Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Voynich Manuscript And The Jesuit Scientist Athanasius Kircher

DURING the year 1912 Mr. Wilfrid Voynich of New York was traveling through Europe in connection with his business of buying and selling old manuscripts.
At an old castle somewhere in northern Italy or southern France he located several large chests, containing an unusual quantity of medieval documents, which had been thus preserved from the collection formed in the eighteenth century by the Dukes of Parma, Ferrara and Modena.
It appears that these had been hidden away for safe keeping during the political upheavals of the 1700's or early 1800's, and that their presence and even their existence had been completely forgotten until Mr. Voynich came upon them. He bought some of them, and in view of his expectation of some day going back for the rest, he will not tell any more definitely where they are to be found. Among the manuscripts of the collection Mr. Voynich noted one that interested him exceedingly, and be made sure that it was in the group he brought away with him. His first casual examination of it, prior to its purchase, was sufficient to make him certain that this manuscript was a product of the thirteenth century.
The text would seem to the layman to be Latinith perhaps some quaint chirography to make its reading more difficult; but to one accustomed to the medieval Latin it is clear that the work is in cipher.
It was this fact, taken in consideration with the character of the illustrations found in profusion on every page, that impressed Mr. Voynich. Of these illustrations, some are obviously of astronomic or astrological subjects. The rest are strongly suggestive of an effort to illustrate biological processes, both animal and plant, of some sort. It is entirely obvious that the details are masked behind a heavy veil of symbolism, but Mr. Voynich did not have to take too long a leap in reaching the conclusion that the manuscript dealt with scientific or pseudo-scientific subjects.......For the first of these investigations Mr. Voynich is not qualified, and he has turned the text over to Prof. W. R. Newbold of the University of Pennsylvania. For the business of delving into the certainties, the probabilities and the possibilities of the manuscript's history since its preparation, on the other hand, its owner is about as well equipped as anyone, and to this task he has given his own attention. It is not to be expected that he will be able to produce, for every link of the chain, documentary evidence or other proof that would stand up in a court of law; nevertheless he has made it entirely plausible to suppose that this manuscript may have passed from Oxford to the place where he found it.
The first step was easy. Bound in with the leaves of the manuscript is a letter of presentation from Marcus Marci to Athanasius Kircher. It identifies the manuscript, explains the gift on the ground of Kircher's oft-expressed interest in the document, and alludes to previous ownership of the manuscript by the Emperor Rudolf.
This of course is a tremendous stroke of luck—the letter might equally well have contained nothing but the name of donor and recipient, and an expression of their mutual regard. Marci and Kircher are both known figures. Marci had been president of the University of Prag, which to all intents and purposes was the capital of Rudolf's empire, rather than Vienna.
For Rudolf was a bookish king, far more interested in literary pursuits than in matters of state; and such pursuits naturally centered in Prag rather than in Vienna. Kircher was a Jesuit scholar of some note, known to have been long intimate with the Parmese ducal family.
His established ownership of the manuscript, and its subsequent appearance in the ducal collection, leaves little room for doubt that he made it over to the Duke of his period—perhaps in his will) perhaps during his lifetime.

Link (here) to the full piece at Scientific American Monthly published in June of 1921

Fr. Z has a great piece on the same subject at his WDTPRS (here)
Videos on the Voynich Manuscript (here)
Voynich Manuscript (here)


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