We’re back in the Middle Ages, in the Court of Emperor Rudolf II. A noted bibliophile and collector, he favours the intellectuals over the mighty.
We know this is true – it’s the reason he was eventually forced to abdicate, after he fell ill and was unable to muster sufficient support to keep this throne.
Now, imagine that one of the Mighty Men of the time wants to curry favour with his bookish Emperor. So, why not give him something truly unique?
Of course, the fear of “being caught” would have worried this man. It would mean treason, loss of favour, maybe even loss of position and execution….
So an elaborate hoax is planned. A book of marvels must be procured. Nothing showy enough to attract too much attention, if anyone thinks the secret of alchemy or eternal youth is in there we might be caught as the wise men of the realm start to study it.
So lots of nice pictures of plants. No, I don’t want you to waste time studying the damn things, make them up as you go along. After a bit, a zodiac, nice and mysterious, but hardly important enough to attract attention. Then some pictures of plants, and a pull-out of a fake city. We’re bored now, a few dozen pages of random text to fill it up.
Obviously, there must be text. And it can’t be something we can read. So a new alphabet is invented which looks like Arabic (the mystery of the Orient!) and a few Latin characters in there for good measure. Something easy to write with a quill pen for page after page, with simple glyphs that can be quickly and consistently copied for page after page.
No corrections. Why correct something that means nothing? Just write. Make it look like text though! These people aren’t fools, they know what text should look like, in this court every language in the known world is spoken. Some thought is given.
A scribe is found to write the damn thing for a few bucks. After a month, he either resigns his commission, or falls ill, or is caught having sex with a goat. Who knows. A new scribe is found. The handwriting changes slightly, but who cares? Currier does, in the 20th century….
The book is finished. No binding, for a binding would mean it had been in a Western private library and the Emperor would want to know who had owned this before him. So much better to say it had come from some mysterious traveller.
Rudolph is presented with this book. To ensure no blame is attached if the hoax is discovered, the might man simply introduces a bookseller to Rudolph. The mighty Emperor is delighted, 400 ducats changes hands, and the Mighty Man is rewarded with the attention of his Emperor for a summer longer.
The book, purchased from a person unknown, languishes in the private collection. Maybe the librarians suspected the scam and this is why nobody ever mentioned it beyond the occasional letter from third parties who were not in on the secret.
And so it vanished into history for half a millenium………