A few years ago, Sarah Goslee (who I believe has her own blog here) gradually become more and more interested in medieval / Renaissance history, specifically (in accordance with her science background) with cosmology, astrology, botany, and cryptography. I doubt any Cipher Mysteries regular would be hugely surprised to find out that, somewhere along in the way, she ended up “hooked” on the Voynich Manuscript. 🙂

Her VMs research has mainly concentrated on PCA (Principle Coordinate Analysis) of the VMs’ text: which I think is a bit of a shame, given that the text was apparently constructed in an anti-analytical way to render that kind of approach largely useless. Oh well!

However, infinitii recently emailed me (thanks!) with a link to Sarah’s fascinating description of the late medieval manuscript simulacrum she constructed. Inspired by a fifteenth century Italian herbal and a fifteenth century Austrian alchemy notebook (MS LJS419 and MS LJS382), she set out to create her own SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism)-style astronomical notebook. Structurally, this has limp vellum binding, rag paper, oak gall ink, quill pens, and writing patterned after a fifteenth century herbal: contents-wise, it has a calendar, the metonic cycle, Domenical letters, location of the sun, etc.

It’s a nice, brief description of a well-contained project: recommended! 🙂

5 thoughts on “Sarah Goslee’s reconstructed codex…

  1. Thanks for the mention.

    I need to finish the article on the astrolabe that goes with the notebook: constructed using only compass, straightedge and protractor (the latter only because of the need to trisect angles). Very entertaining, and not as hard as you might think.

    On the VMS, my approach has been to start with the easy things (like PCA), discard the ones that don’t work, and take the knowledge and experience on to the next phase of analysis. I don’t know how the text was constructed, so I can’t a priori rule out particular approaches unless I try them. And actually, the ordinations did show clear differences between Currier A and B, and among different supposed subject-matter sections. So I don’t think it was a waste of time, really.

  2. Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for dropping by! 😉

    I guess my point is that nearly all VMs statistical analyses are cryptanalytical rather than cryptographic: that is, they seek to find out what a given transcription pattern would imply, rather than to try to judge between multiple transcription patterns.

    As a straightforward example, one might reasonably ask whether EVA ‘ol’ and ‘al’ each represent one token or two tokens? [Hint: I’ve been saying for years that these encipher a single token]. Until people start asking the right questions about the transcription, stats very likely aren’t going to achieve much.

    Still, I look forward to your astrolabe article – please let me know when you post it! 🙂

    Best wishes, ….Nick Pelling….

  3. Although it isn’t described on my website, I think that most people working on the VMs are hampered by their lack of experience with medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, particularly when it comes to transcriptions.

    It would be a highly informative exercise to take a manuscript that is in a known language give it to a group of people, and have them transcribe a few pages based on what they _see_ rather than what they know it says. It’s a surprisingly difficult exercise, and doing it quickly reveals that medieval handwriting was no better than modern – sometimes the tops of m’s aren’t joined, sometimes the c and t are linked and sometimes not, and so on. The extra complications of long s and r-rotunda add a further challenge.

    Fuzzy coding maybe?

  4. Hi Sarah,

    Absolutely: the problem with the VMs is that because it is apparently quite unambiguous, people (such as Gordon Rugg) act as though there is no codicological exercise still to be carried out… whereas we’re only just beginning, in many important ways.

    Cheers, ….Nick Pelling….

  5. Diane on March 3, 2012 at 10:39 am said:

    so sign of anything Voynich on Sarah’s blog now. At least not through the site search, or months in 2009 before March 6th.

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