The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies Online Lecture Series presents regularly scheduled lectures related to the study of premodern manuscript books and global manuscript culture.
Medieval alchemical manuscripts can present numerous problems for the researcher. One of the most pressing is the authenticity of a given manuscript. In this talk, I will present a case study – the questionable authenticity of a work often attributed to Roger Bacon – the Epistola de secretis operibus artis et naturae et de nullitate magiae. This work, which consists of 11 chapters, supposedly details Bacon’s thoughts on the ability of art to perfect nature in many forms, including the creation of machines, the prolongation of human life, and, of course, the creation of the philosophers’ egg and the ability of man to transmute metals. Numerous arguments have been provided for its provenance. I will describe the paleographical approaches that I have taken in examining the manuscripts to argue that there is no overwhelming reason to discount its authenticity, and that for the present, it should continue to remain a part of Bacon’s oeuvre.