I have to admit that I find answering the question “What is the Voynich Manuscript?” really hard. I suspect this is mainly because, in the absence of a ‘smoking gun’ proof, there are just about as many ideas of the Voynich Manuscript as there are people looking at it. Demonic, pagan, sexy, cool, meaningless, hoax, deception, written glossolalia, channelling, suicide manual, end-times warning, vowel-less Old Ukrainian, young da Vinci… the list goes on (and on).

Perhaps the most brutally candid answer would be that it is “a Scooby Doo mystery for grownups“: but I guess you knew that already. 😮

If you’re still struggling for your own answer, here’s an excellent article by Lev Grossman from Lingua Franca, way back in April 1999.

Just mooching around the web looking for Trithemius-related stuff (as you do), I saw a reference to Renaissance “telescopes, microscopes and bezicles” in the first (free) page of Polygraphia and the Renaissance sign: The case of Trithemius, from the Springer journal Neophilologus. I had never heard of “bezicles”, so decided to have a sniff around, see what I was missing.

It turns out that the author meant the (more modern French) “besicles“, meaning ‘spectacles‘ (though people usually say lunettes): there’s a glossary of spectacles terms here. Now: besicles was originally bericles, where the ‘r’ somehow transformed into ‘s’ over the centuries (but you’d have to ask a linguist about this subtle shift). And bericles was in turn from beryl, a “smoke-coloured stone” (according to this fun page on spectacles history) used to grind the lenses from – although pure beryl is colourless, & it is the impurities in it which give it colour.

There’s a bigger article on spectacles in the American Journal of Gastroenterology (yes, really!), though you’d need to pay to read it (boo, hiss).

Perhaps because the Voynich hacker who gets killed at the start of Charles Cecil’s “Broken Sword 3” was modelled (as well as texture mapped) on me, I have a certain amount of empathy with people who are so moved by the VMs that they weave it into their own stories. Here are a few links: as with all things, make of them what you will…

Voynich – Synopsis — this plays with the idea of Voynich obsession, and has the “tormented young mathematician” swap roles with his “Javanese cult-deprogrammer”. The VMs takes a supporting role here: it’s more of a road-story about the maths kid and the therapist.

Les Plantes (in French) — this is a teaser for a longer Voynich story. An architect gets given a copy of “Le Code Voynich” (the French near-facsimile edition of the VMs), tries automatic writing, and to his surprise (even though he dabbled with ouija boards when younger) gets given precise directions to the page upon which he should meditate in order to crack its code (just so you know, it’s f16v – the page with the four leather-red flowers). He empties his mind, follows the instructions, starts to fall into a kind of unconsciousness, and… [to be continued]. If you like it, tell the author, and he might finish it! 😉

Gabriel Knight fan fiction by David de Sola — This is more fan fiction about Sierra’s Gabriel Knight than about the VMs, but what the hey. At least this guy knows about the Beinecke (even if he does spin off into Dracula, AIDS and medical malpractics). Interestingly, he gives a couple of reaaaaally old VMs web pages as his source: but both are so ancient they aren’t even in the Wayback Machine. Oh well! 😉

Some Wraeththu fan fiction has the VMs as a key object, that gets decoded only when other related manuscripts are found. From “Strange figures of women taking a bath“, the author has at least looked at the VMs’ pictures (which is good). Though I’m not too sure about the rest…

Just thought I’d post a quick comment about Vladimir Sazonov’s suggestion that the “starred” recipe pages in the Voynich Manuscript form some kind of calendar, ie that they originally contained 365 / 366 stars arranged in some kind of date order. Here’s his page (from Sept 2005) describing this idea:-

The basic idea of a calendar here is not new: D’Imperio noted (“An Elegant Enigma”, p.21, 3.3.7) that Tiltman pointed out in 1975 that the original star-count would very probably have been 365, “thereby providing one ‘star recipe’ for each day of the year, possibly a set of astrological predictions or prescriptions.” The essence of Vladimir’s new idea is to count the days forward from the start and from the end, and to then note that many of them start at the 1st of the month (particularly in the second half). Feb 29th/Mar 1st would then align with a particularly ornate star, and there is a tiny star apparently added at the Spring Equinox.

If true, then to make the remaining 324 starred paragraphs fit the magical 365/366 number, the two folios (f109 and f110) in the missing central bifolio of the last quire would need to contain 41 or 42 starred paragraphs, ie roughly 10-11 per page. This is possible… but seems somehow out of sequence to me, as the only two folios with 10 on a page are f105 and f116. Also, Vladimir’s March/April/May/June seem just out of step, as though a few extra days have been inserted before them.

One important thing to consider here would be whether the pages as numbered are in the correct order (as per my book). If the rest of the ms is anything to go by, the answer would probably that it is not, but that there is still a high chance that any two adjacent folios were originally adjacent.

Here are some alternative ideas for a calendrical solution. If you group the months of the year together into sets of 3 at a time, you get the following four possible quarterly cycles:-

  • Jan – 90+1 / 91 / 92 / 92
  • Feb – 89+1 / 92 / 92 / 92
  • Mar – 92 / 92 / 91 / 90+1

Interestingly, f106-f108 contain 91 stars and f111-113 contain 92 stars in total. If these correspond to the Apr-Jun and Jul-Sep quarters, this might suggest that the f109/f110 bifolio was originally placed somewhere between the outermost bifolio 103/116 and the bifolio 106/113. If so, f109 might have contained only 10 or 11 stars (to bring 79 up to 90+1), while f110 might have contained 31 (to bring 61 up to 92).

At first sight, this seems counterintuitive: why have a folio with only 10 stars on? I would point out that the author has already done this on f116 (which would mark the end of the calendar year), while the 10-star f109 would also contain the end of the astrological year (at the Spring Equinox).

I also suspect that the 106/113 bifolio is out of order: and so my proposed sequence of pages would then be something along the lines of:-

  1. f103 – 19+14 – Jan 1st
  2. f104 – 13+13 – Feb 3rd
  3. f105 – 10+10 – Mar 1st
  4. f109 – 10+0 – Mar 21st – Spring Equinox to end of month, followed by blank page
  5. f107 – 15+15 – Apr 1st
  6. f108 – 16+16 – May 1st
  7. f106 – 15+14 – Jun 2nd
  8. f113 – 16+15 – Jul 1st
  9. f111 – 17+19 – Aug 1st
  10. f112 – 12+13 – Sep 6th
  11. f110 – 16+15 – Oct 1st
  12. f114 – 13+12 – Nov 1st
  13. f115 – 13+13 – Nov 26th
  14. f116 – 10+0 – Dec 22nd – Winter Solstice to end of month, followed by blank page

I don’t claim to know why this should be so: but it seems to me a slightly better calendrical match than Vladimir’s proposal. Perhaps one day when I get the chance to re-examine these pages, I might notice something that might confirm or refute one or both of these ideas… something to think about, all the same. 🙂

For over a year, I’ve been searching for a good Venetian document circa 1450-1460 that would illustrate the “parallel hatching” found in the Voynich Manuscript (particularly in the “nine rosette” map page). I knew there were examples out there, but hadn’t been able to find any.

Well: now I have…

A link from the always-interesting Daily Grail led to a November 2007 Science Mode article, which in turn led me to the American Geographical Society’s festival exhibition website, and from there to a reasonable-sized online scan of Giovanni Leardo’s 1452 mappamundi (made in Venice). Click on the four quadrants to see zoomed-in versions.

There’s much to be written on this, but for now, all I’ll say is: look at the rendering of the four prophets in the four corners, and compare them closely with the detailing on the nine rosette map page. Wonderful, fantastic, amazing – finding this made my heart miss a beat, perhaps it will excite you too…

Incidentally, you’ve got to love Elias when he types (26th Jan 2007): “Ein Königreich für eine Zeitmaschine” – [my] kingdom for a time-machine.

To me, these brief words speaks volumes for the frustration (and Renaissance-like itch for knowledge) Voynichologists suffer from (while deriving a vaguely masochistic mental enjoyment from the same thing). What keeps you awake at night, then? Too much caffeine?

Here’s a link to Elias Schwerdtfeger’s very interesting “Das Voynich Blog”.

Elias has worked really hard behind the scenes to find ways of visualising the statistics expressing what “old hand” Voynichologists (such as, say, Philip Neal & I) see when we look at the Voynich – you know, the highly bonded, multi-level internal structure that exists at the stroke, character, glyph, digraph, word, line, paragraph, page and section levels.

As an aside, I’ve long disagreed with Renaissance encipherment hypotheses for the VMs based on moving alphabets, specifically because they fundamentally destroy these kinds of internal structure: the only way to keep such hypotheses alive is then to argue (as, for example, my old friend GC does) that these structures are part of the “surface language”, i.e. that the encipherer is dynamically stretching his plaintext to mimic these structures in the ciphertext. Yes, it’s possible, but… put all the pieces together and it’s a bit too much of a stretch for me.

Incidentally, I’ve been looking at f2v recently, specifically because of the “fa” marginalia there (one of the very few marginalia I didn’t really cover in my book, “The Curse of the Voynich”). Elias discusses f2v at some length, proposing the eminently sensible (and testable) hypothesis that the same pe(rso)n that/who made the dubious (o)ish(i) emendation to the last line of f2v also added the “fa” marking above the second paragraph. They’re both in similar darker ink (which is a good start): but I think that the Beinecke’s scans – though fantastic for most purposes – fall just short of being able to resolve this kind of question definitively.

Actually, I’ve got a list of about 50 similar/related cross-indexing questions like that I’d like to address (say, by multispectral imaging or Raman imaging) in the future. But for now, that project is stalled (because the Beinecke turned my proposals down). Oh well: maybe next year…

Yet another Voynich Manuscript parallel I can barely believe I never saw before now: the Mutus Liber, a book on alchemy composed more or less entirely of illustrative pictures. In many ways, I think this has more of a feel of the Codex Seraphinianus to it, or perhaps even of the Pulcinellopedia:-

Here’s the blog page where I first saw the link to it:-

While the Mutus Liber hasn’t quite reached the Internet fandom level of the Voynich Manuscript, there’s still plenty out there on it. It is (as far as anyone knows) from no earlier than 1677: here are two “translations” of it:-

And here (for the interested) is a link to a page on Serafini’s Pulcinellopedia. Enjoy!