Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Birth of a New Mythology

January 3, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Miscellanea, c.m.s.XV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NSA/CSS Symposium Lecture

November 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most of those questions I answered similarly to how I have done so in my list of “Modern Voynich Myths”, which can be found here:

For the others, stay tuned.



The Grolier Codex Forgery

February 10, 2014

In a recent discussion on the VMs-net List, a concept emerged that I’m only just beginning to explore. The premise was used that Wilfrid Voynich was not an expert in ancient manuscripts, therefore he could not have forged the Voynich. I thought about that line of reasoning, especially since I agree that Voynich was not a ms. expert (although he was an expert in finding, pricing and selling them), and wondered if the conclusion that could be drawn from his inexpert”ness”, was actually just the opposite of that suggested. That is, is it possible that the very wide range of contrary expert opinions on the Voynich, over the years is because it was forged by an inexpert forger?

I wonder if a genuine book does not usually receive as much diversity of opinion, since the content may tend to be more uniform? And then, if forged by one who better knows their subject, as an expert would, the examiners will pretty much agree on origin, age, culture, content? Of course such a book may end up being accepted as genuine, if good enough. But lastly, if a forger is inexpert, will the resulting work tend to have content that is improper, from a wide range of works, and/or eras, and/or in styles, that should not be in there, and therefore the bad forgery will elicit dispute among experts? And so, conversely, could a range of expert opinion on age, content, and/or meaning, possibly be a useful indication of forgery?


I came across the instance of a presumed pre-Columbian Maya Codex, the Grolier Codex. It was so named because it was on display in the Grolier Club after its discovery in the 1960’s. From the Wikipedia article on the Codex:

“English Mayanist J. Eric S. Thompson cast strong doubts upon the authenticity of the Grolier Codex in his 1975 article The Grolier Codex, published in volume 27 of the Contributions of the University of California. Thompson argued that the codex was a modern forgery and that the unusual mix of styles in the document was not due to the mixing of cultures but rather due to the hand of a forger. Thompson queried the illustration of all four stations of Venus in the codex, noting that other Mesoamerican codices only illustrated the more spectacular appearance of Venus as morning star.”

“the unusual mix of styles… …due to the hand of a forger”. I think it is reasonable to assume that the forger was inexpert in ancient Mayan Codices, or they would not have improperly mixed styles. Furthermore, the Codex’s usefulness is destroyed by the forger’s lack of understanding of the Maya calendar, “In 2002, French archaeologist Claude-François Baudez commented that the codex serves no divinatory purpose and was useless as an aid to a Maya priest; he believes that the document is the product of a forger using pre-Columbian materials but relatively ignorant of his subject.”


So the forged document appears the way it does, with varied and improper content, due to the fact that the forger was inexpert. It is also interesting to me that there are experts who believe the Grolier Codex is genuine, and so the argument continues. But at least it was carbon dated, so that ought to have put the issue to rest, no?

“The radiocarbon dating of an associated sheet of bark paper had been used to support a 13th-century date [1230 AD, ± 130 years] for the Grolier Codex.”

From this, one might assume that the Codex was genuine. One might reason that since bark paper must have been highly prized by scribes, and very valuable and rare, and also, very delicate and susceptible to the environment, that therefore no appropriate blank bark paper would sit around for decades, let alone hundreds of years, for a forger to use to make a fake Codex. That is the… it turns out, incorrect… reasoning used to dismiss a creation of the Voynich much later than the C14 date of the leaves. But then I read,

“Large quantities of pre-Columbian bark paper have been found in dry caves, so a genuine piece of blank pre-Columbian paper may have been used by a forger as a base for painting a falsified codex.”

Oh well.  The materials were found in some “Cave Libraria”, it seems. And this material sat unused for between 600 and 860 years, blank, before use, and the Grolier Codex may still be a forgery. But the experts still argue about it, and the reasons it has the baffling content that it does. Sound familiar, Voynicherios?

But back to the original concept: I would be interested to see other cases where manuscripts have a wide range of expert opinion as to content and meaning, and if this can be correlated in any useful way to the works of inexpert forgers. Rich SantaColoma

The First Voynich Photocopies?

August 15, 2012

Comparison Notes- Original Ms. Photostats/Modern Images

I became aware of the possibility that the New York Public Library had the original Photostats Wilfred Voynich made of his “Bacon Manuscript”, while reading the letters of Anne Nill on July 24th, 2012. She mentioned them starting about 1930, and how she and Ethel would send people to the NYPL to see the manuscript in this copy form, rather than over-handling the original- which they kept in a safe deposit box. Even so, they restricted the access to these copies, only allowing those who they felt might help them cement the attribution to Roger Bacon, or otherwise decipher the script or solve the mystery. They even discussed retrieving them from the library at one point, but then, a few years later, Nill further related that they decided to let the library keep them.

But they do not appear in the library’s catalogs today. It was through my request to the manuscript department that the library sought them out from their archives. It seems they have been somewhat forgotten by the outside Voynich community, although of course the library was quite aware they were there. It does not seem they have been examined in years, if not decades.

This set seems to be the very first set of photostats, or at least one of the earliest, made of the manuscript. Wilfred came to the USA at the outbreak of WWI, and set up shop here soon after. He was very interested in having the images available to researchers, and seems to have made this set by the late teens or early 20’s. They are unfortunately not dated. But included within the box they are in is a set of some pages from Voynich’s copy of Valturius’s “De Ri Militari”, and the head of the archives included a letter saying he prepared those copies in November of 1929. Perhaps these photostats of the Voynich Manuscript was prepared at that time, too, but I doubt it, as Newbold and others had seen photocopies by the early 20’s. I can’t say for certain without comparing these to Newbold’s set in Pennsylvania, but I would imagine these date to the time of his at least, and he already wrote of the Voynich by 1921.

Below are various observations I made while carefully comparing each and every page with the current, modern, JPEGs and SIDs offered by the Beinecke.

F1r- The chemical stains may be there, but they are faint and less apparent than on the JPG and SID. The “Signature” is moderately visible anyway. “E” at the end of “Tepence” seems to be a capital, or at least have a lower loop not presently visible. Other than that, it looks the same as we see today, if not a bit darker. Being small on this copy, and not having a means of enlarging it, it is hard to compare to what we have now.
Strings visible in binding, attached at top. Some sort of spine leather folded back.
The letter “column” down right side appears darker on the photostats than now seen.

F10v- tear on 9v is visible to exactly the same extent in the original photostats, as it is in the modern SID. This implies the state of the binding close to that of 80 years ago. However, more of f16r… the “1”, appears behind the shot of f11r in the modern JPG.

F13r- In this shot, there is inserted a blank scrap of paper behind it. In pencil notation is, “No page 12”.

Note: After this point, the maker of the PHOTOSTATS’s seems to have continued to insert paper behind the page, to avoid photographing the edges of ensuing pages beyond them. Not on all, but on many copies.

F14v & F15r- stains are apparent on the PHOTOSTATS, at the top of the pages, as they are on the modern SIDs. I did not find any stain on the modern copies that was not on these early photostats … that is, it does not seem to have suffered any staining since these photos were taken.

F17r- The “floral” image which overlaps the number 17 is surprisingly darker on the PHOTOSTATS. It appears to have faded quite a bit. The lines seem thinner now, too. The stain around it is also darker on the PHOTOSTATS. Why? The different photographic process can account for some difference in contrast, but the information does not seem to be there, anymore, whatever the method used. More importantly, the marginalia at the top of the page is much clearer on the PHOTOSTATS- for instance, although smaller than can be made by enlarging the SID, the “aw” at the end is dark, sharp, and clear. The “gallows” in the second to last word is light, but still darker than the SID, and more obvious. The marginalia letters have clearly faded, also, and under the stain most of all.

F38v- The “smudge” or stain on this page, which appears at near the top, and to the left of the plant, seems to be characters on the photostats, while too faded to discern on the modern SID. It seems to be “4an”

F40r- similar to the above case, the small smudge seen between the two lower right roots on the SID, is much darker, and appears to be either a cross, or a “4” voynichese character.

F58v- A penciled note, “f65 follows 58”- which it does, of course.

F67r- Smudge to the right of the page number “67” is darker and clearer on the PHOTOSTATS, and appears to be “67” with another small character after it (an “e”?), and all crossed out with one line. On the SID, this is illegible.

F67r3- wheel is “cut off” shorter on the JPG and SID. The photostats shows several words, and more of the wheel, that the modern versions do not. Whether this is due to a fold in the newer shots, or if a strip of the page became detached and went missing since the photostats were taken, I cannot tell without seeing the original. I’ve drawn the few words visible, if anyone is interested in seeing them.

F72v3- on the SID and JPG, the left side of the “lion zodiac” is not shown, whereas it is clearly photographed on the photostats. The flap was held back by a paperclip… does this flap still exist, or have modern copiers simply failed to unfold it? It shows that circle to the outer ring, and clearly shows four more women with stars, along with associated writing.

F73v- pencil notation, “75 follows 73”, which it does.

85v1- The PHOTOSTATS shows a paper behind the right side of this, as though it is detached on this edge- my understanding was that this is now attached/bound along this edge. I can’t make out why the difference… a fold? I do not know the actual construction well enough to equate the two possibles.

Note: The PHOTOSTATSs are separated here with a cardboard sheet, and the ensuing four pages are on one sheet, then the entire rosettes pages are on two more.

The Rosettes pages: Very nice, surprisingly clear copy. Those privy to examine these photostats pages really were not at much of a loss. The sharpness and clarity of them is really on par with the SIDs, and actually surpasses them in some ways. The rosettes are a good example… the recent “volcano” image from Beinecke is seen here, almost in its entirety. The second “tower in hole” tower foundation is likewise here, whereas it was only recently seen again in the very newest image released.

F90r- pencil note, “p 93 follows p 90”, which it does.
F93r- pencil note, “p 93 follows 90”, ditto.
F94v foldout- The first two sheets are pencil labeled, “95 1 + 2”.
F95v- penciled note, “p 99 follows 96”, which it does.

101v2- this is labeled “101 4” on the photostats. There also happens to be a note, “Room 319” penciled on this- perhaps the NYPL room this was originally kept, or produced?

F103r- The “blur” in the lower right corner of the modern SID seems to be more distinct in the PHOTOSTATS, and appears to be several voynichese characters, including an “8”… but these are hard to make out.

F107v through f111r, have penciled notes, “p. 111 follows 108”, which they do.

Further notes: Box marked with printed, bright orange label, “RESTRICTED. DO NOT SERVE TO READERS”. It looks fairly modern, although the box is old. On the paper wrapping, in magic marker, is “VOYNICH- Roger Bacon Ms.”, twice, then in thick pencil:
“Voynich Ms. of Roger Bacon- Restricted” (“Restricted” underlined twice).

Summary: There is nothing of great surprise, and no missing pages found, in this very early… possibly the earliest… set of photostats of the Voynich Ms. Well, perhaps if the unseen part of f67r3 (see above) is really missing now, then that is one portion that was preserved by these copies. But what is actually most surprising to me is that at this early date, there was this set of images which were so clear and complete. They are far better than what we had only a few years ago, before the JPGs and SIDs. I’m not sure where the images in D’Imperio’s book, and various articles, came from… but if they were from this master set, then whoever made the copies  from them did a very poor job. They are even better than the B&W later offered by the Beinecke.

But also of note is just how little, if at all, the manuscript has changed in 80 years… almost one-third more of its life has been added, and it has been handled far more in this time, probably, than in its missing 300 or so years in between Marci and Voynich. And if the few seemingly faded characters can be accounted for by differences in the photo process, or even by application of chemicals, or undue handling in those places, then the manuscript has held up well under all its modern scrutiny.

But still, despite being so close to today’s condition, there are small differences. There are possibly more differences which I did not notice, in fact there must be. For that reason these photostats become of interest in their own right. They were once simply a tool to avoid handling the original, but now they freeze in time the manuscript as it was first seen in modern times. I’m certain many researchers will find different areas to compare, and in more detail, than I have in my 5 hour overview.

Another consideration is that there is some damage to the photostats themselves, due to the photochemicals used… some sepia and stains, possibly from the fixer. They are on paper, which I am not sure is of archival quality, and wrapped in brown paper, which also cannot be good. Perhaps the NYPL would consider investing in some good microfilm or digital copies of these photostats,  so that they can be better preserved as they are. This would also allow them to be made more widely available, and possibly for download. They have a great value as a landmark in the life of the Voynich- a literal snapshot of what many who first wrote about the Voynich actually saw when they came to their conclusions.

Rich SantaColoma, August, 2012.

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.

Proof of Concept

March 9, 2012

A proof of concept is an example of a similar situation to the one you are theorizing, which shows that some element of that theory may be possible. It does not actually prove the theory. It does not really advance the theory itself. What it does is rebut, to varying degree, the opposition or complaint that your theory cannot be possible. To what level it then shows the plausibility of the theory is a matter of conjecture, not really quantifiable, and subject to many factors… some highly subjective. But a proof of concept is still very valuable, as it moves a theory into the realm of possibility. I have a list of various proofs of concept for my optical and New Atlantis theories, which address many complaints about that theory. But I recently came across a new, and very important example, which addresses several of the most common and widespread negatives, as voiced by those who do not think the theory likely, or even, possible.

Here is a list of some of the objections to my theory, which are all addressed by this recent find of mine:

  1. No one would make a book to look hundreds of years older than it was.
  2. Vellum was too expensive to use for all but the most important, and real, reasons.
  3. The skill and time it would take to make a large vellum book would mean it was done only by dedicated scribes.
  4. Blank vellum has always been very rare, and the later past it’s heyday, the rarer.

And then I found the Chittenden book. Ironically, I was not even looking for it, I was looking at another book in the Lucius Chittenden collection in the University of Vermont.

Lucius Eugene Chittenden was born on May 24, 1824, in Williston Vermont. He became a lawyer, a historian, peace advocate, abolitionist, banker, US Treasury official, friend of Abraham Lincoln… and a prolific book collector and lover. He took at least two trips to Europe, no casual feat in the 19th century. I first came across the man’s collection because he happened to own a manuscript which I consider very similar to the Voynich. This “Italian Herbal” (see link), is attributed to the late 15th century, and written in two hands. The general style, coloring, and the habit of writing around the herbal drawings, I find strikingly close to the Voynich. As an interesting aside of the “C14 tail wagging the dog”, this very similar herbal is often sidestepped AS an example in Voynich research, as it is “too late”. But it was this paragraph, in the bio of Mr. Chittenden, that jumped out at me,

 “One of the more fascinating books in the collection is his own translation of Les Singularitez de la France Antarctique by Thevet (Paris, 1558).  “The volume is Chittenden’s work completely except for the fine morocco binding.  Done on 100 leaves of vellum in Chittenden’s distinctive hand printing, with multi-colored initials, full page line drawings in ink, and marginal figures of soldiers, birds, and animals. . . (Buechler, pp. 45).”

And that is the book from which I have excerpted the samples in this post. They do not appear anywhere else on the internet, nor, apparently, are they reproduced in any book. And then, I would like to point out, this example would not be a subject of any study, in any university, and would be unfamiliar to any expert who was consulted on the subject of “books on vellum made to look older than they were”. It is part of what I have been learning is a new discipline, pretty much undocumented, and which stands alone. I only suspected, when I began looking, that such a category of book must exist, although I have been, and still am told, that it would not, and cannot, exist: An illustrated, colored manuscript made as recreation/adaptation of an older work, on vellum, made to look much older than it is.

(shhh! This does not exist.)

So why did Chittenden make this work? I suppose we could easily deduce he loved the original, and wanted to produce his own copy. But he then took the time to translate it into English (it is a wonderful read, by the way, and ought to be published in it’s entirety). But while making this work, he chose to make it on vellum. He did so, I would again presume, to make it look old, like the original. And where did one find 100 sheets of unused vellum, in 1868? My previous research shows that blank vellum must have always been available, and I know it is, even today, so I am not too surprised at this. Perhaps he got it on one of his jaunts to Europe, or maybe he found an old stock in the United States. But there it is, he found it. And likewise, he found time to make it. This was a very busy man, by any standard. So rather than him needing to dedicate years or decades to producing it, he managed to serve Lincoln, the Treasury, his family, write several important histories about the civil war, slavery and politics in general… and, on the side, write and illustrate a 200 page copy of a 300 plus year old book, and on vellum at that.

So what does this mean to my theories? Well it does not of course prove anything directly. But what it does is show that several of the concepts which are necessary to accept the possibility of the theory, were actually used, historically, by others. Of course this one example is from a later time than I suspect the Voynich was created, by 268 years. And we do not know when this vellum was made… although I would love to see a C14 dating of it… and so it does not support my contention that old vellum may have been used for the Voynich. But I have other examples that do that. What is most telling is that Chittenden wanted to make a book look 300 years older than it actually was, while I only suspect about 150 to 200 years for the Voynich.

My other “proofs of concept” have been outlined in other posts on this blog: The Chymical Wedding is a fictional book made in my time frame, and in cipher, and meant to look like an older work; then there are my examples of blank vellum lying around, historically, ready for use, and even, used for centuries (reinforced, again, by this new example); the low cost of vellum, historically; the use of fake books as props and art forms, from the late 16th century, to today… and now I add the Chittenden book, which is a perfect, real example of a book lover finding enough blank vellum to letter and illustrate his own copy of a 300 year old book. No doubt there will be objections… of course I am quite aware of them, myself, in that I realize what this shows and what it does not. But at this point, for anyone to postulate that the Voynich “cannot be” made when and for what reasons I suspect it is, or even, that it is “unlikely” that this is so, really has the burden of proof from their perspective, not mine.

Prospero, who art thou?

November 21, 2011

It is popular to run to the historical visage of the famous physician, astrologer, and scrier, John Dee, as a probable influence whenever the stereotype of the bearded, crystal gazing, and be-robed wizard appears in literature or mythology. Dee has been suggested for Soloman of Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, Prospero of the Tempest, Faust of the Faust legends, and many other similar wizard-like personages over the centuries. And there is no doubt he has been the major influence on the archetype mage/wizard/alchemist/necromancer… but is it always correct to look only to him as the sole source?

John Dee: The (almost) Universal Mage Icon

John Dee has been suggested as an inspiration for the character of Soloman, the leader of the fictional scientific utopia of Bensalem, in The New Atlantis. But Rosalie Colie, in her 1955 article, Cornelis Drebbel and Solomon de Caus: Two Jacobean Models for Salomon’s House (Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 3, May, 1955), bypassed Dee. Instead she suggested that the Soloman of Bacon’s utopia could have been partially inspired by Cornelis Drebbel, the alchemist and inventor, and his contemporary, Solomon De Caus. This may be correct in part, for the reasons she has given. Mostly her argument is based on the inventions and experiments described in Bensalem, and in that she does have a point. But rather than the model for the leader of New Atlantis, I personally think that Drebbel is more likely the model for the character who relates the story, who visits the island with his fellow shipwrecked crewmates. I feel this way for several reasons. First of all, back to reality: Drebbel was invited to Rudolf II’s court to present the Emperor with one of his perpetual motion clocks, which were the rage of Europe at the time. While there, Drebbel became Rudolf’s chief alchemist, and also, purportedly, the manager and creator of the royal fireworks displays. In 1612, after Rudolf’s brother Matthias usurped Rudolf, Drebbel was briefly jailed, and almost executed. It was with a promise of return, in a letter from King James, that Drebbel was allowed to return safely to London… along with, significantly, a bounty of 1,000 ducats.

Cornelis Drebbel: The (sometimes) Mage Icon

Now it would be expected that this near fatal sojourn of Drebbel’s would be familiar to Bacon… and right around the time that Bacon was apparently formulating the concept of New Atlantis. In fact, the two men had rooms at Eltham Palace, Drebbel for his experiments in perpetual motion and hydraulics and artificial cooling; Bacon for… well don’t we wish we knew, exactly? But it is reported he “had rooms” there, and so would have been familiar with Drebbel and his experiments. But we don’t have to guess, as Bacon did write of several of these… that is, the cooling experiments, and underwater boats. And, of course, as Colie points out, many of these inventions appear in The New Atlantis. In any case, there is a parallel between the protagonist/relater of the New Atlantis story and Drebbel. Both men went away and visited a place where science and experiments were funded by the state. And both came back to report on their experiences there, and both received a bounty from the state on their leaving… Drebbel, as I said, 1,000 ducats, and the New Atlantis narrator, 2,000 ducats.

Rudolf II The (never chosen) Mage Icon

But then if not Drebbel or DeCaus, who would Soloman, the leader and founder of Bensalem, be modeled on? I feel he is more probably based on Rudolf II than John Dee, or Drebbel or De Caus. Like Rudolf, Soloman spent the fortunes of the nation on the pursuit of knowledge, and collected and honored those who achieved great things. The author of the work, Francis Bacon, was promoting the idea that the state should fund scientific experiment, for the ultimate good of its citizens. Rudolf, for all his inconsistency and unpredictability, and his very short reign, was trying to do just this… to collect and use all the scientific and artistic knowledge of the world, to solve problems and improve the state of humanity. Well, that and  to make gold from lead, to fund his armies, and so protect his interests  and position.  Drebbel was more an experimenter in such a system, he was not a leader. Rudolf II was more the model and hope for, I think, a new beginning of state-run scientific funding and experimentation, and I believe he is the true model for Bacon’s Soloman.
Also worthy of mention, with some parallel to the concepts of New Atlantis, is the experience of Tycho Brahe. He was given the island of Hven by the Swedish government, so that he could pursue his experiments in astronomy. This was purportedly at a greater cost to the nation, a full 7% of the national budget, than any previous or later funding of a scientific project. So in this story, we have an island, a scientist, and scientific funding… no doubt this was of great interest, and possible influence, to Bacon, in writing of his similar concepts in his Utopia. And interestingly, Brahe was later welcomed into the court of Rudolf II, pet moose and all. So we might suspect a cross influence on the history of Brahe, to the story of The New Atlantis, even if I am correct and Rudolf was the model for Soloman.
As for Faust, I can’t disagree with an attribution, in part, to Dee. There was an actual Dr. Faust, which historians do believe was a partial basis for the character, while assuming that many of Dee’s attributes filled out the fictional character. Faust plied his magic, but did not run a state, he was not a leader. Faust uses his powers for purely selfish ends. In the Marlowe version, Faust summons two magicians, Valdes and Cornelius, whose names are somewhat reminiscent of Basil Valentine, and Cornelius Drebbel. But I do not know if this has ever been an issue with scholars of Marlowe, and so it is idle musing on my part. At least, again, with his books and magic, the character of Faust is certainly reminiscent of John Dee, and not of Rudolf at all.

Faust! Watch out! He does not play fair!

Drebbel is the accepted influence for the alchemist Subtle of Ben Johnson’s “The Alchemist”. And Johnson had some interest in Drebbel’s work, we know, as he mentions his perpetual machine in another play. The Subtle character has his magic, and his books, but he is more of a charlatan than a respected purveyor of the “Arts”. From what I understand of Drebbel’s reputation at times, he may have owned a bit of a similar, negative reputation. But at least in this instance, the wizard of choice is Drebbel, and not John Dee.

Sir John Geilgud as Prospero... with prop book

Finally, the character of Prospero, the magical “Right Duke of Milan”, is usually attributed to John Dee, and sometimes, in part, to Drebbel. And of course it would be hard to argue with Prospero being slightly autobiographical to Shakespeare, as many surmise. But I see other parallels which point again, for me, to Rudolf II. Prospero, like Rudolf, is a leader of his realm, while a Dee or Drebbel were really servants to the crown, merely participants in the society. I wouldn’t insult the memories of either man with a comparison to either Ariel or Caliban. But like those two characters, they served, and did not lead. It is true that Prospero not only gives orders to his magical assistants, but also uses the “dark arts”, himself. But this alone should not label him “Dee”, as the same could be said of Rudolf, who had a great interest in the alchemic arts, and dabbled in his own experiments, and wandered about in a long robe covered with mystical symbols. Rudolf was somewhat “Dee-like” in his own right.
Of greater interest, and possibly the trump card to my Prospero-is-Rudolf argument, is that Prospero was usurped by his brother, just as Rudolf was usurped by his brother, Matthias. Both men were nobles, who were unjustly thrown from power, and both, by their brothers. Of course the real story of Rudolf II ends there, in tragedy, while the story of Prospero begins 12 years earlier, in tragedy, and ends in triumph. But I don’t think that this coincidence should be ignored, especially considering the others I have noted. In addition, the timing of the play fits precisely… it was first performed in 1611, the same year that Rudolf was forced from power. Seen in this light, the play could be seen as a hopeful, fantastic and imaginative dream, in which Rudolf, as Prospero, regains his throne from his brother.
Unfortunately Rudolf died before the next known performance of the Tempest, which was at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Frederick of the Palatine. But this event also points to Rudolf as Prospero, because Frederick was groomed for, and tragically placed in, the very position Rudolf lost… Holy Roman Emperor… only a few years later. In a sense, if Rudolf failed to attain the retribution which Shakespeare may have imagined in the likeness of Prospero, Frederick succeeded… if all too briefly. The Winter King lost his lands, and the title, in the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. But perhaps the running of this play at the wedding had a hopeful political message for the young couple, and for anyone who knew it was performed there, if I am correct.

Frederick V Elector Palatine & Princess Elizabeth: "Starcrossed" does not come close to describing what happened next.

The historical and contemporary concept of the bearded mage certainly has much to owe to John Dee, but it would be unfair to exclude the powerful influences and contributions to the “wizard lore” that Rudolf II and Cornelis Drebbel made, especially when considering the context at which such wizards were written into literature. All our Prosperos were not, and are not, John Dee. Perhaps not even the original Prospero, the Rightful Duke of Milan… or, should that be of Austria-Hungary?

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.


Elements in the Voynich?

February 10, 2010

Of course very little of the content of the voynich can be identified with any certainty… outside of the human forms, some of the dress, a few buildings (not which they are… just that they are buildings), a crossbow… a scale… a ring, perhaps… and at this point we are pretty much lost on the rest. Which of course is why many have long stared at the various other enigmatic animals and objects, and tried to make connections to the real world. But one set of comparisons I see often overlooked… even, rejected… are what I think may be representations of the original elements. That is, Air, Water, Fire and Earth. This would not be so unusual to find in works covering a wide range of subjects, created over a vast possible time frame. I mean, it would or should not be surprising to anyone that they could be in the Voynich, whatever one’s theory about the work.

F77r Elements?

The first interesting grouping is on folio 77r. There is shown a series of pipes with several joints and openings. From four of these openings, there are seen to be several different emissions of some kind. From the first, the emission seems gasous. The substance is drawn as three vaporous trails, dispersing from the tube in various directions. From the second, the emission is possibly meant to be water, as it is blue. At any rate is seems to be more “solid” than the first, as it is dropping straight down, and not dispersing. The center tube shows no emission. The fourth tube has what can be construed as a fiery emission… it is colored red, and has a bit of a “puffiness” in it’s representation, with a (possibly) smokey ring. And then the fifth emission, from the last lower tube, does seem to flow, and it does have a touch of blue. But it then breaks down into particles, or chunks. It is not as obvious a comparison, but may be a representation of the element earth.

F77r Fire?

If this is correct, there are important clues here. There is very little in the Voynich to use in any attempt to compare labels to. The Zodiac is probably the best, but the words… months or zodiac names, are obscured and over-written. The T-O, or Medieval “world maps” which appear in two places in the Voynich, would be the other. As for plants, animals, cylinders, and so on… the identities are so obscure as to offer little help in determining a possible meaning of the accompanying labels. But here we have another case, as I said, often overlooked… in which labels are very close to imagery which can plausibly be identified as air, water, fire and earth. At the least it can serve as a check for decipherment attempts… for if one did think they had begun to translate the Voynich, and came back to these “words” and read the elements, I think it would be cause for celebration. If not, no worries… they may not be the elements at all.

Another good case for possible representations of the elements, in my personal opinion, is found on folio f86r. On this page are four “mounds” of some sort, all pointing to the center of the page. The two mounds on the right are most probably meant to be air and earth. The upper one shows a gaseous emission, with a bird flying in it. The lower shows plants growing, and a bird nesting. These are almost iconic representations of air and earth, in fact. Compare these two birds with the illustrations of two birds from Michaeal Maier’s Atalanta Fuegens, below.

Bird comparison: Maier/Voynich

The noted Alchemy scholar, Adam McLean posted Clay Holden’s  translation the Latin caption “Fit pullus à nido volans, qui iterùm cadit in nidum”, as “A young eaglet attempts to fly out of its own nest & falls into it again”. According to the Maier text, “For in things perfectly mixed are the light Elements, as Fire & Air, & likewise the Heavy, as Earth & Water, which are to be poised and tempered together, that one flies not from the other”, and, “But the neighboring Elements easily suffer themselves to be taken & detained by their Neighbors. Earth & Air are contrary one to the other, & so are Fire & Water, & Yet Fire maintains friendship with Air by heat common to both, & does so with Earth by reason of dryness, & so Air with Water & Water with the Earth”. You see the flying bird in Maier is fire and air, and the sitting bird, water and earth… and he is presupposing they have a tendency to stay together. Although quite a bit later than the carbon-14 dating of the Voynich, the illustrations in the Maier book are both strikingly similar to the Voynich birds. This is interesting, too, when we consider that the Maier birds are representing air (&fire) and earth (&water)… as in the two elements. We even find the mound under the birds:

On the left side of f86r, the upper illustration is reasonably water spewing downward, with a person gesturing near it. The bottom left is not so good at being fire… it does not have the coloring of fire, and can only be loosely interpreted as such. For one thing, why would the man have fire spewing from his hand? The only other interpretation I have seen of this is that the specks are bees, and he is a beekeeper. But given the more fitting interpretation of the two right portions, and the better one of the upper left as water, I think it could possibly be a representation of fire.

Voynich Manuscript f86r

So are these examples of the four Elements? Of course I don’t know. But I think the possibilities are good enough to keep them in mind, along with the zodiac labels, certain better plant identities, and the T/O maps, as a potential “toe in the door” for anyone working on decipherment. H.R. SantaColoma

17th Century Swimming Girdle?

August 1, 2009

One of the thinner comparisons I’ve made is the odd image on f79r to a floating device of some kind. I posted it on my main site, mostly to see how others felt about it. My daughter did not feel there was a hope of a connection… I agree with her to some extent, in that this object could be explained in many other ways. Here is the image:

Voynich Manuscript f79r "floating man"

Voynich Manuscript f79r "floating man"

On my site I point out Francis Bacon’s inclusion of a “swimming girdle” in his New Atlantis:

“We have ships and boats for going under water and brooking of seas, also swimming-girdles and supporters…”

But I had no way to compare this f79r object with what Bacon was thinking of when he wrote the above. So what of the “pegs” seemingly inserted in the device? That it is slightly curved around the back of the man/woman? Are they actually floating, or is he standing there? But the interesting thing is, as long as I have had this posted on my main site… and from my hits counter, it must have been seen by thousands of people… it has not elicited the same positive and negative responses my optical comparisons have. It’s actually gotten no response. I suppose it is because it’s been assumed you can have a swimming girdle in a 1460 herbal or pharma, for instance (and perhaps you can, I do not yet know… but conversely, why one would include one there), but not advanced optics… so whether a bad or good comparison, no one really cares. Well I do, actually, because I see the anomolies of the Voynich as the best potential footholds to it’s secrets.

So I got back to the image recently, and dug around for any references Bacon may have had in mind when he mentioned his swimming girdle. I wanted to know what he was envisioning when he thought of it, and of course, if it could in any way look like the f79r floating man. I found a book by one Daniel Schwenter, who in 1636 wrote Deliciæ Physic-Mathematicæ. In his book he describes many interesting inventions. Among them are the diving bell and fountain pen… but also, a “Schwimmgurtel”, or “swimming girdle”. Here is the illustration:

Early Swimming Aide... the "Girdle"

Early Swimming Aide... the "Girdle"

I would be the first to admit that it is not a great match to the odd device in f79r. For one thing, it is shown “unstrapped”, and would, in use, be wrapped around the person. But at the same time, it struck me that when I speculated on the Voynich illustration as being a swimming girdle, ala Bacon’s, I did not have a reasonable explanation for the two “pegs” standing upright from the device. Of course on the actual swimming girdle, it turns out there are upright parts, and they are filling tubes. The fact that they are there, and have a use on the real device, made me take new notice of the comparison I had made. I would have no explanation for the tubes continuing downward on the Voynich “version”, however, if that is what they are.

Schwenter was only copying a schwimmgurtel which was previously… I don’t know when… described by one “Frantz Rößlern”. A German friend of mine looked at the name as seen in the book:

…and he gave this input:

“I would read “Frantz Rößlern”, or, in a slightly more modern style, “Franz Rößlern” or “Rößlein”. First letter of the last name might indeed be a “K”, though I’d prefer “R”.”

So I don’t know who this is, but I would like to see his original version of his own device. And then, in the title page of Deliciæ Physic-Mathematicæ, Daniel Schwenter graciously confused the issue a bit by showing a swimmer with the same, or similar device:

Having Natatorial Fun 400 Years Ago

Having Natatorial Fun 400 Years Ago

Where it appears they are either simply lying on the device, or perhaps they are using a different device, with two tubes or barrels strapped to either side of a swimmer. Or, conceivably, a long tube… much like a “noodle” used today… wrapped around the person’s stomach, and trailing off either side? I don’t know for sure.

So what we do have, though, is a person floating against, or on, some device, in the Voynich, with one arm hooked around a standing peg or tube. And we find that the type of swimming girdle as would have been known to Bacon, would have been a long, inflated set of bags, with tubes. I do not think it inconceivable that an artist representing such a device to illustrate it, loosely as is the habit of the Voynich artist in any other case, would not do so as shown on f79r. This, especially, if they only saw the image Bacon saw… the Schwenter one… and didn’t realize it was being shown unstrapped, and extended. This is obviously not a slam-dunk case, but it does make me hold the comparison in higher regard than I did before I saw a real swimming girdle.

As one last, interesting exercise… imagine for a moment, the f79r man straddling an actual, 16th or 17th century swimming girdle, one of the type most likely in the mind of the author of the New Atlantis at the time it was written:

Just Messing Around (I think)

Just Messing Around (I think)

Well that certainly is a stretch. Isn’t it? H. Richard SantaColoma

Daniel Schwenter

Daniel Schwenter