Here’s something neat and slightly unexpected from long-time Voynich Manuscript researcher (and Voynich theory über-skeptic) Rene Zandbergen I think you’ll probably appreciate.

Arguably the least-discussed subject in the VMs is the set of tiny plant drawings in the two ‘pharma’ (pharmacological) sections, which somehow usually manage to fly beneath most researchers’ radars. Yet it has been known for decades that a good number of these plant drawings recapitulate or copy plant drawings in the main herbal sections (though as I recall these are more or less all Herbal A plants, please correct me if I’m wrong) – mapping these correspondences properly is an interesting challenge in its own right, but one to which nobody (as far as I can see) has really stepped up in the last decade.

And so it is that the general indifference to the pharma section forms the backdrop to Rene’s latest observation, which is this: that the pair of roots depicted on the two (now separated) halves of the Herbal A f18v-f23r bifolio recur side-by-side at the bottom of f102r2 in the pharma section. Here’s what the f18v-f23r bifolio would look like if you took out the bifolios currently bound between them (ignore the green mark in the middle from f22v, that’s just my lazy editing):-


…and here’s what the pair of roots at the bottom of f102r2 look like. Somewhat familiar, eh?


Actually, I think it’s fair to say that this is extremely familar.

Now, it should be obvious that that you can (depending on how strong a piece of evidence you think the above amounts to, and what other observations you think are relevant) build all kinds of inferential chains on top of this. Cautious soul that he is, Rene concludes: “the colours of the two herbal pages were perhaps not applied when the bifolio was laying open like this“, basically because the two green paints are so different, which is similar to my observation in yesterday’s post about the two blues in Q9. He continues: “I don’t even think that the colours were applied by the same person who made the outline drawings, not deriving from these drawings though.

Regardless, the pretty-much-unavoidable codicological starting point would seem to be that f18v and f23r originally sat side-by-side, and hence almost certainly sat at the centre of a herbal gathering / quire. It also seems likely that the two green paints were applied after other bifolios had been inserted between f18v and f23r (though not necessarily in their final binding order, or at the same time).

Furthermore, if you look at f23v (i.e. the verso side of f23r), you can see where the tails of the “39” quire number’s two long downstrokes have gone over from the bottom of f24v (the last page of the quire). This indicates to me that the f18v / f23r bifolio was already nested just inside the f17 / f24 bifolio when the quire numbers were added: and when combined with the new idea that f18v-f23r was probably the central bifolio of its original gathering, I think the implication is that (unless Q3 was originally composed of just two bifolios, which seems somewhat unlikely) Q3’s quire number was added after the bifolios had been reordered / scrambled / misordered. OK, it’s pretty much the same thing I argued in “The Curse” (pp.62-68): but it’s nice to see the same ideas coming out from a different angle.


However, the range of green paints is a bit troubling. Even though I’ve just now looked at all the greens in Q3, I’m struggling to reconstruct a sensible codicological sequence: but perhaps the reason for this will turn out to be that there isn’t one to be found. Could it be that a significant amount of Herbal grouping data could be inferred simply by spectroscopically analysing the various green paints used, and looking for recto/verso matches? Glen Claston will doubtless argue otherwise, but the chances that a verso page and a recto page with precisely the same green paint were facing each other at the time they were painted must surely be pretty good, right?

So, Rene: another good find, cheers! 🙂

14 thoughts on “Rene Z’s bifolio surprise…

  1. rene zandbergen on February 18, 2010 at 12:14 pm said:

    I can even tell you my latest wild theory (it’s a while since I had one).

    I propose that originally there were 360 little drawings in the pharma
    section, and 360 recipes in the recipes section (or at least: meant
    to be).

    Each plant belonged to one degree of the zodiac, and the labels
    in the zodiac and pharma sections ‘somehow’ link the plant and the
    degree to a paragraph in the recipes section.

    Several variations are also possible.

    There’s a nice precendent formed by a sub-group of the alchemical
    herbals, where there are 90+ numbered plant drawings without text,
    and the corresponding text is on separate ‘recipes’ folios at the end.
    Oxford MS Canon.Misc. 408 (no typo 😉 ) is
    one example.

    I will of course also remain extra skeptical about this theory and
    look out for both the pros and cons….

  2. Christopher Hagedorn on February 19, 2010 at 11:31 am said:

    Did you check to see if the labels near the roots in the pharma sections are “words” that can be found on the corresponding herbal pages?

  3. rene zandbergen on February 19, 2010 at 3:30 pm said:

    People have tried this in the past, without any obvious success. I agree
    that these examples (there are a few more matches) deserve a closer

  4. Christopher Hagedorn on February 20, 2010 at 2:25 pm said:

    What’s the name of the Japanese researcher who did a fine transcription? I want to try and compare the labels myself but I forgot the guys name.

  5. rene zandbergen on February 21, 2010 at 4:23 pm said:

    That’s Takeshi Takahashi.

  6. Paul Ferguson on February 21, 2010 at 6:01 pm said:

    “What’s the name of the Japanese researcher who did a fine transcription? I want to try and compare the labels myself but I forgot the guys name.”

    Teru Agata?

  7. It was definitely Takeshi Takahashi, though there are a fair number of other transcriptions out there (some complete, most partial). Here’s Jorge Stolfi’s interlinear transcription 1.6e6 as a starting point (is there a 1.7? is there a 1.8? what happened to the whole EVMT project?)

  8. Christopher Hagedorn on February 22, 2010 at 9:41 am said:

    Thank you for the links. Do you prefer Stolfi’s transcription, Nick? And why?

  9. Christopher Hagedorn on February 22, 2010 at 9:48 am said:

    Oh nevermind, I see now that these are one and the same in this context.

  10. rene zandbergen on February 22, 2010 at 10:02 am said:

    EVMT was overtaken by the publication of the
    high-resolution scans.
    I still do have my transcription, but I see that it
    is not reliable.

    What is available from it is:
    – the definition of the extended Eva (characters
    ‘b’ ‘u’ and ‘z’ (
    and all the weirdoes
    – the identification of the loci has been taken
    over in Stolfi’s interlinear, if I am not mistaken

  11. Diane on March 23, 2010 at 4:12 pm said:


    I wasn’t going to mention this, in case it seemed too far from 15thC Italy, but it may be of some use to you.

    An Indian astronomer of the 5th century put together a collection of bits (Samhita) on all sorts of things, including astronomy and plants if I recall correctly. Much of it was translated by Al-Biruni, incorporated in his account of India. From there the material went on to influence the the Beit Hikmah, and so became part of what we conventionally term ‘Arab’ science.

    The astronomer’s name is usually Anglicised as Varahamihira.

    His collection is very like what you’re describing. You might like to keep that medical tradition in mind, although I think it’s difficult to get English copies.

    There might be an out-of-copyright translation on line, I suppose.

    Anyway, here’s a wiki article.

  12. Rene, again on astrological correspondences for plants:
    not only the Brht Smhita does this;I have lists of these correspondences, some for the month-stars (lunar mansions) and some actually day by day.

    The former are often interesting, linked to deities and so forth.

    The latter come from a tradition of memorised agricultural calendars.Of those still remembered, not every day now has its plant – religious days etc are interpolated. And the plants are pretty dull in them too; dates and barley and so forth.

    Happy to give bibliog. details ( if you ever see this post).

  13. Rene, I am not an expert of any kind, but as I saw enormous number of people involved in attempts to decipher the manuscript I had a thought… Has anyone ever tried to show the document to an autistic person? These people are known for their talents and where professors cannot, maybe it would be a good idea to get others involved? Could you please let me know what do you think? Many thanks. Bea

  14. The British secret service (GCHQ) hires folks with Dyslexia and Dyspraxia as some of their top code breakers.

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