By now, even occasional Cipher Mysteries readers may well know that Yale University Press is about to release a photo-facsimile version of the Voynich Manuscript, its $50 price-point rather less stratospheric than that of the schwizzy Spanish Voynich facsimile that so intrigued the media a few months back. (And for that, if you need to ask the price, you almost certainly can’t afford it.)

So, in anticipation of YUP’s version’s release on 1st November 2016, we now have the start of a mild flurry of promotional activity. For example, if you just happen to be near Yale Law School [it’s just across the street from the Beinecke] at 4pm-5pm this Wednesday (26th October 2016), there’ll be a talk focusing “on how the publishing process works”:

Beinecke Modern Books & Manuscripts Curator and Publications Director Timothy Young will talk with Joseph Calamia, editor at Yale University Press, about the challenges of creating a facsimile of an increasingly popular book and with Beinecke Early Books & Manuscripts Curator Ray Clemens on scholarship related to the Voynich.

And here’s an action shot of Ray Clemens, much more fun than the sub-passport-photo stuff you tend to find in online staff directories:


Oh, and here’s a photo of Glen S. Miranker having his brains vacuumed out while being shown the Voynich Manuscript by Paula Zyatz (it’s some non-disclosure clause, I think):


Not entirely relevant, but I thought you’d like to see it. 🙂

The Highs And The Lows

In most ways, a facsimile edition is – in these decorously digital days – an unnecessary slab of bourgeoisiana. The Beinecke has already released two completely independent sets of full-colour digital scans of the pages (both at reasonably good resolution), so I’d be one of the last people to argue that the YUP’s reproductions will themselves add anything of significant value to the overall Voynichological discourse.

(Sure, it’s annoying for Voynich purists that Jean-Claude Gawsewitch trimmed off many margins in his (2005) mostly-photographic-facsimile “Le Code Voynich”: but that was hardly fatal for what was effectively a coffee-table edition, and the Yale version’s plates – and even fold-out pages – seem unlikely to be ‘academically transformative’, let’s say).

Yet what of the essays at the front? Will these be enough to achieve the Beinecke’s goal of legimitizing the Voynich Manuscript as (a) a genuinely old object, and/or (b) an artefact worthy of serious scholarly study?

Personally, I don’t think so. Even though the Beinecke was given the Voynich Manuscript nearly fifty years ago, my opinion is that there is still painfully little genuine foundational research into it. For instance, we still have no idea what the original page order was; what the original quiration was; which paints were original (and which ones were added later); which parts of the various drawings were original (and which were added later); what the writing on the final (non-enciphered) page f116v originally said; nor even from which specific scribal milieu the main body of the writing came from.

Hence the core problem is this: even now, when academics approach the Voynich Manuscript, they do not have sufficient codicological factuality – i.e. about what happened to the manuscript to leave it in its current state – to build anything worthwhile on top of. All of which means that they might easily (but wrongly) be persuaded to place their trust in one of the numerous academic travesties currently being passed off as theories… and for which there is no evidence whatsoever.

One classic academic story used to be about the Professor of German who was well-versed in all the secondary sources, yet couldn’t actually speak German. But here, the scenario is arguably even worse: a whole host of academics trying to understand the Voynich Manuscript not through primary evidence, close observation and tight physical reasoning, but through the distorted funfair mirrors of Voynich theories.

All the same, I’ve ordered myself a copy (arguably with money I should be squirrelling away for Mauritian car hire, *sigh*), and I have little doubt that many Cipher Mysteries readers will be doing the same. Personally, I’d have been happier if the Beinecke had put the effort into getting the basic codicology and science right in time for the manuscript’s 50th anniversary in their curatorial hands than into producing what will probably be the tenth or maybe fifteenth coffee-table edition. But… you knew I was going to say that.

36 thoughts on “Yale University Press / Voynich talk this Wednesday (26th October 2016)…

  1. John Kpzak on October 25, 2016 at 11:50 am said:

    Just ordered mine from, which shows under “also bought”:

    * Codex Seraphinianus

    * Twin Peaks

    * A pay-as-you-go SIM


  2. John K: I can exclusively reveal that these weren’t my “also bought” Amazon purchases. 😉

    PS: might you be free this Sunday evening for the Voynich pub meet I’m just about to announce? 🙂

  3. SirHubert on October 25, 2016 at 2:32 pm said:

    Nick: have you read the introductory essays yet? General point taken though.

  4. SirHubert: not yet, I have to wait in line the same as everyone else. 🙂

  5. SirHubert on October 25, 2016 at 3:02 pm said:

    Well, the only prediction I’ll make is that those with preconceived views about the VMS will dismiss anything in the introduction which doesn’t fit with what they’ve already decided about it.

    Otherwise, fingers crossed…

  6. SirHubert: I just hope that all the essayists were instructed to read at least d’Imperio before putting pen to paper. Wouldn’t even that be a nice surprise?

  7. SirHubert on October 25, 2016 at 3:40 pm said:

    I think that I have a higher opinion of academics than you do, rightly or wrongly. Let’s wait and see. But you are of course right about the codicology, especially since that can be studied without making premature assumptions about language or content.

    I think that the complexities of painting and (re)binding are hugely important. But they go beyond my ability to figure out with confidence – especially from pictures alone. I’d love to see more competent work done in this area because it has the potential to eliminate speculation about modern fakes and also to shed light on whether the text was understood at various stages of the manuscript’s history. Personally, however, I know something about languages and scripts but much less about this side of things. So…any chance, Beinecke?

  8. bdid1dr on October 25, 2016 at 4:07 pm said:

    @ Nick: Not a penney ! Ms Zyatz has not a clue as to what is being spoken/written in B-408. She is too busy seeking publicity and arranging for her various ‘lecture’ series. Has she ever disclosed even one identification of even one folio in B-408?
    Humbug !
    I will admit that D-Imperio was even worse . Utter nonsense — she arbitrarily ‘took over’ the efforts of the WWII codiologists — and came no closer to decoding the manuscript we now identify as Benicke 408.
    So, one would be closer to solving the mystery of the “Voynich” manuscript if one were to translate the writing which appears with every photograph. If I’ve done it with some 30 folios in B-408, why can’t Ms Zyast do the same? My source for translating B-408 is Fray Sahagun’s magnificent “Florentine Codex”.

  9. John Kpzak on October 25, 2016 at 4:13 pm said:

    Pub on Sunday: sounds good, will be there my flu has cleared up enough to let me brave the outdoors (ditto for Val).

  10. Most of the essays are at the back. Good stuff. I now have two copies – one for thumbing through, and another for “best”. The foldouts are very well done.

  11. Josef Zlatoděj Prof. on October 25, 2016 at 5:49 pm said:

    Hi. Book wil be good. I think that if academics are properly and conscientiously to work with the manuscript. So they run out and find that the manuscript is written and encrypted in the Czech language. As you wrote Wilfrid Voynich in the letter. ( Yale Beinecke). His sentence :
    Concerninq the Cipher MS. ( This clearly and distinctly proves ).

    Substitutions English + Czech language. 🙂
    Concerninq the cipher MS. ( English language )-
    Czech kniha the cipher MS . ( Czech language). ( MS = I,2,S ) = 1,2,3.
    ( kniha = book ).
    ( Cabalistic numerolog. system Gematria ). Jew.

    It it difficult for you to understand ???

    Voynich + Ethel was good and knew. I also know many. Therefore, I can keep in the right direction.
    Otherwise, I can write. In the letter that is to Yale. It is written manual for translation. Is the same as on page 116 of the manuscript. 🙂

  12. I have the new book. ( And I got one for my twin brother James.) It costs less than $50 on Amazon. $32.92, 31.50 Pounds sterling on The pages, regrettably are not numbered, the fold out is nice, the paper is not glossy like Gawsewitch’s Le Code Voynich, and the entire page is shown. I had no trouble reading any of the pages with occasional help from a magnifying glass, with the exception of some parts of f1r. I have not yet read the essays, but a quick perusal finds that the section on “Cryptographic Attempts” ends in 1970. Nick, you mention the lack of basic codicology which I believe would include an identification of the Voynich alphabet and precise location of exact examples of the letters, notably EVA T the gallows figure with the double loops. This may be found in The Voynich Manuscript: Aztec herbal from New Spain at,, and

  13. bdid1dr on October 26, 2016 at 4:40 pm said:

    @ Mr. Comegys:
    The figure that ‘looks like’ two telephone poles linked by loops is ‘ ll’ as in hell or hello, or as in Nick’s “Com-p-ell-ing Press” SP-ell-ing …..
    In the past two years, I’ve also identified the figure which is pronounced “tl” — and is usually the Nahuatl substitution for words ending in “ty” .
    The elaborate “P” is a compound word which PREFACES a section of text which often ‘P’comes the opening PHrase of whatever is ‘B’coming a discussion. In other words , no Pilcrow — but a PRELIMINARY combinative word for what is to be discussed.

    It is good to see your post again; it’s been a while !

  14. bdid1dr on October 26, 2016 at 5:01 pm said:

    @ Prof Z :

    The only “Czechoslovakian” words you are going to find are the Ambassador Busbecq ‘s sign-off before boarding a ship to return to Austria (folio 116v) with two hundred manuscripts given to him by Suleiman. Suleiman’s army invaded Europe not long after Ambassador Busbecq’s return to Europe.

  15. Hi BD,
    The Voynich letter you describe with parallel lines and two loops is EVA t, with a cross bar EVA T. Capital letters in EVA have a cross bar. I have found an exammple of this in the Codex Santo Toribio Xicotzingo in my online article Voynich Manuscript: Aztec herbal from New Spain. In both instances, that is with and without the cross bar, the precise figure with parallel lines and clear loops is transcribed by the author of the article Mercedes Meade de Angulo as ‘tl’. That said, my twin brother James who is trained linguist with a masters degree in linguistics assures me that the EVA t is, as you say an ‘l’ in the Voynich Manusciript, despite the contrary historical example. The late Glenn Caston argued that this letter was a variation of the Spanish doubled capitol R. Since Nahuatl has no ‘r’ sound this would be pronounced ‘l’ as both you and James Comegys surmise and as I suppose Glenn Caston believed.

  16. bdid1dr on October 27, 2016 at 12:16 am said:

    Dear Comegys Brothers: Have you been able to TRANSLATE any of the EVA words into either Latin or Spanish or Nahuatl ? Nahuatl “H’ is silent. (as in the English word ‘hour’) . Nahuatl ” J ” is pronounced as if one were to call another gentleman “wh-a-n” or the English words: happy, help, him, horror, hungry — and even ” happy’ , help, him, home, hurt…..
    EVA is an invented alphabet (Electronic Voynich Alphabet) . It is not the best translation aid for any language. (I’m sorry, Nick, if I am hurting your feelings ! ) If you are offended, please let me know if I am no longer welcome on your blog.


  17. bdid1dr on October 27, 2016 at 12:23 am said:

    Have a happy Halloween ! “English variation : ‘ave a ‘appy, ‘ orror ‘
    “-alloween !


  18. Josef Zlatoděj Prof. on October 27, 2016 at 8:09 am said:

    Dear Brothers Blue eye.
    You see the manuscript of an American indian ? Aztec ?
    I did not find there any indiana. It’s me, very sorry. You’re going the wrong way.
    As I wrote. Concentrate on the letter, which is at Yale. Voynich Ethel y’all wrote instructions for translation. At the same time he says. Who found and that appointment, as the author of the manuscript. Then you will certainly clear that the manuscript is Czech.

    Otherwise, see what it says Marci – Kircher. There is written the same thing. There is only one difference. And that’s the name. Marci designate another person. It is, of course, I’m sorry.
    Nahuatl and Aztec manuscript is way wrong direction. Really, really sorry.

    Bye . Prof Zlatoděj. ( zlatoděj = Czech language = alchemist ). 🙂

  19. SirHubert on October 27, 2016 at 9:57 am said:

    One unfortunate consequence, should the essays not be detailed enough and sufficiently authoritative, will be that amateurs who have spent ages looking at the VMs will be reinforced in their opinion that they know more about it than any expert does. Knowing about is not the same as understanding, alas.

    Well, mine’s on order so fingers crossed…

  20. SirHubert: I would be honestly surprised if any of those ‘amateur opinions’ moves an inch in any direction as a result of reading the essays. Rather, the Beinecke’s audience would seem to be academics: please, they seem to be saying, please come and rescue us from this continuous stream of foolishness.

    I can’t think why. :-p

  21. bdid1dr: the Cockneys I know would pronounce it “‘Allo-****in’-ween”. 😉

  22. bdid1dr on October 27, 2016 at 4:31 pm said:

    M’Dad’s fadda was Scot’s Irish . My Mum didn’t know anything about her origins. She was adopted by a childless couple. Recently I was able to cruise the 1920 & 1930 censuses. I also was able to find the name of the boarder who lived with my mother’s adoptive parents. Not too long ago, I inherited the ‘hump-back’ trunk which was carried at the back of the stagecoach (1880’s) : The name of the boarder (initials only) was printed on the side of the trunk.

    What is really funny is that Gram-pa called his wife Rosiebell. Her maiden name was actually Rose IBELE .

  23. bdid1dr on October 28, 2016 at 3:37 pm said:

    The alternate spelling for Ibele was Ybele. Her origins MAY have been Alsace-Lorraine.
    So, how did Yale’s most recent “Voynich” talk go? Somehow, folks, y’ gotta find a more reliable source of information in re the VMs: How about the “Florentine Manuscript (all fifteen some-odd ‘chapters/books’ — including Cortez’ invasion of “New Spain (with mention of Malinche/Malintze).

  24. bdid1dr on October 30, 2016 at 4:27 pm said:

    Book 11 – Earthly Things ( Florentine Codex — General History of the Things of New Spain – In Thirteen Parts — Part XII —–Chapter heading designs are from the Codex

    Some 220 pages of dialogues and identification of every pictorial element: flowers, trees, birds, bees, and caterpillars What more could anyone desire or need for translating the contents of Benicke Manuscript 408 (commonly called the ‘Voynich’)?


  25. bdid1dr on October 30, 2016 at 4:42 pm said:

    I forgot to mention that one of the caterpillars/butterflies is illustrated as a cocoon spinner. Silkworm? One of the trees is identified as mulberry. Fray Sahagun’s aides illustrate the other uses for mulberry tree: its bark (not woof-woof, but for paper: such as the Chinese ‘money’ paper).

    I shall go back to ‘barking — loudly’ – my discoveries and readings.

  26. bdid1dr on October 31, 2016 at 3:31 pm said:

    So, I refer you, once again, to that fruit which appears in Boenicke 408 : The one which everyone, so far, cannot identify : a single mulberry fruit. You may now be able to translate the limited discussion which appears with every botanical item. My favorites are the Monkshood and the Saffron Corm illustrations, and the limited discussion for each.

  27. bdid1dr on October 31, 2016 at 3:45 pm said:

    One other specimen is the mushroom: that large fold-out manuscript which shows a bird riding the crest of a waterfall. Also human beings hiding behind very large mushrooms (as if crying for help). Lots of discussion, smack-dab in the middle of the folded out (huge) manuscript. Previously, I was hoping that Rene Zandbergen would take another look at that multi-folio. He came close, but apparently was not able to translate its contents. Key words : Alcyone and Ceyx .

  28. Rene: “I don’t believe anyone was theorizing that it was a 15th-century manuscript” — Paula Zyatz.

    Ohhhh dear.

  29. A bit of hyperbole ?
    The book has been copyedited of course…

  30. Rene: if you spell hyperbole ‘f-o-o-l-i-s-h-n-e-s-s’, then maybe. :-/

  31. bdid1dr on November 1, 2016 at 4:27 pm said:

    @ Rene : ‘copy-edited’ : Rather interesting — considering she (Zyatz) has not been able to TRANSLATE a single item (written and/or illustrated) in what was called “The Voynich Manuscript. For those confused readers of the comments on Nick’s pages herein: the VOYNICH manuscript has a library number at the Beinicke Library :
    Before you blow your money stash on the replica of B-408, I suggest you all compare its contents with Fray Sahagun’s magnificent “Florentine Codex/Manuscript. If you have an on-line ‘reader’ (Adobe, for instance) you will be able to identify every single item in B-408. AND — if you are able to read the Espanol and Nahuatl labels and dialogues , you will enjoy many hours of revelation relating to the items in Boenicke Manuscript 408 (the so-called Voynich).

    Fray Sahagun tried desperately to protect the citizens of “New Spain” when Cortez invaded. He also tried to clear Malintze/Malinche’s name when the villagers were condemning her as a whore and turncoat/spy for Cortez.

    @ Rene: You were not far off the mark when you identified that large folio as being a ‘fairy tale’.

  32. bdid1dr on November 1, 2016 at 4:57 pm said:

    Another item from Fray KIRCHER’s archives (which apparently ended up in the Pope’s manuscript library) is a map of the roads and lakes near Frascati (the Pope’s summertime villa). Fray Sahagun and other priests, and travellers would have first obtained the Pope’s blessing before sailing into “the wild blue yonder”

  33. bdid1dr on November 1, 2016 at 8:37 pm said:

    Back to the “Voynich/B-408 manuscript: Alcyone and Ceyx — god and goddess; to whom sailors prayed for deliverance from the violent storms at sea: One of Fray Sahagun’s illustrated foldout manuscripts displays a bird sailing down a waterfall. The same large foldout also illustrates people huddled under giant ‘mushroom’ umbrellas, crying out for help.
    They were mushrooms — NOT toadstools. The ‘alcohol Inky’, in particular, was easily mistaken for another edible mushroom. The danger with the ‘inky’ was that if alcohol was consumed with the ‘mushroom’ within a 48-hour period, hallucinations and death would occur.

  34. bdid1dr on November 3, 2016 at 9:15 pm said:

    ps: For a long time, now, I have been comparing the contents of Fray Sahagun’s works with the little bit of Frascati history and historian who wrote about the Pope’s Summer Retreat Mansions. One mystery was recently solved (in the 1960’s) about the mysterious hole (unknown depth) which historians described as being a drainage for the flooded road.
    Turns out that a “Roman” bath-house gets its water (even today) from that drainage hole.
    post-ps: I no longer wonder why so many Popes were dying — not long after being voted “Pope” of the year, so to speak: (mushrooms and wine) ?

  35. Nikolaj on April 27, 2017 at 7:25 pm said:

    The Voynich manuscript is not written with letters and characters denoting letters of the alphabet one of the ancient languages. Moreover, in the text there are 2 levels of encryption. I picked up the key, which in the first section I could read the following words: hemp, wearing hemp; food, food (sheet 20 at the numbering on the Internet); to clean (gut), knowledge, perhaps the desire, to drink, sweet beverage (nectar), maturation (maturity), to consider, to believe (sheet 107); to drink; six; flourishing; increasing; intense; peas; sweet drink, nectar, etc. Is just the short words, 2-3 sign. To translate words with more than 2-3 characters requires knowledge of this ancient language. The fact that some signs correspond to two letters. Thus, for example, a word consisting of three characters can fit up to six letters of which three. In the end, you need six characters to define the semantic word of three letters. Of course, without knowledge of this language make it very difficult even with a dictionary.
    If you are interested, I am ready to send more detailed information, including scans of pages showing the translated words.

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