Books for professional use
VCF 23 (Germany, 1568-1600): Aristotle, Secretum Secretorum (Secret of Secrets), paper, 490 fols., 310 x 200 mm, 1 col., 22-26 lines.

The Secretum secretorum (The Secret of Secrets) was one of the most widely read texts amongst intellectuals in the High Middle Ages. The text was believed to be a letter written by Aristotle to Alexander the Great. Nowadays scholars think that the Secret of Secrets was more than likely written by an unknown tenth-century Arabic author. The Secretum secretorum discusses topics such as: ethics, astrology, alchemy, magic and medicine. The famous scholar Roger Bacon often cited from this text and has added his own extensive glosses. In 1266 Jacob van Maerlant translated the text into Middle Dutch (see De heimelijkheid der heimelijkheden LTK 169).

This manuscript contains part of the Secretum secretorum (fols. 20 - 41) and various other alchemical treatises. It is copied by six different scribes and written in German, Latin, and Greek. Fols. 144v - 145v contains horoscopes from January 9th, 1506 and January 12th, 1507. Just as many of the other manuscripts in this theme, this one was owned by Sebald Schwertzer, Queen Christina of Sweden, and Isaac Vossius.

(Boeren, 1975, pp. 70-75)


  1. Before a scribe could begin to fill the quires with text, the layout of the page needed to be designed and prepared. What instruments did the scribe of this manuscript use to prepare the pages?
  2. Book design was not only influenced by the manner in which the book would be used, but also by its contents. This is not surprising, of course, since contents and use are closely related: you generally use a book because of the texts it contains. Perform a modest online search about the text in this book and assess for what reason or reasons it was commonly used (education, church rituals, reference, professional use, etc.). Now try to relate the contents of the book to the material features it was given. Can you relate the two? Which material features you observe make sense now you know more about the text? Are there any that don’t?


  1. Boeren, P. C. (1975). Codices vossiani chymici. Universitaire Pers Leiden.