Forgive my French. You will probably ask: What does the Voynich manuscript (VMS) has to do with Big Bureaucracy? Well, the code breakers at the Pentagon found it worthy their time and tax-payer money trying to decipher it. Contributing to this effort on my own time and dime is far less ridiculous. So lighten up and have fun with this journey in time!
The Voynich manuscript was written between 1404 and 1438 according to The Department of Physics at the University of Arizona. Besides that, a quick look at the previous research gives impression that the mysterious book works like a Rorschach inkblot. The work so far tells more about the researchers than about the book. That defined my approach to the subject: observing how my own biases will lead to a new Voynich theory.
Political maps describing the world order at the beginning of the 15th century proved really helpful in the quest. I was able to place the so called ‘zodiac’ signs from the Voynich manuscript on Earth and not in the sky. Let me introduce you to the medieval G-9.
Austria and Hungary grace the pages of the VMS with two ‘rosettes’ each. The alpine munching on a mountain bush is no astrological creature. Bias toward Cyrillic as my native alphabet prompts me to see word similar to Австрия under the goat. The Hungarians call themselves Magyars, so, the ‘Mag’ note under the bull could be a reference to them. To this day the Hungarians preserve a herd the gray bull that fed their people in the steppes for centuries.
The author may have been well connected inside the Austrian and Hungarian courts; arguably the ‘most dressed’ comparing to the other rosettes. The ruler in Magyarország was one of the most controversial people in the history: Sigismund (later Holy Roman Emperor) may be one of the men featured on the Hungarian rosette. He married Barbara of Cilli (later Empress) in 1405. She was very politically and socially active (she even participated in plots against her husband) and her hobby was alchemy. The queen meddled in the creation of the Order of the Dragon. It probably crossed her mind to try to organize women too.
Barbara (or Barbora) is riding a horse and waving starry banner in Konrad Kyeser’s Bellifortis manuscript. At the beginning of the century the author was exiled in Bohemia by Sigismund. Voynich manuscript was in that area at some point in history, so looking into the creative circle behind Bellifortis may lead to some clues. In 1405 Kyeser dedicated Bellifortis to Rupreht III. The German King’s wife Elizabeth of Nuremberg may be the crowned lady on the ‘Libra’ rosette in the Voynich manuscript. The note hints about the State of the Order Teutonic. Elizabeth of Nuremberg carried the title Queen of the Romans between 1400 and 1410.
I would assign the two crayfish to Poland-Lithuania. The image of a bleeding lady wearing really dark crown on that rosette may be a tribute to Jadwiga of Poland (also known as Saint Hedwig – the woman who carried the official title of King of Poland), who died in 1399 from complications after giving birth.
The dinosaur-like creature is still curling tail on the coat of arms of Moscow.
The Genghis-Khan-like archer probably comes from some part of the Golden Horde. The costume and the bow can be compared to those of Manchu guard.
The gentlemen and the lady who are playing patty-cake in a book that otherwise contain hundreds of naked bodies, probably, come from some place that is really boring. My stereotypes send them to Norway (Noreg).
Perhaps the easiest to recognize is the English lion with Angл written underneath. Not so obvious is France posing as Virgo across the lion. I could almost hear Casanova screaming: Virgin? In Paris? However, more serious look reveals that the author, perhaps, had a romantic view of France and real hatred for England. The sorry look of the lion in the picture (with the tail down between the legs and a red spot on the behind) may be proof that not only love, but hate also lives forever.
The real puzzle is the couple of fish with the note Mars underneath. Who are the Marsians? I have no clue, but the method of my ‘research’ is to come up with association anyway. I give this one to Rome (and surrounding city-states) because Mars was father of Romulus and Remus.
On the illustration is Mars as imagined in Bellifortis. Konrad Kyeser was a crusader, he fought at Nicopolis 1396. He had no problem celebrating Mars while fighting in the name of Jesus.
The fish on the Voynich rosette could be ichthys (common Christian symbol at the time). In this case: what do Jesus and Mars have in common? Well, Virgin Mary was not the first mother of God to get pregnant without any man contributing to the process. Mars’s mother Juno conceived him when goddess Flora rubbed her tummy with a magic flower. Centuries later, Juno is gracing the Great Seal of France. The image was inspiration for the Statue of Liberty. Ironically, even in modern America folks are still worshiping Jesus while also celebrating Juno.
The VMS description provided by the Yale University library says:
… nude females emerging from pipes or chimneys…
I call it ‘the Mario Bros’ bias. Emerging from pipes and chimneys? My own bias (being exposed to Eastern Orthodox iconography) is telling me that the noble ladies are being baptized. This would explain all the rivers and tubs. It also would explain why they are naked.
The Renaissance folks generally considered themselves to be people of faith. Their problem was with dogmatic church policies (not allowing freedom of speech and reasoning).
In short, these women (and few men), are being enlightened.
But who would care about women enlightening in the beginning of 15th century? In 1405 Christine de Pizan published The Book of the City of the Ladies. She had a dream… in which she was visited by Lady Reason…etc. That brings us back to Paris, because for one unleashed feminist, the step between City of Ladies and World of Ladies is a small one.
How active were Christine and her friends at the time. Well, she dedicated la Cité des Dames to a noble woman, whose husband will later become one of the biggest supporters of Jeanne d’Arc. The last known work of De Pizan is a poem eulogizing Joan of Arc. Women enlightenment, hate for England… sounds like a circle of friends whose culture can have something in common with the Voynich manuscript.
Many call Christine de Pizan a French writer, however, under the modern immigration policies she wouldn’t be granted French citizenship, so I call her Venetian, since she was born in Venice. Her father was astrologist and alchemist, which in today’s language would be a ‘rocket scientist working for Big Pharma’. He moved to Paris when Christine was young.
It is widely believed that the Voynich Manuscript was part of the book collection of the English astrologer John Dee. He did travel a lot and reportedly read lectures on algebra at the University of Paris in late 1540s. It is possible for him to have acquired the book there.
The beginning of the 15th century France was a ‘happening’ place. Isabeau of Bavaria and John, Duke of Berry sponsored many manuscripts and art works, including Christine de Pisan’s. Among the fine illustrations created in this art circle is the ‘zodiac man’ where we see another lion not so proud of his tail. Jean be Berry owned serious vase collection that included the oldest known Chinese vase to reach Europe. Venice and Paris were the two centers to produce hard stone vases and other fancy pottery at the time. The ‘vases’ in the Voynich manuscript will be addressed in the next article that will deal with the cipher.
Among the illuminators working at the court of Jean, duc de Berry from the 1390s to the 1410s was Virgil Master. The Louvre and the British Museum own this artist’s finest works. However, it is the Getty Museum in LA, California that displays a couple of charts by Virgil Master (here and here ) that may provide clues about the thinking behind all those circles in the Voynich manuscript.
The Virgil Master charts (dated about 1405) show alphabet being divided along the lines of the zodiac. My Latin is only as good as Google translator, but I would guess that the Virgil Master charts are inspired by Arabic astrology. The little poem on the bottom of the first chart contains the key word ‘Racio’ meaning Reason. The symbolism in the charts may be connected to the spherical Earth scientific view. The Voynich MS was written just few years before Christopher Columbus was born. The European educated elite was already looking for a new way to get to China after the disastrous last Crusade that left the Ottomans able to set the noose around Constantinople.
The Voynich manuscript was probably put together by a group of people dreaming about creating a social network (medieval sorority, sisterhood)among noble educated women across the old world from England all the way to the Mongol lands. Men were already community organizing themselves into knightly orders, so why not the women? It was the beginning of the new century and feeling of new hope must have been in the air.
In the next article I will try to address the cipher.
To be continued…