I’ve had it suggested that to entertain a popular audience, a Voynich Manuscript documentary should showcase a live reenactment of its naked ladies bathing in green muddy slime. In this film-making scenario, the cameras could linger longingly on their most interesting period features, which (I can only presume) means their hair and makeup. Doubtless it would look great in HD, etc. But where does this mad desire to be so gratuitously populist come from? “Voynich” already gets over 600,000 hits on Google – not as many as Justin Bieber, sure, but it does have far more hair styles to choose from. 🙂
[As an historical aside, the apparent presence of medicinal baths in the manuscript arguably gives it a terminus ante quo of around 1500, because that is when people began to blame those same baths for contemporary ills such as syphilis. Just so you know!]
Personally, I suspect that – for the most part – naked women are used in the Voynich as some kind of cryptographic / steganographic ruse to get people’s decrypting brains either to shut down completely or to open up too far to be useful: a systematic misdirection trick, drawing your attention away from where the real information is held on the page. But that’s another story for another day…
Anyway, a Voynich paper is currently being prepared by Lincoln Taiz and Saundra Lee Taiz: this revolves around the idea that (what they call) the “dominant” presence of the green pools with the water-section nymphs indicates that Quire 13 should receive, like the early herbal sections, a botanical interpretation. Specifically, they suggest that this section of the VMs might be based around various questions posed by Nicolaus of Damascus (who lived 2000 years ago) in his book De Plantis, and that its green paint leitmotif simply represents chlorophyll… and so on.
As with all Voynich theories, they might conceivably be right … but if they are, I suspect it will turn out be for quite the wrong reasons. You see, if you go to the trouble of reconstructing parts of the folio order for Quire 13 (and, generally, try to untangle the Voynich Manuscript’s codicological skein), you discover a number of curious things:-
- The quire numbers were added after being misbound
- The original quires almost certainly had no quire numbers
- Quire 13 was originally painted in a (now faded and patchy) blue colour
- The green paint was added much later, right on top of the blue paint
As direct visual evidence, I’m completely certain that the two pages (f78v and f81r) below originally sat right next to each other in the alpha state of the manuscript – there are numerous symmetries to be seen in the layout, design, shape. Yet on the left page, you can see where the (original) blue paint was added, while the right page has the same blue paint but is also overpainted with heavy green paint. I’m (furthermore) quite sure that the green paint was added after the quire numbers were added, and so were almost certainly not added by the original author (and, I’d add, probably not even in the same century as him or her).
I also – along with Glen Claston – suspect that Quire 13 was constructed in two separate phases (GC calls these “Q13b” and “Q13a”), and that the balneology-themed part (Q13b) probably came first, with the trickier (and more conceptual?) water-themed part (Q13a) later. Overall I don’t see any botanical theme at all in either section, and so can only read the Taiz’s hypothesis as a plausible (but almost certainly wrong) guess based on a single visual element – a layer of green paint that was absent from the manuscript’s original state.
To paraphrase Rene Zandbergen slightly, success in Voynich research comes not from guessing well but from consistently avoiding bad mistakes. Sorry, but it seems very much to me as though this particular thesis is not destined for success. 🙁