Where is Paradise? How can a man get there? A life of virtue might suffice, but who wants to wait for death to claim life’s rewards? Thomas Deerham, wandering war-torn Europe, has no thought of going anywhere but home. But when he falls in with a friar and a pilgrim, his plans change. The three men, none of them quite what they seem, set off on a quest that takes them beyond the known world to places only dreamt of by ancient cosmographers.
In this sequel to False Ambassador, Thomas Deerham seizes his chance to escape papal service when Pius II dies at Ancona. Stealing a copy of Plato’s Timaeus, and a beautiful mappamundi drawn up by the great scholar Toscanelli, he heads for England and home. Robbed in Paris, he is helped by vagabond-poet François Villon. Bitter after his exile and disgrace, François follows Thomas to England. But the Hundred Years’ War is giving way the Wars of the Roses, and England is no place for friendless wanderers. By the middle of a bitter winter, after a series if failed scams, the pair face starvation.
They are rescued by Christian Rosenkreutz, who has followed Thomas to get the mappamundi, which he thinks will guide him to Paradise. When François steals a bizarrely illustrated book, (now known as the Voynich Manuscript) written in a language no one can understand, new possibilities are suggested. Rosenkreutz proposes a voyage to search for the lost wisdom of Atlantis, and the three set off on travels that rival those of Mandeville and Marco Polo.
Published by Dedalus £9.99
ISBN 978 1 903517 77
The voyage described in Mappamundi is guided by a mysterious book, bizarrely illustrated and written in an unknown language. It is known today as the Voynich Manuscript, after the book dealer who found it. Wilfrid Voynich specialised in touring Italian monasteries and discovering valuable books in their libraries, for which he paid as little as possible. He found the book that bears his name in 1912, at the Villa Mondragone, in Frascati, near Rome. He tried to decipher it, and to sell it, claiming that it was the work of Roger Bacon, the C13th English philosopher. As well as Roger Bacon, other possible authors are John Dee, Queen Elizabeth’s ‘conjuror’, Edward Kelley (Dee’s assistant) and Voynich himself. However, the MS appears to be genuinely old, and was probably written between the 13th and 17th centuries. Some have suspected the MS to be a production of the Rosicrucians, who were flourishing in central Europe at that time. A letter found with the MS shows that it was owned by Rudolf II of Bohemia, who paid 600 ducats for it, sometime before 1600.
Today it is in the Beinecke Rare Book Library, at Yale University, where it is listed as MS 408.
Many attempts have been made to decipher it, none, so far, successful. Here are some websites about the Voynich MS.