Well, here’s a thing. The Thirteenth Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference, to be held in a month’s time at Merton College (31st March 2017 to 1st April 2017) on the theme of “Time : Aspects and Approaches”, has a Voynich-themed paper in its Manuscripts and Archives session on the second day (11:30am to 1:00pm).

This is “Asphalt and Bitumen, Sodom and Gomorrah: Placing Yale’s Voynich Manuscript on the Herbal Timeline“, presented by Alexandra Marraccini of the University of Chicago. The description runs like this:

Yale Beinecke MS 408, colloquially known as the Voynich manuscript, is largely untouched by modern manuscript scholars. Written in an unreadable cipher or language, and of Italianate origin, but also dated to Rudolphine court circles, the manuscript is often treated as a scholarly pariah. This paper attempts to give the Voynich manuscript context for serious iconographic debate using a case study of Salernian and Pseudo- Apuleian herbals and their stemmae. Treating images of the flattened cities of Sodom and Gommorah from Vatican Chig. F VII 158, BL Sloane 4016, and several other exempla from the Bodleian and beyond, this essays situates the Voynich iconography, both in otherwise unidentified foldouts and in the manuscript’s explicitly plant-based portion, within the tradition of Northern Italian herbals of the 14th-15th centuries, which also had strong alchemical and astrological ties. In anchoring the Voynich images to the dateable and traceable herbal manuscript timeline, this paper attempts to re-situate the manuscript as approachable in a truly scholarly context, and to re-characterise it, no longer as an ahistorical artefact, but as an object rooted in a pictorial tradition tied to a particular place and time.

BL Sloane 4016 is a similar-looking herbal that Voynich researchers know well. Most famously, Alan Touwaide wrote a 500-page scholarly commentary on it (as mentioned in Rene’s summary of Touwaide’s chapter in the recent Yale facsimile). It dates to the 1440s in Lombardy, and even has a frog (‘rana’) on folio 81:

Marracini herself is an art historian who previously graduated from Yale, and who has an almost impossibly perfect set of research interests:

Her research focuses on Late Medieval and Early Modern scientific images, particularly alchemical and medical material, in England, Scotland, Germany, and the Netherlands. Her interests in the field also include book history and manuscript studies, Late Antique material culture, and the historiography of art, particularly in Warburgian contexts. Currently, she is writing on the history of Hermetic-scientific images and diagrams, and her work on Elias Ashmole’s copies of the Ripley Scrolls is forthcoming in the journal Abraxas.

All of which looks almost too good to be true. It’s just a shame her presentation falls on April Fool’s Day, so we’re bound to have people claiming that she doesn’t really exist and it’s all a conspiracy etc. 😉

18 thoughts on “A Voynich presentation at Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference 2017…

  1. That’s very interesting news.

    Thanks Nick!

  2. Rene: I will (of course) try to attend…

  3. For me this is unfortunately not an option.

  4. bdid1dr on March 1, 2017 at 10:17 pm said:

    @Nick, Rene, & Ms Marracini:

    You will all be so far off-track, so to speak: May I once again contradict your references to B-408’s contents being of Italian Origin ? May I refer you to a Spanish Priest who wrote the Florentine Codex? He was born in 1499 in a small village of Sahagun; not too far from Salamanca . His ‘birthday presents were blank parchment scrolls for his education at Salamanca University, De Leon Province, SPAIN.
    I do appreciate and admire the depth of learning/reading she has experienced. I hope she will be able to compare the contents of the so-called “Voynich” manuscript with the contents of the Florentine Codex/some 15 ‘books’ .
    If she has Adobe Acrobat Reader, she should be able enjoy the matching the contents of the Voynich with Fray Sahagun’s “Florentine” Manuscript” which floated around several ‘privately’ owned’ libraries of very wealthy ‘ patrons of the arts’.

  5. bdid1dr on March 1, 2017 at 11:01 pm said:


    A good friend of mine came back home from a year @ Oxford. Her reply, when I asked her how things were at Oxford : Cold. The people were cold. The teachers/professors were cold. Other students were cold. The museums were cold……..So I finally asked if she would like a hug from me. It turned out that I got the hug from her: Early was nearly 5 feet-7inches tall. She was first greeted by the by teen-age boys she had been tutoring. They knew better than to try to hug her. They did help her get her coffee shop back in action. As soon as she re-opened the door for the public, there was a line of 12-15 people waiting for a cuppa and a hug.

  6. I do so hope this is not fake news …

  7. Peter on March 2, 2017 at 8:31 am said:

    Here is a little video about the world of VM plants.
    The intersection of all plants lies south of the Alps.
    Explanatory text is not necessary, since simply … let flowers speak.


  8. Helmut Winkler on March 2, 2017 at 9:08 am said:

    Wel, it is stemmata, not stemmae, and that is all you have to know …

  9. Ellie Velinska on March 2, 2017 at 9:10 pm said:

    You take the essays from the Yale book, add some asphalt and bitumen and you have with enough academic mish-mash for a presentation on April 1 🙂

  10. bdid1dr on March 2, 2017 at 10:01 pm said:

    And we have a single berry largely illustrated in B-408 ; The mulberry tree, which leaves were devoured by the silkworm prior to her spinning herself into a cocoon. The mulberry tree, itself, was quite valuable as a source of paper/papyrus. So, next time you buy or wear a silk garment, remember the silkworm — and the process of making silk thread. Then remember how long ago garments were made of pure silk.
    Oh yes, mulberries are quite edible when fully ripe.

  11. bdid1dr on March 2, 2017 at 10:35 pm said:

    ‘llo lle” !!

    ’nuff sed? Or mayb I ave outdone myself (haranguing?)

    I mean well! I luv a good mstry !

    ciao !


  12. Nikolaj on March 3, 2017 at 5:57 pm said:

    Good day!
    My name is Nikolai.
    To a question about the key to the Voynich manuscript.
    Today, I have to add on this matter following.
    The manuscript was written no letters, and signs for the letters of the alphabet of one of the ancient languages. Moreover, in the text there are 2 more levels of encryption to virtually eliminate the possibility of computer-assisted translation, even after replacing the signs letters.
    I pick up the key by which the first section I was able to read the following words: hemp, hemp clothing; food, food (sheet of 20 numbering on the Internet); cleaned (intestines), knowledge may wish to drink a sugary drink (nectar), maturation (maturity), to consider, to think (sheet 107); drink; six; flourishing; growing; rich; peas; sweet drink nectar and others. It is only a short word, mark 2-3. To translate words consisting of more than 2.3 characters is necessary to know this ancient language.
    If you are interested, I am ready to send more detailed information, including scans of pages indicating the translated words.
    Sincerely, Nikolai.

  13. Azbo on March 4, 2017 at 7:11 am said:

    i live very far to attend the conference if it is for public . anyway there is new things coming soon for this conference or any other conference since this March we are going to open the Voynich Gate to everyone . good luck guys .

  14. Mark Knowles on April 1, 2017 at 4:17 pm said:

    Well, I went to the talk. It was interesting and Alexandra was very nice. I can understand if other people found it hard to get to; I live a 5-10 minute walk away from where it was held. There was one other Voynich enthusiast there and free food!

  15. Mark: unfortunately my plans changed at the last minute and I wasn’t able to get along to it. 🙁 I’ll see if she has any slides or summaries she’s planning to share.

  16. Mark Knowles on April 1, 2017 at 5:07 pm said:

    I got the strong impression that she was keen not to make her work available until her paper is published. She is attached to Corpus Christi college in Oxford and very approachable, so maybe you can email her.

  17. Mark: I’ll drop her an email, see where it leads.

    As far as her talk itself went, was it pretty much as described in the summary?

  18. Mark Knowles on April 2, 2017 at 5:33 pm said:

    Yes. It was as described in the summary. I like the fact that I felt she was approaching it in a way that we don’t, especially after having spoken with her. Although she didn’t say this explicitly I think her approach was to completely ignore the cipher text, almost as if it was a manuscript without text at all, and then look at in the context of other medieval manuscripts. Whilst the cipher text is of crucial importance to us I think her approach has real value. Her approach also is way of bringing the text into the realm of mainstream medievalist academics, so hopefully bridging the gap between the Voynich enthusiasts, which is how I classify us, and specialists in medieval manuscripts.

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