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Only the above two letters are treated here. Many other relevant letters are discussed at the excellent > > web site of Philip Neal (scroll down about one page).
The first owner of the Voynich MS who is known to have written to Kircher, was Georg Baresch. He wrote in 1637, prompted by the appearance of Kircher's 'Prodromus Coptus', hoping that Kircher might be able to decipher the Voynich MS. This letter has not been found. He wrote again in 1639, reiterating his question, on the occasion of the departure of one or more 'religious persons' from Prague to Kircher in Rome. This letter has been preserved, and is the first included below. It is stored in the Archives of the Pontificia Università Gregoriana in Rome, shelfmark APUG 557, fol. 353.
Marci's visit to Kircher from 1638 or 1639 to 1640 was the start of a long friendship, and the two corresponded regularly in the years to come. Marci's first letter was sent while still on the way back from Rome to Prague. His second letter was sent from Prague and includes a recommendation of Baresch (certe vir optimus), apparently in response to a query about Baresch from Kircher.
Finally, after the death of Baresch, which must have occurred before 1662, Marci inherited the Voynich MS, and in 1665 he donated it to Kircher. The accompanying letter, now preserved in the Beinecke Library of Yale University (MS 408A), has received attention in various publications, and is the second letter to be included here.
Both early 1666 and early 1667, Godefrid Aloys Kinner, a friend of Marci, inquires on Marci's behalf whether Kircher has made any progress in translating the mysterious book which Marci had sent the year before. These were written shortly before Marci's death and it is possible that Marci's eyesight prevented him from writing himself.
The following symbols are used in the transcription:
[...] to complete abbreviations,
..//... to indicate word wrapping to the next line.
* to indicate an unreadable character.
Annotations in green
|Admod[um] R[everen]de Pater.||Most reverend father,|
|Obsequiis praemissis, omnia felicia ab Authore felicitatis V[estr]ae R[everend]ae Paternitati precor.||expressing my highest regards, I wish that you, reverend father, may receive all happiness from him who provides happiness.|
|Nactus occasionem personae Religiosae, proficiscentis in Italiam, atq[ue] ipsam Ro//mam, id ab ea, ut secum has deferret, obtinui, q[ui]bus in memoriam revocaretur scriptura quaedam, a me per R[everen]dum P. Moretum, Sacerdotem Societ. JESU Praga transmissa:||On the occasion of the departure for Italy, yes even for Rome, of a certain religious person, I obtained from that person that he carry this letter with you, with which I would like to remind you of some writing that I had sent from Prague with the aid of the Rev. fr. Moretus, priest of the Society of Jesus.|
|Cujus Scripturae mittendae haec fuit causa.||The reason for sending that writing was the following:|
|[ Postquam R[everend]a V[estr]a Prodromo operis Coptici, in publicum emisso, toti mundo inno//tuisset, in eoq[ue] inter alia, copias auxiliares, pro augenda supellectile, operis sui in lucem edendi, ab omnibus, q[ui] tale aliquid, quo idem opus ditari queat, possideant, postulasset:||[ After the publication of the Prodromus Coptus, Your Reverence became famous in the whole world, and in that work you had asked, among others, for help in finding additional material for the work you wished to publish, from all those who might have something from which this work might be enriched.|
|The "Prodromus Coptus" appeared in 1636.|
|non dubitavi, quin multi non tantum legationes chartaceas, eiusmodi divitijs onustas, in Urbem Orbis expediverint, sed etiam personaliter eo loci comparverint, ut penes obsequium rei praestitae, etiam conatibus insolitis, pro Repub[lica] literaria susceptis, atq[ue] laboribus quasi supra vires humanas Authoris congratulare[n]tur.||Thus, I did not doubt that many not only sent 'paper envoys', rich in such material, to Rome, but in addition to this material homage, presented themselves there personally, in order to congratulate themselves [you?], also for the extraordinary enterprise undertaken for the good of mankind, and the almost superhuman efforts by the author.|
|Qui nuncius gratissimus, cum etiam ad me pervenisset, et non solum admirabilis illius in lucem suo tempore p[ro]dituri[?] operis (utinam quantocius) brevem Synopsin ed*ruisset;||This most pleasing news, when it reached me as a dense brief summary, instructed [?] me not only of this wonderful work to be brought in due time into the light;|
|sed de inau//dita quoq[ue] in enodandis Sphingibus obscurissimarum scripturarum dexteritate, certiorem fecisset;||but also of the unheard-of ability in solving the riddles of that Sphinx of unknown writing systems;|
|cumq[ue] in mea Bibliotheca Sphinx q[uae]dam, Scripturae in//cognitorum characterum inutiliter occupasset locum, non abs re judicavi fore, si Oedipo Aegyptiaco aenigma transmitterem solvendum. ]||and since such a Sphinx in the form of writing in unknown characters was uselessly taking up space in my library, I thought I would not be unjustified in sending this enigma to be solved, to the egyptian Oedipus. ]|
|Traducta itaq[ue] ali//qua parte, scriptura imitata simili [?], ex libro quodam vetusto (cuius ocularis inspector, et informator erit [erat?] praesentium lator) scripturam eam direxi ad V[estr]am R[everend]am ante sesqualterum annum, eo fine, ut (si placeret V[estr]ae R[evered]ae in investi//gatio[n]e aliq[uo]d industriae collocare, et characteres illos fictionis ignotae, literis notis manifestare) labor ille et suo Oedipo (quatenus tamen res in libro occul//tatae, opere tam excellenti dignae forent) et mihi, et com[m]uni bono p[ro]desse pos//sit [posset?], librum enim ipsum itineri longinquo, perioritis pleno com[m]ittere, consul//tum non est:||Having thus transcribed (taking pain to imitate the writing) a certain part of this old book, which the carrier of this letter has seen with his own eyes and about which he can inform you, I sent this writing to Your Reverence a year and a half ago, with the aim that (if Your Reverence would have been willing to undertake this investigation and to convert these characters of unkown creation to known letters ) this toil could be of use either to your Oedipus (to the extent in which the things hidden in this book are worthy of such an exceptional effort), or to me, or to the common good; infact I did not dare submit the book itself to such a long [[dangerous]] voyage,|
|Siq[ui]dem etiam illud, quod p[ro]xima vice missum fuit, Romam non pervenit, ut ex eo colligo, q[uod] tanto tractu temporis, nihil de hoc re//scriptum intellexi.||if it is true that what I sent you the first time never reached Rome, as I conclude from the fact that after such a long time I have not heard of any reply about this.|
|Quapropter altera more duxi repetendum, quod in Urbe feliciter appulisse, supradictus Pater Moretus mihi retulit, de quo vehe//menter gavisus sum, magisq[ue] gaudebo, si praefactus liber ope V[estr]ae R[everend]ae reclu//sus fuerit, ut eius, quod in se boni habet, boni possint esse participes.||Therefore I decided to repeat this - the above-mentioned Father Moretus told me that he [it?] arrived safely in Rome; about which I was very pleased, and I shall be even more pleased when the above-mentioned book may be revealed thanks to Your Reverence, such that the good people may share what good information it has inside it.|
|Ex pictura herbarum, quarum plurimus est in Codice numerus, imaginum diversarum, Astrorum, aliarumq[ue] rerum, faciem chymicorum arca//norum referentium, conjicio totum esse medicinalem;||From the pictures of herbs, of which the number in the Codex is enormous, of various images, of stars and of other things which appear like chemical secrets, I conjecture that it is all of medical nature;|
|There can be no doubt that Baresch is talking about the 'Voynich MS'.|
|qua scientia, post salutem animae, nulla humano generi salubrior.||a science to which none other, except that of the health of the mind, is more healthy for the human species.|
|Opus hoc no[n] erit indignum conatu ingenij virtuosi, praesertim in negotio rei non vul//garis, ut ex eo judicari potest, quod causa plebeiorum occultandorum, tali industria vix author usus fuisset.||This work will be worthy of the effort of a virtuous genius, especially since this is not a work for all, which one may conclude from the fact that the author would hardly have gone to such lengths just to hide things which are open to the public.|
|Quin imo est valde p[ro]babile, ali//quem virum bonum, verae Medicinae amantem, (cum in partibus Europaeis vulgarem medendi methodum parum fructuosum depraehendisset) Regiones orientis adijsse, ibiq[ue] thesauros Artis medicae Aegyptiacos, partim ex mo//numentis librorum, tum etiam ex conversatione cum peritis artis adeptos, indeq[ue] reportatos, talibus notis in libro eo defodisse.||In fact, it is quite probable that some good man, interested in the true medical science (having realised that the common method of healing in Europe was not very effective) went to the oriental regions, where he acquired some Egyptian treasures of medicine, partly from books, partly also from discussions with the expers in this art, and that he took this information back with him, buried in this book with its characters.|
|The reference to eastern (especially Egyptian) medicine could be seen as an attempt to trick Kircher into becoming interested in this MS.|
|Augent p[ro]babilitatem herbae peregrinae, in Volumine depictae, notitiam hominum in partibus Germaniae subterfugientes.||This probability is increased by these exotic herbs, drawn in the Volume, which escape from the knowledge of the people in the German country.|
|Spero fore, quod V[estr]a R[everend]a quae flagrat amore edendi in publicum optima, etiam hoc bonum , si quod est in libro, characteribus ignotis sepultum, pro com[m]uni bono, p[ro]movere no[n] dedignabitur;||I hope that Your Reverence, who burns with passion for publication of things which are good, will not disdain from revealing also those things which are good in this book, buried in unknown characters, for the general good,|
|siq[ui]dem hic tali oneri subeundo, nemo est sufficiens, utpote tali obscuritati, quae singulare ingenium, et dexteritatem exercita//tam, aut certe modum aliquem non facile depraehensibilem, req[ui]rat.||given that here there is nobody capable of lifting such a weight, which consists of such obscure material that it requires a special genius, and a precticed ability, or at least a method difficult to fathom.|
|Pro quo ei obligatus ero, non tantum illo, quod opus illud continet, sed etiam q[ui]cquid aliud erit possibile.||I will be obliged to you for this, not just for what the work contains, but also all else that will become possible.|
|Adiungo hic aliquot lineas scripturae ignotae, ad revocandum in memo//riam, ante missam similium characterum scriptionem.||I add here some lines in the unknown writing, to remind you of what I had written and sent to you before, in similar characters.|
|The announced "lines of writing" are not included in this one-page letter, but may have been on separate pages.|
|His me V[estr]ae R[everend]ae com[m]endans, eidem p[ro]sperum exitum laborum non Vulgariu[m] exopto. Deus T.O.M. eam Reipub[licae] literariae conservet diutissime.||With this I recommend myself to Your Reverence and I wish you a happy, successful completion of this work not for all. May the Almighty Lord preserve you for the community of literates.|
|Pragae A[nn]o [Domini] 1639. 27 die Aprilis, quo olim Romam, in Universitate Sapientiae Romanae, Predicae [Predictae] Sapientiae operam daturus, apprili A[nn]o [Domini] 1605.||Prague, 27 April 1639 on the same day on which, in Rome in April 1605, I took up my studies at the University "La Sapienza".|
V[estr]ae R[everen]dae Paternit[ate]
M. Georgius Baresch
IMAGE: the letter from Marci to Kircher
|Reuerende et Eximie Domine in Christo Pater.||Reverend and Distinguished Sir; Father in Christ:|
|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.||This book, bequeathed to me by an intimate friend, I destined for you, my very dear Athanasius, as soon as it came into my possesion, for I was convinced it could be read by no-one except yourself.|
|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;||The former owner of this book once asked your opinion by letter, copying and sending you a portion of the book from which he believed you would be able to read the remainder,|
|The intimate friend is Georg Baresch, and the letter given above appears to be the second of two such submissions.|
|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.||but he at that time refused to send the book itself. To its deciphering he devoted unflagging toil, as is apparent from attempts of his which I send you herewith, and he relinquished hope only with his life.|
|The attempts which Marci announces to be sending with the letter are lost|
|Verum labor hic frustraneus fuit, siquidem non nisi suo Kirchero obediunt eiusmodi sphinges.||But his toil was in vain, for such Sphinxes as these obey no-one but their master, Kircher,|
|Accipe ergo modo quod pridem tibi debebatur hoc qualecunque mei erga te affectus indicium; huiusque seras, si quae sunt, consueta tibi felicitate perrumpe.||Accept now this token, such as it is, and long overdue though it be, of my affection for you, and burst through its bars, if there are any, with your wonted success.|
|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.||Dr. Raphael, tutor in the Bohemian language to Ferdinand III, then King of Bohemia, told me the said book had belonged to the Emperor Rudolph and that he presented the bearer who brought him the book 600 ducats. He believed the author was Roger Bacon, the Englishman.|
|This has long been understood to mean that the Bacon authorship was believed at Rudolph's court. P.Neal points out that this should be understood to mean it was actually Dr. Raphael's opinion.|
|ego judicium meum hic suspendo. tu uero quid nobis hic sentiendum defini, cujus fauori et gratiae me totum commendo maneoque.||On this point I suspend judgment; it is your place to define for us what view we should take thereon, to whose favor and kindness I ureservedly commit myself and remain|
|Reuerentiae Vestrae. Ad Obsequia Joannes Marcus Marci a Cronland.||At the command of your Reverence, JOANNES MARCUS MARCI, of Cronland|
|Pragae 19. Augusti AD 1666.||PRAGUE, 19th August 1666.|
|The year is not clearly legible. It could be either 1665 or 1666. From the reference in the next letter on this page we know that it should be 1666.|
I am indebted to M.J. Gorman of the Institute and Museum of the History of Science, Florence, for the initial Latin transcription of the letter from Baresch, and to Prof.ssa R. Mugellesi of the Classical Philological Institute in Pisa for a translation into Italian and suggested corrections of the transcription. I followed the Itialian translation almost literally in the English version, and received additional help from Mark Sullivan.
The Latin text of the letter from Marci (1665) has been made available at the Beinecke library gopher site. The English translation of this letter is from John Tiltman, with a proposed clarification by Philip Neal.
Or use your browser's BACK buttonCopyright René Zandbergen, 2010