Back in May this year, I suggested to my friend Philip Neal that a really useful Voynich research thing he could do would be to translate the passages relating to Jacobus Tepenecz (Sinapius) that Jorge Stolfi once copied from Schmidl’s (1754) Historiæ Societatis Jesu Provinciæ Bohemiæ (though Stolfi omitted to the section III 75 concerning Melnik) from Latin. The documentation around Sinapius is sketchy (to say the the least), yet he is arguably the earliest physically-confirmed owner of the Voynich Manuscript (even if Jan Hurych does suspect his signature might be a fake): and Schmidl’s “historical” account of the Jesuits in Prague is the main source of information we have on this Imperial Distiller.

So today, it was a delightful surprise to receive an email from Philip, pointing me at his spiffy new translations of all the primary 17th & 18th century Latin sources relating to the Voynich Manuscript – not just the passages from Schmidl, but also the Baresch, Marci and Kinner letters to Athanasius Kircher (the ones which Rene Zandbergen famously helped to uncover).

Just as I hoped, I learned plenty of new stuff from Philip’s translation of Schmidl: for example, that Sinapius was such a devout Catholic and supporter of the Jesuits in Prague that he even published his own Catholic Confession book in 1609 – though no copy has yet surfaced of this, it may well be that nobody has thought to look for it in religious libraries (it’s apparently not in WorldCat, for example). (Of course, the odds are that it will say nothing useful, but it would be interesting to see it nonetheless.) Sinapius was also buried in a marble tomb “next to the altar of the Annunciation” in Prague, which I presume is in the magnificent Church of Our Lady before Tyn where Tycho Brahe was buried in that same decade.

Interestingly, rather than try to produce the most technically accurate translation, Philip has tried to render both the text and the tone of each letter / passage within modern English usage, while removing all his technical translation notes to separate webpages. I think this was both a bold and a good decision, and found his notes just as fascinating as the translations themselves – but I suppose I would, wouldn’t I?

One thing Philip wasn’t aware of (which deserves mentioning independently) is Kircher’s “heliotrope”, mentioned in Marci’s 1640 letter to Kircher. The marvellous “heliotropic plant” which Kircher claimed to have swapped with an Arabic merchant in Marseille “for a watch so small that it was contained within a ring” (“Athanasius Kircher: The Last Man Who Knew Everything”, Paula Findlen (2004), p.13) was the talk of the day: this was a nightshade whose seeds allegedly “followed the motions of the sun when affixed to a cork bobbing in water”, in a kind of magnet-like way. This seems to have occupied the letters of natural philosophers even more than Galileo’s trial (from the same period). Yet to this day, nobody knows if Kircher was conning everyone with this heliotrope, or if he had been conned by someone else (but was perhaps unable to admit it to himself).

Then again, Kircher’s inclusion of the “cat piano” in his Musurgia Universalis might be a bit of a giveaway that he was a sucker for a tall tail tale. 🙂

5 thoughts on “New translations…

  1. Rene Zandbergen on October 19, 2008 at 10:56 am said:

    Philip has indeed done us all a great service.
    I’d like to point out, that the important Kinner letter was actually found by someone else. I think it may have been Jorge Stolfi but I am not sure.

    I have seen a copy of Jacobus’ book. The really interesting part of it is that it includes his autobiography in Czech. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of that (yet). When one reads the existing biographies of Jacobus, one can, however, easily imagine that they are based on an autombiography. Also, details of his life after 1609 are sketchy, and his imprisonment and later exchange for Jessenius are completely missing. There are still more sources for him, which hopefully will become available in the near future.

  2. Rene Zandbergen on October 19, 2008 at 1:41 pm said:

    One thing I overlooked before…
    Jacobus was actually buried in the St.Salvator church, which is part of the Clemantinum complex and faces the Charles bridge. This is the same church where Marci was later buried, and a number of other Jesuits (Arriaga, and Balbin IIRC).

  3. Jan Hurych on May 27, 2009 at 11:14 am said:

    Nick,
    I never said the Horczicky’s siganture is a fake, just that it is not a his siganture. His name was there written by somebody else, as I docuemtnt in my study
    http://hurontaria.baf.cz/CVM/a18.htm

  4. Hi Jan,

    Having spent ages image-enhancing the Tepenec signature on f1r, I’m pretty sure that we’re using the wrong kind of scan to try to read it. 🙂

    On the bright side, though, it seems very likely to me that the documentary currently being made would have asked for a much clearer scan of this, given that it appears to be the earliest non-hearsay ownership / provenance information visible in the VMs. So hopefully a little more patience on our parts will be rewarded. 🙂

    Cheers, ….Nick Pelling….

  5. Diane O'Donovan on March 20, 2012 at 2:29 pm said:

    I guess he took developed the name helio-trope from the supposed movement of those seeds. What surprises me more is that he didn’t liken it instead to the sunflower – since we’re in the seventeenth century. Or did he? Does he himself ever say that it looks like one of the nightshades? I’m really interested in this one, Nick if you can be bothered answering a question about so old a post.

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