But WHY an Armadillo?

September 4, 2019

In the recent heated resurrection of the f80v “armadillo” identification controversy, many new and old issues arose surrounding it. But in all the discussions, it became apparent to me that not everyone was aware of the basis for my reasons I favor the armadillo identification.

I didn’t understand this at first, because I had long linked my page of armadillo pictures and engravings, beginning with my first post on the subject way back in 2009, “Dating an Armadillo”. And then, I linked that selection, again, in my very recent post, “ANYTHING but an Armadillo”. But apparently some have missed those links, and therefore misunderstood many of my arguments pro-armadillo. This post is to rectify this oversight. Below are my “pro-armadillo” arguments, both visual and contextual.

Point-by-Point Armadillo Comparison:

f80v_with_labels

The f80v animal is, by most people, quickly recognized as an armadillo. Why? Quite simply, it seems there is enough of a recognizable set of features. The curling posture, a defensive feature of the animals, is well known. They have scales. The snouts are slender, as are the ears on some species. Also, the snout’s tip is often represented with high nostrils, which I think might account for the Voynich artist drawing a slightly “upturned” orientation to the tip of the snout. Also note the ears are pointy, and the legs are short. Look below at this 1551 illustration from Conrad Gesner’s Historiae Animalium:

1551_gesner_armadillo
I’m going to return to this image in the “context” section, below. But the form is very close, although the artist’s style is obviously different. Where the f80v animal deviates is in the very poor representation of a tail, as it is somewhat “wispy”, and not the definitive “rat like” tail of real and illustrated armadillos. And the f80v animal was drawn without bands. But note that the scales on both f80v and the Gesner version are both seemingly drawn oriented in the wrong direction: with the curved portion facing forward. This is not seen on real armadillos, but is an error of representation on several early engravings. Here is another version with this reverse-scaling:
armadillo1633
That is from a 1633 book, and I apologize for losing the reference. I will try to find it. But meanwhile, note the scale orientation, the pointy ears, the upturned snout, the short legs, and the overall proportions. I think that from just these two images, it is clear that the f80v animal fits well with a 16th and 17th century understanding as to how these creatures should recognizably be illustrated (and therefore, also, how a forger of a 16th or 17th century armadillo illustration should represent one), and adding the oft-described defensive curling would be the “icing on the armadillo” (a lemon meringue, usually, I understand. Sorry). Here is another representation from the 16th century:
armadillo_1592
I had noted that this is from the 1593 book Aromatum, et Simplicium Aliquot Medicamentorum Apud Indos Nascentium, and also appears in the 1579 Simplicium medicamentorum ex Nouo Orbe delatorum, quorum in medicina, both by Nicolás Bautista Monardes. This version is different than the others on some points, such as scale representation, but still: In overall proportion, slender, upturned snout, short legs, and pointy ears, this animal is both very similar to the Voynich image, and also immediately recognizable as an armadillo. The next image is from a 1592 map of the New World, in Library and Archives Canada, item # NMC 8142:
1592_map

He is a bit heftier than the f80v animal, with a thicker snout. And the scales now seem to be oriented properly… although it is unclear if bands are being represented. And the snout is not upturned at the tip. But still he has the general proportions expected and seen in others, and in the f80v animal. Further, perhaps, but still I think a good comparison. And in any case, I do not think this is the source of the f80v animal, because of those differences.

A point here, before I go much further: This post is about the “why of it”: the reasoning behind the armadillo. For all the previous decade plus arguments AGAINST the armadillo, see my post ANYTHING but an Armadillo. If you have a new objection over those, or a “pro” comment that has not occurred to me or others, I would be interested in hearing it below.

Expectations and practices of the Voynich Artist:

As I also pointed out in “ANYTHING but…”, objectors to an armadillo identity have claimed that the Voynich artist was either too good to draw it so badly, or conversely, so lacking in talent, that they would not have drawn and armadillo “this good”. That is, they would have either drawn it better, or worse, but not like we see it. Or, it is said, those are not scales, but fur, and not ears, but horns. But the thing is, we do not have to guess at these things: we have clear examples, elsewhere in the Voynich, as to how the artist drew various animal features, and the level of their talent.

So for the question of whether or not the f80v animal is representing scales? We have two scaled animals which compare closely to the f80v animal, showing the VMs artist meant “scales”:vms_scales

So from these images alone, it is obvious the f80v animal has scales. If they meant “fur”, as many have suggested… such as seen on wolves, sheep, and other animals, then we also know how such a feature would have been drawn by the VMs artist:

Vms_fur

And there are other examples in the Voynich, telling us how the artist represented these features, and more: How they drew ears, and horns, and eyes, and so on. And I cannot resist pointing out how Voynich himself treated these features, in his own drawing of a cat:

sessa

Similar to the above argument, also covered on my page “Anything but…”, it has been suggested that a person “of the time” (meaning, “15th century”) would or would not have drawn a thing this way, or that way. But however others might have so drawn the animal, in ANY time, is irrelevant, because we have the Voynich right in front of us, telling us exactly how they DID draw these things.

But what about the context?

And then, it has been claimed (“Anything but…”) that there would be NO reason for an armadillo to be in a forged Roger Bacon manuscript. That is true, there probably isn’t a reason for that. But the thing is, nobody I know of makes that claim, and I certainly don’t.

In my 1910 Voynich Theory, I hypothesize that the Voynich Manuscript was first created, about 1908 to 1910, as a Jakub Hořčický botanical. I think it was meant to look like it was written by the man claimed to have signed it, that is, “Jacobus Tepencz”, while he was chief botanist and physician for the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II.

And further, I believe the “primer”, or guide, for creation of this forgery, was the 1904 Henry Carrington Bolton work, Follies of Science at the Court of Rudolf II. This is a sometimes informative, but more often wildly inaccurate, although always colorful representation of the last years of the Court of the Emperor. It is a fun read, but far from a history lesson. It was a best seller in its time, and gave a great many people a skewed vision of life in the Court of Rudolf. And Wilfrid Voynich was no exception… he was a real fan of this very popular work, even telling others that he “knew it by heart”.

The list of comparisons to mentions in Follies, and those things noted in the Voynich, is tremendous, and a subject for another blog post in itself. But for the sake of this this post, I note Hořčický is one mention… as is his brother (???) “Christian”, and his “City Pharmacy”, with many New World… American… plants and medicines, which supposedly lined his shelves.

Voynich himself made private note of almost all the names in “Follies…”, listing them in order. It has been suggested to me that he did this to try and ascertain the origins of “his” Roger Bacon manuscript, that is, to discover “who” may have brought the VMs to the Court of Rudolf II. Possibly. But I posit, on the contrary, that Wilfrid’s list is highly suspicious, especially considering the above mentioned great number of similarities between the manuscript, and that “Follies…”. It is a “chicken/egg” problem, to be sure… but with those comparisons, I would say, “Follies” is more the chicken, and the Voynich ms., the egg. That is, I believe that Wilfrid Voynich did research the names in “Follies…”, but in order to include in his work many items he thought might appear in a manuscript herbal by the Court botanist.

Which brings us back to the Conrad Gesner armadillo, shown above. I had long noted that his armadillo engraving was probably the closest representation, in style and spirit, to the f80v animal. The pointy ears, the upturned snout, the look and orientation of the scales, and so on. I had thought this, in fact, before reading Follies of Science at the Court of Rudolf II. So one is welcome to dismiss this as just another of many troubling coincidences, but the very book this armadillo is from, is mentioned in Follies, on page 212:

“… the ‘German Pliny,’ Conrad Gesner, Professor of natural history at Zurich, whose ‘History of Animals,’ published in 1551, is the basis of all modern zoology…”

And there is a further supporting reason why an armadillo might appear in the Voynich, if a forgery meant to appear as a Rudolf Court production, as I contend: All the great minds of the early 17th century in Europe were quite fascinated by “all things New World”. Their “Kunstkammers”, or “Cabinets of Curiosities”, and much art representing those collections, there appear many New World artifacts, plants and animals, as they were very desirable. The armadillo is no exception. Here is the Musei Wormiani Historia of 1655:

kunstkammer_armadillo

Note the stuffed armadillo hanging up on the right. There is another armadillo on a shelf to the left, in this illustration of the Museo Cospiano. I found this and other images on this page of seven different collections, and I think there are at least four armadillos between them:
cospi
So there is a clear case to be made for the use of an armadillo in the Voynich, as explained in my own hypothesis. It has a very good reason to be there, as it would be completely appropriate… actually, expected… in a work meant to represent the Court of Rudolf II.

Mention must be made to the various New World Voynich theories, most of which do accept that the f80v animal is an armadillo, of course. I do think that a great many of the comparisons used in these theories, of plants, animals, and text, to New World sources, are actually correct. It is just that given all the other comparisons made, that deviate from “New World”, many of which are grossly anachronistic to the radiocarbon dating of the calf skin of the Voynich (comparisons up to 1909), I feel the New World content of the Voynich was by influence only, and penned in modern times.

This post does not go into the great many other reasons I feel are supportive of my 1910 Voynich Theory, nor does it claim the armadillo identity is the only pillar on which to base my theory. It is only one of a great number of observations, by me and others, which clearly show that that the Voynich (as a 15th century genuine manuscript) is rife with anomalies and anachronisms, which never get properly explained; nor are any appropriate, let alone better, substitutes offered, in any reasonable overall context.

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Rebuttal to “NoFake”

August 5, 2019

I was recently in a discussion with a proponent, and author, of a New World origin theory for the Voynich Manuscript, and he believes my 1910 Forgery Hypothesis is without merit. Of course that is fine, I relish disagreement, it is the “oil of the machine of progress”. But what interests me most about rebuttal is just “how” the were arrived at, and how they are supported? I am less interested in both agreement and disagreement alike, if the basis for either is unfounded.

It is usually the case that the critiques of my forgery theory use the meticulous and well-researched pages of voynich.nu, founded and edited by the Voynich expert, René Zandbergen. Most argument used to dismiss my claims seem to originate from those pages, or to some other source based on them, or past work that they draw from. Other sources are the recent Yale book about the Voynich, for which René is one of the contributors and advisers.

But it is clear that a major force in many people’s “understanding” of what the Voynich is, and what it is not, owe as a basis the works of Mr. Zandbergen. It has become a starting point for many researchers, a reference for articles and blogs, and, it seems, a sort of “proxy” opponent for any theories which run counter to it. A person does not have to understand the basis for their own argument, and often, they do not. All they have to do is repeat the things they have been told are so.

Many conclusions are given there as known, unassailable proofs, when they are actually based on speculation, and are, in fact, opinions: that the Voynich is known to be a 15th century genuine work, that it appears in pre-1912 records, that it was made within a short period of time, that it was owned by Horicky, that it was in the Court of Rudolf, that it was once believed to be a Roger Bacon work, that Kircher saw and commented on it… and much, much, more. All these things are still unknown, based on speculation, and often contradicted by the evidence. The second problem is that those pages do not properly describe, if they describe at all, the great many anomalies, anachronisms and inconsistency in the Voynich and its purported “provenance”.

I’ve addressed many of the hundreds of problems with this carefully constructed “image” over the years. But the task is an onerous one, and the genie is long out of the bottle. It has spread through media and popular culture, has become the basis of many books and articles, and now forms the “understanding” for hundreds of posts on the Voynich, around the web.

But this post is about one page from that site, the one which was used as a direct “proxy rebuttal” to my own 1910 Modern Forgery theory, by the New World theorist I was engaged with. He told me that I “… need to refute all [René’s] arguments” on the page, “Why the Voynich MS is not a Modern Fake“.

The importance of this page is that it is clearly the “best shot” that the 1420 Paradigm can levy against the possibility of a modern fake. It is written by the man often described as the premiere Voynich expert. There would clearly be no argument against fake left off of this page, and I can attest to this, as I have heard all the arguments. It is also clear that that page is at least partially reactionary to my own work these past years, although I am not specifically named in them. While the idea that the manuscript may simply be a forgery by Wilfrid Voynich has been around a long time, I have pushed the envelope of that investigation further than it has ever gone, using new research and observations not previously considered. This work, and these ideas, have unfortunately caused a rift in the field of Voynich research, but also a necessary, and necessarily public discussion about it. “Nofake” is an attempt to close the matter, to dissuade others to not consider modern forgery, to claim there is no merit in the idea… and so I consider it my right and responsibility to counter it.

Notes: In the quote boxes are copied the wording from “Why the Voynich MS is not a Modern Fake“, or from other sources so identified, with my comments and rebuttals below them. If anything has been omitted by me, it is because of its repetitive nature, or some other reason rendering it moot to the discussion. But of course one is welcome to point out any items from that page that they may feel pertinent to the issue, and I will of course address that in the comments below.

“Part 1: codicological and forensic evidence”

“The MS is written on previously unused parchment”

This is irrelevant to the issue of forgery, first of all, as many forgers use and have used old material, either blank, or erased (palimpsests). The Voynich might be written on either, we don’t know. The only evidence given for it not being a palimpsest is that no scraping or sanding marks have been found. However, because of the pre-conception the Voynich “must” be old), more modern bleaching methods, which do not scrape the surface, have not been tested for.

“The sewing/stitching of the binding is centuries old. On photographs (e.g. IMG: here) it is partly hidden by Kraus’ restorations of 50 years ago, but it was studied in detail by several expert MS conservators on 7 November 2014.”

Old stitching can be faked, and also often is. Note the “disclaimer” here: the mention of “Kraus’ restorations”. This is frequently done in defense of anomalies: anything anachronistic is said to be “added” by someone else, while anything consistent with the paradigm is just fine. We don’t know exactly what Kraus did and did not do, it should not be used as an excuse for anachronisms.

But let’s look at the actual verdict of the experts on binding, as per the Yale book, “The Voynich Manuscript”, edited by Raymond Clemens (2016), for René’s claim that the construction is “centuries old“:

On page 25, typical Gothic period (1300-1600) stitching is described as “generally” using linen thread (for the quires) onto “raised, double, tawed-leather thongs”. The Voynich, on the contrary, is described as having “bast fiber thread (linen or hemp) onto double cords of flax”. So that is different than “general Gothic” practice. The Yale author is conscious of this, and gives this disclaimer, “Although it is not unheard of for a fifteenth-century manuscript to be sewn onto flax supports, as the Voynich manuscript is, it is less usual than the use of leather supports”.

So that is not a good match, it is “less usual” to find this. So that counters the claim that we KNOW the binding is “centuries old”.

Further on,

“The sewing appears to be very old…”

That is, “appears to be”, not “known to be”. Forgers always make things “appear to be”, so this is not a firm statement of authenticity… Yale continues,

“… and is either original or an imitation of that used in the early Gothic period”

It could be “an imitation“? Now isn’t that what forgers do, “imitate” old stuff? This, again, counters René’s impression that we know the binding is “centuries old”… but leaves open the possibility some of the construction may be an imitation of it.

I’d like to add here a link to a blog page of Diane O’Donovan. I mentioned my intention to post my thoughts on  the “telling” wording of the Yale examinations. She had also noted this months ago, and did an great job of breaking down, in detail, the “how and why” of it all: https://voynichrevisionist.com/2019/05/11/expert-opinion-myth-versus-materials-science-pt-5a/ (It goes without saying that Diane has her own opinions as to what the Voynich may or  may not be, and most very different than mine… but like me, and many others, she realizes that much which has been stated as fact about the Voynich Ms., while there are anything but settled).

The Yale essay then describes random holes, that do not seem “indicate a different arrangement of folios”, but “may have been stabbed by mistake while setting up the text for sewing; others may be merely evidence of insect damage”.

There you see that they do not know the origin of these holes, nor, I point out, can they differentiate between worm holes and accidentally poked holes. From these statements by the experts, I think it is perfectly reasonable to come to alternate opinions, such as that previously used parchment with old holes was used. Or, perhaps, with worm holes, and disassembled and re-used, as the holes do not line up to anything… and so on.

The essay then goes on the explain the possibility that the work was dis-bound and re-bound at some point… which it must have, because of the missing leaves and scrambled order. Then it continues,

“The parchment binding and endleaves (first and last pages of the book) are not original to the text and may have been added in the eighteenth century” by the Jesuits.

Note that they are not describing JUST the endleaves as being added in the eighteenth century, but they include the binding… so yes, that is still under René’s claim of “centuries old”, but about “two” centuries, not the five plus centuries which he was clearly implying to make the case for a 15th century origin.

The Yale book then explains that a note in pencil states the “sewing and cover were repaired in the 1960’s”. Do we know what was repaired, what was replaced? I don’t think so, but anyway, again, this is not “centuries old”. The book goes on,

“Although parchment or leather spine linings were commonly used at this time, paper spine linings like that found in the Voynich Manuscript were not.”

So there is yet another case of anachronistic materials and construction. Then the examiners write that “… determining its age or origin might offer further clues that would help place the manuscript geographically”… in other words, they seem to consider this anomalous, anachronistic paper spine lining to be original, but have not “determined” their age nor origin! Once again, countering René’s claim these experts concluded the binding was “centuries old“.

The Yale experts then add that the insect holes and staining on the first and last leaves indicate an older wooden-board binding, covered in leather, was once there… which is “more typical for the Gothic period”. Read another way, another affirmation that the materials and construction of the binding and covers is NOT typical for the “Gothic period”, in that there is a possibility a gothic-age clue WAS there, once, but it is now gone.

So much to the contrary to RZ’s claim that the tests and examination determined the binding is known to be “centuries old“, what the experts actually tell us is quite different: that the materials, construction and practice of binding the Voynich deviates in ways anomalous and/or anachronistic to what would be expected of the C14 date range. I’d go as far as to say the conclusions of Yale actually support other reasonable conclusions, including fake.

Back to voynich.nu’s “nofake” page:

“Beside remnants of old paper lining, very tiny fragments of leather were observed attached to the back of the text block, as leftovers from an earlier binding”

I am not sure where this comes from… maybe Yale again… but it is irrelevant. Wherever blank vellum sheets, or blank quires, or a blank book was salvaged from, for genuine old use, or modern fake, there may be “tiny fragments of leather” stuck to it.

“The folds of the foldout pages show signs of very significant wear”

Again, irrelevant. Almost every forger since the beginning of time makes certain that they wear, and stain, and beat, and worm hole, and crack and abrade the work, to imply age. But skipped over here… although my rebuttal here is less about why it may be a forgery: The foldout pages are actually a major clue to forgery, as the they are anachronistic by several hundred years (see Clemens, Yale, and below) to the 1420 Paradigm. I speculate that they are also are a clue that a forger may have started with all full size folios to begin with, as in my “Three Quire Theory”: They simply left some large, and folded them.

“When Kraus acquired the MS, the cover was almost entirely detached. However, the imprints on the dorso made by the old binding (i.e. without Kraus’ repairs) show that it must have been attached tightly for a longer time. There are signs of additional (previous) stitching holes, showing that early in its history it has most probably been rebound in its present form”

Again, not clues (even if correctly pointing to “old”, and not simply pressed together for some lesser time) necessarily pointing to age of the book as a whole, but actually may be a clue to the re-use of the parchment. This also is a case of the assumptions that anything “too new” was due to Kraus, or some other later hands, such as the Jesuits, or Voynich… and anything looking old enough means “genuine”. Also note that René cherry-picked one possible explanation for those extra holes (“rebound”), and also, that this is actually moot to genuine and forgery alike. Nonetheless, as we have seen, the experts didn’t have an explanation for the extra holes.

“There are wormholes on the very few first and last folios. They don’t extend into the MS because these insects did not feed on parchment. The holes cut through writing and drawing elements, showing that they appeared after the MS was written.”

This demonstrates the frequent misuse of forgery evidence, being spun to instead imply genuine. This because a clue often used to determine the authenticity of a document is the “lining up” of wormholes between sheets. But here, wormholes don’t line up with anything. So they are both being used to imply genuine, with, “there are wormholes”, and “through writing and drawing elements”; but then the evidence they are not genuine, i.e., they don’t line up to any other, continued, holes, is explained away, with “these insects did not feed on parchment”. So these particular ones did just the perfect amount of feeding: They ate through JUST enough parchment to prove it is old, then stopped… proving the parchment is old again.

Furthermore, I am unclear on just how the determination was made they appeared “after the MS was written” to begin with, as wormholes are commonly faked anyway, and difficult to judge the authenticity of. Fake wormholes have fooled many experts. In any case, elsewhere in Yale, as described above, the stray holes are indistinguishable to the examiner between poked with a tool, and insect holes.

“There are stains on f1r and f116v from an earlier cover. Combining this information with that related to the wormholes, the experts conclude that the MS must have had an earlier cover of wooden boards covered by tanned leather.”

This is not evidence of forgery. Staining is easily and often replicated, and has historically fooled many examiners of forgeries.

“The MS does not include yellow flowers, unlike essentially all other illustrated herbals. Upon closer inspection, it appears that there are remnants of a faded yellow pigment, which must have been an organic yellow that has faded through the ages.”

This “faded yellow pigment” has not been tested, first of all… or, we assume it has not, by McCrone. It does not appear in their report. And in the Yale book, it says nothing about this yellow pigment having “faded through the ages”, only that it “might be organic” (page34). Unless I missed it, I’ll assume that it was René who speculated that this yellow “… has faded through the ages”.

How long does it take yellow pigment to fade? Forgers also fake aged paints and dyes, by falsely adding oxidized ingredients and colors, by treating them, by method of application. So would a forgery know that yellow fades? Anything an examiner knows, a forger knows. Sometimes, more. So how do we know a forger didn’t simply apply a thin yellow? Or fade it? In any case, it is yet another claim of René’s that seems to really be his own opinion, and does not reflect any specific expert observation or analysis, and which can again have many alternate opinions ascribed to it.

“In 2009 radio-carbon dating of the parchment and forensic testing of the paints and inks was performed. The parchment dates from the early decades of the 15th Century”

First of all, skipped over is the fact that the ink was not, and cannot be, dated. Medieval inks can be mixed up this afternoon, if we desire, and McCrone never dated the ink. But as to the parchment date of “… from the early decades of the 15th Century”, this is demonstrably untrue. The dating of the samples are actually from a range of between the latter part of the 14th century, through the late 15th, or even early 16th centuries, according to René on his site, and elsewhere: http://www.voynich.nu/extra/carbon.html

“All tests of the inks and paints, both in 2009 and 2015, failed to bring to light any trace of elements inconsistent with this date. This is a test where fakes perpetrated more than a century ago are almost inevitable to fall through.”

On the contrary, the ink and paint tests do show several anomalies, such as “slightly unusual” copper and zinc; a “titanium compound”, and an unknown gum binder not in the McCrone sample base, and much more. In fact, the report recommends further tests in some areas, in order to resolve these questions.

But even if anachronistic ink constituents were not found, it is not at all “inevitable” that fakes have such problems with their inks. There are many cases of forgeries with quite good inks… that is the point of forgers learning how to make them. In fact, the Voynich’s long time friend and partner, Sidney Reilly (M15 double agent and spy) took a book on mixing medieval inks out of the Cambridge library. Voynich was a trained chemist.

“Part 2: Evidence of Provenance”

“When, around the year 2000, several references to the Voynich MS dating from the 17th Century were found in the correspondence of Kircher, the main reason for the above suspicion about the Voynich MS was removed.”

The references (Kircher Carteggio letters) are, first of all, vague and do not satisfactorily describe the Voynich. Stars, “chemical symbolism”, “plants unknown to the Germans, unknown script… could all describe a great many manuscripts. Conversely, many prominent, identifiable features of the Voynich are NOT described in those letters, when it would be logical to include them in any discussing attempting to identify it: Nude women, the zodiacs, the cylinders, and so on… this area is ripe with points, enough for a book in itself… such as that several of the cylinders look so much like Kircher OWN MICROSCOPE… that it is absurd to think the similarity would not have occurred to him.

And the “Ilyrian” in the Kinner letter, long thought to be a reference to the mysterious text in the same letter, turned out to be… with a better translation… referring to another, known, work. In fact the record was updated to reflect this, with a new rationalization, weakly claiming, again, it is evidence the Voynich was being described. But far from knowing the “several references” are known to be of the “Voynich MS”, the evidence is actually that some other manuscript other than the Voynich is being described. I call it that unknown ms. the “Baresch Manuscript”.

Also, that these letters were likely kept in the Villa Mondragone, under the care of Joseph Strickland, who was a friend of Voynich’s. And Strickland and his brothers actually attended the college there, years before. The often repeated idea that Voynich could not have seen them, or seen any record or report based on them, is unsupported, and in fact, unlikely, in my opinion.

“Further suspicion about Voynich as a possible faker arose because of his legendary capability of finding previously unknown books (primarily incunables and early prints). It has been suggested that these could be fakes. This aspect is addressed (without the suspicions) in Whitemann (2006), and here we see that many unique or previously unknown books offered for sale by Voynich were soon found in several other copies, showing that this particular suspicion was equally not founded.”

I’ve never heard anyone publicly state these early incunabula might be fakes, so I imagine René is referring to a private exchange we had on this subject. But whether the early incunabula… he is referring to the sale of 150 to the British museum, in, I think, 1902… are real or not, is irrelevant to the question of whether the Voynich, or other works Voynich owned, are real.

“Voynich’s secrecy related to his acquisition of the MS could be a further source for suspicion, but now we know that he acquired several MSs at the same time, many of which are now preserved in American libraries. All of these are genuine old MSs which originate from the Jesuit Collegium Romanum.”

Again, it is irrelevant whether or not these are fakes. Forgers, art and book dealers alike, might, and have, sold only a few fakes, or one, while at the same time selling a much greater number of genuine items.

That being said, several of the works Voynich bought at the same time as the Voynich are questionable, and have been questioned. He has even sold at least one known fake. But that is also a topic for another paper, as it is, as I said, irrelevant to whether or not the Voynich is fake.

“His secrecy applied equally to these genuine MSs, and it was because of a promise made when he acquired these MSs. It clearly has nothing to do with a supposed fake. Most of the collection from which he acquired these MSs is now in the Vatican library.”

See above… and also, I point out, that Wilfrid’s stories used to impose this “secrecy” are varied and contradictory in many cases. In short, we know he lied about provenance, on several occasions, and gave highly suspicious provenance in others. So to use the word of Voynich in any case, of any owned and/or sold work, does not help us to know for certain the provenance of any of them.

“We can see that the cover of the Voynich MS is similar to other MSs that he acquired at the same time, and also similar to the MSs that went to the Vatican. The similarity of all these covers was the result of a general rebinding by the Jesuits reported in Ruysschaert (1959). The historical archives of the Pontifical Gregorian University have even published a text written shortly before this rebinding indicating that such a rebinding was needed because the collection was infected by woodworms.”

This is covering for the fact that the binding and cover of the Voynich are actually more modern than the C14 tests of the parchment revealed. It also now contradicts René’s previous statement the binding is “centuries old“. If this reported “general rebinding” by the Jesuits, then it is only a bit over a century old.

“We see that the evidence related to the provenance and the codicology are fully consistent.”

No, the evidence is anything but consistent, and the provenance anything but convincing, as I’ve shown above.

“At least three of the books that were acquired by Voynich on this occasion, and later sold by him, were seen and consulted before 1870 while they were in “the Collegium Romanum library. Many of these MSs still show their original Collegium Romanum shelfmarks. Some 25 manuscripts (including autographs) of Kircher that are now preserved elsewhere can also be traced back with certainty to the Collegium Romanum library, so it is fully consistent to find the Voynich MS, that was sent by Marci to Kircher in 1665, in the same collection.”

It is irrelevant what else was in the Collegium Romanum, as to where the Voynich may or may not have come from. But note again an important point which is glossed over: “Many of these MSs still show their original Collegium Romanum shelfmarks.” The thing is, the Voynich does not have any label, any shelfmark, any indication at all this was in the CRL, or with these other books, at any time. No shelfmark, no descriptive ex libris, when many other books which René is attempting to relate by proximity, to the Voynich, do actually have these. Again, this is another case where a damning bit of evidence is spun to seem to support genuine.

“Two letters letters from Godefrid Aloys Kinner to Kircher, written in 1666 and 1667 respectively and now preserved in the Kircher correspsondence, tell us that Marci had recently sent an unreadable MS to Kircher for translation (see note 10). The unnamed previous owner of the MS that Marci referred to in his letter has now been identified as one Georg Barschius, and one of the letters he reportedly sent to Kircher has also been found. Equally, the response from Kircher to an even earlier (now lost) letter from Barschius has been found in Prague.”

See above, i.e. the “letters” are unconvincing in their description of the manuscript, and it is more likely some other manuscript, either lost or unidentified as such, than it is the Voynich.

“In summary, we have a fully consistent trace of the Voynich MS from the 17th Century till its discovery in 1912 by Voynich.”

See above… this is not at all a reasonable conclusion. On the contrary, the Voynich has virtually NO acceptable provenance at all, and no real “trace” and not at all “consistent”. Any case for provenance needs to be invented, and it was by Wilfrid, and is still done, today. See the new claim that the “1903 catalog entry” is the Voynich… claimed as possible on René’s page, which morphed into fact by the time he wrote his essay for the Yale publication.

The two most similar methods of argument are always those of the forger, and the defenders of forgeries. The exact same rationalizations, omissions, argumentative tactics, are used by both, and this “nofake” page continues to reflect this. There is virtually nothing of value connecting the Voynich to the Collegium Romanum, to the Villa Mondragone, or to any of the players that Voynich, René, and all 1420 adherents insist you believe were involved. In fact, there is no plausible, reliable evidence that the Voynich existed before about 1908.

Part 3: About faking artefacts

“Around the start of the 20th Century there certainly was an active trade in faked old artefacts of all nature. The most famous proponent of this trade is the so-called ‘Spanish Forger’…

In this section, René relates several known forgeries, and states that longer ms. forgeries are not made, for various reasons. He seems to be trying to show that in all aspects the Voynich is not similar to other forgeries, and that forgeries of the type and length of the Voynich would not be made, based on the limited information he has supplied, and that “therefore” the Voynich is not a forgery.

This is an illogical path of argument for several reasons: First of all, while no two forgeries are the same, and while the Voynich is likewise a unique work , the Voynich still has more similarities to many known forgeries, by far, than any real, or even forged, manuscript that I know of. So it is wrong to try and say there is no forgery like it, therefore it cannot be a forgery… rather I counter, there are many forgeries with some of the characteristics of the Voynich, and the Voynich has many characteristics, in one place, of many forgeries. These were outlined in my talk before the NSA in 2017:

Another false argument here is that it would not be “worth it” to make such a long forgery. But first of all, Voynich wanted between $1.6 and about $2 million dollars, in today’s currency, and that is quite a worthwhile return for, at most, a year’s worth of spare time. And furthermore, there is a long precedent for making long manuscript faux books, which took a great deal of time and effort, and offered no monetary return. Among them are the Chittenden Manuscript, which I examined in person.

The Chittenden, and many other “faux books”, belie the claim that “nobody would do this”. For more examples: https://proto57.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/prop-hoax-tribute-art/

René then cites the longer forgery, the Archaic Mark, which actually counters his own claims that it would not be worth it, or too risky, to make a longer forgery. So he switches gears, and disallows this example by saying “The parchment has been scraped to remove any earlier writing and painting on it. The forensic reports clearly indicate the presence of anachronistic elements in the paints, and a suspicious binding.” He is discounting the good example of another long forgery because it was revealed to be one. This is irrelevant, because there are many forgeries, some found out, and some, not. At least, it would be ridiculous to assume that only those forgeries we discovered, exist.

And then, despite his claims longer works are not made as forgeries, he actually links to several, in that section:

https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/books-manuscripts/gaius-suetonius-tranquillus-de-vita-caesarum-5573305-details.aspx
https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot/the-spanish-forger-4-full-page-1369098-details.aspx?intObjectID=1369098

So which is it? Was it done, or not? Well it was done, and done often, both despite and because of René’s passage on this subject. Several long forgeries do exist, several long faux books of various types, do exist, and still, their existence really does not affect whether or not the Voynich is yet another one. But by René’s reasoning, it does matter… so in effect, in this section, he has countered his own point.

Part 4: W. Voynich’s means, motive and opportunity

“… if the Voynich MS were a modern forgery, then the forger needed a large amount of previously unused parchment from the early 15th C. Since we saw above that the stitching of the MS is very old…”

Shown above, the binding as old is questionable, not “we saw” it is known to be from the early 15th century. Also, René is aware of the 1908 purchase of the Libreria Franceschini, the repository of perhaps 500,000 items collected over a period of 40 plus years. It would be difficult to accept that no quantity of blank vellum could not be found in the massive piles of ancient material there.

“… one might suggest that the MS was written in a previously bound volume with empty pages, but this can be excluded for three different reasons.”

One might, but it is not necessary, and I do not. I know of no-one who thinks the Voynich was written on a previously bound, blank book. And there are several other ways in which the Voynich may have been created. From cut down larger folios, from pre-stitched quires, which have been un-stitched, then re-stitched, and so on. In any case, if re-ordered (and we know it was), why does it have to be for genuine reasons? It can simply have been un-stiched to work on, and reassembled, by anyone, at any time.

“The first is that in several locations drawings and text ‘disappear’ in the binding, so these pages were written, drawn and even painted before they were bound.”

OK, that works for forgery, too.

“Secondly, no previously bound book with blank pages would have the occasional foldout folios that the Voynich MS has.”

Aha! Once again the anachronistic fold outs, which are actually evidence of forgery, are being used to claim that it cannot be a forgery! And “why?” one would ask, also, would “no previously bound book with blank pages” “have the occasional foldout folios”? Because they were not used in the era suggested for the Voynich. But this claim also makes no sense, because René is not disputing that the foldouts do exist, that they were not used, that they were not once, blank. So this is also sort of odd, to say that no blank book would have had foldouts, because… well, OK, they wouldn’t. It was from sheets, whether the Voynich is real or fake, old or new.

“Finally, it would also be expected that the pages had been trimmed.”

René knows that many of the edges of many leaves of the Voynich do appear to have been trimmed. But other than that, I am unclear of his point here. Why? would we expect a blank book, or the use of sheets for a forgery, and so on, if a forgery, to be trimmed more or less than a real book?

“… and an old book dealer like Voynich would be in a good position to have occasional access to unused sheets of old parchment, by dismembering old books.”

Well, yes… and an argument for the possibility of fake, again, not against it. Again I must note his acquisition of the Libreria Franceshini, in 1908, which was the repository of over 500,000 of everything and anything possible.

“For a moderately long MS like the Voynich MS, in such a case one would expect to find a patchwork of parchment from different ages, something that was specifically taken into account during the radio-carbon dating of the Voynich MS…”

This statement is frankly stunning, because, in fact, the Voynich Manuscript IS A “patchwork of parchment from different ages“! The samples ARE “from different ages”… 50-60 years, up to 200 years apart. But then, this odd claim that this was “something that was taken into account during the radio carbon dating”. It was NOT taken into account, it was altered. The actual results were modified, based on several “assumptions”, then “combined”, to produce a “1420” friendly range of 1404 to 1438.

“In reality, the parchment is of similar quality throughout the MS, and not a patchwork of different types or from different ages.”

Roughly similar types, although the quality varies. And that other “error” is repeated, because they are “from different ages“.

“Another possibility is that the MS could have been created from a stack of sheets of previously unused parchment that had been preserved for 500 years and never used for a book. In both above-mentioned cases, the mixture of normal-sized folios and large foldouts of different sizes, yet from similar parchment that has been dated to a single time frame, makes this scenario unrealistic.”

Why? Three quires of unused, full size parchment would make all the pages of the Voynich, including all the foldouts (from uncut sheets). But note the “unrealistic” appended to this… the site is peppered with such claims, without foundational merit, as here. At least this is openly stated as an opinion, which it is, but then it has no identified basis in itself.

And again, a repetition of the erroneous “single time frame” claim. This is a perfect demonstration as to how a mis-characterization can be recycled endlessly, to seemingly lend support to a million other points. That is practically the definition of “circular reasoning”, and in this case, based on a single untrue claim.

“This argument is also presented in Zyats et al. (2016).”

The statement referred to here is going to be the subject of a blog post at some time. It is one of the more convoluted twists of logic, which to my mind is indicative of the understanding by those holding this paradigm that they have problems. I think the correct term for it is “confirmation bias”:

Zyats et all wrote (Yale, 2016),

“The quantity and size of the foldouts in the Voynich Manuscript are very unusual for the time period; it is rare to find so many large pieces of parchment folded into a single textblock, and this seems to indicate authenticity: In the twentieth century it would be quite difficult to find this many large sheets of genuine medieval parchment in order to produce a forgery.”

OK, “very unusual”, which should then, and normally would, cause a scholar to question the authenticity, or at least the age, of the work. They know this, so they need to “spin” into something the opposite, “… it would be quite difficult to find this many large sheets of genuine medieval parchment in order to produce a forgery.” This is incorrect, it would not have been all that difficult, and especially not for Voynich. But back to “nofake”:

“And we do need to keep in mind that the parchment has been bound together centuries ago.”

Again a repeat of the “centuries old” binding, which the experts in no way could or did, conclude.

“Motivation and opportunity are closely linked. The statements of Voynich related to his discovery of the MS… “

I don’t follow this “reasoning”. Does it matter? Something like “He bought other real books, so would not have faked…” I am not sure.

“The Voynich MS appears in the Jesuit list of books for sale, written in 1903, but in a way that does not allow a positive identification….”

This is the newly invented “1903” claim I mentioned above. Not only does it “not allow a positive identification”, it in no ways should be considered a reference to the Voynich. But that seems to matter not, for René stated it as fact in the Yale book, with no disclaimer at all.

“So, could Voynich have seen the letter from Barschius and faked the Voynich MS accordingly? This highly speculative option has a number of severe problems, that basically fall into two different categories: the first is that it is highly unlikely that he could ever have seen the letter, and the second that, even if he had, the resulting fake should have looked very different.”

I consider this statement a “gem”. You see, those letters are used by the 1420 Paradigm as foundational evidence that the Voynich is genuine. For years, I and others argue that they do not describe the Voynich very well at all. And René and others have ridiculed me for suggesting they don’t describe the Voynich, or ignored the issue, and so on…

… But now, right here, René is admitting that the letters are not a good description of the Voynich, and that if the Voynich was made to match those letters, “.. the resulting fake should have looked very different”. So the argument is both that they do describe the Voynich, therefore the Voynich is real; but they don’t describe the Voynich, therefore the Voynich is not fake. This is contrary application of standards being used to imply support of one’s position.

“This is all very speculative, and there is no need to go into the details, because there is an even greater problem, namely the lack of motive and opportunity.”

This is another case of adding in unsubstantiated claims borrowed from another section of the page. He arguably, and plausibly, had motives (money, name recognition, marital hegemony); and that he had the opportunity and materials in the Libreria and his book enterprises in general.

“There is no possible scenario for Voynich creating the MS. Did he get the idea before he saw the Collegium Romanum MSs and the Barschius letter (at a time when he could still have had a financial motivation)? This is the unacceptable coincidence mentioned above. Did he get the idea after? Here, he was about to make the most lucrative deal of his entire career, so there was absolutely no motive to spend a large effort and cost, at great risk, on a completely uncertain fake. He sold his first two MSs from the Collegium Romanum collection before July 1912 for an amount that is equivalent with 1.4 Million US Dollars in 2015. And there was no time because the MS was already seen in London by the end of 1912”

This is a “straw man” argument: First, René creates a forgery scenario that he feels cannot work, rather than relate an actual forgery theory which is totally workable. Then, he “shoots down” the straw man forgery theory he created. It includes a scenario in which Voynich would have created the manuscript before seeing the Barschius letter, which I and no one I know, does. I posit the Voynich Ms. was created about 1908/10, before the other works were sold. And in any case, why would it be assumed that he, or anyone, would hold off creating any forgery just because they were in the process of profiting from other sales?

I would point out that if one needs to construct an imaginary argument for an imaginary opponent, as done here, then it might indicate a lack of ability to argue the actual case against forgery.

Part 5: Evidence from W. Voynich’s actions and correspondence

“No clear theory has been formulated about how or why Voynich would have faked the MS.”

There are several, and René full well knows this. Why not post a link to my page on the subject? I cite his pages all the time, for those things good and bad, agree or not.

I also point out that while there are several “clear theories” as to how it could have been faked, there is, despite over 100 years of looking at the work as genuine, “no clear theory” as to who, when, exactly when or where it may have been made, if 1420, and genuine.

“Did he also fake the Marci letter at the same time?”

Probably later. René is also fully aware, and again, but leaves out, that Voynich “inexplicably” (although my theory explains it) didn’t “notice” the Marci letter for some time. I believe that this letter is faked, for several reasons.  But in short, no, not at the same time, but probably later, and probably to help nudge the Voynich manuscript into a desired new authorship: Roger Bacon. For without that letter, there would have been no Roger Bacon.

“Did he also anticipate the full provenance from Bacon to present through John Dee as part of his plan?”

Not sure of everything he means here… but real or fake, the Dee connection was provably fabricated by Voynich himself, and fake or real, the Bacon/Marci letter was in his possession, so no “anticipation” was necessary in any of it.

“Following is a summary of Voynich’s own activities related to the MS, after he acquired it. It is based primarily on letters preserved in the Beinecke library.”

The arguments are a bit of “scattershot”, but I may as well address them:

“In 1911 or 1912 Voynich obtained the various MSs from the Jesuits, according to different sources.”

The “different sources” are DeRicci, Russysheart (sp?), and Voynich himself. It seems, however, that DiRicci (1937?) is partly compiled from the word of Voynich, and/or the word of Ethel after his death.

“These sources can be reconciled if one assumes that Voynich became involved in 1911, and the sale was completed in 1912. Already on 29 July 1912 there is an invoice to Pierpont Morgan for two manuscripts that Voynich acquired from the Jesuits. These had already passed through several hands, and through an unsuccessful sales negotiation with the archbishop of Budapest.”

OK, but again, those sales are irrelevant to the question of VMs authenticity.

“In December 1912 the MS is admired by potential buyers in Voynich’s London shop at Shaftesbury avenue”

René is referring to the Sowerby chapter on Voynich, which, by the way, I scanned, converted to a PDF and sent to him. He didn’t previously have a copy, which I am lucky to possess (wonderful book, by a wonderful woman). But I point this out, because in that chapter are outlined many unusual attitudes and actions by Voynich, and other related book dealers, which René ignores here. There is much to raise one’s eyebrows on a careful reader of Sowerby. That is another topic, but for an example, an issue Sowerby relates led to me learning this: https://proto57.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/sowerbys-philippovitch/

“In November 1914 Voynich makes his first trip to the USA. In his 1921 presentation he states that at this time he had not yet seen the barely visible Tepenec signature on f1r of the MS.”

René is also aware that I found… in the Beinecke archives René previously searched, and somehow did not find, or report on… the only known pre-treatment image of the “signature”, which show that his later claims to not have seen the “signature” are highly questionable. This, because WE can see it: If we can see it, pre-treatment, then it is plausible that Voynich actually saw it, too. And more importantly, that if genuine, it should have been seen by Baresch/Marci/Kinner/Kircher, but they do not mention this valuable piece of “evidence” to the mystery.

“In October-November 1915 Voynich has several exhibitions of (a.o.) some of the manuscripts he had obtained from the Jesuits. He sells quite a number of items at these occasions. He spreads the story that he discovered them himself in a castle in Austria, after tracing some correspondence. This story is known not to be true. In 1916 he sold the “Vitae Patrum” MS (also from the same collection) to Morgan for US$ 75,000 (half the original asking price).”

Again, another story, and irrelevant to the question of authenticity of the Voynich.

“On 19 July 1930, four months after the death of Voynich, his widow writes a letter, to be opened after her death, about what Voynich told her in confidence: that he acquired the MSs (the Voynich MS being one of them) from the Vatican through the help of the Jesuit Fr. Strickland.”

… Voynich’s close friend, as I wrote. Alternate opinions as to the use of testimony of the dead may be raised here, but if anything, the use does little to argue against forgery.

“This took place in Frascati. He was invited to buy them in or around 1911. He had to promise absolute secrecy about the sale.”

Wilfrid “says”, but we know he lied several times, about provenance. Voynich’s word is proof of nothing, and only “evidence” of genuine by being hopefully and selectively used.

“The reader may judge whether it is reasonable that all of this is just ‘show’ to cover up his faking of the MS.”

But the thing is, the association of “all of this” to the actual Voynich Ms. in front of us, is purely speculation, based on little information, some known errors, and much omission, all combined with the few words of the untrustworthy Voynich. In fact all we really “know” is that the parchment of the Voynich dates from the late 14th through early 16th centuries, that Wilfrid was a book dealer, and that he often lied about what he did and didn’t do. So the “show” is not Voynich’s… it is all the stuff the people of the 1420 Paradigm, based on some slim and contrary claims of Wilfrid, along with some contradictory and inconclusive forensic evidence, have built it up to be.

But that is the main tactic here, and the root problem, for “Nofake”, and for that matter, for pro-1420 Genuine: A large, complex set of rationalizations is created and used to support them, which then results in a construct so big, it is then asked, “How could Voynich have done all of this?“.

The answer is simply, “He didn’t do it- you did it for him”.

 

ANYTHING but an Armadillo!

July 3, 2019

If any object identification could be considered the most contentious in the whole of the Voynich manuscript, it would have to be the f80v animal as an armadillo. The reason why is momentous: If that animal is an armadillo, the Voynich manuscript is post-Columbus. It would immediately erase the foundational paradigm for the Voynich, so strongly projected and protected, that it is a circa 1420 European Cipher Herbal.

anything_but_an_armadillo_cartoon_1200x So when the issue of the identity of the f80v animal comes up, it is no surprise that the speculations of what it is become a heated battleground. At all costs, and beyond all reason, the 1420 Paradigm defenders must come up with a reason that it either looks like an armadillo, but still is not one; or doesn’t look like one, and it is meant to be something else. And it is those reasons given for rejecting it that most interest me. And furthermore, the improper methods used to dismiss it are very similar to those used to also dismiss the great many other “inconvenient truths” which are dangerous to the 1420 Paradigm.

f80v_with_labels

To see my own comparisons between f80v and an armadillo, see here, and here

The issue has been raised yet again in Koen’s latest blog post, “The Beast on f80v“. To start with, Koen’s initial claim that any New World theories of the Voynich manuscript, and for that matter all other post-Columbian dating, rely entirely on the identification of a sunflower and armadillo in the manuscript, is totally incorrect. He explains,

“You see, the New World theory rests on two pillars: the interpretation of a specific plant image as a sunflower (a New World plant) and the interpretation of the above [f80v] beast as an armadillo (a New World species).”

This is wrong because the New World theories, and any post-Columbian theory including and beyond those, such as my own 1910 Theory, have far more than only two such “pillars”. In fact the very book cited in Koen’s post, Unraveling the Voynich Codex”, by Janick & Tucker, has dozens of comparisons. Many are unique, some are repeated from their previous work, and that of others. They make many convincing comparisons between Voynich plants, objects, and text, to New World plants, art, objects and writings.

And still others have long noted many “New World” indigenous plants, too, such as O’Neil (sunflower, capsicum pepper, others), and Jim and John Coymegys, and more. And then is yet an even greater number of later post-Columbian comparisons made by myself and others, possibly indicating the Voynich could have been created any time up to 1910.

But it would be difficult or impossible to dismiss all the evidence, so instead they focus on two items, and simply pretend the others do not exist.

colums_and_stickman

Koen’s Stickman has many “pillars”, not just two. These are some of them.

But that is not the whole point of  this post. It is also about the very telling and flawed reasoning used by pre-Columbian advocates to dismiss the inconvenient armadillo comparison. And this becomes even more obvious when we look at the illogical ways attempted to dismiss it:

1) “It looks too much like an armadillo to be one, because the artist was too inexpert to draw one accurately, therefore it is something else badly drawn.”

This was first proposed by René Zandbergen in 2008, in a post to the Voynich Mailing List,

“I know it may sound rediculous [sp], but I would say that it looks too much
like an armadillo that it could be an intentional representation of one.

“Look at the picture from the late 16th C that Rich posted.
Look at any of the first illustrations of newly discovered animal
species. They just never look like the real thing.

“Ergo, it is a coincidental similarity.

I think the problems with this contention are obvious, but simply, any evidence can be rejected in any investigation, by saying it is “too good” to be that thing it most looks like. But then, the worse comparisons suggested must be the correct ones? This makes no sense, or at the very least, instantly renders any comparative evidence useless for any investigator, in any science.

2) “It does not look ENOUGH like an armadillo, because the artist was good enough to draw an accurate one if they wanted to, so it is animal X, Y, or Z (which all look less like an armadillo)”.

So was the artist good enough to draw a “better” armadillo if they wanted to, but not good enough, still, to draw a different animal well enough to NOT end up looking like an armadillo to us?

In both #1 and #2, the artist is alternatively, hypocritically, imagined as selectively better or worse in order to accept or dismiss any desired identification.

On the contrary, one can and should determine the overall talent and practice of the artist, based on their representation of those things we can easily recognize, such as the people, known animals, known plants, and so on. They are our “control”. We should then apply that observed artistic ability as equally as possible to all the illustrations of the Voynich. When we do, we see the representation of the armadillo is well within the talents of this artist… not better, not worse… and is what they most likely meant it to be.

3)  “It looks much more like an animal in an illustration it was copied from, but we have not found or seen that source drawing yet.”- (paraphrasing) Ger Hungerdink

This is not really worth repeating, but I did because I am listing the actual arguments I’ve read. We could then say it is a bird, snake, or plane, for that matter… or how about another, even closer, illustration of an armadillo, that we have not yet found?

4) “Even if it looks more like an armadillo than X, Y, Z, it can’t be, because the Voynich is too old for it to be an armadillo”

This one is especially ironic, because I and other who favor “armadillo” are usually told it is we who have a biased, post-Columbian viewpoint. But then, hypocritically, many of the 1420 adherents openly and unabashedly admit that they will only look at pre-Columbian animals:

“Because the identification as an armadillo (like the sunflower) would be against all established facts about the VM, that threshold NEEDS to be higher than when the beast is a catoblepas or a hedgehog or whatever 15th century beast known to pre-Columbian Europe….”- Ger

“So perhaps we should be looking for 14th / 15th century manuscripts within the balneological tradition that include a specific textual mention of a kylion / karabo / catoblepas? That stands a good chance of narrowing the list of possible balneological manuscripts to look at down to as few as one or two.”- Nick Pelling

“I think the imagery has all semblance of being appropriate for the early 15th century. So I’m trying to follow the rules for the study of historic imagery. This means learning as much as possible about the visual vocabulary of the time…”- Koen

“… what I tried to find out is what a 15th century person would see.”- Koen

“Same with an American creature like the Armadillo. No compelling(!) reason whatsoever why it would be in a 15th century European manuscript, even more so when there are (mythical) creatures well known in Europe at the time that could equally well be it.”- Ger

There are many other comments pointing to a biased pre-conception of Voynich dating, which is driving many “non-armadillo” identifications, but I’ll leave it with,

“But there can really be no meeting point between our views. I remain convinced that the VM is a historical, 15th century document and as such it is completely irrelevant what the thing looks like to the modern viewer.”- Koen

To make it clear: Of course there is nothing wrong with looking at the 15th century, or any other era, for illustration comparisons. But it is wrong to reject any image that is post-Columbian solely because of a pre-Columbian bias. We should let the images date the manuscript, as is properly done; and not let our prejudicial pre-conceptions alter our identifications of the images to match those.

5) “It only looks like an armadillo to those who have a post-Columbian Voynich agenda”

Well, see #4. But also, in my experience, to anyone shown the image, who knows nothing about the Voynich, or who doesn’t know nor care about the time frame it was created in, it’s an armadillo. In fact, on the contrary to #5, it seems almost exclusively to “NOT look like an armadillo to those who have a pre-Columbian Voynich agenda”.

6) “It only looks like an armadillo to those who are familiar with one”

This is an assumption, and untested. Let’s assume for a moment that everyone who is shown the f80v animal is first “familiarized” with all the other candidates… wolf, sheep, pangolin, catablepas, sea monsters, ibex, capricorn goat, sea-goat, hedgehog, and so on. Then we would know if this is true. Otherwise, it is an unfounded assumption, and so, a valueless argument.

It also ignores the greater number of point-by-point similarities of the f80v animal still are greater than the contenders: Leg length, snout length and width, curling, ears, etc.

7) “It does look like an armadillo to our modern eyes, but would not, to a 15th century viewer, therefore it is not an armadillo”.

First of all, this presupposes that the Voynich is 15th century in origin, and was even THERE to be seen by anyone. Then, it assumes what that 15th century viewer would make of the animal… something we cannot know. We can, using this “reasoning”, simply say a 15th century viewer thought it was any animal we “want it to be, or not to be”.

8) “If the manuscript included a drawing of an armadillo, [Voynich] would have had to remove the page (especially if he put it in himself). Unless he thought that it did not actually look like an armadillo.”- René Zandbergen

I admit this one took some untangling. But using this level of reasoning, there are many other alternatives we can deduce. I would not use them, but point them out by way of falsifying the above contention:

I) It is an armadillo, but Voynich didn’t recognize it as such, so he left it in.
II) It looked like an armadillo to Voynich, and he may have even drawn it there: but he gambled that people would not “catch it”, so he left it in.
III) Voynich was so honest, that when he realized he had an armadillo in his work, he left it in, because he would never cheat. The letter in which he said this was lost, but it will be found someday (sorry, Ger).
IV) Voynich knew it was an armadillo, and that it would look like one to many people, because he drew it there, or found it there. He later didn’t want it there, when he changed his provenance to Roger Bacon. But he was a savvy guy, and so he predicted that enough people would come along in future centuries defend his very poor forgery for him.

So if I was forced to pick, I’d go with IV, as I seem to be watching it unfold in real time.

9) “It is not technically good enough to be an armadillo, as it combines features from curling and non-curling species, such as not having 9 bands”.

This is paraphrasing René from the comments on Koen’s post. It is ironic, as he has also contended it looks “too much” like an armadillo to be one. Anyway, #9 has several problems. First of all, it demands a higher level of technical accuracy to this image than is reasonably seen in the work as a whole. It therefore allows the unequal application of technical demand to those comparisons rejected and those accepted, by any viewer.

But most importantly, it ignores that this does look like a popular conception OF an armadillo, as most people do see it as one. And those people would not, and do not, stop to say, “Hey wait… that is curling! Only the 9 banded armadillo curls, so I was wrong, it is not one”. As an example, think Micky Mouse. People don’t stop and say it is NOT a mouse, as he has fingers… and only 3 of them per hand, for that matter. No, they know it is a loose conception of a mouse, and an armadillo, each with sufficient accuracy to be easily identified as both.

10) “To know the popular conception of an armadillo, we only have to do a Google search. We will see the curling, band-less, f80v animal does not fit the first X number of hits.”

There are many problems with this contention: First of all, no matter what Google image results return, it does not negate the point-by-point similarity of the f80v animal to an armadillo. And two, we know it does fit the popular conception of the animal, because people think it looks like one, without needing to run to Google to check first.

11) “It will look less like an armadillo, and more like A, B, C, or D, if I just photoshop it here, and there.”

Do I really need to address this? OK, it looks less like an armadillo, and more like an elephant if I photoshop it. Or, even more like an armadillo if I so choose.

12) “It does not look like an armadillo”

Well most of those who say this at some point or another, have first either admitted it does look a lot like an armadillo; and/or have been searching for animals with “armadillo-like” attributes. That is a concession of sorts,

“This must be considered together with the fact that other explanations are available for the pose. The beaver curling up do castrate itself, any of the creatures that do an armadillo-like roll to defend themselves… “- Koen

If it really did not look like an armadillo to people, they would not be looking for “armadillo-like” features in other animals to replace it.

A Problem of Context for anti-Armadillos

There is yet another problem in addition to the faulty reasoning used to reject the armadillo: They do not offer any satisfactory hypothesis for the myriad of diverse animals offered in its stead. Rather, the common denominator for “anything but an armadillo” seems to be “Any Animal Known to Europe in Pre-Columbian Times”. It can be fantasy, allegorical, water or land borne, of any species, while being allowed to look nothing at all like the f80v drawing. Well, I’ve heard versions of “compendium”, or “encyclopedia”, which are really excuses, not hypotheses. Ger recently opined,

“What about the “missing” Capricorn?”, then, “So would the f80v be the capricorn from the missing(?) January (and February) page? Please see more examples here: https://hungergj.home.xs4all.nl/catoblepas/capricorn.htm

Why would the “missing” Capricorn, from a (probably) lost page from the zodiacs, be repeated on f80v? This is a clear attempt to manufacture context for the Capricorn beast, while at the same time, again, making an effort to imbue that choice with an armadillo-like curl, with, “The pose of the Capricorn might be its attacking stance like here.” There is often this somewhat self-conscience difficulty in explaining these armadillo alternatives in the context of any reasonable overall hypothesis.

On the contrary, for New World theories, the armadillo is perfectly at home. There are many existing, and described, but lost, manuscript records of the flora and fauna of the new world. And several of these made attempts to phonetically record the languages of the Native Americans into manuscript form.

The same goes for my 1910 Forgery hypothesis, in which I propose that the Voynich was made to look like a work by Horcicky (who “signed it”, BTW), as a record of the botany, medicine, sciences and collections of the Court of Rudolf II, mainly as understood by a reader of the 1904 Follies of Science at the Court of Rudolf II. New World artifacts and plants were all the rage in the Kunstkammers and gardens of the wealthy, and Rudolf was a premiere collector. In fact, both sunflowers (the first European painting of a sunflower appears in a Stalbemt painting of a kunstkammer) and stuffed armadillos, and many other New World items, appear in illustrations of these collections, from the time a forger would be drawing material from.

kunstkammer_armadillo

Where’s Waldo, the armadillo?

The above is just one example, but a search for Kunstkammer, or “Cabinet of Curiosities”, will turn up a great many, and some more showing armadillos, banded and not.

So for all the above reasons, such as the inability to adequately dismiss the armadillo as the best comparison; the failure to find a closer animal in point-by-point comparison to replace it; a lack of any hypothesis which would better explain those substitutes; and the false projection that only one or two items are a problem to it, these all only continue to dramatically represent the inability of the 1420 Genuine European Cipher Herbal Paradigm to defend itself in any reasonable way.

But more importantly, I use this example of the armadillo to remind everyone they should likewise question the many other conclusions offered as unassailable truths by supporters and defenders of the 1420 Paradigm, because similar “armadillo reasoning” has been used to build it. That Paradigm is actually based on a great many similar and unreasonable interpretations, on hypocritical and contradictory arguments, from poor speculations sometimes based on unknown or even incorrect information, using ineffective comparisons and rejecting better ones, with circular reasoning, based on biased pre-conceptions, ignoring contrary evidence, and after all that (or because of it?) it still fails to explain itself in any cohesive, plausible hypothesis.

And yet it is all carefully crafted into a neat, pretty picture, all presented as unquestionable fact. But then, when scrutinized, when debated (when debate is allowed), it is clear that this Paradigm in no way deserves the following it does, and probably does not deserve to exist at all.

The Comparison Paradox

May 5, 2019

I accept many of the hundreds of the comparisons made between illustrations in the Voynich, with illustrations and objects outside of it. I even accept most of those that are dismissed as “too new”, because, of course, I think the Voynich is as new as 1910. I don’t think those later comparisons should be dismissed so easily. In fact I think they are discarded clues… “Purple Cows”.

purplecowheroimage

From a book review by Khoa Bui

 

But there is another phenomenon that I see within the great number of people who have good comparisons, which they then think point to a certain person, a path, a genre… while needing to reject those comparisons that others make, for other objects, because they are contrary to their own theories. For instance, say person “A” thinks the Voynich was illustrated by “Mr. Apple”, person “B” thinks it was illustrated by “Mr. Bean, and person “C” thinks it was illustrated by “Ms. Corn”. And each sees in some illustration that which they feel is evidence that only their person could have drawn the illustrations… let’s say of an apple, beans, and corn.

But then each person cannot accept that the comparisons of the others are correct: A cannot see beans or corn, for then their Mr. Apple theory is finished. B can’t see apples or corn, only beans, or theirs is finished… you get the idea… This sets up what I consider a powerful bit of evidence of its own… because we have hundreds of people, hundreds of comparisons, all acting like A, B, and C, above. We have these possible explanations for this effect:

1) The comparisons are all wrong, or mostly wrong, except for only ONE of the theories. This means that all the others must be thrown out, discarded as purely coincidental, or pareidolia. The problem is that it is implausible that the mass of good comparisons are wrong, and only one is right. This case covers all theories, because all use comparisons, even “genuine 15th century European Cipher Herbal”.

2) All or most of the comparisons are correct, that is, Mister Apple, Beans, and Ms. Corn, and all or most of the other authors either wrote in the Voynich… it passed through all their hands, and they all had a part in creating it. Well of course this is wildly unlikely, and not proposed by anyone. But I point this out, because many of the individuals… A, B and C… DO propose that THEIR person DID create the Voynich. They do not, of course, propose this #2, though, they can’t, because they know it is an un-sustainable position. If their person is the author, the other comparisons MUST be wrong.

3) All or most of these illustrations are copied from originals by Mr. Apple, Mr. Beans and Ms. Corn. And we do see this from time to time… the suggestion that the illustrative comparisons in the Voynich are copied from the works of those people and items which they most look like… but that it is only a copy, and sometimes a bad one at that. But then one runs into the problem of discarding those items which they think CANNOT be in there… as, again, either coincidence or pareidolia, or wishful thinking driven by earnest bias. So for theorist D, E, and F, they argue among themselves, to a varying degree, which items should be accepted as “evidence”, and which must be discarded and ignored… often by dating, sometimes by geography… depending on when and where and by whom the individual theorist believes the Voynich originated. The problem then is twofold: Discarding any evidence with equal, point by point comparative validity becomes a subjective and unfounded action. The second problem is still that you must explain why and who would have access to the still great many good comparisons that one does accept. The first smacks of a need for great speculation, the second is an onerous task, since as we go back in time, the sharing of the wide range of illustrations and objects, coming from a great diversity of people and places, some practically unknown to ages past, is a very hard hill to climb. I don’t think it can be done. Maybe a Dee, or Erasmus, might have had access to such a corpus… but then, again, much of what they could not have seen, nor even conceived of, must be explained or discarded.

spanish_compare_2

Voynich “cylinders” left, 18th century Spanish spyglasses, right

A very good example of this… I could reel off dozens, though… is the very good comparison found by Ms. Elitsa Velinska (she has found probably more good comparisons than anyone else, I think), of the “stars on strings held by women“, and Elihu Vedder’s illustration of the Seven Sisters… holding the stars of the Pleiades on strings. It is an unusual, almost unique concept, found (as many of these comparisons are) ONLY in the Voynich, and the work of Vedder. So is has been suggested by some, like #1, that Vedder himself had a hand in the Voynich (not by Elitsa, to my knowledge, I believe she only made the comparison, not that suggestion). But for Vedder to have had a hand, all or most other comparisons need to be discarded, or explained. Either Vedder created the Voynich, and saw and copied all other comparisons; or Vedder saw and copied ALL comparisons, including the “string star women” from some unknown source; or the other comparisons are coincidental or pareidolia…

… or, simply,  someone copied Vedder’s and all the other illustrations from a great many sources. This is my contention, as it allows for almost all the comparisons made, and explains why they are… in fact, the only way they can logically be there.

voynichropedstars

Composite illustration by Ellie Velinska, from her blog.

I’ve attempted to explain one of the greatest reasons I am where I am, and why I believe the Voynich is a modern hoax/fake/forgery: I’ve often said I accept most of the very many great comparisons out there, like Elitsa’s string star sisters, and so many others; but that to suggest any of the (above listed 1-3) alternatives strains credibility past the breaking point. It is far more likely, more plausible, to me, that the Voynich is simply a modern compilation of all, or most, of those things seen by a great many people. They are those things, put there by someone with ready access to all of it, surrounded by books, mobile over a wide geography to see many actual ancient items in museums and libraries… probably Wilfrid Voynich, probably around 1910.

Birth of a New Mythology

January 3, 2019

There are many, previously accepted (and stubbornly accepted by most, still), “truisms” about the provenance, construction/substance, and content of the Voynich manuscript, and the associated histories of literature, forgery, and the life of Wilfrid Voynich himself, which I’ve addressed over time as being at best, unsupportable by the facts, and at worst, demonstrably false. Both rise to the level of mythologies. These are too numerous to mention, or explain, in this post, but the most important can be found on this list: Modern Voynich Myths.

But how do these myths arise? I don’t mean that in the sense of one’s motivation for starting them, because that is a subject for another blog post… the motivations are many and varied. But by what path, what series of events, did these myths originate?

In some cases they were created by Wilfrid himself. Or, soon after his death, added innocently by speculation on the part of Anne Nill and Ethel Voynich. Later, a vast army of well-meaning researchers, by digging deep for any shred of evidence in defense of the “Voynich as real”, then selectively retaining those desirable finds, and coloring the filtered results using the hopeful prism of a genuine Voynich, the results were either presented as, or later morphed into, “facts”.

And, as I said, I’ve identified, and addressed, many of these mythologies in the past. I’ve pointed to the origins, and sometimes the motivations, which brought them into existence. But in my time studying the Voynich… a bit over ten years now… I’ve seen at least a dozen or so new myths created, and become accepted by the mainstream “understanding” of the Voynich. As an example of these, I will outline one here: The “1903 Reference Mythology”. I will demonstrate its origin, its metamorphosis into fact, and then, its canonization into the supposed “fact base” of the Voynich’s story.

René Zandbergen relates the discovery of a catalog entry from 1903, on his page, “Manuscripts Voynich acquired in 1911-1912“, under “2.3. Source 2: the 1903 catalogue”. Under that heading, Mr. Zandbergen states,

“Each entry in the catalogue is a short description, usually just one line, giving author(s), title(s), whether the MS is on parchment or paper, and from which century it dates (which is occasionally given as ‘uncertain’). Of particular interest for us is of course the description of the Voynich MS, but unfortunately this is so unspecific that it would not have been possible to identify the MS by this desc[r]iption alone. It is simply described as:

“Miscellanea, c.m.s.XV

“where the abbreviation means: codex membranacaeus saec. XV. It is the only item in the entire list that has neither author nor title”

And I do agree that it “would not have been possible to identify the MS by this description alone”. But I would strongly add that there is no way to identify it as any specific MS, let alone the Voynich. Nonetheless it is implied this is the Voynich, both by inclusion here, and further added information in supposed support of this contention.

Let’s look at the footnote qualifier (#9), the claimed supporting evidence:

“It is somewhat unsatisfactory not to see any reference to the unknown writing. On what basis Ruysschaert decided to make this identification is not yet understood, and further research in the papers of Carusi might be enlightening. In any case, the anecdote reported by Kraus further clearly suggests Ruysschaert’s conviction about the identity of this MS.”

Wait? What? When did Ruysschaert “make this identification”, which he was “convinced” about? If you scroll back up, you will see this,

“The right margin has a handwritten reference to the Census p. 1846 (see note 6), which lists the Voynich MS, also in accordance with Ruysschaert (1959).”

And this “note 6” refers to, “De Ricci, Seymour, with the assistance of W. J. Wilson: Census of medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada, 1937.”, which of course does include the Voynich manuscript. But is this the point being made, then, that Ruysschaert had somehow “identified” this 1903 catalog entry as the Voynich? If so, then it is through a “handwritten reference” to 1937 census, and I am unclear as to how this handwritten note is attributable to Ruysschaert in the first place. Perhaps it is. But neither Ricci nor Ruysschaert, at least in the cited works, mentions the Voynich manuscript in the context of of the 1903 catalog or sale.

But let us assume that I am incorrect, and that this is not the additional evidence. In that case, I am unclear where on this page such supporting evidence exists. That is, if I am incorrect that Ruysschaert is being implicated as believing the entry was the Voynich, I don’t see how the very “slim to nothing” reference of codex membranacaeus saec. XV is at all buttressed here. Either way, it is obviously nothing, or less than nothing, to base any connection to the Voynich on. It remains an opinion only, and one I would contend, on very shaky grounds. And opinions are fine… we all have them. It is only when they morph into accepted facts that they become mythologies. And below we have the next step in that process.

A couple of years ago, was lucky to be able to attend the introduction of the marvelous Yale publication of the book, The Voynich Manuscript, at the University, with a nice wine and cheese at the Beinecke, afterwards. The book was edited by the erudite, informative and kind Raymond Clemens, who I was pleased to meet in person. And, I can recommend the book, for one’s Voynich collection, if you, like me, so indulge. But I’m sorry to say that I cannot recommend the work as a source text for information about the reality of the history, provenance nor construction of the Voynich, because in many respects it is a biased advertisement for the “genuineness” of the famous acquisition (owned by the very publishers of this book, of course). As such it side-steps and/or “rationalizes” some of the many serious anomalies of the Voynich, and it does so in some very obvious, and even sometimes unintentionally humorous ways. I liken the work to that other notorious Yale publication (which I also own), the 1964 edition of “The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation”. History now tells us that (also beautiful work) was mostly an attempt to cement a positive, and genuine, take on the Vinland Map, and thus assure that Mr. Mellon would concede to purchase it for Yale… for the publishers. But that is another story, for another time.

yale_voynich_vinland_1200x

Suffice it to say that the Yale Voynich book is rife with anomalies of its own, many purposeful, some inadvertent, all in its attempt to project the Voynich Manuscript as a bona fide and respectable “non-forgery”.  But I am concerned only with this particular “New Mythology”, the supposed 1903 Voynich catalog entry. As seen above, it is represented on the webpage as an opinion, with little or no supporting evidence, “as” the actual Voynich Manuscript. However, this has now morphed into hard fact, in the permanent and impressive pages of the Yale publication. In the included essay by the same René Zandbergen titled, “Earliest Owners”, René writes (pp. 7-8),

“In 1903 the Jesuits decided to sell a collection of around 380 manuscripts to the Vatican library. Mainly fifteenth-century classical and humanist works, the group also included two items from Kircher’s library, one of which was the Voynich manuscript. The entries in the catalogue prepared for this sale are very brief, and Beinecke MS 408 is describe as a miscellaneous fifteenth-century vellum manuscript: ‘Miscellanea / c[odex] m[embranacaeus] s[aeculae] XV”

And there you have it. What was once opinion is now stated as fact, and permanently affixed to the official, endorsed, recorded history of the Voynich manuscript. It is no longer hopeful or imaginative speculation, or wishful thinking, that the meager 1903 entry might be referring to the Voynich manuscript, now it is stated as absolute fact.

But let us now see how this invented “fact”, this new mythology, has begun to fuse itself to the known history of the Voynich manuscript. Here are a few cases:

In a November 30th, 2016 article, The Unsolvable Mysteries of the Voynich Manuscript, by Josephine Livingstone in the New Yorker (ironically the site has a pop up declaring that magazine is “Fighting Fake News with Real Stories”), the author states, “In 1903, the Jesuits decided to sell a group of texts from the Collegio Romano collection to the Vatican; the sale took nine years to complete. For reasons unknown, and under conditions of total secrecy, Voynich managed to procure some of the books before they entered the Vatican Library. One of them was the Voynich Manuscript.”

Of course, as to be expected, many reviews of, and/or ads for, the above cited Yale publication, may have some version of this new “myth stated as fact”. Here is just one of many examples, in the review by the LA Review of Books, from 2016, “In 1903, as the Jesuits were arranging the sale of roughly 380 manuscripts to the Vatican Library, Voynich somehow managed to come away with a small subset of the lot, “under conditions of absolute secrecy.” His share included the now-eponymous cipher text.”

… and of course, as to be expected, the unwary Raymond Clemens, in his talk circuit, has possibly been adding the myth to his repertoire. For the description of his lecture on June 19th, 2017 at the Southbury, Connecticut Library, the author of the webpage seems to quote the Yale page, advertising the book, “The manuscript appears and disappears throughout history, from the library of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II to a secret sale of books in 1903 by the Society of Jesus in Rome.” And therein we have not one, but two myths… one very old, and one very new. But whether or not Mr. Clemens stated this in his actual lecture, I do not know.

This page on the Puzzle Nation website, also quotes the Yale website advertising the book, “The manuscript appears and disappears throughout history, from the library of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II to a secret sale of books in 1903 by the Society of Jesus in Rome.

And our new myth has even snagged some hardened skeptics! In this case, we see a blogger dismissing “Another pseudo-decipherment of the Voynich manuscript (Hauer & Kondrak)”. And I agree with the premise of the post, BTW… bad translations can be as virulent and rampant as any other mythologies. But to our present myth, the author has written, “It is first mentioned in the 16th century, then largely disappears from the record for several centuries, only to resurface in for sale in 1903.” I would also call that “two myths”, as somehow the author mentioned “16th century”… a century devoid of any supposed Voynich references (unless another myth has sneaked in there, unbeknownst to me… hard to keep up, really). But I think they probably meant the supposed references to the Voynich in the letters of the Kircher Carteggio, which claim is at best, speculation based on very slim evidence, and at worst, another happy myth.

No, not the Vinland Map. Another map forgery, sold by you-know-who.

And I could go on with dozens, maybe hundreds, of these… for that matter, so can the reader. And it won’t stop spreading. You will see this unsupportable mythology, presented as fact, for the rest of all your lives. Thanks to the permanence of print, and the rampant dissemination of all knowledge, whether true, false, great, small, we will all be told, and our descendants will be told, that the Voynich was listed in a 1903 catalog, and then sold a few years later, to Wilfrid Voynich.

NSA/CSS Symposium Lecture

November 2, 2017

I was pleased, and grateful, to be accepted to speak at the October 19-20 2017 Symposium on Cryptologic History, held at John Hopkins in Laurel, MD. Every two years this event offers a great selection of lectures, covering the history of Cryptology, and related intelligence and security matters in the military and private sectors. The title of my talk was, Is the Voynich Manuscript a Modern Forgery? (and why it matters).

With 25 minutes allowed for each speaker, I felt I would not have enough time to give even a good overview of my entire hypothesis. Therefore I chose to focus on one aspect of it, answering the question, “What characteristics does the Voynich Manuscript share with known forgeries?”. I call these features, which I have gleaned from reading extensively on the history of forgeries in art and literature, “red flags of forgery”. Some of them are occasionally found in genuine works, but there are usually no more than one or two, and even then, they are somehow explainable or understandable. I believe the Voynich exhibits 10 “red flags of forgery”, and that they are not so easily explained away.

I didn’t record the lecture, but when I came home I created a video from the Powerpoint slides, and re-recorded my audio over the slides. Therefore it is not an exact replication of the lecture I gave… but nonetheless, I feel it is probably very close to it.

One of the benefits of needing to focus on one facet of the hypothesis was that it organized my thoughts on this in a new way. It caused me to identify the elements of the hypothesis, and categorize them. Roughly, they would be:

  1. Characteristics of forgery inherent in the Voynich (this lecture)
  2. Problems with the existing “1420 Genuine European” Paradigm
  3. Life & personality of Wilfrid Voynich, his acquaintances & family
  4. Other possible forgeries owned/sold by WMV
  5. Attitude and practice of buyers, sellers of books in WMV’s time
  6. Changes in scholarship during & since WMV’s time
  7. Questions & problems with tests & data handling
  8. Politics surrounding current & past attitudes to the paradigm
  9. Necessary future tests & investigations to determine validity of hypothesis
  10. Timeline & interrelation of the above points

The feedback for my presentation was good, both at the time and afterwards. I think it was interesting to many people because they are still unaware that the Voynich paradigm has so many anomalies to begin with. And that these problems are difficult, or some even, so far, impossible, to resolve, without major rationalizations. They only have the image of solidity insisted on by promoters of the paradigm, by either misstating the value of existing evidence, or by using opinions and speculation based on non-existent or limited data to begin with, in order to ignore or explain away the serious flaws within it.

This is all predictable, and even understandable, because paradigms tend to defend themselves, when believers are challenged to explain the anomalies the paradigm exhibits.

I consider it my obligation, my goal, to set the record straight on this situation. I have and will continue to challenge that paradigm, and its promoters, so that any present or future Voynich researchers have a true, clear understanding of the story of the Voynich. Then they can make up their own minds, but based on a more accurate understanding of the evidence.

This leads to the reason for the lecture’s second part, “(why it matters)”. I have learned over the past decade that a great many theories, and possible ciphers and code systems, have been either ignored or gotten scant attention, because the paradigm sternly informs those interested in doing so that they are “too new”, and therefore not worth pursuing. Likewise for theories outside the paradigm. I consider, that is, that the power of this paradigm’s faulty projection to be the chief impediment to solving the Voynich mystery.

Because the lecture was focused mainly on the Voynich’s “characteristics of forgery”, most of the questions in the Q&A session which followed were understandably concerned with how I would explain existing “evidence” which supports the paradigm. But there were other questions, too. Here is a list of some of both types:

  1. Where would Voynich have gotten the ancient blank calfskin?
  2. What other forgeries, if any, did Wilfrid have and/or sell?
  3. What about the [De Tepencz] “signature”?
  4. Where is the University of Arizona radiocarbon report?
  5. What would you consider proof of genuine?
  6. What future tests/investigations would you do?

Most of those questions I answered similarly to how I have done so in my list of “Modern Voynich Myths”, which can be found here: https://proto57.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/modern-voynich-myths/

For the others, stay tuned.

 

 

The Modern Forgery Hypothesis

March 23, 2016

Although I’ve mentioned various aspects of my Modern Forgery Hypothesis for the Voynich Manuscript over the last few years, both here and on the Voynich Mailing List, I have never posted a summary of it. This is an attempt at doing just that. But as a summary, it is necessarily incomplete. It is will not have a detailed explanation of, and supporting arguments for, much of the evidence within it.  All of that detail will all be addressed in a future and larger work.

The Hypothesis:

This hypothesis proposes that the Voynich Manuscript is a circa 1908 to 1910 work, created by or at the request of Wilfrid Voynich, using materials he found after the 1908 acquisition of the Libreria Francescini, in Florence, Italy. It is also proposed that the work may have been created there, and that it was possibly made from larger sheets of calfskin, cut down to serve this purpose. I further propose that is was created first as a Jacob Horcicky botanical, which was meant to appear as though it was created in the Court of Rudolf II in the early 17th century, and as such was falsely “signed” by him. At some later point (by about 1910/11?), the intended author and time was changed to Roger Bacon and the 13th century, probably by removing many of the now missing pages (which may have run counter to a Roger Bacon claim). Sometime later, the 1666 Marci to Kircher letter was forged, in order to strengthen this new, intended, Bacon authorship.

Among the possible sources used to create the Voynich Ms. were the 1904 Follies at the Court of Rudolf II by Bolton (practically a “primer” for perceived content), The Microscope and Its Revelations, 19th century, by William B. Carpenter, the 1909 Nature Through the Microscope, by Kerr, along with other specific books on microscopy and/or microscopes, certain herbals, botanicals, and more. I also believe that the forger used various known artifacts and works in collections available to Voynich, such as those in the nearby Museo Galileo in Florence, in Paris, Berlin, Rome and London, and other places he was known to have traveled to.

The Timeline:

A person’s life can be divided chronologically in many ways, but for the purposes of this hypothesis, I have done so based on Wilfrid’s business operations.

First phase, 1892 to 1902: During this period, Wilfrid built a successful book business, and developed a very positive reputation as a clever and knowledgeable bibliophile and businessman. At the end of this time, 1902, he sold 150 of rare incunabula to the British Library. They rejected several items, including a curious, and previously unknown, 1522 manuscript map related to Magellan’s voyage.

As for this “Magellan Map”, Wilfrid had said he found it in the binding of a 1536 book. I contend that map may be a fake, and that Voynich was aware it was a fake, and that this demonstrates that he had some connection to the world of forgery- at least, to the very active industry in manuscript map forgeries which existed at the time. I also believe it possible that, rather than the time honored claim of his possessing some incredible talent at “sniffing out” unknown manuscripts and incunabula, Voynich actually relied mostly on one source: The Florence Libreria Franceschini, the vast stacks of which provided a large number of his acquisitions during this time.

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Second phase, 1902 to 1908: This was a bit of a dry spell for Voynich. He did all right as a dealer, but had no great successes. By now his wife Ethel was experiencing an increase in fame and popularity, as a well known author of several books, and as a translator, humorist, and composer. I consider the effect this may have had on Wilfrid as an important motivating force to the choices he subsequently made. The personal implications of “marital hegemony”, is a known cultural phenomenon, and a powerful incentive to push for success.

Also during this time, Voynich sold at least one (known) forgery, the Columbus Miniature. It is considered by some a “Spanish Forger” work, but is also sometimes attributed to another unknown forger or shop. From Wilfrid’s somewhat disingenuous sounding explanations as to where he acquired this work, I suspect he knew it was a forgery, and may have even known its true origin.

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Third phase, 1908 to 1914: This is the era of Voynich’s greatest successes, both economically and popularly. During this time he claims to have found many previously unknown works of immense value, and managed to sell several of them. I feel it is more than coincidental that these successes came soon after his purchase of the vast repositories of the Libreria Francescini, which had mountains of untapped materials… one estimate puts the number at over half a million.

Of course Voynich claimed to have found the Cipher Ms. in a “castle in Southern Europe”, and an “Austrian Castle”, and later, the Villa Mondragone in Frascati. There were other works which were also later claimed purchased from the Villa, and several of these have various perturbing scholarly and art history anomalies. I feel these problems imply that some may be forgeries, or at least, have forged elements. I won’t go into a list of them, here, as this is an ongoing aspect of this work, and very involved. I even think it possible that the Libreria was a place where these forgeries were created, even before Voynich purchased it. Perhaps such operations continued after purchase, or maybe Voynich merely acquired these works along with the business. It is known that at least two “forgery factories” operated in Europe at the end of the 19th, and the beginning of the 20th century, producing maps, manuscripts, paintings, carvings in ivory and wood, castings, other metalwork and jewelry. The works of the famous but enigmatic “Spanish Forger”, mentioned above, are considered products of such a factory, of which the location has never been determined.

So during this time, and very possibly at the Libreria, I believe Voynich created his magnum opus of forgery, the Voynich Manuscript, using some blank folios he found there. I also think it may be the only work he personally had a hand in creating. And the claim that the use of early 15th century calfskin is evidence that it must be real, because, supposedly, “the experts got it right”, is incorrect: Most experts did not guess early 15th century, before the C14 radio carbon results of 1404 to 1438. In fact, when those results were revealed in the 2010 ORF documentary, they were billed as running counter to previous opinion on the matter. That is, I think the C14 results actually imply a forger’s random selection of a then untestable (for age) stock of calfskin.

Fourth phase, 1914 to death: By 1914 Voynich had opened his shop in New York, right across from the New York Public Library. It was during this time that he worked tirelessly to promote his Roger Bacon Cipher Manuscript, showing it, lecturing on it, and passing around photostats to various experts in botany, cryptography, herbals, and so on. By about 1921 the fame of his find was enormous, and it was generally accepted as a Roger Bacon work in the press and popular culture. This was due in no small part to the claims of Romaine Newbold, who famously claimed he could decipher much of it. He believed it contained amazing discoveries and inventions, such as advanced optics capable of seeing details of celestial bodies and microscopic organisms, previously thought discernible only by 19th century optics. This caused an understandable sensation, which in turn caused a scrutiny of not only the Voynich Manuscript, but also the life of Roger Bacon. This increased awareness of the known facts of Bacon’s life ended up resulting in string of unintended consequences, which eventually hurt Newbold’s reputation, and sent the Voynich spiraling, unidentified, into a scholarly limbo.

By 1928 Wilfrid Voynich was in poor health, and almost broke. He borrowed thousands of dollars, and was unable to sell the Voynich, or any of his greater remaining works. When he died in 1930 everything passed to his wife Ethel, who relied on her trusted friend and longtime employee, Anne Nill, to keep the business afloat. Herbert Garland continued to run the London shop, but the Florence Libreria seems to have been disposed of just after WWI.

Both Anne and Ethel never gave up hope they would be able to resurrect the reputation of “the Cipher Ms.”, and so, its value, and saleability, along with several other works they held. But of course, this never transpired, and the Voynich and other items were donated, sold and dispersed by the bookseller Hans P. Kraus, and are scattered in museums and collections around the world.

Damning Traits: In the 1948 book Fakes by Otto Kurz, the author outlines many features and “tells” of forgeries. From this book and others on the history and attributes of forgeries, and how they were reacted to by the scholarly establishment, it has become clear to me that the Voynich Manuscript is practically a model case of forgery: Multiple varied and diverse expert opinion as to origin, content, meaning, and era; anachronistic content, including but not limited to possible modern optical devices, sciences, use of foldouts, imagery, celestial observations, animals, plants, even people; and poor and/or missing and/or contradictory provenance.

f85v1 "Garland Girl", and Schott Engraving

f85v1 “Garland Girl”, and Schott Engraving

There are many other, more specific, points which call into question the work’s authenticity, one example of which I will single out here: The 2009 McCrone tests showed that the ink of the last page marginalia, and the ink of the main text, are the same. However, it was previously understood that the writing of the marginalia is in a different “hand”, with different content, and presumed therefore from a different time than the main text. But this cannot be, since the ink is the same. So one would have to rationalize either that the tests are wrong, or misinterpreted, or that the marginalia was done at the same time as the main text for an innocent reason, and variations and combinations of those arguments, in order to claim the Voynich is authentic. Rather, this scientific fact is powerful, damning evidence that the marginalia is there for “effect” only, added by the same forger who wrote the main text.

And there is even more, and more details to the above points, which support that this is simply a forgery… and in fact, not a very good one… and counter the claims that the work is any sort of genuine 15th century cipher-herbal, or any of the other similar claims from the time of the C14 dating to when Voynich claimed to have found it in 1912.

Counter arguments: The idea that Wilfrid may have forged the Voynich Manuscript has long been one of great controversy. I had thought it impossible until about 2012, when various events and discoveries caused me to begin to consider it possible. Ironically, one major factor is because my critics pointed out that the optics I noted as comparisons were often “too new” for my early 17th century theories. I eventually agreed… they are too new, and I moved forward in time. In doing so, I began to see that all of the previously, seemingly, insurmountable “walls” to modern forgery were actually built on very shaky, and sometimes, non-existent, grounds. That is, much of what was known and claimed of the Voynich Manuscript, and of Voynich himself, turned out to be so mere speculation, and hopeful thinking. I list many of these in another post.

It has also been claimed this hypothesis is too complex. Far from it, this is easily the simplest theory of all: Voynich found a stack of old calfskin, and penned a varied and enigmatic herbal of questionable quality and origin, using his wide ranging knowledge of literature as a rough source. He later used a scrap of blank paper to pen a supporting letter in imperfect Latin. After those simple facts, everything else fits. He had the materials, the access to knowledge, the ability and the motivation to do so.

Conclusion: Although this was only a brief summary of my investigation, and resulting hypothesis, I hope it gives a good baseline of my arguments. Perhaps it will be “food for thought”, for those interested, and with an open mind, who are exploring this mystery for themselves.

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The 1665 Marci Letter: A Forgery?

September 11, 2015

One of the keystone items of evidence used to support the claims that the Voynich Manuscript is a genuine, ancient work, is the 1665 Marci-to-Kircher letter which Wilfrid Voynich said he found in the book. But does this letter deserve the  important, foundational aspect it has been imbued with? Or is it rather a somewhat shaky document, with numerous troubling anomalies, which deserves to be questioned?

I will below list some of the letter’s problems. But first, let us look at what the letter tells us, and the claimed circumstances surrounding its discovery.

Wilfrid Voynich claimed he purchased his “Roger Bacon Cipher Manuscript” from the Jesuits at the Villa Mondragone about 1911/12. This was the story he privately imparted to his wife, Ethel, but only to be revealed after her death. Before that, he claimed that the book was found, alternatively,  in “A castle in Southern Europe”, and “An Austrian Castle”. By the time Wilfrid exhibited his Cipher Ms. at the 1915 Chicago Exhibition, he was telling people that he had noticed the letter… sometime after purchase of the ms…. either attached to the inside cover of the book, and/or folded within it. The letter now resides in the Yale Beinecke Library, as part of the Voynich collection there.

This letter is the source of information for the rumor that the Voynich Manuscript was written by Roger Bacon, and also that it was brought to the Court of Rudolf II by a “bearer” who was given the enormous sum of 600 ducats.

Here are the issues and concerns I have:

1. Voynich said he paid little attention to it, at first: His claim is somewhat implausible, considering how stunning and mysterious the Voynich Ms. is, and seemed to be to him. So of course any included documents would have also been of tremendous interest. This, especially, considering that an even cursory scanning of the letter would reveal the phrase, “Rogerium Bacconem Anglum” (“Roger Bacon, the Englishman”, Philip Neal translation). I think his claim would actually suggest that this letter actually did not exist earlier, and so he needed to also claim he only noticed it at a later date… or how else would he explain not mentioning it earlier, to whomever he may have described, or shown, the ms.?

2: He walked out of the Villa with it: The Villa Mondragone was the repository of the Jesuit’s precious Kircher Carteggio, a 2,000+ item collection of correspondence, in 12 to 14 packages, between various individuals and their esteemed and iconic Athanasius Kircher. So we must believe that not only did Voynich not notice that letter inside his stunning find, but also that no Jesuit took the time to examine the work he was offering to purchase from them. At least, well enough to notice one of their precious Kircher letters was inside. On the contrary, I think this also suggests this letter was forged later, by Wilfrid (or someone else), to create, change, add and/or cement his desired provenance.

3: Marci held back information?: When reading the other letters to Kircher which are presumed by many to describe the Voynich Ms. (I would contend they are probably describing some other work, NOT the Voynich Ms.), i.e., the Baresch, Kinner and other Marci letters, it is clear that these men are very interested in getting an opinion from Kircher about this work. So then why would they not mention, and why would Marci wait to mention until his last, dying years, and only in his last request to Kircher, the important clues contained in that letter? Voynich’s 1665 Marci letter first mentions the rumor of Rudolf II buying it from a bearer, or otherwise paying that bearer, 600 ducats. And it mentions the guess that Roger Bacon wrote it! But confoundedly, Baresch, Kinner and a younger Marci fail to mention any of this to Kircher, for decades.

I would contend this implies that this information was made up, for a forged letter… and further, that that forged letter had to be dated much later than the others, because it would have been even more incomprehensible that the included information was not a part of earlier (and genuine) missives in the Carteggio.

4: That Latin: Many who are proficient in Latin have had difficulty with various aspects of the Latin phrasing and/or grammar in the letter. I know little about Latin, and cannot intelligently contribute to any translation. But I can point out that others have had trouble making heads-or-tails of it. This is not to say any of these people suspect the letter as I do, but of course I consider this an important observation. For instance, in the list of Philip Neal translations, this letter is the only one that demands “extra notes”, in some attempt to better understand the problematic logic of the Latin phrasing. Neal calls it “vexing”, in fact. I would suggest the logistical problems with this Latin phrasing are a result of a modern forger who was not proficient enough to create a trouble-free version.

5: The Folding: There were two basic ways a letter was prepared for delivery in the times before manufactured envelopes became available: One, the letter itself was folded into an envelope, with the writing to the inside and the address on the outside. Then this was usually secured with a “wax” seal, impressed while hot with the emblem of the sender. Another way was to fold the letter, but then place it in a dedicated envelope made from another sheet of paper or vellum, which was then addressed and sealed. The second way seems to have usually been used when the letter had writing on both sides, or one had multiple sheets. I have seen images of all the letters of the Kircher Carteggio, and the fold lines and seals make sense for one of these two uses. There are small variations in the size of the sections folded, or whether or not a flap is made for the seal, and so on, but they still make sense.

The 1665 Voynich/Marci letter seems different, and odd, in this area. So I printed out the 1666 Marci letter, and tried to fold it on its apparent fold lines. There are ways to fold it, but they do not make sense. It is as though the letter was trimmed down from a larger source, that was previously folded, with new fold lines added. The fact that the Beinecke lists the letter as being blank on the reverse (hence no address) does imply this was meant to be included in another sheet, folded as an envelope… but then, why are there seals on it? It has been suggested that the seals were used to attach this letter inside the cover, or some pages, of the Voynich… but this is also not a usual practice, and then, since the cover is considered newer than the book, and newer than the letter for that matter, why do the seals and their marks line up as though they were part of the letter itself, when folded?

I think these anomalies suggest that the 1666 Marci letter was created from another source sheet, which was possibly trimmed down. This source may have had seals on it for some purpose, perhaps as an unmarked envelope. Perhaps an original address was trimmed off, or erased. This source had some folds, but others may have been added to create what we see today… an odd format with seals and folds that cannot be made sense of. Related to this is the known fact that Voynich had access to a tremendous amount of blank paper from the end-sheets of books, and possibly other sources. In fact it is related both by James McBey, the famous etching artist, and Millicent Sowerby, a Voynich staff member and biographer, that Voynich sold ancient, blank paper to McBey.

6: The “Signature” & Date: It has long been known that the “signature” of Marcus Marci is not by him, as it seems to be different on his other, earlier letters. This has been explained by the fact that Marci was very old, and ill at this point, and some scribe wrote and signed the letter for him. But interesting to me is the almost pantographic ability of this scribe… because in the Kircher Carteggio is one, later, Marci letter, dated September 10, 1665, seemingly by this same scribe… but if so, why are the signatures an exact overlay?

Further, the year overlays perfectly, bringing to mind the consternating problem of old difficulty in determining if the Voynich-Marci letter was dated 1665 or 1666. This, because the last “5” lines up, but then it seems a small loop-closing line was made to this “5”, turning it into a pseudo-6. Could this be because a second-thought caused someone to think 1666 would be better? In a similar manner, the “10” of September 10th also lines up perfectly, but the Voynich-Marci letter has a tail, seemingly added to turn the “0” into a “9”.

1665 Voynich/Marci Letter

Opinions & Interpretations: Whether or not the Voynich Manuscript is a genuine 15th century cipher-herbal, I think the above problems and anomalies suggest that the 1665 Voynich/Marci letter was created to either change or cement a provenance and authorship which Wilfrid Voynich desired: To imply that his Cipher Manuscript was in the Court of Rudolf II, and that it was possibly a lost manuscript of the great polymath Roger Bacon. A motive could have been the tremendous potential increase in value, because while an interesting herbal of the time might have been worth as much as, say 1,000 pounds, Voynich wanted over $100,000 for his lost “Roger Bacon Cipher Manuscript”. Helping feed his hopes may have been the excitement of the upcoming 700th birth anniversary of Roger Bacon, in 1914, and the surrounding media attention.

But if this is correct, I would contend it further undermines the case for authenticity of the Voynich Manuscript itself. It would not only further impugn the already shaky word of Voynich, so often relied upon for the little we know of his famous manuscript, but it would also leave the other letters, genuine and still in the Carteggio, supposedly describing the Voynich, as little isolated islands, barely describing anything close to the Voynich manuscript we see today. In fact, if we did not have this 1665 Voynich/Marci letter, no one would ever suspect the genuine Baresch, Kinner and other Marci letters would have anything at all to do with the Voynich Manuscript.

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The Three Quire Theory

August 4, 2015

Over the last year or so I’ve begun to wonder if the bifolios of the Voynich Manuscript may actually be cut from some larger folio stock, which was originally in the form of three or four large, blank quires. If I am correct, I personally think the implications of it, and the opportunities afforded by it, are enormous.

The seed of this idea was in wondering just what form the blank vellum stock might have been in, if found by a 20th century forger. Somehow, finding a pre-bound, blank quarto-size book with 18 quires, and over 200 pages (as the Voynich is, today), not to mention fold outs, did not seem so likely. So I thought, perhaps the maker found a large, blank roll, or a stack of vellum. But after studying the problem, and noting various observations by others, I think the source may have simply been three or four blank quires, of 4 or 5 bifolios each. Here is a list of the observations which led me to this theory:

1) Odd Quire Numbers: The quire numbers of the Voynich have some notable problems. Nick Pelling, in his book, The Curse of the Voynich, has an excellent and very complete description of these numbers, and why they are somewhat unusual. He feels that some seem to be original, but some may have been added later, in different hands, and in an odd mix of styles. Nick even feels some were written with a steel nib pen, making them quite modern. But then one might ask, why would the Voynich have needed quire numbers added? That is, it is composed of 18 quires, so why didn’t the original creator originally use quire numbers on all quires? I began to wonder if this was because the source of the calfskin was from a limited number of quires… larger quires, cut down, but with some original quire numbers still being used. And then, there simply were not enough of them to number all of the Voynich’s 18 quires.

Also, the quire numbers are in an odd place on the Voynich, in the lower corner of the pages. According to the book Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Clemens & Graham, 2007), quire numbers are normally centered at the bottom of the first or last page of a quire. But in the Voynich, on the side, they are about where they would be if an existing, folio-size quire was cut into quarters, and folded. These resulting, smaller bifolios could be folded next to the original quire numbers, and they would end up near the edge or a fold of a page.

2) The size: A usual folio page, it turns out, can range from between about 12 inches to 16 inches wide, or even more, and be 18 to 24 inches high. The bifolios can be, therefore, 24 to more than 32 inches wide, and taller than two Voynich pages are high. This would mean that one could easily cut four Voynich’s quarto bifolios from one full size bifolio. Since one bifolio is two leaves and four pages, 16 pages could be got from one large bifolio. This then means that a five bifolio large quire could produce 80 Voynich pages, and so only three such quires would be needed to make the whole manuscript, as it originally consisted of 240 pages.

3) Fold outs: The somewhat anachronistic use of fold out pages, and folded “rosettes” map of the Voynich, have been noted by various scholars. It is either rare, or unheard of, to see such fold outs used in the 15th century. And so, for me, it has been one of those “Nagging Signs of Newness”, which I feel point to a modern origin of the Voynich. But beyond that, they make sense with my Three Quire Theory: Large folios would offer enough material, of the correct dimensions, to cut these from. Below see the rosettes fold out, laid against a (very) approximate large folio.

Was the Rosettes page cut from an existing, large, Bifolio?

Was the Rosettes page cut from an existing, large, Bifolio?

4) White edges: While I was mulling all of this over, Dana Scott related an interesting observation he made when he examined the Voynich Manuscript years ago: That some edges of the pages seemed to be much “whiter” than others, as though they were cut more recently than other edges, and therefore showing the cleaner inside of the animal skin. My thought was that perhaps this meant that the sheets were more recently cut along those edges, from larger stock, as per this theory. Dana did not note which edges looked lighter, but of course I would now be curious to know. And furthermore, if this theory is correct, it might be an aid to “reassembling” all the Voynich’s bifolios into the state they were before being cut.

5)  Repairs & Scars: A few days ago I was wondering at this theory again, and went back to read Mr. Pelling’s book again. I wanted to see what other clues it may offer… especially as I remembered that he had “virtually” lined up various scars and repairs, hoping they might be a clue as to the placement of the bifolios on the original skins they were cut from. Of course Nick and I have entirely different conclusions based on his observations, as we do on many issues. To make it clear, Nick does not support my forgery theories in any way. But his observation that certain repairs and scars on some bifolios seem to imply their being from the same source, and show their original relationship, as the repairs line up across them, supports not only his idea that some bifolios are from the same skin, but also, my idea they may be from the same, original, larger folios: Because Nick’s alignment not only allowed for the placement of some bifolios on the same skins, but even placed them both next to, and below and above one another! You can see this on his illustration on page 54, in Chapter 4, “Jumbled Jigsaws”, in which the bifolios f16r/f9r and f10v/f15r have tear repairs that line up, as thought they were originally next to one another. Then, on the ensuing pages, he shows how the f38v/f35r and f36v/f37r bifolios line up in a similar way, this time, on top of one another. Below I show the first example, with the approximate alignment of the repairs marked, as Nick notes. But rather than use Nick’s skin outline, I’ve placed these two Voynich bifolios on my speculative, larger, blank bifolio.

Conclusions, testing, and implications: Given the above points, I think it is plausible that the original source of the Voynich material may have been a few blank quires. I further think it possible they were found by Wilfrid Voynich when he purchased the Libreria Franceschini in Florence, in 1908. It was a vast repository of over a half a million items, from useless scrap, to valuable treasures, which were accumulated by the previous owner over a four decade span. It is not at all unreasonable to consider, I think, that a few unused quires might have been found among these mountains of materials.

"Dark Room" of the Libraria Franceschini

“Dark Room” of the Libraria Franceschini

And very importantly, if the Voynich was cut from larger, blank stock, originally in the form of blank quires, I think it can be proven to a reasonable extent. This can be done by the alignment of repairs, the position of the whiter (newer) cut edges, the relative thickness of the skin along those edges, the positions of the original quire numbers, and possibly other clues which would occur to one during such an attempt. And then, if this theory is found correct, I feel there is no reasonable alternative explanation to this having been done, other than that old, existing blank stock was used to create the Voynich as a modern forgery.

Pitfalls of Decipherment

July 26, 2015

I am barely a cipher amateur. Nonetheless, I’ve read and studied about many historical cipher attempts, both successes and failures, and over the last few years, and I’ve been privy to a great many decipherment attempts on the Voynich, both in public and in private. And so even if I have not made any significant decipherments of my own, the successes and failures of others have still taught me many useful signs of error in the process of decipherment. The failure of many of these attempts may be obvious to me and others, but is often not at all apparent to their proponents. This should not be so, as there is available a very simple two-step test one can use to determine a the correctness of any proposed solution. These tests are derived from several sources, but most notably the works of Elizebeth and William Friedman. Both of these conditions MUST be met in order for a claimed decipherment to be deemed correct:

1) Repeatability: If one can explain the system used, to a second person, and then they derive the same cipher text as the solution’s proponent, then part one has been passed.

2) Meaning: If the system is repeatable, as above, then the results must have meaning.

But the problem is that, in a very many instances, a decipherer believes they have met the above two-step criteria, and passed the test, when they have not. As I asked, why? It usually is because they have been trapped by various pitfalls, in which “ways around” the tests… although invalid… seem to obviate a need to meet those basic requirements, or convince them that they have met them. I’d call these “pitfalls” then, and are very dangerous. By not recognizing them in one’s own work, by stepping over or around them, one can become victim to spending huge amounts of life and effort continuing to work on what is a failed scheme.

List of potential pitfalls to decipherment:
1) Defending subjective input: It is normal, in many cases, for a decipherer to insert speculative plain text characters, words or phrases in order to test cipher schemes: Such as using the name of an item in an illustration, or a word which might make sense in the context of the work in general. But then a problem arises if the system is not seen as flawed when it needs to alter itself in order to allow for new results from new cipher text. That is, if the scheme needs to be altered to fit the new, speculative plain text, then this should be seen as a test of the scheme, and that the scheme has failed. It this “red flag” is missed, there is no limit to the complexities that that a decipherment scheme/system can grow to, in order to continue to adapt to speculative, desired, plain text. But we know the solution is wrong, because no cipher system needs to adapt for individual words. No matter how complex, a proper cipher will work consistently to decipher the text without needing to adapt as it progresses.

The signs to look for are if the decipherer will not try new text, and only sticks to small section of selected text. Another is if the system is not shared, often said to be “too complicated” for others, or if there is no expressed, relatable system at all. Sometimes a system is shared, but cannot be used to create meaningful text by a second party, and then this shows the solution is wrong.

2) Multiple Plain Text Choices: If at any point in the decipherment process, choices of multiple possible plaintext letters or words are needed, the number of outcomes quickly rises. The level of subjectivity in such decipherment schemes can be so high that many different translations of meaning, or near meaning, can be derived from the same cipher text. What to look for are charts with columns or rows of alternate “translations” for one cipher character or word.

Often the pitfall is that the translator has a concept of what they think the content is, or should be, so then the choices they make for the output don’t seem subjective to them, but the only logical possibility from the many variations conceivable during the process. In these cases, a proposer may believe the “repeatability” requirement must be bent, as there needs to be a mutual understanding of what choices should be made in the process, and that the original users of the cipher would possess that understanding. Another excuse is that the original creator alone possessed the necessary understanding, as they never intended anyone else to read the plain text. They then feel that, possessing this understanding, they alone come to the proper results. This is a dangerous pitfall, as there is really no way to convince oneself, or others, that this is unlikely to be the case. But it is  historically unknown as a concept, if that helps.

Another good test is falsification, as if many other results can be derived by using other choices of characters, then at the very least it should be apparent that any particular results cannot be known if correct or if in error. That is, any such results are virtually indistinguishable from guesswork, and therefore, the solution can be assumed incorrect.

3) Anagrams: Similar to the above, if any string of plain text results needs to be reordered to derive meaning, the chance are the derived meaning is purely speculative on the part of the decipherer. It is true that anagrams have historically been used to hide information, but rarely used to hide it in a way that another person could readily derive the meaning without help. This is a common misconception about various historic uses of anagrams, such as those by Roger Bacon and Galileo. They were using anagrams to insert a “watermark” of sorts in the test, so that they could later reveal that they were privy to some knowledge, so that they could later claim precedence to that knowledge, but without revealing it to unwanted eyes. But the purpose was not for another party to discern the meaning on their own, as it needed help from the creator to find it.

But if for whatever reason anagrams might be suspected, after only a few characters the possible translations quickly rises beyond any sensible use of hiding plain text, since many alternate plain texts can be derived from even short strings of plaintext characters. This means it becomes purely subjective, and almost from the start of the process. This was one of the pitfalls that William Romaine Newbold fell into, when attempting to decipher the Voynich Manuscript cipher text.  He derived long strings of characters, from which he, or really anyone, could assemble some resemblance of meaningful text. Newbold was assuming Roger Bacon content, however, and so he manipulated his anagrams until he found it.

4) Small Set of Input/Output: If a scheme seems to work for a select few words, usually under 20 (and rarely approaching it), and then the decipherer stops attempting their scheme on new words, it then becomes a pitfall. There are several such claims of translation, some of which have made it into mainstream media. In order to avoid this, one must make certain that their scheme continues to work on a larger set of cipher words, and that they do not stop at early, perceived, “successes”. Likewise, for those attempting to determine the validity of such small set solutions, they should first insist that the proponent apply their method to a larger set (editors and producers take note). Until they do so, the solution should not be taken seriously.

5) Lack of plain text meaning: This is only a pitfall if it is not seen as a failure of a decipherment, as per the two step test at the top of this post.

It is of course easy to translate the Voynich text, or any cipher I suppose, in a way that produces “something”. But if that something has no discernible meaning, it is wrong. The pitfall comes when one does not accept that this lack of meaning exists, or that it is important. For the former, one may think the encipherer must have had a meaning in mind for the resultant ramblings; for the latter, that it is simply not a problem that there is no meaning- that is, they simply do not address it, to themselves or to others. But if one wants to self test their scheme, or the scheme of others, then lack of meaning is a sign of an incorrect solution.

Nonetheless, there are many claimed solutions which produce meaningless text… in the case of the Voynich, this almost always involves long strings of repetitive words and phrases, as the cipher text of the Voynich has much repetition. It is often claimed that these meaningless solutions must be either song, chants or poetry we don’t understand, or lists of recipe ingredients or formulas, which we simply do not know how to use due to our modern viewpoint. In reality, they are simply gibberish, and not the solution.

6) False Patterns: It is human nature to seek, and then find, patterns in randomness. But the ability can become a pitfall when left unchecked in the practice of decipherment. This pitfall not only arises in seeing patterns in the text, but in illustrations, also. And a very good self-test is, again, if the results have meaning. There has to be a greater context for the pattern, or it is probably purely subjective. If one does not make an attempt to find that greater context, or diminishes the importance of doing so, they may never see the error in the scheme. But also, like many schemes which are vulnerable to subjective errors, a pattern may be “seen” which matches a preconception for meaning and context, and this then is mistakenly thought to be validation of the pattern. Another good check in that case is falsification… that is, seeing if other patterns can be also found, with other meanings, in the same text or illustration… by oneself, or better yet, by others. If they can, then there is no way of knowing which one, if any, may be correct, and the solution is in error.

7) Skipping the process: This is rare, but there are cases of decipherers simply inserting plain text for cipher characters or words, purely speculatively (or maybe loosely based on some belief of what the Voynich may be about): This can be food sources, if one thinks it a cookbook; or chemical names, if one believes it a formula book; or maybe herbal and plant names, if one believes it a pharmacopeia. Great lists of meanings for characters or words may be offered. The tests as usual are repeatability and resultant meaning, but these are often avoided in this case. One case I’ve seen is that the proponent wrongly claims repeatability because of anyone using the list will arrive at the same exact results as they do. But the point being missed in this case is that the list is the decipherment, and the list must therefore be repeatable, and is not. And so, repeatability has actually failed. Another danger is that one may simply surmise there is a missing code book that was originally used to derive the lists of meanings; and that the results are (again) simply not understandable to a modern mind. But if one is objective, and realizes that any list of words can be substituted for one’s own (for any speculative code book), and that any results can be claimed meaningful, as in #5, they will see the error, and so can avoid this pitfall.

Conclusion: There are many historical, and even contemporary, instances of decipherment attempts which have consumed large portions of their proponent’s life and effort. In the case of the many failed Baconian theories, several individuals spent decades in a fruitless pursuit of hidden meanings in Shakespeare’s texts. But there are many other cases like this, and unfortunately even in our time. The Voynich cipher has engendered many dozens, if not hundreds, of its own instances of this unfortunate effect. I’ve personally witnessed several cases in which very brilliant and sincere people have fallen into the traps I relate above, and so are expending their precious life energy, year after year, to baseless chimeras so easily avoided- if but a small amount of careful introspection would be applied. I offer my observations, above, as a well-meant and helpful warning to them.