Posts Tagged ‘codex’

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

Bird Glyphs, Aztecs, Aries, Hakluyt et al.

September 12, 2010

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

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

Voynich f1r "bird" glyphs, or "weirdos"

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

Codex Mendoza "bird glyphs", as Paragraph Headers

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

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

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

Codex Aubin "Bird Glyphs"

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

Codex Cardona "Bird Glyph"

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

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

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

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

Prop, Hoax, Tribute or Art?

August 14, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

[Gives book.]

The play continues:

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

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

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

and later:

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

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

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

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

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

SUR. How!

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

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

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

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

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

Sir John Geilgud as Prospero... with prop book

Sir John Geilgud as Prospero… with prop book

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

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

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

Michael Hordern as Propero… with a prop book again

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

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

Faux Necronomicon Prop Book

Faux Necronomicon Prop Book

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

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

Derek the Bard's Faux Grimoire

Derek the Bard’s Faux Grimoire

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

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

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

Faux book, "Beedle the Bard"

Faux book, “Beedle the Bard”

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

Books by Tim from Cali

Books by Tim from Cali

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

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

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

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

Codex Seraphinianus: Our Modern Voynich Manuscript?

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

Star Trek: Enterprise, Alien Book

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