Today’s first Voynich quote was overhead yesterday by Bill Tozier in an Ann Arbor restaurant (I presume?):-

I’m gonna find some fascist architecture!

Hmmm… might this have been that rarest of things, a Cipher Mysteries reader caught in the wild? Better still, might it have been a CM reader happy to ‘fess up? The comments section is ready and waiting for you here. 🙂

Of course, there has already been a theory linking the Voynich Manuscript with Michigan (for the simple reason that there is a theory linking everything with the VMs, if you’re bothered to look long enough). Specifically, Jan Hurych emailed me back in May about the f116v michiton oladabas page, saying:-

I got it – “mich::” stands for Michigan, apparently where the first sunflower came from 🙂

Today’s last Voynich quote (again from an unknown author) popped up on Google just over a month ago, courtesy of Wisam Mohammed:

Discoveries may excite our blood but mysteries sustain our soul. When we’re strong and arrogant, mysteries remind us how little we know of God’s world. And when we are weak and desperate, they only encourage us to believe that anything is possible.

So… who wrote that, then? 🙂

Jan Hurych has very kindly emailed in a translation of the short piece of text I uncovered relating to the 14th century Prague apothecary Antonio of Florence. With a few minor style tweaks, here it is:-

The restoration of gothic painting in the house U Lilie [“By Lilly”] no. 459/1, Malé náměstí [“The Little Square”] 11.

During the 14th century, this house played host to a number of Italian apothecaries, such as Angelus of Florence who arrived in Prague in 1346. It was he who founded – at Emperor Charles IV’s suggestion – the botanical garden in Jindřišské ulici [“Jindrisska street”] in Prague’s Novém Městě [“New Town”] district, where the main Post Office is located today. In 1353, Angelus (who would later own the neighbouring house) lived at no. 459/1a, today called “Rychtrův dům” [Rychter’s house]. The business was continued by his maternal cousin Matthew of Florence. The first record referring to the house ‘U Lilie’ is from 1402 when it was already called that way and housed Rudolph’s pharmacy [no connection to the Emperor! j.h.] In 14th century the pharmacy was owned by Onofrio of Florence who sold the vineyard “Na Slupi” [“at the pillars”] to the apothecary Antonius of Florence, the owner of the neighbouring house no. 459/I, now part of Rychter’s house – apparently at that time these two houses were connected together.

Because I can tell that you’re simply desperate to see what this looks like from space, here’s a Google Maps link. Isn’t it amazing that we can put such a high-powered geographic database to such trivial uses? And as far as “Na Slupi” goes, Wikipedia’s page on Prague’s New Town says that “The slopes and plateaux east of Na Slupi street and south of the Augustinian convent were merely vineyards and extended green spaces.

Jan is convinced that this is indeed probably the specific alchemical Antonio de Florence we were looking for. He also notes:

In the 14th century, Emperor Charles IV brought many Italians in Bohemia – he knew Italy well, he was fighting there with his father John de Luxemburg, the one who fought Edward at Crecy and died there ( the Black Prince was said to take his coat of arms in his honor as his emblem).

Incidentally, while reading up on 13th and 14th century Bohemia, I stumbled across Wikipedia’s page on King Ottokar II of Bohemia, son of (the arguably more famous) King Wenceslaus. Ottokar II’s bitter (but ultimately successful) rival for the Imperial throne was Rudolph of Habsburg. The two were later commemorated by Dante as being locked in amiable discussion beside the gates to Purgatory. What I found fascinating was that this is presumably also why Rudolph II named his pet lion “Ottakar” – to commemorate the political jousting between (the victorious) Emperor Rudolph I and (the subdued) Bohemian king Ottokar II. Of course, I could be wrong but… this does have a certain ring of truth to it, wouldn’t you say?

Today’s Cipher Mysteries post comes from long-time Voynich researcher Jan Hurych, who very kindly agreed to go through Otakar Zachar’s (1899) monograph on the “Cesta spravedliva v alchymii” (“The True Path of Alchemy”) manuscript by Antonio of Florence dated 1457. Here’s what Jan found…

* * * * * * *

While Otakar Zachar’s name is now generally unknown, he appears to have been connected with various Czech National Museum archivists who he mentions in his book, and so was probably a known historical scholar.

His book is basically a commentary on (and a modern Czech translation of) the manuscript “Cesta spravedliva v alchymii” dated 1457, and which was written in the old Czech medieval language. Though its title translates as “The Right [or righteous, or just, or correct] Way in Alchemy” , it is not about travel 🙂 but rather about the alchemical methods and recipes written therein.

Zachar claims he saw the Czech original (or rather a copy, as explained below) in the National Museum (and which should today be in the National Library): however, becasue I was not able to reach that, I will describe only what is in his book, namely in his conclusion (from p.95 onwards). He also quotes some Latin text taken from Knihovna Národního muzea v Praze MS III H 11 (starting at its page 129r) that relates to this same manuscript, but which dates from around after 1606.

Zachar claims that the book was written by the Czech servant of an Italian alchemist called Antonio di Firenze (Florence) and was then hidden somewhere (in Bohemia?). In 1606 (an interesting date!) it was discovered – a hearsay, Zachar admits – by a doctor of medicine (perhaps Czech?) who recognized its value and brought the book to Jerusalem (apparently personally). After the doctor’s death, the book was hidden again (where, in Jerusalem? Or back in Bohemia?) and then rediscovered. Zachar studied the manuscript for several months and copied its text verbatim for his own book (the original text was written on parchment in black ink, with only its chapter headings in red).

The manuscript describes four methods for making gold:-

  1. A bottle of elixir provides gold in value of 30 marks
  2. A cheaper method, providing only gold “fluviatile”, that cannot stand fire
  3. An improvement on method #1
  4. Since gold above (the result of all three methods) contains sulphur, this method is a new way by which the “Veneris” [note that Venus” is normally the alchemical codeword for “copper”] can be removed

Zachar thinks that #4 is the real secret, and that Antonio and other Italians in Bohemia were looking for a special kind of sulphur, say a “secret sulphur” as it was called in old Czech. Zachar wonders where in Bohemia they were looking… Incidentally, here he calls Antonio “Venezian” (benatcan) so was he from Venice and not from Florence as Zachar said at the beginning? Apparently this was only Zachar’s slight mistake. He also mentioned that “Czech ways” were not as advanced as Italian ones. He noted that some passages in the manuscript were erazed – these passages interested Zachar most, but the erasure was too good for him to read past – he apparently did not have Wilfrid Voynich’s dark room! 🙂

Zachar believes that the Czech manuscript is only a copy of some original – why, he does not say. Also, nothing more is known about Antonio’s servant (who wrote down this manuscript). As for “1457”, that could well be when the original was written, the copy could have been much younger [my comment, j.h.].

So the book – or its history only? – must have been known in the 17th century while the good doctor was still alive, since the book was then in Jerusalem and hidden again after his death.  Of course, all this could have been merely the history of the original manuscript, while what Hanka found in Bohemia was a copy (though exactly when he did was never noted) which may never have travelled to Jerusalem and back again. 🙂

All in all, Zachar’s book does not describe the Voynich Manuscript, but another book entirely. Whether  Antonio himself ever wrote any book, especially the one we now call the VMs – we cannot tell. The Czech manuscript is of course solely concerned with alchemy – no zodiacs, no stars, and no bathing beauties!

* * * * * *

To make things even more complicated, Zachar claims the book reached the National museum via Mr. Vaclav Hanka, who was (in)famous for the discovery of two historical Czech manuscripts (Zelenohorsky, disc. 1817 and Kralodvorsky, 1818). Both of them are today generally considered as fakes, written from nationalistic motives – even though Hanka was an expert on Medieval Czech langauge, he apparently made a number of linguistic mistakes there. 🙂 Zachar confirms he saw the manuscript being first mentioned in 1825 (Jungman’s book History of Czech Literature) but he also quotes some  of the above history, from the copies of some alchemical works dating from the 1600’s. He unfortunately omits to say how he found out (or worked out) that they described exactly the same manuscript. 😮

Hanka himself  lived from 1791 till 1861 and from 1819 onwards he was an archivist in a Czech museum. After his discovery of those two manuscripts, they became the subject of the largely popularized nationalistic “Battle Of The Manuscripts” which lasted right up until the end of the 20th century. The quarrel split the Czech nation (which back then was under the control of the Austrian Empire) into two groups: passionate defenders and passionate rejectors. The battle later subsided and while it never fully stopped, today most people think both manuscripts were just frauds. That is not to say the old “Cesta spravedliva” definitely comes from the workshop of Hanka (and his friend Linda), but the almost-perfect medieval Czech language might just be a gentle giveway…

A big tip of the hat to Rafal Prinke: thanks to a swift reply from him last night, I can now say definitively that “The True Path of Alchemy” is not the VMs (confirming Rene’s suspicion), because both still exist independently. And the romanticized 1904 mention of the former by Henry Carrington Bolton that quickened my historical pulse yesterday with its uncanny resemblance to the VMs was, shall we say, rather less than 100% accurate. All the same, the affair is not completely closed just yet…

The manuscript of “The True Path of Alchemy” currently lives in the National Museum Library in Prague (though it doesn’t appear in any of their online catalogues). The first person to write about it in any detail was Otakar Zachar, whose 112-page 1899 monograph “Mistra Antonia z Florencie Cesta spravedlivá v alchymii” is available online (you can download it as a set of six 20-page PDFs). As an aside, “Otakar” was the name of Rudolph II’s pet lion, whose death in 1612 was (reputedly) seen as a portent of Rudolph’s own death later that year. Just so you know! 🙂

Zachar’s monograph contains (facing p.47) only one rather underwhelming scan of the original manuscript’s text: click on the following cropped & enhanced thumbnail to see a larger version:-

“The True Path of Alchemy” f22v and f23r

Unless I’m hugely mistaken (no laughing at the back), the True Path appears to be written not in Italian or Latin but in Czech / Bohemian in an apparently 15th century hand, with the folio numbering in a standard 16th century hand.

Zachar also includes (facing his page 24) an image of a flask with a crown, which unfortunately appears as a near-black page in the scan (though you can just about resurrect it using fairly heavy image enhancement):-

“The True Path of Alchemy”, flask with a crown

According to note 43 on this webpage, a more up-to-date article on the Ms by V Karpenko appeared in Ambix 37, 61 (1990), which I shall try to read. Karpenko mentions that the ms contains 13 questions for telling whether an alchemist is false. Presumably #1 is: “does he/she claim to be an alchemist?” 🙂

As to attribution, one webpage I found seems to claim that the manuscript was actually written by Jan z Lazu (A.K.A. “Laznioro”, reputedly the first Czech alchemist) [the claim appears here as well]: but as my Czech extends no further than occasional words such as “rukopisu” (manuscript), I couldn’t say whether that relates to authorship, translation, or adaptation. Perhaps my Czech mate Hurychnioro will have a look and tell me how badly I’ve got it wrong. 🙂

I then went hunting for the MS reference in the scans of the National Museum Library’s card index, where Zachar’s book merits five cards (is that five copies? or five cross-references?): the card annotations mention “86 J 121”, “Schiller 294”, and “Zeyer 1977”. However, even though “86 J …” appears to be a plausible-looking shelfmark for the Knihovna národního muzea v Praze, searching for “86 J 121” in the Manuscriptorium returned no hits. Oh well!

Rene Zandbergen also very kindly sent over the GIFs absent from the site: unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any obvious mention of the “True Path” there. Really, to identify any manuscript in the Kunstkammer inventory (whether the True Path or even the Voynich Manuscript!), you’d need to know how it was bound (i.e. whether the cover was red or white leather etc) and what else was bound in with it. Zachar and/or Karpenko may well have included this information, of course, but I’ve yet to get quite that far. 🙁

And so… back to Bolton, where this all started.

If you compare the basic factuality with Bolton’s floridity, I think you’d have to conclude that the two don’t quite gel:-

  • 1475” – should have been 1457 (d’oh!)
  • “beautifully illuminated” – though there are some pictures and illuminated letters, from the poor quality of the handwriting I’d be fairly surprised if they were “beautiful” per se
  • “rare” – given that it’s the only extant copy, perhaps we’ll give Bolton the benefit of the doubt on this one 🙂
  • couched in exceedingly obscure and mystical language” – the jury’s out, as Karpenko seems to gives the impression that the text is a touch more rational than most alchemical texts. All the same, an alchemy text that’s not exceedingly obscure is probably a fake, so perhaps this is just Bolton being tautologous. 🙂
  • “library of Wresowitz” – Rafal Prinke highlights a good-sized 1855 article on Czech alchemy by Ferdinand Mikovec in the periodical “Lumir”, which says that Vaclav Vresovec z Vresovic (d. 1583) bequeathed his library (containing various alchemical mss) to the town council of Mala Strana in Prague. However, even though linking “The True Path” to this collection would be a good guess, I saw no mention at all of Counsellor VVzV in Zachar’s monograph, so I’m a little skeptical…
  • high price” – without any textual source, this may well be another Boltonian ’embellishment’, let’s say. 🙂

Despite my obvious disappointment that the True Path hasn’t turned out to be an early sighting of the Voynich Manuscript, I remain optimistic that it might yet turn out to be linked with Filarete. For example, 1457 is a perfect match for when the Florentine claimed to have been collecting and writing his little books of secrets in his (ample) spare time. It may well be that nobody to date has thought to examine “The True Path of Alchemy” specifically with a Filarete hypothesis in mind – might there be some textual ‘tell’ hidden in there? There’s only one way to find out…

Finally, Zachar includes (pp.91-95) a decent chunk of Latin taken from Knihovna Národního muzea v Praze MS III H 11 that relates to this manuscript. Thanks to the online magic of Manuscriptorium, I can see that these Observationes quaedam circa suprascriptum processum Bohemicum appear on pages 129r to 153r, and that they were written at the beginning of the 17th century (the text specifically mentions “1606”). Later on I’ll ask Philip Neal if there’s anything hugely interesting there – though the chances are quite small, you never know until you look!

Following up the recent post here on Tycho Brahe’s moustache, Jan Hurych emails in to point out that a team of Czech researchers has also been forensically analyzing Brahe’s handkerchief. Disturbingly, their interim results indicate that he may have been addicted to Brasso.

(OK, OK, so it’s a joke: but as it made me laugh, onto the blog it goes.)

For more on Brahe’s silver/gold (or very probably copper) nose and the adhesive gunk he used to stick it to his duel-scarred face, here are links to a short 2004 article from the Annals of Improbable Research and to an entertaining (though not entirely reliable) 1998 Q&A from the Straight Dope.

(Incidentally, the first handkerchief was used in Europe in 1503, according to this timeline: while Brasso first went on sale in Australia circa 1904. Brand-wise, “Silvo” would have been more accurate, but less funny. Oh, suit yourself.)

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. 🙂

I recently posted about Rudolf’s physician before Jacobus de Tepenecz [Sinapius], Tadeáš Hájek z Hájku: and wondered aloud whether he might have bought / owned / sold / annotated the Voynich Manuscript. It’s a good question: the f17r marginalia seems to have been emended to read “mattioli…” (I believe it originally began “melhor”), and Hájek famously translated Mattioli’s Herbal.

The first step would be to find some of Hájek’s handwriting: with the help of Jan Hurych, I soon found the Manuscriptorium, which is a kind of uber-catalogue of Czech manuscripts. Searching for Hájku yielded 14 unique references, most of which are “Minucý a Pranostika” (i.e. tables and weather predictions) from different years, and which seem likely to be small printed pamphlets (and so probably of no practical use to us here).

However, there are four other documents which might have his handwriting (listed below, each with repository and shelfmark, if anyone happens to be in Prague or Zwickau and wants a challenge, as well as Jan’s brief translation of the start of the title). I’ve asked the manuscript librarians whether Hájek himself is thought to have written any/all of these, and hopefully will get an answer relatively soon…

  • Královská kanonie premonstrátů na Strahově, Praha – Kodex Dobřenského, opus 344.
    1574 “Tabule dlauhosti Dne…” – The table of day’s and night’s lengths
  • Národní knihovna České republiky – 54 S 91 neúpl.
    1560 “Wayklad Proroctwij …” – Explanation of Turkish prophecy…
  • Knihovna národního muzea v Praze – 28 E 1O
    1556 “Wypsanij s Wyznamenánijm gedné y druhé Kométy” – The description and explanation of both comets…
  • Zwickau Ratschulbibliothek – 4, 10, 39, přív.
    1580 “O některých předesslých znamenjch Nebeských” – About some heavenly signs in the past . . .

As a nice coincidence, I’m in the middle of reading Owen Gingerich’s delightful bibliophilic road-trip book “The Book Nobody Read” and who should pop up on p.172 and p.178 but “Thaddeus Hagecius” (i.e. “Tadeáš Hájek” in Latin). According to a marginal note by Johannes Praetorius in the back of the Beinecke Library’s copy of Copernicus’ “De Revolutionibus” (the historiographic subject of Gingerich’s book), Paul Wittich had passed a “terse list of three errors” in the book on to Hájek. The same list of errors appears in a copy in Debrecen, and in a copy in Edinburgh.

And so Gingerich throws the idea that this particular Edinburgh copy may perhaps have been owned by Hájek up in the air. But all the same, it’s only a speculation. Still, I’ll ask him if he ever went looking for marginal handwriting by Hájek, you never know…

…but now I’ve thought of searching Google for “Thaddeus Hagecius” (*d’oh!*), I find that there is a pile of correspondence between Tycho Brahe and Hájek (and a good-sized 2002 article on it here).

And according to this Czech page, the Prague-based Society for the History of Sciences (“DVT” = dějiny věd a techniky) published in 2000 “the first volume of the Czech monographic series Works on History of Technique and Natural Sciences dedicated to significant Renaissance scholar Thaddeus Hagecius (Tadeáš Hájek z Hájku)” (it was the 500th anniversary of his death that year). It seems to be called “Práce z dějin technika a přírodních věd 1“, Praha 2000, 180 str: it’s not immediately obvious how you’d buy a copy, though… (I’ll ask Jan Hurych).

And there’s also a 2004 article about his astronomy in this German book.

That’s often the way with research: find just the right key, and zero research leads suddenly turns into ten…

My fellow Voynich old-timer Jan Hurych has long been interested in various Prague-linked research strands: after all, Prague was home to the first three properly-documented owners of the Voynich Manuscript (Jacobus de Tepenecz, Georg Baresch, and Johannes Marcus Marci), as well as its most illustrious claimed owner (Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II).

It is certainly true that Rudolf’s interests and obsessions acted as a powerful magnet to draw wonders from all over Europe to his court. Yet given that the claimed link with John Dee and Edward Kelley is gossamer-thin, it is no less sensible to wonder whether the VMs had been brought to Prague by someone from the town: perhaps someone well-travelled?

I mentioned Rudolf II’s manuscript-collecting astronomer / astrologer / herbalist / physician Tadeás Hájek here recently (who studied in Italy), but Jan Hurych regales me with tales of several others: for one, Hájek’s father (Simon Baccalareus) studied alchemy and collected manuscripts… though what happened to his library after his death is not currently known.

Jan has put together a nice page on one of his favourite Renaissance Czech travelling knights, Krystof Harant de Polzic and Bezdruzic, and his travels from Venice to Crete to Cyprus to the Holy Land to Egypt (etc). But I have to say that if a writer had picked up an intriguing cipher manuscript on their travels, it would be one of the first things they would write about: yet there is no mention. So we can probably rule Harant out, sorry Jan. 🙁

But Jan brings up a rather more full-on Czech Voynich theory, courtesy of Karel Dudek’s Czech webpage (though I used Google Translate, Dudek also put up his own English translation here). Dudek discusses Georg Handsch of Limuz (1529-1578), whose 1563 German translation of Mattioli’s Latin herbal came out a year after Tadeás Hájek’s Czech translation (it even used the same nice woodcuts!) Like Hájek, Handsch was a physician living in Prague, but whose main client was instead Ferdinand II Tyrolský (1529-1595) and his wealthy wife Filipina Welserová (1527-1580).

Dudek got his information from Leopold Selfender’s “Handsch Georg von Limuz – Lebensbild a Arztes aus dem XVI.Jahrenhunderts”: but after a bit of a false start (linking Handsch directly to Baresch, which I doubt would convince anyone), he proposes a possible chain of ownership from Handsch -> Welserová -> Ferdinand II Tyrolský -> Rudolph II -> Jacobus de Tepenecz, before Tepenecz’s estate got looted in the chaos of 1618 and the manuscript somehow ended up with Baresch (with the signature erased).

OK… but why Handsch? Dudek points to the VMs’ botany, and Handsch’s translation of Matthioli’s herbal (though I’d have to say that Hájek fits that bill even better). Dudek also discusses a book by Handsch based on his trips to visit medicinal baths and spas in 1571 called “Die Elbfischerei in Bohmen und Meissen” (eventually published in Prague in 1933), and sees parallels with the VMs’ water section there.

But Dudek gets even more speculative, talking about whether Bartoloměj Welser was financed by Charles V to undertake a (possibly Lutheran?) mission to South America, and drew pictures inspired by exotic plants he saw beside the Orinoco (hey, I thought he was a Womble?)

It’s a good story, but a little lacking in connection to the VMs: and doesn’t really explain why we see (for example) 15th century handwriting in the quire numbers, or even the Occitan-like month names on the zodiac, etc. Perhaps we should really admit that looking for an origin for the VMs in Prague may be a little too hopeful, not dissimilar to the way 19th century German historians’ looked to see if Nicholas of Cusa might secretly have been some kind of Teutonic Leonardo. Nice try… but no cigar.

Here’s a little piece of Voynichiana pinging on the edges of the VMs research radar, concerning Tadeáš Hájek z Hájku (1525-1600), who I thought had not to date been speculatively linked with the VMs. It came from the text accompanying the “Earth and Sky: Astronomy and Geography at the University between the 15th and the 18th centuries” exhibition at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest in 2005, but also (mostly) reappears in the Wikipedia page. (Which came first? I don’t know!)

Why flag Hájek at all? Jan Hurych once put up a page on him on his Hurontaria site, but (I thought) only as a piece of background research data. It’s true that as personal physician to Maximilian I (in Vienna) and to Rudolf II (mainly in Prague), Hájek would have vetted or commented on anything alchemical, astronomical, astrological or medical entering the Imperial Court prior to 1600. But might there be more to it?

If (as I do) you see a Northern Italian art history link in the VMs’ drawings, then Hájek’s Prague-Bologna-Milan-Prague travels probably jumps out at you too: so, please go on…

In the words of The Joker, “I like him already“. But, errrrm, what about the VMs, then?

[…]Hájek eagerly collected manuscripts, especially those by Copernicus, and may have been the one to convince Rudolf II to procure the infamous Voynich manuscript. […] Throughout his life he also published numerous astrological prognostics in Czech and that is why he was until recently viewed as an „occultist” rather than a great scientist.

I think we can safely say that, apart from the absence of any actual evidence, Hájek is a great candidate manuscript carrier to add to the Voynich story, far better than Dee and Kelley. And what would make it even more poignant is that the pair of them visited Hájek’s house in Prague, which was (according to a fascinating 1999 post on by Michael Pober) “‘by Bethlem’, first mentioned in “A True and Faithful Relation’ p. 212, Prague 1584, 15th August.

Might Hájek have owned the VMs, perhaps buying it during his time in Italy? It would be interesting to see his handwriting and marginalia commentary style, just in case there’s some kind of unexpected link between that and what we see in the VMs. I’ve asked Jan Hurych, but he hasn’t examined Hájek’s handwriting: so I’ll have to pursue this with the Czech libraries myself (more on that soon).

Given that Hájek translated Mattioli’s famous herbal into Czech, it is certainly interesting that the marginalia at the top of f17r appears to have been miscorrected to read “mattior”. I had always guessed that it was George Baresch who had done this – but perhaps it might have been Hájek instead? Something to think about, anyway…

“Hájek was in frequent scientific correspondence with the recognized astronomer Tycho and played an important role in persuading Rudolf II to invite Brahe (and later Kepler) to Prague. His voluminous writings in Latin were mostly concerned with astronomy and many regarded him as the greatest astronomer of his time.”


“In 1554 he studied medicine in Bologna and went to Milan the same year to listen to lectures by Girolamo Cardano, but he soon returned to Prague, where he became a professor of mathematics at the Charles University of Prague in 1555.”