A few years ago, people Googling for “Voynich” started to see a sponsored “AdWord” link on the right hand side provocatively posing the question of whether there might be some link between the Voynich Manuscript and Leonardo da Vinci, and pointing them to www.edithsherwood.com.
Naturally, I pointed out that this hypothesis was a load of rubbish, primarily because Leonardo was left-handed, and the VMs was written by someone right-handed – a pretty good prima facie reason to dismiss the claim. Edith also relied on a particularly partial reading of the month names in the zodiac section (one of them when mirrored looks a bit like “lionardo”): but failed to notice not only that they all read like Occitan month names (which there is absolutely no reason to think that a young Florentine like Leonardo would have used), but also that they were plainly written by someone else.
Still, unlike the majority of Voynich theory proponents out there, she is at least looking in the right century and (I believe) in the right physical milieu (and possibly even the right town, in a roundabout kind of way): and for that I am grateful. No, don’t be like that: I really am. honestly.
Since then, Edith’s website has had some ups and downs (of which being hacked by some kind of Russan spam harvester and having its mail inboxes overflow were probably some of the downs). But over the last month, she has returned to it and begun to fill it with many additional pages detailing her and her daughter’s thoughts on actual plants apparently matching the drawings in the VMs. They refer to some of Mr Dana Scott’s botanical identifications (but repeatedly refer to him as a her, which Dana doubtless finds irritating), though largely propose their own matches.
Unfortunately, at such a large historical distance, finding botanical equivalents is a hugely hazardous way of trying to move forward: and the secondary claim to have localized the VMs’ production to Italy and/or the Mediterranean from the resulting set of highly contentious / non-obvious plants is simply not methodologically sound, however they try to spin it.
Though many people have taken this same tack over the years, that doesn’t make it a sound methodology: in fact, the consistent lack of progress achieved by it is very probably a clear indicator that doing so is in fact brutally unsound.
What is going on? I think that what we see expressed in the herbal drawings is not metaphor (a symbolic equivalent to or conceptual parallel of an original object) so much as metonymy (where component parts stand in for the whole). One classic example linguists give of this is the way Cockney geezers call a car a motor (or, in its gloriously glottal-stopperish glory, a “mo’er”), where a key component (“the motor”) is sufficient to stand in for the whole (“the car”). You may also recall this from Alexei Sayle’s “‘‘allo John go’ a new mo’er… / I keep tropical fish / in my underpants” [etc etc]).
Despite all that, the possibility remains that Edith and Erica might have managed to make some good observations. As I’m not a botanist, all I can say is that I think their reading of colours in the VMs is once again codicologically naive (because there seem to be plenty of reasons to conclude that most of the strong “heavy” colours in the VMs were not added by the original author): which would unfortunately seem to point in the opposite direction.