Friday, April 19, 2013

Weird manuscripts

The Voynich Manuscript has become a beacon for a secular community of quasi-Talmudic scholars whose interpretive ingenuity and stamina have few parallels.

After my recent immersion in the culture of the Codex Seraphinianus, it seems I am everywhere encountering references to the Voynich Manuscript.

There is an increasing body of evidence that the manuscript is a hoax, and the persistent belief that it's a code to be cracked is based on faulty assumptions, for the simple reason that we want to believe.

Wilfred Voynich, a Polish revolutionary, "discovered" the manuscript that came to be named after him in 1912. He claimed to have bought the manuscript in an Austrian castle, but later Villa Mondragone was disclosed as the source. A letter inside the manuscript indicated that Athanasius Kircher, a 17th-century Jesuit scholar, had been asked to try his hand at translating it.

Aside: What little I've come to learn about Voynich makes him sound like a character out of Prus, a composite at any rate, that I wonder if The Doll didn't inspire Voynich in his person and in his attitude.

Meanwhile, I continue to read Where Tigers Are at Home, by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès, which presents sections of a manuscript chronicling Kircher's life. At this point: Kircher and his young Jesuit biographer are at Villa Palagonia; Kircher discovers a weird (demonic, or scientifically advanced) manuscript and destroys it.

Also, Kircher is in attendance at a feast that is getting out of hand in all sorts of ways, and Caspar finds himself in a delicate situation with his beautiful, and married, hostess, and just when you think it might be starting to get a little bit naughty, he switches to Latin. I cannot decide if this is funny, sexy, or simply weird.

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