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VMs: Liber Floridus, Opicinus, Crypto speculation and John Dee
I have posted the summary of the genesis of the Liber Floridus on my
website. It's 10 pages long:
It's highly technical but I found it exciting reading. It shows how an
encyclopaedic document like the VMS might have come about. It also points
out some items that are conspicuously absent from the VMS, like cartography
and history. And it hints at what could be in the text. And finally it gives
a key to the interpretation of the mysterious pictures that are on the
The big-size enlargements on the KB-website didn't work but since last
Friday you can see the pages in minute detail. There are two pages of
fantasy plants, but if you read the text they symbolise the biblical trees.
Still they have a VMS look-and-feel and they demonstrate how distorted a
plant image could become.
The book about Opicinus de Canistris that I'm reading right now has 52
wonderful A3-sized plates. Great detail, you need a magnifying glass to read
the Latin text but then it's clearly readable. Printing technology from
1936! My first impression from the book is that the author had
manic-depressive tendencies :-) and he incorporated them in his wonderful
A lot of rosette-like diagrams from Opicinus' codex are decorated with the
"calendrical letters" that repeat all around the rosette (sic: a b c d e f g
a b c d e f g ...). One of the VMS pictures at Beinecke has a similar
repeating pattern, but here the pattern is 17 characters long. Just a wild
guess: 7 characters for the week days + 10 digits ?
I have also finished the book "John Dee's Conversations with Angels". Mrs.
Harkness is very sympathetic towards John Dee and in fact presents him as a
scientist using the most advanced scientific methods of his time (looking
for his version of a "Grand Unified Theory"). There is some mention of
cryptography and hints at complex cabalistic symbol manipulations that - as
far as I know - could be able to produce texts with any kind of entropy
(EKT-hypothesis). And even the infamous wife-swapping episode is put in a
sympathetic context. I have put some excerpts on my website.
In spite of all the sympathy by Mrs. Harkness towards John Dee I found this
a most depressing book. When I compare it with the books on Lambert de Saint
Omer (Liber Floridus) and Opicinus de Canistris - both great weirdo's in
themselves and in fact both a grand failure - then I think that it's
difficult to feel any fondness or warm feelings towards John Dee. He emerges
as a tragic, aloof and rather humourless figure. In comparison - reading
about the vain attempts of Lambert to organise his codex while suffering
from vellum-shortage leaves me with a wonderfully uplifted feeling and a lot
of sympathy towards his person.