Of course, the minute I post about Voynich talks, several more suddenly pop up. 🙂

The ‘Heaven Astrolabe’ blogger (Margherita Fiorello) gave a nicely-meandering (but picture-heavy) description of wandering across Rome to see a talk on the Voynich Manuscript, held on the 23rd June 2009 at the Libreria Aseq esoteric bookshop (a bit like an upmarket Italian version of Treadwells, if you like). The occasion (“L’Enigma del Manoscritto Voynich – Il più grande mistero di tutti i tempi“) was prompted by the release of the Italian edition of Marcelo Dos Santos’ book (he’s Argentinian, just so you know), and consisted of discussion by Stefano Verdini (who researches things “beyond reality”) and Rome-based Japanese medievalist (and Voynich fan) Yoshi Ohashi, who also brought along some of his artworks to display (I think).

And then I found another recent talk, this time called “Voynich: il libro che nessuno sa leggere” from 15th April 2009 at the even more evocative location of the Villa Mondragone (yes, really!) Of the two people at the front table, presumably one is a PR lady from Edizioni Mediterranee and the other (with his thumbs superglued to his chin, if you like early Steve Martin films) Marcelo Dos Santos himself.

What is acutely ironic, of course, is that if my whole Filarete-as-author-of-the-VMs theory is correct, then the VMs started its life in Rome. But I doubt that got mentioned at either talk, right?

Incidentally, in “The Curse of the Voynich”, I allocated a paltry 13 pages to the history of the Voynich Manuscript – and even that was a bit excessive. Yet the whole history-of-a-mystery angle is all that journalistic angles on the VMs (particularly Kennedy & Churchill’s book, and Marcelo Dos Santos’ book to a lesser degree) tend to focus on. Yet the actual problem of the VMs is not one of provenance – because it doesn’t really have one, sorry René! – but rather one of intellectual history. That is, why don’t any of the myriad of details fit together, either individually or when taken as a whole?

I suppose I’ve now become hungry for an entirely different type of public discussion – what I term “broadcast-only” lectures don’t really work for me any more. I’m also hugely tired of people repeatedly trotting out the wrong answers (such as “alchemy” or “conspiracy”) to the wrong questions (“what secrets might the VMs contain?”). Technically, what Annales historians call the “problématique” – the linked set of questions people use to define a research area – is massively ill-defined in the case of the VMs. Basically, if Claude Lévi-Strauss is correct in asserting that “the scholar is not he who gives the right answers, but he who asks the right questions“, I think I can honestly say that there are precious few genuine Voynich scholars out there – and we are all the worse for that scarcity.

8 thoughts on “Italian Voynich talks…

  1. Rene Zandbergen on June 30, 2009 at 2:24 pm said:

    Some people imagine having a Voynich meeting in the Mondragone, and others just go and
    do it. Good for Marcelo dos Santos! (Respect).

    A pity I don’t live anywhere near it 🙁
    (Also a pity I didn’t find out about it beforehand…)

  2. Rene Zandbergen on July 1, 2009 at 7:15 am said:

    On: “why don’t any of the myriad of details fit together, either individually or when taken
    as a whole?” I have a slightly different view. For me, there are essentially two grand mysteries
    in the VMs, that is, two things that just don’t fit.

    These are:
    1) the cipher does not fit anywhere historically
    2) the herbal drawings don’t fit anywhere

    All other ‘myriad of details that don’t fit’ are secondary to me, and not such big mysteries.

    For (1), I would accept that we are just looking in the wrong direction, but for (2), the tempting
    explanation would be that someone did something truly original at a time when everyone was doing
    something else, and it wasn’t followed by anyone.

    (And I still think that the MS has a provenance 😀 )

    Cheers, Rene

  3. Dennis on July 1, 2009 at 7:42 am said:

    Hi René! On your

    1) the cipher doesn’t fit anywhere historically,

    Nick has given a fairly good answer: a combination of the substitution and transposition ciphers available in his time frame.

    As to 2) I tend to agree with you. Or you could call it outsider art.


  4. What I meant by the “myriad of [non-fitting] details” was the way that apparently every aspect of it you can mention (such as the drawings, the handwriting, the nymphs, the astronomy, the astrology, even the marginalia) only tangentially touches existing art historical topics. In fact, one might usefully say that the VMs seems to have been constructed orthogonally to the multiple streams recognized by art historians – which is why it so resembles outsider art.

  5. Diane on April 8, 2013 at 1:56 pm said:

    Levi-Strauss’ comment I like.

    But I thought you didn’t agree with question-driven research, Nick? I daresay the ennui of Voynich research with its constantly iterating loop of the same (wrong) questions might turn anyone off – even L-S himself – in time.

  6. Diane: it is a nice quotation, yes – but of course it’s only half the story. I suspect the Annales historians became so fixated on posing just the right question (i.e. the “problematique”) that they came to see actually finding an answer as merely mechanical drudgery, quite beneath them.

    So the answer to your question 🙂 is that to make progress, you need (in my opinion) both to ask questions and to answer them. The clever bit is that these two activities need not be carried out by the same person at the same time! 🙂

  7. Diane on April 8, 2013 at 3:38 pm said:

    True – but then again if that annoying greek chap who kept posing basic questions to other people had just stuck to working the answers out for himself he mightn’t have ended up so dead quite so early.

    Or would he?

  8. Diane: no point asking me, I only know that I know nothing. 🙂

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