I’ve just had a nice email from my old friend GC, asking what I think happened with Quire 8 (“Q8”). You see, the problem is that Q8 contains a whole heap of codicological oddities, all of which fail to join together in a satisfactory way:-
- f57v has a bottom-right piece of marginalia that (I think) looks rather like “ij” with a bar above it – yet it’s not one of the quire numbers, and doesn’t appear on the back of a quire.
- f66r has some bottom-left marginalia (the “mus del” nymph): yet unlike most similar Voynich Ms marginalia doesn’t appear on the front or back of a quire.
- The first (f57 + f66) bifolio contains both circular diagrams and plants
- The second (f58 + f65) bifolio contains two text-only pages and two herbal pages
- f58r and f58v have stars linked to most of the paragraphs: but these have no tails, and hence are more like the “starfish” and “stars” found in Quire 9 (Q9) than the paragraph stars used in the recipe section at the end.
- The page numbers on f65, f66, and f67 all appear to have been emended by a later owner (you can still see the old faint 67 to the right of the new 67)
- And don’t even get me started about the circular diagram on f57v (with the repeated sequence on one of the rings). Put simply, I think it’s not a magic circle, but rather something else completely masquerading as a magic circle.
- But sure: at the very least, f57v’s circular diagram would seem to have much more in common with the circular diagrams in Q9 than with herbal quires 1-7.
Generally speaking, though, Q8 seems to be broadly in the right kind of place within the manuscript as a whole. Because its bifolios contain both herbal and diagrammatic stuff, it seems to “belong” between the herbal section and the astronomical section. However, the bifolios’ contents (as we now see them) appear to be rather back-to-front – the circular diagram and the stars are at the front (next to the herbal section), while the herbal drawings are at the back (next to the astronomical section).
This does suggest that the pages are out of order. And if you also look for continuity in the handwriting between originally consecutive pages, I think that only one original page order makes proper sense: f65-f66-f57-f58. When you try this out, the content becomes:
herbal, herbal, text, herbal, herbal, // circle, stars + text, star + text
Where I’ve put the two slashes is where I think the first (herbal) book stops and the second (astronomical) book begins: and I believe the “ij-bar” piece of marginalia on the circle page is one owner’s note that this is the start of “book ij” (book #2).
So, I strongly suspect that what happened to Q8 was a sequence very much like this:-
1. The original page order was f65-f66-x-x-x-x-x-x-f57-f58
2. The bottom right piece of marginalia was added to f57v (start of book “ij”, I believe)
3. The pages were mis-/re-bound to f66-f65-x-x-x-x-x-x-f58-f57 -OR- (more likely) the front folio (f65) simply got folded over to the back of the quire, leaving f66r at the front: f66-x-x-x-x-x-x-f57-f58-f65
4. The nymph & text marginalia were added to f66r.
5. The pages were mis-/re-bound to f57-f58-x-x-x-x-x-x-f65-f66.
6. The quire numbers were added to f66v.
7. The page numbers were added to all the pages.
8. The central three bifolios were removed / lost.
But what happened to pages 59 to 64, which apparently got lost along the way?
Currently, my best guess is that these were never actually there to be lost: there is practically no difference in quill or handwriting between f58v and f65r, which suggests to me that they originally sat adjacent to each other… that is to say, that Q8 probably only ever contained two bifolios. And so, the proper page numbers added (at 7 above) were probably 57-58-59-60, which would make perfect sense.
So… why were they later emended to 57-58-65-66?
My suspicion is that, temporarily bound between Q8 and Q9, there was an extra tricky set of pages, which the page-numberer skipped past before continuing with 67 (in the astronomical section). But what tricky block might that be?
Could it have been the nine-rosette fold-out section? Might the page-numberer have skipped past that, before subsequently noticing that an earlier owner had given it a higher quire number, and so moving it forward to its proper place? It’s a bit of a tricky one to argue for, but I do strongly suspect that something in someone’s system broke down right around here, causing more confusion than we can easily sort out.
However, I’ll leave the nine-rosette section for later: that’s quite enough codicology for one day! 🙂