These are the results of the section “Hands on Paper” [which I’ve now given the more exact title ‘Seeking the Voynich Hand – 30/5/2015].
I know it’s a bit unusual to publish the conclusion before the evidence and argument informing it, but I thought it might make things easier for readers to decide whether the content of this part was of enough interest to read the separate posts as they come up. – D.N. O’Donovan
Seeking comparable hands to those in the written part of MS Beinecke 408 turned up only three.*
* I’m speaking here of the style for the text, not the quire numbers or the hand in which the Arabic numerals were written as ‘page’ numbers or foliation.
One was the autograph of a Cretan poet, living in Venice where he inscribed his poems for a later publication by the Aldine press in Venice.
The other two examples were of the southern, Sephardic cursive style in Jewish texts.
There remain many other possibilities, if one were to explore scripts used to the north, and the many found east of Egypt ~ and I’ve noted a few in earlier posts to this blog.
A possible connection between our Mediterranean examples, however, is offered by the life and travels of Dr. Leo/Leon Mosconi, a fourteenth-century Jewish physician and traveller whose chief influence (as he himself said) was an Egyptian teacher, but who had also studied in Crete under another, before moving to Majorca, where he has a recognised influence on the works of Cresques Abraham, maker of the famous ‘Catalan Atlas’ for the French court. (c.1375).
To reconcile the manuscript’s codicological evidence with views offered by the earliest commentators is therefore possible. Wilfrid Voynich and others believed the manuscript presented as a thirteenth or fourteenth century work, as Panofsky first thought, too before judging the palette proper to the fifteenth century. His opinion was that the work was Jewish and from “Spain or somewhere southern”.
Thus, if we posit the present manuscript as having been manufactured in the region of Venice during the earlier part of the fifteenth century (in keeping with the work’s dimensions), but one which had taken much of its present form in the fourteenth – when Mosconi lived, when the Catalan Atlas was made, and where the manuscript of Nahmanides’ text was inscribed within that same southern region – then we have accounted for that fact noted by several experts that the manuscript shows no sign of any influence from art and ideas of the “renaissance”.
I would suggest, then, that early in the fifteenth the material been copied from a number of earlier works by one or more scribes who were attempting an exact reproduction of their examples – almost as ‘facsimile’ copies – maintaining the forms of the earlier period and environment. What makes this all the more likely is that the scribes do sometimes err, as I’ll discuss later in the series.
If then, by reference to the marks of previous binding etc., one posits that those scribes were associated in some way with a fifteenth century printery – very possibly Venetian – we have also accounted for the marks of dismemberment and the various needle-holes affecting the quires. An early fifteenth century date for our current manuscript is indicated chiefly by the dimensions, but also for a radiocarbon dating which applies to the some among the top six quires of the manuscript, and to one independent fold-out bound lower.
It is a truism within codicological studies that a badly disordered manuscript has probably been re-bound after being sent for printing. What is emerging is a history for the text which evolves, and evolves along much the same lines as are documented for numerous other texts including classical works and Jewish works entering the Latin corpus about this time, by forcible or by commercial acquisition.
My reasons for offering this explanation for some apparent incongruities will become explained by the remaining posts from this topic. After that, a closer look at the fold-outs and what additional light their form and content shed on the manuscript’s history and probable purpose.