Just a quick note to let you know that a freshly printed boxful of my book “The Curse of the Voynich” arrived here today, and with shinier covers than ever. 🙂 It is, of course, a perfect last-minute cipher-mystery-related Christmas present (for others or indeed for yourself), so feel free to order a copy (click on the appropriate PayPal-linked Buy Now button at the top there, and off you go).

If you don’t know about my take on the Voynich Manuscript, I’ve posted a 1000-word summary of the book here, part of which was covered in the National Geographic Ancient X-Files half-episode you may have seen (and which YouTube has now taken down). What I like best about “Curse” is that for all the potshots people have tried to take at it, it’s all basically still standing, which – considering that this is a highly-contested field where a typical Voynich theory has a shelf-life of a few days at most – is pretty good going, I think. 🙂

As always, I sign all copies bought direct from the Compelling Press site, and offer the option of adding an anagrammatic dedication at the front: so if your name was (for example) “Leonardo da Vinci”, you could have your copy dedicated to “Vindaloo and Rice” (which remains one of the best anagrams ever, however much you happen to like “Invalided Racoon”).

Incidentally, of all the other books on the Voynich Manuscript out there, I’d strongly recommend Mary D’Imperio’s classic (1976) “An Elegant Enigma”, which is now freely downloadable from the NSA as a PDF. Anyone with an interest in the Voynich Manuscript should read this – even if it is a little bit dated in places, D’Imperio does cover a lot of ground.

35 thoughts on ““The Curse of the Voynich”, now back on sale…

  1. Whew! So many days with no mention of that manuscript, and I was afraid you were under another of those vows of silence which prelude another t.v. special!

    Any links to said ‘pot-shots’? I’ve never seen a word of criticism aimed at the Curse.

  2. Most of the pot-shots came on the main mailing list in 2006-2007. At the time, the hoax theory was in strong vogue (*sigh*) and the radiocarbon dating was still some years in the future (also *sigh*).

    Regardless of when the content itself ultimately dates from 🙂 , I firmly believe that my post-1456 and pre-1480 dating of the writing phase still stands, even if it wasn’t written by Leonardo da V. 😉

  3. That’s rather the problem isn’t it?

    And so I still think Tiltman the finest mind to consider the Vms: he never forgot that the manuscript is sole evidence for its nature (as it were).

  4. Oh – I express myself so badly. I mean that the criticisms sound as if they are based chiefly on the incompatibility of your theory with previously-held theories, which is bound to lead to nothing more than a chillier atmosphere with risk of uncontrolled flames.

  5. Russell on December 20, 2012 at 7:15 am said:

    Ive just ordered the book. Any idea when I will get it in France?

  6. Russell: the Post Office says the last airmail posting date was 12th December, but that seems excessively conservative – if you’re happy with “Subtler Grilles” as an anagram, it’ll be in the post box this morning & we’ll see how fast it can get to you… 🙂

  7. Nick
    I have some questions about the Curse – fundamental ones, really. Trouble is, I’m not sure if it’s possible to go back to basics without seems contrary for the sake of it.

    Here’s one of the things which puzzles me, just as example.
    When you explain why the text must be a cipher text
    you say that because the page is filled with ‘aiv’ ‘aiiv’ etc., it must be page numbers. What I don’t understand is how you can be sure that the symbols are a or i or v.
    I know they look like that, but how can you be sure that (ust for example) the second and third ‘i’ aren’t intended to serve a different function. I don’t expect it is music, but suppose it was: the single i might mean one note, the ii the next, or one octave above.
    Or the ‘a’ might not be an ‘a’ at all.
    Or it might be equivalent to the way that Devanagari etc. work. n na ne nei etc.
    Did you consider those possibilities but not bother explaining why they were discarded?

    If you don’t feel like going back over such old ground, please just scrap the comment.

  8. Diane: of course, there is always the possibility that the presence of shape families that so exactly resemble “air / aiir / aiiir” and “aiv / aiiv / aiiiv” is no more than some mere freak of chance. And there are those on the Voynich list for whom such a possibility – however small – is worth defending to the death.

    At some point, though, I think you have to say enough’s enough, we’re not fussing and cooing over a single character dextrously plucked from a random old alphabet or shorthand, but we’re looking at a systematic series of shapes used in such a way as to invoke medieval page numbering directly.

    I’m perfectly happy for others to see the world differently: but in this case, the only competing explanations I’ve seen are all arguments by possibility, whereas what I’m proposing is an argument by probability.

  9. Wouldn’t you agree that probability is contextual?

    I mean, if it had been established certainly that the manuscript was in a European language or even enciphered by a person accustomed to writing a European language, then it would be very probable that the thing a European sees as an ‘a’ was meant to be one.

    But if that presumption is mistaken, probability must reduce – to possibility and perhaps to speculation.

    This would be so even if the scribe had been trained to write in a European script; as anyone knows who tries to write Chinese characters, or Devanagari for example. We tend to see, and so to reproduce foreign characters which bear some resemblance to ours, as if they were ours.

    Apart from the a and ai, aiv etc. – would you say the statistical breakdowns were proof enough that the text is enciphered?

  10. Diane: I’m quite sure that the basic ‘ductus’ of the Voynichese hand is European. Nymphs and baths feature in many 15th century European tracts. Wolkenbanden are European motifs. The swallowtail merlons are predominantly European motifs. The hairstyles of the nymphs are European. The clothes depicted are European. The crossbow is European.

    As for proof of encipherment, I would say simply this: the presence of a family of medieval page-number shapes which do not function as medieval page-numbers is surely proof enough that there is a covertext and a ciphertext in play here.

  11. I wish this were a conversation being held over a pint or two.

    i was going to answer each point in turn, but a man espousing his theory is like a man in the process of bidding at an auction. He has his mind set on it, and will not appreciate his elbow being jogged with suggestions of better value for money.

    In any case all these points come back to much the same. The definition of a smaller set as true does not preclude the truth of an inclusive set.

    Which is what we have here. A thing being so in Europe doesn’t make it not so anywhere – or indeed everywhere else.

    I wondered about whether their occurrence was so limited they might prove a pointer to the origin of script and language – they simply don’t.

  12. Diane: I guess it all comes down to epistemology – for me, History is less about a single absolute truth than about multiple competing bubbles of truth (with widely varying probabilities). Feel free to embrace the non-European bubble all you like, but (as you know) it’s not for me.

  13. bdid1dr on December 20, 2012 at 9:29 pm said:

    Nick & Diane,

    I’ll try to restrain myself to referring to an excellent book which my husband brought home to me (yesterday):

    “The Pope Who Quit”, Jon M. Sweeney

    Much of the book is focused on the one Pope (Celestine V) and the turbulence of his brief term, and the aftermath. Some 250 years after the “Spirituals” order of Celestines fled to Greece and Sicily (1305), there were some 90 monasteries in Paris, Barcelona, and Bohemia. Surely some of those monks must have been producing manuscripts?

    Mr. Sweeney’s “notes” are another history book in themselves. For example: “The Poisoning Theory”, “Motivations for Murder”, “The World is Falling Apart”, “Consolidation of Power”, “Is Saint Enough?”. Mr. Sweeney’s biblio-notes are pretty neat, too!

  14. As far as I know, Nick, nobody but Stolfi had ever looked beyond continental Europe before I began writing about this manuscript.

    If there has since developed any school of thought which looks at the issue more broadly, I would be glad to be able to compare and share notes with some of them.

    I cannot see that there are multiple bubbles of truth, only multiple sources whose interpretation and relative weight is differently perceived by one or another person.

    Since neither facts and objects compete – only individuals in promoting their own interpretation of them – it is curious fact that a given field of study, co-operation and real advances occur in inverse proportion to each individual’s degree of attachment to any one interpretation.

    But your remarks have made me realise one benefit in the work I’ve done to date: if few people have found it illuminating, more have evidently found it lightened their day.

    That’s not altogether a bad thing, either.

  15. Diane: there was a Mexican theory, a South American theory, Old Ukraine, Manchu, four or more Hebrew theories, Nahuatl, several Arabic theories, Aramaic… but these are almost all localized theories, nothing like the broader historical and geographic stage on which you see the Voynich’s content playing itself out.

    Ultimately, even though there is only a single bubble of real truth for each well-posed historical question, the problem is that our ability to discern which bubble is limited by any number of factors, out of which temporal distance is often far from the most confounding.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “lightening their day”: I for one enjoy reading your posts, for they almost always come at what is very familiar subject matter to me from a different (and sometimes deliberately challenging, I suspect) angle. Keep it up! 🙂

  16. bdid1dr on December 21, 2012 at 1:39 am said:

    That goes for me, too, Diane: I get frustrated when I’m not able to give you positive feedback on your blog(s) because of all the nonsense-making jackasses interfering with your presentations/observations. Sometimes (or even most times) a picture can “speak volumes”.

    Nick, I quite frankly could not find one single “clue” to decipherment of the Vms in D’Imperio’s much-hyped booklet.
    What I have accomplished, on my own, is an alphabetical letter substitution for each mystery character in the VMs. My meaning is that it is not a code language.

    I also recognize some of the non-alphabetical characters as being single-symbol directions to scribes/illustrators/illuminators/folio compilers/binding/bookcover makers……..

    Sometimes whole villages were involved in manuscript manufacturing of “special ordered” volumes for nobility. I’ll give one example where D’Imperio “parks” some of the Vms mystery “symbols”:

    Page 120: Jupiter:Tin 4 (Baloney! 4 is “qu” as in quote! Or for even a word as awkward as awkward!)
    Page 120: Urine: (Again, B—-! That is “el” as in “Pelling”
    Page 120: Regulus (nonsense) They are foliation instructions
    Page 120: Month (These are still part of the instructions for putting together a “book” of manuscript pages/folios)

    Page 120: Salt (Oh dear, this is the closest D’Imperio got to a reasonable decipherment. However, 8 is aes. 8g is aesum. Another “g” or “9” figure which appears in Vms but which is much smaller represents the sound eks or just plain x.)

    “To Prepare” (Nonsense! That symbol is “tl for use in words such as Atlas, Cotyledon, bottle)

    So much for alchemy.
    So much for cryptology.

    G’night! 🙂

  17. Nick, the time frame is the same as for Theophrastus’ works, Homer’s poems, the Arataea or the Bible. All originated elsewhere and eventually ended up in Europe… over a distance and a roughly 1300 years.

    The botanical section and various parts of the imagery being easern, I widened the geographic scope a little is all.

    Hopefully less de Mille than Livingstone. 😀

  18. thomas spande on December 21, 2012 at 11:26 pm said:

    Dear all, A partial decrypt of the VM text above the evidently unwell woman in the lower margin of f66v.”orio that irtum tolar siet” = “raise that supine [person] to bring [that] which may exist”.Oddly enough “tolar”(=toler=tuler) was dug up from the ancient Venetic language of Northern Italy. Used by Gauls who had been conquered by J.Ceasar. Lived in NE Italy near Trieste-PoRiver.The first word is related to the L.verb “oriri” “8am” is pronoun “that”,c-c-telephone gallows(r)9=irt[um](=supine), 9-“f”gallows[c][null]r=t[u]l[e]r (that old Venetican, not related to Venetian), Siet=sint in old Latin (=may it exist (be). I take it to mean get her on her feet and let’s try something in one of these pots (maybe). All for the moment. Cheers, Tom

  19. Bd1dr
    Ironically (see Nick’s next post) in refusing to respect my right to have some posts private, a recent hacker has probably ensured that they will all be left strictly alone! (But I checked the revisions list: no changes were made)

  20. .. come to think of it, the double irony lies in why I decided to make them private!
    ah, life ~

  21. Nick
    Thanks for the review, but I don’t know which of these could be called equivalent to the work I’ve done.

    As far as I know none of them save Stolfi’s represented the end-result of years of investigation.

    Most simply began as sudden ideas, which the various proponents then tried to justify after the fact.
    Such methods don’t really result in theories, but in polemic fiction, whose aim is not to show and explain how the researcher came to a conclusion, but to persuade us of their opinion in an absence of documentary or physical evidence.

    I rather object to having the preliminary four years’ work dismissed in that way. I did not begin with some ‘notion’ that the work was concerned with the eastern trade, and based in pre-and Hellenistic texts, and all the rest of it.

    I hunted medieval sources and widened the search when they proved useless. My opinion was formed from the evidence; I have never hunted evidence after the fact.

    The evidence is clear enough. I cannot oblige people to abandon the Eurocentric or the authorial scenario, but please do not classify the work I’ve done with plainly anti-historical ones.

  22. Diane: you asked me about non-European Voynich theories, and I don’t think my reply offered any kind of opinion about equivalence, methodology, justification, or validity on yours or those. Personally, I don’t see what you’ve been doing as anti-historical in any way: I hope that’s unambiguous enough! 🙂

  23. Nick
    I can see why the tone of your posts on this subject have changed so greatly over the past four years.
    That you tried for so long to foster a spirit of intellectual generosity and co-operation does you credit.

  24. Less personally: I want to give a couple of friends a copy of the Curse for their anniversary in February. I still don’t use paypal, so if you could let me know how else I can get the payment to the press (or whatever you prefer), please email me details, if you can.

  25. Diane: the simplest answer is that PayPal can also accept payments via credit card or debit card – that is, you don’t need to have a PayPal account yourself to buy a copy. Hope this is a good enough answer! 🙂

  26. One last request Nick –
    If you ever happen to read a post of mine, and notice that the content should have a footnote crediting any earlier researcher, do add a comment. I am a bit obsessive about properly crediting priority, even if the sources are not ones I’ve consulted. Apart from anything else, it avoids any suggestion that I’ve committed the cardinal sin (worse in my book that cut-and-paste from wikis), viz. taking another person’s work without due acknowledgements.
    On the mailing list I was actually told, by one person, that in Voynich studies the courtesy was ‘not necessary’ – perhaps because the past is a tangled maze of duplications – I don’t know. Another person seemed to find my efforts at giving proper credit affronting. So you are one of the few long-term people who might both understand and be in a position to enlighten, if you happen by.

  27. thomas spande on December 28, 2012 at 5:52 pm said:

    Dear all, I will reiterate two key points made by Nick and they are 1) the VM is a copy, particularly with his argument about the margins on f113 (discussed in his book on page 99), and 2) there is a conventional macron on the first page of the VM and that is it. Others exist, like superscript “9”s, and are either oversights or thought to be cryptic enough to be of little help.

    These two observations raise new questions. Is the VM a TOTAL copy including herbal drawings, zodiac pages, astronomy/astrology etc. This would really involve a huge effort. Or is it likely that just the “recipe” section is a copy? I am inclined to the idea that just parts are copied from an existing copy or plaintext and the rest is copied directly from a separate plaintext. So maybe two plaintexts are involved and both encoded? This will take some study to compare embedded scribal abbreviations, ciphers used, scribal hands, etc. of the recipe section and the rest of the VM.
    On Nick’s observation that a macron exists on page f1r (that 4o “word” which I am guessing is “con” (the n is omitted), he surmises that the scribes thought that even this little hint is too much to give away and all standard overbars are then omitted in the rest of the VM. I think it likely that the plaintext the scribes were both working from was then amended by themselves in consultation or even by some “uber” scribe and then, as a result, appears the “distorted” gallows (mostly the “G” gallows in the table included in “elegant enigma”) and the backward swirly “S” to conceal a right paren over a “c” null. Here and there some standard Tironian notes persist, I suppose as either disinformation, a mistake or is considered to be of no consequence.

    I do not see it worth arguing over whether the VM is Eurocentric or not. After the Ottomans take over a lot of Asia minor, North Africa and push into Europe, there is a helter skelter of moving populations. So it might have used some Armenian glyphs, for example, but have been written in Czecho, Northern Italy or my latest guess, the Balkans. Now I will look into Balkanized Latin. This is an area that might well have overlapped Venetic Latin. Cheers and Happy New Year to all who honor the Gregorian calendar!! Tom

  28. thomas spande on January 2, 2013 at 6:58 pm said:

    Dear all, Just a thought on whether the herbal section of the VM is a copy? I think two examples of calligraphy, one in each scribal hand would indicate that the text is made for the folio page on which it appears as a reminder of the plant’s use. One is on f14v,the scribe with the tighter, smaller script where a series of dots appear on what would have been called the “G” glyph and the other on the loosey goosey scribe on f42v where a really elaborate initial glyph has a dot in the center of each loop and I think indicates the plant on the page is for an eye complaint. This is echoed by the conical cap above the leaf stem where “joe cool” sunglasses appear. The elaborate calligraphy would seem to me unlikely to have been copied and looks spontaneous.The scribes are giving a clue as to the plant use where there are not many clues otherwise. A carry over Tironian note appears on line 2 of f42v where the c-x-c combo has a “4” for “x” and a “3” for (maybe) a deleted “m”. On f14v, we find at the end of line 6, another Tironian note, whose meaning is unclear. I think if the herbal text had been a copy, these tell- tale Tironian notes would have been excised.

    So a VM scenario might be: An old, precious (to some) ms in Latin is put into a coded form by cipher substitution and deliberately using a few Armenian glyphs, either by force of habit or to add a layer of additional impenetrability to non-Armenians. In the encoding, some English words, some Italian words and some German words are incorporated but undergo the same cipher substitutions as does the Latin. The scribes copy out the recipe section word for word from a coded text but the rest of the VM is just a transcription of a coded rough draft text made for the VM and using Tironian notes here and there. Most of those are excised and replaced by scribal abbreviations created by the scribes themselves, sometimes in collaboration but sometimes being individual inventions. A few original Tironian notes persist but may be accidental. I think these could indicate the original herbal and recipe section is older than the vellum unless the few Tironian notes (T.N.) are just thrown in to make the VM appear older? But then the obvious question arises: why not leave them all in, if the objective is to add “age” to the VM? I will have to search the recipe section for T.N. but have not yet finished the herbal section. Cheers, Tom

  29. thomas spande on January 2, 2013 at 7:16 pm said:

    Dear all, A punctillio. The implied plant use embedded in those dots in the “G” gallows are for “freckles” which seemed to concern, at least, the Armenians overmuch. This conclusion comes from reading Verdanyan’s abstract of the 15th C Armenian herbal “Useless for Ignorants” by Amirdovlat Amasiasti. The root pruning of that plant shows little spots that I think were meant to indicate freckles, maybe on women’s faces? Cheers, Tom

  30. Tom
    Thanks for pointing out that Nick said the work a copy. I’ve also said for the past several years, though for different reasons.

    Now you agree too, so it looks as if the idea may be gaining a general acceptance.

    Good to know that Nick should be credited with it. (Unless he says someone else was earlier still.)

    My reasons for thinking so relate to the content of the pictures – they refer to much older ideas and customs in art.

  31. thomas spande on January 4, 2013 at 6:33 pm said:

    Diane, I think we are on the same page in many respects. I too think it is not necessarily northern Italian and liked one of your early speculations on the Crimea as a place of origin as I came at this independently largely from the substantial Armenian population of Kaffa and this being one of their refuges after the Seljuk Turks forced them out of eastern Turkey. Other of the many overseas colonies of Genoa and also Venice make an interface with Latin and the VM logical, and are way outside of Italy itself. The Genoese are for example in both Sardinia and Corsica as well as the Crimea and various Agean islands and in greater Greece in western Turkey. As I wrote above, I am leaning to the idea that the herbal section, while it could be derivative in the illustrations of earlier work as you argue, has too many differences in the use of scribal abbreviations between the two scribes to be a straight-forward copy by them of some coded text. Nick argued in his book that at least the recipe section is a direct copy and used as evidence, the marginal irregularities of f112r/112v (I gave this incorrectly earlier as f113). Others (like Mary above) have noted word repeats that suggest copy work is going on. I confess I have not used your website but will try and catch up with your work there. I have only been aware of some of your ideas from Nick’s various web sites. I still doubt that the herbal section in the text or illustrations is a direct copy although the illustrations may well have been copied from other sources, as you surmise, but I think, only once and furthermore, I think are as disguised as is the encoded text. To redo those all, in the manner implied for the recipe section, would seem just a huge amount of work. Not impossible but unlikely. Cheers,Tom

    ps. I think the idea of VM being a copy goes back to “Elegant Enigma” as I recall and is just based on there being a negligible number of corrections in the VM.

  32. thomas spande on January 7, 2013 at 5:12 pm said:

    Diane et al., I think some elements in the VM herbal argue against it being totally a European product.

    1) There is a lot of yin/yang symbology in the VM. This strikes me as having an oriental flavor. The yin/yang symbols for instance are at the center of the S.Korean flag. The Armenians used yin and yang a lot but so did others. If you examine f38r, note the 5 weird little inserts in the fern. I think these are “yangs” and indicate the plant is for male use. Furthermore I think one was excised and caused a rip in the vellum that was repaired. One was removed to indicate that leaf was sufficient for 5 doses but not six as might have originally been indicated. On f39v, note again little yang inserts on the leaves, three on the larger, two on the smaller. Note also that a retinter evidently had no clue what these meant and colored the margins of several. Yin and Yang symbology also referred to direction with Yang = left and Yin = right. So the herbal illustration used for the cover of Nick’s book (f56r) has all the pods or whatever on the right side of the leaf stem and the eye like structures with even implied eye lashes certainly is meant to refer to a female use of this plant. On f46r, the leaves (“sails” to Nick) are all on the right side of the plant stems; however the leaf shapes look like yangs. Here is a problem, I have yet to solve. It is a symmetry issue. The yin/yang circle has a two fold axis of symmetry. Rotating the symbol gives back the start or if you take the individual yang and rotate it 180 degrees, you have a yin. Or a yin is mirror image of a yang. So until I can get some kind of reference used by the scribes I am not 100% certain whether a yin or yang is being referred to.

    2) The zodiac figures, while many are pretty standard, with some minor changes, one jumps out as really non European and that is that for Scorpio where a four legged beast intent on devouring a child replaces the usual 6-legged scorpion. The Nhang, a monster in Armenian myth was crock like and early Armenian zodiacs used wild animals.

    3) The Armenians as well as the arabs had no zero in their counting systems. Am I alone in noting that the “zero” in the folio and quire numbers is smaller than the other “arabic”numbers. I think it was the letter “o” doing service as a zero. I think in the 15C, the Italians would have used a proper zero (0).

    All for the moment, but I do not think putting the entire VM in a European setting is any slam dunk. Cheers, Tom

  33. thomas spande on January 7, 2013 at 8:39 pm said:

    Dear all, I have looked at the use of Latin abbreviations by the two scribes of the herbal section to see if they are using 1) the same, 2) sometimes the same as well as individual or 3) all individual abbreviations. At the moment, having looked at maybe 25% of the herbal folios, it appears as though the situation 2) pertains. I find that the “loosey goosey” scribe uses more classical Tironian notes than does “mighty tighty”. In particular on f1v, an overbar appears on “4o” , a small circle above the o on “4o8”, on f22v (Nick has commented on the oddness of these two), a superscript “2” on line 6 of f24v and line 2 of f25v. Gallows glyphs are done with an extra line on a descender in f6v (2 cases) and f17v. A mixed hybrid is seen on f28v where above the c-c is seen a dot. I have inferred the c-c to be an i, so a dot over the i in T.N. corresponds to “ut”. That same folio has a horizontal “s” scroll. Right parens , “)” occur often above a null “c” or after an “n” (f6v; f25r) or “m” (f25r,v; f28v). The “mighty tighty” scribe sometimes uses an extra line on the descender of the tipped “?” (f18r) and a tipped “9” in the first word on that page. This scribe uses modified gallows more than the loosey goosey scribe as in f13r, f22r (line 8) and f29r. Both scribes use the “)” above a c null which is diabolical as it resembles the swirly backward “s” and I think is a truncation for “st”. Mighty tighty also uses some T.N., such as the reverse “3” (f26r; f29v, the tipped “7” (f4r) and a little “9” put atop a c-c (f31r) with a very bold line that I think does additional service as macron. The same idea occurs on f26v, but the line joining the c’s is not bolded. There is scribal warfare going on with each trying to develop an abbreviation that will evade all but the initiated. While incomplete, I think my preliminary work has shown that the scribes are likely working from a classically macronized and abbreviated draft and are individually doing their damnest to remake these with an abbreviation system of their own. Unless the abbreviations follow a consistent pattern such as indicating an “m or n” is missing, decryption will involve a lot of trial and error substituions. There are a lot of redundant abbreviations in the herbal section, like the tipped “7”, the &, the reversed 3 and finally 89 (= et) that all equivalent to “and”. The scribes are just using the maximum amount of handwaving that would discourage any quick attempts at decipherment. But one wonders why on earth do this for what appears to be a simple herbal. These are not state secrets! Cheers, Tom

  34. thomas spande on January 7, 2013 at 9:23 pm said:

    Dear all, If the two scribes of the herbal section were working from a rough draft, the question naturally arises.”did that draft have illustrations?”. I think it could be done without illustrations just keyed into either: 1) a scribbled standard outline of some generic plant or 2) nothing but a name, maybe slang, maybe just descriptive. So the scribes are supplied with a rough draft for the water lily for example and then an artist draws AND tints with inks the plant. Then the scribe who has re-abbreviated the text for the lily copies it out. This would be doable and could account for the line breaks observed in the final product which happens because scribes do make little errors of judgement. I don’t think we have to argue that the work on a single folio was done at different times when we see lines that don’t match very well.

    My daughter told me that the VM is unusual in that no guide lines are evident as often seen in ms. The left margins (the bound side) are close to perfect and the lines are pretty much perpendicular to the left edge.

    BTW, many have grumbled about the artistic quality of the VM herb drawings. I think a lot of the perception of mediocrity comes from the poor quality of later tinting and watercoloring. The initial drawings, considering that they are not meant at all to resemble nature, are laborious with very few errors. Here and there a line break is seen and this might just have been from a pen needing reinking. Very very little splotching. The original colored inking was very well done and kept within the lines BUT later colorists were often sloppy. Oddly enough, f1v is very nicely retinted, with I think the tinter leaving his intials “C H” in an upper left leaf.

    Just to reiterate, I think it probable that the herbal text is copy work with de-macronization and cryptic scribal abbreviations going on BUT that the herbal illustrations are not copied directly from any herbal but are done by some herbalist with the intent of exaggerating medicinal uses. Cheers, Tom

  35. Nick,
    Since I’m on the verge of departure, I hope you will permit me, for general interest, to say now what was reluctaant to say when you first wrote as follows:
    Nymphs and baths feature in many 15th century European tracts.
    Wolkenbanden are European motifs.
    The swallowtail merlons are predominantly European motifs.
    The hairstyles of the nymphs are European.
    The clothes depicted are European. The crossbow is European.

    All these statements are true of European art. None are true only of European art.

    None are original to medieval Latins’ art.

    It is as true to say ‘dragons are European’; pictures of winged human figures are European’ or ‘pictures of women with spindles are European’.

    They are; bu they are all found elsewhere – so not as much help as you once thought, an perhaps still do.

    Just as Europeans could draw pictures of Egyptin pyramids, so non-Europeans could draw what are interpreted as swallowtail merlons – anyone who’d ever seen them could do that.

    The word ‘wolkenband’ is German. What it describes is not German, neither in origin nor in its first use in medieval Latins’ art.

    Similarly, crossbows were used earlier, and beyond Europe, including regons of the Islamic empire, where they are associated with overcoming a city’s defensive walls – exactly how the Genoese are shown in a heroised picture of this time – . as Romans determined on taking Jerusalem.

    The point is not how *in fact* the Genoese first obtained crossbows but how fifteenth-century people believed they had. they did not see them as ‘European’ – a near-meaningless term in those days, but as ancient and gained from polytheistic Romans.

    so yes – all occur in European art, but not only there and none prove European provenance for the Vms.

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