(17) What Makes the Puzzler Sore

The Codex from Rohonc delivers a good number of paradoxes and mysteries when first examined and they pile up at a closer look, making it worthy of the name given by Bernhard Jülg. The eminent linguist and professor from Innsbruck was asked to examine the document, soon after it was discovered, but to no avail. He returned the booklet calling it the Vexier Codex, a name that expresses his feelings. I don’t know what specifically vexed him but here is what vexes me:

1. Why the secrecy? The content is obviously religious, specifically Christian. Even if there are some peculiar elements in the pictures that complicate the identification of the exact denomination, it is nonetheless a Christian book, where Jesus, angels and YHWH are key figures. The basic texts of the Christian faith were well known to the flock of believers, even by heart, some of them. Why hide them in an over the top complicated cipher? Does it contain elements of heresy, as suggested by some of the drawings? Then why give them away by illustrating them? With the little evidence at hand, I can presume that there is a concordance between the drawings and script, therefore, the drawings are not intended as a mere deception.

2. Why the complicated mirroring? It is obvious not only in the writing but also in the drawings and pagination. When you already have a killer cipher, you really do not need to write things in reverse just to hide the content. I tried to find an answer in the chapter !rorriM.

3. Omissions and alterations of the pictures. Many of the drawings follow identifiable patterns, observing the traditional representation of Bible scenes. However, some of them show inexplicable (to me) alterations, which in some cases may be mistakes, but in other cases are obviously deliberate. Where are some of the important characters? As long as I did not identify all the pictures, it is premature to say that specific characters are completely missing from the CR. It is not just that icons dear to the Christian world are missing, such as the Baptism of Jesus or the Coronation of the Virgin, but important figures were eliminated from pictures where their presence is customary.

page 26 Left

page 26 Left

The composition, with the angels collecting the blood from Christ’s wounds, resembles Giotto’s Crucifixion from the Scrovegni Chapel, therefore, the differences are all the more obvious.

Crucifixion of Christ - Giotto, Capela Scrovegni, Padua - from WebGallery of Art

Crucifixion of Christ – Giotto, Capela Scrovegni, Padua – from WebGallery of Art

The most usual depiction is with the distraught Maries at the feet of the cross. In Giotto’s fresco they are with John, the disciple entrusted by Jesus to his mother with the words “Woman, behold your son”. The soldiers taking his clothes are a counterbalance to the group on the left and among them is the centurion Longinus who speared the side of Jesus to see if he is still alive. The scene is mentioned as such only in the Gospel of John (19:26-34). In the Codex, the place of Mary Magdalene is taken by the kneeling centurion Longinus, his spear almost as big as the cross. Both pictures are inspired by the same Gospel, they have some similar features, but what important characters the author of the Codex chose to leave out! If he wanted to simplify the composition due to its small size, he could have left out the group of soldiers.

Longinus piercing the side of Christ – a fresco by Fra Angelico – Wikipedia – St. Longinus

Longinus piercing the side of Christ – a fresco by Fra Angelico – Wikipedia – St. Longinus

Instead, he chose Longinus over the Holy Mother. At first, I thought he had a thing with women, as I noticed how sparse the female characters are and how they were deliberately omitted throughout the CR.  I thought that maybe the author shied away from drawing female figures. I have heard of this before. The intricate fresco in the Slovakian castle from Orava includes many portraits of men, and only men. There are two damsels, rather hinted then depicted, one hidden in a tower and one behind a tree. The reason? The artist could not paint women.

Fresco in Orava castle – the picture is from the OravskeMuseum site– sorry, could not find the contact tab in the menu to ask for permission. I only know two basic Czech/Slovakian words: pivo and zmrzlina.

Fresco in Orava castle – the picture is from the OravskeMuseum site– sorry, could not find the contact tab in the menu to ask for permission. I only know two basic Czech/Slovakian words: pivo and zmrzlina.

But, the author of the Codex left out the author of the Gospel too, so this can’t be just idiosyncrasy to women. In fact, this composition must be quite rare, since I saw hundreds of Crucifixions in my unsuccessful attempt to find an exact match. Longinus appears in many, either before or in the act of piercing the side of Jesus, never in the stance from CR.  Saints or commissioners adoring the crucified Christ are not uncommon,

Crucifixion with Saint Dominic – Fra Angelico – WikimediaCommons

Crucifixion with Saint Dominic – Fra Angelico – WikimediaCommons

but, in my opinion, the presence of the spear in the CR drawing suggests rather unequivocally that it is Longinus. In the mainstream pattern, John, son of Zebedee, is comforting Mary as he gets a special place in the family of Christ, being appointed by Christ himself as son to the Blessed Virgin. In the CR rendition, the secondary story of the picture changes. Here, the repenting centurion takes center stage, the one who, according to tradition, testified “In truth this was the Son of God” and converted to Christianity, later being sanctified as Saint Longinus. Had the author a reason to sympathize with repenting soldiers? Or did he place in central position the ordinary man who got firsthand knowledge on the divine nature of Jesus?

Rabbula Gospel, 6th century Syriac Gospel Book, first to mention the name Longinus – WikimediaCommons

Rabbula Gospel, 6th century Syriac Gospel Book, first to mention the name Longinus – WikimediaCommons

Another drawing significantly straying from traditional iconography is the Last Judgment. Here is the usual depiction in Western Christianity.

Masters of the Dark Eyes, Last Judgment, Book of Hours, fol 52v., c. 1490, from Koninklijke Bibliotheek

Masters of the Dark Eyes, Last Judgment, Book of Hours, fol 52v., c. 1490, from Koninklijke Bibliotheek

Christ is resting his feet on the orb, a lily and a sword project from his head, flanked by two angels. The Virgin Mary and John the Baptist are kneeling in prayer for the souls to be judged. At the bottom is a huge monster, the Hellmouth, where the damned souls are led, while the righteous are shown by angels into the light. In orthodox (Eastern Christianity) icons, the central group is the same, but the composition is larger showing the fate of various groups of people, shall the Day of Judgment come.

Last Judgment  - Russian icon from the 18thcentury – Wikipedia, LastJudgment

Last Judgment – Russian icon from the 18thcentury – Wikipedia, LastJudgment

And here is the CR drawing

page 79 Right

page 79 Right

I ventured to explain (here) who the characters flanking Jesus are, based on the Russian icon above.  On his left, with the crown, is Abraham (or Isaac) and on his right is Moses, which in the Russian icon are the first figures in the register below him, only in switched positions. The presence of the Virgin Mary and the John the Forerunner at the feet of  Jesus, the Judge of All the Earth,  is a key feature in Christian faith and a source of solace for the Christian believer. The essence of this universal event, the Judgment Day, that amasses the living and the dead, is to decide who will spend eternity in Heaven and who in Hell, based on their merit. John the Baptist and the mother of Jesus are there to ask for mercy, to intervene on behalf of the mortals, and give them hope that the objectionable parts of their life will not throw them in the undying fire. Why did the author of the Codex make this extraordinary replacement is a mystery to me. Another mystery, quite a frightful one,  is the hopeless and unbalanced vision of two hungry Hellmouths at the bottom of the CR drawing, with no room left for Heaven, no alternative for the righteous. In the name of a misplaced love for symmetry, did our author sacrifice the chance to redemption? What sort of Christian does that? This is the most disturbing alteration, a mistake that has no sense in any of the numerous branches of Christianity, not to my knowledge. An interesting omission is in the small icon of the Trinity.

page 95 Left

page 95 Left

I found several similar representations in Books of Hours, but this one is closest.

Maître de la Trinité - Petites Heures de Jean de Berry - Bibliotheque nationale de France (beautiful interactive books in their Exposition virtuelles)

Maître de la Trinité – Petites Heures de Jean de BerryBibliotheque nationale de France (beautiful interactive books in their Exposition virtuelles)

The picture is about the Trinity, the three personas of God: the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten and the Holy Spirit who proceeds. Except that in the CR picture the Holy Spirit is missing. Is this a mistake or a deliberate omission, reflecting the author’s beliefs? He drew doves as impersonations of the Holy Spirit in other circumstances:

4786d-holyspirits The relationship between the three hypostasis of God is subject to debate from the beginning of Christianity, but the position of the Holy Spirit is the most argued upon. The subtleties of this debate are far beyond my power of understanding, so is the position of various churches. For instance, nowadays churches of snake handlers are some Trinitarians some not. But it is worth keeping in mind that Balthazar Batthyany (the great grandfather of the donor of the Codex) harbored a group of Antitrinitarians on his estate from Güssing in the 16thcentury, as mentioned by Dora Bobory in her book The Sword and the Crucible, dedicated to this open-minded aristocrat, interested in gardening and alchemy. All these peculiarities might be explained by an affiliation to or influences from a heresy that denies a central role to the mother of Jesus, cultivates respect for the Bible patriarchs but does not accept the New Testament saints as intercessors and has an original position regarding the Holy Spirit. Paulicians and Bogomils fit the bill.  But I get lost between strange words such as adoptionism, docetism, homoousion on one hand and on the other, the very strange Bogomil legends. (One is about creation of man. The evil Demiurge shapes the body and then breathes spirit into his mouth. But the spirit escapes on the hind-side. Then, he tries to blow the spirit from behind, but the spirit escapes through the man’s lips. And so on.) I wish somebody who knows his sects and heresies would take a look and give a verdict.

4. Violence, or the absence of it. Here is a brief consideration concerning the drawings as a whole. They seem to have been influenced by popular books, such as Books of Hours or the Speculum Humanae Salvationis, as well as paintings and icons. All these probable sources have a great number of very brutal pictures. Violence is inherent to many Bible stories and there is a keenness in depicting human pain, in augmenting violence in already violent themes that is disturbing today, if you are not a Texas Chainsaw Massacre fan (take a look at the bottom register of the Russian Last Judgment icon from above).

The Massacre of the Innocents – Kerald, master of Codex Egberti – Wikipedia, Massacre of the Innocents

The Massacre of the Innocents – Kerald, master of Codex Egberti – Wikipedia, Massacre of the Innocents

Saint Lucia – The Nueremberg Chronicle on Beloit College Morse Library

Saint Lucia – The Nueremberg Chronicle on Beloit College Morse Library

Le Miroir de l'humaine Salvation, Chapter XXXVI.The Hunterian Museum Library, Glasgow, Ms. 60, fol. 59 recto – from the California Digital Library

Le Miroir de l’humaine Salvation, Chapter XXXVI.The Hunterian Museum Library, Glasgow, Ms. 60, fol. 59 recto – from the California Digital Library

In some instances, the popular gusto for seeing both saints and sinners tortured encouraged the artists to constantly take it up a notch , until they reached the point where high rank clerics ordered the “various horrors” (sexual themes included) to be erased or whitewashed.  (J.P. Himka – Last Judgment Iconography in the Carpathians, p. 182).The Codex from Rohonc, despite the crude rendition of the drawings and poor penmanship, that implies a lesser educated hand and mind, avoids as much as possible any cruel imagery. The author of the Codex had a wide array of holy brutalities to choose from, had he wished to represent any. Instead, he decreases the atrocity of scenes traditionally atrocious.  The Crucifixion, which basically depicts a horrible torture, is mellowed by representing Longinus not in the act of stabbing the side of Jesus but in prayer at his feet. The Massacre of the Innocents (if this is it) is barely recognizable. The Last Judgment is reduced to a few characters, none of them in torment.Probably the most wicked drawings are the Flogging and the Hell.

a92f6-violenceThis is the entire inventory of cruelty and violence.  And another peculiarity. No hooves, no horns. No devils.

Devils gathering the sinners - Color pictures of Last Judgment icons from the Carpathians , illustrations to Last Judgment Iconography in the Carpathians by J.P. Himka

Devils gathering the sinners – Color pictures of Last Judgment icons from the Carpathians , illustrations to Last Judgment Iconography in the Carpathians by J.P. Himka

5. Odd distribution of signs. The Codex script (in)famously has about 800 different signs. Some of them are enormously frequent such as the c and the triangle, others appear only a few times . The set of letters seem to change, there are pages dominated by certain signs or combinations thereof and then they vanish or their frequency diminishes dramatically. Like this embellished reverted K which pops out throughout the manuscript, not on each page, but quite often, at a rate of one, two or three, maximum five on a double page. And then there are the exceptions: pages 77 (14 occurrences) 78 (18), 118 (18) and 208 (18)

page 78

page 78

And here is another example, the one that is responsible for my biggest disappointment. Because of this particular string, I kinda lost faith that the script is actually a script.  After identifying the drawing that illustrates Psalm 42: As the deer pants for the water brooks,/So pants my soul for You, O God This is what I found

page 148

page 148

And looking for a possible starting point, this is the previous page

page 147

page 147

Actually, the madness starts on page 144 left, with a high on pages 146 and 147. The final count for the string shows a total of 62 repetitions, sometimes 3 in a row, within 5 pages. And then comes page 149

page 149

page 149

Surprise. None. I was too disappointed (and disgusted) to check the entire Codex for this particular string (I noticed one on 152 though), but it is not a staple, and there is no other section where this particular sequence to be so frequent. Regardless of the drawing that might be correctly identified or not, what the heck is this? Does that look like a possible language? But if it is just gibberish, why make corrections? Just go back to page 78 above (with the reverted Ks) and look at the fifth row from the top on the right side. A missed sign was added between the lines. Such corrections show concern for accuracy (?)  and they were made either to fill in or to delete signs.

page 94

page 94

Additions are yellow .

page 15

page 15

An entire row obliterated. Back to the wretched three sign string, my mind is relentlessly searching for a solution. If my ratiocination was correct in the chapter “If This Script Has Any Sense”, the first sign (the two facing brackets) stands for “O” and the last one (the triangle) stands for “I”. The circle in the middle is also in the middle of the ligature that stands for Abraham (see the Last Judgment drawing above). It could possibly stand for “H”. OHI is NO in Greek. Wild guessing.

6.  The small number of combinations of signs. In a written language, the number of letters is fairly small, while the number of words, respectively of combinations of letters is huge. Romanian has 31 letters and about 70.000 words, Hungarian has 40 letters and about 110.000 words while English has 26 letters and about 250.000 words. The Bible as a whole has 14.564 unique words, the Old Testament having a richer style with its 10.867 words and a more repetitive New Testament with 6.063 words. This proportion is not applicable to the Codex.  Whereas the number of signs is in the range of 800, the number of discernible distinct combinations of signs is comparatively small. Moreover, some of the signs are used in only a few combinations.

Take for instance this dumbbell grapheme. In the first one hundred pages appears 57 times, all the combinations being in the table below (read the tables from right to left – I found it easier to work this way) Table 1 cd57d-tabelhalteraThe variations are highlighted. Table 2 b8363-tctable And finally, one that looks like a playful permutation of the almost same elements. Table 3 8ef82-tautable

7.  The dividers that don’t divide.  The snakes and various other lines and drawings look like separators of sections of the manuscript. However, at least in one instance the script continues beyond the presumed divider

page 193

page 193

The string is common for the dumbbell sign, see table 1 above, level 2 variant. Such being the case, where does a section start and where does it end? Are there any sections?

8. How many writers? The manuscript is not the work of a trained scribe, one whose hand is steady and whose calligraphy is consistent, who carefully changes quills or stops to sharpen them as they wear down. It was suggested that there are two writers, but in fact the writing shows more variety. Since my own handwriting looks very different, depending on how I tilt the page, whether I wear or not my glasses or just my mood and there is one signature towards the end of the Codex, I will assume there was one scribe and the differences in writing are the result of his poor penmanship.

9. The partial drawing – The missing part of the cut drawing is not in the codex.

page 57

page 57

This is vexing as concerns the persona of the author. It crossed my mind that the codex is the result of an impulsive act of religious enthusiasm. The writing and drawing skills show that the author is unsophisticated and untrained. He got his hands on a notebook in some (miraculous) way and filled it, page after page, with a pretend writing, meantime drawing what he remembered from church paintings, icons, maybe books. Or the half drawing suggests that he made the codex the traditional way, more or less, filling the pages at least with the drawings, before he cut them. And that takes serious planning. Imagine you make an eight pages pamphlet, size A5. You assemble the text and pictures on the computer, print it on both sides on two A4 papers and then staple them in the middle.  If you are not using a special program, it takes a lot of thinking and flipping the papers to see what goes where, so that in the end it makes sense. Now, think of doing the same by using A3 sheets, which means that, on top of everything, you will have to cut the paper. The making of a manuscript in codex form consisted of several steps:nIf the content was not original, getting hold of the material to be copied was not an easy or cheap task. Neither was supplying the tools of the trade: vellum, or in our case paper, quills and ink, as well as the materials for binding. Determining what goes where on the sheets of paper is the part I find most difficult. In doing this, the scribe had to bear in mind that the sheets will be cut into smaller pieces, the folios will be folded into gatherings, how many folios will go to each gathering, and that the content has to run logically from page to page, from gathering to gathering. I suppose there were good algorithms set in place for this stage, since the number of flawed manuscripts is surprisingly (to me) small. I guess the best method was to unbundle the original and copy it following its exact setting. (But somebody had to make that original.) The professional scribes then decided on the number of columns, the number of lines on page, and the font to be used. Copying the text usually followed the original, the scribes flipping and changing the sheets of paper as they progressed through the text. They also left space for the embellished letters and the miniatures. The illuminators or limners took over next, first outlining the drawings, then applying the golden decoration and afterward painting them in colors. The last stage was the binders work. The sheets of paper were folded, cut and organized in gatherings. Each gathering was sewn, and then the gatherings were all sewn together in various techniques. The corpus of the book was finally fastened in a wooden or leather cover. Those involved were more or less specialized in one of these activities. The author of the CR obviously skipped the gold leaf application. The order in which he performed the activities is probably: draw, write, cut, group the folios, sew the gatherings, sew to the leather cover. The drawings being made before the script is apparent from at least one place where the script continues into the drawing.

page 42

page 42

It is not exactly the traditional order and not the easiest way to do it. The question arising is if the order of the pages is correct, or better said, if it is the order intended by the author. The Passion sequence is fairly well assembled, starting with page 29 – capturing Jesus, to page 64 – Doubting Thomas. However, three pictures are inserted, that are probably not in the right place fe01e-cucii10. The colophone – The CR is signed, but it doesn’t end with the signature.

page 222

page 222

The badly damaged script continues on pages 223, 224 and the final 225. In any given book of the past, the extra pages, following the signature, usually contain technical data. The ones I read were addressed by the author to the reader and in short said: The illustrious X commissioned this book, the skillful Z printed it, and humble me wrote (translated) it, sorry if I made any mistakes, God bless y’all. If this is a colophone, what is its purpose, since nobody can read it?

This is the account of the vexers and puzzlers as I found them in the Codex from Rohonc. 3ad8a-sarpearlechin550

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