Since the Voynich Manuscript surfaced in about 1912, many of the best-known codebreaking experts have studied its writing (‘Voynichese’) in depth. Of them, many have concluded that it was written using a cipher system that was (a) stronger than a simple (monoalphabetic) substitution cipher, yet (b) mathematically weaker than a polyalphabetic cipher.

If the University of Arizona’s 2009 radiocarbon dating of the Voynich Manuscript’s vellum (which points to the first half of the fifteenth century) is correct, the most likely reason for (b) becomes blindingly obvious: polyalphabetic ciphers (such as those of Leon Battista Alberti, Abbot Trithemius, and Vigenère) hadn’t yet been invented.

So, does that mean that all pre-polyalphabetic ciphers were easy? Errm… nope. In fact: not even close.

Fourteenth Century Cryptography

Even though Gabriele de Lavinde’s 1379 collection of Vatican ciphers were, at heart, simple (monoalphabetic) ciphers, many also included “nulls” (special cipher shapes that code for nothing at all, and were added into ciphertexts specifically to try to misdirect codebreakers). In the hands of a tricksy encipherer, this can already become not at all straightforward to crack.

Even the very clever CryptoCrack doesn’t have a tool for predicting / identifying nulls in a given ciphertext: and it turns out (I believe) that this is a significantly harder technical challenge than you might think.

Moreover, many of the ciphers in Gabriel de Lavinde’s cipher ledger also contained a nomenclator: this was a list of typically a dozen-or-so shapes enciphering entire words, like a cross between a cipher and a code. (Broadly speaking, a ‘cipher’ enciphers a message a letter at a time, while a ‘code’ encodes a message a word at a time: so nomenclators blur the line between the two).

However, it’s far from clear (to me at least) whether nomenclators were added in the 14th century for security, speed or brevity. I suspect that to insist that it was just a matter of security would be to project principles of Schneieresque computer science onto the codemakers and codebreakers of the 1300s: the true answer would be some vague (and probably unworked-out) combination of all three.

Fifteenth Century Cryptography

At the beginning of the 15th century, however, things started to shift (slightly) in the world of codemaking. 1401 was when a secretary at the Duchy of Mantua produced the following cipher alphabet for corresponding with Simeone de Crema:


Now, in many ways, this is a particularly stupid cipher alphabet, because the top (core) line maps each character in the alphabet to its reversed-alphabet equivalent (i.e. ABCDE –> ZYXUT and vice versa). Yet what is simultaneously clever about it is that it allocates multiple shapes to each of the five vowels.

To be honest, I think it would be a bit of a stretch to infer from this (as David Kahn tries to) that the notion of defending against frequency analysis-based attacks must necessarily have been entering cryptographers’ minds as early as 1401. Rather, it seems many times more likely to me that this trick (now known as “homophonic substitution”) was originally devised for a far more mundane reason: to make it harder for codebreakers to tell which letters are vowels and which are consonants.

Fast forward to the middle of the fifteenth century (probably circa 1450-1455), and we can still see the same palette of tricks in action in the following (undated) cipher alphabet in the Tranchedino cipher ledger from Milan:


Apart from not using the same alphabet backwards as the base cipher alphabet, it would seem that not much has changed since 1401: the vowels are still obfuscated with multiple homophonic alternatives (though with only three different shapes per vowel here, rather than the four shapes per vowel used half a century before).

The more observant among you will also notice that the (formerly Tironian) shorthand abbreviation ‘9’ gets its own cipher shape, as does ℞ (i.e. Rx, if your prehistoric browser can’t render Unicode character ‘U+211E’).

However, the later cipher alphabet also has special cipher shapes for doubled letters, a few other common shorthand abbreviations (p, etc), and a few more nulls than before:


The nomenclator is noticeably beefed up, with this particular cipher boasting more than eighty special entries:


Another Mantuan Cipher (1450)

Given that the 1401 cipher was from the Duchy of Mantua, it’s interesting to have a look at a Mantuan ducal cipher from 1450 in the Tranchedino ledger. This now has two homophonic shapes per consonant (except for x, z, and the ‘9’ shorthand shape), and three homophonic shapes per vowel:


It then has a mini-codebook of common words (Come, Quando, Quanto, Non, etc) and some nulls:


Interestingly, this is followed by an entirely new section, with arbitrary shapes standing in for a whole load of syllable groups (ab, ac, ad, af, ag, etc):


Finally, the page finishes up with roughly the same (small) size of nomenclator as had been in use in Mantua half a century previously:


So, You Call This “Progress”?

There is a long-standing (and widespread) tendency among writers on cryptography to present the development of ciphers in the fifteenth century as a kind of prototype of the modern arms race.

It’s perfectly true that, as the number of parties enciphering messages grew (along with the first flush of modern diplomacy) in the mid-15th century (many historians quite reasonably date this to the 1454 Treaty of Lodi), so too did the number of people who became experienced at cracking them.

However, there seems to me to be no evidence suggesting any kind of awareness of frequency analysis in the West in the fifteenth century. While Leon Battista Alberti’s short book on ciphers (“De Cifris”, 1466/1467) did cover this very well, he appears to have devised the abstract principles himself: and the contents of his book seem never to have been shared with anyone outside the Vatican. Similarly, al-Qalqashandi’s (1412) Arabic encyclopaedia entry on frequency analysis (mentioned in Kahn) appears never to have been transmitted to the West.

Don’t get me wrong, cryptology and cryptography both genuinely advanced in the sixteenth century: but in the fifteenth century, code-breaking had no mechanisms, no abstract methodology to work from: and fifteenth century code-making relied, by and large, on exactly the palette of tricks that were in place by 1450 or so. The only noticeable difference was that of scale: more homophones, more syllables, more nulls, and bigger nomenclators.

What, Then, Of The Voynich Manuscript?

In almost all practical senses, I think it’s fair to note that the Voynich Manuscript stands outside the cipher-making traditions you can see embodied in the cipher alphabets described above. It would seem to have too few cipher shapes to be using homophonic cipher tricks, doubled letters, a nomenclator of commons words, or even nulls.

And yet it dates to this precise period: and – arguably the most telling cryptanalytical feature of all – there is still no modern-day consensus as to which shapes are vowels and which are consonants. Even now, the letters that resemble ‘a’, ‘e’ (sort of), ‘i’, and ‘o’ continue to convince people seeing the Voynich Manuscript with fresh eyes that they ‘must’ not only look like vowels, but ‘must’ also be vowels. However, the closer you look at these, the unlikelier and wobblier this conclusion gets.

So, here’s your paradox for the day: even though the Voynich Manuscript is almost certainly not using the homophonic trick of using multiple letters for each of the vowels that was in use as early as 1401, it very much seems that its author devised or adapted an alternative way of concealing the plaintext’s vowels, i.e. of answering the same basic cryptographic ‘problematique’.

But how did it do that?

100 thoughts on “Fifteenth century cryptography…

  1. bdid1dr on July 7, 2016 at 1:15 am said:

    Well, Nick: Over the years I’ve laid out the consonants which are combinations of vowels : oi — y aes — s ce – k aes-ceus – excuse + Chris (Christ) —–
    just a few

    Suppertime ! ciao ! chow !

    g -nite !


  2. Diane on July 7, 2016 at 6:23 am said:

    Frequency analysis was apparently quite well known by about .. I don’t know, the eighth or tenth century or something. I take your word for it that it wasn’t known in Europe, but evidently it was already in Baghdad, where a master of the postal service (Ibn Khurradadhbih, perhaps?) explained how to break a secret message by determining letter frequencies.
    I wrote about it some time ago, and even reproduced the passage – probably on ‘Findings’. If it interests you I’ll hunt for it.

  3. nickpelling on July 7, 2016 at 6:46 am said:

    Diane: Kahn’s “The Codebreakers” covers Arabic cryptology reasonably well (up to al-Qalqashandi). But my point is that from the evidence of the cryptography – that is, the code-making – there was no explicit knowledge in Europe of how to use letter frequencies to crack ciphers during the fifteenth century.

    I think Kahn misreads the use of homophony-employed-to-obfuscate-vowels as if it were a technological homophony-employed-to-combat-frequency-analysis step in the putative ‘crypto arms race’: as far as I can tell, there was no explicit frequency analysis in Europe before Alberti, nor indeed after him for a fair few decades (his “De Cifris” was an outlier, and was not diffused into the wider culture).

  4. Diane on July 7, 2016 at 6:54 am said:

    Yes, ok.. and I’d guess you read Cryptologia fairly regularly, so you’d know the paper by Abdelmalek Azizi and Mostafa Azizi, ‘Instances of Arabic Cryptography in Morocco’, Cryptologia, Vol.35, No.1 (Jan 2011) pp.47-57.

    In case you missed it (which means you didn’t read my post to Findings on Jan.20th., 2012 either :)… here’s the abstract, which mentions the 11thC. Now business connections between mainland Europe and north Africa mightn’t feature largely in the historical record, but I’ve mentioned a contract signed in Marseilles and have touched on Datini too..

    In the abstract to that paper published in Cryptologia, is said:

    … In this paper, we give an overview of some instances of cryptography which we have found in the Maghreb (from the 11th century to the 17th century): however, there are undoubtedly many other cases to be found in the manuscripts that have not been studied yet.


  5. nickpelling on July 7, 2016 at 7:01 am said:

    Diane: just because item X in place A predated item Y in place B does not mean that item X necessarily diffused to shape item Y.

    Looking at the many hundreds of objects themselves, I see no evidence that explicit knowledge of frequency analysis influenced any fifteenth century codemaking practice. Put another way: while the possibility of diffusion from Arabic cryptology to European cryptography exists, there is no internal evidence to support the notion that it actually did.

  6. Diane on July 7, 2016 at 7:40 am said:

    I see where the crossed-wires is happening. Where you begin from a premise that the written part of the text will have been produced in its present un-readable form in Europe, by an educated Latin Christian, and within the bounds of what we find in Latin Christian works on cipher to the early fifteenth century (how am I going so far with this sentence?), I am asking “where and when, and how, might a written text have been produced which, by the early fifteenth century, looked like the text in Beinecke MS 408?’
    Not saying one is good and the other bad; just that your post is written by first taking certain parameters as ‘givens’, and it took me a while to realise that we were asking different questions. I don’t see any reason, for example, for a copy of al-Qalqashandi’s Encyclopaedia to have made it to Europe before anyone on that side of the Mediterranean could use techniques he’d described. All you’d need is to have a business deal going with someone else who’d read it, surely.

  7. Diane on July 7, 2016 at 8:26 am said:

    Ah – now crossed comments. 🙂

    Your saying “just because item X in place A predated item Y in place B does not mean that item X necessarily diffused to shape item Y.”

    is *exactly* a point that I’ve had – and am still having – the most enormous difficulty getting across en re the botanical imagery. Well said.

  8. nickpelling on July 7, 2016 at 8:47 am said:

    Diane: putting the Voynich Manuscript entirely to one side, the core of my argument here is that there is no internal evidence of direct knowledge of frequency analysis within the cipher alphabets found in Italy in the fourteenth and fifteenth century. As such, I have found no indication that knowledge of Arabic cryptology (such as is found in al-Qalqashandi’s encyclopaedia) diffused into fifteenth century Italian cryptographic practice. I am entirely aware that it might have diffused there: but I have found no evidence whatsoever that it did diffuse there.

    And then back to the Voynich Manuscript: I always find it somewhat painful reading when you try to project an argument onto my virtual mouth involving some putative “educated Latin Christian” etc as an ex nihilo pure-point-of-faith premise. For me, the notion of a Northern Italian origin for the Voynich Manuscript is no more than a working hypothesis inferred from a number of characteristic details in the primary evidence that I think are most telling. I didn’t start from Northern Italy and then go out looking for supporting evidence, even if that way round seems to be the Voynichological norm. 😐

    Now putting the two parts together: for those people who aren’t you 🙂 and who consider a fifteenth century Northern Italian origin for the Voynich Manuscript to be a reasonable working hypothesis and who are also willing to consider the possibility that it is written in an unknown cipher system, it is surely interesting that (a) notions of explicit frequency analysis did not seem to factor into cipher alphabet design in that time and place; and (b) the core reason driving homophonic cipher adoption seems to have been not disruption of frequency analysis attacks but a desire to obfuscate the vowels.

  9. Rick on July 7, 2016 at 9:26 am said:

    Not directly related Nick, but is there any source (on your site or otherwise) that lists all of the symbols used in Voynich, with some type of frequency analysis?

  10. nickpelling on July 7, 2016 at 9:48 am said:

    Rick: there are lots of sites that do parts of what you want, but no single site that does it all. lists the various transcriptions used (I use EVA) is JKP’s take on writing Voynichese is good for visually analysing Voynichese, but takes a little while to properly grasp.
    For creating your own statistics, you might try my JavaScript state machine page:

  11. SirHubert on July 7, 2016 at 10:20 am said:

    Very interesting post, Nick – many thanks.

    Kahn is somewhat out of date on Arabic cryptology, and you might find this article interesting if you don’t already know it:

  12. nickpelling on July 7, 2016 at 10:34 am said:

    SirHubert: a very interesting book which I wasn’t previously aware of, thanks for that. Though I’m well aware of the existence and scope of Arabic cryptology, I don’t currently know of any examples in the cryptographic literature that point to the diffusion of its knowledge elsewhere: perhaps this will be covered in the book, or elsewhere within the series of books which this forms the start of.

  13. Nick,

    The encoding of rational numbers used by Arabs and medieval can be added to your stirs line. Fibonacci scaled rationsl number n/p by subtracting an LCM 1/m to write 2-term series as often as possible. LE Sigler transliterard the 1202 Liber Abaci in 2002 to include seven distinctions, approaches, to the methid. The most complicated, the seventh distinction selected two LCM 1/m values, for example 4/13 was encoded as a U it fraction series by subtracting 1/4 and 1/18 meant 4/13 = 1/4 1/18 1/468. Wikipedia dies not discuss this later point well. David Eppstrin, UCI suggests that a greedy algorithm was applied.

    More importantly, to intellectually understand Arab amd medieval encoding of rational numbers to unit fraction series, Greek methods that also encoded numbers as Ionian Or Ionian alphabetic letters needs to be discussed.

    Archimedes, Fibonacci and Gailileo used the same method to encode irrational numbers, even though Archimedes followed a much older Egyotian method that encoded rational numbers n/p by multiplying by LCM m written in the form m/m such a new scaled value mn/mp considered the best divisors of mp that summed to numeratot mn. For example, 4/13 was scaled by 4/4 so that 16/52 inspected the divisors of denominator 52 (52, 26, 13, 4, 3, 2, 1) that summed to numerator 16 (13, 2, 1). In the Egyotian era Ahmes would have hi-listed 13, 2, 1 in red such that Archimedes and Ahmes would have written out the same series in a longhand form that translates to our 21st century by

    4/13 (4/4) = 16/52 = (13+ 2 + 1)/52 = 1/4 + 1/26 + 1/52

    In different shorthand notations that have confused scholars to this day.

    To translate medieval, Arab, Greek and Egyptian unit fraction encoding methods, shorthand writings must add back missing intellectual steps to parse entire encoding methods of each era.

  14. Galileo, Fibonacci and Archimedes used the same vulgar fraction method to encode irrational numbers to eight or more decimal places, when translated into modern base 10 decimal arithmetic. The method stressed the binomial theorem that considered the Quotient (Q), the largest square number less than N, as double the inverse proportion of the Remainder (R), in the form 1/2Q meant the square root of 10 was estimated in three steps, the first step written as

    1. (3 + 1/6)(3 + 1/6) = 10 plus an error 1/36

    2. To reduced error 1/36 divide by 2(3 + 1/6) in vulgar fraction multiplication

    1/36 x 6/38 = 1/228 meant

    (3 + 1/6 – 1/228)(3 + 1/6 – 1/228) = 10 + (1/228)(1/228)

    Since the binomial theorem works vividly in thus inverse proportion co text,

    3. Divide (1/228)(1/228) by 2(3 + 1/6 – 1/228) in vulgar fractions to complete the problem as generally duscussed by

  15. bdid1dr on July 7, 2016 at 6:18 pm said:

    Hmm, I’m not going to go there — fractions, inverse proportions, binomial theorem, parallelograms, square roots of odd numbers I’ll stick to translating the Spanish and Nahuatl dialogues in B-408 and the Florentine Codex.
    Do I sense a huge sigh of relief ?

  16. Kahn’s Classic code breaking book stressed frequency distributions that I learned in the late 1950s working on Russian and Arabic language codes. Kahn’s otherwise excellent book did not stress the use of prime numbers and number theory as medieval, Arab, and Greek used to scale rational numbers, a skill known to the majority of numerate medieval cryptologists.

    In passing, our 1585AD base 10 decimal system encoded rational numbers by mixing the binomial theorem with an algorithm as Pascal’s triangle. Read Oystein Ore “Number Theory and its History”, a 1948 book that I studied in 1964, earning a math degree.

    Sorry that a few members of this group run from math and rational numbers, when mentioned in passing, a well known skill, and possible key to certain codes, created by numerate medieval and later cryptologists.

    My main points remain. Math ideas should be considered , at some point, when hard to decode medieval texts resist frequency distribution and other basic code breaking attacks.

  17. Diane on July 8, 2016 at 2:17 am said:

    Absolutely agree with you that:
    “For me, the notion of a Northern Italian origin for the Voynich Manuscript is no more than a working hypothesis inferred from a number of characteristic details in the primary evidence that I think are most telling. I didn’t start from Northern Italy and then go out looking for supporting evidence, even if that way round seems to be the Voynichological norm,”

    – except that what you still see as a working hypothesis, I’ve pretty much come to as the end-point after having considered all other aspects of the manuscript (as far as we know them) a- materials, palette, imagery, earlier appraisals and so on – not forgetting the more recent opinions of Alain Touwaide.

    I’m rather more fierce than you about those who start from a desired outcome and then go looking for supporting evidence, as I’m sure you know. I call it the “theory-first” approach.

    – To describe men of the renaissance elites that won’t raise hackles today, when we pride ourselves on being multi-cultural and religiously tolerant, but I’m defining people of that ‘humanist’ group and not you.

    For people (including me) “who consider a fifteenth century Northern Italian origin for the Voynich Manuscript to be a reasonable working hypothesis and who are also willing to consider the possibility that it is written in an unknown cipher system..”

    The difference here is that I’m willing to attribute that origin for the manuscript as an artefact – in fact I’d say that’s the opinion I’d give of the artefact, but I cannot attribute first enunciation of what is *in* the manuscript to any humanist ‘author’ of that time. There the internal evidence is opposed to such a view, and the imagery in particular, not only because of what is drawn and the way it is drawn, but the range and common theme through the various sections.

    I’m certainly among those willing to consider that the written part of the text is in cipher, especially since the information expressed in the imagery was potentially of such enormous value, but I’m very impressed by the fact that in a century, with the best cryptographers and a fair whack of computer power and high-level decryption programs, the text still hasn’t been shown to be in cipher. And overall, I think an enciphered text would ill-suit the sort of thing contained in the manuscript and its imagery. You must admit, a cipher text accompanied on every page with illustrations is a little unusual. 🙂

    As far

  18. nickpelling on July 8, 2016 at 6:34 am said:

    Diane: it might not always have been so unusual. Perhaps the other forty-seven enciphered volumes in the same series were all burnt on Savonarola’s bonfire? The caprices of historical happenstance fall far further away than the keenest eye can see. 😐

  19. nickpelling on July 8, 2016 at 11:30 am said:

    Diane: given that the floor around the Voynich Manuscript is stacked high with the carcasses of strongly-held certainties that were subsequently proved woefully incorrect, I should add that “working hypothesis” is as far as I’m prepared to go. 😉

  20. Diane on July 8, 2016 at 4:05 pm said:

    This is by the bye, but I’ve stumbled over a lovely history for laypersons in a paper written by Katherine Ellison. Have you seen it?

    ‘1144000727777607680000 wayes’: Early Modern Cryptography as Fashionable Reading.

    It’s in the Journal of the Northern Renaissance. Online, the papers are scholarly though the format looks blog-like.

  21. bdid1dr on July 8, 2016 at 4:07 pm said:

    @ Milo :

    Fibonacci — Fun ! Can we use Fibonacci for making what look like snow-flakes?

    @ Diane: Sahagun’s ‘diary’ (B-408) was written upon manuscript material from his parents’ supply. He may have gotten additional manuscript material from the nearby university (which he attended after becoming a monk).

    After many years of developing a school for boys in “New Spain”, Sahagun was accused, by a monk of another order, of being an heretic. ALL of Sahagun’s written material was confiscated and reviewed by the Inquisition. He was cleared by the Inqusitioners — and most of his written works ended up in Florence. His diary (now known as B-408) was never returned to him.

    Several centuries later, Mr. Voynich (a book collector) bought the diary from a small abbey’s store-room which was being closed down by the monks.
    The rest of the story rests in Boenicke’s storage/archives.

    Somehow, people, ignore references to Roger Bacon and/or Shakespeare. Several years ago Boenicke held an exhibit in the Shakespeare Library which was supposed to be all about the “Voynich” manuscript. Apparently, it was not about the manuscript which apparently was not being displayed; but about Mr. Voynich’s discovery and attempted decoding.
    Round n’ round we go…..


  22. Diane on July 8, 2016 at 4:27 pm said:

    The hypotheses are woeful because they’re usually based on a hope that the answer may lie within the range of whatever they happen to know already.

    From the time the ‘hypothesis’ is formed, it seems very difficult for most to keep their mind on the manuscript: defending and expanding the hypothesis and networking to have the hypothesis “deemed fact” then takes most of the effort expended.

    Yes, I generalise, but then that’s why we have science.

  23. nickpelling on July 8, 2016 at 6:39 pm said:

    Diane: I think that what you present there is a very negative and narrow view of hypotheses. In fact, the point of hypotheses is to help focus people’s efforts on determining revealing tests to be performed and good questions to be asked: and if performing / asking those has the effect of killing the original hypothesis, then hooray! Because we now know more than when we started. 🙂

  24. SirHubert on July 9, 2016 at 8:54 am said:

    Nick: if fifteenth century ciphers were being strengthened by the addition of nulls and homophones, doesn’t that imply that simple monoalphabetic substitution was no longer thought secure? If so, how were these ciphers being cracked without some kind of frequency analysis, even if that was based on empirical observation?

  25. Donald Vaughn on July 9, 2016 at 9:13 pm said:

    According to Merriam-Webster
    sorry copy and paste

    Full Definition of hypothesis
    play play \-ˌsēz\

    1 a : an assumption or concession made for the sake of argument b : an interpretation of a practical situation or condition taken as the ground for action

    2 : a tentative assumption made in order to draw out and test its logical or empirical consequences

    3 : the antecedent clause of a conditional statement

    It is almost a certainty, that any and all ideas regarding the Manuscript when treated as Hypothesis will inevitably lead to the originators seeking evidence further and further afield. It is easier to seek evidence for a hypothesis in the known than to delve for internal evidence in an unknown.
    We currently know quite a bit about the Manuscript but what we don’t know is what, when put together does all of it mean. In other words does A+B=C, and if so why does it equal C!

  26. Diane on July 10, 2016 at 10:07 am said:

    True, the *theory* holds that
    “hypotheses… help focus people’s efforts on determining revealing tests to be performed and good questions to be asked: and if performing / asking those has the effect of killing the original hypothesis, then hooray! ”

    – except that in practice this doesn’t happen – not in Voynich studies anyway.

    In Voynich studies, any “good questions” have to posed by the same person who first formulated the hypothesis, or by a mate of same.

    Otherwise, no matter how good the question might be, nor how good the answer, nor how good the evidence and reasoning between the question and answer, there is one of two things which I’ve seen happen over these past years. (Maybe it was different before 2001-2 or so.

    What happens will be either 1) the substance of the argument and/or evidence is lifted and re-formed so that it seems to agree with the hypothesis rather than cast doubt on it [not a technique I’ve seen Nick use, though] or 2) the person who is questioning and/or working to address a “good question” will be- shall we say – very warmly discouraged from continuing.

    As example of a good, and fundamental question: Who first researched the Voynich botanical folios, concluding from their comparative studies that the section represented a medical herbal – rather than, say, the pattern book of a tapestry-weaver, wood-carver, or mural painter? Where can one read that person’s research so as to evaluate their evidence and reasoning?

  27. nickpelling on July 10, 2016 at 12:06 pm said:

    Sir Hubert: there are many ways to solve simple substitution ciphers without frequency analysis. If you do enough of them, you can get to the point where you can almost read them off the page.

  28. nickpelling on July 10, 2016 at 12:44 pm said:

    Diane: there is no foundational Voynich research, botanical or otherwise. That the herbal pages might be anything apart from herbal pages was something few people questioned, arguably until I proposed in 2006 that the Herbal-B pages might be machine drawings in disguise. 🙂

  29. bdid1dr on July 10, 2016 at 3:36 pm said:

    Well, Nick, I take your ‘fifteenth-century-cryptography’ comment seriously. What bothers me is when some written and illustrated document is assumed to be written in code (cryptography) rather than a pictorial document which was discussed in two (valid) languages. I reiterate: Spanish and Nahuatl appear in every page (folio) of B-408 (which no-one at Boenicke has been able to ‘decode’.

    Probably what is causing the most confusion is the defensive actions of the Inquisitioners when they were unable to find ANY heretical remarks/commentary in Fray Sahagun’s diary and/or his students’ translations of twelve books of the History of New Spain. The Inquisition did not return Fray Sahagun’s diary to him. Nor was his twelve-volume “Historia General of New Spain” returned to him.

    Many years later, Sahagun’s diary ended up being bought from a small Papal Library , in the twentieth century, by Mr. Voynich. The “Historia General” ended up being called the “Florentine Codex”, after being passed around to various private libraries for a few centuries.

    So, no code. Skilled translators (SPANISH/LATIN/MEXICAN) can probably solve the “Voynich Manuscript” within a day or so. I’ve already referred you to Senor Felipe Fernandez Armesto and Senor Bernal Diaz. I can’t find a small book which discussed the ‘colors’ of the New World (and the minerals used for the different colors).

    I’m hoping you can find a good translator who can work with the various very confused, but curious-minded “Voynichers”.

  30. xplor on July 11, 2016 at 2:55 am said:

    The time has,come,” the Walrus said To talk of many things:: Of Forced perspective and of Trompe-l’œil  and maybe Epistemological anarchism  with Paul Feyerabend.
    No were in the Voynich manuscript are there any ideas that lead you out of the dark ages.

  31. Diane on July 11, 2016 at 3:33 am said:

    Thanks for the very civil answer.

    I guess my problem is that, in the pragmatic sciences, we hypothesise about implications of known items and do so within a limited range – the limits those of firmly-established data. Without any such groundwork, you get highly elaborate storylines, but they have no more objective reality than a detail in some game-plan for an online role playing game. As long as it fits the group’s preferred narrative, it’s ok. Objective reality seems almost irrelevant. If things were otherwise, we’d be taking the time and trouble to at least investigate and review bdidr’s claimed translation. And Don Hoffmann’s identifying the orthography of the month names as similar to that on astronomical instruments made in France under Persian influence wouldn’t have been dismissed as ‘unoriginal’ when it seems to be to have been very much so. Your ‘machines’ idea was certainly original. 🙂

  32. The French orthography of the month names – in particular the reading of ‘yong’ – was already noted in March 2012 by Thomas Sauvaget on his blog.

  33. Word people think and write differently than number people. Word people think inside out. Number people think outside in. This discussion group seems focused on inside out issues, and not clear abstract codes used over the last 2,000 years.

    Concerning my naysayer that suggested a modern Fibonacci can encided a flower, nature’s rhythm sure, JJ Sylvester in 1891 was first to muddle Fibonacci’s 7th distinction as a greedy algorithm. The historical Fibonacci simply ciphered 3-term unit fraction series, such as 4/13 = 1/4 + 1/18 + 1/468.

    Medieval abstractions included our base 10 decimal system, irrational numbers Scaled by a binomial theorem, and an algorithm, and Babylonian square root, that I learned in high school, computing one decimal digit at a time, taking 8 steps to approximate an irrational number that Fibonacci achieved in three steps.

    Beauty and simplicity of use are muss for any encoding and deciding system. Too bad that the majority of this group think inside out, looking at trees rather than forests, the later a rich world of medieval cryotologists.

  34. I thank Sir Hubert for linking the Historynof Arab Cryotology and Cryotanalysis. Overall the book misses critical math encoding system by relying on the false premise that Arabs created zero. Arabs used the Greek two dots symbol, and ended Greek ciphered numbers recorded as Ionian and/or Dorian letters.

    Going back in time, looking for the forests of numbers that Fibonacci was instructed by Arabs to use, precise decoding of the Liber Abaci and other texts, is required. For example Greeks encoded rather numbers by building tables of n/p as the Akhmim Papyrus passed down to us to decode n/3, …, n/31 a text that Kevin Brown and I worked on in 1995. Today it is clear that the o,der Egyptian system of scaling n/p by LCM m, such that mn/mp inspected denominator mp for prime and composite numbers that summed to numerator mn, made simple by working in tables.

    Arabs modified the Greek system to a subtraction context as Fibonacci reported by seven dustibctions per LE Sigler’s Incomplete transliteration published in English for the first time in 2002. My summary paper may be worth reading. Zero was not an issue, and was not a Arab innovation.

    It is important to actually decode Arab and medieval math texts yourself, and not rely on incomplete work of others.

  35. As explicit proof of Greek encoding of rational numbers, Kevin Brown’s failed 1995 attempts to decide the Akhmim Papyrus and older Egyptian fraction methods passed down from Egypt, from Ahmes’ 2/n table, to Greeks are summarized by

  36. To directly decode pre-Greek unit fraction encoding systems two papers were published. in 2002, the 1900 BCE Egyptian Mathematical Leather Roll -EMLR was analyzed in a manner consistent with the work of Kevin Brown, falsely reported that the 26 line text used an algrbraic identity to split 1/p conversions to awkward and concise fraction series built upon LCM m in a subtraction context.

    Only by thoroughly discussing this issue with David Eppstein, UCI, did I learn and read LE Sigler’s 2002 “Liber Abaci” translation from Latin to English. Clearly, all Fibonnaci and Arab seven distinctions were based on rational numbers n/p first subtracted LCM 1/m to obtain two-series as often as possible. When impossible a second LCM 1/m was selected to calculate three-term unit fraction series, as 4/13 = 1/4 1/18 1/468 has been used as an example.

    A second paper was published in 2006 that freshly decoded a grain weight and measures unit called a hekat per

    Note that one hekat was multiplied by 64/64 in the LCM m manner used by Ahmes in his 2/n table, and all 87 Rhind Mathematicsp Papyrus problems, the last of which was passed down to the medieval era as “Going to St. Ives”, a mod 7’geometric proportion problem discussed by Fibonacci, and manner others. The hekat was divided into n parts by multiplying

    64/64 by 1/m

    For example, let n = 3

    64/64 x 1/3 = 64/3 + (5/5) remainder (R) 1/64

    21/64 + 5/3(1/320) =

    (16 + 4 + 1)/64 (hekat) + (1 + 2/3)(1/320) =

    (1/4 + 1/16 + 1/64)(hekat) + (1 + 2/3)(ro) since 1/320 of a hekat = ro

    Let me stop here. I have gone too deeply into Egyptian fraction forests, issues that muddled Greek shop keepers as Plato discussed in “The Republic”, a link is available for anyone that wishes to read Plato in this context.

  37. SirHubert on July 12, 2016 at 9:13 am said:

    NIck: sure, monoalphabetic substitution ciphers are simple, but having learned to crack them (mainly) through letter frequency analysis it’s hard for me to ‘forget’ that technique and imagine trying other approaches.

    So I had a look at Simonetta’s Primo, inspiciendum est for a fifteenth-century view. It’s reprinted with French commentary here:

    …and you’re dead right. There’s nothing at all here about letter frequency analysis, and lots about identifying vowels. There are also lists of common, short words to be tried as cribs.

    What I find curious, though, is that just about all of Simonetta’s techniques can be neutralized, partly or entirely, simply by removing word spaces. So you can’t rely on Italian words always ending with vowels, or that a one-letter word in Latin is almost certainly the letter ‘a’. I just wonder how likely it is that Simonetta himself wouldn’t have appreciated that.

    If letter frequency analysis was allowing Simonetta to read just about anything which came his way, would he really make his knowledge of this technique public? He was clearly familiar with the idea that some digraphs and trigraphs were more common than others – is it really likely that he didn’t appreciate that this applies to letters also, and in a far more useful way?

  38. The Plato link follows:

    On a dozen other Egyptian, Greek and medieval unit fraction papers can be found. In the next day a two a formal Arab math from 800 CE will be posted to discuss the entire time period of unit fraction math, from 2050 BCE to its demise in 1600 CE in Europe, a slightly long in the Arabic speaking world when modern Arabic written language erased Ghobar Arabic words that were in use in 800 CE.

  39. nickpelling on July 12, 2016 at 1:58 pm said:

    Sir Hubert: the idea of removing spaces first appears in the cryptographic timeline at the beginning of the sixteenth century, in Venice. It and frequency analysis are not fifteenth century tricks – that’s kind of the point of the post.

  40. bdid1dr on July 12, 2016 at 2:44 pm said:

    Two one-letter words — ‘A’ and/or ‘I’ Example I am meeting a very interesting……


  41. Base 10 decimals were approved by the Paris Academy in 1585 CE tends to hide the deeper encoding of rational numbers considered by Arabs in 800 CE. Placing the Arab innovation in validated historical context consider

  42. SirHubert on July 13, 2016 at 9:46 am said:

    Nick: with respect, your post doesn’t mention anything about word-spaces being retained (sometimes? always?) in fifteenth century ciphers, so thank you for clarifying that. But I must also confess that I hadn’t appreciated that Alberti explains frequency analysis quite so precisely – although you do make this clear in your post.

    Your assessment of the techniques used to strengthen ciphers during the fifteenth century is interesting and seems very fair, as far as I can judge. I’m sure you’re also right that many of these were primarily aimed at hiding vowels. And you’re quite possibly right that letter frequency analysis wasn’t known, or perhaps its significance not fully appreciated, before Alberti. After all, its original application to Arabic was for the study of the Qur’an and hadith, I think, rather than as a cryptological tool.

    But Alberti’s work, written in 1466/1467, is the clearest possible evidence that frequency analysis was understood by at least one person in the West in the third quarter of the fifteenth century. So I’m afraid I find your bold and rather bald claim that you can find no evidence suggesting any kind of awareness of frequency analysis in the West in the fifteenth century very challenging.

    For possible interest, I found an edition of Alberti’s work (in Latin) here:

  43. The link for the Arab Numerals paper is broken. Ending my time here, unless requested for additional information, the following link should work:

    Best Regards to all.


  44. bdid1dr on July 13, 2016 at 2:12 pm said:

    @ Milo :

    Because I was a ‘spelling genius’ , and because I couldn’t read the lips of various teachers who would be scribbling numbers or words on the blackboard (with their backs facing the student audience — even simple mathematics –multiplication in particular– was my downfall (though I never had to repeat even a single semester)
    Thank you for your kind offerings throughout the years.

    And, of course, Nick for his careful reviews of our contributions .
    bd 😉

  45. nickpelling on July 13, 2016 at 6:42 pm said:

    SirHubert: Alberti’s de cifris made no discernible impact before the sixteenth century, but I’ll have to leave the justification for that to a separate 1000-word post. 🙂

  46. Diane on July 14, 2016 at 4:43 am said:

    Dear all,
    I think Nick is the better person to respond to rene zandbergen’s comment of July 11th., 2016, and I hope if I am mistaken on any point that Nick will correct me, but I shouldn’t like readers to mistake the different issues here: ‘first’ versus ‘original’ and so on.

    Rene wrote:

    The French orthography of the month names – in particular the reading of ‘yong’ – was already noted in March 2012 by Thomas Sauvaget on his blog.

    The first person to posit the language as Occitan (Occitania, by default meaning part of modern France) was Jorge Stolfi as I understand it. So he could be said the first to say the month names were of French origin.

    Another writer suggested they were in a dialect of Judeo-Catalan that was also spoken in part of northern France, and he referred particularly to the orthography (though not to the writing style or palaeography). That was Artur Sixto, who could be said the first to consider those things.

    Nick Pelling, in his book of 2006 took some pains over both orthography and palaeography and some of that is reproduced in posts to this blog, so the reader can decide for him/herself what new (‘first’) observations and original insights should be attributed to Nick.

    Then came Thomas Sauvaget, who collected some nice examples, showing that – more or less as everyone expected – the orthography and hand were in a general sense ‘French’.

    The work done by Don Hoffmann showed, more exactly, a close correspondence between that orthography (spelling) and the astronomical context – very relevant to the calendar section with its star-holders, and he further contributed the original insight that this occurs on works which we know relate fairly directly to a Persian tradition in astronomical instruments – and ones made considerably earlier than Beineke MS 408.
    Don is thus ‘first’ to demonstrate a connection to the astronomical matter; first to show it occurs *in that context* within the region around Picardy (where I had already shown that forms for the standing human archer first occur in Latin works and near where Sixto describes that dialect of Judeo-Catalan having been used and, further, adjacent to regions such as Calais where connection to England and Flanders was especially strong).

    Thus, Don’s original research moved the study forward – from Stolfi’s initial “Occitan” or Sixto’s “Judeo-Catalan” to a smaller region and earlier period, while proving that, indeed, the calendar inscriptions may relate to contemporary astronomical studies *influenced from Persia*.

    Within that line, Thomas Sauvaget’s study of the hand and any particular items of orthography sit neatly and well deserve credit. If one were not inclined to give that credit, I suppose you could argue that Stolfi had first said the names were written in French style.

  47. This is a bit OT in a very interesting thread.

    The web page of Thomas Sauvaget is quite clear and does not talk about a “general sense”. Unfortunately I have recently been unsuccessful in posting here with links included, so I will not try.
    Occitan is not French, of course.

    Trying to argue who was ‘first’ is not possible if one does not have all relevant material available, and when it is related to theories about the Voynich MS one never has.

    At least one could still read the material that *is* available.

    I refer to the part of my web page that is concerned with the writing in the MS. There’s a section near the end about these month names, which also has a link to Thomas Sauvaget’s page, and further clarifies that Sergio Toresella already said in 1995 that both the language and the handwriting are French.

    I can only recommend to read the page of Thomas Sauvaget, which I had already linked before Don Hoffmann found the reference to the astrolabe in (I believe) David King’s book “The cIphers of the monks”.
    I did not realise at the time that the astrolabe was already mentioned by Thomas Sauvaget as well.

  48. nickpelling on July 14, 2016 at 3:23 pm said:

    Rene: if you replace the first : and the last . with spaces, links get through fine (I reassemble them when moderating the comments).

    As far as the French / Occitain / Picard / German zodiac labels go, the words do not match any language perfectly: my own palaeographic argument is that the Pisces month ends with c cedilla, which would be characteristic of Occitain rather than anything else. But I doubt that will cause any other reading not to flourish etc.

  49. SirHubert on July 14, 2016 at 6:18 pm said:

    Nick: to say that Alberti’s De Cifris had no discernible impact is a different thing – but you may well be right.

    I think that anyone who wants to argue that the Voynich Manuscript is enciphered polyalphabetically should be given an Alberti cipher wheel and a copy of the EVA transcription, and then told to encipher the entire thing – without errors. I’d be most interested to see how they got on…

  50. nickpelling on July 14, 2016 at 6:43 pm said:

    SirHubert: I’m pretty sure we could eliminate polyalphabetic cipher systems from the list of Voynich candidates even had Alberti written de cifris a century earlier. But bear in mind that Alberti’s cipher wheel only steps every few words, so errors are not as critical as with Vigenere etc.

  51. Diane on July 15, 2016 at 8:36 am said:

    For the general-interest readers.
    Apropos of that astrolabe and ciphers, might I mention a post written by Nick in 2010 without seeming sycoph’ic.

    (for American reader) That date in plaintext is July 8th., 2010.

  52. Nick, with respect to the Voynich Manuscript’s code, consider the following:
    1. The VM consists of over 200 pages, written fluidly with no corrections. This indicates that even if the manuscript was copied, the code application and the alphabet must be relatively simple.
    2. The left and right hand margins are even. If you study the text carefully you will realize that the author began writing from left to right and when he came to the right hand margin he stopped and continued writing on the next line. There are some single and double letters at the end of one line and the beginning of the next. This indicates that some words were split in two. Folio 2r line 4 has a single ‘8’ at the end of the line and folio 3v line 6 has a mirror image ‘s’ at the end of the line. There are many other examples.
    3. Although simple words representing prepositions , conjunctions , definite or indefinite articles are expected, there are no single and few double letter words except at line endings. Were they omitted or included within other words?
    4. I am not exactly sure of the average length of the words in the VM’s text, but 5 or 6 letters seems reasonable. What happened to the lengthy words found in all languages? Were they split into two or more words, just as words at the end of many lines seem split.
    5. A sequence of words that differ by only one letter occurs fairly frequently in the VM’s text and cause single letter substitution codes to yield babble-like text. For this reason Elizabeth Friedman has stated that simple substitution codes do not work.
    6. Why are some of the VM’s symbols or letters, like ‘tl’, found at the beginning of a word, or a ‘g’ at the end of a word? Was the order of the letters in a word not important?
    The above observations have caused me to conclude that the VM’s code is probably based on anagrams, with prepositions, conjunctions, definite or indefinite articles included within words and longer words being split. I am well aware that anagrams are degenerate, but the VM only uses anagrams of single words, not like Galileo’s famous anagram of an entire sentence. The number of permutations of an anagram is determined mathematically by [n(n-1)(n-2)…..1], where n represents the number of letters in a word. An anagram of 3 letters would have 3x2x1=6 permutations. For example, the letters ast give six permutations ast, sta, tas, sat, ats, tsa but generates only one sensible word, namely ‘sat’. Typically a six letter anagram will correspond to at most two sensible words.
    After reading this take a look at my latest article, The Voynich plant names decoded.
    Edith Sherwood

  53. nickpelling on July 17, 2016 at 8:35 am said:

    Edith: Philip Neal has similarly pointed to “ordered anagrams” (for want of a better term) as a possible explanation for a number of the features you point to here. Yet (as you already doubtless know I’m going to say) it is an explanation that yields more problems than it solves.

    For instance, it does not explain the systematic difference in lengths between A words and B words, nor the different patterns that appear within words in different parts of the text (eg labels).

    The late Mark Perakh inferred from his study of the former that there was strong evidence of abbreviation within Voynichese, where (for example) EVA -y might well be a token for ‘truncatio’, scribal shortening of a longer word.

    The biggest problem with strongly ordered anagram proposals is that there are thousands of places where such rules cannot hold true. For example, any word such as EVA aror cannot be a strongly ordered anagram unless you treat or and ar as separately parsed tokens.

    If you then abandon the strong ordering constraint, you end up with just anagrams: however, it is the strong ordering that you were relying upon in order to explain away the apparent structure of Voynichese words.

    So: my counterargument would simply reduce to the observation that you need strongly ordered anagrams (not just any old anagrams) to explain much of the word structure, yet there are many thousands of Voynichese words that are incompatible with strongly ordered anagrams. Hope that helps.

  54. bdid1dr on July 17, 2016 at 2:46 pm said:

    Hello Edith !
    Its been a long time since we discussed the palm trees and their use (oil for lanterns, etc, bronze work, ……
    Not very long after I lost contact with you, I discovered Nick’s great forum. I still hold firmly to interpreting Fray Sahagun’s native South American scribes and artists works. No cryptology, no African scribes, Fray Sahagun received an education at Salamanca. Not long after finishing his studies, he boarded ship for “New Spain”.
    Sahagun tells the rest of his story after arriving in South America. He taught at the School for Boys near Mexico City. Two or three of those boys became interpreters for Fray Sahagun — as well as becoming scribes and illustrators.
    The so-called Voynich manuscript was the start of what would become an epic diary and illustrated manuscript of all the things of the “New World/New Spain”.
    Compare the contents of the “Florentine Manuscript” with the contents of the “Voynich Manuscript”. I have been having a most fascinating ‘history lesson”, both on Nick’s “Voynich” puzzle pages and another fascinating discussion concerning the mysterious death of Ricky McCormick (twentieth century).
    Hang in there ! Fascinating fun!

  55. Nick, You might change your mind about anagrams if you read my article, The Voynich plant names decoded,
    I identify 111 plants by decoding their names using Italian as the language, the AVA alphabet, Florio’s 1611 Italian dictionary and a modified code based on anagrams. Check it out.

  56. nickpelling on July 19, 2016 at 5:41 am said:

    Edith: reading your article made me completely certain that there is no practical chance that anagrams had anything to do with the Voynich Manuscript. So it did change my mind, though not in the direction you were hoping.

    But at least you’re looking for answers in the right century. 🙂

  57. Diane on July 19, 2016 at 5:53 am said:

    Edith, I must respectfully disagree with the introduction to your paper – as far as I’ve got so far. You speak as if everyone else described the plants as a ‘mishmash’ – Dana Scott certainly didn’t; neither did John Tiltman, nor do I. But some have recognised that the imagery is constructed to refer to more than a single plant – composite or ‘group’ imagery rather than the sole plant ‘portrait’. I do not see why that sort of economical expression should be misrepresented as if it were impossible, or somehow irrational.

    You also say “Ethel Voynich correctly identified folio 9v, as representing a viola and folio 2v, a waterlily, folio 56r is obviously a sundew.”

    I’m not sure that anyone can call any of the posited identifications “correct”; we can only say that we and/or others agree, and that the drawing’s interpretation is, or isn’t, adequately explained.

    I agree that folio 9v represents a group of the violas, one of which is the tricolor. As I recall, your initial identification was as a pansy – though perhaps memory fails on that point. As for the “waterlily” it is plainly nothing of the sort, for it has a cup-shaped calyx and a protruding stamen, clearly showing the anther and filaments.. more like an hibiscus, really – except I know of no hibiscus with that nasturtium-like leaf – do you? But plainly no water-lily.

    As for the drawing on f.56r being “plainly” meant for a sundew… I’d like to see the detailed analysis of the drawing which led to that conclusion. I have yet to see a sundew growing on a stem like that, and frankly to me the flower looks far more like a morning glory. Which is not to say your identification may not one day be proven correct, only that it is not at all “obvious” or self-evident. Sorry if this sounds a little cursory.

  58. Diane on July 19, 2016 at 5:56 am said:

    PS Edith – It will be no surprise to hear that I fuss about proper attribution and credits. For the past six years, I’ve been trying to correctly cite your qualifications – with a Ph.D it’s usual to add the name of the institution from which the degree was gained. Could you let me have that information – if not here, then perhaps by emailing me – address is on voynichimagery. Thank you.

  59. Diane on July 19, 2016 at 7:11 am said:

    Edith, sorry to trouble you again, but another credit which I may have to adjust. I had thought that my identification of Sumach (Monday, December 5, 2011) was the first reference to that plant in connection with the botanical folios. At the time, I did survey the current literature, including your website, but perhaps I missed it?

    I see that your website is now dated “2015”.

    I had identified Sumac[h] in connection with folio 16r, of course, though I recall that about that time your associate “Steve D” was regularly announcing discovery of plants which I had recently identified (others being e.g. the Indian spinach vine, the Kuzu etc.etc.), though always and rather curiously attached to some other folio, without any explanation of reasoning offered. I had thought it was he who announced (after I had) his ‘discovery’ of Sumach.. am I mistaken? Is it your proposal, and if so should your opinion be dated 2015?

  60. SirHubert on July 19, 2016 at 11:10 am said:

    Edith’s third and fourth points are directly relevant to this thread. There is a puzzling absence from Voynichese of short words – particles, prepositions, whatever – and indeed of very long words too. Torsten Timm’s analysis is interesting in its findings, although I’m not sure about the conclusions he draws, but he highlights this point very well.

    If Nick is right, we should expect a fifteenth century Italian cipher text to preserve word divisions. Including one- or two-letter words ‘within’ longer words, or omitting them entirely as Edith speculates, seems difficult.

    Otherwise, while I can see why Philip Neal raised anagramming as a possibility, I can only say that Nick’s explanation of why the structure of Voynichese cannot be explained by strong anagrams (where each letter in a word has to be arranged strictly alphabetically in its anagram) is spot on. Whether some other kind of letter ordering is going on, however, is another matter.

  61. nickpelling on July 19, 2016 at 2:07 pm said:

    SirHubert: as Cicco Simonetta wrote, we should expect words ending in vowels, e to be the most frequent single letter word, la le li lo to dominate two letter words, and che to dominate three letter words if the plaintext is vulgar Italian.

    Working backwards from there, I predicted that EVA d- is (and) and that EVA qo- is la/le/li/lo. As for che, who knows?

    But that’s already too long a throw into the dark for most people, so what can you do?

  62. Diane on July 19, 2016 at 2:22 pm said:

    sorry – I’ll make this the last comment for a while – but when you speak of vulgar latin, do you mean one of the Italian dialects or clerical Latin?

    From the odd encounters I’ve had with these in the medieval sources, it seems the various dialects sometimes had curious orthography. As example, Goldschmidt’s mention of “conventions of the Venetian dialect… In Venetian spelling x would stand for our consonant “sh,” ch for k…”

    Wouldn’t that sort of thing wreak havoc with the way the Voynich statistical data is interpreted?

    That article by Goldschmidt, btw:

    E. P. Goldschmidt and G. R. Crone, ‘The Lesina Portolan Chart of the Caspian Sea’, The Geographical Journal , Vol. 103, No. 6 (Jun., 1944), pp. 272-278.

  63. nickpelling on July 19, 2016 at 2:36 pm said:

    Diane: Simonetta used the phrase ‘vulgar tongue’ to refer to Tuscan. Venetian was indeed different, but – in its written form – not irredeemably so. Spoken Venetian, however, is still close to impenetrable for those not born to the islands. 🙂

  64. bdid1dr on July 19, 2016 at 4:07 pm said:

    Nick, Diane, Edith: Again (perhaps tediously) I refer you ALL to Fray Sahagun’s diary (the so-called “Voynich” manuscript) . I am begging you to compare the contents of the “Voynich” aka B-408 with Fray Sahagun’s fabulous manuscript which got traded around several very wealthy men — and ended up being given the name of the archive in Florence — the Florentine Manuscript. Only in the Florentine Manuscript will you find the identification of every artistic element of the so-called “Voynich” manuscript (B-408).

    Why I say this, is because Nick has yet to naysay/or validate my various translations — right down to the last folios in the Vms (recipes which illustrations refer to combinations of the various edible specimens — and which DISCUSS whether hot (red) or cold (blue) liquids are to be used. Whether phamaceutical jars are being portrayed or rather measuring cups, will depend on whether hot or cold liquids are to be used. Most of the recipes are Nahuatl/Native American in use of their home botanicals.


  65. Diane on July 19, 2016 at 4:58 pm said:

    Within the limits of my ignorance of Nahuatl etc., let me say that I did spend some time looking at the manuscript(s) related to Brother Sahagun’s work in the new world and I agree that there are reasonable comparisons for some stylistic features of the Vms. The thing is that they are only customs of drawing – and I was eventually forced to conclude that when the whole range of imagery was considered those particular elements reflected the influence of “Spain or somewhere southern” and were not derived from native Aztec art. In other words, the comparable items reflect Sahagun’s Spanish education. I may be mistaken, of course, but that’s my considered opinion.

  66. bdid1dr on July 21, 2016 at 3:33 pm said:

    Fray Sahagun’s very first “teaching” experience was a black and white sketch of two persons kneeling on the ground: One person was a monk, the other a native. The written dialogue was Spanish/Latin : “First dig a hole” (ca-ui-tl) ….

    I’m hoping someone can find that black and white sketch, with its accompanying dialogue. I can no longer find the URL. I am still 1-dering who was teaching who in that pictorial, and its discussion.

  67. Diane, My PhD is in chemistry from Imperial College, London, where I held an 1851 Scholarship.

  68. bdid1dr on July 21, 2016 at 10:41 pm said:

    Diane and Edith: Take a look at my discussion of what some people are identifying as a sun dew. Compare with my translation of the entire folio which is discussing the ‘monks-hood”.. Which roots are very invasive in nearby gardens…..
    Again, a reiteration and reference to the translated “Na-hua-tl dialogue which has been translated for Fray Sahagun’s later works (now called the Florentine Codex).
    b-d-i-d-1-dr (which translates to beady-eyed-wonder) .

  69. bdid1dr on July 22, 2016 at 3:56 pm said:

    Oh, how I wish I could get Professor Leon-Portilla’s attention to the discussions on these pages. Also, I can’t find the published doctoral dissertation of a young woman’s illustrated (full color) speech on “Colors of the New World” — fabulous!
    Her illustrated discussion of Cortez’ murdering of the Nahuatl chief/king was pretty scary, but revealing much of Cortez’ brutal acts — including the death of Malinche’s family members.

  70. bdid1dr on July 22, 2016 at 4:00 pm said:

    Again, Nick, I refer you to the web hostess for “Mexico-Lore” — whose home base is London.

  71. Out*of*the*Blue on July 22, 2016 at 7:50 pm said:

    Good to see you haven’t forgotten the VMs. The problem you put forth, regarding the apparent discrepancy between the sophistication of the Vms text and the reality of historical cypher technology has a simple fix. Take a spanner and loosen the nut that holds the VMs parchment date and the date of VMs composition as identical. Let the date of composition shift forward in time a few decades, perhaps, till the chronology matches your estimation of the author’s precociousness. Then just set it finger tight.

    You mention Alberti and the Vatican. I have suggested that VMs White Aries contains a pictorial representation of the historical origins of the red galero as a traditional part of Catholic ecclesiastical heraldry and is substantiated by relevant, heraldic, armorial insignia in the illustration.

  72. bdid1dr on July 26, 2016 at 3:47 pm said:

    Folio 56r written discussion is in re Dianthus caryo-phyllacae and Laconian maids and Cariae district in SW Asia Minor, and Laconiae.
    First line of discussion (folio 56r) : Olecax ce Solencentis — crassitudinus creberrimus ——sweet smelling, fragrant, crowded together. NO CODE.

    Boy, am I getting tired of countless egotistical contrarian argumentation and self-praise instead of translations of the contents of the “Voynich” / B-408 .

    N E U A — I continue to meet the challenges head-on: twenty folios and counting, including the recipes which illustrations are the last portrayals of what appear to be pharmaceutical jars and their contents (red/blue) indicating how much cold or hot water is to be used for any particular botanical item which appears in the Vms. The full discussions for each botanical/pharmaceutical item can be found in those folios which are “bulleted’ with little yellow “stars” asterisks.
    The more the discussions get buried under argumentation or claims of being ‘first’, and the less actual identification (SPANISH (latin) and written Nahuatl) , the more befuddled the arguers become. Sorry about that folks.
    There is NO code in the VMS. It was a rough draft (Latin and Nahuatl) for Fray Sahagun’s students’ identification and illustration of Fray Sahagun’s diary of his first years in “New Spain”.
    Although Fray Sahagun was ‘pardoned” by the Inquisition, none of his written and/or illustrated material was ever returned to him.
    Centuries later, the “VMS” was bought (from a small monk’s library) by Mr. Voynich.

  73. bdid1dr on July 27, 2016 at 2:49 pm said:

    What ‘looks like’ an ‘X’ or like a ‘ + ‘ in any fifteenth/sixteenth century document is referring to “Christ”. Thus one will find the use of + in many documents such as letters of approval made for +-opher Columbus to sail the “ocean/sea’ in in search of a route to China — issued by Ferdinand and Isabella.

    One can find that document and accompanying discussion on the WWW.

    BTW : Columbus never made it to China.


  74. bdid1dr on July 27, 2016 at 2:56 pm said:

    Howsomever, some monks DID make it to China — and returned home with their walking sticks full of silkworms/and larvae.

  75. bdid1dr on July 27, 2016 at 3:06 pm said:

    Fray Sahagun’s “Florentine Codex” — Natural Things – discusses the silkworm, its larvae, and the leaves of the mulberry tree.
    So, if you take a good look at that peculiar botanical item (in the VMS) which people have been guessing for years, with no conclusions being drawn, I am reiterating that it is a fruit of the mulberry tree. The Spanish and Nahuatl discussion which appears both in the VMS and in the Florentine Codex can be found by whichever online ‘reader-application’ (I use Adobe) one chooses.

  76. bdid1dr on August 3, 2016 at 3:15 pm said:

    ps: besides the mulberry fruit’s illustration and discussions there is discussion of the tree’s bark (and the bark of the strangler fig) being made into paper. There is also discussion as to the value of the paper (pure mulberry bark being most valuable).

  77. Mark Knowles on July 2, 2017 at 3:12 pm said:

    Nick: Can we be sure as to what Alberti invented and what he learnt from others before him? I note that Piero Alberti, Leon Battista’s, uncle was very close friends with a Francesco, the uncle of an Abbot in the Novara area.

    If only we knew what ciphers were being written in Milan prior to 1447.

    One does wonder to what extent Simonetta and Alberti were inventors of new techniques or describing existing techniques.

  78. Mark Knowles on July 2, 2017 at 5:59 pm said:


    I don’t how exhaustive your research into early 15th century Italian ciphers was. What is the chance that there are still examples out there which would illuminate in particular the kind of ciphers being written in Milan at that time?

    It would certainly be worth knowing your opinion on this if you have the time.

  79. Mark Knowles on July 2, 2017 at 6:16 pm said:


    My understanding is that in the early 15th century the profession of “cipher secretary” had not yet come into existence. Prior to this profession who within the government would be responsible for ciphers. Do we know?

  80. xplor on July 2, 2017 at 8:02 pm said:

    Why would someone in the 15th century encode a manuscript of over 200 pages ?
    Codes are fine for sending short messages of intelligence , but a whole book ?

  81. xplor: indeed, the idea that someone was using codes or ciphers to “send” a whole book (as if it were a short message) doesn’t seem tenable. But there are plenty of other situations where a code or cipher could have been necessary (i.e. for numerous other reasons).

  82. Mark Knowles on July 3, 2017 at 7:56 am said:

    xplor: As you say I don’t think this was enciphered for the standard reasons of intelligence purposes rather for the personal use; so that the author could read the manuscript, but others could not, thus keeping the contents secret from others than himself.

    I think an important question is whether the contents of the Voynich manuscript merited the level of encryption used. If they did then the contents of the manuscript were much more important to have been kept secret than those any other medieval manuscript. This seems unlikely to me especially given the apparent contents.

    So I would argue that the author already had a deep knowledge and interest in ciphers and a somewhat paranoid streak. This would explain the motivation to encipher a document that others would not have.

  83. My opinion on the “why” question:

    if this question could not be answered, it should give a us a lot to think about.
    The situation is that we can find several plausible answers. We just don’t know how close to the truth any of these answers is. And we may never know.

    My favourite option (these days) is that it makes the book more interesting.

    This is of course completely obviously the case today, but that is unlikely to have been on the composer’s mind.
    It could have also made the book more interesting *at that time*.

  84. Mark Knowles on July 3, 2017 at 9:43 am said:

    xplor: I think we have to accept that the author must have been somewhat of a genius in the context of his/her time; at the least a very intelligent man/woman.

  85. Mark Knowles on July 3, 2017 at 11:12 am said:

    Rene: Obviously this whole subject is at this stage highly speculative.

    The question as to whether the purpose of encipherment was to make the book more interesting to an audience is along the lines of the thinking of the “hoax” theorists it seems to me i.e. to make the book more saleable. For that purpose a “hoax” is arguably better than a cipher.

    Personally I am not of the opinion that the author wanted to make the book more interesting to an audience. However I am of the opinion that he wanted to make it more interesting to himself. By this I mean if he was someone with a great interest and skill in ciphers it would be very tempting for him to write a manuscript that he already planned to right, in cipher. I suspect he would have wanted to keep the contents secret and what better way than to use his mastery of ciphers.

    Note I am not saying that it is not an important manuscript merely that it seems highly unlikely that it’s importance in proportion to the difficulty of the cipher.

    Of course one thing my thinking leads me to is that most probably he had developed skills of encipherment long before writing the Voynich.

  86. Mark Knowles on July 3, 2017 at 11:20 am said:

    Another question that I wonder about is where he would have learnt cipher skills assuming he didn’t invent the cipher completely independently of medieval cryptographic knowledge. I assume this knowledge or access to this knowledge would not have been commonplace amongst the general population at that time and as far as I understand medieval texts on the subject of cryptography were all written at a later date than the manuscript. So I would have thought he must have had some association with the diplomatic world in order to have acquired this knowledge. Do you think that is the case?

  87. Mark: I suspect that speculating about where the Voynich Manuscript creator’s cipher knowledge came from will be fruitless. He (I say “he” for simplicity) seems to have approached ciphering from an angle quite different to the mainstream cryptography of the day.

  88. Mark: as far as Alberti goes, his book gives us a very clear idea of what he invented, when, and why. And this leads no further backwards in time than 1466.

    Simonetta, however, I believe was copying a pre-existing document that had grown up within the cipher section of Milan’s Chancellery, and which I would date to the 1450s or 1460s.

  89. Mark Knowles on July 3, 2017 at 12:26 pm said:

    Nick: Thanks for the clarification regarding Alberti. I have not researched him in detail.

    What you say about a “pre-existing document” is very interesting. Regarding this document what do you know? How do you date it to the 1450s or 1460s? Who do you think the author was?

    Again our lack of knowledge regarding what was going on prior to 1447 in Milan, in particular, when it comes to ciphers raises many questions I think.

    I think is quite probable that speculating about where the Voynich Manuscript creator’s cipher knowledge came from will be fruitless; however I don’t intend to spend a lot of time on this, but a little speculation might have some value.

    We don’t know how far the cipher differs from ciphers of that time. Clearly it must differ significantly, but by how much it seems to me hard to say given that it has not yet been deciphered.

  90. Mark: I covered why I concluded that Simonetta copied (rather than originated) the document in Curse 2006. I dated it by comparing its model for cryptography against the ciphers in the Milanese cipher ledger, which contains a large number of ciphers of its time.

    However, we know from its [i.e.the Voynich Manuscript’s] structure and from the numerous statistical experiments and analyses that have been carried out that it is based on a radically different (though not necessarily much stronger) approach to cryptography from that which we have evidence for.

  91. Mark Knowles on July 3, 2017 at 1:45 pm said:

    Nick: Sorry I will need to reread that.

    One wonders whether any such document would have been based on an even earlier pre-1447 document or knowledge from that time passed on by word of mouth.

    The question of what was going on in the early 15th century in Milan keeps rearing its ugly head. And one wonders what exposure and knowledge of ciphers Simonetta acquired in his earlier life in Milan.

  92. Mark Knowles on July 3, 2017 at 1:52 pm said:


    I am always suspicious of things appearing out of nothing. However we do find examples of people who made major advances in knowledge. So it is possible the author made a completely radical advance or change in cipher design from anything around at that time.

    However the idea that the cipher is in no way influenced by contemporary cryptography is hard for me to swallow.

  93. Mark: again, we know a lot of what Simonetta was doing in his earlier life, which was basically marching around the top half of Italy as an administrator in Francesco Sforza’s mercenary army. There is a 1440 cipher ledger from Urbino which seems to have a significant overlap with the kind of ciphers the Sforzas used post-1450 in Milan.

  94. Mark: I’m always suspicious about that too. But in the examples you mention, we have actually quite good knowledge of what was going on – Alberti, for example, knew very little about ciphers pre-1466.

  95. Mark Knowles on July 3, 2017 at 2:44 pm said:

    Nick: Did you see the email I sent you with 2 spellings of the same word?

    The reason this struck me other than the similarities between the spellings is the following:

    Through my “map of a journey” analysis I was lead to believe that the text corresponded to the same word(s) mostly likely the River Ticino. I could see the similarities and it may sound strange, but this really disturbed me. The idea that two symbols could correspond to the same letter was something completely unfamiliar to me and frankly shocking and mischievous it seemed to me on the behalf of the author. You must remember I have no background in Medieval ciphers.

    So subsequently at a later stage having read that the use of 2 separate symbols for one letter of the alphabet was something recommend by Simonetta was a bit of a revelation. Now this could all be coindence and I daresay that will be the standard view of this kind of thing. Nevertheless I can’t help, but find this very curious.

    The use of null characters seems very likely and is also consistent with Simonetta’s advice.

    As far as the use of more than 1 language goes there is no concrete evidence of this I believe, but it seems very plausible.

  96. xplor on July 3, 2017 at 8:15 pm said:

    The Humiliati were in Milan at the right time.
    They wrote a lot of things in cipher could the Voynich be one of them.

  97. Mark Knowles on July 4, 2017 at 9:18 am said:

    Nick: I wonder what the most advanced, practical cipher one could come up making use of all the known or possibly known, state of the art, cipher techniques of the time. Clearly there could very likely have been a technique of the author’s own devising added to the mix.

    When it comes to the statistics I wonder as I have written before what they say about single word isolated labels and the scope for their explanation, independent of sentence text, by the techniques of the time.

    The scope for throwing a lot of noise into sentence text makes statistics pertaining to it less interesting as the scope for distorting the statistics is much greater.

    I wonder also about the quest for finding a transformation or more appropriately a reverse transformation which once applied to all single words has the effect of altering the statistics in an interesting way. So for example one could run an algorithm to look through a set of transformations corresponding to a specific technique and then calculate the statistics and somehow identify those with interesting, potentially more like the statistics of normal text, features.

    Clearly this idea is very vague and may not be computational feasible, but it has the potential advantage of providing an intermediate step towards solving the cipher without having to go the whole way.

    It did occur to me regarding for example the Alberti cipher that the author could have discovered/invented the same idea or a variant of it independently. That is far from unusual. For an example for that broad period one merely needs to think of the priority dispute between Newton and Leibniz over who invented calculus; most modern historians believe they invented it independently.

  98. xplor on July 4, 2017 at 1:36 pm said:

    The Humiliati was known to use the atbash cipher. The problem is knowing what alphabet was used.

    . “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise, fear and surprise; two chief
    weapons, fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency! Er, among our chief weapons are: fear, surprise, ruthless
    efficiency, and near fanatical devotion to the Pope! Um, I’ll come in again…”

  99. xplor on July 5, 2017 at 7:25 pm said:

    The evidence Skinner uses to support his theory include the lack of Christian symbolism in the manuscript . Also Christians would have avoided the symbolism if the were translating Greek, early Roman or Etruscan. All having more gods than you can shake a stick at.

    The Humiliati had the modus operandi and money to have the book written the book. Did they use passagini ? All of the men ended up being heretics.

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