Why the manuscript does not permit arguments for all-European content.

[updated and shortened 27/03/2016]

‘Theory-first’ research has clear advantages at times, in some fields, but is unsuited to manuscript studies or efforts to provenance imagery in a problematic manuscript.

It is possible that the written text was first composed in fifteenth-century Latin Europe, when the manuscript was probably given its present form, but the internal evidence argues an earlier date for composition of the text, while the imagery plainly supports that  provenance offered by Erwin Panofsky long ago, and yet consistently ignored by the majority who have been involved since the late 1990s.

Looking within the historical context most familiar or comfortable will surely turn up something you can present as relevant, and from that you may be able to develop a plausible-sounding story.

But if it isn’t true; if your version of things is demonstrably untrue,  you may get away with it for a while, but your efforts will not add much to the sum total of what is known about this manuscript.

So –  here are some points in the argument against any all-European hypothesis:

1. Erwin Panofsky said that it was ‘from Spain, or somewhere southern’ and displayed ‘Jewish and Arab’ influence. No one of his eminence has since deigned to comment on this manuscript, and the presumption of people amateur in this field (regardless of other genuine skills) has assisted in reducing  “Voynich studies” to a parody of genuine scholarship – at least among those better qualified in iconographic analysis.

2. NOTHING in the imagery – as I have now been demonstrating for some time – permits argument for the whole as of northern Christian origin or ‘authorship’.

3. The layout of the ‘pharma’ section, so called, finds no parallel anywhere in the corpus of western Christian art, whether pharmaceutical works or others. If you think you have evidence to the contrary, by all means get in touch. voynichimageryATgmail

4. The “fold-outs” are discrete sections, not necessarily related to the rest before the fifteenth century version and copying.  They include a figure whose use within a zodiac is unattested before the fifth century, and which is found first in two Jewish synagogues in the eastern side of the Mediterranean. In the fifteenth century we also find suggestions in western Latin art, both in France and in Germany that (for whatever reason) people associated the crossbow and/or Sagittarius with the Jews. In the detail below, the owl is a standard trope for the Jews and was habitual in medieval works.  However, the present figure of the archer in the Voynich calendar has been given a bow of particular type, one which may be depicted in an early fourteenth century Book of Hours made in Metz but is otherwise known only from archaeological evidence provided by two Spanish bows dated to c.1510. (for the earlier image see B.L. Yates Thompson MS 8, f61).

French hours owl crossbow-detail

5. The custom of distinguishing fresh water as blue, and salt water as green is not one native to Europe.  It became popular for a time in works made there, but arguing a couple of such examples as ‘proof’ for all-European content is as silly as arguing that the popularity of fire-works in Europe proves Europeans invented gunpowder.  Context is everything, so long as there remains a possibility that the manuscript’s imagery and text have similar histories.

6. There are a number of avoidances or ‘tabus’ evident in the manuscript’s imagery which are unknown in any medieval western tradition, including (so far as we know) that of European Jews.

7. In their method of construction, the plant pictures in the manuscript show they are not related to the western tradition in herbals. I have explained this at some length in various posts.

8.  The so-called “zodiac”is not a zodiac. It not only includes two bulls and two goats, but it was probably originally composed of fourteen figures, not twelve.  The inscription of month-names on the central emblems is a later addition, written in a hand whose firmness and definition deteriorates rapidly from half-way through the series. One can only speculate as to why that might be.

9. The animal depicted on f.116v is not a European sheep, but the fat-tailed sheep whose range co-incides pretty well with that of the worldmap in folio 86v. That range did not include Latin Europe to the fifteenth century.

10. Efforts to suggest that the Voynich ‘bathy-‘ section is related to a genre known as the ‘Balneis Puteolanis’ completely fail to distinguish between, or account for, various editions of the latter text or the increasing Latinisation of its imagery from plainly eastern origins – in this case, probably Persian.  This is one case where we have a Latin author’s text combined with “exotic”imagery gained initially from the eastern world but increasingly modified for its western environment.  The Voynich imagery shows remarkably little sign of such modification. Its non-Latin, and indeed non-European character remains clear.

If you want to argue that the written text in MS Beinecke 408 is wholly European despite whatever its imagery suggests, then you could be right, but the ‘all-European’ argument hasn’t produced results over the past century – has it?.

I could add many more such points, but blog-readers rarely want more than a thousand words a post, so that will do.

If you’d care to debate or argue my conclusions, by all means email me.

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