Archive for the ‘optics’ Category

Newbold’s “Nebula”

May 31, 2013

Anyone who has an interest in the history of Voynich is well aware of the unfortunate and disastrous attempts of William Romaine Newbold to solve its mysteries. Although an earnest and intelligent man, he could probably be considered the first to fall victim to the vast, nebulous, nature of the problem, in which one can often see any solution their individual proclivities lead them to.

But nebulous is a bit of an appropriate and even punny adjective, in Newbold’s case, as his most famous error was in believing that Roger Bacon not only wrote the Voynich, but possessed optical equipment which allowed him the ability to discern the spiral structure of the Andromeda Galaxy… or “Nebula”, in his time. I won’t here deal with the many other facets of Newbold’s infamous claims, not the least of which was the belief that each character was made up of microscopic segments, which were therefore coded information; or the resulting long strings of subjective results from those segments, which became immense anagrams which would and did yield infinite and diverse results.

What interests me are the Andromeda suggestions. It barely requires a detailed explanation as to why he was wrong, but very simply, the detail necessary to see the spiral nature of the Andromeda was not possible until the telescopes of the latter part of the 19th century allowed it. But if you are interested in a good dissection of the reasons why, read Norman Sperling’s excellent blog post on the subject, “Voynich: Spiraling into Folly”. As Sperling writes in his very first sentence, “William R. Newbold’s 1921 contention that the spiral graphic in folio 68r represents a spiral nebula is wild bunk.”

First Photograph of Andromeda Galaxy

Isaac Robert’s 1899 Photo of the Andromeda Galaxy

Above is the first picture of the Andromeda Galaxy, taken by Isaac Roberts, in 1895. As he described it in his 1899 book, “Photographs of Stars, Star-Clusters and Nebulæ”,

“That the nebula is a left-hand spiral, and not annular as I at first suspected, cannot now be questioned; for the convolutions can be traced up to the nucleus which resembles a small bright star at the center of the dense surrounding nebulosity; but notwithstanding its density the divisions between the convolutions are plainly visible on negatives which have a proper degree of exposure.”

Compare the Roberts photograph, and description, above, with the f68r image from the Voynich, below. Also note that the Voynich image spirals to the right, not the left, as the Andromeda does:

Well it is "Spiral", Anyway

Well it is “Spiral”, Anyway

So then Newbold showed the f68r spiral image (above) to one “Eric Doolittle of our Flower Observatory”, who (according to the Newbold/Kent book, “The Cipher of Roger Bacon”, told Newbold,

“…that in his opinion it unquestionably represented a nebula, and that the man who drew it must have had a telescope”.

This alone seems to have led Newbold to one of his purely speculative “decipherments” of the center of f68r’s spiral illustration. However note that Doolittle did not say which spiral nebula, and bear that in mind when considering that some spiral nebulas known, and photographed by that time, were actually seen as a circular shape… as f68r’s illustration shows… and not as an oval, due to an angle to the viewer, as the Andromeda does (see below, “Isaac Roberts M51 & M100 ‘Comæ'”). So we can’t really draw Doolittle into the web of error, considering this, nor knowing how the illustration was presented to him in the first place. However, Newbold takes the Nebula hint, runs with it, and translates the Voynichese at the center of the spiral,

“The legend is extremely difficult to decipher, but my first attempt gave the location of the object as between ‘the navel of Pegasus, the girdle of Andromeda, and the head of Cassiopea,’ and stated that it was seen in a concave mirror. The great Nebula of Andromeda lies within the triangle determined by these three points; it is there fore presumable the object which Bacon saw.”

And here, too, we see Newbold substituting Dolittle’s “telescope” with a “concave mirror”. I see in this a disingenuous, unscientific manipulation of the purely subjective results of Newbold’s, to reflect what he must have suspected: Telescopes were out of the question for Roger Bacon, but there were historic hints of concave mirrors being used in this capacity, at a very early date.

Look again at the f68r “spiral” in question. And below we see Isaac Roberts’ image of Nebulæ M51 and M100 “Comæ”, taken in the 1890’s. Comæ appears in his 1899 book. I feel these help to exonerate Doolittle to some extent, and further mire Newbold in a fog of questionable judgement. For I would have to say that if I saw the below photographs, and the above Voynich illustration, I would certainly have wondered, as Doolittle did, if there was a connection. At the very least I am certain that I would not have jumped to the oval-appearing Andromeda, as Newbold did, as it never appeared to me a good match. I also note they are right spirals, as f68r’s illustration is:

isaac roberts m51 and m100

I have of course, as others have, wondered if Romaine Newbold was a victim of an overabundance of imagination, which drove his wild speculations to their obviously incorrect conclusions. But at the same time I felt this may point at Voynich, and possibly others, having fed the poor man just enough Roger Bacon “winks and nods” to send him off the cliffs of self-delusion. Anyone who did study Bacon would soon become aware of his possible use of optics and code, which would have caused Newbold to pick them up with relish- well, we know he did- but then he charged off at light-speed down a road Voynich never intended, or imagined. But perhaps all Voynich really wanted was…

… for Newbold to simply see a few microscopes instead of “jars”, a couple of diatoms and such, and maybe, M51 from Isaac Roberts’ book. If this is the case, I would imagine Voynich’s great frustration. Rather than being handed the desired reasonable, and yet exciting, Roger Bacon attribution, Newbold instead managed to taint the image of the Cipher Manuscript, along with his own reputation, and even, a little bit, the name of Roger Bacon himself… and thereby destroy any chance Wilfred Voynich would sell this manuscript in his lifetime.

UPDATE, 6/11/14: Elitsa Velinska has found a really striking similarity to the f68r spiral, in Nicole Oresme’s, “Traité de la sphère”, BNF Français 565. It has the stars, the T/O center, and the “frills” around the edges, that the Voynich spiral all have. All that is missing are the spirals, really. This find, in my opinion, is so good that it alters my speculative reasoning as to the original purpose of the illustration in the Voynich manuscript: I don’t believe it would have been put there AS a nebula, to fool anyone… but probably was influence by the image of Orseme in some way, directly or indirectly. Of course, Newbold’s opinion on it, while wrong, still has certain implications and possible causes, some of which still stand, as stated above.

You can see Elitsa’s images and comments on her blog post, here:

UPDATE, 9/30/14: After much recent discussion about this image, which began when Robert Teague noted a very close alignment of the Oresme illustration with the f68r Voynich one, I’ve come to realize that the original possibility still stands: That perhaps the artist of f68r was a forger, and was intending to imply that this was a spiral galaxy… and that this was the original intention after all.

Of course that is purely speculative, and there is no way to prove it. It may certainly be wrong. But considering that these spirals, as attached to the Oresme-type illustration, are not found elsewhere so attached, nor is there any good reason for them to exist there (none at all, offered, as of this writing), in the first place, I have reconsidered, and think it possible that this “addition” could have been for this reason… and that Newbold simply “mucked it up” by going to Andromeda instead of M51 or M100. That is, that the f68r illustration is a false attempt to look like a 13th or 17th century astronomer’s version of a nebula, as seen and understood by an early 20th century forger, who was trying to imply the use of advanced optics by the author of the Voynich Manuscript.

The Green Microscope

May 18, 2013

When I first proposed my Voynich/Optical theories years ago, one of the most common criticisms of it was that some of the microscope illustrations I used as comparisons were from dates later than the time of my theory. This is true, and I did acknowledge it. Of course I would, and can, still use them, as the descriptions of 1610/20 optical devices, and even earlier ones in some cases, do show that later 17th century optical instruments do have many of the features of the earlier, often lost and not illustrated, devices.

Nonetheless, the problem did have an effect on the way I looked at this, but not necessarily the way the critics intended. They used this point to claim that the Voynich cylinders could not be microscopes, but at the same time, they were dismissing the fact that their observation also implies that if they were the microscopes they did agree they resembled, then the Voynich was newer than they, or even I, suggested. In effect they were ignoring an important implication, a possibility opened up by the very observation they were making.

This is even more apparent when you consider that at least three of the newer microscope illustrations I was comparing to the Voynich cylinders were such a good match, that they could arguably be the actual source of the Voynich illustration. The two most notable are the “Green Microscope”,  and of the ones in the Spanish engraving , both very similar to cylinders on the f101v pages. So if you take the critic’s point at face value, that the devices look “too new”, then one is open to any age for the Voynich between 1404 and 1912, when Wilfred said he found it.

Considering these points, and when I began to seriously consider the Voynich Manuscript may be a 19th century fake, I of course revisited many of my old ideas in a new light.

Microscope Comparsion 1

Here is the Green Microscope compared to an f101v cylinder. You can see that the coloration, proportion, the recessed top, the placement of the change in diameter, and the inclusion (if not the accurate representation) of decoration, show that the green microscope and this Voynich cylinder are strikingly similar. Even the green of the vellum covering, and the brown where the wooden portions of the microscope are bare, are seemingly represented. I think it can be said that if a person saw the actual microscope, and had the appropriate inks, pens and brushes, any resulting drawing would not be much different than the Voynich illustration.

But in order for the Green Microscope to appear in an early 20th century forged manuscript, it would have to be reasonable to expect that the suspected forger would have seen it. And they probably would have had to have seen the actual device, and not a picture in a book, because color photographs in books were very uncommon before 1912. I have not seen this one, in any case, in all the microscope books I have found, either in black and white or color, photographed or illustrated. So for the real Green Microscope to be the model, it would have to be reasonable that Wilfred Voynich could have seen it. I went back to the website of the Museo Galileo, the museum which has the microscope, to see if this made sense.

The Museo Galileo, it turns out, is in Florence, Italy. They have owned the Green Microscope since the early 18th century, as it is listed as a “Vincenzo Viviani” bequest. He died in 1703, so they have had it since about then. The museum does not apparently know the actual age or maker of this microscope… and it is listed as a “microscope part”, as they assume it is a “part of the body tube” of one… but they do speculate that it originates from the “late 17th century”. It was a practice at the time, on some microscopes, to have the central section of the device removable, in order to use it as a “field microscope”. Some were even made this way from the beginning, with no stand, to carry into the environment and study things in the field.

The location of the museum in Florence was encouraging start, because in the early 20th century, Wilfred Voynich was also in Florence. He had purchased, in 1908, the great Libraria Franceschini, on 110 Via Ghibellina. And this vast book emporium, containing over half a million manuscripts, incunabula, pamphlets, maps, and who-knows-what, has often been suspected as a possible, real, source of the Voynich… even as the place Wilfred may have unearthed the little pile of unused ancient vellum he might have used to forge his famous cipher manuscript. Voynich, and the Green Microscope, and a vast archive of vellum were all in the same city, at the same time!

But how close were they? The scientific instruments of the Museo Galileo were moved to the present location… only 1,900 feet from Voynich’s shop, as it turns out… in 1930. I needed to find out where it was before that, between 1908 and 1912, when Voynich was still there, and before he announced the manuscript. So I wrote to the Museo, and was told by a retired director,

“The Viviani collection was housed before at the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova. Then, in the second half of 19th century, it was given to the Museo di Antichi Strumenti (Museum of Ancient Instruments), located inside the today Museo “La Specola”.”

So La Specola was the home of the green microscope during the time of Voynich’s presence in Florence. And it was, and is, the location of the Trubuna De Galileo, a magnificent alcove with a statue of Galileo, a series of friezes with important scenes from his life, and surrounded by rooms which contained the collections of antique scientific instruments of the Viviani collection, and others. And it turned out that that collection was at  4 Via Georgio La Pira, a mere 1.3 kilometer, 15 minute walk from the doors of Voynich’s Libraria. The Green Microscope was 15 minutes from the man who “found” the Voynich Manuscript, which contains an image which virtually reflects the very same device.

A Short Walk

A Very Short and Pleasant Walk

But the fact he very well could have seen the Green Microscope has another implication, for those who consider the Voynich Manuscript is real: If Wilfred had thought he had found a precious “Roger Bacon” manuscript, he would have also known Bacon was believed to have possessed and used sophisticated optical devices…

Tribuna Di Galileo

Tribuna Di Galileo

… so then why did Voynich not see, and note, the similarity between one of the drawings, and the Green Microscope, himself? Because he could not point to it, any more that he could point directly to the Baresch letter, or any other possible sources for a fake… if he forged the Voynich Manuscript. Well, unless you want to theorize that he the man had very poor observational skills, or worse, that he was never tempted, at least once in 5 years, to take what must be a fantastic stroll through the streets of one of the world’s most beautiful cities, to the greatest collection of rare and important scientific instruments in the world.

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.

1404 to 1438

December 4, 2009

December 3rd, 2009 has been a pretty exciting day. I learned that the producers of the Pro-Omnia Voynich documentary, due to be aired on December 10th in Europe, decided to release some clues as to the dating results of the Voynich Manuscript. The first statement was found, then reported on Elmar Vogt’s Blog, to the effect that the Voynich was much older than all the existing theories had proposed. This seemed to imply that it was older than the time of Roger Bacon, one of the first contenders.

But later in the day more information came to light. The date range of 1404 to 1438 was released. This places the Voynich’s vellum creation… or at least, the death of the poor sheep used in it’s creation… firmly in the first part of the most commonly reported date range for the manuscript, which is usually about 1420 to 1460. This then strongly argues against my optical/New Atlantis theory being correct. It also argues strongly against the certain cylinders being optics, as there is no evidence for optics, as advanced as the cylinders would imply, existing in the early 15th century. There are only vague, inaccurate and inconsistent mentions and rumors of such optics… so while the possibility does exist, it is really very remote.

It would seem that the Voynich is what many believed… a sort of unusual kind of early 15th century herbal or pharma, which does not quite fit many of the characteristics of these books, of this time.

I think that it is great that an important part of this long running mystery has been solved. It would have been nice to have a correct theory, but not at the expense of the truth, which is more important. I’m not sure what I will do now… I will certainly follow the ongoing research with interest, but I will probably not take an active part in it. I really like my time frame, and the people I have researched for my theory… and I am not ready to leave them and follow the Voynich back into what is for me, an unfamiliar realm. The history of my theories time fascinates me, the imagination and creativity and talent of the people of my time excite me, and I want to continue to learn about them… even if they were not responsible for the “most mysterious document in the world”.

So if this dating holds up, and the results as reported are correct, I will continue to believe as I now do, that it is unlikely that 200 year old vellum found it’s way into a faux early 17th century artifact of The New Atlantis. Could have? Yes, could have. But I would not consider it plausible enough to pursue this as an active theory. Rich SantaColoma

Optical Timeline

August 6, 2009

As I wrote in my post, “Optical Comparisons”, the similarity of many of the cylinders in the Voynich Manuscript to optical devices is the starting point of the New Atlantis/Voynich theory. But if the cylinders do represent optics, and if the Voynich is an artifact representing The New Atlantis, then these optical illustrations would have to represent the type of optics from their time, or before… obviously not later. The range of time for the creation of the New Atlantis is unknown, but various experts have placed it from about 1608 to 1623. It was then finalized for print about 1623/24. And the earliest firm evidence for the existence of the Voynich is 1621, if we accept the De Tepencz name as meaning he owned it. So if the cylinders are optical, then they should look like the devices we would expect to see from between 1610 and 1621.

Janssen 1595 Microscope? Attribution controversial...

Janssen 1595 Microscope? Attribution controversial...

But as for existing examples of microscopes of this time range, none are known to have survived. There is one microscope, the 1595 Janssen device, which pre-dates the range. There is some evidence that Galileo had made a microscope as early as 1610, then one in 1614. And Kepler published Dioptrice, a 1611 book on optics, which contains fine diagrams of optical principles, theories, and devices. Among these is the first description of a twin-convex lens microscope (shown below).

Here is a quote from the Mccord Museum website, “In 1611, Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) suggested the construction of a compound microscope that used convex lenses for both the objective and the eyepiece. The Kepler microscope provided a larger field of view and became the prototype of the modern microscope.”

Of telescopes from this time, we have better examples and illustrations. Of course we are all familiar with Galileo’s 1609 telescope, which tells us what the state of the art optical devices of this time looked like. In this case, the telescope is covered with red and green vellum, and is tooled with gilding along the edges of the segments. These are features which are conceivably represented in the Voynich cylinders… although they are of shorter devices, which I believe could be microscopes. Kepler also owned a telescope about 1610-1611, and it’s design was “based on that of Galileo’s” device. Below is a portion of an accurate modern replica of Galileo’s telescope. The entire telescope is much longer, this is only one end. You can see the replica, made by Jim & Rhoda Morris, and how it was created, at this excellent site.

After the fall of Prague, and the later death of Rudolf in 1612, Drebbel pleaded with James I, to let him come back to London. He professed to be able to build a telescope able to “read a letter at a country mile”. While this is obviously an exaggeration, to make such a claim would be a dangerous gamble if he did not enough experience and knowledge in optics to feel confident of backing it up.

Then, between about 1619 and 1621 in London, Drebbel was producing microscopes for sale. He is credited with the production of the first twin-convex lensed devices. Remembering that this layout was first mentioned in Kepler’s 1611 Dioptrice, and Drebbel shared Rudolf’s court with Kepler, this cannot be a coincidence. Drebbel’s devices must have been based on Kepler’s, either from actual examples, or from the descriptions in Dioptrice. But that is moot to the timing, as it is well established he was making fine microscopes during this time. In fact it was a Drebbel microscope which insprired Faber to coin the term “microscope”… he was marveling at the quality of the lenses, and the clarity of the image of a flea, “the size of a chicken”. He wrote this in 1625, but the instrument was made 1619 to 1621.

The only known drawing of a Drebbel microscope is the one by Issac Beekman, from about 1630. It is probably inaccurately drawn, if the center line is meant to indicate the division between sliding tubes… because the drawing is tapered, and a tapered cylinder would not allow adjustment. And earlier descriptions of Drebbel’s microscopes do not mention such a taper. Here is a CAD illustration I made from Periesc’s 1622 detailed description:

I purposely gave the device generic arcing legs, not reminiscent of Voynich cylinder feet. This, because the shape or design of legs of the extant descriptions are not specified. But interestingly, one description does describe the legs of a Drebbel device as being “shaped like dolphins”. The “delphini” motif has long been popular on legs, often found on Baroque furniture, accessories, and even scientific devices. I argue that the legs on the Voynich cylinders may represent such “dolphin legs”, sometimes head down, sometimes fluke down… both arrangements being known.

At any rate, it has often been suggested that my use of illustrations from after 1620, and even, into the 18th century, to show microscope comparisons to Voynich cylinders, is incorrect and misleading. Also, on a popular blog, the author claims it is re-writing optical history to suggest that microscopes may predate 1620 at all! But even though no known examples of microscopes from between 1610 and 1620 exist, it is clear they were made, they were described, they were explained as early as 1611, and one may exist from as early as 1595. And given the known covering, coloring, decoration, lens glass color (blue and green tint) of the contemporary telescopes, it is not at all unlikely that some of the “lost” microscopes from this time shared these features. This is why I use some later microscopes… they show what a microscope would look like, covered and colored like the known telescopes from “my” time frame. Besides, it is only a few decades from that time frame, to the 1640 to 1675 surviving devices of Divini and others.

Optical Timeline: Click for full size.

Optical Timeline

But all in all it is clear what the lost microscopes from the period of 1610 to 1620 might have looked like, and that this is quite like what the Voynich cylinders often do look like… whether they are just this, we do not know, one way or the other. H. Rich SantaColoma

Thomas Harriot, Algonquian, and Optics

July 1, 2009

Thomas Harriot certainly comes under the category of “People whom History Forgot”, right alongside Cornelis Drebbel. The problem in both cases is that much of their life works were destroyed or lost, before ever being published. Just we don’t know the workings of Drebbel’s perpetual clocks, or his advanced methods of lens grinding, we can’t know the full extent of the genius behind Harriot’s discoveries in astronomy, optics, mathematics, and Native American languages. But from what I have learned, he is very close to the influences and circle I suspect was behind the creation of the Voynich Manuscript.

Thomas Harriot was on Sir Walter Raleigh’s first expedition of 1594, and studied… well, everything “over here”, including the Algonquin language. He found that he could not transcribe the sounds of the language using our Latin alphabet, so he made a new phonetic one. Here is an interesting passage from “Big Chief Elizabeth: The Adventures and Fate of the First English Colonists”:

“Harriot’s resultant alphabet had thirty-six characters in total and looked extraordinary_ a hodgepodge of algebraic symbols, Greek and Roman letters, invented characters. One scholar described the letters as looking “like devills,” perhaps because some ended in forked tridents. The shape of the letters provided a clue as to how they should be pronounced. English equivalents were recorded alongside where applicable, while sounds that were unfamiliar were categorised as “barbarouse wordes” and placed in a separate column. Harriot tested his alphabet on English phrases, putting passages of the Lord’s Prayer into his new script to see whether they were readable. The alphabet was a work of unparalleled creativity- one that had required the logic of a scientist and the imagination of an artist” It successfully represented every sound of this complex language.”

Portion of Thomas Harriot's Algonquin: click for full view

Portion of Thomas Harriot's Algonquian Alphabet

Note not only the many “Voynichy” characters, but the repetitive nature of them, and the small distinctions… with major import… but nonetheless small. Here is a full image of the page. Now Imagine a book of those suckers, with no clues to tell us what they were, where or when they came, and what language they represented? We would be as lost, I am certain, as we are with the Voynich Manuscript. There were such books written in this script, but they burned in the Great London Fire.

As I pointed out, Harriot has been under-appreciated to history, because he did not get much of his work published. Many notes were found in the 1980’s, including the alphabet page. But also of interest… well, to me… is that he was apparently an early experimenter with optics, and quite good at it. At least one reference I saw had him making the first telescope in England. It was very good device, and allowed him to make very good sketches of the moon, and sunspots, about the time Galileo is credited with both.

“The Italian philosopher [Galileo] is credited with the feat in December 1609. But papers at the West Sussex Record Office show that Harriot drew images of the Moon several months earlier.” -Christine McGourty, BBC article, ‘English Galileo’ Maps on Display

Thomas Harriot's Moon Map: pre-Galileo's

Thomas Harriot's Moon Map: pre-Galileo's

Harriot also influenced Francis Bacon, and was friends with Kepler at the time Kepler was in Prague, next to Drebbel. It is also of interest because he was on the Raleigh expedition alongside Joachim Gaunse, the man it is believed the New Atlantis’ Joabim is based on; and alongside one David Gans, who is believed related to Joachim Gaunse (Gans), and whom was with Kepler, Drebbel, and Harriot, in Prague. Of course this goes to the very influences and people whom I feel could be responsible for the Voynich. In Harriot’s work, you have alternate languages and characters, Native American influences, advanced optics, influences on Francis Bacon and his New Atlantis… all by a man who rubbed elbows with the “real” Joabim, Johannes Kepler, and Cornelis Drebbel. This is the very stew from which I believe the Voynich may have formed, and at the best time for it to have done so. H.R. SantaColoma

Addendum, July 4, 2009:

I came across another connection in my circle of interest, while looking up references to Algonquian. In addition to Harriot and others, one William Strachey also compiled a list of Algonquian words and phrases. His list was a full 500 long. He wrote of his accounts in the New World, including the book, “The Historie of Travaile into Virginia Britannia“*. Strachey was a rich source of information on Native Americans, their language and culture. Today his writings are invaluable to learning of the layout and functions of the original Jamestown town and fort, because he gave such detailed descriptions.

But then there is a very curious “cross connection” to Shakespeare. It turns out that William Strachey’s description of the wreck of the Sea Venture on July 24, 1609, is almost universally considered source material for Shakespeare’s account of the wreck in The Tempest. Also, the mysterious magical nature of Prospero and Miranda’s isle is considered based in part on Strachey’s descriptions of Bermuda, where he was wrecked.

Again, I find parallel influences: Both in those whom I suspect influenced the Voynich Manuscript, and also, those known, historically, to have influenced the people of my circle of interest. The expeditions of Raleigh, the ships which supplied them, the people who manned them, all influenced, in some cases directly, both Bacon’s New Atlantis and Shakepeare’s The Tempest.

*One manuscript copy of which was dedicated to Francis Bacon (!).

The Book M, John Heydon, and the Book of Solomon

June 20, 2009

The Rosicrucian Fama Fraternitatis makes reference to several important works. The “Book M” is one of these. From

“In Damcar, the Fama recounts the learned men ‘to whom Nature was discovered’ received the precocious boy ‘not as a stranger but as one whom the had long expected; they called him by his name, and showed him many other secrets’ – among them mathematics, physics, alchemy, and a document the Fama refers to as the Book M. This last treasure, whose full name is thought by some to be Book Mundi, or Book of the World, is said to have held the secrets of the universe. Young Rosenkreutz decided that he would translate this prodigious work into Latin, so that he might share it with others upon his return to Europe.”

And what language was Rosenkreutz translating this book “out of”, if “into” Latin? From the Fama:

“After this manner began the Fraternity of the Rosie Cross–first, by four persons only, and by them was made the magical language and writing, with a large dictionary, which we yet dayly use to God’s praise and glory, and do find great wisdom therein.”

So the answer is, that the Book M was written in a, “magical language and writing”. Now from New Atlantis, about the Book of Solomon:

“Some think it beareth the founder’s name a little corrupted, as if it should be Solomon’s House. But the records write it as it is spoken. So as I take it to be denominate of the King of the Hebrews, which is famous with you, and no strangers to us; for we have some parts of his works which with you are lost; namely, that natural history which he wrote of all plants, from the cedar of Libanus to the moss that groweth out of the wall; and of all things that have life and motion.”

So in New Atlantis, in Bensalem, we have the lost works of Solomon, which included “…all plants…”, and “…all things that have life and motion.” Now I come to a man, John Heydon, described by Elias Ashmole as “an ignoramus and a cheat”, and Francis Yates as a, “strange character…an astrologer, geomancer, alchemist, of a most extreme type.”

See wiki:

John Heydon wrote “The Holy Guide” (pub. 1662), in which he shamelessly rips off Bacon’s New Atlantis, and re-writes many portions of it as a straightforward Rosicrucian text. Of course the New Atlantis is undeniably Rosicrucian in it’s premise, and contains not only RC tenets and philosophy, but also RC symbolism. But Heydon took it a step further, and stripped away Bacon’s reluctance, in a sense, in his version. On the lost works of Solomon reference in NA, Heydon reworks this into,

“…we have some parts of works which with you are lost, namely the Rosie Crucian M, which he wrote of all things past, present, and to come”.

We might ask “of what importance?” is Heydon’s later interpretation of The New Atlantis? Yates and others saw his view of the work as the intent of the work, and also how the work was perceived in his time, i.e., as a Rosicrucian document. It is considered that Bacon, or his friend and posthumous publisher, in being cautious, stripped The New Atlantis of the most obvious and direct Rosicrucian references. James I would not have been open to such RC references and connections. The later John Heydon can be seen as having returned, or added, originally references which reflect the intent of the work.

Now imagine if a faux book were created, meant to look either like the Book M, or the Book of Solomon, from New Atlantis, between about 1610 to 1620. Would it not have a look of mystery, and yet contain many plants, and scientific devices, both familiar and yet somehow mysterious? And contain both borrowed and invented bits of astrology, astronomy… all perhaps Hermetic-inspired, but enigmatic illustrations of these themes, nonetheless? And in addition we know that if such a book were created, it would need to be written in a “magical language and writing”, in order to accurately reflect the fictional original. And it would, to complete the effect, have to be made to much older look than it really was. But unavoidably, it would possibly give us a sense, today, of a “newness”, because it would be difficult to mimic exactly the look of a book one to two hundred years older. We can only imagine it, because so far as we know, no such book has been found. And if the Voynich is such a book, it would be the first, with nothing exactly like it to compare it to.

The Book M was not alone in the crypt with the well preserved remains of our mysterious figure:

In the tomb of Rosenkreutz, “In another chest were looking-glasses of divers virtues, as also in another place were little bells, burning lamps, and chiefly wonderful artificial songs–“

Of course I am struck by the inclusion of “looking-glasses of divers virtues”, as they are clearly not referring to glasses simply as corrective vision, but either telescopes of microscopes, or both. Optics both as devices and a concept ran through the philosophies of the time, and were a tool of the new movement toward inductive reasoning. The tomb of Rosenkreutz and the New Atlantis contained optics for much the same reasons: for what they meant to the new concepts promulgated by the Rosicrucian movement. And, as I personally would argue, why I believe optics may have been included in the Voynich.

Looking at these fantasy cipher tomes: Book M, The Book of Solomon from Bensalem… and remember, Prospero’s books: I’m not so certain, if all three of these faux books were created in 1610/20, that we would be able to tell them apart today… or, for that matter, apart from the Voynich Manuscript. And if the Voynich is one of these books, everyone has been looking for answers in the wrong places, which would then make it unsurprising that no answers have been found.

-post adapted and updated from a May 2008 VMS-net entry

Optical Comparisons

June 1, 2009

It has been said that the Voynich theories I have developed and researched are only about the microscope comparisons, and without them, there is nothing left. This is very inaccurate, as there are many features of the Voynich, outside of the cylinders, which indicate to me the possibility that it was created in the time frame I am working in, and by the people I suspect.

But it is true that the optical comparisons are the seed of the ideas which came later. When I first looked over the Voynich, I was struck at the similarity between certain cylinders in it, and early microscopes. I was very surprised that this was not generally assumed, they looked so much alike. In several years of research, I only found one person… Chris Parry… who openly mused on this on the VMS-net list in 2003. Berj N. Ensanian later told me that he had long noted the similarities between the cylinders and the microscope of Robert Hooke.

Even Newbold, (of the well known failed theories and translations) who believed that Roger Bacon wrote the Voynich, and who he believed used a powerful microscope to do so, did not make a connection between the cylinders and the instruments. Newbold called them “jars”.

Microscope Comparsion 1

I personally think the similarities between the 17th century Italian microscope, and this Voynich cylinder, are striking. Many of the tubes have optical features, and I have made a page of many of them, here. A list of some of the features of early optics, which I feel may be represented in Voynich cylinders:

1 ) Multiple lenses
2 ) Multiple, sliding tubes
3 ) Covered with colored vellum (often red and green)
4 ) Decorated along edges with repeating, gilt embossing
5 ) Recessed lenses
6 ) Lenses with green and blue hues (nature of the glass used)

Elements also found in Voynich tubes which are described just after my time frame, possibly relating to Drebbel’s 1619 to 1624 devices:

7 ) Supported on brass legs, shaped like dolphins

And elements found on other, later, 17th and 18th century microscopes:

8 ) Decorative finial lens caps
9 ) Knurling of rings for easier adjusting and assembly/disassembly

Spanish Compare

It was pointed out by Keith Body that Egyptian perfume jars are very similar to some Voynich cylinders, and I agree:


For the generally assumed “jar” identification, then, I would agree that some of the Voynich tubes may be just that. However I do not think that the 15th and 16th century apothecary and albarello jars are good comparisons… they do not compare as well as optics, in my opinion. Even for the bizarre cylinders, such as the iconic one shown below, I feel optics are just a better match than jars or containers… or perpetual candles, soap dispensers, or others which have been suggested. Next to the f88 cylinder I show it in CAD, covered with tooled Moroccan leather, as an optical device would be. I think it is a good match to to the color and tone of the Voynich illustration. As for the color of my supposed “lens”, and the knurling marks, those are in the “original”.

f88 CAD

The objections to my comparisons are many, and I will address them here in the future, as I have in the past on the VMS-net list. They are in part, that I use later optical devices for comparisons to a document which I state was made between 1610 and 1620. Also, that there is little or no evidence for microscopes before about 1619. And there are others, all of which I will address in future posts. Richard SantaColoma