Apparently, today’s big cipher mystery news story is the announcement that Finnish businessman “Veikko Latvala, a self described ‘prophet of god’” has allegedly “decoded the book and unlocked the secrets of the world’s most mysterious manuscript.“. Voynich researchers will no doubt be amazed to learn that “The sound syllables are a mixture of Spanish and Italian, also mixed with the language this man used to speak himself. His own language was a rare Babylonian dialect that was spoken in a small area in Asia.

Being brutally honest, though, this kind of thing makes me dreadfully sad. Cryptanalytically, the whole point about the way Voynichese was constructed was to make it resemble a nonsense language: a semantic half-entity with a great big meaning-size hole left empty in it for the reader to fill with their own pareidoilia, to gestaltically complete. As a result, the VMs is hugely attractive to people whose heads are already full of a self-contradictory chorus of noise, whose need is merely for a vessel to pour their own internal message into.

Once you grasp that in all its awfulness, it is little more than a miserable half-hop to seeing the Voynich Manuscript as a virtual car crash perpetually about to happen yet with doors wide open beckoning the unstable to jump in: a DIY tragedy that seems fated to be replayed endlessly by successive generations.

Of course, I’m perfectly happy to concede that it’s entirely possible that Veikko Latvala is right here, though doubtless it would be for utterly the wrong reasons, and at a high enough level of improbability to drive the “Heart of Gold” (as famously stolen by Zaphod Beeblebrox) all the way to infinity and beyond.

Actually, for me the big news here is that the whole miserable non-story broke first on Fox News. Even though The Da Vinci Code already seems a very long time ago (though arguably not nearly long enough), perhaps the Fox newsroom got a kick off covering Kevin Knight’s Copiale Cipher story recently (in fact, they asked Knight about Latvala’s claims, but he declined to comment, can’t think why), and wondered if they could reprise that populist cryptographic high.

All the same, I suppose I’m contractually bound to quote what Latvala says about “16152” (by which I presume he means the Beinecke’s scan “1006152.sid”, i.e. f40r):-

“The name of the flower is Heart of Fire.
It makes the skin beautiful when made as an ointment.
The oil is pressed from the buds.
This ointment is used for the wrinkles.
Is suitable for the kidneys and the head,
as the flower prevents inflammations, is antibiotic.
Plant is 10 centimeters by its height.
It grows on hot and dry slants.
The plant is bright green by its color.”

Of course, the obvious historical non-sequiturs here are “antibiotic” (~1889) and “centimeters” (~1790). But it’s also interesting that he lists 9 lines, when f40r has 11 to the left of the plant-thing and 10 to the right.

As far as my own observations on what is actually on f40r go, I personally rather like the tonal contrast between the two green paints: perhaps the stem green was original but the leaf green was from the ‘heavy painter’? I also like the way that the two root sections merge into a single vertical stem, nicely mysterious. 😉 The text also has some nice verbose cipher sequences (“ar ar al or” at the end of line #2, plus “ar ar or” at the end of line #5 quickly followed by “or or ar” at the start of line #6), and a particularly clear ‘Neal key’ at the middle-right of the second paragraph’s topmost line. But that’s just by the by: I’m sure all Voynich researchers have their own favourite features. 😉

17 thoughts on “Voynich Manuscript decrypted by Finnish ‘prophet of god’ via Fox News…

  1. I like the way it looks about to lift off and just flutter away. Mr. Latvala’s description of the language is actually ok, I think, for the early-mid 15thC, if you imagine an expatriate community in ‘a rare part of Babylonia’ – they’d probably develop a patois of some sort.

    But what – for heaven’s sake – is the name of the ‘rare Babylonian language’. There are several. Nick, do you recall someone writing yonks ago about finding pages in Afghanistan (or somewhere) that looked a bit like Vms script?

  2. There’s another article on the Voynich manuscript that was published yesterday. It’s a well-written overview article (in German) in the online issue of the German newspaper “Die Welt”. I am quoted in it. This Finnish guy isn’t mentioned at all. Here it is:

  3. Klaus: thanks for the link! Personally, it seems to me that Knight et al broke the Copiale Cipher not with clever software but with a series of good cryptological guesses. Really, is it Knight himself who’s playing up the (allegedly) intelligent linguistics side of this, or is it just a meme that has taken on an international media life of its own?

    As far as the Voynich goes, considering he’s had students fiddling with it for years, he doesn’t actually seem to be very far forward, does he? If he wants a proper research project to give someone, I’d suggest modelling Currier A and B and labels as three different Markov state machines, pinning down the precise differences between them, and seeing how the underlying system changed and evolved during the writing. 🙂

  4. * Hola Nickpelling, hace tiempo que no comento nada en tu web, pero sigo leyendo todos tus artículos.

    Es el día de los santos inocentes en canal Fox?

    * Hi Nickpelling, you have not said anything on your website, but I read all your articles.

    It is the day of the Holy Innocents on Fox?

  5. Sergi: perhaps Finland celebrates April Fool’s Day in December?

  6. * Creo que si, Nick. xD

    * I think so, Nick. xD

  7. To my mind, the most interesting feature of this page, 40r, is that only one character has white space to the right of it: the last character of the first paragraph, and not of the last. Did the scribe write from top to bottom and from left to right? Was he or she reproducing a text written from top to bottom and from left to right? And if so, what rule governed cases where the illustration forced one word of plaintext to be broken into two segments, one to the left and one to the right of the interruption?

    As for Latvala, if he thinks the Voynich text represents a human language which was once spoken, let him produce a transcription of the text in that language, otherwise there is no hypothesis to discuss.

  8. Philip: the word that immediately follows it on the right hand side – EVA ycheey – seems a little unusual to me. In my mental model of Voynichese, y- words almost always have a gallows character as the second character (except where that y is the first letter on a line, where different rules often apply). Makes it look to me as though the y- in that word might be some kind of catch-letter, indicating elision with the preceding -y word?

  9. In between chores and holiday preparations, I’ve been scrutinizing one page in particular in the botanicals: the poppy. Have you noticed the star and voynich letter for “v”? Seems to be referring to “verso”. I got a sense of what the writer was saying: Somewhat along the lines of “this plant will make you as sleepy as you would be while studying your catechism”. (heh!)

  10. Nick. That is the word I meant: the only one on the page which the scribe does not end because he is forced to by the illustration or the shape of the text window. What you say about initial y is true, and it is also true that where a line is split by an illustration, the two sublines each have the statistical characteristics of whole lines, so yes, yC is unusual in this context (10 cases of yC out of 118 cases of y after an illustration).

  11. Just a minor nitpick: the first name of this prophet Latvala is properly spelled Veikko and not Viekko. It’s a common Finnish first name.

    I’d also like to reassure you that most of us in Finland celebrate April Fool’s on the usual date. Not being a prophet myself, I don’t know if they have set different dates for fooling people.

  12. Pekka: thanks, fixed! I suspect prophets work according to their own calendar… 🙂

  13. Never mind the “Finnish” connection. I was once again trying to locate “el mina” on my “Blaeu’s Grand Atlas of the 17th Century”. Where the fortress still stands was first named “St. Georgius della Mina”.At various times it changed hands between the Dutch and Portuguese (1488, onward). The fortress was first used as a trading post for alluvial gold and slaves; and later for palm oil (for use as lamp oil but even more importantly to maintain Portugal’s King Henry 7th’s monopoly on luxury soap)!
    If you think I’m wandering far afield, check out some online maps (Blaeu’s 17th century, in particular the comments on pages 140 and 141 referring to the mapmaker’s paintings of various towns, including “Sao Jorge de Elmina”.

    Do we have any Dutch translators around, Nick?

  14. Oops, that reference should be Prince Henry Seventh (The Navigator — who did all of his navigating at home, and left the cartography to his apparently multi-talented, multi-lingual, Jewish on-board-ship cartographer (un-named).

  15. Bobbi: I suspect you’re confusing me with Edith Sherwood, a scenario I’m sure she would rather not see played out. 😉

  16. Tepenecz aka Jacobus Horcicki
    Gerard de Jode
    Cornelius de Jode ca 1593
    Abraham Ortelius ca 1598
    Mercator Hondius aka Jodius Hondius

    All within the timeline of the VM’s appearance in Rudolph’s court.

    Don’t totally write off that Finnish man’s discovery: The plant he refers to sure looks like a Sago Palm to me. Sometimes used as an emollient? Soap? Oil? (Oils and emollients were almost as valuable as gold).

    I’ll keep in touch now and then…a tout a l’heure!


  17. Diane on May 28, 2015 at 3:26 am said:

    I cant comment on the translation, but a mixture of Italian and Spanish isn’t impossible, and it has been argued at length that there was an early migration from the old Babylonian region into central Europe from an early period. A chap named Endrey published in the sixties a long study demonstrating (as he said) that Hungarian derived from Babylonia. I have no opinion on the argument; there’s no problem in theory with the historical side but no opinion on the linguistic. His list of derived terms, as I recall amounted to nearly 2,000 items. Wish I still had the book.

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