Many historians and palaeographers have concluded that the interleaved ‘+’ signs added to the Voynich Manuscript’s back page indicate that the containing text is some kind of spell, incantation, chant, charm, curse, pious utterance, etc. Well, it’s completely true that ‘+’ was used in all of the preceding forms to indicate that the (non-silent) reader should physically trace out the sign of the cross at the same time, so this would seem a perfectly reasonable suggestion (if perhaps a little non-specific).

Here I’m particularly interested in the (apparently heavily emended) third line of text on f116v, where I have strongly enhanced the image to make the tangled textual mess I think this has ended up in clear. Note that (as I have discussed several times elsewhere, e.g.here) this line of text seems to end “ahia maria“, which I think pretty much confirms that the ‘+’ shapes are indeed crosses.

So, do we have any idea what the first part of the line originally said? It is certainly striking that all four words at the start of the line seem to end with the letter ‘x’, which gives the overall impression of some kind of magical chant. But what might that chant be?

This is where I wheel in Benedek Lang’s fascinating “Unlocked Books” (2008), which focuses on medieval magical manuscripts from Central Europe (and which you’ll be unsurprised to hear that I’m currently reading). As part of his discussion (p.65) of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus (Maximianus, Martinianus, Malchus, Constantinus, Dionisius, Serapion & Johannes, since you’re asking) who were walled up for two hundred years but magically awoke during the reigh of Theodosius, Lang mentions a 14th century Czech amulet with the seven sleepers’ names as well as the text “pax + nax vax“, all used as a healing magic charm against fever.

Incidentally, I should note that “hax pax max adimax” is another piece of nonsense Latin that (for example) appears in Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, and which some wobbly etymological sources give as the possible origin of the phrase “hocus pocus” (though I have to say I’d probably tend more towards the idea that it’s a corruption of [the genuine Latin] “hoc est corpus). But regardless, I don’t think “hax pax max” is what we’re looking at here.

pax nax vax“, then, is basically the right kind of phrase, with the right kind of structure, from the right kind of period. I’m not saying it’s definitely 100% right (history is rarely that simple): but even if it’s wrong, it may well turn out to be a very revealing attempt at an answer.

All in all, I’m really rather intrigued by the possibility that this line originally read (or read something remarkably close to) “six + pax + nax + vax + ahia + mar+ia +“: it’s just a shame that the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library doesn’t have finer wavelength (i.e. multispectral) scans of this contentious feature so that we could test this kind of hypothesis out. One day, though…

10 thoughts on “Voynich f116v: pax nax vax?

  1. Vytautas on September 1, 2010 at 1:39 pm said:

    Hi, Nick
    one of my tries to read upper row of this marginalia was similar : “mihi+con+ola+dal+…”, it is possible some of pen strokes were added sometime later. String “six+pax+…” was readed by me “sia+… via+…”, it was done before radioactive carbon analysis 🙂 But without multispectral scans we can not do more – places where pen was pressed harder seems to be written later, but this is only speculation…

  2. Vytautas: I think that the basic starting position on f116v should be that (a) this looks nothing like cipher or code, but a palaeographic multi-language mess, where nearly every word makes no sense; (b) you really wouldn’t expect anyone to do this to their own writing; (c) ergo, some fairly bad process must have been persistently applied to this page by a later owner. So, rather than guess at what mangled words resemble, I’m trying to second guess individual phrases (such as “pax nax vax”). Yes, it’s a pretty hopeful (if not actually outright hopeless) path, but I suspect it’s all we’ve got (for the moment, at least)…

  3. Some unrelated news: it turns out that the rate of decay of radioactive isotopes, such as carbon-14 used in carbon dating, is not constant. (see the article here: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2010/august/sun-082310.html ) What might this mean the the VMS?

  4. Christopher: probably not very much if we’re matching to a correction curve. Edith Sherwood’s objection to the date range isn’t the centre point but the certainty of the spread, and she may have a valid point… it’s hard to be sure without seeing the results written up properly. *sigh*

  5. Note that Athanasius Kircher also mentions this common anti-plague amulet text:-

    + Z + D.I.A. + B.I.Z. + S.A.B. + Z + H.G.F. + B.E.R.S

    While Kieckhefer mentions that “one compiler” advises “that if you write “pax + pix + abyra + syth + samasic” on a hazel stick and hit a woman on the head with it three times, then immediately kiss her, you will be assured of her love.” Hmmm… then again, “Putting ants’ eggs in her bath will arouse her so violently that willy-nilly she will seek intercourse.”

  6. zlatoděj J.T. on September 5, 2010 at 1:30 pm said:

    Ahoj Nick,

    podíval jsem se na f116v.
    (f 116v=alchymie), Znaky + = znak A,(gematrie a,i,j,q,y).Jak jsem zjistil v jistých věcech jsi měl pravdu.A to pokud šlo o autora rukopisu. Na straně 116v,je jméno autora a jeho profese. Tímto se omlouvám za moje tvrzení že rukopis napsal D.Stolcia. Ten ho nenapsal. Rukopis napsal jiný český alchymista. I mistr tesař se někdy utne. Překlad 116v dám na web. ahoj J.T alchymista

  7. I suppose that either the newly observed change of rate of decay is infinitesimal, or scientists will model new correction curves that might move the bell curve back or forth a couple of years. It would be interesting though, if it turns out that all items dated in the history of carbon dating are less certain than we thought them to be.

    Just what carbon dating needed, right? (sigh…)

  8. Christopher: the point about correction curves is that they correct for all kinds of disturbances such as these. As long as the curve was derived from plenty of datapoints that were satisfactorily datable by conventional means, the curve really should be OK! 🙂

  9. Searching the digital scriptorium under Germany between 1350-1450 just in case the these links don’t work. This link shows the crosses being used.

    http://www.columbia.edu/cgi-bin/dlo?obj=ds.UTAustin-TX.TxAuHRH.651&size=large

    Page description link:

    http://app.cul.columbia.edu:8080/exist/scriptorium/individual/TxAuHRH-120.xml?showLightbox=yes

    German dictionaries says. The last word mich = me, myself. The second to last geil=fertile, horny, lustful
    With the picture of the possible pregnant woman in f116v, I’m finding this a strong possible connection.

    In the second line the word “vix” shows a strong matching usage in the 1st paragraph, 5th line

    http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/ds/ucb/images/DS001831aA.jpg

    Page description link:

    http://app.cul.columbia.edu:8080/exist/scriptorium/individual/CU-BANC-185.xml?showLightbox=yes

    Does anyone have a good Latin/German dictionary link? Trying to find out more on the use of the “8” in scripts. At the end of words shows a capitol S and in the middle shows d’

  10. Pingback: A reference similar to f116v « Some Voynich ideas

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