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[Fwd: Toresella]

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Dennis Stallings wrote:

> I'm pleased that we now have people who can identify the plants in the VMs.  For most of the list's history, we've assumed that the plants were
> imaginary.
> I'd be interested in our biologists' opinion of Prof. Sergio Toresella's
> paper on "alchemical herbals".  These actually have nothing to do with alchemy, spagyric or otherwise.  They were shamanistic props or quacks' implements that showed many drawings of plants.
> Below I'm attaching a summary of Toresella's article, taken from my
> Historical Precedents list.
> ----------------------------------------------------------------
> Date: Thu, 12 Jun 1997 08:46:29 -0700
> From: Dennis Stallings
> Subject: Toresella on the VMs
> Rene and I have translated Toresella's remarks on the VMs in his
> paper on alchemical herbals:
>     Toresella, Sergio. ``Gli erbari degli alchimisti. [Alchemical
> herbals.]'' In Arte farmaceutica e piante medicinali -- erbari, vasi,
> strumenti e testi dalle raccolte liguri [Pharmaceutical art and
> medicinal plants -- herbals, jars, instruments and texts of the
> Ligurian collections], Liana Saginati, ed. Pisa: Pacini Editore, 1996,
> pp.31-70. [Profusely illustrated. Fits the VMS into an ``alchemical
> herbal'' tradition.]
> -------------------------------------------------------------
>     "Among the alchemical herbals we must include the one contained in
> the Voynich codex [45].
>     "It is the strangest, most mysterious, and enigmatic herbal known,
> because it is written in an enciphered language that has resisted the
> attacks of the most powerful American electronic computers [46].  It
> is almost eighty years that the best cryptographers, paleographers,
> and specialists in the most obscure languages have tirelessly tried to
> penetrate the mystery of this herbal, but in vain.

This may be true if we are addressing solely the associated encrypted text;
however, I am very much impressed by the volumes of information that
might be gleaned from the drawings. They too have a wonderful story to
tell; somewhat, perhaps, similar to the silent movies of the past. There is a
purpose and a story behind every drawing in the VMS.

>     "Rudolph II of Habsburg, king of Bohemia, who constructed the
> 'alchemists' quarter' in Prague, paid for this codex attributed to
> Francis [sic] Bacon (1214-1292), the fantastic sum of 600 gold ducats:
> remember, in comparison, that the Juliana Anicia herbal [the Vienna
> Codex of Dioscorides] was bought for only 100 ducats.

Well, 100 ducats to you or me might have seemed like a lot more money than
600 ducats probably was for king Rudolph. Unless Francis Bacon was very
knowledgeable in Botany or had a clever confidant assisting him (which I doubt)
then I am not inclined to believe at this point that Francis scripted the encyphered
text in the VMS.

>     "Some have seen on these parchments, on which dozens of plants
> similar to those of the alchemists' herbals are drawn, but which do
> not belong to that iconographic tradition (fig. 25, 26), some
> fantastic discoveries:  the sunflower and the pepper represented
> centuries [sic] prior to the discovery of America;  drawings of parts
> of the cell seen through the microscope; the Andromeda nebula [sic] in
> the astrological part of the codex, and others still.  Even so the
> mystery of these plants remains unfathomable.

The plants are neither exceedingly mysterious nor fantastically unfathomable.
There is evidence that they are purposefully selected; however, the artistic
skill evident in the drawings while realistic to the purpose is not advanced
for a botanical artist. If the VMS were penned in the second half of the XVI
century, then I have no difficulty in accepting the presence of  botanical
samples from the Western Hemisphere; however, I am not convinced that
the sunflower identification is accurate. Lenses may have been available for
microscopic examination similar to what we might see through a magnifying
glass, but microscope technology would have been in its infancy. Of course
if Galileo were around, he might have been able to help. He studied under
Cesalpino, a botanist and medical professor at Pisa. I started to consider
the question of microscopic and telescopic observations in the VMS.
Interestingly references to microcrocosm/macrocosm would be appropriate;
however, the Andromeda nebula seems to be a bit beyond focal point of
reality for the VMS, so my recommendation would be to look for altenative
explanations. For example, notice the horizontal and verticle orb lines in the
middle circle of f68r1. There are 4 spokes of the wheel which seem to rotate
in a counterclockwise direction from the central hub superimposed on a second
set of 4 spokes which alternate between the first set of spokes that together
complete a set of 8 spokes. There is evidence of 8 (flower, stars, and leaves)
occurring elsewhere in the VMS, which may eventually prove to be significant.

>     "Personally I think that the person who drew and wrote this herbal
> was profoundly impressed by the exhibition of some charlatan at the
> market place and thought that he had discovered the secret of the
> world; a secret to entrust to a language and a cryptic script such as
> is often found in certain forms of insanity [47].

Whether or not the individual who produced the VMS was insane
has not been determined. My premise for examination of the VMS
is that the author was not insane. In fact, I would say that this individual
was very knowledgeable and highly educated with an inclination to
admire the accomplishments found in a Renaissance man. Children often
aspire to heros and it may well be that our scientist fell victim at an early age
to the fanciful renditions of a market place charlatan promising miraculous
cures and immortality to those who would imbibe of his magical elixir acquired
from the fountain of youth in a far off oasis from beyond the horizon in a
place known as Shangri-la.

>     "One really has to wonder about the strong fascination contained
> in this message from the past where Master Ghino [who commissioned an
> alchemical herbal that Toresella discusses] would have us believe that
> someone was held prisoner of a spell by the herb 'ghalias retiuola':
>     'Whoever has anointed his hands with the lotion of this herb, then
> touched whomever he wanted, would obtain from that person any favour
> that he might like.
>     'And in that way he would obtain much friendship.
>     'And he would cause peace and concord between enemies.
>     'And he who would wash himself with it would drive away the thief
> from within himself.'"

I am reminded of a story told to me by a CPR instructor concerning a
drug that EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) can give to individuals
who have overdosed on a certain hallucinogenic drug. The drug they adminitered
to the addict would instantly and completely nullify the effects of the hallucinogen.
Curiously, however, they found that the addict might become irate since he had
just blown his wad on his illicit narcortic and was now robbed of his brief visit to
Valhalla. That's what he would probably call a bad trip.

> -------------------------------------
>     "Fig. 25, 26:  Drawings from the Voynich herbal [f41v, f42r,
> f65v].  The codex is difficult to date but the greater part of its
> students think that it dates to the years 1460-1480.   These fantastic
> plants have no relation with those of the usual alchemical herbals;
> some botanists think they have recognized the pepper and even the
> sunflower; some believe they have discovered marvels even more
> surprising.  As you will have noticed, the writing is very clear and
> regular, but totally incomprehensible.  The best American experts have
> searched and are still searching to crack the code with an apparatus
> of truly impressive electronic computers.  Every now and then it
> happens that someone believes he has solved the mystery and reads in
> the book some further wonders; only later to find out that some
> objection renders the decryption improbable.  New Haven, Yale
> University, Beinecke Rare Book Library, MS 408, c. 41v-42r, c. 65v."

Each of us who examines the VMS will latch on to our thread in the cave
as a guide to help us find our way back to the beginning. Some will say they
see the light only to find more darkness beyond. Others will find the thread
broken. Some may be lucky enough to discover real gems in their search
for the truth. My premise is that the author of the VMS was an aspiring
natural scientist, well educated during the Medieval/Renaissance period,
probably coming from northern Italy, who based his observations on real
botanical samples with an interest in the true facts that his scientific discoveries
might reveal. He used the tools available to him at the time, embellishing and
bolstering his considerations of nature with the related Astrology, Cosmology,
Pharmacology, and experimentation (Alchemy?) popular at the time. He too
would have admired the great teachers in botany and medicine prior to his era.
In addition, the author of the VMS may draw from the culture and customs of
his homeland (ladies, costumes, castles, mythology, animals, etc.). What matter
is it if our progenitor were sane, insane, a quack, charlatan, or a genius? The
enigma for us, it seems, is to solve the puzzle and find the truth of what is contained
within the manuscript and possibly who wrote it, including when and where it might
have been written. The game is afoot and we are its players.

> ---------------------------------------------------
>     NOTES:
>     "45.  Currently kept in the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale
> University (Conn.), USA, as MS 408.
>     "46.  The best exposition of the research on the Voynich codex is
> in M. E. D'Imperio, *The Voynich Manuscript.  An elegant enigma,
> Laguna Hills (Ca.) 1976.  A good summary, also easily available in
> Italy, may be found in D. Kahn, *The Codebreakers.*  There also exists
> an Internet site dedicated to this issue on which about forty students
> from all over the world communicate their discoveries.

True, and we are making progress, however slightly that may be. Small
successes along the way are very encouraging. Some of us have been
here longer than others. I for one am interested in all observations, however
fantastic they may seem. While computers are indeed fantastic machines which
have greatly contributed to my small contribution (still looking to hit the 0.1% mark),
they are limited by the information that we store in them and our ability to analyze
the data for meaningful results. For example, if our approach is to apply every known
language for comparison against the text in the VMS to find a convincing match for
translation using every cryptographic algorithm known to those performing the analysis
the results may still end up being inconclusive. However, for purposes of analysis we
may start with either the premise that it may deencrypted to an intelligible language or
that it is gibberish. You might be interested to learn that one of the definitions of
gibberish is "a technical or esoteric language" (ref. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate
Dictionary). Since my premise is that the VMS is indeed scientific in nature my initial
stance is that the manuscript is written in encrypted scientific notation and therefore
might be said to be categorized under the definition of  meaningful "gibberish". If this
proves to be so, then an understanding of the supporting science behind the text
would seem to be prerequisite to a thorough understanding of the observations that
were made by the scientist in the VMS.

>     "47.  The phenomenon of invented languages is very widespread and
> represents a fundamental aspect of some mental pathologies.  For an
> approach to the problem see: S. ARIETE, *Creativita`. La Sintesi
> magica*, Roma 1986.  A. BAUSANI, *Le Lingue inventate. Linguaggi
> artificiali -linguaggi segreti- linguaggi universali*, Roma, 1974.
> And the recent B. BUONARROTI & P. ALBANI, *Aga Mage'ra Difura.
> Dizionario delle lingue immaginarie*, Bologna 1994."

Yes, humans have produced many thousands of languages and no doubt
there were quite a few sane individuals among the inventors of these
languages. If we include symbolic languages, mathematics, music, scientific
notation, cryptographic cyphers, and computer languages, well the list may
just be endless. One of the fundamental traits of humans beings is that we
communicate through the use of language, so the point that Sergio is trying
to make here to associate mental pathologies with invented languages is
perhaps a bit weak, something that might be more prevalent among the
hoi polloi than the landed gentry.

>     [The US Library of Congress catalog has:
>     Arieti, Silvano.  Creativity : the magic synthesis / New York :
> Basic Books, c1976.  xv, 448 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.  LC CALL NUMBER: BF408
> ...A64
>     The LOC has the Italian version of Buonarroti & Albani but doesn't
> have Bausani. ]
> Date: Mon, 16 Jun 1997 08:06:43 -0700
> From: Dennis Stallings
> Subject: Toresella on Alchemical Herbals
> Here is a summary of what Toresella says about alchemical herbals
> in his paper:
>     Toresella, Sergio. ``Gli erbari degli alchimisti. [Alchemical
> herbals.]'' In Arte farmaceutica e piante medicinali -- erbari, vasi,
> strumenti e testi dalle raccolte liguri [Pharmaceutical art and
> medicinal plants -- herbals, jars, instruments and texts of the
> Ligurian collections], Liana Saginati, ed. Pisa: Pacini Editore, 1996,
> pp.31-70. [Profusely illustrated. Fits the VMS into an ``alchemical
> herbal'' tradition.]
>     1)  "Alchemical herbals" is really a misnomer, since these herbals
> contain little or no alchemical imagery.  A Bolognese naturalist,
> Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605) collected some of these herbals and
> labeled them "plants of the alchemists".  Toresella calls these
> "alchemical herbals" for lack of anything better.  (44-7)

"Alchemical herbals" in the sense that they were plants collected for
the purpose of scientific study and expeimenation seems reasonable,
but classifying the VMS plants as "plants of the alchemists" may not
be appropriate because it is too restrictive. Some of the plants may
be found in any alchemist's collection of plants; however, others may be
more appropriately classified for their medicinal application and some
might also be found in recipes for a healthy diet.

>     2)  Some pictures in the alchemical herbals can be traced to
> pseudo-Apuleius and the *Circa Instans* of the Salerno Medical School.
> However, the alchemical herbal is an autonomous tradition that may
> have begun in the XIII century.  No existing specimens predate the
> middle of the XIV century, their heyday was the XV century, and they
> disappeared at the middle of the XVI century.  (52)  "They all seem
> strictly Italian because, except for two cases, all the alchemical
> herbals, about seventy, were produced in Italy, in prevalence in
> northern Italy, in the Veneto area."  (51)

No arguments here. While there might be elements of classical alchemy
evident in the VMS, I sense that the author of the manuscript is first and
foremost a scientist (a natural philosopher), a Botanist, who is borrowing
from a vivid imagination and classical education when applying Astrology,
Cosmology, Pharmacology, Alchemy, Mythology, and Cryptology to this
dissertation. The author of the VMS seeks to impress and has done so quite
well aspiring, perhaps, to the likes of the Renaissance man.

>     3)  They only contain plant images, along with a few human images.
> The images are of known plants rendered in a fantastic fashion and
> labeled with incomprehensible names.  They contain from 10 to 200
> images; there are some imagess found in all alchemical herbals.  (p.
> 49)

I am not convinced that any of the labels in the VMS are "names" for the plants.

>     4)  There are visual puns (human figures for a mandrake root(fig
> 7), a root like a fish for luccia maggiore (fig 14), a hat for a
> teodora plant (fig. 15), a root like a wolf (with goat horns!) for
> luparina (17), and a man's head in a testatoris.  Geometric figures
> (circles, ellipses, quadralaterals) are also common.  Indeed visual
> puns are more common than in the VMs.

I would say that there is a lot more to the puns in the VMS than first
meets the eye. Look closely for there are very few, if any, wasted
strokes in the VMS. What is there was added with purpose and
meaning. We see only the tip of the iceberg. We must dig deep to
appreciate the subtlety and beauty within.

>     5)  The text varied according to the educational level of the
> person for whom the alchemical herbal was made.  Often the texts and
> pictures were intended for public display and reading.  "The recipes
> found in the alchemical herbals are often absurb and irrational:
> spells to become invisible or to find hidden treasures and are
> accompanied by incantations and invocations for the most part pious,
> but also including some to evil spirits, including the famous magical
> quatrain Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas or the more modest
> Abracadabra." (p. 57)

My impression is that the VMS was written for the same person
who penned the manuscript. Recipes are not the order of the day
in the VMS. Incantations do not resound. The author's pious duties
may, however, have given him pause to reflect on the most wondrous
of all encrypted secrets, those of the Supreme Being of the Universe.

>     6)  Although Toresella expresses his opinion that the author of
> the Voynich Manuscript suffered from insanity, that does not
> necessarily mean that the text has no meaning.  Indeed, his statement
> that the author "thought that he had discovered the secret of the
> world; a secret to entrust to a language and a cryptic script" would
> seem to indicate that the text is meaningful.  There are a range of
> possible levels of meaningfulness.

Ah, yes, angels dancing on the head of a pin, or in this case we might
look to the tip of a stamen for the mysteries within. Was the author of
the VMS a sage or an idiot savant? Who knows, who cares? Is it
important? Will it temper our interest and quest for the truth and secrets
hidden within this enigmatic manuscript? What is the nature of our quest?

>     7)  Those who used the alchemical herbals practiced "traveling
> medicine." (p. 47)  These healers practiced "demotic medicine, the
> offspring of a very ancient medical culture, mostly transmitted
> orally, and distinguished from official medicine especially by its
> lack of an organic theory of illness." (P. 48)

Yes, traveling was probably a good idea to escape from the threat
of reprimand when their elixir for improved health failed to cure. Well,
many of the healers' practices were no doubt shadowed in darkness.
They would go into the woods and meadows to collect their herbs and
rhizomes and cook their brew. We should also remember that there
was truly a great deal of plague, pestilence, and suffering throughout
Europe in the Middle Ages, made worse by the slaughter and ravages
of torturous warfare. The powers of modern medical cures were simply
very limited or non-exitent. You may thank your lucky stars for the wide
range of medical options available today which may seem quite primtive
500 years from now; however, modern medicine owes its origins in part
due to the meager quackery practiced in the not too distant past.
Transmitting knowledge orally in the past makes a great deal of sense
to me. Have you ever tried to memorize verbatum more than a single
page of text? I have and believe me you will probably be very much
more knowledgeable about what you are trying to learn orally than if
you were to rely solely on notes taken in a classroom. In addition, not
too many of these charlatans of the past  may have learned how to read
or write, and anyway why write down what you might want to keep secret?
Well, not too many individuals were at the time at liberty to make an organic
study of human anatomy and physiology, but it was relatively easy to see the
dramatic effects that one might experience after eating certain plants.

>     Thus saying that they were to impress the ignorant misses the
> point.  These various types of practitioners of "travelling medicine"
> were medieval folk healers, such as are found in all pre-modern
> cultures.  In south Louisiana one still finds a few traiteurs, the
> traditional healers of Cajun culture.  In Mexico the curanderos are
> quite active.  In many third-world countries these folk healers
> operate in addition to physicians trained in Western medicine.  The
> alchemical herbals are best understood as shamanistic healing props.
> (This last point is more mine than Toresella's.)

I sure am glad that Coca-Cola was concocted by a wise druggist,
Dr. Pemberton, and I am not particularly concerned with learning
the secret recipe of  the herbs that were added. BTW curanderos
means "those who cure" which also reminds me of the word curare.

>     However, some of the users of these herbals were undoubtedly pure
> quacks; Toresella calls Master Ghino a charlatan.

> Dennis

Thank you very much for sharing this article with us.

Dana Scott

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