As should be pretty clear from my posts over the years, I’m a big fan of René Zandbergen: he’s one of the very few Voynich researchers that have managed to keep a consistently clear head over the years, and it is his generally even-handed approach that casts a pleasantly affable shadow over, the website he put together many years ago and still one of the few genuinely useful general-purpose Voynich research resources in Internetland. (Please don’t get me started on the uselessness of the Wikipedia page, I want to keep this under 1000 words).

And so in many ways the news that René has now taken back control of (he stopped updating it in 2004, and then handed it over to Dana Scott to look after for a few years) and begun an HTML makeover on it comes as a very pleasant surprise. It’s already looking much better, and no doubt it will carry on improving for a while yet.

I suppose the key question, though, boils down to this: really, what have we learnt about the VMs in the last six years? And how does the whole programme fit in with where we are now?

It’s important to remember that René’s website, for all its substance, is not some kind of “Encyclopaedia Voynichiana“, trying to compile every comment ever made on every feature, drawing, paragraph, line, word, letter. Rather, it concerns itself at least as much with the historiography of the VMs as with the VMs itself. For some people, that is a strength: yet for me, that remains its central weakness. The basic historiographic problem is that the VMs’ provenance shudders to an awkward halt circa 1608, even though it is (demonstrably, I believe) significantly older than this – in fact, if the recent radiocarbon dating is broadly reliable, the VMs probably predates its appearance at the Rudolfine court by more than 150 years. Which is a bit like trying to use Twitter to grasp the dynamics of Queen Victoria’s court.

What, then, should a 2010 look like? In many important ways, we’ve lost all the major archival battles: Marci pointed us to Kircher and Kircher pointed us to Baresch (and that was the end of that), while Rudolph II and WMV jointly got us to Sinapius (and that was the end of that). All of which formed a pleasant historical pear tree to climb, but ultimately one with no fruit, low-hanging or otherwise. We have all the pathology of a history, but none of the substance: for all the patient research fun trawling the archives can be, this approach has not helped us.

And from where I’m sitting, the minute we start defocussing to allow the tsunami of historical possibilities and dead-end theories to wash over us (Wikipedia, anyone?), we’ve basically lost the epistemological fight too. The annoying thing about the VMs is that even though it really is, as I once noted, like a million piece jigsaw, it would probably only take 20 or 30 carefully chosen observations about Voynichese to unlock its cipher. But which 20 or 30 would be the key? We’ll only know in retrospect, I guess. 🙂

Perhaps a revised circa 2010 should focus not on its (let’s face it, fairly damaged and unhelpful) historiography, but rather on what we’ve genuinely learnt about the VMs in and of itself: by which I mean things like…

  • the difference between Currier A and Currier B (and all the shades inbetween)
  • reconstructing the original page order
  • places where the cipher breaks down and/or is hacked (such as space insertion ciphers)
  • apparent copying errors
  • letter stroke construction and variations
  • document constructional details, gatherings vs quires
  • marginalia
  • internal layering
  • the various painters
  • handwriting differences and evolution

All of which is very “Voynich 2.0”, but there you go. Really, we do now know a great deal about the VMs that isn’t to do with Marci, Newbold, Brumbaugh, etc: in fact, we have plenty of reasons to be optimistic if we but allow ourselves to be!

7 thoughts on “Rene’s relaunch…

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Rene’s relaunch… | Cipher Mysteries --

  2. Dennis on April 23, 2010 at 2:30 am said:

    Splendid! It’s great to see René’s site relaunch under its old management.

  3. Rene Zandbergen on April 23, 2010 at 5:57 am said:

    Thanks for the kind words, Nick. The site was really getting into a mess, and it will be a while before it is up to date, even in the area where it was always most complete: the MS history.

  4. Rene Zandbergen on April 25, 2010 at 4:43 pm said:

    While working on my site, I just found something rather neat. I am completely redoing the ‘origin’ page including the process of the VMs construction, and was just describing the rearrangement of Q9 discovered by John Grove and fruther advanced in ‘The Curse of the Voynich’.

    Obviously, this rebinding was done after the quire number was written. I then realised that I could also check if it was rebound before or after the folio numbers were written. Would the folio numbers, as they are now, be out of place in the original binding?

    The result was a big surprise, but it shouldn’t have been. In the original binding, the folio number 68 should have been on f67r1, where we now have the folio number 67. But we have something more than that 🙂

    The original folio number 67 should have been on f67r2. I have not been able to find it though. On the Beinecke scans, this page is curled and the erasure may have been particularly effective, or hidden by the curl. The Yale copyflo has the same problem (and is of worse quality). Petersen in his hand transcription did not transcribed the folio numbers. Anyway, also without this I am fully convinced what has happened…

  5. Rene: I’m afraid I don’t really understand your reasoning. In the original binding, f67r1 was on the back of Q9 (which is why the quire number is on f67r1) and f67r2 was on the front. It is because there is no sign at all of any foliation on f67r2 that it seems likely that the initial foliation was added after the present binding. This was the starting point for John Grove’s chain of codicological reasoning: all I ever did for Q9 was follow John’s logic through to the end, by looking at the content of the original pages in their original context and noting the symmetry and patterns that the misbinding had obscured. If the VMs had been foliated before the final binding, you’d have seem some evidence of “67” on f67r2 and “68” (probably) on f67v1. Have I missed something?

  6. Dear Nick, I am afraid you overestimate the Wikipedia. Now I am working on the Hungarian Wikipedia article on VMS to evaluate as “featured article” and most of my troubles come from that for WP we only present your efforts and results, but neither qualify nor organize them, etc. I am gladly use Cipher Mysteries and René’s site (which is the most useful thing on the net concerning the VMS, I prove!), but I have to keep to the things you’ve written. WP is not a place for experts and thinkers. Everything stated there must be present somewhere, available for lookup and verify. If I write “the VMS is old”, I have to cite a reference.
    Nevertheless, if you have any suggestion that we may use to improve the VMS article on the Wikipedia, all the Wikipedians would be happy to read that! (At least, in Hungary.) (I think.)

  7. Виолетта on February 24, 2014 at 7:03 pm said:

    Hello, I am a descendant of Isabella Kerniberg (s implanted alien genes Karl Kern), and I can translate the Voynich manuscript. Manuskpript Voynich was written with deliberate errors and corrections on a single intergalactic language.In the astronomical section of the Voynich: gods are mentioned, an intergalactic council intergalactic federation,trade routes,military base. In the medical section describes treatments: oncology (1 4stadii), AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, improve gennov, capacity limbs, etc.In “Biological” section of the manuscript description: rocket launchers, anti-missile systems, space vehicles, drills, computer programs. In astrological description section: future revolutions, wars, medicine development, development of new technologies, contact with aliens. Was based on data from onboard computers spacecraft crashed on Earth (1000 2000let ago). Fragments of data are located throughout the world.

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