Diane O’Donovan has recently commented (here and elsewhere) and posted a number of times (on her own blog) about the priority of various Voynich ideas. For any given Voynich idea, who was first to mention, conceive, propose, argue, or even (puts tin hat on head and ducks) form it into a Voynich theory outlined in the TLS?

The immediate problem (obviously enough) is that 99% of Voynich ideas are groundless nonsense, homeopathically anchored on the sands of whimsical misreading, fanciful speculation, and over-optimistic just-so-ness. As a general category, then, it’s right up there with all the “pathology of cryptology” first outlined by David Kahn and more recently buffed by Klaus Schmeh in Cryptologia.

To be sure, Diane isn’t concerned with the priority of nutty Voynich ideas, such as the “diary of a stranded alien” notion, which every few days still manages to get reposted somewhere or other on the Internet. (And that is far from the nuttiest… so please excuse me if I don’t winch myself back down into the darkling pit containing the worst of the genre.)

Rather, she has formed a set of theories about the Voynich Manuscript which she believes to be both novel and true: and she is anxious/concerned to ensure that nobody should steal those ideas (i.e. by presenting them as commonplaces, or by passing them off as their own) and thereby deprive her of her ultimate Voynich research glory. As such, asserting priority has become an increasingly big concern of hers of late.

Well… I must confess that I do have a certain amount of sympathy for the desire to look back at what has been put forward in the past. However, even though I often feel the specific need to refer to D’Imperio’s index or to grep the archives of the old Voynich mailing list, for me this is only to try to gain a richer perspective on a particular topic, e.g. by looking at the conversations around it.

A significant part of the difference between her and me would therefore seem to be that I look backwards to try to place ideas in their context and by so doing to enrich my understanding of them; while Diane looks backwards to ensure that her ideas are genuinely hers, and that she hasn’t inadvertantly taken that which is someone else’s.

To the very greatest degree, then, priority is a non-issue for me, in that it is something that will get resolved (a) only once we can definitively decrypt Voynichese, and (b) by an entirely different kind of forensic historian (i.e. not by the people doing the research). Given that I see so few genuinely productive research paths being taken at the present time, the value of worrying about priority right now is surely inversely proportional to that of finding a rich new research furrow to plough.

Voynich priority, then, for the 99% of ideas out there that are complete bullshit, is surely an utter waste of time. And for the 1% of partially tenable ideas, it’s no more than very marginally better than that, and will make only sense once the plates have been cleared away after the big Voynich solution pizza party.

Anyone who hasn’t yet grasped that the solution to the Voynich will most likely fall squarely in the middle of the wide multi-dimensional chasms between our falteringly thin tendrils of historical and cryptological insight hasn’t been paying enough attention. That solution will most likely surprise us more by its curious proximity to the many sensible things that have been said about the manuscript, not by its distance from them.

35 thoughts on “The Pathology of Voynich Priority…

  1. Nick,
    Sorry to be the first, and to be posting a correction.
    The issue has nothing to do with my being concerned about the theft of ‘my theories’, for two reasons: I don’t have ‘theories’, and secondly the plagiarism, mis-use and repetition of my work without mention of the source has been so regularly and determinedly done, now, for years, that there is ample documentation and no real cause for me to worry about confusion over the point.

    No, this story about my being a paranoid hunter of pecuniary or other advantage is so much dust raised by the persons most in need of material to present unattributed as an ‘idea’ of their own.

    The issue is rather that the abandonment of scholarly method, principle, courtesies and system is an active hindrance to genuine advance, misleads those who take earlier assertions as basis from which to begin work, and generally results in the endless, pointless, re-invention of things already thought and proven to be right, wrong or beyond reasonable demonstration.

    Any serious newcomer is entitled to be told honestly about where they may read the first proposal, argument and demonstration (if any) of some notion now commonly asserted AS IF proven, and for themselves to consider and to weigh the merits of the seminal paper/blogpost/mailing list comment etc.

    A skeptic is not someone who sits back and says ‘convince me’ and is then convinced by mere plausible patter. A skeptic believes nothing without investigating the evidence and informing argument for him/herself.

    How can this be done when any attempt to suggest that Voynich writers should acknowledge their sources is met by comments aimed only at insulting or demeaning the person who says so? The aim in such a case is to deter others who might be inclined to agree with the principle… and THAT my dear Nick is a technique more appropriate to propaganda and religion than to valid comment on a fifteenth century manuscript.

    Take an example… the usual assertion that there is a resemblance of some sort between the Voynich folios with ‘ladies in fluid’ and the genre of the Balneis Puteolanis.

    I am still trying to shove away the obfuscations and bluster to discover (1) to whom this idea first occurred, or rather who first dared assert it and (2) where I can read their detailed exposition of the historical, iconographic (or any) sources that informed their opinion. Ideally, I should also like to see – as would be routine in the work of any serious scholar – pointers to the persons and sources which debated that conclusion, and so to read their reasons and evidence too.

    If Voynich studies were a court of law, the situation we have would be more-or-less equivalent to a judge informing a jury that “you will hang this man because I say he’s guilty and you all know me – would I lie to you?”

  2. Diane: while I haven’t read every single page on your website (is that even possible?), I think it is utterly beyond question that you have numerous theories that actively inform where you look, what you consider to be evidence, and – most important of all – what the Voynich Manuscript is. I don’t characterise you here or elsewhere as being “a paranoid hunter of pecuniary or other advantage”, or anything close to it. I do not believe you are a skeptic, simply because you have so many theories. I think people who assert that they don’t have theories – i.e. that all their work is completely factual and lacking any interpretational aspect whatsoever – when the opposite is the case do a grave disservice to scholarship.

  3. Nick, Diane:

    Thinking “out of the box” rigorously cites earlier errors and omissions in ways that patterns emerge. For example, it took 25 years for holders of the Rosetta Stone to be forced to realize that phonetic patterns dominated the text, and 100 years of holders of a dozen Mayan texts, and the death of Erik Thompson, for Russian code breakers mod 4 phonetic patterns to be accepted.

    Today, there oddly exists in 120 Egyptian math problems and over 500 Mayan math and astronomy problems basic “unsolved problems”. The main pattern that emerges to those that “think outside the box” is that number theory building blocks based on prime numbers and arithmetic operations are ignored by academics that only transliterate math texts within garbled language issues.

    Academics since 1927 concerning Egyptian texts oddly have continued to mis-transliterate scribal division as only single false position, a medievel method used to find roots of first and second degree equations, rather that a vivid modern number theory rule, scribal multiplication and division was often inverse to one another. Hana Vymazalova indirectly proved in 2002, aspects of the topic, while bowing to public academic pressure oddly concluding that Peet, 1923, was correct with respect to the contents of five Akhmim Wooden Tablet (AWT). AWT partitions of a hekat are easily read by multiplying by 1/3, 1/7, 1/10, 1/11, and 1/13, and not easily read as returninf all five by multiplying each partition by 3, 7, 10, 11 and 13 to a hekat unity (64/64).

    The same type of academic pressure is applied, or sadly acknowledged without rigorous proofs, in Mayan mis- transliterations of math texts by linguistics fir 120’years. Linguists wish to declare de facto ownership of Mayan texts by holding back “adding back” missing scribal shorthand number theory steps, as Egyptian linguists have been doing for 90 years.

    Think out of the box, equally accepting linguist and math pattern inputs, within interdisciplinary teams, a rarity in the Voynuch decoding world as well.

    Best Regards,

    Milo Gardner

  4. bdid1dr on October 11, 2017 at 3:04 pm said:

    Ah ! Hello Milo ! It is about time somebody mentioned numbers. Literally knotted strings of them. Mayan means of communication. I think I was about ten years old when I read a novel about them. That would have been about 60 years ago.
    Quipu ?

    beady-eyed wonderer

  5. J.K. Petersen on October 11, 2017 at 6:59 pm said:

    Diane, the first time I saw the Voynich Manuscript (in 2007) I had never seen any theories or writings by anyone except Edith Sherwood. I didn’t even look at very much of Sherwood’s site. Google led me there because I was searching for Leonardo Da Vinci. I read a small part of the Da Vinci idea, looked at a few of the plants, and became instantly hooked on the VMS because I like plants and puzzles. I didn’t even look at Sherwood’s plant IDs again until I had done my own identifications, and discovered we don’t agree on most of them anyway.

    At that time, with no exposure to anything written by anyone else (I didn’t even know there was a community of Voynich researchers), the Rosettes folio looked like a map to me and the ladies in water looked like they were bathing (especially the nymphs who appear to be scrubbing each other’s backs), the human body parts looked like human body parts, and rainbows looked like rainbows.

    So… if the rosettes folio turns out to be a map and the ladies turn out to be bathers, and the body parts turn out to be body parts, who am I supposed to credit? Some things take research and some are intuitively obvious. To me the plants look like plants, the bathers look like bathers, the streams and cave-like shapes look like streams and grottoes, and the rosettes foldout looks like a map (whether mythical or literal).

    If I were to find out they are *not* plants or bathers or rainbows, or a map, I would credit the person who made and substantiated such a discovery. If someone were to discover other aspects of the manuscript that are not intuitively obvious, I would credit them too, but it seems like a waste of time to research who-said-what for things that jump out at the majority of viewers and for which we don’t yet have proof.

  6. Don Latham on October 11, 2017 at 9:07 pm said:

    Anyone want to switch to Global warming?

  7. J.K.

    If someone says an image in a manuscript ‘looks like’ this or thatg which happens to rise to their own imagination, it is the equivalent of cloud-gazing. You can tell me that a cloud looks like a dragon, and while producing (afterwards) great number of dragon-pictures will assure me that such a likeness has its reason, it will not ever convince me that the cloud is a dragon or was intentionally created to resemble a dragon.

    What we see, constantly, in Voynich studies, is cloud-gazing and random impressions justified afterwards by production of images from a very limited range, the intention of which is to make seem more convincing a bit of hypothesising whose basis (if one were able to trace it to its origins) is nothing more than a ‘looks like to me’.

    A prime example, of course is the ‘sunflower’ story.

    It is a fine example of how the failure to admit lack of experience or qualifications in iconographic analysis, when combined with a certain over-confidence, good public networking skills and so forth, can result in nonsense not only being promoted, but being widely accepted and having any number of researchers repeat it, believe it, and set of coursing a non-existent hare.

    In that case – happily – the scholarly conventions meant that O’Neill’s name was not omitted when those coming later repeated it as a ‘Voynich fact’. So we can now go back to the original proponent, read his evidence (flimsy) and see what other opinions he knew and considered (none).

    The more recent habit among those who like to seem wise, but not to appear indebted to the ‘unimportant’, has seen the equivalent of the ‘sunflower’ red herring multiplied beyond all expectation or reason.

    What I would like to see return to this study is a habit of accurately crediting first sources for an idea that a person then takes up and begins promoting. To do otherwise, as I said, hampers the study, prevents people checking whether a ‘Voynich fact’ is, or isn’t well founded, and permits debate.

    That these normal, sane procedures are still observed by those working on the text’s written part makes the aberrant forms of writing about the imagery and ‘theoretcial/fictional’ history all the more peculiar. After all, some persons are righteous in writing about the written part of the text, but shift to the ‘theoretical/fictional’ state of mind as soon as history or imagery is mentioned.

    So – back to the ‘Balneis..’ fiction/theory.

    I should like to look in depth at the way this notion has taken hold: to begin with the first proponent and see what sources, evidence and specific details led to the formation of his opinion or whether all we have is a bit of theory/fictional narrative.

    If I asked who first thought the ‘gallows’ looked like sixteenth century letters’ ‘gallows’, I’m sure the information would be given easily, correctly and pleasantly

    If I ask the equivalent about the ‘Balneis…’ story, or dispute the fairly rubbishy assertion that the Voynich archer is a German figure… nothing but ad.hominems, ‘blanking’ , refusal to engage, and/or (because usually both) a adoption of my evidence, sources or reasoning with total refusal to acknowledge the source.

    It is not true that what is not honest does not advance; what is true is that it is unable to reach the correct destination.

    Nick – you are mistaken about my having ‘many theories’. In addition to explaining my opinion (as I did first in 2010), I have looked into various other possibilities raised in the course of research, or by the content in others’ work. To do otherwise would mean that exposition of my own views and the reasons for them would seem no more than the usual Voynich style of history where theories are created, and one-eyed hunts then follow for anything that could be interpreted as support.

    Perhaps you mistake the phases in which the research was published for my having changed my opinion. First, I published a selection of the analytical studies – section by section, folio by folio. Then I explained the principles informing the botanical folios and showed comparative examples to clarify why I had reached my opinion. (Pity Panofsky never did the equivalent; we’d be 70 yrs for’arder).

    After my sabbatical I repeated in brief the evidence for having identified a number of marked chronological strata (phases of initial enuncation), repeated the importance of certain details in determining non-Latin European origin the imagery, and then began addressing the historical context(s) appropriate to the imagery’s evidence of alteration not only by time (surprisingly slight) but by cultural affects.

    I had reached the critical period for the material’s transition to the west when the level of mis-use, outright plagiarism, or distorted imitation (all without mention of the original source) persuaded my publisher – and me – to cease sharing more.

    As I said in 2010, I’ll say again now after having provided so much online. The imagery’s earliest stratum is Hellenistic. Alexandria or another such centre of Greco-Egyptian culture is most likely.

    The second important stratum I date to the 1st-3rdC AD: technically the ‘Roman’ era, but the evidence suggests a region beyond the boundary of the Roman empire, and where Asian and Hellenistic culture melded.

    For the period intermediate between the 3rdC AD and the 12th, I have concluded retention in the eastern sphere rather than in the Mediterranean. For a majority of the ‘ladies’ folios, the region in which the matter was retained is (in my opinion) the higher ‘road’ overland from the Black Sea towards the east, where the botanical folios speak of that other and complementary ‘road’ by sea. The botanical images (or ‘large plant pictures’) show not single plants but a group, united by similar forms, similar and adjacent habitat, and practical economic value for the business of the east-west trade. It’s a bit more complex than that, but the more complex matter is summarised by my conclusion that the Theophrastan rather than Dioscoridan corpus will be most relevant.

    As to the last stratum in the imagery – I’m not talking about the pigments here – it is clearly to be dated to between the mid-fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. The style of those drawings is compatible with the western (Latin European) conventions, and this is why the same small number of pictures have figured so disproportionately in efforts to maintain a theory of all Latin European origin (or, most recently, a Byzantine-Latin-German-Italian-Swiss-Aegean) version of the older ‘Germanic cultural product’ theory.

    So.. again.. where on earth did the ‘Balneis’ thing start – and with whom, and where can I read the evidence adduced, and from which that idea derives?

  8. Diane: I have never heard so much speculative theory misrepresented as historical fact. I wish you luck with your continued research… but it remains so far from fact that it makes for frankly rather embarrasing reading.

  9. I suppose that, in terms of “priority”, the theory outlined before (Greco-Egyptian, Roman, Eastern and Western European “strata”) is considered by everyone who has been reading more than superficially about the Voynich MS, to be Diane’s original work, and I have never seen anyone taking it over, claiming to be his/hers, or consider it “generally known”.

    Now here is a caveat, though, and this makes all discussions about priority pointless, and certainly not of academic / scholarly nature.

    Before the age of the WWW, there has been a rich exchange of information, (including speculation and hypotheses) about the Voynich MS. This has been done in the form of letters written on paper, and a large number of these has been preserved.

    How can anyone argue that none of these people have ever considered that:
    – the rosettes folio might represent a map
    – the biological section of the MS bears resemblance to balneological MS illustrations
    – etc etc

    If one wanted to do a serious (scholarly) analysis of any kind of priority in Voynich MS ideas, one *has* to go through this material.
    Making any kind of unconditional statements about priority, without having looked at this, is necessarily invalid.

  10. Rene: a good example of this is the vast amount of correspondence of the early Royal Society, part of which I was going through a few days ago. Everyone was aware of Kircher’s books (these are repeatedly referred to) and even of his unreliability: but people such as (later Sir) Robert Southwell visited Kircher’s gallery in Rome a good number of times, and even considered him a friend. Who is to say that mention of a curious book (and theories around it – Kircher always seemed to have theories and explanations) won’t emerge from Southwell’s letters (I haven’t yet got that far), or from those of any of the other thousands of visitors there?

  11. J.K. Petersen on October 12, 2017 at 8:39 am said:

    D. O’D. wrote: “As I said in 2010, I’ll say again now after having provided so much online. The imagery’s earliest stratum is Hellenistic. Alexandria or another such centre of Greco-Egyptian culture is most likely.”

    Pretty much everything that was written about astrology/astronomy and plants in the middle ages came down through Greco-Roman and Arabic filters. There wasn’t much new knowledge added until the Renaissance.

  12. Why do I see no Arab buildings? They are usually flat. But did not find one. But all have a Gibel, which is typical for snow last. This is also the reason why the crust has onions.
    The nice fancies on some roofs, that is typical Middle-European. I did not see a half-moon. Typical for the Arab world. The plants are also typical Middle-European. There is even a bay window, naja typical.

    Why should I now accept the origin lies in the Middle East?

  13. Davidsch on October 13, 2017 at 1:01 pm said:

    Most researchers do not share their most precious results, because of “the
    anonymous ripple effect” (the idea will move silently to other website blogs without mentioning the original author).

    Secondly, there is sometimes envy between researchers that I can imagine that that’s another reason not to share.

    I did not read any relevant theory which knits images to something solid we can work with, so what is this discussion about? Yes, you can discuss air, or present
    hollow sentences, but there is no real progress from there.

    As an experiment I will publish something, that has not been discovered nor described, before the end of the year. My guess is that it will not be picked up the first month and when it does, “the anonymous ripple effect” will apply.

  14. Priority in scientific and philosophical research is important in three major respects:

    1 – credit should be correctly given* where credit is due for the conducting of sound research;

    2 – false credit is false history;

    3 – any theory which claims to be novel can be rapidly debunked on the basis of lack of knowledge of prior art.

    As anyone who reads my blog knows, I am working on the theory that the VM symbols are Latin breviographs. I do not claim this as a new theory. The mere fact that Nicholas Gibbs claimed this idea as his own demonstrates lack of basic research into prior art.

    btw: I am making significant progress. Previously I used only text based programming to analyse the MS. I want to make my methods and materials open to anyone, so am learning how to convert my code into windowed programs. I hope to post all my materials and win/linux executables in the near future. Meanwhile, the first words of the VM are:
    Peractum es con itaque … [this] is a teaching book with which …
    It’s a manual on the use of herbs, wild and cultivated, for the preparation of herbal baths.

    Progress can be slow because objective statistical expansion methods must be supported by a subjective view of the entire linguistic, historical and visual context. Without subjective input and context, any 4-gram could be transcribed in about half a million ways.

    A question: has anyone proposed before that the suns and moons on f68r1, r2 and r3 are all moons? I can find nothing on the web. The context is a belief, dating back to at least Pliny the elder, that the moon influences plant growth.

    Pliny also wrote of blue canopies bespangled with stars.

    “Awnings have been lately extended, too, by the aid of ropes, over the amphitheatres of the Emperor Nero, dyed azure, like the heavens, and bespangled all over with stars”.
    BOOK XIX Ch. 6

    If ‘ar’ is ‘aris’, meaning a temporary or lightly constructed shelter and ‘or’ is ‘oris’, meaning an opening or entrance, then the writer speaks of what we would call tents or marquees. Do some of the illustrations depict marquees or canopies such as were used as bath-houses? Has this been suggested before?

    * credit is often wrongly given. Who invented the lead-acid battery? Wilhelm Josef Sinsteden, a German military surgeon invented it, but most books give a Frenchman the credit.

  15. Charlotte Auer on October 13, 2017 at 2:34 pm said:


    the main motto on your website reads ” Personal Observations” and that’s it. No more and no less than your individual and emotional interpretation of the imagery of a central European medieval manuscript that you can’t read.

    There is no such thing as scholia if it comes to th VM, because there is no institution and no academic standard to separate the just-for-fun or the stranded-aliens from “serious” research. As a consequence there is no serious research at all – except from the pure physical appearance of the Ms (i.e. radiocarbon, binding, ink etc.) and the provenance.

    So what? Your have your opinions, your frequently switching theories from East to West or vice versa and your furious refusal of the possibility that the VM could simply be of German/Alpine origin. To me the latter seems to be your main impetus.

    Your endless fight for priority and credits is absolutely senseless as long as your “personal observations” are not commonly accepted. They aren’t and they won’t be because there is no plausible reason for them to be.

    As Rene pointed it out right : “Now here is a caveat, though, and this makes all discussions about priority pointless, and certainly not of academic / scholarly nature.”

    Yes, there is no real scholarly Voynich research (my own working hypothesis included), but a lot of fun for everyone interested in the mystery. At the end there will be only one solution: the complete decryption of the text and nothing else.

  16. Mark Knowles on October 15, 2017 at 8:54 am said:

    I don’t want to be someone having a go at Diane. Clearly Diane is someone who is highly intelligent with a very relevant specialist expertise to bring to bear on the Voynich.

    Yes, I have, it appears, some significant methodological differences with her as I also have with some others. Nevertheless I think there is something to be said for bringing different methodologies to bear on the manuscript.

    Diane, I do find it slightly infuriating that you give the impression that you are the only person with sufficient expertise to be qualified to work on the Voynich. And that your way of doing things is the only valid way of doing things. Clearly understanding a manuscript, actually, maybe surprisingly, isn’t just about Manuscript Studies. Very general Historical Analysis is important to understand the historical context in which a manuscript was written. I have relied a lot on photos of medieval buildings; I don’t see what is wrong with that.

    I agree with Nick that some of these very general priority discussions are pointless such as:

    1) The idea that the manuscript dates from the 15th Century.

    2) The idea, whether one agrees with it or not, that the manuscript is a hoax.

    3) The idea that the manuscript is written in a hitherto unknown language with a unknown script.

    4) The idea that the manuscript is written in cipher.

    5) The idea that the 9 rosette foldout represents a map.

    -> One may or may not agree with any of these

    Specific Ideas where priority discussions are justifiable:

    1) The manuscript was written by Leonardo Di Vinci

    2) The manuscript was written by Antonio Averlino

    And more…

    I think priority is very important, but only when related to specifics.

  17. Patrick – Nice to have someone see the point.

    It’s not about a personal priority – that’s an incidental effect. It iis about transparency (notice that most responses have been insult or bluster… as ever. I am still trying to discover who first asserted some similarity to exist between imagery of the ‘ladies’ and images in copies of the Balneis.

    Note, also, that such determined hostility and silence, and the fantasy that in attempting to research this question I’m ‘seeking glory’ is a long-standing meme begun in c.2010 on the second mailing list, when I first began trying to discover who started this or that item of ‘Voynich faith’.

    Despite his adopting the usual hostile tone and insinuation, Nick himself has never, to my knowledge, refused to help with such basic investigation of Voynich ‘theories’ and has never – whether by deliberate omission of his source or positive mis-representation of it, permitted any to credit him with matter he gained by reading another person’s writing.

    I have not had the same experience dealing with Zandbergen, and as a result cannot use, or recommend his website in good conscience.

    Charlotte – You are mistaken. But very thoroughly mistaken: in your assumption, notions, etymologies, argument, presumptions and so forth. You do not think sufficiently, or with sufficient care. To correct every error in your comment is unnecessary, given the usual level of Nick’s readership. So as example, let’s just take the first item. You say:

    1. ” Personal Observations” [are] No more and no less than your individual and emotional interpretation of the imagery of a central European medieval manuscript that you can’t read.

    Is a personal observation identical to the expression of a subjective emotion? You presume it is; you are mistaken.

    Is the manuscript a ‘central European’ manuscript? If so, in what sense? Are you speaking of the place it was made, the language informing the main written text, or the images which are our clearest indication of original provenance for the contained matter.

    Have you stopped to consider where the idea began that the manuscript is a ‘central European’ manuscript? Who first said that? Is the case well set-out, reasonably and thoroughly presented with the evidence which led to that conclusion’s being reached?

    Is there someone you can ask to point you to the original bit of in-depth study which resulted in a ‘central European manuscript’ idea being circulated until it reached you, who have apparently swallowed the ‘idea’ without troubling to examine its worth.

    You might like to look into that item. I’m still trying to find out how the ‘Balneis’… notion came to be so prevalent. No-one’s saying, are they?

    What they’re saying is “Believe it or suffer the consequences of enquiring into these items of faith.”

    Come on, Nick… is is possible to get a reasonable answer about the ‘Balneis’ thing? As an historian trying to write the history of the ‘Balneis-Voynich’ theory… where would you begin?

  18. Diane: I would have thought that “the Balneis thing” would have been apparent to one, some, or all of its 17th century owners (I strongly suspect that we have so far found less than 50% of the extant 17th century correspondence relating to the VMs), and very probably for its 15th and 16th century owners too. The same would probably be true of ‘the Herbal thing’, and very probably ‘the Zodiac thing’.

    As to the 20th century historiography of “the Balneis thing”, I don’t know. I’d be a bit surprised if Manly didn’t twig the similarity in the 1920s, but I don’t know if anyone has yet gone through his papers looking for Voynich-related stuff, as I suggested back in 2008: http://ciphermysteries.com/2008/07/27/john-matthews-manlys-papers

  19. Note: I’ve updated the link to the John Matthews Manly collection, which should be https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/scrc/findingaids/view.php?eadid=ICU.SPCL.MANLY&q=MANLY

  20. Further note: I suspect that the most interesting stuff by far in Manly’s papers will prove to be his correspondence on cryptography (Series II: Correspondence, Cryptography).

  21. It is rather easy to verify that my web site is littered with citations and acknowledgments to the work of others, and the support and help I have enjoyed.
    This also includes acknowledgments to people with whose opinions I do not agree.

    Another completely groundless attempt from Diane at vilifying me. Boring.

  22. J.K. Petersen on October 16, 2017 at 2:46 pm said:

    Diane wrote: “Have you stopped to consider where the idea began that the manuscript is a ‘central European’ manuscript? Who first said that? Is the case well set-out, reasonably and thoroughly presented with the evidence which led to that conclusion’s being reached?”

    Who cares who said it first?

    It was probably back in the day when Wilfrid Voynich discovered the manuscript at the Villa Mondragone, when he hoped it might be a Roger Bacon cipher. There was no Internet, no Interlibrary loan system, no digitized exemplars, no access to many of the libraries and repositories that are available now. He, his wife, and secretary did what they could with what they had, and to expect Voynich to present *evidence* for his ideas is like asking a car salesman to show you an inventory of a vehicle’s flaws. He was a bookseller, not a historian. He wanted the best possible price for his prize.

    The obsession with the origin of the “central European” idea is a waste of time until the actual origin of the VMS is discovered. Even then, it might not be worth figuring out who said it first because it was probably a verbal communication in the 1920s between Voynich and his network of associates. He did, after all, find the VMS in Italy, so he probably supposed it was from there or somewhere nearby.

    It’s more productive to continue the research than to constantly dispute differences of opinion about something that cannot yet be verified.

  23. Mark Knowles on October 16, 2017 at 3:54 pm said:

    The study of the origin and history of the development of ideas can be worthwhile. It can illuminate other forgotten, but important ideas. In my own writeup I have opted to describe the process by which my own thinking developed as I believe that is much more useful than the end result of the process of theorising.

    However I wouldn’t give it the level of emphasis that Diane does at this stage.

    Nevertheless if Diane wants to become a historian of Voynich research who is to stop her, but similarly individuals are welcome to avoid that debate and focus on their own research.

  24. J.K. Petersen on October 16, 2017 at 6:18 pm said:

    I completely agree that the study of the origin and history of the development of ideas can be worthwhile, but that’s not really what Diane is asking. Based on the way she brings it up in almost every post, she appears fixated on the fact that some people’s opinions about the manuscript’s origins differ from hers.

    Continuing to research the manuscript itself is more productive than trying to figure out who “said” (guessed) its origins in the teens and early twenties when a world war was in full swing. Some lines of research are productive, like finding letters about the manuscript and studying their contents to try to discern the manuscript’s provenance, and some lines are not productive, like figuring out who first said it was a central European manuscript. The original information about the manuscript’s origin came from Voynich himself and even that was known to him to be untrue because he had promised not to tell. After he died, different information came out, but who actually “said” that it was central European probably did so in the twenties after a certain amount of skepticism about it being a Bacon cipher began to institute itself, and there’s probably no record of it.

    If Diane wants to know who first “wrote” that it was of central European origin, that might be documented somewhere. Even early researchers were guessing places all over the map, including Egypt, Italy, Greece, Prague, Germany, England, India, etc. As for those who currently hold the opinion that it’s central European (or not), that’s their opinion and they are entitled to it and prior opinions may have nothing to do with how they feel.

  25. Charlotte Auer on October 16, 2017 at 7:32 pm said:


    being part of “the usual level of Nick’s readership” just let me answer you in a few very simple words you might understand.

    I don’t need to ask someone to point out to me the origin of a central European codex since I’m myself an expert in paleography, codicology and history of book art (including imagery) of the late Middle Ages up to early Renaissance in central and southern Europe. If ever I need professional support from colleages in the field I know where to find them, be sure. Btw: neighter me nor one of them has ever heart of you as an expert in European codices.

    Coming to the “usual level” in the mirror of your arrogance:

    Almost all of Nick’s readers have an academic background (as well as himself) and work scholarly in their different fields, whatever they may be. But common ground for all VM studies should be a scientific approach from every possible angle that rules out the obvious nonsense and encourages new input even if it comes from amateurs and newbies.

    The so called Voynich “research” is now kind of a world wide open source project, and everyone can join it with his/her own opinions, speculations, phantasies or real valuable insights. There are no superior judges to decide what is valuable or not, and consequently you are not one of them.

    At the usual level of Nick’s readership you’d just have to consider that your are no more and no less than an average part of it, and everything would be much easier.
    Your sophisticated insultings are too obvious and too ridiculous to hit.

    Yes, it’s endlessly boring. Nothing more.

  26. Mark Knowles on October 16, 2017 at 8:47 pm said:

    Ok. I am now slightly uncomfortable as I don’t like conflict and I don’t want to feel that we are all having a go at Diane.

    Obviously time is used more valuably doing actual research than getting into fights with other people.

    I think probably Diane could do with being more respectful and less dismissive of other people and their skills and abilities. And others, including myself, could be less judgmental of her.

    All the Best to Everyone!

  27. J.K. Petersen on October 16, 2017 at 9:59 pm said:

    Diane wrote: “Have you stopped to consider where the idea began that the manuscript is a ‘central European’ manuscript? Who first said that? Is the case well set-out, reasonably and thoroughly presented with the evidence which led to that **conclusion’s** being reached?” [asterisks mine]

    I think one of the problems here is O’Donovan’s use of the word “conclusion”. I’ve never heard anyone express a central European origin as a conclusion. It’s usually discussed as a possibility or a likely possibility, which is as reasonable a line of thought as anything else. Even in Jim Reed’s 1994 summation, he qualifies it as “possibly” central Europe, which means that in 1994 and earlier, the researchers Reed had in mind had not “concluded” that central Europe was a decisive origin either:

    In September 7, 1994, Jim Reed of Bell Labs summed up what was generally said about the Voynich Manuscript as follows:

    “The following facts about the VMS are repeated in almost everything written on the subject. The VMS is a book of about 104 vellum leaves, sized about 16 cm by 23 cm (6 by 9 inches), written in an unknown (but apparently alphabetical) script. It is profusely illustrated with plant drawings, zodiacal diagrams, what have been called ‘‘cosmological’’ diagrams, and diagrams with unclothed women romping on what seem to be water slides. The style of writing and of drawing seem to place its production in the late 1400s or early 1500s, possibly in central Europe.”

  28. The following facts about the VMS are repeated in almost everything written on the subject.

    The VMS is a book of about 104 vellum leaves, sized about 16 cm by 23 cm (6 by 9 inches), – fact

    written in an unknown (but apparently alphabetical) script. That the script has never been definitively identified, or even described is a fact. That it is alphabetical is not a fact; that it has seemed to many to be alphabetical is true.

    It is profusely illustrated with plant drawings – whether or not these were intended as purely ornamental designs (e.g. intended as say woodcarving or textile patterns) was a question never asked – let alone investigated – between 1912 and 2008, when I asked the basis from which the idea of these forming a ‘herbal’ derived.

    “…. zodiacal diagrams” – I believe I may have been the first to point out that the centres of the month folios do not form a zodiac, and despite all the subsequent efforts to rationalise them as a ‘zodiac’ the point still stands.

    Like so much else in this ‘field of research’ a vague impression uttered by one person becomes mistaken for ‘fact’ by reason of only two things; it is endlessly repeated, and most of those repeating it do not ask, let alone investigate, its validity. At least not if it concerns history or pictures. Quite different when one approaches the written text.

    WHAT HAVE BEEN CALLED ‘‘cosmological’’ diagrams is true.

    ‘Unclothed women romping on what seem to be water slides” is entirely non-fact. Until I began to ask the basis for these sort of things, I don’t think that any of the cryptanalysts, or the computer buffs had so much as asked the fundamental questions of art analysis. In this case whether the figures were metaphorical or meant literally, and what intention the original enunciator had.

    And once again:
    ‘The style of writing and of drawing seem to place its production in the late 1400s or early 1500s, possibly in central Europe.”

    JKP – have you looked into the pros and cons of that assertion, or followed the repetition of that idea to discover whether or not it has any solid basis?

    Jim Reeds himself produced the comparative example from Piacenza, and that’s not fifteenth century let alone early 16thC.


    So now again… the ‘Balneis’ idea. Who raised it first? Where’s the evidence and how may one evaluate its worth?

  29. Diane: if you want to be acknowledged as (possibly but not certainly) the first person to suggest that the drawings in the middle of the zodiac roundels may in fact not be the depictions of zodiac signs they seem to just about everyone else, that’s probably fine with everyone. To my ears, it sounds more like Niall Ferguson-style counterfactuality: but that’s your boat, so float it where you will.

    As far as the herbal drawings go, I was probably the first (in 2006) to propose that Herbal-B drawings may well be encrypted Taccola-esque machine drawings, a suggestion which – though somewhat too extreme an hypothesis for most people’s tastes – would seem to have rather more systematic structure and logic behind it than explaining them away as “purely ornamental designs”. But again, each to their own.

    As far as the origins of the Balneis idea goes (yet again): I’ve responded in quite sufficient depth already, take a trip to Chicago and I believe there’s a good chance you’ll find out. Not that anyone else particularly cares at the moment.

  30. Is there a plausible reason why it is not zodiac signs? Or have I misunderstood something.

  31. Mark Knowles on October 18, 2017 at 2:04 pm said:

    Some questions:

    Who was the first to send an email about the Voynich manuscript?
    Who was the first Iranian to study the Voynich manuscript?
    Who was the first to use the term Voynichero?
    Who was the first bugle player to look through every character of the Zodiac pages of the Voynich manuscript?
    Who was the first to setup a blog about the Voynich manuscript?

    So many more questions…

  32. Brian B on October 18, 2017 at 2:31 pm said:

    Nick, sorry, but I can’t find a ‘contact’ area on the site. I’m interested in purchasing your book. The link from your ‘Theories’ page indicates out of print. I’m in Canada, and not available on Amazon either. Are you aware of its availability elsewhere? Thanks.

  33. J.K. Petersen on October 18, 2017 at 10:42 pm said:

    Mark, thank you for my chuckle of the day. 🙂


    Nick wrote: “…Herbal-B drawings may well be encrypted Taccola-esque machine drawings…”

    Nick I hadn’t seen that idea yet, but I love it.


    As for the idea that the VMS might be from central Europe, if we asked every Voynich researcher from Wilfrid Voynich to the present to draw a line on the map for what they consider to be “central Europe”, I’m sure we would get hundreds or thousands of different answers.

    Some of the early researchers thought the VMS was a Bacon cipher. Roger Bacon was from England, but he lived and taught in Paris. Is Paris part of central Europe? It had strong ties with the University of Heidelberg in Germany. Some Europeans still considered Rome to be part of Lombardy in the 15th century (I’ve seen medieval travel itineraries that assert this). Rome used to be part of the Holy Roman Empire, which was essentially all of central Europe. Should one consider political connections in addition to geography?

    Before one can determine if it is or isn’t from central Europe, one needs to define what that means.

    One also needs to be clear on what someone means when they say, “The VMS is from central Europe.” Sometimes the person means, “It was found in central Europe,” or, “Most of the current provenance points to it spending a couple of centuries in central Europe.” They don’t always mean, “It was created in central Europe.”

    I personally don’t care where it’s from. I care about *discovering* where it’s from. My list for possible origins for the VMS is longer than my list of identifications for some of the plants and will remain that way until I know more.

  34. john sanders on October 19, 2017 at 1:51 am said:

    I don’t think that I would be inclined to debate the issue with somone firmly averring to the view that the heart of Central Europe, geographically speaking, would have been fairly near to the district of Chelcice, Moravia in the period to which most Voynicks seem to agree upon as being fifteenth century. I guess it must have been later part of Southern Bohemia, a largish region within the old Austrian Empire?.

  35. This is not really about finding out ‘who first said X’.

    Nick’s new post about Ellie Velinska’s parallel with MS BNF Fr.565 tells me at least that he has understood this, and Diane’s new blog post called text/image disjunction makes it all the more clear.

    There is a lot of evidence that material that was well known in 14th and 15th Century Europe found its way into the Voynich MS illustrations:
    – the German-style zodiac illustrations
    – the T-O map discussed in Nick’s new post
    – herbal illustrations
    – indeed (possibly) the illustrations from the Balneis manuscripts
    – and many, many details in the drawings

    These are uncomfortable evidence for anyone claiming that the MS cannot be from Central Europe, but instead is a product of much earlier times and/or regions way outside Europe.

    Now it would be valid to critically examine all this evidence.
    Here, this seems to be done by arguing that:
    – whoever first said it did not have any real arguments for it
    – everyone else after that just copied it without thinking

    For the Balneis illustrations this cannot work, since the first person we now have on record for noting it is a known authority: Sergio Toresella. Others may have said it before him, but Toresella is not likely to have taken up this point from earlier sources.
    The resemblance was also picked and supported up by Adam McLean and Jennifer Rampling, both reliable sources who are not expected to ‘just copy’ information without thinking critically about it.

    Similar arguments apply for the other points of overlap between the Voynich MS and other European MSs.

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