In that plunder I saw a book in which were painted various nude images of his mistresses, differing in appearance and age as his lust and insane love had impelled him in each city; these pictures he carried with him as souvenirs...
From this account we can tell for sure that the book contained various nude images of women, differing in appearance and age. It is not clear if there was a text that explained in some way that those women were mistresses and the book was meant as souvenir or this is just the theory of the observer, who had attitude toward the King of France presuming his 'lust and insane love'.  Benedetti apparently believes that the book was pained during the 1494/95 campaign.

It is a wild speculation, but maybe the VMs calendar pages, rich in nude ladies of various appearances and status (some crowned) may be the source of this first VMs theory. Starting with March (Charles VIII declared his intention to march to Naples in March 1494) and ending in December (He entered Rome triumphantly on December 31st,1494) the women in the calendar can be seen as pained in various cities during the movement of the French in the war.

Let's consider for a moment the circumstances  in which the book was discovered. We have men in aftermath of a bloody battle:

... I saw corpses of brave men protruding at intervals which had been despoiled by many; the Greek and Latin soldiers had been first and had removed the more precious ornaments even from those still living, and then crowds of native peasants who had watched the issue of the battle from the summits of the mountains carried off the armor, and finally groups of servants and camp-followers removed the underclothing and left naked everywhere soldiers who were dead or half-alive... Very many wounded were found naked among the corpses, some begging aid, some half-dead. They were weakened by hunger and loss of blood and wearied by the heat of the sun and thirst; with tongues thrust out they begged for water. In this affair no form of cruelty seemed to be lacking...  Some still breathed after hands and feet had been amputated, intestines collapsed, brains laid bare, so unyielding of life is nature. The river Taro carried very many corpses to the Po; the rest, more than twenty-five hundred, unburied and swollen by the heat of the sun and the rain, were left to wild beasts. Almost all of these had a piercing wound in the throat or on the face, but a few had been lacerated by artillery...

Not exactly a comfy place to analyze a book.

Plus, I can't find another example of such mistress-trophy book in 15th century. There are plenty of nude figures pained at the time, but usually in some religious context as excuse. Please let me know if there are surviving souvenir books of that kind from that time that I am not aware of.


  1. Have you had a chance to review the contents of the digitization project which began about 2 years ago? Thousands of pages of several hundred manuscripts that had been hidden in the walls of the previously-named Roman College, which was relocated and transformed into the Gregorian University? Perhaps you have the credentials to browse that newly-discovered collection?

    I hope you will also continue your latest discussion here on this page!

  2. Hi BD, their website is in Italian. It is hard for me to browse.
    here is the link to the on-line manuscripts - most of them have one or two images

    I hope it helps. All the best! Ellie

  3. A 15th century mistress-trophy book? I guess that would make the Voynich "the world's most mistressiest manuscript". ;-)

  4. LOL. Hi Nick, for the record, I do not believe the VMs women were Charles VIII mistresses. Imagine this - giving few VMs facsimile copies to our men in Afghanistan during the fighting season - I wonder if they are going to notice the flowers first?

  5. I just think that if the VMs is the book discovered during the Battle of Fornovo - it was simply misinterpreted because of the circumstances. The VMs may be "the world's most misinterpreted manuscript" :)

  6. Ellie,
    Just checking in with you to let you know (positive feed-back) that you may find some more info on Charles V and Charles VIII and Isabella D'Este (publisher extraordinaire) in a multi-volume encyclopedia "Treasures of the World", vol: The Renaissance Princes.

    I first checked out the referred volume from my library. Subsequently, my husband purchased a used copy from an online source. It was well worth every penny! See if your local library can get a copy for you.


  7. Ellie,

    I visited Hrad Karlstejn ' s website again this morning. They have expanded on their earlier online galleries and photo-tours. Most (nearly all) of the commentary and directions are in Czech (?). You may find, and be able to follow, a lot of their presentations (including history of Charles IV, and later generations of Hapsburg rulers. I hope you will visit them online -- and maybe tell us some more stories!

  8. I think it is very simple. Each word is code for another word. These are not the only codes. Each page and line are coded too. But I am preety sure, that there is not anything important in these texts. It is just the encrypted masterpiece. That was the main reason of creating this book. Author was probably sure, that the people with their standard thinking won't find the answer soon. By that time he could earn some money by performing it. Simple as that.