Nick: here’s another full-on guest post from Glen Claston, with a little bit of friendly banter from me in blue…

The different ways some little detail can be viewed is so much of the fun we have with the VMS.  Until supporting [or refuting] information can be found for either view, neither is more valid than the other; and indeed, we weigh the validity of one over the other based on common perception.

My view on the binding had to do with the placement of the quire mark, and as you see, I used a minimal amount of information to formulate an hypothetical scenario that may or may not be wrong.  I didn’t do this to be contrary, I did it to explain some of the things I’m seeing, and of course this may not be the right explanation, or only portions of it may be correct.  That’s sort of why it’s only an hypothesis.
What I need to do next is to search these pages for some evidence that either supports or refutes this hypothesis, and this is usually where one of my hypotheses falls out of my own favor and gets replaced with something else, something like Ernie’s common sense idea, which is the one I originally held until I had problems with the placement of both the foldout and the quire mark.  The good thing about it is that there is usually more information to be gathered from the pages – as Nick said, a million fragmentary clues…..

Nick: for example, I think we can still see some tiny original sewing holes along Glen’s secondary vertical fold on the nine-rosette page. Further, if you reorder Q8 with its astronomical pages at the back and insert the nine-rosette section, you rejoin the “magic circle” on f57v with the two other “magic circle”-like pages on the back of the nine-rosette sexfolio. And it may possibly be no coincidence that doing this happens to move the very similar marginalia / doodlings / signatures on f86v3 and f66v closer together.

But herein lies one of the major problems with this sort of research (and it’s only a problem to those who don’t recognize that everyone, including themselves, is prone to this type of thinking) – we tend to reason out large scenarios based on a minimal set of information, and when something doesn’t exactly agree with that scenario, we don’t modify it or throw it out.  I am no different in that when necessary, I tend to modify before discarding, but I admit that in 23 years of research, I’ve discarded almost everything but the most basic concepts numerous times.  It was only after the MrSids images were made available that I was able to revisit some old ideas and gain substantial ground in this endeavor… and even now, some things are still in the hypothetical stage.  But when you change one leg of an hypothesis that stands on only two or three, the whole thing usually comes crashing down with a thunderous sound – I can hear that sound from clear across the ocean on occasion. 🙂

Nick: that’s strange, I get to hear that same noise too from time to time, also coming across the same ocean. 🙂

To me it’s rather easy to demonstrate through parallel texts that the rosettes page is firmly a part of the astronomical discussion, and should be placed before the celestial part of that discussion, and I have a good deal of professional opinion, (historical and contemporary) that agrees.  The Astronomical discussion falls appropriately just before the astrological discussion and begins with the terrestrial portion of the astronomical discussion, so when the rosettes is placed back into its proper place, the terrestrial discussion precedes the celestial discussion and then transitions into astrology, as it should.  The book then falls into an order that is in line with the order of presentation given in the parallel texts and commentaries.  The book transitions from herbs to astronomical, and astronomical to astrological, on mixed bifolios, physical codicological information that establishes within reason that this particular order was chosen by the author him/herself.  This is the higher level of argument, since this is part of a theory that encompasses the entire content and original purpose of the manuscript.  That’s the general theory of relativity, but some other source of information is required to extract a specialized theory of relativity.  This requires a gathering and interpretation of the physical codicological information, not as easy as it appears.
We’re faced with the obvious fact that some bifolios and foldouts in this book are currently bound out of order, and some students have gone so far as to suggest that it looks like the pages were dropped on the floor and recollated randomly.

Nick: to be precise, I’d say that a few bifolios did probably manage to cling together despite being dropped 🙂 , but for the greatest part I don’t see much retained structure in Quires 2 through 7, in Q13, Q15, Q19 and even Q20 (if Elmar is right), while Q8 seems back to front and Q9 and Q14 are misbound. And I’m not 100% convinced by Q1 either!

To me it’s not that drastic, most things are in their category, if not their proper order, but the question of original collation has so much bearing on so many aspects of this study that it needs to be addressed in a very serious manner, and by that I mean the gathering of codicological evidence that can be molded into a working hypothesis or theory regarding the original construction and collation of the book.  Historical scenarios that are based on a great deal of codicological information have many legs to stand on, so they don’t topple simply because one ‘fact’ or observation changes or gets reinterpreted.  Ergo, collect all the codicological information possible, and collect it in one place so it can be easily referenced when trying to formulate hypotheses.  No, no one after D’Imperio has done that – Rene has tried on one level of the manuscript, but no one has collected all the physical observations into a single database.  Is this a task too large to be accomplished?  It’s done routinely in other scientific disciplines, why not here?

Nick: well… I did try to do precisely this in the ‘Jumbled Jigsaws’ chapter of “The Curse” to a far greater degree than D’Imperio was ever able to, but I would certainly agree that it would take 500 fairly specialized pages to begin to do the topic justice. 🙂

I give you an example of how much codicological evidence matters, and I’ll provide an example that only requires a slight modification in Nick’s hypothesis of multiple painters, an hypothesis I don’t accept on other evidence, but I’ll give an example that buys into his hypothesis nonetheless, just so I’m not viewed entirely as a “contrarian”.  There are three fresh-paint transfer marks near the bottom of f87v that come from the upper middle portion of f16v.  Don’t get all worked up at the distance between these pages, because we know (or at least I know) that the herbals and the pharmaceuticals were once connected.  The point of discussion here is that these offset transfers could not have taken place if these pages were bound before this red paint was applied.  Nick is able to modify his hypothesis to say that the binding was only at the quirization stage, and that these outside folios can lay on top of one another at this stage of binding when the paint transfer occurred.  That’s correct, that’s one scenario, and Nick only has to remove one leg of his hypothesis in order to accommodate this information – instead of being entirely pre-bound, now it’s bound only in quires.   That works for Nick, and frankly works for me until I find something that says it doesn’t.
But I draw something else from this that Nick doesn’t address, and that is that the same red pigment is present on the two pages, as well as on the foldout which contains f87r.  That leads me to a one-legged hypothesis that the guy went through his pages and painted one color, then went through again to apply another color, as opposed to our modern view of an artist who would paint in various colors simultaneously.  We’re not on different wavelengths in our thinking, Nick and I, we’re just liable to reach different conclusions based on the same information, and that because we filter the information differently.   You see, I have another category of research which includes unfinished drawings and paintings, and I see this through a different filter than Nick sees it.

Nick: I have no huge problem with the idea of someone applying paints one at a time. It would be consistent with my view that (for example) the heavy blue painter mixed his/her blue paint suitable for painting on paper (rather than on vellum) and rushed through the (already finally-bound) manuscript daubing it wherever he/she saw fit… only realising later that it hadn’t dried quickly enough, leaving a mess all over the facing pages.

The answer to such a simple question as to when and how the paints were applied may be more complicated than either Nick or I presently presume, and no matter what, we will both be modifying our opinions when the information is finally gathered and tabulated.  I assume at present that because so much of the painting falls into gutters, it was done unbound.  Nick thinks it was done pre-bound.  I see now that some specialized paints were an after-work, possibly quire-bound, possibly not, while the common watercolors had to have been applied in an unbound state.  Neither of us are entirely right, neither of us are entirely wrong, and there is more to be learned before the final tally can be made.  Choose this red pigment, is there at least one place where it could not have been applied after the manuscript was bound?  I don’t know, I haven’t done that study yet, the question has only recently arisen.  And what frakking bit of difference does this make anyway?  ;-{
It’s that hypothesis with only two or three legs thing again, that’s where this makes a big difference.  I get so irritated with the “multiple painter” thing I simply want to scream, simply because it introduces multiple and extraneous unproven human elements into an hitherto unresolved picture, without first following evidentiary procedure.  This particular fresh-paint transfer is in the A-herbal range, simply another connection between the pharmaceutical section and the herbal section, something I’ve been quite clear about – these were once connected.  Post-bound painting as Nick suggests means that I should find evidence that this red pigment was also applied to pages that are written in the B script, and applied at a time where the A’s and B’s were already bound together.  Does that evidence exist?  I’m good at lists of codicological evidence, we’ll see if it does or not.  And does Nick’s ‘quirized binding’ approach hold water against other evidence?  We’ll find out, and these things will be discovered through gathering and collating the codicological evidence available to us.  It’s a wonderful thing, that we have at our fingertips the information to do this in scientific fashion.
I remember the reaction on the old list when Nick and I went to logger-heads over something as apparently meaningless as blue paint, and that for me was what separated Nick from the pack in many ways.  It wasn’t the love of argument or the basic disagreement, but the fact that Nick was willing to study and research in support of his claim.  He was not a simple defender of his stance, he was an active participant in the argument, and though we both still disagree on this one point, the amount of new codicological information and rational thought generated in the course of this simple argument has never been exceeded in the history of VMS research.
I hope that this gives Emily and others some idea of why the simplest of observations can have the most profound impact in this line of research, and I welcome anyone that wishes to add to our base of knowledge, no matter how small.  Collaboration can be a great deal of fun, and it’s guaranteed to hone your perception skills.  When you start you’re going to get shot down a lot, just like a video game, but as you progress your impact will be much greater, just like a video game.  This is your chance to hone a set of skills you didn’t think you had.

23 thoughts on “Glen Claston on binding…

  1. Rene Zandbergen on March 23, 2009 at 11:16 am said:

    This is a very interesting topic, which is rather likely to turn up new insights.
    I am not going to take an active part in this, as I am not planning to spend that much time
    on the VMs, and that little time that I do is more focussed on the historical aspects.

    Since I won’t be actively involved, maybe I should not comment on this either, but perhaps
    you may find some value in this. Both this post, and Nick’s page on codicology, are quite
    reasonable, but I have a problem that facts, observations and hypotheses are too
    freely mixed. The hypotheses are coming in before all the facts and observations are presented,
    and then choices are made of the nature: observation X could be explained by
    hypothesis A, which is then adopted further, forgetting that hypothesis B would be a
    valid alternative.

    I think that it is necessary for this topic, to bring it is a more strict order of facts first, then
    all observations, and then one tries to find answers on questions (choiuces) in some
    order, and maintain the alternatives during the discussion when one cannot really be
    sure at all.

    I hope that this makes sense to you….

  2. Hi Rene,

    I completely agree – but each of the various (re)ordering and (re)binding hypotheses rests on as-yet-unexamined physical evidence that can be both supported and refuted. For example, I believe that I can see sewing marks in the scans both along the secondary vertical fold of the nine-rosette page, and along the secondary fold of the first trifolio of Q14. However, these (literally) pinpricks are just beyond the resolution we can rely on for the scans.

    And given that we don’t (currently) have a sympathetic Yale grad student with a VMs habit to drop by the Beinecke every couple of weeks to examine some codicological minutium, we’re therefore in a situation where we have to develop and debate our various hypotheses far beyond the point we would otherwise be comfortable with.

    Right now, we don’t really have any codicological “facts” (such as chemical / spectroscopic analyses, DNA testing, age testing, etc) per se, so much as a tortuously long series of codicological “observations” (as happen to present to us on the scans): and so we have no strict hierarchy to work within. Hopefully this will change… but all the same, I think it would always be useful to have working hypotheses to bear in mind, particularly when they challenge the basic ordering precept – that the folio order we see now is what was originally intended. But which of the gazillions of possible orders is the correct one? :-O

    Cheers, ….Nick Pelling….

  3. Rene is of course entirely correct, and yes Rene, it makes perfect sense to me. Nick and I are not unique in our love of rivalry as a mental exercise, and I think we both enjoy the challenge. Without hypotheses to disprove, there is no friendly rivalry, and we’d actually have to work together on something…. I’d have to digest that concept for awhile and take a few antacids…. 🙂

    No, Rene is entirely correct, and Nick and I have privately discussed a database of codicological evidence, something I’m setting up presently at Voynich Central. I would like very much that it be viewable by everyone, but I really don’t want to have to moderate posts about microscopes and heraldic emblems. I’d rather spend that time on research than on a social function like moderating (or anti-social function as some would say). I’m really only looking for verifiable codicological observation, sans hypothesis, so these can used, as you suggest, to answer questions that arise. Nick and I agree that this is necessary, but I don’t see how either of us could be asked to cease our bickering, even for a moment! 🙂

    At the same time, I am in basic agreement with Nick, much to my chagrin, I assure you. If Nick and I weren’t trading hypotheses over binding, I would never have searched the pages for the red paint transfer, and the study I’m about to do on the red paint would never have occurred, so these hypotheses have some use, though as you say, they are often presented before all the information is in. Perhaps this is a problem with terminology.

    First, I wonder what a “fact” is. There’s a red paint transfer on a page – to me that’s a verifiable fact. It can be lined up with another page – that to me is a “fact” and is verifiable. To me then, all codicological evidence of the physical type is “verifiable fact”, and though these are derived from observation, they are observed physical characteristics, and I take those to be “facts”.

    On the “observation” level, I observe that these two pages could not have been bound together when the transfer occurred because they are way out of line with top and bottom of the two pages, offset as it were. That’s an observation, and again, a verifiable observation. This to me is an “observable fact”, since it is verifiable. I guess you’d need to enlighten me on your concept of “observation vs fact”, and I’m serious about wanting to hear your definitions because I want to be as precise as possible when discussing these issues.

    Could we tone down the hypotheses until most of the information has been gathered into a database? Yes, I agree, that’s prudent – it will certainly improve Nick’s image, no doubt! 🙂 Rene is always the voice of reason, and we love you for that, Rene. BTW, your historical research has helped out so many of us I can’t begin to tell you – keep up the effort, it doesn’t go unnoticed.


  4. Rene Zandbergen on March 24, 2009 at 6:07 pm said:

    The terminology can be argued about of course, and the word ‘fact’ is perhaps not so nice.

    A couple of examples. One could say: “these containers look like microscopes” and
    this to me is an observation. They also look like several other things, which must then
    be kept in mind.
    One could also say: these represent microscopes. This is a hypothesis.
    The price of parchment is a fact. It is a complex fact, because it depends on the quality
    and on the age. Now I had this discussion on the mailing list, and someone argued: the
    parchment needed for the VMs probably was not so expensive, and if it was, they may
    have gotten it cheap (or something similar, I don’t remember exactly). This is not very
    good logic in my opinion. It ‘dilutes’ a fact through a hypothesis.
    One other thing, I think, is to spell out the hidden assumptions. This will help to make it
    easier to discuss things. People usually don’t disagree much about the facts and
    observations, but only about the hypotheses. If these are clearly separated, at least
    there is some common ground 🙂

    As to historical research, there are some interesting new things from Rafal Prinke and from
    Josef Smolka (the Czech historian) which will soon appear in a publication by Smolka and
    myself. This will be in German, but I committed myself to making an english translation
    for those interested. Will appear in a couple of months.

  5. Ernest Lillie on March 24, 2009 at 7:42 pm said:

    Reordering the manuscript is indeed a tricky puzzle. Until the writing itself is cracked, people will tend to think up reasons why the prevailing “logic” of someone elses order is wrong — even if for no other reason than because it “can’t be right if my theory is correct”.

    “A database of codicological evidence”, as GC puts it, is something that would be of value in the study of this particular sphinx. Paint transfers are hard to refute. They give concrete testimony to the fact that no matter what else you can prove or disprove about a particular idea — these two pages HAD to be in contact for some reason at that point in time.

    Of course, some contacts are more easily explainable than others. The blue transfers that went from the lower-left portion of the Rosettes sheet to the upper-left portion (near the end of the pipes) are pretty much a no-brainer.

    Something about that transfer comes to mind as to whether the manuscript was painted before or after binding. The transfer seems to be pretty much a mirror image of the blue original on the lower half. That would seem to indicate to me that when it was folded up, it stayed together exactly at the points of initial contact. Would the folds not have “slid around” a bit as they settled into place when the manuscript was closed and smeared the transfer if the sheet was indeed bound into the manuscript at the time of transfer?

    From the looks of the multiple creases that run along each gutter I would think there would be a fair amount of shifting around of the sheet (and thereby smearing) as it settled into place. Nick, you’ve handled the original — does this make sense to you?

  6. I see your point, Rene. So if I were to have a certain doubt about the cost of parchment, which is as you say, a fact, then instead of hypothesizing, I really should ask “what was the cost of vellum for Franciscan monks and Jesuits, known to manufacture their own vellum, both for scriptorium use and for resale?” This way I wouldn’t be hypothesizing as to the source of the vellum, only trying to establish whether the wholesale costs are known as well as the retail costs?


  7. Yes, such facts are often relative to their historical contexts, which (in the case of the VMs) is what, exactly? 😮

  8. Rene Zandbergen on March 25, 2009 at 3:44 pm said:

    Nick and GC, yes, that’s why I called the price of parchment a complex fact 🙂

    The examples above are not of ‘codicological’ type. If I may take another one
    closer to ‘home’, Nick, I would quote from your codicology page, item 3:

    [i]If f84v (which has Q12’s quire number on its bottom right corner) originally preceded f78r, this implies that the quire numbers were added after the page order in Q12 had been scrambled (nobody would have placed a quire number in the middle of a quire).[/i]

    Now here a hypothesis was formed before all the evidence was taken into account.
    The subsequent evidence is then interpreted to fit this hypothesis.

    Hidden assumptions are e.g. about the order in which the pages were written. Take
    one quire, for example. Would (should) this have been written bifolio per bifolio
    or rather according to the page order? This affects how we should interpret
    the mixing of Herbal-A and Herbal-B pages.

    In GC’s contribution above, which pages should be called astronomical and which
    astrological, and why should one come before the other?

  9. Rene@: Now here a hypothesis was formed before all the evidence was taken into account. The subsequent evidence is then interpreted to fit this hypothesis.

    I don’t think this is a fair representation of my argument concerning the codicology. I have tried to document numerous codicological inconsistencies not only between the quire numbers and the folio numbers (implying an intermediate rebinding) but also between the alpha state of the manuscript and the quire numbered state (indicating another intermediate rebinding).

    That’s all pretty basic codicological reasoning: the key hypothesis hinges on whether or not the first quire numberer was able to make sense of the document – that is, whether the quirization chosen was intentional or not. I argue that the apparently scrambled order of Q13 points to the latter: my only fault in the paragraph you highlighted was to compress this into too small a margin.

    When you then talk about how to interpret “the mixing of Herbal-A and Herbal-B pages“, I think this needs to be put within the context of the scrambled page hypothesis above.

    Rene@: In GC’s contribution above, which pages should be called astronomical and which astrological, and why should one come before the other?

    Personally, I think it would be more historically accurate to split the pages into ‘astronomical’ and ‘zodiacal’, with the latter set comprising solely the pages from Pisces through to Sagittarius. And we of course know (from the mixed bifolio containing Pisces) that the astronomy section was originally bound in first.

  10. Thanks Rene, now I see your point clearly. I don’t know that I fully agree with you as context for this forum, but I do understand what you’re trying to say.

    Let’s just take the “assumption” that the a-herbals and the pharmaceuticals were once attached to one another. I just say that without offering any evidence to support it, simply because I am primarily addressing Nick and the few who followed this discussion over the years, where point after point have been presented in support of this hypothesis, so I don’t restate the evidence. If someone asks me “why” I think that, I get a bit more verbose, and the universe knows I’m very good at “verbose”. The casual reader wouldn’t be aware of what went before, or what has been accomplished since, so they’d be faced with an hypothesis that has no supportive information attached. That’s the nature of the public forum.

    I’ve done the same thing here with my comments on VMS collation, and I do forget sometimes that I conduct most of this conversation in private with a handful of people. In fact, my responses in this blog stem from private conversations on this subject, and I have viewed my posts here as an extension of that conversation. As to the astronomical pages, I have a subject label for each image that corresponds to parallel commentaries, one commentary in particular, I know a great deal more about the herbal drawings than before, and I have a lot of information on the pharmaceuticals that I’ve never presented in public. I am in the process of laying this out in a rational format in paper form, but simply stating in public that one thing is one thing or another, nobody knows how I got there, that’s very true.

    For me it’s important when writing something like this to place some things in the ether (general hypotheses) and listen to the general arguments pro and con. If someone seems interested, I’ll add a bit more information and see if that person is knowledgeable enough on the subject to conduct a two-sided conversation. The field immediately narrows from hundreds to six to three, maybe two or only one. My only purpose is to find a devil’s advocate that is willing to challenge my smallest points and add to our combined knowledge. This process is usually enacted in private exchange, and sometimes portions of those exchanges become public, and that’s the only reason I’m posting anything in the public ether at this time. (Nick gets so carried away in imagination that he sometimes forgets to credit his sources.)

    This private exchange is sometimes done at the hypothetical stage, or to make sense of a certain subset of data that hasn’t yet been addressed. Nick and I initiated a discussion on the shuffling of Q13 and the moving of Q14 to Q8 based on a loose hypothesis, and in the course of the conversation we exchanged observations and actually discovered new observations that wouldn’t have been made if the question weren’t engaged on this level.

    I’ve only just weaned myself off the fringe VMS list, since there it was pointless to present a good deal of information on a subject, people seized on one or two comments (usually those they mistook as personal) and led the conversation completely off topic. I mean, why would anyone misconstrue words like “delusional, moronic, childish, stupid” as personal affronts? [no, I never actually used those terms – I edited those out pre-publication.] 🙂

    I’m currently in the process of setting up an area where facts and observations can be posted in a database, and also looking for a forum where these can be discussed at the hypothetical level in an effort to stimulate thinking and work through a few of the problems we have with the VMS. I don’t think this should be a forum allowing random public participation, and to this point I’ve handled that by keeping the discussion private. I’d like any ideas on a happy medium… well, a happy medium is obviously one that gets paid for her advice, but that’s not what I mean. 🙂

    When I say something here, I’m not addressing it to the VMS list or general public, I’m addressing it to those who care enough to have educated themselves on the topic, and because of that I write at a different level than I would need to in order to rise above the noise in lower level forums, and if someone wants a fuller explanation, they only need ask. Ah, but you did ask, what should be called astronomical and which astrological? Okay, I’ll answer.

    The astronomical portion in parallel texts consists of basic discussions on the topic of astronomy, which can be divided into two modern primary sub-topics, terrestrial (meteorological) observation and celestial (planetary and sphere movement from a terra-centric perspective). The zodiac is considered in these contemporary texts as an extension of the celestial discussion, making this a third sub-topic, but we moderns routinely divide astronomy and astrology into two subjects, though rationally a contemporary would have considered the zodiac a portion of the astronomical discussion, their philosophy not differentiating between observation and perceived influence. I only separate these because it is convenient do this in a modern discussion. There is no real contemporary division in place, so we have three sub-topics in the astronomical discussion, always presented in this order:
    1. Meteorological
    2. Cosmological (Planetary/spheres)
    3. Astrological
    As simply as I can put it, the meteorological discussion always begins with “earth-time”, and this is because the astronomer uses the heavenly movements to judge and use time in various ways. The new year always begins at high noon at the spring equinox. That’s the astronomer’s new year, and that’s when the clock starts ticking for the new year. The first image we have in this manuscript that past historians have equated with astronomical drawings is the volvelle on f57v. This *can* be construed in this context to represent this discussion of time, the four figures marking the equinoxes and solstices, with divisions of 17 in between. You object to hypotheses being interjected within observations, so you’ve missed the chance to hear what the “17” implies in this context. 🙂

    Within the meteorological discussion I would expect through examination of parallel texts to see discussions first on the seasons of the sun and the seasons or phases of the moon, followed by what we more properly term “meteorological”, a discussion on four seasons, the four winds, and their effects on the habitable regions of the globe. These pages are currently missing from the “astronomical” section that begins with f57v, but if the rosettes were moved to this section, it would not only fill the missing pages exactly, it would satisfy the expected dialogue as well.

    The Cosmological section of parallel texts begins with descriptions of the sun, moon, and the five planets, followed by a discussion on the celestial sphere, or at least the important constellations within that sphere. The sun and moon always come first, but there are only two orders in which the five planets are presented. This observation makes it possible to do a minor reshuffle of this section and assign values to the five planets that come after the discussion of the sun and moon. Contained imagery and numbers involved in these images make it possible to match these images to the five planets, and properly name them, thus assigning these to one of the two orders available in parallel texts. Without knowing what specific stars or constellations are mentioned in the “spheres” images, the content cannot be sorted out, though it is clear from the imagery that these images are “sphere” related, sufficient to establish yet another parallel and sequential sub-topic between the VMS and contemporary astronomical commentaries.
    This is just a brief answer to your question, not the detailed answer you would probably like. I do go on more than I should on a public forum, but this line of research is so detailed I can only draw a general outline of the thinking in a short response. I’ve done a great deal of research on the topics in question, and this goes a bit further than the astronomical/astrological sections. This guy may not have been mainstream, but he had to get his higher level education from somewhere, yes?

    The important question is whether or not my expectation that the original collation of the VMS was in accordance with parallel texts is a valid and supportable expectation. To answer that question I have to pull in codicological evidence on drawing, inks, paints, handwriting, style, binding marks, imprints, transfers, text statistics, you name it, I need anything and everything that adds a yes or no, and I need to do more than cherry pick the argumental pros, I need to weigh the cons heavily before finishing this paper.

    I need feedback on a few of my pivotal observations, and there is no one in Voynichology that is specialized enough to provide that feedback. For these opinions I have to resort to specialists in several fields. That process has just started, and this is really where you want me to be when I throw something out in public, yes? Post-completion, not mid-term effort? Well, we don’t have that specialized commentary available when bantering hypotheses, I sincerely wish we did, I’d save a great deal of time and effort, but it’s just not here at the moment.

    You’re good Rene, you’re really good at the historical aspect of the VMS, and I for one would read your paper in German or in English, you’ve never written something I haven’t read with interest. You’re damned good, and your papers rise to the level of authority for most of us. I’ve done a bit on historical imaging in other pursuits, and it’s very intense. But this field, codicological evidence, differs in that the evidence can go unnoticed by even the most astute until a question arises, and it is the question that directs the attention and leads to the discovery of new observations. Nick’s “million hidden clues” scenario at work. One can honestly ask if we’ve ever gathered “all” the information available to us, but then again, so goes it with historical research, yes? Maybe it’s not so different after all.

    I’ll try to do better in not mixing fact, observation and hypothesis, you do have a professional point I need to heed. I can’t speak for Nick, he’s into fantasy and science fiction and prone to speculation, wrong 50% of the time and rest just mistaken, but I’m sure we can get him to lower it a notch or two, eh? 🙂

  11. I think being wrong about the VMs only 50% of the time is quite an achievement. If only everyone aspired to such heights of accuracy! 🙂

    As to the other 50%, I think historians are all inevitably “mistaken”, the only real question is a matter of degree. 🙂

  12. So Nick, since you’re one of those who think that the book was dropped and put back together haphazardly, you’d be the one to ask for evidence that the various quires you think are misordered are actually misordered.

    What we’re looking for is actual physical evidence of any page that is out of order. We know the questions about Q8, Q13, the actual order of the pharmaceuticals, etc. What about the first three quires? What do we consider physical evidence, and if a page is thought to be moved, what is the timeline evidence for that?

    Now, being “moved” or “out of order” are subjective assignments, I realize. I prefer to look not for what might be supposed as the original collation, since we don’t really have much physical evidence on that, and it’s hard sometimes to tell what happened between one binding and another. “Order of construction” is a topic that most observations fit into, so perhaps that’s what I’m looking for here.


  13. Hi GC,

    The light paint transfer and the stem ink transfer from f2v to f3r are good indicators that those two pages have been facing right from the start (the handwriting on the two pages seem consistent with this too), so I’m far from convinced that every bifolio is necessarily scrambled or even scattered particularly far.

    However, the quire number overrun from Q2 (that appears on f46v) would seem to solidly indicate that the present bifolio order does not match the bifolio order at the time the quire numbers were added.

    But really, the bulk of the evidence comes from printing them all out and comparing the various handwritings, which doesn’t seem to flow at all, even though the handwriting is usually (but definitely not always!) consistent within a single bifolio (a correctly ordered Q8 springs to mind here, for example).

    I understand that you read this same handwriting evidence as implying that each bifolio ‘must have’ been written independently: but I really don’t think that that holds up so well. Spectroscopic analysis should be able to work out which hypothesis is true, though. 😉

    Perhaps I ought to blog about this separately, this page is getting a bit long now… 😮

    Cheers, ….Nick Pelling….

  14. Yes, well, I’ve looked at that one on f46v several times through various filters, and I guess I’m not entirely convinced this is an overrun. I’ts possible, I have a question mark by it, but the pigments don’t match and the stem of the 9 on f46v looks as much like a blotch as a stem. As I said, possible, it’s like a few of mine, maybe’s.

    My problem here is that I’ve not found a good deal of evidence that says pages are out of order, with the exception of a handful we’ve discussed in greater detail. I am finding a lot of evidence concerning oriiginal construction however, and it does draw a picture of a guy sitting at a desk doing things a certain way.

    I have found more than a dozen transfers from drawings, partials that I’ve painstakingly matched to thier counterparts, and none of these are in binding order, not even in the same line as the pages, meaning one page lay on top of another loosely while pressure was being applied to the opposite side, and these couldn’t have been bound when these transfers occurred. There are even a couple of transfers from the zodiac pages on astronomical sheets, and though I won’t mention an hypothesis here without much more information, I do find this interesting, something that says the astronomical pages in question must have been constructed before the zodiac pages in question.

    The paint transfers are a bit more problematic. There are tons of faint marks all over the herbal pages, some I can line up, some I can’t. There’s one of a plant where I can draw most of the outline and there is no such plant in the current VMS. I find that curious. But what I haven’t found is any transfer from an A to a B herbal page or vice versa, and I haven’t found any pharmaceutical jars page transfer anywhere else in the manuscript but within its own section.

    I think the statistics of different sections pretty well match the construction evidence. I want to develop a much better set of statistics than we have from Stolfi, but I have three levels of evidence – statistical, drawing transfer and paint transfer, that coincide.

    The next step is to assemble the images in to bifolio sides so they can be examined as one, to see if any of these transfer artifacts appear on both leaves of a bifolio. I have sufficient evidence that the drawing was done in an unbound state, I need to see if that evidence exists for the faint paint transfers.

    As we discussed on one example, the picture to this point after examining several such examples is that these usually relate to a paint that is common to the two pages in question, and the transfers seem to be unbound transfers. I’m going to try to work on my site this weekend and get some of these lists of evidence up and running in their proper places.

    I’m afraid that most of the page shuffling is going to fall into the realm of logic and hypothesis, I was really hoping to find more evidence than I’m coming up with. The evidence may be there, but I can only sit in front of this screen for 20 hours or so at a time before my mind grows numb. 🙂


  15. I know most of this needs to go under another topic, but since I don’t see that topic available at present I’ll put it here. What I’m trying to do at the moment is to set up a logical system for addressing codicological information on the various pages.

    Now, to me the best way is to handle it in a “bifolio” manner, so that if and when a page gets moved, the entire bifolio information goes with it. I assigned numbers to the bifolios a couple of years ago, but one or two problems exist that may affect this numbering, namely the dual stubs visible between f73v and f75r, and the stubs visible on f67v2-f67v1. Instead of missing pages, these appear to be the binding edges of a foldout, so our list (taken from Rene’s site) of bifoliation and binding order can’t be correct if this is the case. Whatever we do, we need to sort this out.

    Nick, you and I have offered up several headings for codicological information, and I’d like to try to bring these overlapping topics into a structure that applies directly to the construction of the manuscript, which isn’t “page by page”. If you have time, can you offer up a mental outline of the way you would like to see things presented? Perhaps Rene would have time as well?


  16. From my Beinecke hajj, I can say that at least some (and perhaps even all) of these stubs are definitely modern, which (as I recall) were added by Hans Kraus’ restorer (ultimately, we could check these against the 1920s rotographs if it proved to be hugely important): Rene should be able to remember if these were all modern or not.

    As long as these stubs have been definitely confirmed as modern additions, as you suggest we could indeed use a sequential bifolio numbering system. But actually, there’s a lot to be said for being slightly more longwinded and referring to each bifolio by its constituent folio numbers (say f1f8, f2f7, f3f6, f4f5 etc): using this, we could easily show reversals relative to the current order (i.e. f8f1). Just a thought!

    As for how to structure the codicological information, the problem is that many key aspects (such as whether the first quire numberer was able to decipher or read the manuscript) remain hypothetical and/or untested, which leads directly to a situation where we would be trying to document “a garden of forking paths” (as per Borges’ famous short story).

    All of which reminds me that a while back, I tried to represent this same sprawling mass of codicological observations, hypotheses and claims within a single monolithic diagram: I’m sure you’d agree that’s, ummm, a “forking difficult task”. All the same, I still suspect that might well be the best place to start, basically because it would form a kind of research map for the codicology. Perhaps I ought to revisit it now?

  17. It would be good if these were modern, but we need to know for certain.

    A “key aspect” like whether or not the first quire numberer knew anything about the cipher is not part of codicological information, neither are theories or hypotheses. I’m really only interested in recording and indexing two types of information – verifiable observation and fact.

    An observation like “the tubes on folio x look like microscopes” is not a verifiable observation, it’s a subjective observation because they do not look like microscopes to me. I can’t verify they are microscopes, and I can’t verify that they are “jars”. These are routinely called “jars” in historical literature, so it’s not subjective to use the label in quotations, just like we do with the “stars/recipes” section. Taking in all the evidence on folio x and associating the “jars” with herbal storage is theoretical, and though it has the backing of just about every researcher historically that actually knows something about herbals, it still isn’t a verifiable observation.

    Current binding is an established fact. Bifoliation is an established fact. What I want to do is record observations on each folio and have them cross-indexed – “herbal” – root type, leaf type, flower type, list of possible identifications with sources, colors used, script type, hidden writing, erased writing, paint transfers (those that apply to current binding order as one group, those that don’t as another group), quire number and type, foliation number and type, etc.

    One other form of observation I consider allowable as verifiable observation – paint transfer from folio x to folio b. This is verifiable, and I would include an overlaid image into the database to demonstrate the alignment. But this allows another verifiable observation – at one time (not saying when), folio x was in contact with folio b (aligned or non-aligned with binding edge.)

    To me it’s only after you have all these observations in one place and can line up the data in whatever way necessary that you begin to entertain hypotheses as to order of construction, first binding, second binding, etc. You may be more interested in tracking down what binder did what and when, and I might be more interested in what was written first, second, etc., and what the author was thinking when he created this. Once all this information is in one place, it can easily be cross-indexed and broken into parts that apply to one thing or another to help form intelligent hypotheses.

    There will be disagreements on some observations, some doubt on some things, and these can be recorded as alternative observations. As example, I once put out a list of flesh side/hair side for each bifolio, and this can be used to test hypotheses relating to the parchment. But the hypothesis doesn’t go into the database, only the observations. If someone disagrees with my methodology in producing this list, it can be discussed and corrected if necessary.

    I think you understand what I’m trying to do, and you’d agree we have to start somewhere. That’s why I make all those lists, the same way I did my transcription, I write down what I see, and only then do I go back and see if it fits in with my preconceived notions. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. These lists of things give me a way to test my own ideas as well as the ideas of others.

    There is another level of observation that involves hypothesis, a good example would be my thought that some of the pages have been trimmed. I have a list of observations I think apply to the hypothesis that pages have been trimmed and tidied by one binder or another, and these observations could be listed in a separate section on specific hypotheses, as long any hypothesis included offers supportive information. I think you get the gist, that there’s a database of information and a section apart from the database that allows for discussion of various hypotheses derived from the information contained in the database.

    Better ideas anyone? I’m sort of looking for field names to include in a database, standardized information fields, a standardized format where someone can email the information in a post and it can be easily processed into a useable and searchable format maybe?


  18. This post is as helpful and fresh as when it was written, and I must say Rene made one of the deepest remarks on the nature of research which I’ve ever seen. I shall quote him in future.
    “People usually don’t disagree much about the facts and observations, but only about the hypotheses. If these are clearly separated, at least there is some common ground.” Now that is seriously deep.

  19. You know, the room/desk/cell/cabin just seems *crowded* – pages left horizontal to dry; not enough space; hurried work, not enough time to dry. gathered up hurriedly, some dropped, mis-gathered, bound and maybe later rebound. hurry, hurry, hurry. Constantinople? Damascus? Muziris? Any number of places in fact.

  20. Diane: agreed – in fact, I’ve long argued that the Wikipedia Voynich page should be purged of every speculative theory and speculative explanation for precisely this reason…

  21. Ah well, using the Zandbergen theorem, if you have to argue someone’s hearing your proposal as an hypothesis 😀

  22. Diane O'Donovan on March 11, 2012 at 8:31 am said:

    …have to argue [comma]..

  23. Nick, I’m posting way bac here because I hate advertising my blog ~ but in regard to fol.86v, and your description of its ‘tower’ (Curse, p.120), I thought I’d let you know that I’ve just given it the run-down (run-over) on my latest blogpost, so perhaps if only for the architectural discussion you might want to look it over.

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