Decoding history

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People have all sorts of interests—some watch football, some enjoy the outdoors, others like to crochet. For Associate Professor of English Fred Porcheddu ’87, it’s medieval texts that strike his fancy. So, imagine his delight when he learned of a bequest left to Denison’s Archives and Special Collections that, among other things, included a complete and intact medieval manuscript dated from 1459.

Needless to say, Porcheddu was ecstatic. The discovery led to a semester-long sabbatical dedicated to uncovering the mysteries of these new treasures. To this day, Porcheddu continues to unearth fresh facts, but there are important details that he already has deciphered.

The scribe of the manuscript was Reymbertus Reymberti, a student at the University of Erfurt in Germany. Reymberti paired three separate works by two different authors to complete the piece, and all three focus on alchemy. The first, authored by John of Rupescissa, concentrates on the uses of ethyl alcohol. The second and third entries were long attributed to Ramon Lull until it was confirmed that they were written after his death, so scholars now refer to them as “Pseudo-Lullian.” They include a shortcut to making the “philosopher’s stone,” the artifact made famous by the first Harry Potter novel.

Once his research is complete, Porcheddu plans to publish his findings and present them at a conference of his peers, as well as to friends of Denison.

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