Two long(-ish) form Voynich manuscript articles emerged recently, one in the Jewish magazine The Tablet “Tablet Magazine”, the other in the New Yorker’s online blog section. These tell us quite a lot – though not really about the Voynich Manuscript itself, but rather about how the Voynich Manuscript is now perceived.

The first article, by Batya Ungar-Sargon, is called Cracking the Voynich Code: The quixotic quest to read meaning in the patterns of a bizarre manuscript that has bedeviled scholars for years.

Her basic take is that “the Voynich Manuscript has become a beacon for a secular community of quasi-Talmudic scholars whose interpretive ingenuity and stamina have few parallels“, so her piece is built around interviews with several of them (including the “patient, tireless” Gordon Rugg, and the “deeply humble” Rich SantaColoma). [She also talked with me on the phone for an hour, but perhaps I didn’t fit her template 😉 ].

Taken as a whole, fitting her article into a primarily Jewish-interest magazine was always going to be a bit of stretch: William Friedman was Jewish, sure, but that’s a small piece of material to make a full-length dress out of. I can’t help but wonder whether Batya’s ambition is to write long-form pieces for the New Yorker, and that this was a try-out for her portfolio. She clearly writes well, but I don’t think her journalistic instincts are yet fully honed – her article, in my opinion, is still more ‘relating’ than the literary reportage to which she aspires.

The second article – The Unread: The Mystery of the Voynich Manuscript – by Reed Johnson is, coincidentally enough, from the New Yorker blog section. As such, it’s a kind of New Yorker long-form take on a blog post, i.e. longer than a normal blog post, but quite a lot shorter than a typical New Yorker article (I used to subscribe to it, though how I ever found enough time to read each issue I don’t know 🙂 ).

This isn’t Ungar-Sargon-style journalism, but is instead Reed’s telling the story of how he came to waste three years (only three years? Pshaw!) on the Voynich Manuscript – basically, while trying to write his own “Dan Brown–style thriller”, having nearly completed his “M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Virginia” in 2010. He tries to introduce a little light drama into his account (Did he crack the Voynich? Did he finish his book?) but with enough of a wink to astute readers that they know the resolutions long before the end.

Unlike Batya, Reed is not an observer looking in on the Voynich research world from the outside, but is instead an active participant in what he calls the “often fractious” Voynich mailing list. His feeling about this is that “If crowds have any wisdom, soon we should see the fruits of a more recent deciphering project: Internet crowdsourcing“. And yet, he also wonders whether it would be a disappointment for the Voynich Manuscript to be decrypted – that, “no matter how thrilling such a text might be, it [would] remain a disappointment for being closed off, completed — for being, in the end, no longer a mystery“.

My own conclusion is that the Voynich mailing list has become more part of the problem than part of the solution: and that the extraordinarily productive collaboration its early days saw was more down to the small number and high calibre of the participants (Jim Reeds, Jim Gillogly, Jacques Guy, etc), most of whom left the list long ago. Really, the collective wisdom of the crowd very much depends on the crowd you happen to be dealing with: though Reed stops short of showing his hand in this regard, so we end up knowing what happened but not his thoughts or feelings about it. Perhaps the whole card game hasn’t yet concluded for him.

What’s nice about these two articles is that, for all their differences, they are both good examples of clear-headed contemporary writing about the Voynich Manuscript, far from the lurid wodges of mystery-soaked ahistorical fragments I frequently used to see. Indeed, both give an account of the Voynich’s history that is broadly correct, something which simply never happened even a decade ago: perhaps the radiocarbon dating has helped validate the Voynich as a “proper” subject.

And yet… it’s as if something (or someone) is missing from the whole party. The Voynich Manuscript has had many of the best codebreakers of the age (the Friedmans, Manly, Tiltman, etc) examine it closely: yet as these articles show, a lot of contemporary discourse still revolves around the – frankly rather foolish and shallow, I think – postmodernist cipher/hoax tension as exemplified by Gordon Rugg and Rich SantaColoma.

To my mind, it’s as if something really important is missing from the whole conceptual landscape of how the Voynich is perceived, that everyone is somehow in the wrong kind of doubt. We’ve collectively travelled a really long way forward, for sure, but the ideas and insights gained on that journey have all been zapped by a kind of “motivated learning” paralysis, where debate is held in a stasis between powerful epistemological agendas.

It often feels as though, myself excepted (and who listens to what I say, ha!), the Voynich-as-a-genuine-historical-artefact point of view has no champion. I genuinely tire of the way people continually generate possible alternative histories for it, when I’m just about the only person trying to reconstruct the mainstream history they’re so busy fighting against.

I want to ask those “theorists”: why do you find the idea that the Voynich Manuscript was made basically when its radiocarbon dating says so dreadfully upsetting? Why do you invest so much time and effort into identifying outlandish alternatives that might possibly be made to work (with a few well-chosen tweaks to the mainstream historical timeline)? Do you not see that, by kicking back so hard against a straightforward historical account that hasn’t even been written yet, you are yourself holding everything back? Can you not see that by doing this you have become part of the problem, not part of the solution?

That is the Voynich Manuscript debate that’s missing, the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. But nobody is writing that particular article, and I’m not sure anyone ever will… and perhaps we’re all worse off for that silence.

124 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Voynich Articles…

  1. bdid1dr on July 13, 2013 at 7:42 pm said:

    Nick, have you already considered the possibility of “second-hand” (scraped, cleaned, repowdered, and buffed) manuscripts being used for Beinecke 408? Do I recall accurately your latest rant on the testers’ choice for snipping a tiny, but most-thumbed/fingered area for the recent test?

    So, I have been working the angle of provenance (pre-Kircher) and which of our Royal European/Asian diplomats would have been most involved in the various royal marriages, land/border/ territorial disputes, prominent Universities (Paris, Leiden,……). Philip of Spain & Charles V have figured largely in my investigations. I began with the earliest history of the Habsburgs./Hapsburgs. Full circle to Rudolph II, his brother Matthias, and their cousins/uncles in the Austrian court (Ferdinand I, and Ferdinand II).

    The Prince of Orange figures smack-dab in the middle of all this history. I’m not going to say much more about why I feel so strongly that Busbecq and Clusius collaborated, to an extent, in the creation of Boenicke Mss 408. The diplomat (who was accompanied by a scribe, and his own medic/doctor) documented “everything” that was within his gaze.

    So, where did the rough draft/diary end up after it was sent to the engravers/publishers? Some of his (Busbecq’s) correspondence ended up in the same university archives as Clusius’s — Leiden/Leyden University (sometimes the area was called the “Louvain”.

    As an aside to the primary subject of Beinecke 408’s origins, I’d like to mention the “Sainted” Sir Thomas More who was eventually beheaded, and a couple of his children ended up in the Louvain. I’m not strong on European history. The “Queen Mary” who was married briefly to Philip, Prince of Orange, was Queen Elizabeth’s stepsister. Both were daughters of Henry VIII.
    I may be “preaching to the pulpit”, so to speak. I get most of my “history” from novels; but good novels. Just trying to catch up with you British. How do you do it? Learn your history, that is?

  2. Diane O'Donovan on July 14, 2013 at 3:15 am said:

    I’m not sure that’s quite so. Of late there has been a group apparently working together and which together are constructing a picture of the Voynich which is consistent, wholly acceptable to the “all-European” camp, neatly organised within a more-or-less acceptable timeframe c.1440 or so. and which now consists of so many voices with access to the media that it looks fair to become established as the orthodox view.

    As far as one can tell from the small snippets shared, the idea is that the manuscript was owned by Rudolf (lack of evidence notwithstanding), that the ‘ladies’ are meant for real women; that they are luxuriating in Italian baths (Puzzuoli is the site usually named) and that folio 96v is an architectural diagram or map – of the same baths.

    Meanwhile, on the distaff side, there is a concerted effort to create all-European ids for the plants.

    What we shall have, I think, is not actually a study of the Voynich manuscript but a highly sophisticated collaborative historical novel, from which analysis in any objective sense is absent and the Voynich text ignored while its imagery is used “back-to-front”: that is, not to explain the origin or history of its exemplars, but as clip art to adorn that ‘historical’ story.

    I would expect that, once this idea has become the orthodox view, all efforts to understand the written text may well come to a halt, because the determined horizon simply doesn’t include languages and regions from which the script and language are most likely to refer.

    On a slightly different point:

    You do not mention an article which has recently been published (so I hear) in Cryptologia, by Klaus. I do not take the journal an so will probably never get to read his article.

    I wonder if you would be kind enough to review it?

    I’d be especially interested to hear what contribution (apart from general overviews of past work by others) Klaus has made to Voynich studies, since I have only seen his blog and his YouTube videos, most of which seemed to revisit Voynich items that I’d already seen here.

    Has he made any breakthrough in treating the text?

  3. Diane O'Donovan on July 14, 2013 at 3:16 am said:


  4. bdid1dr on July 14, 2013 at 3:39 pm said:

    Addendum to my earlier comment: I mention Queen Mary and her very short marriage to Phillip II because Busbecq’s first adventure on behalf of Ferdinand I (Austria) was as witness to the nuptials. Ref: “Turkish Letters, Forster-Roider,
    Introduction pp XXI

  5. xplor on July 14, 2013 at 4:20 pm said:

    Voynich manuscript articles are evergreen. Each writer tailors it to his audience and gets a sure payday.
    The same was true about articles on Bobby Fischer. Those that knew him well didn’t write about him.
    Those that wrote about him didn’t have a clue.

  6. Thanks, Nick. I, too, find all the wriggling to evade the carbon dating fascinating as well, and regret the gradual fading of scholarship. Well said. Like the wodges remark. Rail on.

  7. bdid1dr: scraped & reused folios are called “palimpsests”, but there is no sign at all that any of the Voynich’s pages are palimpsests.

    Having said that, there is a single bifolio in the herbal section that is significantly thicker than the others, and that’s the only one I’d like to examine under a microscope, just in case it was a piece of reused vellum.

    As far as the radiocarbon dating, three of the four samples gave very similar results while the fourth one yielded an inconsistent value. I have my doubts about the fourth sample, because the place it was taken from is extremely close to one of the most heavily discoloured areas (from handling) in the whole manuscript.

    So to be precise: I fully support the radiocarbon dating of three of the four samples that were taken, but choose to respectfully differ about the reliability of the fourth sample.

  8. Diane: I haven’t so far seen any sign of people coming round to a 15th century dating. But if they are doing so in the kind of overoptimistic, dogmatic, and uncritical way you describe, I don’t hold out much hope for their endeavours. We shall see!

    As for the plants… I think this is one of the biggest timewasting traps in the whole Voynich Manuscript. There are at least a hundred things I’d invest time into looking at more closely before going back to the plants.

  9. T Anderson on July 14, 2013 at 8:11 pm said:

    I agree that the last century has seen many great minds put to the Voynich only to be left with more questions than answers. The “Voynich as a hoax” camp has only gained such prominence as of late due to the fact they give us an “answer”. It makes sense when you take a moment to realize that most people when faced with the VM have never seen a 15th century manuscript before, much less a work of astronomy, alchemy, botany all rolled into one.

    Further research requires access to resources few have. Archives have started to become digitized, but so far it’s just the tip of the iceberg. We’re missing an insight, something is missing right now and even modern computational attacks have just raised more questions.

    Have you considered starting a web forum to foster collaboration? I’m only asking because it seems the interest is there but there is no nexus for collaboration.

  10. SirHubert on July 14, 2013 at 9:03 pm said:

    Nick: fair enough – so why not define the mainstream? Draw up a bullet-point list of the truths about the Voynich which you hold to be self-evident. I’m thinking factual things (or as close as one can get to ‘factual’), such as C-14 dates, best assessment of place of manufacture, chain of ownership, statistical analysis of text, artistic techniques. Interpretation is another matter, but can these basics at least be defined?

  11. bdid1dr on July 14, 2013 at 9:55 pm said:

    Nick, “somewhere” I read a brief history of Phillip I (Spain?) financially sponsoring/funding a whole Benedictine monastery dedicated to manufacturing the vellum/material upon which they created most of the material in Phillip’s “library”.

    Radiocarbon dating: Has it EVER escaped controversy between the various experts? I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “Please all-please none”. Most of my records management employment was never viewed as just another file clerk doing a really monotonous job. I had visitors, from all over the globe, who sent me flowers, candy, and thank you notes, because I really listened to them — and immediately produced the material/records for which they had been looking.

    So, I am often the person who pulls the “elephant” out into the spotlight. Note that I skirt discussion of religious issues (a huge “elephant”) as well as political issues.

    Ennyway, back to Philip’s scriptorium/manuscriptorium — and the huge gaps of Hapsburg history because of the constant battle-readiness (not to mention other chronic physical and mental instability issues). That famous painting, “The Infanta”. Let’s see if any of your fans are interested in “decoding” that piece of art, and the history of the persons being pulled out of the shadows.

  12. Diane O'Donovan on July 15, 2013 at 2:07 am said:

    Nick –
    Here’s a hypothetical, not just for you tho’ I’d be interested in your answer.

    Suppose that the Vms was a formal academic or business project –
    in order of priority, what would the research agenda be in the project-plan, and what would you hope might be achieved by each item?


  13. SirHubert: I started drawing up a list, but thirty-odd pages later it kind of got out of hand. =:-o

    In short, we now have enough evidence to solidly disprove post-15th century hoax hypotheses, enough evidence to solidly disprove it’s-an-unknown-language hypotheses, and enough evidence to disprove dates of manufacture outside the 15th century. And so on.

    However, each of these aspects would take 20 or so pages to express in an accessible and properly persuasive way: and that’s without even describing the manuscript at all or its history.

    So what we’re talking about here is not a fat Wikipediaesque page but a 200+ page (maybe 300, or even 400 page) book project, one which I simply don’t have the ability to undertake at the moment. Oh well!

  14. Diane: a research agenda for my Voynich research programme? Well… multispectral and/or Raman scanning of key pages; DNA testing of individual bifolios; in-depth palaeographic analysis of f116v; binding station analysis; going through the manuscript archives at St Gallen; checking the single thick herbal bifolio for erased writing; plus a whole load of other stuff this margin is too small to contain. 🙂

  15. T Anderson: Internet-mediated collaboration has brought forward a whole heap of evidence over the last 20 years, which we are very much the better for.

    However, the specific problem with Voynich Manuscript research circa 2013 is that very few of the vexing open issues are collaborative – most involve persuading the Beinecke curators to allow a certain kind of examination.

    But if we suddenly had, for example, several terabytes of multispectral scans to work with, that would almost certainly require a collaborative response – there’s probably just too much data to work with and make sense of.

    I would very much like to have such a problem! 🙂

  16. on July 15, 2013 at 11:41 am said:

    The Tablet is a Roman Catholic journal

  17. Ah, the Jewish one where the article appeared is properly called “Tablet Magazine” .

    The Roman Catholic one is indeed The Tablet .

  18. Don: I shall indeed continue to rail. If you happen to notice anything I’ve failed to rail against, please be sure to drop me a line, I wouldn’t want to disappoint. 😉

  19. Hi Nick,

    I believe the VMs is 15th century manuscript that is not a hoax. However, I find Rugg’s and Rich’s theories interesting and both of them have some valid points. I think the VMs-like text can be produced with Rugg’s method with a twist – the choices in his table can be assigned meaning – like ‘pick one for L – ol,el,al’. Rich has some striking image comparisons (my husband is a big fan of his microscopes).

    My point is – I believe the VMs is real, but I don’t think insulting other points of view is the right thing to do. They maybe right, who knows…

    Also, I don’t mind Reed’s criticism of the VMs mailing list – he participates and has an opinion – this is fine. I read some of the archives of the list (with your opinions included) and I personally don’t see much difference between then and now. There is only so much that can be said about the VMs and the same talking points are recycled over and over.

    The VMs discussion helped me sort out my opinions about the plant ids – Rene published Ethel Voynich’s plant id list. Dana Scott also told me some of his proposals, Steve D is trying really hard. So for me personally, the VMs list is helpful and keeps me grounded – so I don’t go in really crazy directions 🙂
    I posted my version of the VMs plants ids yesterday

    and the list was very helpful as feedback – so I am thankful to the folks there.

  20. Ellie: Gordon Rugg and Rich SantaColoma are quite similar, in that the historical bases they use to stand their interesting ideas upon lack solidity. In my opinion, such a combination yields great debating but weak research.

    The VMs list has always been a great talking shop (if you like that kind of thing), but a few years back it also became a lousy, distracting place to get any real research done. Personally, I want to solve the Voynich, not talk about it endlessly… but each to their own. 🙂

    Good luck with your plant identifications! Even though (as you probably know) I don’t believe that this will bear any cryptological “fruit”, it’s your time and effort to spend how you like, so feel free to tackle the VMs how you want. 😉

  21. I agree that speculating about the images may not bring cryptological breakthrough. Your own book is a shining example of failure of such attempt – Averlino wise. Otherwise – great book with a lot of quality info – especially the page order and the Sforza-Milan connection.
    All the best! Ellie

  22. bdid1dr on July 15, 2013 at 5:04 pm said:

    Nick, I reiterate:

    When a piece of animal skin is removed from a dead animal, is the first “time-line” which radio-carbon dating will give an approximate date (plus or minus 25 years is what you have mentioned?).

    When the skins were stretched and pumiced and powdered and put up for sale (while still on the stretchers) or removed from the stretchers (and stored in scriptorium’s closet for God knows how long) and maybe packed in a trunk/sea chest for a very long voyage/journey and then unpacked at the end of this very long period of time…….

    Just how valid can the time of manuscript manufacture be?

  23. Ellie: I still think I came a lot closer than anyone has done with the plants. 😉

  24. bd: the tanning had to be done quickly or else the skin would rot. Long-distance travel seems to be more a way of rescuing bad Voynich theories than a way of building good ones. 🙂

  25. thomas spande on July 15, 2013 at 10:14 pm said:

    Dear all, Perhaps we should not be so dismissive of the plant illustrations as having no bearing on cracking the VM cipher? For instance, I think there is a clear indication of an elephant in the roots of f55v and even clearer in the pharma section on f99r (lower right) and I think the plant is black plantain used in Armenia for elephantiasis. I think that the weird flowers of f7r, 16v and 90v represent the classical 8 pointed constellation for a star or planet. That goes back to the Greeks. May have something to do with the “sign” of the plant,e.g.. f16v might be an herb under the control of the sun? I am not sure how far into the weeds we want to go on this but medieval herbals did exactly that.

  26. Diane O'Donovan on July 16, 2013 at 7:56 am said:

    What is your source for Armenians’ way of treating elephantiasis before c.1438?

  27. Hi Thomas. Nick was the one who first spotted the elephant in the root in 2003 – it is documented in the VMs list archives.

  28. Ellie: if that’s my 15 microseconds of fame, then so be it. 😉

  29. Diane O'Donovan on July 16, 2013 at 3:44 pm said:

    Honestly, I don’t mean to be unpleasant about this, but I’ve just been told that Klaus Schmeh ‘is an internationally recognised Voynich expert’.. Well that’s fine. I assume he has made some very significant breakthrough in some area or another of Voynich research. Probably developed over years of concerted study of…. something Voynich-related.

    But when I ask for a couple of clues about what the new insights/discoveries are, or when they were made.. the question sort of hangs in the air.

    I mean – if you ask what Stolfi, or Tiltman, or anyone else did, and when, it’s a reasonable question with a reasonable answer. So what’s the problem – apart from my own ignorance in never having heard of Mr. Schmeh until someone included him among the well-known long timers at Mondragone.

    Genuinely hoping to learn more..
    ex Vms list member


  30. Diane: I like Klaus, but I don’t know of any actual Voynich research he’s done. I don’t know what you are specifically referring to here (I don’t think it’s something on Cipher Mysteries), but it sounds to me as though he may have been misrepresented to you.

  31. Diane O'Donovan on July 16, 2013 at 4:13 pm said:

    During the 20+ years I worked in the University sytem – as student, post-grad and admin – I saw all sorts of manoeuvering and politicking. It seems to worsen whenever financial pressures tighten, but it’s a constant.

    What I have never seen in my life is a supposedly scholarly field of research making no genuine effort to learn anything about the supposed object of study.

    I wonder if there are even a handful of people more interested in the manuscript than in forming a successful propaganda campaign for their own theory.

    “Internationally recognised Voynich experts” should be able to do more that summarise other people’s work, and should be able to produce something this year that wasn’t known last year.

    Truly, I think the d*nd book could stand on its hind legs, announce its lineage, dictate the cipher key (if there is one)
    and then make a CD of the translation, getting no more reaction than one of Rich Santacoloma’s famous off-list flamings, an an admonition that it should pay attention to the opinions of the ‘experts’ who spoke at Mondragone!!

    Research – as Tony Gaffney once famously wrote – is
    “not that bloody difficult”.

    Wouldn’t it be nice to see some done.

  32. thomas spande on July 16, 2013 at 4:27 pm said:

    Dear all, I have come late to Voyniching and evidently missed Nick’s comments on elephants in roots. My source for elephantiasis which Armenians suffered from and took an extract of black plantain is: the survey by Stella Verdanyan on the herbals of Amirdovlat Amasiasti, in particular the one entitled “Useless for Ignorants”. Nick is aware of that book. I did write a brief piece on elephantiasis of which there are two main types, one that is a filarisis caused by several parasites and the other caused by going barefoot over certain soils found commonly in eastern Africa.

  33. Diane: a good contemporary phrase for a lot that goes on in the Voynich world is “motivated learning” – using your brains to try to support your pet notions, not to find ways of undermining them. (Though such a flaw is hardly unique to Voynich enthusiasts.)

    But academe suffers from other problems. In my opinion, formal papers on the Voynich are almost always misframed, ill-informed, partial and are often destructive to the overall field itself. For example, I’d be surprised if you could list even one way that Gordon Rugg’s various papers have made a positive long-term contribution to the discourse or debate.

    I think the unavoidable conclusion is that – for the moment, at least – there is no scholarly field of Voynich research, either in or out Academe. This may in the future change… but my crystal ball is so cloudy these days, it’s as if some b*gg*r’s painted over it. 🙁

  34. Diane O'Donovan on July 16, 2013 at 5:04 pm said:

    As always, you adopt a fair, objective and reasonable tone even when presented with deeply offensive posts by a famously troll-ish individual.

    And so say all of us.

  35. Diane O'Donovan on July 16, 2013 at 5:52 pm said:

    Can I check that reference?
    Do you mean:-

    Stella Vardanyan, ‘The Medical Heritage of Cilician Armenia’, Chapter 11 in Richard G. Hovannisian
    and Simon Payaslian, History of Armenian Cilicia (UCLA Armenian History & Culture Series #7), (2008)

    It looks like a very good series. I must get more details on the Indian Ocean volume.

    Thanks for this reference, too.

  36. Diane O'Donovan on July 16, 2013 at 6:12 pm said:

    In case you haven’t seen it, you may find this helpful too.
    Charanis, Peter, “The Transfer of Population as a Policy in the Byzantine Empire”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Jan., 1961), pp. 140-154.

    If you can’t get hold of it, and Nick is willing, I could send a copy through him, perhaps.


  37. thomas spande on July 16, 2013 at 6:49 pm said:

    Dear all, On some bullet points that might be added to the main ones Nick has laid out are:

    Word lengths in the VM are arbitrary. Some are truncated; others are assembled from shorter words.

    Scribal abbreviation abounds leading to adumbrated words. Nick was first (so far as I recall) to point this out and introduce the idea that “Tironian notation” or something akin to it is at play in the VM. I think the main scribal abbreviations used by both scribes are unique to the VM and are of two types. One involves the right paren and is attached mainly at the end of the following glyphs: “c”, “m” and “n” where it resembles the backward “s” or the tipped “?” of Armenian. The other type uses an extension of “9”, or one of the two gallows that has a horizontal extension to the left but overlong and NOT CURVED at the end. No scribal flourish in short. These amount to a concealed macron. There are a few others also but these are the main ones. I nurse the hope that when all the scribal abbreviations are figured out and I hope that the “)” over “c” will usually turn out to be an “st”, that others might also be consistent (like “mt” or “nt”) and then we can start making progress in sorting out the real Voynich words. So in short, the VM employs arbitrary word lengths (likely in Latin) and shortened words, with either deletions or truncations. Ever hopeful in Bethesda.

  38. thomas spande on July 16, 2013 at 8:15 pm said:

    Diane, The book I had in mind was a 145pp summary of Armenian herbs by Stella Verdanyan but from a very obscure (likely private) press, Carvan Press, Delmar, NY, 1999. It is unillustrated but has much on the works of Amirdovlat Amasiasti, particularly his “Useless for Ignorants” enscribed in 1478-1482. No autograph evidently exists but several copies do. Verdanyan is a Russian Armenian and a specialist in Armenian medicine. I have seen an illustrated 16thC herbal that she has written about that resides in the Matenadaran of Yerevan. She incorporated two drawings from that work; neither resemble anything in the VM as might be expected from the time difference.

  39. thomas spande on July 16, 2013 at 8:39 pm said:

    Diane, Thanks for the offer to share a book on the Byzantine policy of moving populations around. I will first see if I cannot get at this through Google scholar. Just my own reading around about Chios, for instance, gives me new appreciation for what “byzantine” meant as an adjective. Cutting deals which were then undermined with treachery was the order of the day. Of course, they had as an example and precedent in the continual viscious feuding of the Italian city states, chiefly Venice, Florence and Genoa. Nick’s book and that of Simonetti gives one a more detailed version of intrigues involving the Szorfas, the Duke of Urbino and the vicar of Rome! BTW, the code that Simonetti devised and that his great grandson cracked was way more glyph heavy than that of the VM. I failed to see any similarity with the VM cipher.

  40. Diane O'Donovan on July 17, 2013 at 1:46 am said:

    Nick, Thomas,

    Woke this morning with recollection of a Latin manuscript from which all terms that, in the exemplar, appear in Greek had not been included, though their position and word-length was indicated by a series of short vertical strokes – can’t recall if any other mark indicated their language.

    So many lightning-fast readers here, I need hardly say it’s about the ‘aiiiv’ group. And just a possibility. Another might be related to de gradibus’ theory i.e. measure and humor.

  41. Diane O'Donovan on July 17, 2013 at 2:08 am said:

    I mention that journal article because Armenians, for some reason, were a constant target for Byzantine re-locations and when, and where, they were transplanted is specified.

  42. bdid1dr on July 17, 2013 at 2:43 am said:

    Nick, why have I not been able to find any person other than myself who has TRANSLATED first into Latin syllables and then into English some 30 folios in the Boenicke manuscript 408?

    I had translated some 15 folios before I got a good look at your attempt to decode/translate the first two lines on folio 116v. My translation of folio 116v led me to the Busbecq and Clusius archives at Leyden University.

    Since then I have dang-near been reading two books simultaneously (with one eye, no less). Please take the opportunity, somebody, to read these two books AND visit the photo-files at Leiden University for each of these gentlemen.

    The current-day publications I have been reading are:

    “The Turkish Letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq” (Forster/Royder)

    “Tulipomania” Mike Dash

    Both books are loaded with fascinating details.

    Nevermind the d—–d radio-carbon dating of the manuscript’s
    material with it’s plus or minus range “hedging the estimate”! When neither a definite provenance nor time-line can be established, it is always a good bet to investigate university and library holdings. It is through my comparing Busbecq’s handwriting with the handwriting on Boenicke manuscript 408, folio 116v, that I have broken the language barrier of that manuscript. I shall continue by beginning at the beginning folios (even if they have been mis-ordered and/or rebound).
    I only hope you are sincere, Nick, in your wish that “somebody” other than yourself will solve the mystery.
    I do remember your likening your efforts to “climbing Mount Everest without oxygen” (after Jim Reed had made a rather snide remark). I’m pretty sure you remember that remark. I hope you also remember my sympathetic response.

  43. thomas spande on July 17, 2013 at 6:13 pm said:

    Diane, I can get a pdf of that piece by Charonis through Google scholar. I was aware that one Byzantine practise was to move Armenians around as a defensive measure against the Ottomans. Cyprus was one destination and still has a fine Armenian church. Many were moved to Thrace in northern Greece.

    Totally unrelated is whether blonde hair and blue eyes were common among Armenians. Turns out that some 40% of Armenians in certain areas like Karabagh (Karabak) in the province of Artsakh had the haplotype (R1b1b2) for blonde or ginger-colored hair and blue eyes and pages of photos of kids with those features are available to the skeptical. Personally, I find that the dark haired beauties in the following (strangely unboisterous) lovely dance are arresting:

    Searching now for cloud patterns as found in the bathing section. The Armenian rug makers used a “cloud band” pattern but I have yet to find a clear cut example. I recall annoying a Turkish rug dealer in I-bul (probably a Kurd) in stating that may early Turkish rugs had Christian crosses in them as they do in fact, since they were made, by Armenians. He pretended that the idea was preposterous. I have in fact a book on the subject. Some fine ones were made for mosques.

  44. bdid1dr on July 17, 2013 at 9:22 pm said:

    Introduction to “Turkish Letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq” excerpts: “was first copyist of all Latin historical inscriptions, the Monumentum Ancyranum” . Was the first to introduce the lilac and the tulip into Western Europe. While his preservation of the Crim-Gothic vocabulary as a unique contribution to the history of language.

    So, my next adventure is to check out the dialect “Crim-Gothic” (actually, I think the entire reference should read “Crimean Gothic”. I’ll keep y’all posted (and let you know if there is any resemblance to handwriting in our mystery document.

    Just so you know, this is the first mention I have found that indeed it was Busbecq who introduced the tulip and lilac to Western Europe. Really, folks, you should read up on his educational background and the mention that Charles V issued a patent legitimizing him as a member of the ancient family whose name he bears and whose history can be traced back into the twelfth century.

    My point being that Busbecq had many sources for his writing materials (parchment or the more expensive vellum). He also had his own physician (William Quacquelben) who later died of plague. Quacquelben had earlier diagnosed a case of plague, and pulled up a handful of a weed he identified as “scordium”.

    I was able to find the Latin name for that plant: “dioscordium”, which I am sure most of you “botanical fiends” will also be able to even bring up a sketch or painting of that plant. Certainly it should be really interesting to any of you who are fixated on the botanicals.

  45. Diane on July 17, 2013 at 11:30 pm said:

    Panofsky believed the manuscript the work of Spanish Jews when he saw photographic negatives in 1931-2. I don’t believe he ever changed his mind about that, though politely crediting O’Neill’s erroneous identification of a plant (as sunflower) he was obliged to adopt a date of post 1492, and thus posit the work’s being written in a region to which Spanish Jews had settled thereafter. Since he also credit’s Salomon’s reading of some marginalia as German, Panofsky responded when asked where he thought the manuscript written (sic) responded ‘Germany’, adding that there was no sign in the imagery of Italian Renaissance style.
    Having come the long way around to somewhat similar conclusions, I can only thank Rich SantaColoma who recently blogged about Anne Nill, including the account she gave of Panovsky’s opinon given in 1931-2, the only time he saw the manuscript and even then through photographic negatives. I’ve found no record that Panofsky ever saw the manuscript itself, though he may have done.


  46. Diane on July 18, 2013 at 4:34 am said:

    Thomas – Panofsky did see the original manuscript. Nills speaks about the photo-stat copies in neg. and what poor shape they’re in and then says P. asked to see the ‘original’. There follows comment on the pigments, and mention that ‘the original’ was being kept in a safe deposit box. So though she doesn’t say ‘manuscript’ or ‘photo’ etc., it seems safe to say P. did see the Ms.

  47. thomas spande on July 18, 2013 at 3:49 pm said:

    Diane, Did Jews, in Spain or elsewhere, ever write LTR? I have read that Greeks wrote both LTR and RTL at one time, then wrote some things in an alternating fashion, “boustrophedon” in the manner the way a field is plowed.

  48. thomas spande on July 18, 2013 at 9:05 pm said:

    Dear all, While digging around on whether the book of Revelations had any special significance for Armenians I found that it was only translated into Armenian in the 12thC by their cleric Nerses. They had problems with it in their canon as did many other Christians, including Luther, who opined it would be better for Christians had it not been written.

    Anyway, related to the transcription, into “old Armenian” I found the following interesting comment:
    “but I think it is not useless for scholars, who will see how in an Old Armenian MS. single words were divided by the scribe into two or more, and distinct words run into one another. For it must not be forgotten that in Armenian as in other tongues the sentence or phrase precedes the single word.” The last statement is a bit cryptic. But the arbitrary word lengths was evidently a common practise of Armenian scribes.

  49. thomas spande on July 18, 2013 at 9:25 pm said:

    Dear all, For anyone who cares to dig more into Armenian herbals, Stella Vardanyan (Vardanian) has a lengthy essay at the following site:
    Toward the end, she reproduces two illustrations from a 16thC herbal in the Matenadaran MS collection. I noted the frequent use of the “&” . It is still strange to find it in an early 15thC manuscript as the VM is considered to be.

    I have also seen some tiny little illustrations of Armenian rugs that appear to resemble approximately some of the botanicals of the VM, e.g. f3v, 20v, 40v . Are some of the VM botanicals merely rug designs? I hope this just another will o’ the wisp or weird coincidence.

  50. Diane on July 19, 2013 at 2:06 am said:

    forgive my citing so ancient an example, but to show how early the practice appears:

    During the range of dates I’ve suggested for the earliest/basic sources used for the Vms imagery, writing left to right is habitual in some cases. The most obvious are the Dead Sea Scrolls.(3rdC BC – 1stC AD)

    I consider the Vms sources to have been purely Hellenistic works, though.

    Between that time and c.10thC AD, we don’t know much about who wrote in the various forms of Aramaic-Hebrew. In the tenth century, the response of Judaism to the massive influx of first-generation converts (due to Islamic empire’s insistance that all belong to an Abrahamic religion) was to recall all books and writings from communities now claiming to be Jewish. An authorised version of the accepted texts was then provided to all of them – a massive undertaking.

    Christianity tended, rather, to try and absorb-but-reinterpret the existing ideas of similarly first-generation converts. It led to some unusual ‘saints’ and such works as pseudo-Dionysius’ angelology being added to the liturgical calendar and western theology – but that’s another story.

    Point is that the very old habit of writing Aramaic-Hebrew left-to-right may have continued among some groups to as late as the 10thC, and among more isolated ones even later. To this day, numbers and music are written left to right, even if embedded in a text that is written right to left.

    Rather than arguing any high antiquity for the written text, I’ suggest that to someone familiar with music and/or maths, reversing the whole would seem a natural way of disguising the text.

    I have seen other, post-10thC examples, from time to time. I’d need to check if any were written by Latin students of theology, though, before citing them.

    Not piking here – but have rather a lot of non-Voynich things to be attended to more urgently than checking this. Sorry, will do it when able.

  51. bdid1dr on July 19, 2013 at 4:02 pm said:

    ThomS & Diane,

    To this day, my Cypriot friends “tap the R” in such words as “trilling” or “triumph”. So, how many words or syllables in our mystery manuscript still appear to be mysterious or “code”?

    My deaf/mute friends who were forced to vocalize when speaking, still had difficulty with phrasing and word order when they would come to my desk and ask me to “referee” when they were having difficulties communicating with other “hearing” employers or bosses. I didn’t know sign language, and they wrote the word order in sentences as if they were “signing”. An example: “Trouble come I with boss you help?”

    So I am able to focus on what is being said, syllable by syllable, in the Vms/Boenicke 408. The syllables are consistent throughout the manuscript. They consistently translate to Latin words and phrases. If you all choose to ignore the Latin phraseology, in your constant search for the “code” being written, and the identity of the writer(s), you will continue to be confined to whatever social, ethnic, and educational/professional circles are most familiar to you.

    Somewhere in your dialogues, you have all assigned nicknames to describe some of those syllables. So, “gallows” and/or “brackets” just won’t do when trying to describe various elements of the Vms. What I call the “double ell” cannot be mistaken for any other sound but ell. I explained the different “latin syllables” several months ago on Nick’s “Brackets” discussion. I have also, many times, explained the use of the Cyrillic capital “C” as the sibilant before a leading vowel: A good example which I hope you may be able to comprehend and, right now experiment with, is the word “Cyrillic” (hint: four letters).


  52. thomas spande on July 19, 2013 at 4:09 pm said:

    Diane, Thanks for the background. I have read that there is no natural reason for writing in any direction, LTR or RTL The best guesses of early experts was that for right handed scribes, LTR would be logical for not messing up the writing. That simple idea seems to be totally disproved and many think now that the left brain hemisphere favors writing RTL. So Greeks and Europeans and Copts are in the minority. Some argue that scroll writing favored RTL also but dunno why. I think finding Jews writing with a non-carbon based ink would be unusual but I suppose that happened also? I know the Dead sea scrolls were in carbon. I don’t see why that stupid sun flower should be included in dating the VM at all and indicating the Jewish scribes involved would have to have been Spanish exiles?

  53. thomas spande on July 19, 2013 at 9:41 pm said:

    Dear All and particularly Diane. I did quickly read the heavily footnoted piece by Peter Charanis on Byzantine population relocations and, as Diane observed, Armenians in particular were targeted, often by the tens of thousands. I assumed originally it was mainly for military reasons but often it was just to make (supposedly) for an empire more easily subjugated. Except it didn’t work out that way when the bulk of Armenians were transplanted from ancient Armenia, allowing the Seljuk Turks to take over their lands. This certainly hastened the disintegration of the Byzantine empire and also fostered alternatives to the Latin version of Christianity and increased strife between Latins, Greeks and Armenians. The Armenians seem to have been blamed for many heresies but in their defense, they had an archbishop one hundred years before the first pope of the Latins. Often the Armenians were deliberately moved to “hot spots” in hopes that some of these troublesome people would perish under attack from enemies of Byzantium.

  54. thomas spande on July 19, 2013 at 10:00 pm said:

    Dear all, Just a punctillio on the 8 pointed “stars” seen in the VM on folios 7r,16v and 90v. A video clip on the coins of Armenian royalty:
    indicates four coins from the period of 1126-1373 AD had a Christian cross with an overlain smaller cross at 45 degrees. In short, these might have a religious significance, not an astronomical one. I suppose in trying to make the Armenian argument in face of Diane’s comments “show me the Christian iconography” ! (my loose summary of her main point), I could be really digging in the weeds for these very odd flowers. Maybe just a coincidence?

  55. Diane on July 19, 2013 at 11:10 pm said:

    I don’t see why that stupid sun flower should be included in dating the VM at all and indicating the Jewish scribes involved would have to have been Spanish exiles?

    Hugh O’Neill was a botanist, and until fairly recently – certainly when I first began studying the Vms – it was taken as one of the few certain items in the Vms. I’ve argued that it uses eastern conventions for lotus-like flowers, and that the pair he called sunflower represent the male and female eastern Mayapple. However, that blog is now closed; I don’t have a public blog any more.

  56. Diane on July 20, 2013 at 2:40 am said:

    Thomas – I forgot to respond to the other matter, about inks.
    A short summary, a couple of paragraphs, is here:

    but the important qualification to all of it is that:

    “The ink .. used by the Jews during the period here considered would naturally be much the same as that used by their .. neighbors in different countries”.

    All writing inks, I think, employ burned/oxidised vegetable matter in some proportion (e.g. oak-galls) so to that extent all are carbon-based. Whether the 15thC manuscript we have was made by or for a Jewish reader would be interesting to know.

  57. Diane on July 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm said:

    Not sure where else to put this.

    If there’s a section of astronomical text (as such) in the Vms, there’s a good chance it comes from a work known as Sefer ha-Mivharim, described by modern scholars as ‘pseudo-Ptolemaic’ – though if it’s the text in the Vms, indications are that its source is pre-Ptolemaic, ..but what the hey..

    A Footnote from Science in Medieval Jewish culture (p.270) lists extant copies or segments including MS. Sassoon 823 ~ to which I’ve often referred with relation to the way the ‘ladies’ are pictured in the Voynich ms, and to explain why I see them as personifications, not persons. MS. Sassoon 823 is 14thC Spanish, which agrees well enough too with Panofsky’s first and (imo) only genuine expression of opinion about the Vms. He said to Anne Nills that he thought it Jewish, ‘Southern’ and 13th-15thC).

    Main text paragraph from that page in Science in Medieval Culture (CUP) ..
    .. A pseudo-Ptolemaic text, a Sefer ha-Mivharim, which has been transmitted in a small number of manuscripts, including one from 14thC Spain…

    links to Footnote 109 on the same page, which has:
    The text [Sefer ha-Mivharim] is attested in three manuscripts: Sassoon 823 (now in Philadelphia, Shoenberg Collection 57), ff. 931-94r (Spain 14thC);
    Moscow, Russian State Library, Guenzburg 421, f.36r-v (Orient. 18v) [IMM F47781];
    and St. Petersburg, Institute of Oriental Studies, B 447 f.141v (Fragmentary, Karaite, 18/19thC) [IMHM F53618].

    Earlier, Y. Tzvi Langerman, in ‘The Hebrew Astronomical Codex MS Sassoon 823’, Jewish Quarterly Review 78 (1988); 253-92 [to which I referred people in a post last year] says on p.295 that at that time ms Sassoon 823 was believed unique, but other copies have now been found, and are listed above.


  58. bdid1dr on July 20, 2013 at 4:55 pm said:

    ThomS & Diane: Several months ago I contributed to the discussion of the uses for pomegranates. The peelings were used for tanning hides. The juice made an INDELIBLE ink. So far I have found no identifying comments for any trees (arbors). What I did find was discussion of the mulberry tree leaves being used as “pablum” to feed “sericene”. So, if you are at all interested in how or where this discussion occurs in the “Voynich” manuscript, I direct your attention to that very strange looking object in folio 11v: it is a single mulberry FRUIT. The very first word of discussion (the elaborate “P” figure) is pabulumox-aes-ceo-aes-geus: which translates to “pablum”, “food” for “sericin-acae” The rest of the discussion refers to diaphanous garments. Only line 5 a refers to the arbor-og-aes-geus celeos- …..cas-aes–um. Line 6 continues the discussion (etiology) and ends with the discussion of the damage to the cocoon if the moth is allowed to eat through/emerge.
    My additional clue was the illustration which appears with Carmina Cantabrigiensia folio 436v. But remember, much of the “Carmina Cantabrigiensia” Are Canterbury student’s sometimes irreverent or drinking songs. I only focused on that peculier white tree with the peculiar fruits.

    Earlier this morning, I discovered that Busbecq also corresponded with Rudolph II. The book which discusses this apparently is quite rare and difficult to find or buy. Perhaps you, Diane, or ThomS might have access “somewhere”? Do y’all remember the first references/conjectures as to how the Vms appeared in Rudolph II’s possession? Hopefully we can all get past the flimsy conjectures of Roger Bacon provenance, etc.

    beady-eyed wonder with tongue in cheek ; ^

    bdid1dr, the skeptic, with tongue-in-cheek

  59. Diane on July 20, 2013 at 7:23 pm said:

    Speaking of fruit – the Sefer ha-Mivharim is not “the” classic pseudo-Ptolemy known as the Centiloquium or sometimes as ‘the fruit’.

    The one that is in MS Sassoon has been identified as another among the various works modern scholars call ‘pseudo-Ptolemaic’ ~ not that they were fake, but were often later mistaken for Claudius Ptolemy’s.

    If anyone’s keen, I found this article of interest:

    Shlomo Sela and Renate Smithuis, “Two Hebrew Fragments from Unknown Redactions of Abraham Ibn Ezra’s “Sefer ha-Mivḥarim” and “Sefer ha-Šeʾelot”
    Aleph , No. 9.2 (2009), pp. 225-240.


    _ where it’s already free to read online –

  60. Diane on July 20, 2013 at 7:51 pm said:

    dear Bd1r
    I have seen no evidence that Rudolf ever purchased or owned the manuscript.

    The whole ‘Rudolf’ edifice is built on ust one assertion, mae by only one person, unsupported by anyone or anything, and whom no-one seems to have believed at the time, or for the following three centuries.

    I don’t believe it.

  61. bdid1dr on July 20, 2013 at 9:34 pm said:

    Correction: Busbecq was in active service in Rudolph II’s court. I suggest you check with a wikipedia item “Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq” which discusses Busbecq’s “Life after Turkey” and his returning to Europe (mostly in Rudolph’s court).

    You may even be able to obtain or review a book published (by Cambridge U?) “Epistolae ad Rudolphum II”. “Imperatorem e Gallia scriptae (1630)”- A POSTHUMOUS publication of Busbecq’s letters to Rudolf II detailing the life and politics of the French court.

  62. Diane: that’s your opinion, sure: but we do have two different pieces of evidence pointing to the manuscript’s presence at or close to the Rudolfine court and zero pieces of evidence pointing to its presence anywhere else at the same time. I’d score that two-nil, personally. 🙂

    I would agree that it would be foolish to build much of a story on top of these two very fragmentary data points… but why go so completely against the little that we do know?

  63. Diane on July 21, 2013 at 2:35 am said:

    Precisely. And the little we know is that it was owned by Jakub Hořčický before passing (via Baresch) to Marci, thence to Kircher.

    There’s no reason why Jakub mightn’t have inherited, or purchased it.

    Having the whole thing copied would have cost about 600 pence in 1415. A properly presented, illuminated copy might have cost (in the 17thC) – not more than 1200 pence (10 ducats).

    Mnishovsky says that Rudolf paid 67,200 pence!!! (600 ducats) for the scrappy looking thing as was.
    (a source from 1913, quotes one ducat ias having been equal to 112 pence, or thereabout”)

    Nor did Jakub live in the court. He was never its librarian, as used to be imagined, and his character as we know it – and Baresch’s and Marci’s – does not suggest any of them would stoop to theft.

    The stories which have to be woven to accept one of Mnishovsky’s assertions while rejecting the other two (price and Baconian authorship) are unnecessary, as I see it.

    There’s a sub-text at work too which seems to say ‘Rudolf must have owned it; no commoner could own a book of this kind’. But asking then, ‘of what kind’? ..

  64. bdid1dr on July 21, 2013 at 2:33 pm said:

    Nick & Diane: Provenance aside, don’t you find it amazing that I have been able to translate not only the botanicals but also the balnealogical/sacred grove folios of Boenicke 408 — and the pharmaceuticals into entire paragraphs of Latin?

    Diane, If it is all a figment of my imagination, why do you so strongly object to my findings which I have backed up with citations? It grieves me to see you work so hard to come up with what must be hours of research which have no bearing on the subject at hand.

  65. bdid1dr: you plainly have no conception of how many claimed Voynich decryptions I get told about. They can’t all be right… but they can all be wrong… and that’s my basic starting position.

    Specifically, I am sure that any workable Voynich decryption would also need to incidentally explain why many curious statistical features of the text arise. I’ve yet to see one that does this even slightly.

  66. Diane on July 21, 2013 at 4:44 pm said:

    Do you see it?

    I never comment on anything to do with people’s efforts to decipher the written text. Not my area.

  67. bdid1dr on July 21, 2013 at 7:22 pm said:

    “Statistical features of the text….” Nick, I don’t understand your comment. Dates, timelines, most frequently appearing combinations of the cursive, birth and death statistics of the scribe(s)… ad infinitum? None of the above statistics are needed if one has consistently used the “Voynich” phonemes throughout the translation and transcription process AND if the purpose was for translating the text and bypassing the “who-what-when-why-how”. It just happened that I recognized consistent syllable usage throughout the text. Many times on many of your other discussion pages, I have donated my syllable combinations for you to try for yoursel(ves).

    As far as my experience with statistical analysis goes; I was a cost analyst working in the Western Regional Office of the US Postal Service.

  68. bdid1dr, if you have a decryption mechanism that you feel merits attention, then perhaps you would like to tackle The Chedy Scale.

    There are five levels in the Chedy scale. Each level contains variants of the word “chedy”, along with an example usage of the word taken from the VMS, for context.

    The first level contains single-character variants. The second level contains up to two-character variants. And so on.

    The goal is to provide a sensible plain-text value for the variants in each level, starting at level 1. How far will you get?

  69. bdid1dr on July 22, 2013 at 3:43 pm said:

    Thanx for the n-v-ta-tion Job, but there isn’t any statistical data in the writing of Boenicke manuscript 408. Nor are there any alphanumerical combinations anywhere in the script. Not even any birth or death dates. It is straightforward Latin wording which was written in the alphabetical script of the writer’s origin. Crimean Gothic? Turkish Cyrillic? Cypriot Greek? Hegiric for any population fleeing invasion?

  70. thomas spande on July 22, 2013 at 6:22 pm said:

    Dear all, Just what the doctor ordered. A recent Chem and Engineering News (July 8, 2013) had a short note on a new NON-DESTRUCTIVE spectroscopic method for looking at the binders used in medieval (15th C) paints. A 1475 painting by Cosimo Tura was chosen for study. The method was developed by John K. Delaney of the National Gallery of Art in Wash, DC and uses near infrared reflectance. No removal of any sample required!! Dalaney can spot egg yolk binders or glues made from animal skins. Well the method sounds great BUT can we find any original paints used in the VM? There is a dab of gesso (I think) in one of the botanicals but I am guessing that much of the original color that still resides in the botanicals is ink based and may not have used binders at all. For Diane, I was under the impression that some carbon based inks used “lamp black” i.e. “soot”. Also the iron gall inks used in the VM have to have a source of iron salts, not just gallic acid. Cheers, Tom

    BTW. The reference to Delaney’s technique is “Analyst, 2013”. Evidently no volume or issue number which is odd.

  71. thomas spande on July 22, 2013 at 6:45 pm said:

    Dear all, I think in addition to the sunflower, that “armadillo” is a red herring. It is found only in the western hemisphere where its inclusion in the VM makes it unlikely. I think it is a variety of hedgehog, e.g. long-eared, found in the Eastern hemisphere.

    “B” has been a faithful laborer in the VM vineyard for some time.

    She may be onto something in reading the VM text as Latin-based phonemes but I think the membership hankers for just one page of a line by line decrypt, every bloody word or phoneme. That will always be the acid test.

    I will be the first to admit that I think “B” has been on the money with some plant IDs, likely those mandrake fruits and has been useful in providing clues like the mastic tree but there is a need for total translations that can be examined and subjected to explication.

  72. thomas spande on July 22, 2013 at 7:25 pm said:

    Diane, Your post of July 20, indicates to me that the writing of Jewish scribes in a carbon-based ink had to be erasible. That is how I read it. Metal based inks by which I think the iron-gall ink of the VM would be an example, are forbidden to a Jewish scribe; they are not “effacible”. By metal based inks, the encyclopedia writer is not excluding elemental metals like gold, as that was acceptable. I think though that it is the use of metallic salts that is being referred to, like an iron based ink that would derive from the action of a strong acid (like hydrochoric) on ferric oxide (rust). Rust ifself would be insoluble. The example you provided of inks used by Jewish scribes was interestiong but (to me) not definitive.

  73. thomas spande on July 22, 2013 at 9:22 pm said:

    Dear all, I was wrong on iron gall inks. The Armenians did use iron oxide and evidently made it soluble using binders like egg yolk and/or honey. I think the text ink could itself be subjected to the reflectance IR technique and other parts in original ink such as the line-drawn outlines of the plants. If for instance, Armenians had a hand in the copywork and botanical drawing and these were done with Armenian ink formulae, perhaps comparison of IR spectra could be done with contemporaneous work of known Armenian scribes. If honey were used, likely the honey had to be fresh to prevent it fementing or crystallizing? Then perhaps C-14 dating of the honey might be possible. We really do need a firm date on when the ink was laid down. The Armenian red was the pigment of a coccinellid beetle and this likely is bio-synthetic. If we had clearcut original red, like maybe that glyph on f1v(?) could that be first checked by reflectance IR to check for binders and maybe the red dye structure proved by IR? Likely not enough to justify combusting a sample of it for C-14 dating. Likely the dating of the writing has to be done by inference, like what were the binders used by scribes at any given time period? The other possibility is textual inferences, like when did the ampersand appear in manuscript writing? Nick;s parallel hatching argument is, in my opinion, still the best shot at dating the VM using a history of art techniques.

  74. thomas spande on July 22, 2013 at 9:46 pm said:

    Dear all, I think I may have a suspicion of one of Nick’s concerns about the VM “stats” and that is the huge number of word repeats. One Voynicher whose name escapes me opined that copywork might lead to this as a scribe just made an inadvertant repeat. Some appear to me to be grammatical like “that that” and are correct and perfectly reasonable (in English anyway) but others appear to me to be just word endings like “uam” and “ion” repeated several times in a row. Really a dozey scribe or something else going on? From my playing around at decipherment, I am inclined to think that the Latin is fairly simple (or “schoolboy” to use “B”s expression,otherwise I would be more lost than I currently am. I think there is some German and what is more surprising, some English in the VM. The word “nacht” jumps out as does “each”. The Latin “8am” is all over the place and I am pretty certain it is just “that”. The word c-c c”)” I took to mean “is”; now I think c with a superscript “)” is an “st” making the word “ist”, German again. It may end a phrase indicating maybe German word order? I am trying out various end words but nothing certain yet.

  75. Menno Knul on July 22, 2013 at 11:28 pm said:

    Thomas, Job,

    Reduplication of individual letters and ‘words’ is limited in alphabetic codes, but is unlimited in numerical codes , e.g. 5 – 55 – 555 – 5555 and 666 666 666 In the VMS reduplication of letters seems endless and reduplication of ‘words’ to some extent too. From the outside the VMS code looks like a numerical code and from the inside we meet normal plain text numbers 2 (s), 8 (d), 9 (y) and the mediëval number 4 (rendered as l) and maybe number 5 (lying, rendered as ch). As a matter of fact the VMS script has some similarities with the Roger Bacon numerals, but appears to be a later adaptation thereof. I think this needs further investigation.

  76. Diane on July 23, 2013 at 1:19 am said:

    Thomas – non-destructive analytic techniques aren’t new. They’ve been around long enough that the (television station’s?) choice of a C-14 for ms Beinecke 408 raised a few eyebrows.
    iron gall inks were common in Europe, regardless of who was writing, and were sometimes even used for writing the Jewish law, as the (Syrian) Aleppo Codex shows. In any case, production of ms Beinecke 408 need not be by the same community or communities from which the exemplars were gained. The Voynich is not a single, authorial text: it’s a compendium of matter from a variety of different sources. Of all the modern and 17thC ideas about it, only those by Baresch and Panofsky appear to be confirmed by the internal evidence.. and even there I’m not sure about Panofsky’s view that the text was Kabbalistic. Of course, this may be due to the fact that I wouldn’t know a Kabbalistic text if I fell over one. It may also be due to Panofsky’s being able to read more of the manuscript than the pictures. But I do think that the smallest sized script on f.9v is, by default, to be presumed Jewish or Karaite in origin.

  77. bdid1dr on July 23, 2013 at 1:43 am said:

    ThomS, I have several times over the past year translated, online for Nick’s various discussions (“Irony, Question Mark, and Brackets”, for example) and given an explanation for each alpha-character or syllable. I’ve also explained that repetitious phraseology occurs most often on the “botanical and/or herbal” pages — because the writer was using proper nomenclatural/taxonomical terminology for identifying the plant’s origin, species, family, common name(s) and, finally, the plant’s uses.
    I suggest you all take a look at the discussion on Nick’s “Irony, Question Marks, and Brackets” page. Other examples I have explained, latin word-for-word, are Vms folio 83v, mulberry folio 11v, and the mushroom folio 86r3.
    I’ve done my best to work around various side-tracking conversations which appear frequently on any post which is discussing the “Voynich” manuscript.

    Do you all already know that Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq ended up in Rudolph II’s court after returning from Suleiman’s court to Ferdinand I’s court? Apparently Busbecq may have been the source of the animals in Rudolph II’s zoo. So, do we have another “educated guess” as to how the VMS got to Rudolph’s court, and subsequent to the Thirty-Years’ war, ended up in Father Kircher’s archive?

    Three books I am currently reading (and cross-referencing) are:

    The Turkish Letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq (Forster-Royder)

    Tulipomania (Mike Dash)

    I’ve also gone on-line with Leiden University’s huge archive of Busbecq’s and Clusius’ correspondence. Each gentleman has his own file.

    Osman’s Dream – The History of the Ottoman Empire (Caroline Finkel)

  78. bdid1dr, i mentioned The Chedy Scale because it targets what is, in my opinion, a key property of the VMS: word variability.

    If you were to provide a sensible decoding mechanism that can make sense of the words in Chedy Level One then you would have my attention.

    Nick’s reference to the “statistical features” of the VMS, i assume, relates to the distribution and structure of words in the text – not the underlying contents – so i’m not sure what you mean when you say that:
    there isn’t any statistical data in the writing of Boenicke manuscript 408

    If you really have some insight into how the VMS may be deciphered, decoded, or translated into readable text then you ought to write a document or page describing your thoughts in such a way that it can be tested as something concrete rather than a collection of propositions.

    In your posts you frequently mention having translated folios or passages in the VMS. I don’t know what to make of it.

  79. Diane on July 23, 2013 at 9:13 am said:

    Dear Bd1dr
    You have several times referred to other comments as ‘distracting’ or ‘side-tracking’ from the point of a post written by Nick.

    It seems to me that any comment not directly related to what Nick’s post says could be described that way – e.g. if Nick doesn’t mention the manuscript’s C-14 dating, or composition of the ink in that post, then to mention them distracts others from making relevant comments.

    Nick allows the comments to appear, and if he does so, then it’s his choice. A kindness extended equally to Thomas’ discussion of Armenians, mine of inks and yours about the tulip-chap.
    Surely if anyone has a right to comment on ‘distractions’ from the point of his posts, it is Nick.

    And so far, he hasn’t.

  80. Menno, i have considered the possibility of numerical codes for a different reason.

    If we were to take a text and encode it such that each word is replaced with a number from some consecutive range (e.g. the word’s position in the dictionary) then, depending on the size of the range, the resulting cipher text would have an unusually high quantity of single character variants, such as “1234” and “1235”.

    For example, the result of encoding an Italian text in this way is much closer to the VMS when it comes to word variability. In fact we can adjust the word variability of the resulting text to match the VMS by manipulating the length of numeric range (e.g. the size of the dictionary).

    I think a dictionary/codebook type of encoding does fit some of the properties of the VMS but there are reasons to believe this is improbable.

    Nick i know you are not a fan of the “hoax” hypothesis, and i generally agree, but some of the data regarding word variability does fit a fabricated, non-sensical text.

    For example, the apparent correlation between word occurrence and word variability (as observed in this graph) could be explained by a fabrication process where the author is picking previous words, changing one or more characters and writing them down.

    Naturally, we’d still need to explain some of the language characteristics in the text, but i find this to be a more believable process for producing non-sensical text. Speaking for myself, if i were to write down pages and pages of meaningless text, i would start to reuse and transform previous words in this way because it reduces to a purely mechanical process.

  81. Job: if Voynich researchers restrict themselves to the evidence given by a single kind of statistical test, they inevitably end up painting themselves into a logical – but nonsensical – corner. Friedman did this, as did (I would say) Gordon Rugg.

    For a couple of weeks I’ve been musing about putting together a cool diagram that tries to capture this… maybe I should do this sooner rather than later.

    The trick with Voynich studies is more to do with the way Intellectual History works – how can we reconcile all these confusing results all at the same time, not one at a time?

  82. Diane on July 23, 2013 at 9:59 am said:

    As an outside when it comes to ciphers and such, I am intrigued by a remark Nick made once (or possibly many times) about the careless way in which variant forms of glyph are happily considered variations of a given EVA or other substitute.

    If the stats are being run less on the text than on our possibility faulty interpretation, and this magnified by the transcription-system, which tends to make readable words like ‘cheady’ which effective set those ideas into hardened expectations – we now “see” cheady, not the text itself – so what is the point of these analyses?

    I think of what would happen to statistics if we assumed a handwritten alpha, and and omicron were the same, or not knowing vernacular Latin tried to distinguish letters in the scripts used in 1stC Vindolanda.

    As it happens, I’ve seen scripts which include four different versions of a character like our ‘9’ glyph, and each with entirely different phonetic value.

    Have we made a non-sensical text of the Voynich ourselves?

    – ah well, never a palaeographer or epigrapher about when you need one!

  83. Diane on July 23, 2013 at 12:28 pm said:

    hi all – this is just to send a chill up your spine.

    I’ve been reading about a chap who was born in Spain travelled through Egypt, Damascus, Aleppo and Greece in the early part of the 13thC. He was a poet and storymaker. One of his pieces is described thus:

    In the eleventh makama of the book which is entitled ..(trans: The Song of the Three Languages) is an interpolated poem, twenty-three lines long, every line of which is written one-third in Hebrew, one-third in Arabic, and one-third in Aramaic.The Arabic portion rimes with the Hebrew throughout; the Aramaic portions have one rime, and that a two-syllabled one, maintained throughout the whole poem.

    bet you didn’t expect that!

  84. Menno Knul on July 23, 2013 at 1:28 pm said:


    Here is good information on the Roger Bacon script and the Sacro Bosco script (which are rather similar):

    It is also interetsting to have a look at the famous Oroloj in Prague, which shows mediëval arabic numerals next to the Latin numerals.

    I think we should investigate the changes of the original arabic/indian numerals to the mediëval European numerals to retrieve the Voynich numerals, both in the text and in the quire notes. If the special (alchemistic) signs in the VMS are regarded as indicators for categories (I call them markers), the numerals would serve as subsets. Both botanists and astronomists have a need to categorize because of the extent material. I don’t agree with any hoax theory.

  85. Diane on July 23, 2013 at 2:46 pm said:

    Menno –
    What ‘alchemistic signs’ do you mean? Adam McLean looked at the text found no sign of alchemy at all.

    Since he made that pronouncement – quite some years ago, I think no-one has raised the subject again.

    Except me, of course – but I’m only speaking about evidently allegorical use for certain among the ‘nymph’ folios.

    So could you specify, please?

  86. bdid1dr on July 23, 2013 at 4:29 pm said:

    Menno, Job, & other still-interested parties:

    The “numbers” which appear in the TEXT of Boenicke 408 are NOT numbers.
    The “figure-eight” which appears throughout the manuscript’s discussions represents the syllable “aes”.
    The larger figure-nine represents the guttural sounds
    The smaller figure-nine represents the sound of “ks” or the letter X.

    On several other posts, here on Nick’s various Voynich-related blog pages, I have laid out & xpland evry vowel, consonant, the “8-9” combination of “aes-geus”, & the use of the “&”.
    I have even written why whole discussions in the manuscript do not have a symbol for the sounds of “V”, “W”, or “Y”. So, numbers are numbers when they appear as folio ID numbers. Numbers which are apparent in the discussion sentences, paragraphs, & (ampersand) pages are NOT “nmbrs” !

    I’ll let you all find my other discussions in re the difference in size for the characters “c” and “e”. I’ve also previously discussed how contractions are formed, and how to determine what the contractions are saying.

    Nick & Thomas, thank you both for your graceful consideration of my manifold discussions. Go easy on that mandrake fruit juice (folio 83v, balnealogical folios). I won’t be leading any mushroom gathering expeditions either (folio 86r3) after reading how easy it is to get the look-alike mushrooms mixed up, mixed into your dinner, washed down with a sip of wine, and wind up thoroughly mixed-up mentally, and wined-down dead.
    All of the discussion uses the mythology of “Alcyone & Ceyx”.

    1dr no more at bdid1dr’s “shorthand” (?) 🙂

  87. thomas spande on July 23, 2013 at 5:31 pm said:

    Dear Menno, I have my own take on the frequent appearance of numerals in the VM. I think only the “8” and “9” are used in the true sense of “arabic” numerals and that these are being used for the letters “e” and “t” respectively, so that “89” is simply the Latin “et” = “and”.This is why it appears so often. Arabic, Hebrew and Armenian are three languages that used letters for numbers and “89” fits the Romanization (Latinization) of the Armenian numbers for “e” and “t”. The “4” and what looks like a “tipped” “2” are, I think, Armenian glyphs and ciphers substituting for “c” and “ch” respectively. So the VM ciphers “8a”tipped ?” is “each” and the *8″ like glyph that has a rocker at the base, is the Armenian “f” so that “8a” preceeding it makes an “eaf” which I think is an abbreviated form of “leaf”. I may be all wet on the Armenian connection but I think it hangs together so far.
    Cheers, Tom

  88. Diane, if we eliminate EVA characters that occur less than 2000 times in the text, that is, the set [f, v, g, p, m, z, x], the resulting text still has the same word variability.

    That’s not to say that transcription has nothing to do with this feature of the text, that’s a possibility, but it doesn’t seem to be main cause. Additionally, if we were to choose a different transcription, where major EVA characters are grouped into one then we also have to account for the reduced alphabet and resulting word repetition rather than variability.

    Nick, i am focusing alot on word variability. It is a fairly unique property of the text which has the potential to narrow down the list of possible ciphers.

    I understand that someone possessing knowledge in the various fields of study relating to the VMS, and is well versed in published research and all kinds of analysis, has a much better chance to arrive at a solution. But that’s not me, that’s your job. 🙂

  89. thomas spande on July 23, 2013 at 5:55 pm said:

    To Diane, Any really non destructive analytical technique on something like the writing and color on an opaque medium like parchment will by definition be a reflectance method. Just no way around this. The little dabs of pinhead sized material used for scanning Raman are still destructive. Delaney is known to my daughter (she used to be at the Nat Gallery of Art) and will be teaching a course with her in Florence, next year. She will try and interest him in using his method to gain what information is possible on the VM. BTW, my daughter is not an adherant of any particular viewpoint in VM research, mine or anyone else’s.

    Nick in one post did mention what appeared to be traces of “red lead” as I recall, in one of the botanicals. Forgot which one. Maybe this is worth a relflectance IR peek? We know with a good degree of certainty that this has to have preceeded the drawing? This little bit of color may be the only true, unambiguous original color? I think more can be spotted but I would not hold my hand over the candle on any of them.

  90. Menno Knul on July 23, 2013 at 6:29 pm said:


    cfr. e.g. top row to the right: Eva transcription capital T.

  91. Menno Knul on July 23, 2013 at 6:44 pm said:


    I cannot agree. For me 2 = 2, 4 = 4, 8 = 8 and 9 = 9. There is no reason to identify 8 = aes and 9 = guttural because 9 looks like g. This has not even done by the EVA transcription, which I take seriously. A good indication is given by the vocabulary of EVA-words. There is a limited number of signs, which you can find at the beginning of the words and even a more limited number of signs, which you can find at the end of words.

  92. Menno: if you look at Milanese ciphers up to about 1460, you see that these same shapes recur. But after 1470, people there have become accustomed to seeing those same shapes used as numbers, so we see more number ciphers appear.

  93. Diane on July 23, 2013 at 7:20 pm said:

    “Mix thoroughly” is pretty cool…

    but you know.. with me it’s all dates and context. WHEN was that symbol first used, and was it invented, adopted, transferred from older pharmacy habit?

    The usual. If it’s first recorded as an alchemical term in 1640s Norway (or summat), then parent of the Voynich it cannot be.

  94. thomas spande on July 23, 2013 at 7:59 pm said:

    Dear all, The document identifier on the reflectance IR piece in the Analyst (June 2013) is 10.1039/c3an00926b, It is available only on line, but a pdf is downloadable. I really hate what this has done to scientific publishing but that is the way things are now.

    BTW, I realize that to be precise one has to distinguish between diffraction and reflection. So some X-ray methods are also non destructive.

    To Menno, Job and anyone else who cares about word analysis and frequency of letter occurrences, I think it has to be borne in mind that the VM text is significantly abbreviated by the use of scribal abbreviations. Nick has pointed this out on many occasions. Word lengths are totally arbitary.

    If “B” argues that the VM is really a series of phonemes in Latin, then does that not imply the VM is a document that is spoken, as in someone’s lecture notes? Seems to me that is where her approach leads?.

    Whatever glyphs are used in the VM, they evidently (to me anyway) come from a language that did not use diacritical marks. This rules out glyphs taken directly from Hebrew and Arabic based languages.

    To Diane, I disagree, in principle, that tiny writing means a Jewish scribe had a hand in the VM, at least that instance you cite That is a weak peg to hang an argument on. It is neither necessary nor sufficient. I have seen a lot of tiny writing in Armenian cursive.

  95. SirHubert on July 23, 2013 at 8:32 pm said:


    “As it happens, I’ve seen scripts which include four different versions of a character like our ’9′ glyph, and each with entirely different phonetic value.”

    Is this Persian, written in modified Arabic script? If so, then don’t forget the diacritical points which, in standard Arabic at any rate, are considered an integral part of the letters and not optional extras. So the letter ‘9’ will be correctly read as ‘wa’, ‘f’, ‘q’ or ‘g’ depending on whether it has no, one, two or three points above it.

    I think the idea that one Voynich character could have four or more different values without any way to distinguish which was meant might push would-be decipherers over the edge…

  96. Menno Knul on July 23, 2013 at 10:15 pm said:

    Nick, I turned to your Voynich Quire numbers. The first lines state: ‘Cryptographically, the Voynich Manuscript (AKA ‘the VMs’) is a 234-page handwritten document filled with enciphered text in an unknown alphabet … ‘ It is clear that I challenge the ‘’unknown alphabet’. The reason is that the quire numbers occur in the text itself.

    Next you state, that there is a codicological evidence, that the quire numbers have been added when the scrambled pages had been rebound by someone who didn’t understand its contents.’

    This may be said about the second part of the VMS, but not about the first part of the herbal pages, folios 1-57. The second part consists of several documents (astrology, balneum, star-register) added to it in a second binding and includes some loose herbal pages).

    According to me the quire numbers of the herbal pages have been written by the author himself to facilitate the first binding and have been overruled by the page numbers (on top of the pages) in the second binding.

    P.S. By the way I found, that f12r/v is not missing at all, but a preceding folio. The missing folio can be retrieved between the loose herbal pages, which do not show the –edy affix, which lacks in the folios 1-25.

  97. Diane on July 23, 2013 at 11:29 pm said:

    Sir Hubert,
    I didn’t specify, because I couldn’t recall which – it was a curiosity I noticed in passing – but I think it was one of the scripts recorded for a people of the Indian Ocean – an offshoot of devanagari I expect.

    Dear Thomas,
    You say,

    “Whatever glyphs are used in the VM, they evidently .. come from a language that did not use diacritical marks”.

    – Afraid not. Pointed and unpointed text in both cases was quite common. Same for Latin and even sometimes for Greek. (I think you were guessing, werent you?)

    and you say,

    “I disagree, in principle, that tiny writing means a Jewish scribe …I have seen a lot of tiny writing in Armenian cursive.”

    My principle is that conclusions should be drawn from the evidence, according to its weight – so would love to see some links to Armenian examples. Tell me, does the smallest line on the flower in f.9v make any sense in Armenian?

    But you need not suppose the point must put us at odds; Armenia was not mono-cultural.

  98. Diane on July 23, 2013 at 11:53 pm said:

    Sir Hubert,
    I didn’t mean that variant glyph forms might be indistinguishable, only that intended – and actual – distinctions mght be overlooked because we suppose e.g. the varying lengths and angles for the tail on ‘9’ are incidental and not meaningful.

  99. bdid1dr on July 24, 2013 at 1:16 am said:

    Sorry guys (and gals): Someone asked me how I was able to translate the Vms rather than “decode” it. That someone also wanted for me to explain my translation into Latin phraseology, and then into English.

    Earlier today, I gave you my method and demonstrated it. So, with me it never has been a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with other persons’ methods. What works for me probably should work for anyone else who might want to see positive results of translating versus decoding. I haven’t seen an example, yet, of successful decoding of the “Vms/Boenicke 408.

  100. @ SirHubert, please allow a remark regarding the translation of the VMs into Arabic.
    Here I show an excerpt from our upcoming dictionary. (The translation is consistently possible throughout the manuscript):
    .chy.kchy. .wy.Twy. ويثوي he fix it
    .chyky. .wyTy. ويتحي and load
    .ckh.eey. .eTe.eey. ادعى claimed
    .ckhhy. .eTeey. إذيي the hurt
    .ckhol. .eTeol. اتل recite
    .ckhor. .eTeon. إذاٌ if
    .cphaiin. .eqearh. إقعره rape
    .cphedy. .eqeety. عقيتي sterile
    .cphey. .eqeey. عكيي mudded
    .cphol. .eqeol. اكل eat
    .cphy. .eqey. اكي lucky
    .csedy. .csety. كصتي like my story
    .cth. .eme. إم or
    .cth.eey. .eme.eey. عمياي blind
    .cthaiin. .emearh. أميرة princess
    .cthar. .emean. إمان safety
    .cthedy. .emeety. إميطي cap
    .ctheol. .emeeol. اميل I like
    .ctheor. .emeeon. عميٌ my cousin
    .cthhy. .emeey. امية Umayah
    .ctho. .emeo. اميو naked
    .cthody. .emeoty. امنيتي my wish
    .cthol. .emeol. امال hopes

  101. Menno: in my opinion, an alphabet that appears in that form in only a single as-yet-unread text is most certainly “unknown”, regardless of whether individual shapes recur in other alphabets.

    The quire numbers are in a different ink and in a different hand, and were added separately to the main text, almost certainly (from the misbinding on Q13) by someone who was unaware of the structure of the original text.

    As for the herbal quires’ numbers, I do not believe that Q8 can reflect the original quires binding order, and so this too was misordered even before the quire numbers were added. I further believe (but cannot prove) that the significant statistical differences between Currier Herbal A pages and Currier Herbal B pages means that they were written in two separate phases, which also casts doubt on the idea that the original author added any quiration at all.

    Furthermore, I believe (but cannot yet prove) that the ink on Q8’s quire number was the same used in the earlier herbal quires.

    So, you may possibly be right that the herbal quire numbers were added by the original author: but the fragmentary evidence we do have all seems to point against that notion.

    As far as f12 goes, I believe that we can see some paint transfers from (the presently missing) f12v over onto f13r. This seems to imply that f12v was originally present but only removed after later painting and folio numbering, hence after 1605 or so.

  102. SirHubert on July 24, 2013 at 9:05 am said:

    Joachim: thanks – I’ve seen your site, which I’ve read through with interest and from which I’ve learned much. I remain to be convinced by many aspects of your proposed translation, but for all I know you may be on the right track.

    Personally, however, the comments on your proposed interpretation and translation of the first paragraph of f1R don’t inspire me with confidence (and I quote):

    “The first paragraph is what I made of the Arabic text. This is not a transliteration of the text, since the original collection of words doesn’t have a meaning.”

    I admire the honesty of this sentence, although you may feel it’s unlikely to win over a sceptic who is not be well-versed in Sufi literature!

  103. SirHubert:
    Unfortunately, the documentation f1r is already almost one year old.
    Meanwhile, much has happened, that can not be continuously documented.
    For example, the software that enables isolation of lexemes (words and phrases) was not available. The multiple significance of individual glyphs was not very clearly established, etc.
    Right now several activities happen simultaneously.
    BTW. The currently most important background information is available here:

  104. thomas spande on July 24, 2013 at 4:12 pm said:

    Diane, I was indeed guessing about the absence of diacritical marks and how this might point to a phonetic language (like Armenian) but I am aware that sometimes a mark, or point, is deleted deliberately as in a Persian Arabic glyph, that resembles an “S” and appeared at the center of one of the botanicals.The Persians did not use the subscripted point found in most other Arabic for that glyph..

    I have seen some tiny Armenian cursive, often used, in making an insertion in cursive or a marginal note. I cannot present an example at the moment. I have it in the Stone et al., compendium of Armenian cursive paleography.

    I did not mean to rule out a Hebrew scribe working on the VM, just to point out that logically your assertion on a Hebrew hand in this is a possibility, not a proof. I did read the link you provided on Hebrew scribal work but I guess that was meant to be typical and not exclusive. For example using non-metal containing inks that could be erased.

    My daughter threw cold water on the red lead idea as any binders (she guessed plant gums) would likely have been in common use throughout the medieval or renaissance world through trade and would indicate neither the place nor origin of the scribes.She thinks it was likely applied as a paint and used a brush. Unfortunately this point might make the whole reflectance IR study on the inks or original paints in the VM undefinitive. Still, what else is there and maybe some weird binder does shows up? Or enough of something (like egg yolk or honey) that might be sacrificed for carbon dating.

    BTW to Menno and others focusing on numerals. Bear in mind that a superscript “2” and “9” were Tironian notes.

  105. thomas spande on July 24, 2013 at 4:52 pm said:

    To Diane, chiefly. The violet of f9v has me puzzled. Armenian is no help at all. I think the letters are meant to be read upside down (the glyph outside and between the upper two petals on the left is upside down) so reading LTR it looks to me like “doa” and the bottom two glyphs also LTR, look like “a.d.” I added the periods. I tried to make it into a date but nothing was reasonable. The short answer is “nope” Armenian is not involved here. I think those are Latin glyphs.

  106. thomas spande on July 24, 2013 at 5:22 pm said:

    Dear all, Nick had a very good idea awhile back that if we look at the Tironian notes (T.N.) used in the VM, we might be able to date it as Tironian notation was in a continual state of flux with new ones being added continually. They eventually numbered over 4000. The chief problem with that idea is that there just are not enough (I estimate maybe 1-2 dozen and those were common ones, used almost from the get go,like the superscript “2” and “9” and the little circle). Then as Nick wrote the timing for use of Tironian notes is way off anyway for the 15th C date of the VM. By the time of Dante, T.N.s were no longer used in Latin. They just got in the way too much. So the appearance of T.N. in the VM may be there to make the thing look older than it is? Force of habit with a couple of old timers? or what? Then I spotted what I think are a whole bunch (one or two per line of VM text) of scribal abbreviations unique to the VM. Many use the “)” which was Tironian but not as used in the VM where it is merged with a glyph (like c, m, n), some amount to disguised macrons, typically in the gallows glyphs. Rather than belabor this further, it was a clever idea of Nick’s to try and date the VM by the Tironian notes used but not enough of those (I think) to convince anyone. Still working on the unusal appearance of ampersands in the VM. These were not common in cursive Latin with the exception of Beneventan. The “&” really got rolling with the rise of printing, ca. 1470. I will have to recheck my notes but I don’t think “&” was used as a T.N. as “et” was easier to write.

  107. bdid1dr on August 7, 2013 at 8:43 pm said:

    ThomS & all,

    In my own contrary way, and while finishing up my notes on other discussions I came across a strange notation on Vms folio 55v. I looked up several different pages which DID NOT discuss Tironian notation but did explain the meaning of that symbol. Take a look at the aforementioned folio — the very last line, and the very last word which ends the discussion at the base of the stem and roots.: That symbol is not Tironian, but it is a very helpful terminal syllable which makes that final word “olla-teus” or olla-tius. It is a lesser used scribal notation but was very helpful to me with my identification of the aquatic plant “ollatius” : Lotus
    If any of you are interested in my line-by-line translation of Vms folio 55v, I’ve only noticed that notation on a couple of other folios. Both times it appeared at the very end of a line of discussion which also was the very end of a paragraph or section of text.

  108. bdid1dr on August 7, 2013 at 10:29 pm said:

    Would your daughter be interested in an item I read a couple of months ago? If I recall correctly, it was a discussion on one of the Metropolitan Museum’s Cloister Garden blog. It discussed the use of various organic combinations for inks and paints which did not use “red lead”, “mercury salts”, or other poisonous or dangerous ingredients for gesso and paints. Of most interest to me was the discussion for using powdered saffron with egg (whites/yolks?). The discussion involved the scribe’s usage of this combination to “gild” the various manuscripts which were commissioned by various wealthy persons (Books of Hours?) (illuminations?)
    That particular item caught my eye because I was in the process of translating the saffron crocus folio VMs f35r.
    VMs folio 35r was one of the easier folios for me to translate. Besides references to Crocus and Smilax (legendary lovers, again!) there is what may be a brief reference to Cilicia – line 3 next to the blossom.
    What differentiates the flower of 35r is the appearance of the bulbous “roots”. Nope, NOT bulbs. But rather “corms” (note the flattened bases of the corms as opposed to bulbs.

    A side note: When my husband was reading my discussion (over my shoulder) he planted a dozen “saffron crocus corms” in the large planter by my kitchen door. I may get another “pinch” of saffron again sometime around my birthday.

  109. bdid1dr on August 8, 2013 at 3:31 pm said:

    ps: Another specimen in the Vms (folio 8v) is in a container on my front porch — salvia sclerae, common name “clary”. You’ll find my discussion on Nick’s blog page “Irony, question marks, and brackets”. I haven’t resorted to the historical remedy for which this plant was used. If it ever blooms and goes to seed, however, I may try it!

  110. thomas spande on August 8, 2013 at 7:58 pm said:

    “B”, Both I and my daughter would be interested in that article on gessos. She went to NYU’s art conservation school which had rooms (there were only about 7 in her class, three in her field, painting). Because the Met owns the Cloisters and because her art class rooms were in a building next to the Met, she probably knew the Cloisters well (I’m guessing). Anyway a link or pdf would be much appreciated. Gessos often had organic material and if enough were found in the VM that could be sacrificed, would provide a way of dating some of the content of the VM.

  111. bdid1dr on August 9, 2013 at 5:12 pm said:

    BTW, Nick,
    I don’t find it upsetting at all when experts can’t agree on the dating of antique manuscripts. I just don’t agree with them because they all seem to be contradicting each other (jostling for position?). One of my favorite people seems to have retired, though his literary output is still online: Bill Thayer at U Chicago. Yesterday I went online to compare the histories of Busbecq, Clusius, & Dodoens. Fascinating!

    I’m writing this note, here, despite the fact that this “Tale” has already been buried under your new discussion pages. Like one or two others of your “fans”, I mourn the “retirement” of the “Times” One or two of my favorite novelists were, at one time or another, columnists for the Times.

  112. bdid1dr on August 11, 2013 at 4:09 pm said:

    ThomS, the url for vegetable gold|The Medieval Garden Enclosed|The Metropolitan Museum of Art,NewYork is
    Some very interesting discussion in re “glair”, powdered silver or tin (for metallic shine effect)…….

  113. bdid1dr on August 22, 2013 at 2:20 am said:

    Dear \\\) \\)o : This is as close as I can illustrate your name using standard ASCI keyboard. So “M” is made by three short strokes with a “right” parenthesis attached to the last stroke. For the letter “N”, one uses two short strokes and a right parenthesis attached to the second short stroke. If I still had the energy to expand this discussion I would xplai\\) further on ?\\\) of the other Vms ciphers. I often find my discussions/translations buried under “sidebar” discussions. So, I hope you’ve accepted my recent apology for pressing you about aspects of the Vms language/dialect/script/whatever — which really don’t interest you. Again, my sincere apologies for being overbearing with you. You are a very kind soul.

    Sincerely, beady-eyed 1-dr Smiley wink: 😉

  114. bdid1dr on August 22, 2013 at 4:24 pm said:

    Job and Menno: correction to the number of short strokes for the alphabet “M” and “N” : Most often you will see (look at these as being half-strokes) the characters for M or N thusly:

    \) equals “N”

    \\) equals “M”

    So, “America” could be written as: a \\) R 9 a = ‘Amrga’

    The “r” is represented in Boenicke 408 by what looks like a backward facing “S”. Hard “c” or “k” and the hard “g” is represented by what looks like the numeral 9. The sound of “ks” or “eks” is represented by what looks like a smaller number 9 but which sits on the line of script and the loop extends slightly behind the “neck” of that “”9” and slightly below the line of script.

    This is probably my seventh or eighth reiteration of my method/translation of the individual “mystery” alphabet/phonemes which appear consistently throughout Boenicke mss (manuscript) 408 (four zero eight). On various other discussions on Nick’s blog, I’ve also xpland how the double-looped uprights represent the sound of “ell”. I’ve also xpland the “tl” . Most recently I mentioned that I could not find a character for the sound of “eld” or “elt”
    Still a work in progress, but enough phonetic combinations which I use to comprehend the writing of Boenicke 408.

    On various other of Nick’s presentations, I’ve expland and translated entire folios, and have also expland how the “ell” symbol can be stretched and reinserted further along any sentence or line of discussion. So, I once again refer you to Nick’s “Irony, Question Marks, and Brackets” discussion pages. What I haven’t found is any occurence of the “tl” being stretched in a like manner. Nor have I been able to find a symbol for the sound “elt”

    I have found, however, a particular and peculiar “symbol” for words ending in “tius” or “dius” or “deus”. It appears seldomly and usually only at the ending/conclusion of a lengthy discussion. The closest a particular scribe was able write the word “Lotus” was by using that particular symbol.

    Time for brunch. I’ll keep on posting my method of translation until somebody sez “enuf alredy” !

    Fondly, 🙂

  115. bdid1dr on September 5, 2013 at 7:02 pm said:

    Nick, Ellie, I’m just catching up with y’all. Ellie you mention the name “Reed”. Are you talking about Reed Johnson or Jim Reed? It has been a while since I’ve seen any comments from Reed Johnson. Last year he referred to his visit to Prague (Hradczany). He also contributed “comparative” horoscope materials (Voynich similarities to India’s various god/goddesses–mermaids, for one). Very interesting and very relevant to our explorations. Can you tell I’m a fan?

  116. Back to the beginning comments on this page in re the “sunflower”. If you are discussing B-408 f33v, I’d like to reiterate that the blossom being portrayed is Scabiosa caucasica. The very first word is cor-oll-as-aes-am” which translates to the latin curialum. The first word of the second line is tel-ec-aes-eus, which translates to “tellus (of the soil, earth, dirt). Scabiosa caucasica, is by its own nomenclatural terminology a plant which origins are Caucasic. The plant was used as a remedy for scabies. Scabies are mites in soil. When they transer to animal or human skin, the rash itches like crazy! The same mites cause “mange” on furry and wooly animals.
    Line four translates to el-otl-as” — “wash out” “as often as necessary” with “warm water (caliducaeum)”
    Pull out your latin dictionaries, friends, and compare. I sympathize with “The Brig’s” failed efforts to decode this document. Recently the US government has posted his efforts to the W-W-W.

  117. Bd1,
    If I believed that dispassionate interest in the manscript motivated any presently involved in Voynich studies, I think I might be able to help them assign accurate phonetic values to the glyphs.

    I do not believe that there is anyone involved in “Voynich studies” for whom the twin goals are not to (i) convince everyone to agree with their theory by sheer force of will or (ii) to hope that by offering ‘alternatives’ they will ultimately manage to confuse people so badly that the impasse is permanent.

    Both habits are typical of ‘think-tank’ methods, applied in this century to everything from denying global warming to arguing that acid rain is good for the soil.

  118. Diane: Just how much dispassion is required for solving mysteries? Note that I have never been on an archaeological dig. My all-time favorite book is James Michener’s fabulous novel “The Source”. So I prefer reading more “novel” forms of researching history (another novel, by Josephine Tey, “Daughter of Time”). I usually don’t respond to certain persons discussions which invariably obfuscate and often derail whole conversations which were relevant to Nick’s various posts. Earlier, I referred to Caroline Finkel’s fabulous non-fictional history of the Ottoman Empire, coinage, medals,and even mentions Catherine the Great, Tamerlane, Bayezid…..and Busbecq. Not everything has to be written in code. Not all history has to be written by professors. I don’t have blog. A lot of blogs I’ve seen lately don’t provide for responding to their discussions.

  119. Sorry, Bdid1dr
    I’m afraid I let things happening here in relation to environmental issues and social justice overflow into a bitter and disproportionate metaphor.

    But I do think that it is better to approach the Vms as an artefact to be understood than as a problem to be ‘solved’ or broken, or as little more than a basis for a ‘convincing’ novel-plot. One of the reasons that I dislike theory-driven historical research (as distinct from scientific experiment) is that people so easily become too possessive of their pet notion “my theory” that they become more focussed on that theory than on the object researched. In sciences, you are trained to look for the disproofs – to recognise that an experiment gives a negative result. Being too attached to a personal idea in historical studies tends to blind many to the equivalent… vide the casual way in which the radio-carbon dating or the flimsy nature of the ‘Rudolf owned it’ story are ignored. The cold shoulder, or positive outrage (not interest) tends to greet data that’s contra-indicative.
    I really don’t think a person needs a degree to do scientific experiments, or historical research, but in each case some training in method surely helps avoid disasters.

  120. Sorry Diane? There are too many of Nick’s fans and contributors who are being led to dead-end, and irrelevant posts when I lay out a word-for-word TRANSLATION of the contents of some fifteen folios in Boenicke manuscript 408 — and ‘someone’ immediately posts a totally unrelated point of view, or a citation which is irrelevant to my discussions, translations, and my citations. So, I may be calling my document “Down the Garden Path and Through the Boenicke 408 Maze”. Most likely many of Nick’s ‘regular’ visitors will not understand the reference. My apologies in advance, Nick. My eyesight is still deteriorating, and I’m becoming more frail with every birthday (70 y.o. 6 Sept.)
    Beady-Eyed-Wonder 😉

  121. Records research and training in methods, hmmm. I guess my expertise in records research and management of records storage for a large California city clerk’s office and and its city attorney’s office doesn’t qualify me for researching their historical Spanish documents (1700’s missionary correspondence). Some of the “Spanish” documents have never been translated because of “the archaic scribal “shorthand/cipher” which was meant only for the eyes of the scribes working for the Spanish monarchs. Because those documents are now in the city’s museum’s”controlled atmosphere” cases, they are no longer available for close scrutiny, much less research. Oh yes, they were all microfilmed before being put into museum storage. UC Berkeley has a copies of the microfilms. I wonder if they still have a microfilm reader.

  122. Bdid1r,
    I was speaking generally – about the various ways people might approach this manuscript, which methods I think have shown themselves more, or less productive, and why.

    You said,
    “Not all history has to be written by professors” – I agree, but history seems not to be what’s written if people become too attached to a possibility *about* an object before they’ve done much to understand the object dispassionately.

    I see you thought the remarks not about the question of research methods, but about you.

    I should have thought that might happen – please don’t distress yourself further.

  123. Distressed? Me? Not at all. Just 1-dring why a very intelligent person would propose a “game” which appears to be a variation of the “whispering circle” game. Why would any apparently brilliant person propose such a ridiculous game here on Nick’s blog?You need not respond to my ponderings.
    Nick, I understand why some of your long-term decoding friends are reluctant to view the Vms as cipher, even though you call your website/blog “Cipher Mysteries”. Have I been too focused on deciphering the VMs rather than decoding it? My apologies if I’ve upset your apple-cart or derailed your train of thought.

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