Archive for the ‘fantasy’ Category

The Antikythera Mechanism of Manuscripts

May 27, 2012

As I came away from the recent Voynich 100 Conference at the Villa Mondragone in Frascati, Italy, I found myself thinking of some old problems in new ways. Probably most useful to organizing my thoughts was my interview by Lisa Jackson and Bob Aschmann , the Sunday after the conference. Being asked some old and new questions, so soon after meeting and discussing everything Voynich under the sun, allowed me to organize my thoughts in some new and different ways. It was a sort of Voynich-therapy session.

One question was why the Voynich has not been solved. I mean, in extremely simple terms, one might say, “Because it is really, really, hard”. But the question is, what makes it different than other hard problems? Why have the usual tools of scholarship been unable to crack this one? Or, unable to define it at the very least, if one accepts that reading it is not the paramount problem? I mean, we don’t even know what it is. Well, there are those who will tell you they do know what it is, and what it is not, of course, usually adding the “unusual” disclaimer before the suggestion. But really, no one is satisfied, or this would be over. So why don’t we at least know what it is, with certainty?

In the interview, my answer to the question “why?”was, “because I believe the Voynich resides outside of existing scholarship”.

Unique: Like the Voynich?

Scholarship does not experiment, it does not imagine. It only compares, contrasts, and catalogs. In almost all cases, this works, because almost all of the world, and all of the knowledge within it, exists somewhere in known scholarship. But perhaps, not in the case of the Voynich- and this would then explain the loss of scholarship to explain it. “What the Voynich really is” is not in there, and so, scholarship cannot solve it. It certainly has not, and perhaps will not, ever.

I’ve often wondered why mainstream scholars have rejected various concepts I have proposed, and rejected some seemingly (to me) reasonable, common sense proposals of others. I could not understand why optics and fantasy were lumped in with aliens and crop circles. And then, at the same time, those same scholars have accepted some other, seemingly (to me) bizarre concepts… which I will not relate, here. But I could not equate the two seemingly disparate judgments. Now, I think I have a clue as to why. I think my inability to understand this effect, this “disconnect” as I see it, was in my looking at all the ideas suggested for the Voynich, all the theories, on a sliding, empirical scale of “normal” to “bizarre”, while at the same time, failing to see one important, divisive, distinction: Ideas accepted by scholars and scholarship, no matter how outrageous, are assembled from examples from existing scholarship; rejected ideas always exist outside of accepted scholarship. And “outside of scholarship” to a dedicated scholar, simply means it cannot be. Without a category or existing example to compare it to, scholarship believes an idea to be impossible.

Well, I can compare to various concepts within scholarship, but not to existing examples, and certainly as a whole, my ideas do not fit in any existing category. I suspect optics, for instance, and it is rightly pointed out there is no other 1610-1620 optical manuscript, or even a place for one. I see old vellum use, post C14, and I’m told the scholarship does not allow it, as such a situation is rare, or unknown. There is not yet a category for works on old vellum, and when examples are found, scholarship tends to digest them as errors, or unimportant anomalies. “Purple Cows”, so to speak. And when I see a manuscript created as an artifact of scientific, utopian, fiction, as a sort of “living Book M”… it is correctly pointed out I can’t find another actual work to compare it to. Again, there is no category for such a document, as no such work is known to exist; they are only described in fiction. And when I show other works which were created to look like older texts, such as the Chittenden manuscript, it is pointed out, accurately, that they exist in their own category, which my specific case does not fit. And of course, scholarship will not create a category for what I suspect the Voynich is, “An Artifact Born of Scientific Utopian Literature”, until it is proven. I understand that. And therefore it is a vicious circle, a “Catch 22”, for my theories and proposals.

I made a PowerPoint slide for the very end of my Voynich 100 presentation, which I erased the morning of the Conference. I have since been sorry I removed it. At the time I wanted to limit my presentation to three basic concepts. The erased slide was presenting a fourth, although a simple one, and entitled, “The Antikythera Mechanism of Manuscripts?” The Antikythera Mechanism is a Greek device, a highly complex, geared mechanical astronomical computer, now dated to the first century BCE. Before it was found, it was not known that the Greeks, or any culture for that matter, would be remotely capable of building such a thing in its time… and actually, incapable for at least another 1800 years. The entire scholarship of the Greeks, of science and proto-science, and of astronomy, and gear mechanics, did not have a category for such a device. When found, it existed outside of known scholarship.

It has occurred to me, that if the Antikythera Mechanism were dropped into the lap of existing scholarship like a hot potato, without the shipwreck it was found on, scholarship would have failed to properly identify it. We would have been told that it was probably a highly advanced 19th century device. This, because there was no category, when found, for a first century BCE, complex, geared mechanical astronomical computer. In fact, scholarship created that category only grudgingly, as many at the time of its discovery believed the device must have fallen on the BCE wreck much later. And I will point out that the Antikythera mechanism is the only device in the very category made for it. It is stunningly, brazenly, truly: one of a kind.

Unique: Like the Antikythera Mechanism?

It may be pointed out that the shipwreck, on which the Antikythera Mechanism was found, does in fact date the device. And this means that existing scholarship, in the form of marine archeology, has worked in that respect. And further, it might be suggested that there is an analogy between the shipwreck and the Voynich C14 dating… and claim, again, that scholarship, with the acceptance and knowledge of carbon dating and dendrochronology, has worked in our case. But I might counter that both the errors I, and others, have found in the assumptions of “use of old vellum practices”, do easily allow that that the Voynich could have been made on old vellum, that the current provenance and ink tests on the Voynich do not disallow this, and lastly, that to ignore the striking resemblance of many Voynich cylinders to early microscopes, is, in effect, ignoring the scholarship of early microscopes, and failing to use it as a comparison.

And ‘round and ‘round we go, again. I can find, within existing scholarship, exceptions to the arguments against my theory. But without a category to place the Voynich in, as I envision it, or actual examples of what I propose it is, those exceptions will not be allowed by scholarship.

So what is there to do, as I pursue this? Of course I will continue to use known scholarship for research. Although I feel it has not managed to give an answer, nor accepted mine, so far, I do hope that I may find some other such artifact as I suspect the Voynich to be, mis-categorized, or not as yet categorized. Perhaps there is some book, object, or device, or description of same, which also sprang from the same influences I suspect influenced the creation of the Voynich. And if so, maybe it will turn out it is not alone in its own box, as the Antikythera Mechanism certainly is. But meanwhile, while looking for that example, or waiting and hoping for a translation which puts the question to rest, I will look at the Voynich in the category I have created for it. Perhaps my new category will never be accepted, and no other examples ever be found, and perhaps the Voynich will never be proven to be what I suspect it is. And it may very well not be that thing, of course. But I still am not satisfied with anything on the list of proposals that existing scholarship will accept, or has proposed, so I must continue to look elsewhere.

A Volcano in the Voynich?

April 21, 2012

The best way find answers to a tough problem is to ask the right questions, and the right ones are usually new ones. Asking the same old questions, over and over, will get one nowhere, because they usually produce the same answers. In the case of the Voynich, there must be thousands, if not millions, of good questions that have so far gone unasked. In the answers to those questions may be the golden nuggets which bring us closer to the answers we hope for.

About a year ago, Tim Tattrie asked one of those good questions, and got a very interesting, and potentially valuable, answer. He was peering at the Rosettes foldout, as thousands had before him. But Tim wondered what the rest of the mountain, the one in the upper right rosette, might be. He did not assume what it was, he wanted to know. So he wrote the Beinecke staff, and asked them if they would open the fold a bit, and take a picture. Graham Sherriff of the Yale staff quickly sent him the picture. At the time he was told that the new pictures would be included in the online database, but a year or more went by, and they did not get around to it. So Tim asked me to announce the find, as he felt it might be of value and interest to others. I agree.

Under the Rosettes Fold

As you can see, much was revealed “under the fold” of this area. Not only did the mountain reveal that it may, in fact, be a volcano, but also, the ramp like area leading up from the walled-city now shows a few more buildings. I wish I had this when I made my 3D rosettes… and in fact I may add the “volcano”, and found buildings, in a new version.

Is this a Volcano?

Well of course this may not be a volcano. Tim is pragmatic about it, and does not commit to that as an absolute identity. I don’t either, as it could be many things. The Voynich does have various pipes which also seem to “spew” various substances. Are they, and this, meant to be gas? Air? Water? The quintessence? Perhaps this is meant to be a natural fountain, or Artesian well. And the effluent is not red or “fiery” in any way… it is blue, like water. But I have to say that it looks a lot like a volcano to me. One could also assume that this is not meant to be a mountain at all, and that is lies flat, like a drain and so on. I don’t think so. It is illustrated much like the other heights of the rosettes page, and the intent seems to be implying a hill or mountain. The reader is welcome to disagree, of course.

What is that effluent, then?

Of course like many new discoveries in the Voynich, answered by these new questions, this one raises even newer questions. That is all good, I think. And also, when we see this new information, we might have a sense that it tells us something important, in its own right… but frustratingly, we are not sure “what” it is that it tells us! For me, I will not miss the opportunity to point out a couple of implications. For one thing, I note that there have been several real places suggested for the upper right rosette. One of these has been Milan. I think that the discovery of this spewing mountain, probably a volcano, might warrant a re-consideration of most of of the previous speculation of this rosette as various places. If one is going to think of the rosettes as a real place at all, in fact… an idea I wholeheartedly reject, as I think it is a fantasy land.. but if they are going to look at the castles, walkways and towers as real, then one must now look for a place which includes a spewing mountain, or volcano. And if one looks for such a fountain, it better be on a towering mount. And good luck with that.

Kircher's Volcano from "Mundus Suberraneus"

But what might be valuable is to look at the history of volcanology, and also, how volcanoes have been perceived in mythology and fiction. Knowing what volcanoes meant to people, at different times in history, and how they have been illustrated, and for what purpose, will all be potentially valuable to understanding the Rosettes in a new light. I personally feel that Tim Tattrie’s find is a very important one, not only for the actual illustration which was uncovered in this one case, but for what it tells us we must do in the future… that we can’t keep asking the same old questions, but we have to try to look for new questions, asked in new ways. I am certain that many other surprises await us if we do.

Of Course It’s a Puzzle

June 22, 2011

This post is not about whether or not the Voynich Manuscript is from 1420, 1550, 1610 or 1912. It is about just how crazy it is that we simply cannot say for certain. And just how difficult a situation this is, is demonstrated by the curious root on f27v, which I have dubbed “the puzzle piece”. This root looks nothing like a root, or any part of a plant. What it does is look all the world like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle… the locking kind, with all it’s bulbous legs, and it’s flat surface punctuated by an attempt at three-dimensional thickness by the author.

f27v Root: What a puzzler!

Whatever this root is supposed to look like, it is not supposed to be a root, that is clear. The artist went through the trouble of giving it thickness, and actually a pretty non-organic and uniform thickness… just like it was cut out of some flat material with some sort of… well, you get it. But I thought, if this was meant to be a jigsaw puzzle piece, then what would that imply about the dating and meaning of the Voynich Manuscript? So I looked up the history of the jigsaw, and contacted a couple of experts in the puzzle field.

According to Daniel McAdam, on the American Jigsaw Puzzle Society’s “History of Jigsaw Puzzles” page,

“It is generally agreed that the first jigsaw puzzle was produced around 1760 by John Spilsbury, a London engraver and mapmaker.  Spilsbury mounted one of his maps on a sheet of hardwood and cut around the borders of the countries using a fine-bladed marquetry saw.”

But these early puzzles had pieces of all sorts of shapes and sizes, but not yet in the iconic “locking” shapes we might associate best with the f27v root form. Bob Armstrong, a puzzle expert, told me,

“The earliest period such a shape could exist in an American puzzle piece would be 1910s, but more likely the 1920s and 30s. I don’t remember any European puzzles with pieces of that shape before the 1910s either, but it could be possible.”

He then referred my query to Anne Williams, the leading authority on American puzzles. She wrote,

“The image is quite striking. If you took away the shading under the thick line (which seems to give it thickness) it would not look nearly as much like a puzzle piece.

“Your question really has two parts: 1) when did similar shapes appear in jigsaw puzzles? and 2) when did artists begin to think of such a shape as representing a piece of a puzzle?

“In the United States there were several puzzle makers in Philadelphia circa 1860 who used loosely interlocking pieces that resemble your image. Thomas Wagner, Jacob Shaffer and M. H. Traubel are the names that appear on the puzzles.”

And so of course the answer is that if this were meant to evoke a jigsaw puzzle piece, it would could really only mean it was put there after 1860, and the only reasonable explanation as to “why?” it was there would be that the manuscript was a Wilfred Voynich hoax. Of course that is easy to dismiss, on the surface, because of all the mountains one would need to climb before arriving, reputation tattered, at the Wilfred Hoax Theory. I’m not there, and I’m not going there… really, I’m not. But I like to ask questions and explore ideas, and so do you if you read this far.

Not a perfect fit, but close...

You see the problem as I see it is not as much that a root appears as a post-1860 object, but much more so what that object happens to be. This root does not look like a car key, or a cigarette lighter, or any endless number of objects which we would casually dismiss as a coincidence, but this happens to look an awful lot like a post-1860 object which is the best iconic representation of a mystery!

I mused as to why, if Wilfrid was creating the Voynich Manuscript in 1910 or so, he might put this little clue in there,

“[perhaps] Wilfrid Voynich had created a hoax… either for profit, or to “thumb his nose” at the literary scholarly establishment, which he had to deal with often. He needed to validate his works, and their opinion would of course determine the authenticity, and then value, of his collections. Perhaps he wanted to teach them a lesson of sorts, to play a trick on them. Of course if he did this, he would never be able to reveal what he had done. It would have de-legitimized him and his business, and this is an argument against his doing so.

“But the fact that this root has the shape of a puzzle piece which would have been familiar to a hoaxer, in 1910/12 as such, means that it is possible (although still highly unlikely) that the hoaxer included it as a joke. Kind of like when a killer sends a letter to the police, daring them to catch him… it gives a sense of superiority, as though they are better, and smarter, than the powers that be. Wilfred was a well known book dealer, but outside the scholarly establishment, the “powers that be”, to him. Perhaps he couldn’t resist?”

Well of course I have introduced a far-out idea here, and one which I don’t take entirely seriously. I just like to explore various observations, and wonder at the implications they might suggest. At the same time, as I pointed out, it is amazing that other than a brief dismissal of “that’s improbable”, or even, “that’s nuts”, such suggestions cannot be dismissed with facts, or any certainty. So while an idea like this one might, at first blush, seem out of the question, it cannot be said to be impossible, given what little we know. And that is the point. It is still true that many still see in the Voynich Manuscript the influences of so much of literary history, and tantalizing images seemingly drawn from a wide range of cultures, sciences, religions. And again, this book really looks very different from all of them, in every little detail. A person with the materials, means, knowledge, and monetary motive, all of which Wilfrid arguably possessed, could have done it. And maybe he is simply having a good laugh at all of us, for all these decades. Perhaps the puzzle root was Wilfrid Voynich’s gift to us… to help us out of this vicious mess, but we are just too clever to take it.

Something Sheepy in the State of Denmark?

February 26, 2011

What should one think, when two documents, arguably the number one and number two most controversial parchment/vellum artifacts known to history, were discovered to have been made at virtually the same moment in history? The Voynich was dated by the University of Arizona to 1404-1438, the Vinland Map, also by the University of  Arizona, to 1423-1445. It is even not so improbable, given the 15 year overlap, that the sheep which made both were breathing at the same moment in time.

[UPDATE: I originally wrote and posted this blog entry on February 26, 2011 at 6:28 pm. It is now January of 2019. I am currently reading A Sorry Saga: Theft, Forgery, Scholarship… and the Vinland Map, by John Paul Floyd. The author cites (page 320) a paper by one K.R. Ludwig from 2002, entitled, “Comment on ‘Determination of the Radiocarbon Age of Parchment of the Vinland Map’,”, from Radiocarbon 44, pp. 597-598. Ludwig re-evaluated the previous calculations from the Vinland Map C14 data, and felt that a more accurate date range would be 1404-1440! Compare that to the Voynich C14 range of 1404-1438. They are not only close, but virtually identical. Further more, it is also mentioned in “A Sorry Saga…” that the parchment of the Vinland Map was determined to be calfskin, just as the Voynich’s leaves turned out to be. So really, what to think? Two of the most famous parchment items, both made from the (virtually) same-age calfskin, both of questionable provenance, one almost certainly a forgery. I don’t think it likely, BTW, that Voynich did own the Vinland map, thanks in part to the detailed research by Mr. Floyd… but will visit this idea in a future blog post, because there are some additional, to me, surprising connections between our two “VM’s”.]

What are the odds of this? Well there are a few conclusions we might draw:

1) It is just a surprising coincidence.  It is a pretty big one, though, considering all the leaves of vellum produced in the world, from practically the beginning of history, and these two share suspicion and a birthday.

2) They are both forgeries, and they are both made from the same stash of vellum. Well that’s crazy, of course. But just for jollies I searched for any connection between Wilfred Voynich and the Vinland map. So far I did not come up with any connections between him, and any of the people suspected of being involved with the forgery of the Vinland Map. But I did find out that in 2005 the idea was floated. From

“There was an interesting programme about the Voynich manuscriptwhich is supposed to be a forgery as it is written in cipher but notdecoded. It was discovered by a Voynich who was a book dealer but it may have been forged to raise money for Russians revolutionaries.

It also said that the spy Reilly and or Voynich used to go to the British Museum to study old inks and as Voynich could get old unused vellum and that might have to do with the Vinland Map”

Unfortunately I did not see the BBC documentary, which this is referring to. If anyone reading this has seen it, I will ask, “Did someone on the show actually raise this possibility, and if so, on what basis did they make such a claim?” Because I had never heard it before, in all my years of poking around in this mess.

It was also interesting, the seemingly off-hand comment, “…Voynich could get old unused vellum”. I would really love to know where that claim comes from… because I have been very interested in any unused vellum kicking around, be it in 1530, 1610, or 1909. Bearing that in mind, let’s take a look at a photograph, taken in 1908, of a room in a bookshop Wilfred had recently purchased:

“Dark Room” of the Libraria Franceschini

This picture is from the article, “The Romance of a Literary Treasure-House: An account of a Strange Bibliomaniac and his Hoard”, by Helen Zimmern (Pall Mall Magazine, July to December, 1908). The article explains that this collection, amassed by a Mr. Franceschini, included over one half a million books, maps, pamplets and incuncubilia. When I read the descriptions of this bibliotrove, and see that picture of the “Dark Room”, I feel that it creates a plausible scenario in which Voynich could have had access to much unused, blank parchment. He must have. I mean, even today one can collect dozens of leaves from the end papers of countless books… and there are also, even today, many blank books in collections. As I pointed out, a few years ago, I would have been able to purchase 20 sheets of unused, 16th century vellum… at only $35 a sheet. So look again at Voynich’s 1908 purchase, this vast, jumbled literary dumping ground, and ask yourself if it would have been so hard to dig up 114 blank sheets from somewhere in it’s depths. Same date, even? It would have taken just one blank ledger in that vast archive of unknown content to create a “Voynich” Ms.

Interior of the Libraria Franceschini

Coming back to the Vinland Map and Voynich, I was caught by this statement by Zimmern,

“Indeed, of many things revealed by a visit to this library none is more strange to the common or garden person than the fact here impressed upon us that Amercia was by no means the terra incognita before the days of Columbus that our school books led us to suppose”.

What could she have possibly seen which would have led her to make such a statement? The only literary evidence of pre-Columbus travels to America are the various Norse Mythologies. Maybe Wilfred handed her a copy of  Freya.  But the thing is, she happens to add the statement at the end of the paragraph discussing early maps. Did she see a pre-1492 map? We know of only one which is claimed to be so, the Vinland map. Which curiously, as I pointed out, has the same C14 date as another document, the Voynich. Which of course is known to have been owned by the buyer of the very library Ms. Zimmern was describing.

Well of course any conclusions based on these iota sized tidbits is wild speculation. But for the fun of it, let’s create a little scenario, combining what we know, with what we can reasonably suspect was possible:

Wilfred Voynich, sometime between 1908 and 1911 finds the 1666 Marci letter, describing a cipher manuscript, rumored to be by Roger Bacon, and once owed by Rudolf II. And soon, the lire and dollar-signs are dancing around the man’s head, as he thinks, “What would such a thing be worth?”. The answer is simple… priceless. If he could only find such a work… if only it were in his hands, the price would be his to name. But that was just a fantasy, the odds of finding such a work would be astronomical… it would never turn up, in ten lifetimes. All he had was this storehouse of dusty books and piles of blank vellum. Well, maybe also a few “artists” on his staff, or a phone call away, with the knowledge of historical inks and paints. The ones he used to create those “replicas” of museum art for wealthy patrons from time to time. Perhaps it would be natural for him to think, “If the Marci-Roger Bacon manuscript could never be found, why not create one?” He had the motive, materials, ability, and knowledge to do so.

Wow. If I didn’t know better…

But how to start with such a project? Since it was about Roger Bacon, the choices were easy, and many. The knowledge of alchemy, botany, astrology, astronomy, and optical sciences of the great man would make for a fantastical book… a colorful, dazzling work of art. Adding an indecipherable text would add to the mystery, and also, make certain that the content, unreadable, would not give clues to the great hoax. So you would only now have to hand to your artists, and (two?) calligraphers, the type and range of scientific and magical disiplines one might expect to find in a Bacon work… “…but make them strange, un-recognizable to some degree, while touching on the works of others… even those, far ahead of Bacon’s time”. Bacon was, after all, a man ahead of his time. So old herbals are pored through, and old astrologicals… and alchemicals, too. And of course Wilfred has these ready at hand. Why not throw a little of everything in there? We may as well shoot for an impossible, a Holy Grail of manuscripts, something the world would never dream of. For optics and optical devices, Voynich would be somewhat stuck… for there would not be anything from Bacon’s time to adapt. So for optics, his forgers would have to take from the works of Hooke, and from Kircher, from the 1744 “The Microscope Made Easy”, and John Quekett’s “Practical Treatise on the use of the Microscope”, 1855. Then Carters’ Treatise on the Microscope, and others, would provide some nice engravings of microscopic organisms to copy, (barely) alter, and disperse among the pages, as wheels, and as roots of plants.

Carter’s Diatom (black) overlayed with Voynich Wheel (green)

The next step would be to announce his monstrous creation, to bring his Golem to life. Of course he would have to hide the actual provenence, which of course he did… claiming an Austrian castle as it’s source, then an Italian monestary, and so on… because it would not do, once the news hit, to have anyone questioning the actual people who were supposed to actually have sold it to him. That would not do, so best to obscure the source. And all that would be left was to make photocopies, and distribute them, write letters and send them, and sit back, and wait for history to knock at his door.

Too Close for Comfort?

But then comes an unexpected backfire. Romaine Newbold takes up on Wilfred’s hints of Bacon, and the hints of optics, and comes back with all the wrong answers! Newbold sees the cylinders as jars, not microscopes! Those artfully redesigned optics, Newbold only sees as jars! “How did he miss that?!”, Voynich thinks… And instead of the diatom, Newbold sees the Crab Nebula! Impossible for Roger Bacon to have seen with any device he could have possessed… but, then, it gets far worse. Newbold actually thinks he sees intentional, microscopic breaks in the manuscript’s characters… and deduces an impossible code scheme around the the elements he thinks he sees there… mere breaks in the ink, recently applied by Voynich’s dutiful scribes. And out tumbles the most convoluted and bizarre anagrammatic “solution” ever conceived.

And now, all is lost… it got away from poor Wilfred, it was out of his hands. The path to literary obscurity for his creation was cleared, and as a final assurance the plan was finished, he realized he could never reveal the truth. Rather than be known as a great cheat, a greedy forger, he would have to remain the finder of the World’s most Mysterious Manuscript. He only had to remain quiet to save his reputation, and that of his famous author wife, Ethel. And so the Voynich Ms. was cast adrift in literary history, from theory to theory… each touching on all the clues so artfully placed, but deviously disguised, by Wilfred’s skilled forgers. And it bounced from owner to owner, to finally land in a vault at Yale. I began as a monumental miscalculation by the hopeful book dealer, and became an inadvertent, monumental joke on the countless scholars it drew into it’s web, for decades and lifetimes since.  “Well, at least”, Wilfred thought, “I still have the map! That should be worth something…”.

But enough of such wild-eyed, fanciful musings… as fun as they are. We all know that this is simply a 1420, Northern Italian herbal. So calm down, and get over it, please.


Bird Glyphs, Aztecs, Aries, Hakluyt et al.

September 12, 2010

The so called “bird glyphs” from the Voynich Manuscripts f1r are typical of those details which seem to cry out “THIS is what I am!”, while not actually helping one bit in that direction. There is just enough to give the impression of obviousness, and just not enough to remain infuriatingly distant.

I had thought that these may be meant to be the Phoenix, both flying and burning, when I first studied them. I’m not so sure now, thanks to the Aztecs.

Voynich f1r "bird" glyphs, or "weirdos"

But first, some other thoughts on these “weirdos”. They have been compared to the Aries sign, as found in a possibly lost manuscript, the Codex Taurinensis. As you can see if you click on that link, this is a very close comparison… in form, if not in context. Recently, P. Han has found a similar symbols on a 1208 Arabian Astrolabe. They are also close in appearance, although when blown up I do think that they are possibly formed of two “C’s”, back to back. I think there have been other, non-Aztec comparisons found, none of which I found very intriguing. However, from Knox’s page, which muses on these glyphs, I was directed to the Codex Mendoza and the Codex Aubin. The striking thing about these, in my opinion, is that the very similar glyphs are used in the same context and position as in the Voynich… that is, as a paragraph header. Compare to the the Codex Mendoza, shown below, they are not only in the same position, but note that they are also on the first folio.

Codex Mendoza "bird glyphs", as Paragraph Headers

And that context I find most intriguing, because as I pointed out on a recent post to the VMS-list,

The Aries comparison is very close, but the placement is different. First I think we might assume that the use by the Aztecs is a different one… as a paragraph header and not a sign of the zodiac. Would I be correct in that assumption? I see that no one is clear on how it is used when in these codices, in this way. Anyway, if one has to choose between the two uses, as a header or as Aries, I would consider that it’s placement would be the best indicator, and I would go with header.

Also pointed out on the Knox page is the Codex Aubin. As seen in this Codex, the glyphs are again placed as a paragraph header. Below is a closeup:

Codex Aubin "Bird Glyphs"

And then, this morning (9/12/10), I was surprised to find yet another example, in the mysterious and now missing Codex Cardona. It seems this manuscript never left the New World… unless it is in the hands of an unidentified Spanish Hotel magnate, that is, and she/he was able to smuggle it back to Spain. In any case, it was photographed in 1985, so we are lucky to have images from it. From what is seemingly page 33, or 39, or 99, we have our familiar paragraph heading “bird glyphs” again:

Codex Cardona "Bird Glyph"

There are some points I would like to make about these documents, and these glyphs. First of all, the comparison to the Voynich f1r glyph is really startling. Also the context, as I pointed out, is identical: They are in the left margin of text, seemingly either to mark the text, or to illustrate some thought in the text… I don’t think this is known for certain. I would say that, in my personal opinion, it is not at all unreasonable to think that there is a possibility that the Voynich author was aware of this use, of these glyphs, and chose to use them on Voynich f1r.

Secondly, I have stated that although I do accept that the Carbon-14 dating makes my original New Atlantis theory unlikely, I also still have felt that the Voynich is post-Columbian. In my opinion, the f85v animal is an armadillo. I also have continued to sense there are other New World influences in the Voynich- indirect and inaccurate, as might be expected if the document were influenced by, but not specifically copying, many styles and items from a wide range of existing documents and their described disciplines.

And another important point is that they are exceedingly rare. There are very few similar examples of this symbol, and as a paragraph header, only the Aztec Codices.

So at the risk of threatening the temper of my “True Steeled Sword”, I point out another interesting connection. When I was first reading the history of the Codex Mendoza, I went through several stages. First I saw that it was created under the orders of the Spanish, by the Aztec scribes, in order to explain the culture of the Aztecs to the Spanish, and possibly King Philip. And it was obvious that there was no direct connection with my old New Atlantis theory. And a few sentences later, I saw it was captured by French pirates… and thought “Oh no!”, and swear I said, “I just hope it didn’t end up in Britain”. You see, I don’t want to be tempted into finding any connections with my theory, as it is externally and internally suppressed. But my worst fears were realized when I read down, and it turned out that one Richard Hakluyt actually owned the Codex Mendoza. Why would that matter? He was an early explorer, promoting the British settling of the New World, along with Harriot, Raleigh, Francis Bacon, Strachey and so on. In other words, the very document with this very rare bird-glyph-as-paragraph-marker was actually in the hands of one of the prime influences on the literature, mythology and lore of the New World, which in turn inspired Shakespeare’s Tempest, and Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis.

A Strange Coincidence

June 23, 2010

There are no contemporary references to the Voynich Manuscript that we know of, only a few 17th century letters which were written long after it was created. The first which appeared is the famous Marci Letter of 1665, which Wilfrid Voynich found attached, or with, the manuscript to begin with. But it is not the only, or earliest, reference.  The first possible mention is from 1637. A complete list of all “Voynich letters”, with translations, can be found on Philip Neal’s pages at Voynich central. But the letter which is the topic of this post is the 1666 letter from Godefirdus Aloysius Kinner to Kircher. It includes mention of the following subjects:

1) The Voynich and it’s mystery, and a hope for it’s translation
2) The two Bacons
3) The founding of the Royal Society
4) The New Atlantis

The Voynich Manuscript

Mr. Neal notes, “‘English Society’ (Anglica Societate). The Royal Society, founded by Charles II of England in 1660. This paragraph is a discussion of an important issue at that time, the need to break with the wisdom of the ancient world and pursue new knowledge by means of experimental science. Kinner, clearly, is on the side of experiment, but in his day its value was not self-evident and needed to be argued for. Barschius, by contrast, seriously believed that major medical discoveries would more likely result from the decipherment of an old manuscript than from first hand observation.”

That is a well-stated point of course. But imagine the profound irony, to me and my theory, that both the Voynich and the New Atlantis are discussed on the same page of a 1666 letter to Kircher, when I had theorized, pre-C14, that they were in fact related.

The New Atlantis

The two books are not linked in this letter. But what are the odds of them even being mentioned together? Out of all the tens of thousands of books and writings Kinner could have discussed? Are there implications in them being together, so early? For one thing, perhaps the nature of the Voynich Ms., and the nature of the New Atlantis seemed related to him, and so, without saying so (but because of this, “on his mind”) he included both. But conversely, the fact that he did include both, and yet did not openly link the two, seems to suggest that he did not see any connection at all. How does this relate to my having  suspected a connection between his two books of interest, and his author, 400 years later? I don’t know. I do consider it a coincidence, and somehow worthy of note. For one thing, it certainly shows just how both tempting and disarming coincidence can be.

Francis Bacon of Verulam

A Little Bit Like Everything, a Whole Lot Like Nothing

May 6, 2010

…That is how I often think of the Voynich Manuscript. On the one hand it has reminded countless people of many different styles from every age of every corner of the earth… while at the same time, it is almost universally noted to be too little like any one thing to “be” any of them. And I think this “being so similar to so much” is an important clue in itself, our most important clue even, and also, the clue most often missed or ignored. I was recently interviewed for a documentary segment on the Voynich (not the ORF), and I made this point. Unfortunately the interview did not make it into the final production, which I think is indicative of the problem in identifying, or maybe in my explaining, the point I am trying to make. It is difficult to define a nebulous concept such as this, and certainly not to an audience unfamiliar with the Voynich.

Characters: Just a bit different than anything.

I will try this way: Try to imagine just how impossibly difficult it would be for something to accidentally be so close to so many things, with so many individual elements similar to many other, varied and common elements… while each one of those elements, when every one of the little bitty parts and pieces is off “just enough” to not be the thing it most looks like? That may happen a few times in other works, and of course has and does… because it is unavoidable, on occasion. But to get every minute aspect of such a lengthy and complex work such as the Voynich this “wrong”, this “different”, on every level of minute detail? I mean, it would not… could not… happen by accident… I sense the odds would be astronomical for this effect to have happened by chance or error. I feel it must be intentional.

And by “intentional”, I mean that the author wanted the work as a whole, by seeing to this level of mismatch on every detail, to not evoke any real time, or author, or area, or culture, or language, and so on. And then, we would ask, why? Of course I have proposed, and still propose, fantasy… either a fantasy document in it’s own right, or one reflecting an existing mythology… possibly one unknown or forgotten.

Plants: Just a bit off each time.

And yet, I am mostly, almost entirely, alone in this. At the moment there is talk about how similar the character set is to Tibetian. I agree. It is. It is also similar to dozens of other character sets from several centuries, such as Chinese, and Arabic, and, I feel, like some Native American transcription characters… and many codes and cipher characters… while, again, being not enough like any of them to identify them as such. As an example of the effect this has on the investigation, there is a very good Facebook account called “The Voynich Revisited”, which does a wonderful job of both pointing out the myriad of “things it is like”, while really, making my point… it is like many of these things, I agree… and, again, just a bit “off” from every one, on every level. Sometimes the talk moves to herbals, and the real plants which may be presented in them. I agree… the plants do look similar to herbals, and some of the real plants in them, from many decades, and even, centuries. But, again, just “off” enough to not be any one of them. The same with the architecture… not identified as actual structures, but said to have the elements of Northern Italy to some extent, and also, perhaps, some Russian onion-domes, or maybe Middle-Eastern… with some Jewish Temple-like iconography thrown in. Elements, similar… again, “like” some things, but just different enough to not be identifiable. And the animals, and the style of dress, and on and on…

Astronomy? Well, not quite.

Added up, all these myriad of these similarities, so close and yet so far, are staggering in number. And again, I propose, to accidentally miss on thousands of individual elements, over 200 plus pages of text, without giving away one concrete connection to anything real… this, in my opinion, would be almost impossible to have happened by chance, and must have been intentional, and therefore is our biggest clue… a clue never followed. Instead, effort is put into finding a real connection, endlessly, as it has for a hundred years.

Even though history is ripe with fantasy and mythology, from Gilgamesh to Prestor John; from old Atlantis to New Atlantis; in music, poetry, plays, and literature, the idea that the Voynich represents a fantasy of some sort is scoffed at repeatedly. And fantasy and mythology such as El Dorado, or the Fountain of Youth have driven the quest for real discoveries, such as the New World, and new routes to the East. Fiction is a major factor in our world history, and has driven the imagination of millions to real achievements in the sciences and discovery. And yet, the whole realm of fiction is seldom turned to, the idea of fantasy and mythologies are discarded and ignored, when looking at the one document which continues to defy a solid connection to anything real. I find that bafflingly ironic.

Known Astrology? Very close, but no cigar.

I was also told once that fantasy, as an outcome for the Voynich, would be boring. Perhaps many share this view, and it has dissuaded others from entering this area of research. Also, and possibly connected, is that many investigators would feel cheated if the Voynich were based on fantasy… as if to find and answer which turned out to be poetic rather than pragmatic, would somehow rob the seeker of a valuable, interesting, useful, or valid outcome. I disagree entirely. Whether based on a real discipline, or mythology, the Voynich would continue to excite. Think of finding a lost book of Homer… or a play by Euripides… or think of a new real find of a fantasy or religious document we did not even know existed, such as Gilgamesh. Are these boring concepts? The lost plays of Shakepeare? A forgotten, dead religion? A secret cult? Boring? If the Voynich turns out to reflect a fiction, as I still strongly believe it does, I feel it will be one of the most exciting outcomes of all… and, I feel, it is the most probable possibility, and ironically, the most ignored.

A Trip to the Rosettes

October 17, 2009

The rosettes pages of the Voynich Manuscript are filled with some of the most controversial illustrations of the entire book. Many of it’s elements seem close enough to real objects or places to excite a possible identification to some actual places and buildings. I don’t ascribe to the latter, of course, as I think this is simply a fantasy illustration. Inspired, yes… as I feel most or all of the Voynich is… inspired, altered, compiled from many sources, both real and literary… then imagined into what it is, whatever that is. Irregardless of this, I have felt it would be most helpful to create these illustrations in three dimensions.  The original artist was clearly representing 3D terrain and structures, and gave enough clues to “reconstruct” those elements a bit closer to what must have been in their head when they did so.

Aerial View of the Rosettes

Aerial View of the Rosettes

As I wrote in the description of the youtube animation (embedded at the bottom of this post),

“My intention in creating this video is not to favor one theory over any other… only to attempt to visualize the rosettes page as the artist originally envisioned it… … do not use this image or video as any sort of study guide… I have not exactly recreated all the detail or textures, and have made simplified versions of some textured areas for clarity. So if you are interested in the manuscript, research it carefully, and download the high quality SID images from the Beinecke Library at Yale University.”

However, since this is a blog, and unlike youtube and facebook, I will give my opinion on this matter. Of course people will see thing in these pages differently from each other. Some believe they have seen real places, and actually visited them in person. Some believe that the center rosette is somewhere in Italy or Russia. But while describing the real place it evokes to them, they never describe the giant tubes radiating out from the plaza.

The Tower in the Hole, textured

The Tower in the Hole, textured

Nor, of course, the Tower in the Hole, amply discussed on it’s own page. But if this is not a real place, then is it a real place, altered? I don’t think so. It is not close enough to a real place to be any real place. Inspired? Yes I think it may be.

Rosettes Castles

Rosettes Castles: Walled city of Renfusa?

The castles of the walled city, above. I’ve created the relative heights of the upper rosettes based mostly on the artist’s use of terraces. The multi-tiered terraces leading from the two outer, upper, rosettes, to the center one, differ from the other connectors to the other rosettes. As for the generic cylinders which I have rendered their bases, I did so because there is no detail to be seen under the obscuring disks of decoration.

Tubes, Tubes, Tubes.

Tubes, Tubes, Tubes.

So the upper left rosette has giant tubes sticking out… the center rosette has more. What could this mean? Are they Cannon? Chimneys? Maybe. But I like the idea they may be used to carry sound. From Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis,

“We have all means to convey sounds in trunks and pipes, in strange lines and distances.”

This is probably a reference to the experiments of Della Porta, and the ancient Greeks in fact, and others… who noted that sound could be transmitted and projected through tubes. The New Atlantis has the “House of the Six Days Work” at the eye of Bensalem. It would be appropriate for this main center of power and information to stay in touch with its surrounding lands… and large, radiating sound tubes would do the trick.

Orchard? Rain Cloud?

Orchard? With Rain Cloud?

The lower left rosette resembles closely the decorative look and features of the f85v2 image, which can be construed as an orchard or garden. There are four figures in this illustration, picking or holding some things… some are odd and unidentifiable, and others are clearly meant to be fruit or vegetables, and a grain or other plant.

Fruit Picker?

Fruit Picker?

So if the lower left rosette can be thought of as an overview of this orchard, then the odd “blob” might make sense as a rain/storm cloud. In my 3D image it is rendered twice… once by our late-great Voynich artist, and then by me, floating and in 3D. Interestingly it has a tube coming from it, projecting toward this rosette. I might point out here that Cornelis Drebbel, who greatly influenced The New Atlantis, was believed to be able to make artificial rain, thunder, and lightening. From The New Atlantis:

“We have also great and spacious houses, where we imitate and demonstrate meteors — as snow, hail, rain, some artificial rains of bodies and not of water, thunders, lightnings; also generations of bodies in air — as frogs, flies, and divers others.”

Canopied Structures

Canopied Structures

I had various ideas about the illustrations at the top of the lower right rosette. It was not until I was working up this model that I came to feel they represent (as others already have felt) two canopied, tasseled, columned buildings. Others have also felt that there is Jewish iconography in this rosette. This is interesting, as there was a Jewish community on the fictional island of Bensalem, from New Atlantis.

Of course these interpretations are subjective, and others be correct in their own assumptions. I also accept that there could be variations in modeling these pages in 3D. Rene Zandbergen has suggested to me that some of the rosettes, with radiating designs, are evocative of certain domed structures… and so, he suggested, I might like to create them as domes. He wrote,

“For the visual effect, I have some unsolicited comments: the central circle should probably be highest of all. It makes sense to have it as a plateau. It would be great to add the sky blanket in a transparent way, if possible. A few other circles could be domes.”

I like those ideas, and the many others I have received. And Elmar Vogt has a blog post, with some points of his own. So I hope that although I have my own interpretation of the images on the rosettes, and what they might mean, that these representations are still of use to others to draw their own conclusions. If anyone would like a high resolution rendering of any particular view, please write me.

But who would use Vellum, anyway?

October 9, 2009

The choice of vellum for all the pages of the Voynich has been seen as a clue for the dating, origins and purpose of the book. The cost of vellum, and the era of common usage of the material, have been a major factor in the currently most accepted dating of the manuscript between about 1420 and 1460. Certainly by the mid 16th century vellum went out of favor, as it was easier and cheaper to print on paper… which was less expensive and more available as time went on. By the early 17th century, the time of my theory, the use of vellum as the pages of books was very uncommon. But for various reasons, it is not outlandish to consider it would have been used in this case, if considering the people and motivations found in my circle of influence, and the evidence we do have for it’s remaining use, availability, and the reasonable value these uses implied.

f99r from the Voynich Manuscript

f99r from the Voynich Manuscript

But first of all, I do not think vellum was really all that expensive, from the middle ages to the early renaissance. From: “Old English libraries; the making, collection and use of books during the middle ages”:

“For all permanent purposes ” boc-fel,” or book-skin,
was used; either vellum or ” parchemyn smothe, whyte
and scribable.” Vellum and parchment were interchange-
able terms in medieval times ; but parchment was commonly
used…. … it was not so expensive as vellum : the average price being two shillings per dozen skins as compared with eight shillings per dozen skins of vellum.”

The book gives other examples, showing that for two to eight shillings one could obtain a dozen vellum skins, certainly more than enough to make a Voynich.

But let us assume, as some have suggested, that by my time frame of 1610 to 1620, vellum would have equalled the “cost of a small farm”. I won’t go into the relative values of farms in the appropriate centuries, let’s just assume it was “that” expensive. This actually favors my theory, for this reason: Comparing the relative suggested uses, as an herbal, as a pharma, as a hoax, or my theory, as an artifact of the literature of Bacon, I think that cost would actually be less of a factor in my case. This, because the circle of Francis Bacon, and Bacon himself, was quite used to spending inordinate amounts of money on very elaborate productions and celebrations. A masque for James I and Queen Anne, for instance, would have props and costumes designed by Inigo Jones, with single dresses costing more than 1,000 pounds. The wedding celebrations of Princess Elizabeth are said to have cost over 40,000 pounds. For someone in this group, at this time, to have created the Voynich, even if expensive, would not be so unusual.

But, as it turns out, vellum was commonly used in many very ordinary ways at this time, implying both reasonable cost and easy availability:

It was used by artists for common sketches:

Gerrit de Heer, detail, circa 1630 to 1640

Gerrit de Heer, detail, circa 1630 to 1640

The album amicorum, friendship albums, were sometimes made on vellum.

…and it was of course, used as a binding and cover for almost all printed books, and for many legal documents such as deeds and writs.

Michael Maier, the Rosicrucian writer, alchemist, doctor to Rudolf II, and acquaintance of the court of James and Drebbel, created two Christmas “visiting cards”: One for James I, and one for Henry, his son. From Joscelyn Godwin’s essay in “The Rosicrucian Enlightenment Revisited”, entitled, “The Deepest of the Rosicrucians: Michael Maier (1569-1622)”. In 1611:

“Maier addressed himself immediately to King James I and VI. His visiting card, now in the Scottish Record Office in Edinburgh (GD 242/212), took a most unusual form. It was a Christmas greeting to the King, made of a folded parchment 33 by 24 inches, on which a central Rose-Cross emblem made out of words in gold and red is flanked by four Latin poems. Two of these poems address James, while the others are put into the mouths of four archangels and two shepherds attendant on Christ’s nativity. The parchment includes a musical canon in six parts representing the songs of the angels and shepherds. All in all, it is a most curious object, displaying the verbal ingenuity and the multimedia approach that marked Maier’s creative style. It is also the earliest known appearance of the Rose-Cross symbol in England.”

Crop from Micheal Maier Christmas Card

Crop from Micheal Maier Christmas Card

Maier’s presentation to Henry, who died before he could receive it, was similar, and also on parchment. So here we have a large, 33 by 24 inch parchment, with painted illustrations and writing on it. The size alone would be enough to create approximately 12 leaves of the Voynich… that is, 10 percent. And Maier’s two cards would equal 20 percent of the vellum needed to create “a Voynich”. Clearly this vellum was available to Maier, used by Maier, and not prohibitively expensive.

One other very curious and interesting example is this political parody from 1603. Which includes both mythological and real figures, which by folding, could be assembled in different ways.

Whimsical Royal Parody, 1603, Vellum

Whimsical Royal Parody, 1603, Vellum

The use of vellum, therefore, was common, the cost of vellum, reasonable, the painting on vellum, frequent, in the early 17th century. It was used in greeting cards, the arts, in law, in binding. And as previously pointed out, optical devices were wrapped in it. Considering this, I do not personally consider cost and availability of vellum to be a factor against the Voynich having been created during the time frame I propose, nor by someone from the circle I suggest may have been responsible.

Prop, Hoax, Tribute or Art?

August 14, 2009

If we assume, as this theory does, that the Voynich Manuscript could be an “artifact of fiction”, this still does not give a specific reason for it’s creation. I mean, the theory surmises a “what”, but not a “why”. Of course the motivation for creation is of great interest, but lack of one does not detract… mostly because the motivation could be one of several known to have driven the creation of other faux books. Among the types of books are:

  1. Prop books from stage (…and film, much later of course!), used to lend reality to a performance.
  2. Books made to look as though they came from a fictional work of literature (whether or not the actual book is represented in the literature)
  3. Hoax books meant to cheat someone for profit in some way, or simply play a trick.
  4. Art books, representing no literature, created for their own beauty. .

This list of purposes may differ from the Wikipedia definition of “fictional books”, which do not actually need to exist. Obviously, the Voynich exists. Perhaps it’s purpose may cross into the “False Documents” category, as explained, “A false document is a form of verisimilitude that attempts to create a sense of authenticity beyond the normal and expected suspension of disbelief for a work of art. The goal of a false document is to fool an audience into thinking that what is being presented is actually a fact…” .

One of the more common uses of a fake book is as a stage prop. The great playwright, Christopher Marlow, wrote The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus about 1594. It quickly became a very popular play, and created some controversy for it’s themes of demonic worship. It was first published in printed form in 1604. Key to the play are the books of Faust… most specifically, the book given him by Mephistophilis. The first actors and producers of this play must have used a prop representation of this book, because Marlow’s stage direction is clear:

MEPHIS (to Faustus): Hold, take this book, peruse it thoroughly:

[Gives book.]

The play continues:

FAUSTUS. Now would I have a book where I might see all characters and planets of the heavens, that I might know their motions and dispositions.

MEPHIST. Here they are too. [Turns to them.]

FAUSTUS. Nay, let me have one book more,–and then I have done,– wherein I might see all plants, herbs, and trees, that grow upon the earth.

and later:

Enter ROBIN the Ostler, with a book in his hand.

ROBIN. O, this is admirable! here I ha’ stolen one of Doctor Faustus’ conjuring-books, and, i’faith, I mean to search some circles for my own use. Now will I make all the maidens in our parish dance at my pleasure, stark naked, before me; and so by that means I shall see more than e’er I felt or saw yet.

So it is clear that the play required prop books of some kind. We do not know what these books were like, of course. But if they were created accurately, one or more would certainly have contained mysterious and arcane images of “…all characters and planets of the heavens…”, their “…motions”. They may have contained the prop-maker’s interpretive illustrations of “…all plants, herbs, and trees, that grow upon the earth…”.

In Ben Jonson’s 1610 play The Alchemist, the concept of ancient books of arcane lore and alchemy resurface. Jonson does not specify that a prop book be used in the performance, but we already know the concept would not be unfamiliar. The form of such a book takes here at least two forms, although perhaps, none were ever used or seen. First, as a “Book of Solomon”, much as the tomes on Bensalem were envisioned by Bacon:

“MAM. Pertinax, [my] Surly, Will you believe antiquity? records? I’ll shew you a book where Moses and his sister, And Solomon have written of the art; Ay, and a treatise penn’d by Adam —

SUR. How!

MAM. Of the philosopher’s stone, and in High Dutch.

SUR. Did Adam write, sir, in High Dutch?

MAM. He did; Which proves it was the primitive tongue. And also, as a book of alchemy, on vellum:

MAM. ‘Tis like your Irish wood, ‘Gainst cob-webs. I have a piece of Jason’s fleece, too, Which was no other than a book of alchemy, Writ in large sheep-skin, a good fat ram-vellum.

The above seems to indicate that Jonson, well versed in Greek mythology, was an adherent of Palaephatus’s argument that the Golden Fleece represented a book of alchemy. I would also make note of the fact that the character of the alchemist, Subtle, is believed based on Cornelis Drebbel. I have also read, but not been able to verify or track down the source, that some believe Drebbel may have been a prop-maker. Ben Jonson certainly knew of Drebbel and his works, and probably knew the man, personally. Jonson was one of Francis Bacon’s scribes for a time, and Bacon also knew Drebbel. In another play, Jonson makes reference to Drebbel’s perpetual motion machine at Eltham Palace. So it is interesting to me, of course, that my first suspect for a Voynich author (less so, but still on the list) was Drebbel. I do not feel he would have created it as a notebook any longer, but as a prop?

Sir John Geilgud as Prospero... with prop book

Sir John Geilgud as Prospero… with prop book

So by the time Shakespeare wrote the Tempest, and by the time the Tempest was performed, first in 1611, then at the 1613 wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Frederick V… the concept of a prop book would certainly be a familiar one. One can speculate that such a book was “any old” book picked up for such a purpose, or that it would be blank, or none used at all… and believe me, these arguments have been presented (sometimes quite heatedly!) to me over the years. I’ve been told that it would be too expensive to create the Voynich for this purpose, for one thing. But I think the cost, if great (and I do not necessarily allow that the cost of the Voynich would have been all that great, in any case, and will have a post on this subject), I would not consider it a problem. There were vast expenditures for props and costumes for the masques and plays of the time, some with dresses costing upwards of a thousand pounds… and the great Inigo Jones designing some of them, and the sets. Francis Bacon himself arranged for his Gray’s Inn to back and support several performances. I would suggest that it would not have been at all unlikely that some effort and cost would have been put into such a prop book. But what of the books of Prospero then, in these first performances of the Tempest?

As I pointed out in the post, “The Aura of the Ancient Tome, circa 1611”, it is not known if such a prop book existed for these first Tempest performances. Shakespeare, unlike Marlowe, did not specify their inclusion. But it is also clear that the books are central to the theme of the play. Many modern performances of the Tempest have included such prop books. So I would also suggest that it would not be unlikely to find such a book in the 1611/13 performances, which some have also suggested included the actor Shakespeare in the semi-autobiographical role of Prospero. Did Shakespeare himself read the lines of Prospero, and hold in his hands a faux book, filled with faux magical symbols, plants, and other fantasy drawings? What would he have done with this book, after the performance? I do not know the earliest performance of the Tempest which included a prop Propero’s book, but there are many examples of modern ones.

Michael Hordern as Propero... with a prop book again

Michael Hordern as Propero… with a prop book again

But of course we do not know if Bacon, Shakespeare, or anyone, had conceived of a play or masque to represent The New Atlantis, so I would not suggest as a first choice that the Voynich is a prop book for that fiction. If not a prop for an unknown performance of New Atlantis, we can look at other motivations. One of these would be a hoax. I don’t favor this idea, because I have not seen any evidence that the New Atlantis mythology was ever intended to fool anyone. I would doubt that such a book would have been created to convince anyone that Bensalem was a real place… although I think the Voynich, presented as such, would have done a fairly convincing job at the time. Of course the Voynich could be a hoax created for some other purpose, or some other time, as has been suggested. But that is not within the scope of my investigation, so I leave it to others to prove or disprove.

Next I’ll move to “artifact as a tribute”, as an inspirational art form, to accompany the story. Perhaps as a gift, to Bacon or other (Elizabeth at her wedding?). Such fictional books as tributes are not unheard of in history, although I have not been able to find examples contemporary to my theories. There have been many faux Necromicrons made in deference to H.P. Lovecraft’s mythology, but these come centuries later.

Faux Necronomicon Prop Book

Faux Necronomicon Prop Book

And I found an interesting modern example of an inspired, tribute, book, created by one “Derek the Bard“. It seems to be inspired by a PC video game. Derek writes,

“Below are the first few pages I’ve completed in a prop book for my Camarilla Awakening PC, Abraxas. Its done in the style of John Winchester’s journal from, Supernatural, although I’ve written it almost entirely in gibberish Sanskrit. Most of the pictures are from a book on Chinese astrology, which I’ve altered slightly with the addition off odd symbols and the like.”

Derek the Bard's Faux Grimoire

Derek the Bard’s Faux Grimoire

Recently, as an artifact from her own modern mythology, J.K. Rowling created The Tales of Beedle the Bard. This was a book at first only described in her stories, but then created, “in the flesh”, as she envisioned it would look. It is possible to purchase a copy of this, in fact. Here is part of a review of the original, from Amazon:

“…let’s just start with one word: “Whoa.” The very fact of its existence (an artifact pulled straight out of a novel) is magical…”

I was stunned by the line, “an artifact pulled straight out of a novel”, as this had been exactly how I was envisioning the creation of the Voynich, if inspired by the fictional books in Bacon’s work. This example, of course, 400 years later… but the motivation would be virtually identical.

Faux book, "Beedle the Bard"

Faux book, “Beedle the Bard”

Even without the inspiration of a specific novel, or mythos, people seem to have a liking to the idea of a mysterious book, filled with the promise of lost knowledge, cultures, religions, sciences. Take a walk over to the blank notebook section of your local bookstore today, and you will see countless examples of faux-aged, leather covered and thong secured books, meant to evoke an ancient text or even, grimoire. Some even have alchemal symbols stamped on their covers. Never-mind that they will mostly end up with scrawled shopping lists, notes of business meeting and class schedules… the value is the rich impressions which they exude. The fascination with the mystery of ancient tomes was certainly just as prevalent in “my” time frame of 1610 to 1620, as clearly shown by the many inclusions of them in the literature and plays of the time, and the success of the fictional book, “The Chymical Wedding”. But would anyone have created the Voynich as a stand-alone work of art, a “just because”? I don’t doubt it would have been possible. As for today, there are many interesting examples of books being created as a stand-alone art form. Some more can be found here.

Books by Tim from Cali

Books by Tim from Cali

So in answer to the question “why?”, which I have so often been asked, I can with confidence answer, “Because of this, this, this, or this… take your pick.” It is clear to me, that for a very long time, the look and feel and content of mysterious books has pervaded art, theatre, and literature. And it is also clear that for various reasons, from the purely practical to the whimsical and imaginative, people will and have put a great deal of effort into creating faux books, as one-off, beautiful works of art. Based on the Voynich’s look and content, combined with the knowledge that in the time frame of my theories, and human nature’s long passion for “the art of the book”… it would have been perfectly reasonable to expect it, or a book just like it, to have been made for one or more of the purposes I have outlined. H. Rich SantaColoma.

Star Trek TNG prop book: Try explaining THIS in 400 years!

Star Trek TNG prop book: Try explaining THIS in 400 years!

I edited this, May 20, 2011, to add one of the best known cases of an art book. It really demonstrates all the features which I feel may be in the Voynich: Fantasy plants, sciences, astronomy, language and characters, events, and so on. It is the Codex Seraphinianus, written by Luigi Serafini about 1976 to 1978. I have been unable to discover if the book’s creator was aware of the Voynich, and influenced by it, or not. Interestingly it is often mentioned in context of the Voynich, but never in my context: That is, making the point that “people are people”, and like and do certain creative things. One of them is to create artistic books, for the love of it… and these books may contain imagined languages, but still be influenced by past, real and imagined, “stuff” of all kinds. Why would anyone propose that this is only a modern desire of mankind, and not something which may have occurred just as well in 1420, or 1620?

Codex Seraphinianus: Our Modern Voynich Manuscript?

Edit, March 30, 2013: I thought it would be fun to add another example I found, from an old episode (season 1, episode 8, “Civilization”), of “Star Trek: Enterprise”. They show three scanned pages of an apothecary’s book, with alien writing and plants. Below I show a screenshot of one of them.

Star Trek: Enterprise, Alien Book

Edit, December 2016: I often come across new examples, but don’t post them. But below is one from the online multi-player game, Runescape. Is it a “natural” tendency to add meaningless flourishes, when trying to impress with mystical writing?