Let Harmony reign: Baresch and Mnishovsky

I hereby promise that I shall never again post immediately anything that I have composed at 3am and/or while quite cross-eyed from exhaustion.  Thank you for your patience with the edits.


goats 12thC bestiary and GrecoRoman antioch

There is a way to reconcile the views held  by Baresch, Marci and Mnishovsky concerning the nature of the written text in the Vms.

This possibility is just a possibility; it doesn’t resolve the issue of ownership, nor give an earlier history for the manuscript, but would be consistent with what we know was Rudolf II’s obsession with longevity.

According to Baresch it was most likely that:

Some fine (noble) man went east, collected the secrets of ancient Egyptian medicine and brought them back.

Now, that phrase implies,  in terms of seventeenth-century thought and of fifteenth-century ideas, not a finding of information that was out-of-date, but discovering a source – a written text – which had not been corrupted by repeated copying and cumulative distortion over centuries. A ‘pristine’ work. Finding some body of true information about the medicine of that golden time in antiquity had been a dream of medieval and renaissance men. Ficino speaks of a  prisca medicina.

And that’s what Baresch’s description of the Voynich implies he though he’d found.

Kircher was certainly interested in ancient languages, though not so you’d notice in medicine. In any case, the condition of his profession as a priest prohibited any Roman Jesuit from a secondary occupation apart from teaching.

But Baresch emphasises strongly that his own interest is wholly, solely and only medicine. If there’s any alchemy involved it’s alchemical medicine. He wants the translation “… only for the medicine..”

.. medicine … as against what?

some pre-Christian or non-Christian ‘heretical’ philosophy that could be supposed to infuse this medical knowledge, presumed ancient?


Missowsky [Mnishovsky].

Mnishovsky told Marci this book was supposed written by Roger Baconr.

But if Marci really knew nothing at all in advance of receiving the manuscript as his legacy, why would he dismiss this alleged provenance told him by Missowsky?

Tthe story was certainly intriguing enough, as Missowsky told it, and Rudolf undoubtedly had had dealings with Englishmen. So why not?

Well – if we suppose that Marci’s memory had not simply lost any information about provenance that he had heard in the earlier decades  (such loss is quite possible), then

I think something along the following lines might have happened.

* By the time Marci writes the letter, and sends the manuscript to Kircher, both he and Kircher were in receipt of a provenance in which both firmly believed.

* Mnishovsky’s story seemed irreconcilable with it, and both men simply ignored it.

(I did too, but I re-read Clark’s paper today and it hit me that Mnishovsky might not have been so far off the mark after all).

* The most infamous book about longevity written in Europe had been the second of three by Marsilio Ficino, published in his Liber Triplicitas.

What if Kircher, Baresh and Marci had all believed firmly that this manuscript  once belonged to Marsilio Ficino. (?)

No – wait – let me finish.

1. Longevity was a passion of Rudolf’s – agreed?

2. So there were three major works: that by Ficino which was considered heretical. That earlier written by Arnauld of Villanova and two thirteenth-century treatises by Roger Bacon.

3. Arnauld’s was the better known of those earlier works.

4. In Ficino’s second book – the one about living longer – he refers constantly  to Villanova.. or believes he does!!

This is the brilliant observation that Clark made in 1986.

See John Clark,  Roger Bacon and the Composition of Marsilio Ficino’s De vita longa (De vita, Book II)’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 49, (1986), pp. 230-233.

Clark noticed that reference to Arnauld’s book shows that the passages which Ficino cites as Arnauld’s –  aren’t.

Nor are they cases of Arnauld’s quoting Bacon’s writing,  though he does that a lot.

Apparently Ficino had a book or an extract in a compendium containing work he thought Arnauld’s  De conservanda iuventute  but which was really (according to Clark) most likely Roger Bacon’s  De Retardanda senectute.

Ficino had, apparently, been sold a pup.

Clark concluded:

It was not Arnald’s De conservanda but Roger’s De retardanda which Ficino read and used in August of 1489. There is little doubt, though, that Ficino did not know that the work was by Bacon.

So this could explain why Marci, Baresch and even Kircher might believe it had been Ficino’s, why Kircher at first wouldn’t have a bar of it, but also (in the end) why if they were not wrong, neither need Mnishovsky have been.

As for the ‘ancient medicine’ – that is the subject in which Ficino was most interested.

Whether this proposed means to  harmonise the views of Baresch and Marci comes close to the truth of this matter can’t be known before the written text is known.

The imagery does support Baresch’s stated opinions.

It appears not to support Mnishovsky’s.

But if the two are not irreconcilable – that’s interesting, don’t you think?

It could explain (i) why Mnishovsky might have heard that the work was by Bacon; (ii) why Marci might dismiss his story out of hand (having a different one already) and (iii) why Baresch should have tried for thirty years to decipher the text, knowing that the botanical section contained “exotic plants”.

So – what do you think? Could the botanical section of the Vms be about eastern plants and eastern traders’ needs, but included in this compendium for a connection to  an interest in longevity?

A source-book used by Ficino, perhaps, in which some section might be from the works on longevity by Bacon-mistaken-for-Arnauld?

But simply as a  book of the routes, plants and provisions needed in the eastern trade, it would also be worth a few beans, I should think.


  • I found this post about legacies to Prague of interest, though the idea that the Vms might be a copy of the  True Path of Alchemy has long been discarded. Ciphermysteries – as usual
  • If the manuscript had been owned at some stage by Ficino (died 1499) it would also permit some closer harmony between the people who believe that the VMS’ botany is all materia medica, and European – and me, who says it contains non-medical matter, which did not originate in western Europe, and derives from more ancient source-texts.
  • Perhaps its all true.
  • Oh – in 2012 there was a conference held at John Hopkins about Ficino’s medicine.

Anyone happen to have a spare copy of the papers…   *ahem*

  • Marsilio Ficino worked for the Medici, became a priest after Cosimo’s death, and was executed for heresy in 1499, having beaten an earlier charge. His Liber Triplicitas was the issue.
  • If you’re interested in Ficino’s thought, what you/we need is ideally this:-



  • The ‘New Advent’ article as it has been edited for appearance online is quite disingenuous, to the point of omitting Ficino’s date of death, or the legal issues surrounding it, or even the Church’s clear statement (in the full edition) that Ficino had been a ‘blameless priest’ which means he wasn’t a magician in the usual sense, nor gay, or a pagan, nor anything the church of that time considered blame-worthy. Except for his heretical book, of course. Perhaps they should have burned a copy of that instead of an original man.

2 thoughts on “Let Harmony reign: Baresch and Mnishovsky

  1. BD
    Your views seem to mesh well with ideas offered on the mailing list by SD on behalf of Edith Sherwood.

    Whether such an impression of the manuscript could pass the test of ‘Kircher’s sieve’ I don’t know.

    re Nemi – no, I haven’t read anything about it for about eighteen months, or whenever it was I wrote last about the short-lived Palmyrean ’empire’.

    Since my posts about the Voynich are often written in the early hours am for later publication, my first assumption if a comment is a little incoherent is not that the person is a lunatic, but pressed for time or in a state of chronic exhaustion. The one tends to lead to a kind of shorthand-speech and the second to less orderly expression – so I find, anyway.



  2. I took another look at folio 83v.

    All things considered, I still think its most likely subject the distinction between ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ storms.

    In terms of a visual shorthand, the way that the stream from the right-hand ‘sphere’ terminates is distinguished from that of the stream issuing from the left-hand ‘sphere’ by patterns which appear to me to refer (left terminus) to hail – thus associated with thunder-storms cold and in the northern hemisphere with the rising of Orion, which ended the sailing season – at least in classical times.

    By contrast, the terminal motif given the left-hand ‘sphere’ – appearing here on the folios’ right-hand side had a motif formed of scattered dots. This motif is one which throughout this section appears to me to refer to a fructifying or life-engendering type of water – presumably here warmer-weather storms.

    The streams above each of these motifs would then be read as water falling from the sky, while the billowy sort of pattern would refer to cloud.

    The figure to the right-hand side of the vignette is then logically likely to be identified with north, winter etc., and the opposite with south.

    That’s how I’d read them, anyway.

    There are precedents for the system I’ve mentioned for denoting seed, cloud and so forth. But all in due course.


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