Time for a new paradigm, time for a new theme.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
today I have to suggest the possible (note the question mark in the title) break of dawn of a new era of Voynichology.
Rich SantaColoma has won me over. While I wouldn’t bet my life on it, I currently think the scenario he lately suggested is the most plausible: The VM is a “late fake”*) by Voynich himself, written on aged vellum, made to look like a “lost Bacon” book, with illustrations to prove Bacon’s advanced scientific knowledge, mixed with some outlandish esoterisms.
I know, there are lots of things speaking against this, and Rich’s theory is not free of contradictions, most notably the fact that the “early” history of the VM seems to be documented in the 17th century. But, let’s face it, right now there is no theory available without lots of gaps in it, and the image comparisons Rich has dug up (both of the microscopes and the microscopic objects) simply are too good and too many to be simply dismissed as coincidences. But if we accept them, the “late hoax” scenario seems to be the only possibility.
What actually made me change my mind was that Rich was able to find many matches between the VM and modern illustrations in very few books. If the matches were spread over a wide variety of (modern) books, this wouldn’t mean a lot to me — if you search long and hard enough, you’re bound to come up with something. But if all the microscopic specimens can be tracked down to one or two volumes, the scenario that these were simply the books available to the forger, takes shape.
Of course, one question of plausibility remains: If Voynich wanted to sell the book off as Bacon’s, then why is there no direct connection to Bacon? The link between the two of them is flimsy at best. Likewise, we may assume that the VM’s text does bear content (as opposed to being gibberish, to make sure the link to Bacon can be made), but if that is so, why did Voynich never come up with enough clues to make it possible to decipher the text? After all, his intent was to sell the book, in which he failed, so he probably could have made a “breakthrough discovery” in the decryption of the VM which would have established the link to Bacon.
As I said, I’m not 100% convinced Rich has hit the nail on the head. If possible, I would not place my money on any bet regarding the VM, but if I was forced to make a choice, currently I’d go with Rich’s idea.
But why is this a “new era”? Now, I don’t consider myself important or knowledgable enough that my opinion would make much of a difference in the history of Voynichism, but I think this may mark the first time that any particular VM theory (rather than some general “it is a medieval herbal”) has won any champion beside the original author to defend it. There you go.
Somebody please pass Rich the smelling salt.
*) As opposed to an “early fake”, ie a manuscript hoax from the 15th or so century.
The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance — it is the illusion of knowledge.”
— Daniel Boorstin (Librarian of Congress)
And, sure enough, after I suggested people present their own theories in the Voynichthoughts blog in this post, my old Voynichero chum, and sparring buddy for the exchange of ideas of Varying Magnitudes of Whackiness, Rich SantaColoma, has spoken up and offers his ideas for discussion:
Hi Elmar: Thank you for the opportunity to give a synopsis of our theories on your blog. I hope everyone else who has a theory chooses to contribute.
My ideas have evolved over the past 7 or 8 years, but still have at their core one basic premise, which I still feel is valid and promising: That many of the cylinders in the Voynich, previously called “jars”, or “cylinders”, are actually representations of early optical devices: http://proto57.wordpress.com/2009/06/01/optical-comparisons/
In the beginning of my work, I found that one inventor of early microscopes, Cornelis Drebbel, was also in Rudolf II’s court at the time he is believed by many to have possessed the Voynich Manuscript. I theorized then, that the Voynich may be a notebook of Drebbel’s, left behind by him after the coup of 1612. I speculated that as a notebook, it contained his observations of plants and microscopic organisms, and also, images of various microscopes. The article, “Drebbel’s Lost Notebook?” appears in Renaissance Magazine (2007, Vol. 12, #1, Issue #53).
For various reasons, however, I soon came to believe that the Voynich is not meant to be a real notebook, or have much real content of any kind. Since almost every detail of the work does not match anything real, and only “hints” at being accurate to anything known, I feel that the content is on the whole intentionally fake. Looking in “my” time-frame of the early 17th century, I found that there was a tremendous interest in fictional societies (the Utopias), in fictional places, often with plants, customs, and “sciences” unknown to Renaissance Europe.
After studying many of these literary fantasies, I was struck with how similar much of the content of the Voynich is to the content of Francis Bacon’s utopian fiction, “The New Atlantis”. This includes bizarre new plants and animals, grafted plants, optics, new sciences, strange places, a walled city surrounded by water (which is outside the known world), and much more. But these sort of fantasies were common for this time, and if a person were to make a fake book intended to look as though it came from the New Atlantis, or like the books of Shakespeare’s Prospero, or a book to look like the book “M” of the Rosicrucians, all three of those would look pretty much like the Voynich.
After this time, under heavy criticism and scrutiny for many points in my theories, I took time to explore the validity of those complaints… to see if my theories were still valid, for instance, in the light of the 2009 test which showed that the vellum of the manuscript was made between 1404 and 1438. I felt at the time that my theories were improbable, since many “experts” were telling me that vellum did not sit around for any length of time, blank, and certainly not for almost 200 years. However, I found that this is actually incorrect, and there are many examples of long storage of blank vellum, and vellum use has often been decades or even centuries after manufacture.
By the time I spoke at the 2011 Voynich 100 conference in Frascati, Italy, I had necessarily pared down my ideas into three basic concepts: Optics? Fantasy? What would optics and fantasy imply, if represented in the Voynich? I did not discuss my discoveries about the actual habits of vellum use, at the conference.
But the very criticisms which focused on my time-frame of 1610 to 1620, and which caused me to look critically at the validity of that time, ironically caused me to rethink my own ideas in a way that I don’t think the critics intended: They freed me from that time. But rather than move back to the “accepted” time frames of early alchemical herbals, the answers I was forced to confront caused me to move forward, an open up all times to the actual discovery of the Voynich, in 1912!
For when I found that 1420 vellum could have been used later, I found it could be used to 1912. When I found that fantasy was in fact a very common subject for literature, and fantasy books were made, I found the content of the Voynich often reflected times newer than my theories. When I found that people often put a great deal of time, talent, money and energy into making fake books, always, it opened up “always”. And when I was confronted with the fact that many of my microscope comparisons are a better match to later microscopes (implying that therefore, I was incorrect in those identifications from 1610/20, and further then, they could not microscopes), it caused me to think they could be correct, but not to the end they were implying!
Perhaps they are right, perhaps they are newer- but are still meant to be microscopes.
The critics “wanted” me to give up my ideas, and go back to their time-frames, but in attempting to do so, they inadvertently freed me to go forward.
Being thus freed by my critics, and my findings they compelled me to make, I am now exploring the possibility that the Voynich is much newer than most suppose, and may have been made by a faker anytime up until it was claimed found by Voynich himself, perhaps at late as 1908 to 1911.
I’ve come very far in these new explorations, and found much interesting material (so far, much of it unpublished), but it is a work in progress… and whether or not it continues to remain a valid hypothesis for me should be clear over the coming months, when I have had a chance to examine many interesting new leads.
Feel free to discuss the scenario right here, or directly on Rich’s blog.