Reading aloud

I should like to be quite clear about what I have used this blog to do: it has not been an exercise in trying to persuade readers of any particular theory, but rather a process of ‘reading aloud’ the narrative offered by the imagery, and providing readers (as best one can in a blog) with the basic visual vocabulary and historical background which is implied, and needed, in order to understand that narrative –  couched as it is in almost entirely non-European form and style.

From this process, now, I have been able to draw some conclusions based on the patterns of meaning inherent in the imagery and in the style used in one or another section.

Having then reached those conclusions, I see to my own surprise that they accord with some of the very earliest appraisals of the manuscript and scarcely at all with the ideas which, by the post-war period, had come to be mistaken for established fact. Most notable among the latter is the assumption of western Christian “authorship”.

I do not yet, and have never before claimed, to have a “theory” about the Voynich manuscript, for I cannot agree that there is no distinction between an idea which simply occurs to a person as a potential narrative and scenario, and a true theory which proposes a single underlying principle for all the matter previously observed and investigated by the proposer.

By that standard, I have no theory.  What I have provided is an analysis and historical context for most sections in this manuscript.

The points on which I should still like to do more research include the outstanding question of where, when and how the botanical and pharma sections came to be combined with the present astronomical diagrams, to which they are plainly not closely related. Much the same is true of those other diagrams that I describe as astro-meterological.

If, tomorrow, someone were to provide convincing evidence (not just some ‘plausible argument’) that the botanical and pharma sections came to Europe with one of the Uyghur embassies, I should not be surprised; but neither should I be surprised to learn that they had come directly from the region of Diyabakir, or through that region with Jewish refugees who had direct connections with Cochin.  What I feel not the slightest doubt about is that the style and content of those sections speak consistently of the eastern sea and its trade – and further that the imagery in these sections contains not the slightest sign of western Latin culture.  Of the rest, save folio 86v, my opinion is closer to that offered by Robert Steele who ninety years ago assessed the manuscript as follows:

The usual methods of dating a [European] MS. fail us: the writing cannot be placed, the vellum is coarse for the thirteenth century, but not impossible, the ink is good. Only the drawings remain, and owing to their complete absence of style the difficulty of dating is but increased; it is strange that the draughtsman should have so completely escaped all medieval or Renaissance influences. ..

Robert Steele, Nature 122, 563-565 (13 October 1928) from the Abstract available online.

In fact, they do not have an absence of style, but rather a complete absence of any mainstream (Latin) European style.

This I have demonstrated in detail during the course of my “reading the pictorial text aloud” in posts to this blog.  Their style is demonstrably consistent, and just as demonstrably true to their region(s); it is simply that the region concerned is not western Europe, and the style not European, and thus quite unlike any by which western Latin manuscripts are routinely provenanced and classified.

That the content and style of the majority of folios  speak consistently of intercourse through the eastern sea and its trade I no longer retain any doubt, having repeated tested and tried to disprove my first impression of that kind.

At the same time, neither do I doubt that the world-map which I first identified as the subject of folio 86v has more ancient and (as I think) Hellenistic roots, which occur here as basis to a series of chronological strata, with clear evidence of the last having connected, by the fourteenth century, with the maritime chartmakers of the Mediterranean and most likely (from the internal evidence) those of Mallorca and Genoa.

Because there is no necessary connection between the self-contained narrative provided by the pictorial text and that written text with which the manuscript is now provided, I no longer believe that to have read the pictorial narrative is to offer any particular assistance to those working on the written.

Indeed, it is my impression that the imagery being so perfectly enunciated, and so entirely self-contained, it is quite conceivable that the users did not trouble to repeat that information in writing, but that they may as easily have employed the space to better advantage by inscribing quite other matter of interest and service to themselves.

I say that I now believe this possible, not that it is a theory I espouse.

As a word of caution to a readership inundated with supposed ‘explanations’ for the manuscript’s imagery.

As, for example, with recent offerings which create variants for my explanation of folio 86v as a map of the users’ world, it is important for the reader to keep in mind that no discussion of imagery’s meaning is sensible unless matched by a discussion, contextualisation, and historical placement of the work’s style.

This secure contextualisation marks the critical distinction between an informed conclusion about a given image and mere fantasy indulged.

Claiming that folio 86v is a ‘T-O’ style map (i.e. a work made in a European genre) becomes almost impossible an idea to maintain unless the issue of the drawing’s style is quite ignored.  To anyone even mildly well acquainted with the true western ‘T-O’ maps it is immediately evident that their style has nothing in common with that of the Voynich fold-out folio.  If it had, of course, that character would long ago have been recognised, and this idea of the ‘T-O’ map would not have been first floated a century and more after the manuscript was first offered to European specialists for evaluation in terms of European manuscript traditions.

The same is true, of course, for even more fantastic recent efforts to re-work my conclusion about the folio. Three independent ‘recognitions’ of folio 86v as a worldmap within eighteen months, after a century (or five) in which it had remained mysterious, is a little too much of a co-incidence, don’t you think?

Too often this manuscript is treated as if it had no human makers, no genuine historical or artistic setting, and no right to be taken seriously.



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