BEINECKE RARE BOOK AND MANUSCRIPT LIBRARY
GENERAL COLLECTION OF RARE BOOKS AND
MEDIEVAL AND RENAISSANCE MANUSCRIPTS
Beinecke MS 408 Central Europe [?], s. XV^^ex-XVI [?]
This manuscript is not available for consultation without advance permission from the curator.
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Scientific or magical text in an unidentified language, in cipher, apparently
based on Roman minuscule characters; the text is believed by some scholars
to be the work of Roger Bacon since the themes of the illustrations
seem to represent topics known to have interested Bacon (see also Provenance
below.) A history of the numerous attempts to decipher the manuscript can be
found in a volume edited by R. S. Brumbaugh, The Most Mysterious Manuscript:
The Voynich "Roger Bacon" Cipher Manuscript (Carbondale, Illinois, 1978).
Although several scholars have claimed decipherments of the manuscript,
for the most part the text remains an unsolved puzzle. R. S. Brumbaugh has,
however, suggested a decipherment that establishes readings for the
star names and plant labels; see his "Botany and the Voynich 'Roger Bacon'
Manuscript Once More," Speculum 49 (1974) pp. 546-48; "The Solution
of the Voynich 'Roger Bacon' Cipher," Gazette 49 (1975) pp. 347-55;
"The Voynich 'Roger Bacon' Cipher Manuscript: Deciphered Maps of
Stars," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 39 (1976)
Parchment. ff. 102 (foliation, s. xvi, Arabic numerals; not every
leaf foliated) + i (paper), including 5 double-folio, 3 triple-folio, 1
quadruple-folio and 1 sextuple-folio folding leaves. 225 x 160 mm.
Collation is difficult due to the number of fold-out leaves that are
not always foliated consistently.
I-VII^^8 (f. 12 missing), VIII^^4 (leaves foliated 59 through 64 missing from
center of quire), IX^^2 (double and triple fold-out leaves),
X^^2 (1 triple fold-out), XI^^2 (1 quadruple fold-out), XII^^2 (f. 74 missing,
followed by stubs of conjugate leaves), XIII^^10, XIV^^1 (sextuple fold-out),
XV^^4 (1 triple and 1 double fold-out), XVI^^4 (1 double fold-out; ff. 91, 92,
97, 98 missing, 2 stubs between 94 and 95), XVII^^4 (2 double fold-outs),
XVIII^^12 (ff. 109-110, central bifolium, missing). Quire signatures in
lower right corner, verso, and sometimes on recto.
Almost every page contains botanical and scientific drawings, many
full-page, of a provincial but lively character, in ink with washes in
various shades of green, brown, yellow, blue and red. Based on the subject
matter of the drawings, the contents of the manuscript falls into six
Part I. ff. 1r-66v Botanical sections containing drawings of 113
unidentified plant species. Special care is taken in the representation of
the flowers, leaves and the root systems of the individual plants.
Drawings accompanied by text.
Part II. ff. 67r-73v Astronomical or astrological section containing 25
astral diagrams in the form of circles, concentric or with radiating
segments, some with the sun or the moon in the center; the segments
filled with stars and inscriptions, some with the signs of the zodiac and
concentric circles of nude females, some free-standing, others emerging from
objects similar to cans or tubes. Little continuous text.
Part III. ff. 75r-84v "Biological" section containing drawings of
small-scale female nudes, most with bulging abdomens and exaggerated hips,
immersed or emerging from fluids, or interconnecting tubes and capsules.
These drawings are the most enigmatic in the manuscript and it has been
suggested that they symbolically represent the process of human
reproduction and the procedure by which the soul becomes united with the
body (cf. W. Newbold and R. Kent, The Cipher of Roger Bacon
[Philadelphia, 1928] p. 46).
Part IV. ff. 85r-86v This sextuple-folio folding leaf contains an
elaborate array of nine medallions, filled with stars and cell-like
shapes, with fibrous structures linking the circles. Some medallions
with petal-like arrangements of rays filled with stars, some with
structures resembling bundles of pipes.
Part V. ff. 87r-102v Pharmaceutical section containing drawings of over
100 different species of medicinal herbs and roots, all with identifying
inscriptions. On almost every page drawings of pharmaceutical jars,
resembling vases, in red, green and yellow, or blue and green. Accompanied
by some continuous text.
Part VI. ff. 103r-117v Continuous text, with stars in inner margin on recto
and outer margins of verso. Folio 117v includes a 3-line presumed "key"
opening with a reference to Roger Bacon in anagram and cipher.
Binding: s. xviii-xix. Vellum case. Remains of early paper
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Written in Central Europe [?] at the end of the 15th or during the 16th [?]
century; the origin and
date of the manuscript are still being debated as vigorously as its
puzzling drawings and undeciphered text. The identification of several
of the plants as New World specimens brought back to Europe by Columbus
indicates that the manuscript could not have been written before 1493.
The codex belonged to Emperor Rudolph II of Germany (Holy Roman Emperor,
1576-1612), who purchased it for 600 gold ducats and believed
that it was the work of Roger Bacon; see the autograph letter of Johannes
Marcus Marci (d. 1667, rector of Prague University) transcribed under item
A below. It is very likely that Emperor Rudolph acquired the manuscript
from the English astrologer John Dee (1527-1608) whose foliation remains
in the upper right corner of each leaf (we thank A. G. Watson for
confirming this identification through a comparison of the Arabic numerals
in the Beinecke manuscript with those of John Dee in Oxford, Bodleian
Library Ashmole 1790, f. 9v, and Ashmole 487).
See also A. G. Watson and R. J. Roberts, eds., John Dee's Library Catalogue
(London, The Bibliographical Society, forthcoming). Dee apparently owned the
manuscript along with a number of other Roger
Bacon manuscripts; he was in Prague 1582-86 and was in contact with
Emperor Rudolph during this period. In addition, Dee stated that he had
630 ducats in October 1586, and his son Arthur (cited by Sir T. Browne,
Works, G. Keynes, ed.  v. 6, p. 325) noted that Dee, while in
Bohemia, owned "a booke...containing nothing butt Hieroglyphicks, which
booke his father bestowed much time upon: but I could not heare that
hee could make it out." Emperor Rudolph seems to have given the manuscript to
Jacobus Horcicky de Tepenecz (d. 1622); inscription on f. 1r "Jacobi de
Tepenecz" (erased but visible under ultra-violet light). Johannes
Marcus Marci of Cronland presented the book to Athanasius Kircher, S. J.
(1601-80) in 1666. Acquired by Wilfred M. Voynich in 1912 from the Jesuit
College at Frascati near Rome. Given to the Beinecke Library in 1969
by H. P. Kraus (Cat. 100, pp. 42-44, no. 20) who had purchased it from
the estate of Ethel Voynich.
Included with MS 408 is the following supplementary material in folders
or boxes labelled A - N.
A: Autograph letter of Johannes Marcus Marci of Cronland in which he
presents the manuscript to Athanasius Kircher in Rome, in the belief that
Kircher would be able to decipher it. "Reuerende et Eximie Domine in
Christo Pater. Librum hunc ab amico singulari mihi testamento relictum,
mox eundem tibi amicissime Athanisi ubi primum possidere coepi, animo
destinaui: siquidem persuasum habui a nullo nisi abs te legi posse.
Petijt aliquando per litteras ejusdem libri tum possessor judicium tuum
parte aliqua a se descripta et tibi transmissa, ex qua reliqua a te legi
posse persuasum habuit; uerum librum ipsum transmittere tum recusabat in
quo discifrando posuit indefessum laborem, uti manifestum ex conatibus
ejusdem hic una tibi transmissis neque prius huius spei quam uitae suae
finem fecit. Verum labor hic frustraneus fuit, siquidem non nisi suo
Kirchero obediunt eiusmodi sphinges. Accipe ergo modo quod pridem tibi
debebatur hoc qualecunque mei erga te affectus indicium; huiusque seras,
si quae sunt, consueta tibi felicitate perrumpe. retulit mihi D.
Doctor Raphael Ferdinandi tertij Regis tum Boemiae in lingua boemica
instructor dictum librum fuisse Rudolphi Imperatoris, pro quo ipse
latori qui librum attulisset 600 ducatos praesentarit, authorem uero
ipsum putabat esse Rogerium Bacconem Anglum. ego judicium meum hic
suspendo. tu uero quid nobis hic sentiendum defini, cujus fauori
et gratiae me totum commendo maneoque. Reuerentiae Vestrae.
Ad Obsequia Joannes Marcus Marci a Cronland. Pragae 19 Augusti.
AD 1666 [or 1665?].
B: Correspondence between W. Voynich and Prof. W. R. Newbold concerning
Newbold's supposed decipherment of the manuscript (1919-26).
Correspondence between Anne M. Nills, executrix of the estate of Ethel
Voynich, and the Rev. Theodore C. Peterson, dated 1935-61, concerning the
provenance, dating and decipherment of the manuscript.
C: Cardboard tube containing articles from international newspapers and
magazines; among them The New York Times, The Washington Post, Der
Zeitgeist, and others, concerning the announced sale by H. P. Kraus
of the cipher manuscript.
D: Scrapbook of newspaper clippings (1912-26) concerning the cipher
manuscript, compiled by W. Voynich.
E: Miscellaneous handwritten notes of W. Voynich.
F: Miscellaneous material, including handwritten notes by A. Nills about
the cipher, and her correspondence about the sale of the manuscript.
G: Five notebooks handwritten by Ethel Voynich containing notes on the
identification of the plants, medicinal herbs and roots; miscellaneous
notes by A. Nills listing some characters or combinations of characters
as they appear in the manuscript.
H: Box of negative and positive photostats.
I - L: Lectures, pamphlets, reviews and articles concerning the manuscript.
Includes (in K) the transcript of a seminar held in Washington D. C. on
November 1976 entitled "New Research on the Voynich Manuscript."
M: Miscellaneous correspondence between R. Brumbaugh and J. M. Saul (Paris)
and J. Arnold (Oak Grove, Mo.). Handwritten transcription of ff. 89v-116r
by R. Brumbaugh.
N: Temporary folder of negative photostats.
Select Bibliography: Exhibition Catalogue, pp. 271-72, no. 85.
W. R. Newbold and R. G. Kent, The Cipher of Roger Bacon (Philadelphia,
J. H. Tiltman, The Voynich Manuscript (Baltimore, 1968).
C. A. Zimansky, "William F. Friedman and the Voynich Manuscript,"
Philological Quarterly 49 (1970) pp. 433-43.
The Secular Spirit: Life and Art at the End of the Middle Ages, exhib.
cat. (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975) p. 203, no. 217 (with illus.)
and color pl. 9.
R. S. Brumbaugh, ed., The Most Mysterious Manuscript: The
Voynich "Roger Bacon" Cipher Manuscript (Carbondale, Illinois, 1978),
with additional bibliography.
M. E. D'Imperio, The Voynich Manuscript: An Elegant Enigma (National
Security Agency/ Central Security Service, Fort Meade, Maryland, 1978),
with additional bibliography.
Barbara A. Shailor