Sunday, 13 July 2008

Tadeáš Hájek z Hájku (& the Voynich Ms)...?

Note: this article has now moved to tadeas-hajek-z-hajku-the-voynich-ms on Cipher Mysteries

Here's a little piece of Voynichiana pinging on the edges of the VMs research radar, concerning Tadeáš Hájek z Hájku (1525-1600), who I thought had not to date been speculatively linked with the VMs. It came from the text accompanying the "Earth and Sky: Astronomy and Geography at the University between the 15th and the 18th centuries" exhibition at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest in 2005, but also (mostly) reappears in the Wikipedia page. (Which came first? I don't know!)

Why flag Hájek at all? Jan Hurych once put up a page on him on his Hurontaria site, but (I thought) only as a piece of background research data. It's true that as personal physician to Maximilian I (in Vienna) and to Rudolph II (mainly in Prague), Hájek would have vetted or commented on anything alchemical, astronomical, astrological or medical entering the Imperial Court prior to 1600. But might there be more to it?

"In 1554 he studied medicine in Bologna and went to Milan the same year to listen to lectures by Girolamo Cardano, but he soon returned to Prague, where he became a professor of mathematics at the Charles University of Prague in 1555."

If (as I do) you see a Northern Italian art history link in the VMs' drawings, then Hájek's Prague-Bologna-Milan-Prague travels probably jumps out at you too: so, please go on...

"Hájek was in frequent scientific correspondence with the recognized astronomer Tycho and played an important role in persuading Rudolph II to invite Brahe (and later Kepler) to Prague. His voluminous writings in Latin were mostly concerned with astronomy and many regarded him as the greatest astronomer of his time."

In the words of the Joker, "I like him already". But, errrrm, what about the VMs, then?

"[...]Hájek eagerly collected manuscripts, especially those by Copernicus, and may have been the one to convince Rudolph II to procure the infamous Voynich manuscript. [...] Throughout his life he also published numerous astrological prognostics in Czech and that is why he was until recently viewed as an „occultist” rather than a great scientist."

I think we can safely say that, apart from the absence of any actual evidence, Hájek is a great candidate manuscript carrier to add to the Voynich story, far better than Dee and Kelley. And what would make it even more poignant is that the pair of them visited Hájek's house in Prague, which was (according to a fascinating 1999 post on by Michael Pober) "'by Bethlem', first mentioned in "A True and Faithful Relation' p. 212, Prague 1584, 15th August."

Might Hájek have owned the VMs, perhaps buying it during his time in Italy? It would be interesting to see his handwriting and marginalia commentary style, just in case there's some kind of unexpected link between that and what we see in the VMs. I've asked Jan Hurych, but he hasn't examined Hájek's handwriting: so I'll have to pursue this with the Czech libraries myself (more on that soon).

Given that Hájek translated Matthioli's famous herbal into Czech, it is certainly interesting that the marginalia at the top of f17r appears to have been miscorrected to read "mattior". I had always guessed that it was George Baresch who had done this - but perhaps it might have been Hájek instead? Something to think about, anyway...

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