Because of the lack of satisfactory evidence to work with, there are two basic Voynich research methodologies:

  1. concrete (which focus on those miserably few things we know about the VMs); and
  2. speculative (which try to determine which of the quadrillion possible explanations for the VMs are most inherently plausible).

In line with the first of the two, I’ve spent a long time hacking away at the VMs’ marginalia in a concrete attempt to work out from whence they came, so as to make the provenance leap a century or more backwards from 1600 to some point closer to the Voynich Manuscript’s actual origin. It’s been a hard slog, but I think I’ve now landed on the right doorstep: Savoy (specifically the post-1416 Duchy of Savoy).

When I saw this page (from Archives Départementales de la Côte-d’Or, B 6768, dated 1345), there’s just something about the handwriting that rings a bell for me. OK, it’s not by the same person (in fact, they’re probably close to a century apart) but look at its “nichil” with f116v’s “michiton”:-


Is this just some palaeographic coincidence? I really think not: in fact, I predict that if a multispectral infrared scan of f116v was carried out, you’d see (at just the right wavelength) the top part of the  “t” of “michiton” mysteriously morph into a looped “l”, as per the 1345 document. Basically, I’m pretty sure that “+ michiton” originally read “+ nichil” (or possibly “+ nichilum“), as the Ecclesiastical Latin “nichil” seems to pop up mainly in the context of late medieval French Latin texts, by monks allegedly influenced by the Florentine humanist Leonardo Bruni’s (1369-1444) practice of using “ch” for “h”. Perhaps an experienced Savoy palaeographer would be the right person to ask about this? I suspect that there’s much more we could tell…

Interestingly, here’s a map of Savoy in the 15th century: hmmm, not far from Milan at all. So, is that some kind of coincidence as well? 🙂

P.S.: I should add that it could indeed just as well be “michi” written in basically the same hand, except that I suspect that the “o” and the initial “m” of “michiton” were both emended by a later owner, and that this doesn’t help explain what is going on with the whole word.

3 thoughts on “Savoy palaeography: was michiton originally nichil?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Voynich-Manuscript: Savoy palaeography: was michiton originally nichil? #voynich #vms --

  2. I haven’t understood why you are ignoring (or not mentioning) the terminal -on, nor why you think that the o is emended? Also, if the word is indeed nichil, what is its significance?

    I must say that, to me, it seems unlikely that the top loop of the postulated “l” would have disappeared and yet the nearby top of the “h” is still clear and dark. It’s not like the vellum is stained or inhomogeneous in this vicinity.

  3. Julian: conversely, the problem with “michiton” / “anchiton” is that it is not a real word. The front and back pages get the most wear, so the scenario I argue for (that the ink was faded if not completely lost but then miscorrected) is pretty reasonable: the question then becomes one of codicology informed by palaeography – what did it originally look like (and what did it originally say)?

    If the word is indeed “nichil”, its significance is that (a) it’s Ecclesiastical Latin, probably written in Southern France or Northern Italy, and (b) it helps us sharply reduce the number of possible words following it. For example, one might reasonably hypothesize that the line may have originally commenced “nichil obstat” (a sign that a Church censor had examined it for doctrinal problems)… but that’s a story for another post. 🙂

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