Friday, February 27, 2015

The Voynich Manuscript: Fleabane

Lori and Russ Holtman suggested on the VMs list that the drawing on fol. 46r maybe inspired by the Biblical story of the 10 plagues of Egypt. The leaves on the plant appear as if they are blown by wind (the East wind brought the plague of locusts and the West wind blew them into the Red Sea) and the roots remind of insects legs.

I like Lori and Russ's idea and based on it I will place Fleabane as plant id on my list. In the old herbals fleabane appear  by the name 'policaria' so I will go with Common Fleabane - Pulicaria dysenterica. The third plague of Egypt was lice/gnats/fleas and fleabane was believed to repel those parasites.

The French common name for Pulicaria is Herbe Saint-Roch. In the 15th century Saint Roch was evoked in case of bubonic plague.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Voynich Manuscript: White Mulberry

I am adding second possibility for VMs fol. 9r - white mulberry (Morus alba) - which is the favorite food of the silkworm (Bombyx mori). The root reminds of fabric and the extensions of the leaves may symbolize the silkworms feeding on them. Once the silk production was a state secret of China but by the 15th century the silk was made also in Italy and France.

One can argue that if the root represents fabric - it doesn't look very silky. In 15th century Europe silk velvet was a very popular fabric. One way to produce velvet is to create loops while weaving the silk then cut those loops creating the 'hairs'(one loop makes a pair that is fluffed after cutting). Another way to produce velvet is by weaving the silk between two layers then cutting between the layers creating two sheets of fabric with their silky 'hairs' sticking up in pairs.

At the base of the plant we see spade-like shape. In the German playing cards tradition the spades were called leaves (the example is from 1475). Mulberry can have both palmate and spade-like leaves on the same branch.

Update: In 2012 Diane O'Donovan suggested the root resembles fabric -  tufted or fleecy cloth (flexible enough to wind as a scarf).

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Voynich Manuscript: Ground Oak

I am adding a new plant id on the list. Proposed originally by Ethel Voynich in 1930s. The drawing on fol. 45v may represent Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys). The word 'germander (chamaedrys)' means 'ground oak' and the herb got its common name likely because of the shape of its leaves. The 'oak name' maybe the base of symbolism in the drawing that seems to be related to the House of Burgundy which experienced its Golden Age during the 15th century (Burgundy's influence spanned all the way from Portugal to the Netherlands).

Oak is among the symbols of Burgundy with the proper Cross of Burgundy being formed by two pruned oak branches.

The root on fol. 45v may represent pruned branch forming a necklace (maybe reference to the famous collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece). The top part of the flowers seems to form quicunx - another symbol of Burgundy.

All this (as always) is just speculation and all the similarities maybe just coincidental.

UPDATE: Diane reminded me to include example of germander from the old herbals, so I chose the one from the British library, MS Egerton 747 (14th century)

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Voynich Manuscript: Kircher's Answer

On June 20, 2013 Minerva Auctions in Rome had an auction. To see the catalog of the event click  here . Among the items was a booklet supposedly printed in 1669 in which Athanasius Kircher is analyzing a manuscript containing secret script that was sent to him by Marcus Marci. To see the description of the item provided by the Minerva Auctions click  here .

The items for this auction were displayed for viewing from June 16 to June 19, 2013 so I assume the booklet was physically present in Rome at this time. The price asked is 5000-7000 euro.
Out of  five Kircher's work in this catalog three were sold and two failed to do so. The Kircher's answer to Marci booklet still appear at the Minerva web-site - two years later - with option to request information - and so I did - the answer was:

Dear Mrs. Velinska,
thank you for contacting us.
The book is not still available, the sale was in 2013. 
Best regards,
Silvia Ferrini

In my request I also asked for the Minerva auctions to disclose the price achieved, but apparently they decided not to share this information.
The auction and the booklet are the subject of an on-line article on the web-site of the Department of Art, Archeology and History, University of Verona, from June 2, 2013 - to read it click here

UPDATE: I also found the first edition of the booklet from 1665 with ex-libris from Godefridus Kinner. The viewing of the item will be on April 1, 2015 at Minerva Auctions in Rome :)

Unlike the 1669 edition Marci was actually alive when the Kircher's answer was printed. The first edition also  includes appropriate for 1660s Kircher's name (He didn't use Fvldensis Bvchonii past 1640s)  and appropriate for 1660s publishing house. Unlike the 1669 edition -  the ex-libris in this new one belongs to a person who actually existed :). The printing job and the Latin is equally sloppy in both editions :)

UPDATE: To read more serious thoughts on the matter in the article by Brian Cham titled Minerva Mysteries click here

UPDATE: After being confronted by several experts Minerva Auctions admitted that they themselves created the two 'possible' Kircher editions. They explained that there is a long tradition of ghost editions in the auction catalog and the two entrees are in line with this tradition.