Thanks to Cipher Mysteries commenter ‘p’ (in response to my request for the article), I’ve just read Beaune and Lequain’s (2007) “Marie de Berry et les livres” from sci-hub.io (a
vastly useful academic web-site I wasn’t previously acquainted with). This really helped me fill a lot of gaps from the numerous fragmentary accounts I’d read of Marie de Berry’s books in the last few days.
As a side-note: one 15th century library inventory Beaune and Lequain pointed to was detailed in A. de Boislisle, “Inventaire des bijoux, vetements, manuscrits et objets precieux appartenant a la comtesse de Montpensier, 1474“, Annuaire-bulletin de la société de l’histoire de France, 1880, t. 17, p. 269-309. This is available in archive.org or (if you have an account) JSTOR. However, when I went through all the books listed (starting on p.297), I didn’t see anything by Oresme (or indeed any mention of an unreadable book full of plants and small naked women 😉 ), so this seems a dead end for us.
Finally: an interesting book also mentioned that might have more meat to add to the bones is M-P. Laffitte, “Les ducs de Bourbon et leurs livres d’apres les inventaires”, Le Duché de Bourbon des origines au Connétable, Saint-Pourcain, Bleu autour, 2001, p. 169-179, though it has to be said that this looks to be more focused on the sixteenth century. (So I’ll come back to that at a later date.)
I’ve also been reading up about Nicole Oresme in Volume III (Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries) of Lynn Thorndike’s “History of Magic & Experimental Science” and elsewhere: from this, I suspect that there’s a lot more going on in the inverted T-O map than you might at first think.
On the surface, it might seem as though Oresme’s book Du Ciel Et Du Monde is little more than a translation into French of Aristotle’s De Caelo. (Note that the English version of it is “Le livre du ciel et du monde” Edited by A. D. Menut and A. J. Denomy, C.S.B. Translated with an introduction by A. D. Menut. Madison, Milwaukee, and London: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968 – though note that this was originally written in 1943.)
However, the notion is that this is merely a translation couldn’t be further from the truth: even though this is perhaps how the book started out, Oresme’s commentary notes interspersed throughout his translation were very often critical of Aristotle’s ideas, theories and conclusions about the heavens. So in fact, Oresme was mixing together Ancient Greek thought with cutting edge cosmology.
For example, Oresme (according to the article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy), “brilliantly argues against any proof of the Aristotelian theory of a stationary Earth and a rotating sphere of the fixed stars” (though in the end he wimps out “by affirming his belief in a stationary Earth”). “Similarly, Oresme proves the possibility of a plurality of worlds, but ultimately keeps to the Aristotelian tenet of a single cosmos.” (Both discussions taken from Clagett, M., 1974, “Oresme, Nicole,” in Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Vol. X, Ch. C. Gillispie (ed.), New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.)
Many of Oresme’s ideas, comments, and insights were entirely original to him: and there was more than a hint of (dare I even say the word without being flamed by all and sundry?) tentative heresy to the direction many of them were clearly heading in. The medieval syncretism awkwardly linking Aristotle’s worldview with a Christian mindset was full of contradictions and unresolved problems, to which Oresme’s eyes were clearly wide open: his commentary lays many of these bare. Modern history of science commentators make no bones about linking Oresme’s thoughts to the genesis of Copernicus’s ideas: for, really, the similarities are there for all to see.
I personally would therefore be entirely unsurprised if Oresme’s troublesome late fourteenth century thoughts on the heavens were to have diffused their way into one or more early fifteenth century books of secrets. And – thinking across to the inverted T-O map where this thread began – if these thoughts subsequently prove to have been hidden in the middle of the Voynich Manuscript’s astronomical pages, should anyone really be hugely surprised?
What is intriguing is that this – if correct – would seem to extend the range of the concept of “secrets” beyond the traditional kinds of “trade secrets” (herbal recipes, eBay selling hacks, regexp tricks, etc) or occult secrets (necromancy, spells, incantations, amulets, etc) to something far closer to Natural Magic, meteorological or even philosophical secrets. But then again, the Voynich has all those astronomical pages, so what else might they be?
It has recently become fashionable to talk about people’s “digital footprint”, that pale shadow of their actions (and their reputation, and indeed their mythology) cast over the virtual world of social media. Back in the fifteenth century, what was Oresme’s footprint? Specifically, how were his commentaries received and diffused?
I haven’t yet read Menut’s introduction to the 1968 edition of Du Ciel Et Du Monde, which would surely be the first place to start (though once again, it’s not exactly a cheap read.) Incidentally, here’s the Duc de Berry’s ex libris (fol. 171v of Du Ciel Et Du Monde) from MS Francais 565:
But from what is available on the web of Menut and Denomy’s work, we can see that there are (at least) six copies of Du Ciel Et Du Monde out there:
A. Bibl. Nat., Ms. Franc. 1082, ff. 1a-209c.
B. Bibl. Nat., Ms. Franc. 565, ff. 23a-171d.
C. Bern. Bibl. Bongarsiana, Ms. 310, ff. 28a-152d.
D. Bibl. Nat., Ms. Franc. 1083, ff. 1a-125b.
E. Bibl. Nat., Ms. Franc. 24278, ff. 1a-146a. [Description]
F. Bibl. de la Sorbonne, Ms. 571, ff. 1a-146a
Of course, we have so far been concerning ourselves with Ms. Franc. 565, but what of the illustrations in the other five? The earliest copy is Ms. Franc. 1082 (1370-1380), from which all the others presumably derived. Incidentally, the inverted T-O map near the front of Ms 1082 looks like this:
However, a quick check of e-codices for C would seem to reveal that Bern Burgerbibliothek Cod. 310 has not yet been made available in digital form; Ms. Franc. 1083 and 24278 are not obviously visible; while the Sorbonne copy would (from the images online) only seem to have elaborate section initial capital letters. So I’m really not sure where to take this next. 🙁
Incidentally, I did find a pretty good Nicole Oresme bibliography online, which pointed me to Gathercole, Patricia M., “Illuminations in the manuscripts of Nicole Oresme in Paris, Bibliothèque nationale“, Manuscripta, 16, 1972, p. 40-47. But (sadly) Gathercole only mentions the 565 and 1082 inverted T-O maps (p.43).
However, that same bibliography contains a mini-bibliography specifically on Du Ciel Et Du Monde, which has plenty for me to be looking at next.
All the same, I wonder if what we should be looking for is not copies or translations of Oresme’s work, but Fifteenth Century summaries of it by other writers, however brief (and in whatever language). Perhaps this is the kind of document that will ultimately yield us our our “block paradigm” known plaintext to work with, who can tell?