I found the Codex from Rohonc on the Internet and decided on my goals. So what next? To reach these goals I had only my “amazing powers of observation” and a good connection to the Internet.
I started with what was already known. I tried not to leave any rock unturned (and link unchecked). For every new topic I encountered (and most of them were new), the Wikipedia article was a start, both as information and as bibliography and links. Looking deeper, I found a wealth of information and an incredible number of beautiful manuscripts made available on-line.
The Munich Golden Psalter, p.22, from Die Bayerische Staats Bibliothek
I floated from link to link on as various topics as Manichaeism, Bogomil tales, Russian icons, magic and magick, the life and garden of a Hungarian nobleman, Old Believers, genealogies, Mi’kmaq shorthand and many more, stumbling upon pieces of information that didn’t seem interesting at the moment but in hindsight they proved to be valuable, making me spend a lot of time trying to retrace my steps to find them. This is the internet trap: you start looking up the latest movie at the mall and hours later, in an altered state of conscience, you somehow find yourself reading a very interesting article on Magna Charta. Or vice versa.
As I have no systematical knowledge in any of the sciences to be put to work when studying a mystery manuscript (paleography, codicology, history, art history, cryptology, etc.), I grazed and nibbled and picked bits of information from everywhere. Of course, the fact that you can search the internet by topic was of great help. But you need at least to know the words. It was an entire Odyssey just to find out the word “harrowing”, not to mention that I was completely oblivious to the existence of an episode called “Harrowing of Hell”. One of the drawings is exactly that (page 58 right). So, basically, I kinda started from very close to zero.
At some point, I had to deal with so much new information andorganizing it was the most difficult part.I made a habit of saving the photos into my computer and copying the url into the properties. This was very useful.
I have also gathered an unmanageable amount of bookmarks, which I transferred into an Excel sheet, ordered alphabetically, found out that some are in triplicate, and rechecked each one of them. Of course, many were “things to be read at a later, more convenient time”. Some are broken or useless by now.
Some of the books I found were only partially available (when it becomes really interesting it jumps a page, or a chapter, or to the last cover). I know, I should buy them. Sometime, in the future… Old books are entirely available though (Like Thompson’s Paleography or Conybeare’s Key of Truth on Armenian Paulicians).
In determining the content of the images, in some cases their meaning was obvious even to my untrained eye, in other cases further readings made me speculate (occasionally over-speculate) and eventually find matches, and then, for a few, I just stumbled upon similar illustrations by sheer luck. Most of the research work I did consisted in staring and squinting. Staring at the printed Codex drawings and squinting at the computer screen.I tried to keep an open mind and not hang on to any idea until I cross-checked it in any way I could think of. The mental image is of juggling with oranges. Every new piece of information, every new connection, adds an orange to be kept in mid-air. A good deal of them are still floating, but some I was able to put down. Those are the certainties. But I am ready to pick and toss them up again, if new things should arise. My present understanding was carved by many errors, mostly mine. Based on an overly imaginative interpretation of the drawings, and and an un-quenched thirst for a sensational finding, at the beginning I saw the manuscript as a Manichaean work, than a Bogomil one. However, the “heresy” hypothesis is still standing. Each “discovery” I blared to the world, and every time after I exposed them I instantly found some more information (literally, the same day) that made me reconsider or go a bit deeper (basically, made me feel embarrassed). So here I am, ready to embarrass myself (yet again) in the name of knowledge.
This is not the work of a specialist. I started it to occupy my mind, for fun, and it worked. But at some point I felt like I really made some progress and I can contribute to the understanding of the Rohonc Codex, so I decided to post them on my blog.And then the fun ended and the toil began. Because my knowledge on the Codex grew somewhat like coral reefs, ramified and entangled. Organizing it in a linear and logical way was, well, harrowing, and I am not sure I succeeded, at the same time suggesting the buzzing exhilaration I felt with every discovery. And you probably know that other feeling: When you don’t ask me I know, when you ask me I don’t.
While I was writing diligently, the ACTA controversy emerged. Just to be on the safe side, I took many of the images from Wikipedia, thinking they are in public domain anyway. But for every other image I will ask for permission to use, and hopefully will get it. So far, I cannot but appreciate the very relaxed attitude of some of the rich on-line databases like the one from the Koninklijke Bibliotheek or Munchener Digitalisierungs Zentrum. As I said, I have seen a great deal of medieval (in the large sense) manuscripts and books (just to find out that the Codex from Rohonc is not medieval at all), I gathered images from every corner of the Internet (corner? really?) and I give the links back to the source for every image I use.Though I garnered a shelf-load of physical books related to the Codex, or so I thought, the main tool for my research was the computer and its connection to the world. I am very grateful to those who put such an incredible amount of work into such a volatile environment, making it available for free and for everybody. I bet the American art professor who created a site for his students did not think that a Romanian restless middle-aged lady will read it with great interest.