Not content with having given us fantastic English translations of all the key 17th century VMs-related documents, my old friend Philip Neal has found a new VMs-related letter.

Sensibly, he was looking in the Kircher correspondence archives when he found a new letter by Godefridus Kinner to Kircher [recto and verso]: more usefully, here are links to his transcription, translation and notes.

I think Philip’s translation skillfully keeps the charm of the letter (and the wheeziness of the letter-writer) intact. The direct linking of Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (and its apparent duplication by the king’s Royal Society) with the new societies in Germany, and the comparisons with the follies of alchemy and judicial astrology left me with a curious sensation of speed, as though someone had just opened the door to a dusty medieval room for a modern breeze to sweep rapidly through it. It was even clear to Kinner that the times certainly were a-changing.
 
As a nice aside, Philip points out that “one problem [this letter[ solves is the date of the Beinecke letter: 1665 and not 1666“. As always, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step: even something as tiny like this may ultimately yield a surprisingly fine result, who knows?

5 thoughts on “Philip Neal strikes again…

  1. Rene Zandbergen on October 22, 2008 at 10:56 pm said:

    I can’t resist…

    I can just see Wilfrid Voynich sitting in the Villa Mondragone. After having pored over the Kircher correspondence for more than two weeks, he finally composed and wrote the Marci letter to fit in his fake Manuscript.
    Only then, he stumbles on this other Kinner letter.
    With a sigh, he decides just to change that last six into a five….

    Jokes aside, I can only repeat my gratitude for Philip’s work, which must have certainly taken a great many hours!!

  2. I’ve been interested in the VM for some time (through omniglot.com), but have only recently sat down to look at the alphabet. I have some experience with scripts, languages, and the nexus between them (e.g. I adapted Hangul to Mandarin: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/hanyinzi.php), but my knowledge of VM is quite limited. I offer these observations, perhaps out of ignorance, hoping to better understand what is believed about the VM. I thank you in advance for indulging my curosity.

    When I look at the VM alphabet, it looks like a natural alphabet. My guess would be that, based on the number of them, the gallows and “c-c” characters are vowels, with the combinations being vowel combinations. The others then, would be consonants with the multiple “i”s representing some special transcription. Assuming this, I count five vowels, three diphthongs, and 15 consonants, quite possibly a real alphabet to alphabet cypher.

    My first question is why it seems to be primarily cryptologists who work on the VM? If it is a simple transcription of some natural language, wouldn’t a medievalist/linguist be the person to ask? It would seem that knowing what language it’s in would be the first step. Without that, guessing at transcriptions–much less ciphers–seems like an exercise in futility.

    My second question concerns the character chart in the right margin of f1r. Assuming that when VM was written parchment was expensive, might it have made sense for the writer to put a conversion chart on page 1 and later erase it? If so, wouldn’t recovering this chart provide us with exactly the deciphering tool we need? Has anyone looked into doing this? Admitedly, the few characters we know of on the chart conflict with the vowel/consonant theory I spoke of above, but that would be fine, as long as we were learning something.

  3. Over the years, the cast of people who have tried striking their picks against the diamond faced cliffs of the VMs have included linguists (Jacques Guy being one of the better known), psychologists, cryptanalysts and cryptologists, art historians, and all shades of armchair amateur treasure hunters. Postmodernist philosophers, contemporary novelists and computer scientists all like to have a bit of a go too.

    From where we sit now, I would say that the linguists have basically lost the argument. Even though Voynichese superficially looks like a language, you’d have to assemble a set of obscure linguistic tricks from every corner of the earth to even begin to match its apparent behaviour.

    You’re completely right to question the transcriptions: they are imperfect, but the whole point of building EVA as a stroke-based transcription language for Voynichese was so that it could be converted with relative ease to whichever glyph-based transcription you think will help.

    Your second question is about the character chart on f1r: all I would say is that the letters that are visible appear to be in a 16th century hand, whereas the quire numbers (which I would say clearly post-date the creation of the manuscript) are in a 15th-century hand. Ergo, the character chart was the work of a would-be decoder, not of an encoder – and there seems little reason to suspect that that person had any better idea of an answer than us.

  4. Indeed, thank you for your indulgence.

  5. Diane O'Donovan on July 18, 2011 at 1:04 pm said:

    Just a small note on the phrase “the status of the Bacons.” The Latin ‘status’ could be interepreted with many meanings, particularly among members of the religious orders.

    Reading theological works is always exhausting, but this is the sort of thing that Kircher, Marci and others knew by heart. It also allowed a subtext, and it seems to me that the sequence of thoughts in the letter is odd. It may be the result of picking up a letter and adding a para. now and then, or it may be meaningful.

    On the various senses of “Status”:
    http://www.catholic.org/encyclopedia/view.php?id=11047

    This is the better version to use. The “newadvent” site tends to edit out the really scholarly bits,and things that seem too last-century in thinking.

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