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! 🙂

12 thoughts on “Voynich Quire 8… what happened?

  1. Rene Zandbergen on March 2, 2009 at 1:11 pm said:

    Hello Nick,

    this is indeed an area where the MS in its own typical way doesn’t quite
    make sense. The other typical thing is that for each observation or part
    of an observation, there are a whole range of possible explanations or
    interpretations, which lead one along fully different paths.
    The idea that the ‘missing’ pages actually show up elsewhere in the MS has
    occurred to me as well. The rosette foldout is actually a good choice in that
    respect. If that’s what happened of course 🙂

    Closely related is the question, how much have the pages _really_ come out of order?
    While the foliator perhaps did not really know, shouldn’t the “quirator” have known?
    The quires are all in the right order, and some quire marks are on Herbal-B pages
    inserted between the Herbal-A pages. But of course also this can be explained
    in different ways 🙂

    Cheers, Rene

  2. Hi Rene,

    From a codicological point of view, what is nice about Q8 is that it has so many different interesting layers to use when trying to reconstruct the story of what happened. Even if you (apparently) can’t get to 100%, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get to 90%. 🙂

    As far as the page order goes, I have long argued (both in “The Curse” and in the VMs codicological page here) particularly from the evidence of Q13 that the quirator not only had a scrambled page order to deal with, but also (very likely) had no idea what the content meant. And don’t forget that Q6, Q7, Q19 and Q20 have inconsistent/anomalous quire numbers: so we have actually have three or four quirators to deal with – hebce there is much more uncertainty in the quire ordering than one might at first think… 😮

    Cheers, ….Nick Pelling….

  3. Rene Zandbergen on March 3, 2009 at 11:22 am said:

    Hi Nick,

    I don’t know why, but I had always assumed that the quire numbers were written
    at the time of the creation of the MS. Otherwise, why would one have
    quire numbers in the first place?

    I agree that the Q19 and Q20 really look different, and could even imagine
    that these were written by the foliator.

    My theory of the week is, that foliator and quirator were actually not far apart
    from each other in time, but the quirator was a generation (or more) older, and used
    ‘old-fashioned’ numbers, while the foliator had attended more modern classes.

    Cheers, Rene

  4. Hi Rene,

    Quire numbers would have been added in order to make sure a third party binder (who may well not be hugely literate) bound the quires together in the correct sequence, whereas folio numbers were normally added in order to navigate the document. Two different intentions & techniques, different handwriting (a century apart, palaeographically), and with one or more re-bindings in between (such as John Grove’s Q9 line) and with various demonstrably stray pages on the move as well (such as Curse p.18): if there is any kind of connection between the two, I fail to see it.

    In fact, if there is a connection between the quire numbers and the original page ordering (beyond the thematic order’s being broadly retained despite multiple shuffling “events” along the way), I fail to see that too. I’d say that the evidence suggests the majority of the quire numbers are actually in the wrong place (relative to the original page order), strongly implying that the quire numberer had not the faintest idea what the correct page order should have been. But perhaps there’s some subtle internal evidence I’ve missed…

    Cheers, ….Nick Pelling….

  5. Rene Zandbergen on March 3, 2009 at 12:19 pm said:

    Hi Nick,

    you write: “Quire numbers would have been added in order to make sure a third party binder (who may well not be hugely literate) bound the quires together in the correct sequence, whereas folio numbers were normally added in order to navigate the document.”

    That’s precisely why I think that it wouldn’t be very useful to write quire numbers if
    one doesn’t know the right order, while for page numbers this is less of an issue.

    But that brings us back to the weight of useful/logical arguments…

    Cheers, Rene

  6. Hi Rene,

    Even if the quire numberer couldn’t read the text, he/she would have needed to add quire numbers to try to make sure that the binder didn’t scramble it yet further.

    Cheers, ….Nick Pelling….

  7. Rene Zandbergen on March 3, 2009 at 4:25 pm said:

    Hi Nick,

    sure, and this means that it would not be completely insensible for a later
    ‘editor’ (say) of the MS to add quire numbers, but it would have really been the task
    of the original writer to do this, so we are left to wonder if the original writer omitted
    to do this, and a later owner did it, not being entirely sureof himself …

    It also brings up the question you raised about the upper right corner of f42r.
    I am fairly confident that the folio number was written first, and the pigments applied
    later. I looked at this through a normal optical microscope, and it really seemed to be
    like this, but I could not guarantee it. The pigment consist of minute crystals
    which lie on the surface, while the ink has soaked into the vellum. It would take
    a better instrument (and a better expert, not necessarily in that order) to really be
    definitive about this.

    Look, though, at the biological section. The foliator is always carefuil to avoid the
    drawings. If the colour was already there on f42, it would be hard to image (though not
    impossible) that the page number would have appeared here and not a bit more to
    the left…

    Cheers, René

  8. Hi Rene,

    When I reconstructed the Q13 quire structure, one of the first things I did was to look at the (predicted) original back page to see if there was any evidence of quire numbering to be found there… and there was not. I suspect that the quire numbering will turn out to be enciphered in some odd way: years ago, I suggested “pairs of red objects” as a possible way that the front pages of quires were marked, that’s far from the worst idea ever. Who knows?

    Yes, f42r does looks as though the top-right paint was added over the top of the folio number, which would be a bit of a giveaway that at least some of the paint was added extremely late: but that’s the only example in the whole ms (right?), so it’s a bit hard to draw statistical-style inferences about behaviour from it. 🙂

    Cheers, ….Nick Pelling….

  9. Pingback: fol.57v Welcome to the diagrams « voynichimagery

  10. Here’s a scenario – it’s the easiest way to explain.

    Suppose a library – monastery library for example – has a range of books about plants. The moralised herbal being a standard element in medieval and early Renaissance education, a monk being assigned to this or that distant area (or: on receiving a request for information about plants native to one place or another), the older person goes through the books and notes which are to be copied to make a new compilation for X’s needs.

    The images are to be set in order, now, according to the same needs, though whether this will be in Psalter order, or in the order of the year, or (less likely) the alphabet.

    Same scenario if the motive is economic, or to serve a cartographer’s needs in illustrating a world-map etc.

    This different purpose might inform the re-ordering, rather than accident. Just a thought.

  11. Diane: I’ve had loads of people suggest this over the years, particularly my friend GC who at that time was completely convinced by Leonell Strong’s decryption, which supposedly put the herbal pages in alphabetical order in English (a notion somewhat at odds with the codicology) – the first (normally gallows-initial) word of the page was allegedly the name of the plant, e.g. “Aubergine”.

    I normally spoil the party, though, by pointing out that the pages are on intact bifolios, and that the only way you can sensibly reorder bifolios according to their content is if they are unnested. And that simply isn’t what we’re looking at here.

  12. Diane on April 6, 2013 at 12:06 pm said:

    I know what’s missing from Quire 8.

    And why.

    Trust the clerics. They knew more than you’d expect.

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