Having lately watched the Science Channel docu series Strangest Things, I noticed that they covered the Voynich Manunscript as well. (It was episode 7, IIRC)
Overall I like the series very much for its down-to-earth examination of riddles, prefering the plausbile over the spectacular and keeping a (let’s use the dirty word:) scientific mindset, rather than an esoteric one. I found the coverage of the VM overall fairly balanced and thorough enough. (Maybe they didn’t put enough emphasis on the cryptological aspects, but this may be my personal bias. ;-))
I found it interesting that they exmained the plausibility of the VM being a “historical” or modern forgery (Hello, Rich!). I especially like the new angle they gave it by suggesting the VM may not have been a hoax perpetrated by the man himself, but by the Villa Frascati team, meaning they duped Voynich because they themselves direly needed the money.
It’s a nice twist, though IMHO a fanciful one. One crucial aspect is that the VM is missing almost all the Christian iconography present in medieval art. I doubt the Jesuits would have so strongly violated their work ethos, when they could have used the opportunity just the same to insert spectacular new theological content.
4 thoughts on “Strangest Things”
Mr. Vogt: Thank you for announcing this newer Voynich segment, and the show in general. I had not heard of it. It is not available on my cable service, and it took some time to find a copy.
I agree it is better than most of its ilk, as it doesn’t sensationalize these topics. I worried it might at first when I saw the fancy effects, the ominous narration, the floating objects. But it does stay pretty grounded in fact. Well, that which is “generally accepted as fact”, at least.
The problem with the Voynich problem is… and this is no fault of the producers and writers of this show, or the guests… that much of what is presented as “factual” is nothing of the kind. Many of the elements that shows like this- and for that matter books, articles, and blogs- rely on, are based on facts which have long ago been digested and interpreted by others and spit back out long before being used to come to the presented “conclusions”. It would be like producing a documentary ostensibly about cows, but based only on observations and tests on a can of beef stew. You can’t know a cow from prepared stew any more than you can know the Voynich from what is offered in the major sites and institutions.
I call the errors prevalent in Voynich research, “Modern Voynich Myths”, and have a blog post about it from several years ago.
But I do note that some of the newer shows go further toward modern hoax, and closer to Wilfrid, but then veer off back into the safety of the 1420 Paradigm (Genuine 1404-1438 European Cipher Herbal), using many of the old saws I feel are long dis-proven. The tattooed gentleman was ALMOST there… he scared me for a bit. It was a “shot over the bow” of my work, and gave me a resolve to work harder and finish my book.
I had never heard the theory that the Jesuits themselves did it, I agree that is a new take on this. Including your observation that the lack of Christian iconography works against this, there are probably a long list of other reasons this is highly implausible. Of course I don’t think the Voynich Ms. was ever in the possession of the Jesuits, but resided as a pile or piles of blank vellum in the Libraria Franceshini, in Florence, until after 1908 when Wilfrid bought the place. The only role the Jesuits played would have been as a source of some information in the Kircher Carteggio, probably through Strickland (friend of the Voynich’s, and head of the Mondragone), including mention of a lost book of “plants unknown to the Germans”: A loose suggestion such a lost book could be created.
Other than those descriptions, in those letters (which are not only very poor reflections of the Voynich we know today, but actually work AGAINST them being mentions of our book), there is no other provenance for the Voynich. Effectively, the Voynich has no provenance. Yet, this and other documentaries accept it as proven fact along with so much else. That the tests prove the ink is old, that parchment never sat around blank for long, that it was mentioned in the “letters”, that Kircher owned it, that Tepencz signed it, that there is underlying language, that Voynich bought it from the Jesuits.
And so on. As Vonnegut famously wrote, “So it goes”. Such shows only serve to cement in the mind of those familiar, and also those first introduced to the Voynich, a smoke and mirrors representation, a fantasy beef stew of what others want you to think the Voynich is, not at all what it most probably is. I, myself, could not help but be a part of this very dilemma, as in another recent documentary I appeared in, I did at first relate these given “facts”, but added along with these, the problems with it, and then, my own theory it is a circa 1908 to 1910 forgery by or for Wilfrid. I pointed out that the Voynich is practically a text-book case of forgery, in fact.
But anything outside of the 1420 Paradigm ended up on the cutting room floor, and I became, unwittingly, part of the problem. Because forgery/hoax is wrong, or implausible? I would suggest that in the static of the alternate theories, it is difficult to impossible for producers to, in short order, separate the wheat from the chaff, and know what IS plausible, and what is so much tin foil hat nonsense. And besides, there is the worry that as a “real mystery” (the woman actually touched on this at the end, in sharing that it was the mystery that kept it interesting for her) it sells advertising space; as the cheap and clumsy 1910 hoax it probably is, not so much.
So they play it safe, and serve up stew instead.
One interesting thing I noted: The third segment is about John Dee’s famous obsidian mirror. Now look at what the man on f57v is holding up, and read my blog posts “The Primer for the Voynich Forgery”, and “Sources for the Voynich Forgery”. Is it a coincidence the Voynich and the mirror are in the same show? Most probably to “no doubt”. To add to a very long comment another of too many cliches, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them think”. Or something like that.
Sorry for having delayed your reponse, Rich, WordPress had flagged it as spam. (That’s a conspiracy for you…!)
For my own part, I’m still undecided. I think a Voynich forgery is possible, but far from proven. Still waiting for a decryption. (Or your book… Let me know if you want a pilot reader!)
Well I appreciate (as usual) your open mind on the subject. When thinking of mine, and other claims as to what the Voynich is, and what it is not, keep these things in mind:
1) Context: Who offers a context which explains everything known and seen in the Voynich all at once? Others will tell you what it cannot be, but without any overall theory which explains in context all the evidence that can explain what it is. They don’t know what it is, because of this lack of context. But my 1910 Voynich Theory has a uniform context for everything seen and suspected in the work.
2) Completeness: The 1910 theory leaves nothing out. That is, I do not have to ignore anything, nor adapt findings to fit the theory (such as combining five widely varied dates to fit a preconceived “one book one time” creation, or making up or adapting provenance, or having liars become truth tellers, or cherry pick data and opinions, or bend history to fit construction techniques, or ignore anomalies, and on and on), to “make it all fit”. My theory has motive, opportunity, materials, content, timeline, primer, sources, for each and every element seen or suspected in the Voynich, including all perceived anomalies and anachronisms.
3) The experts actually tell you it is not real, nor old, if you listen closely: Literally every documentary, article, blog, book, and report on the subject of the Voynich is rife with people actually telling you how fake it is, and how new it is, while insisting it is real and old. They tell you the writing, the “code”, or “cipher”, the construction, the binding, the foldouts, the covers, the provenance, the style, the content, and on and on, is incomparable to anything from the place, time and for the purposes that they also insist, from the other side of the mouth, that must be. Listen again to the documentary above, and the recent Yale lecture on Zoom, and read the 2016 Yale book, carefully. It is as though they carefully and scientifically describe a FROG, in every way and every detail: but then in the end, it is insisted that it is a BIRD that you are looking at: “It is has no feathers, but it is a bird. It came from a pond, but it is a bird. It was a tadpole once, but it is a bird. It croaks, but it is a bird. Now, you see, we have proven it is a bird”.
To use another allegory, the present state of Voynich research reminds me of the old joke in which the husband catches his wife in bed with another man, and she insists she is NOT having an affair, and asks him, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”
The only way, IMO, that the Voynich can be considered real and old is to refuse to allow, or ignore, the possibility of fake, and new. That sounds a simplistic description, but it is a phenomenon which underlies all the supposed confusion and supposed mystery of the Voynich. I feel it is only a mystery if one wants it to be a mystery, as the woman at the end of the above show revealed… and, I think, many do. But I can’t see it as a mystery any longer, because I would have to suspend my own disbelief in the unsupportable “story”, and stop believing my own eyes.
Hmmm, I watched this via “www.welt.de”, which clearly was not the original version.
The English speakers were voiced over in German, and there was one German speaker.
My main negative comment is that – at least in this version – none of the speakers were identified. It would be nice to know who these people are. Perhaps this was better in the original?
I did note that the programme came to the conclusion that a modern fake could be excluded, but an ‘old fake’ was still possible. Much of the modern fake discussion was still at 1970’s / D’Imperio level of knowledge. The fact that the Voynich MS was just one of about 30 MSS sold to Voynich, which was again a subset of a larger collection of 200 MSS offered for sale to the Vatican, was omitted, and this of course puts a very different perspective on this whole affair.