Cultural Pollination

In the days before overpopulation and “private property” made it difficult to travel without getting permission or a passport, humans were nomadic. They followed the seasons and, when they had “used up” the resources in a particular spot, they moved to another one, eventually colonizing the whole planet, including places where the snow never melts. As resources dwindled, they changed from colonizers to conquerors, often displacing or assimilating earlier cultures.

From Watering Holes to Warfare

The Mongols have long been known for their great equestrian skills, and for their ability to travel long distances through harsh climates. In the 13th century they were ambitious invaders, making repeated efforts to conquer China, parts of Russia, and even eastern Europe—their campaigns ranged over thousands of miles. In so doing, they came in contact with diverse cultures, sometimes absorbing their ideas, other times influencing or extinguishing them.

Some theorists say the Asian style of dragon that is especially prevalent in China, and to a lesser extent in Persia, was influenced by Mongolian art. I don’t have time to research this, it seems to me that 13th-century Mongolian art has a different look and different themes, and that a phoenix with flowing lines existed in early Japanese art and is found in Uzbekistan mosaic art, so perhaps it was indirect rather than direct influence that brought the extravagant flames and curlicue clouds to Persia in the middle ages. There were surely multiple lines of transmission, Mongol caravans with foreign goods, and new trade routes opened by Mongol incursions, but land-roving nomads were not the only visitors—seafaring traders were constantly moving goods between east and west and ship technology was constantly improving. Whatever the source, the ties with Asia are readily apparent in 13th-century Persian art.

Click to see a larger version.

 

This fabulous textile art, created around the 11th or 12th century in east-central Asia, is thought to have been crafted by the Turkic Uyghur people, and might represent another route of transmission for east-to-west dragon imagery:

Note: Uyghur dragon textile was added a few hours after the blog was published. Note the tail snaking through the legs, a motif often seen in Mediterranean and western European drawings of lions. [Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.]

With reference to the Persian Ilkhanid Period (1256–1353):

“In [book] illustration, new ideas and motifs were introduced into the repertoire of the Muslim artist, including an altered and more Chinese depiction of pictorial space, as well as motifs such as lotuses and peonies, cloud bands, and dragons and phoenixes.” –Suzan Yalman, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

[Cockerel images added April 8, 2017] These examples from a group of Arabic manuscripts that were inspired by Al-Qazwini’s 13th-century bestiary, illustrate interesting differences in style:

Al-Qazwini’s bestiary, created around the mid-13th century, was reproduced in different versions. The top example of a cock from Walters MS 659 (1500s) is a traditional depiction, with no exaggeration in the landscape or details, the bottom one, from Bibliotèque Bordeau MS 1130, clearly shows eastern influence in the curlicue clouds, undulating landscape, and extravagant flame-like tail-feathers. The cock has almost been transformed into a phoenix.

Within the next few centuries, the eastern influence becomes even more apparent…

The British Library holds an illustrated Arabic romance of the adventures of the Persian King Darab, originally composed in the 12th century by Muhammad ibn Hasan Abu Tahir Tarsusi. The library’s copy dates to between c. 1580 to c. 1585, so it’s not as old as the phoenix tiles, but it shows a similar adaptation of eastern style in dragon art.

In this dramatic scene, Bahman and his horse are swallowed whole:

The nose looks like a camel, and it’s clearly a malevolent beast, but the tendrils on the lower jaw, the whiskers, eye-stripe, and mane are in the flamelike undulating style that is common to Chinese dragons.

[I had an example of an Asian-style dragon from western Europe that I found about three months ago but, unfortunately, despite a concerted hunt through my files, I can’t find it. If I do, I will upload it here.]

Summary

This is, in a sense, a follow-up to the post on the jongleurs, where the French illustrator used a different style to express itinerant performers (who may have been of eastern origin), but I also have a personal interest in Asian art and looked up some more specific examples that relate to cultural transmission to see when these particular styles were introduced to the Arabic world. Persia has had political ties with China at least since the 6th century (royalty intermarried), so there may be other examples, but unfortunately I can’t pursue all of them.

The images are interesting in their own right, so I decided to post them for Voynich researchers who may be curious about cultural influences between east and west.

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2017 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

Daisies and Dusters

A quick glance at VMS Plant 10r reminded me of a daisy (family Asteraceae). It has serrated leaves and the characteristic flower whorl that is common for plants in the daisy family. The illustrator has also taken some pains to emphasize the serrated leaves, which gave me some ideas for the identity of the plant… I thought one possibility might be Senecio alpinus (Alpine ragwort) but… many daisies look the same, and the color of flower petals doesn’t help because the VMS is painted with a limited palette and some of the colors might be symbolic.

More importantly, daisies don’t have big red roots that look like yams or water balloons. For a while, I was at a loss to explain the roots.

 

Prior Plant IDs

I had a suspicion VMS 10r might be Dittrichia viscosa, a plant common to the Mediterranean that has medicinal uses as an astringent, and a strong fragrance (that not everyone finds agreeable). But, I don’t think the red objects are meant to be noses, so what else could they be?

I hadn’t previously looked up other IDs for this plant. I wasn’t even sure what Sherwood had chosen, so I looked around while I was composing this blog and found Sherwood’s ID of Cichorium pumilum. I’m very familiar with chicory, it grows wild in this area, and 10r doesn’t look like chicory, so I searched again…

This time I found Ellie Velinska’s description of the plant as mountain cornflower (Centaurea montana). Except for the discrepancy in the leaves, I like this ID, because it more closely matches the characteristics of the plant and Velinska gives a plausible explanation for the roots as a mnemonic for an ocular medicinal use but, I think there might be another possibility…

Deeply serrated Dittrichia viscosa leaves, courtesy of Wikipedia and Rickjpelleg.

I didn’t want to spend a lot of time googling plant IDs, so I stopped looking so I could talk about Dittrichia viscosa, also known as false yellow fleabane. It is also called “aromatic inula” for its strong fragrance and resemblance to Helenium (Inula).

I’ve said many times that I believe the VMS illustrator cared about leaf margins and drew them quite accurately for some of the more naturalistic plants. This is unusual compared to traditional herbals where leaf margins are often sloppy or wildly inaccurate. Dittrichia viscosa has very distinctive leaves that are deeply serrated and the VMS seems to convey this.

D. viscosa flowers are typical for plants in the daisy family, a sunny ray of yellow petals and a rayed whorl after the seed-fluff has blown away. This plant is well-known around the Mediterranean, from Provençe, Spain, and Sicily to the Levant, and has long been the subject of folklore. For example, Wiki notes a Catalan saying, “Els raïms són madurs quan floreixen les olivardes.”, the grapes are ripe when the yellow [false] fleabane blooms. Unfortunately, the roots don’t look like grapes, at least not entirely.

Is there another way to explain the roots? I couldn’t think of a reason why Senecio alpinus would be drawn with red water-balloon roots. And if it’s Dittrichia viscosa and they’re not grapes (or eyeballs as Velinska suggested), what else could they be?

[Addendum: One idea I forgot to include when I posted this blog earlier today is that the big red “balloons” might be breasts—lactating glands. Lactuca plants are widespread Eurasian plants named for the milky white sap that oozes from the stems when you break them and Lactuca is part of the daisy family. However, as tempting as this idea is, I wanted to suggest one further possibility…]

Farther Afield

If the VMS were created after the conquest of the Americas, the roots might represent red potatoes, oca (Oxalis), or prickly pears (Opuntia), those mouse-ear-shaped lumps that form on the top of cactus plants. The Nahuatl called them Nopalli, and while their origin is not completely clear, they are thought to have originated in Mexico. Prickly pears are now grown worldwide, and D. viscosa is used like a duster to clean off the pear-like fruit after it is harvested.

Using false fleabane to clean prickly pears, courtesy of Carmelo Rifici.

But the New World theory is problematic. The VMS probably predates Columbus’s voyage to the Americas. Is it possible that the practice of cleaning prickly-pear fruit with daisy dusters comes from a long-standing Mediterranean tradition of cleaning similar-looking crops native to the Old World?

What about red-skinned shallots, which are smooth and fairly oval and have a little bump on the ends? Or radishes or beets? All of these come from the ground and need the dirt dusted off, and even radishes, which originated in Asia, have been grown in Europe since before Roman times. The toothy leaves of false fleabane are well suited for dusting. If the VMS roots are meant to express a characteristic of the plant, maybe the roots are breasts. On the other hand, if they show the use of the plant, maybe Velinska is right, maybe they are eyeballs, or maybe they are tubers that need a daisy-leaf dust-off before dropping them in the cart for market.

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2017 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

Leaves with Legs?

The leaves of Plant 51r resemble beetles, but could there be any reason to add a beetle to a section devoted to plants?

It was not unusual for medieval manuscripts to include drawings of reptiles and mammals. Snakes were often drawn alongside plants that had “serpentina” in the name, snakelike roots, or which were believed to cure snake bite. Animals with names similar to plants, like camel and Camelina, were often shown next to one another.

Critters are not uncommon in herbal manuscripts and bestiaries, but they are quite scarce in the plant sections of the VMS. The dragon-like creature that appears to be nibbling on Plant 25v is the exception rather than the norm.

Are There Bugs in the Leaves?

When I first saw Plant 51r, the leaves reminded me of stag beetles, industrious little bugs that use their mandibles like a stag uses its horns, to fight off rivals vying for sexual favors. There are three “legs” on each side, a pair of “mandibles” on the outer end, and a decorative line running down the middle.

The VMS leaves are reminiscent of beetles, with the correct number of legs and rounded “mandibles” like the clawlike choppers of the stag beetle. The illustration on the right is from an early 16th-century French manuscript that includes many plants and insects accurately drawn from life. Were the VMS leaves meant to represent bugs, or is it a plant with bug-like leaves?

I’m not aware of any plants that have points coming off the leaves that are quite as exaggerated as f51v, and the unpainted line running across the middle looks less like a plant vein than most of the other plants. I’m also not aware of any plant leaves with this basic shape that have distinctively different end-leaflets. As mentioned in the previous blog, the entire plant strikes me as more stylized than naturalistic, with a somewhat anthropomorphic pose.

Would there be any reason to include beetle leaves (or other insect leaves) in a section about plants? Pliny the Elder, who was the inspiration for many medieval herbal manuscripts, mentions that stag beetles were called “lucanus” after a region of Italy in which they were used as amulets, much as the rounder, less fearsome-looking scarab beetles were used in Egypt. In the middle ages, the horns of stag beetles were said to be medicinal.

Maybe the VMS leaves aren’t beetles, maybe they are visual references to some other kind of bug. Ants were commonly included in medieval bestiaries and you would never guess they were ants if they weren’t labeled:

The ants on the top left are missing a pair of legs, but are otherwise fairly recognizable [British Library Harley MS 3244] and are somewhat similar to the VMS “beetle” leaves. The ants below them, from the 13th century, look more like centipedes or caterpillars. Those on the right are fearsome ants, drawn like dogs and bears, and it’s only because of the text that we know that they are ants [BL Cotton MS Vitellius A XV]. Another example (not shown) depicts ants as lunging hounds on leashes. Naturalism was apparently not as important as getting the concept across.

Sloane 4016, a manuscript familiar to Voynich researchers that has good drawings compared to many of its predecessors, includes an image of a spider on a web that suggests the illustrator had very little knowledge of spiders or their webs. The spider is missing a pair of legs and looks more like an ant than a spider. One might speculate that it’s a reference to a spider-like insect that was used to create red dyes, rather than an actual spider, except that it’s labeled Aranea which specifically refers to orb-weaving spiders.

Decorative Veins

The leaf dots on Plant 51r are out of character with most of the other plant drawings. Many of the VMS leaves are well drawn, accurately recording leaf margins and veins (note that this is my opinion, not everyone agrees), but this one resembles a zipper-like decorative element from a painting or piece of medieval stumpwork. It’s like the pattern on a rubricated initial or a caterpillar’s back.

Beetles have inspired art for thousands of years and often include decorative elements down the middle of the back. Left, antique pin courtesy of Ten Two Three. Right, jewelry by Court Jeweler House of Bolin, est. 1791.

If the leaf were a reference to ants, it would be hard to explain the line. But beetles have wings under a protective cover and when the two sides are slightly spread, a textural difference emerges.

Jewelers often use this anatomical feature as inspiration for adding a row of precious stones down the center of the back. Given that scarabs and other forms of beetles have been used in jewelry for thousands of years, it would not be surprising to see a decorative element added to the back of something based on a beetle.

Possible Plant IDs

What if the resemblance to a stag beetle is unintentional? Can the VMS plant be identified without resorting to mnemonics or stylistic similarities to non-botanical elements? Are there plants with bug-like leaves with exaggerated leaflets?

There are many plants with irregular, lacinated, or ruffled leaf margins, but I’m not aware of any that look like the leaves of f51r if (this is an important “if”) you narrow them down to plants that have flowers with a bulbous section under the petals, as well.

Plants with Pinwheel Flowers and Beetle-Like Leaves

Perhaps the leaves of rocket (Eruca sativa), or one of its relatives, might qualify. Rocket leaves are similar to dandelion, but more deeply indented and with fewer leaflets. The vein down the middle is a little lighter than the rest of the leaf. It has 4-petaled flowers that look like pinwheels with a slightly bulbous attachment to the stem and a narrow tap root.

Rocket, also known as salad mustard or arugula, is widely used as food and was also a medicinal herb in the middle ages. It’s a Eurasian plant common to the Mediterranean that now grows worldwide. If sufficiently stylized, a rocket leaf might resemble 51r, especially if you consider that deer like to walk along and munch off the ends of the leaves, leaving them concave instead of convex.

Groundsel (Senecio) might qualify, but the leaves are longer, with more indentations, and the flowers don’t look like pinwheels. Silene or Saponaria have the right kind of flowers, but the leaves are lanceolate, not at all beetle-like. I glanced at Edith Sherwood’s ID just now, and she has listed sea rocket (Cakile maritima) as a possible ID, but the leaves are quite a bit longer and more narrow than the VMS plant and I think Dame’s rocket (Eruca) is a closer match than Cakile.

What about sound-based mnemonics? There is a plant called beetle daisy, but it doesn’t look like 51r and it’s from S. Africa. Another called beetleweed with rounded leaves grows in the eastern U.S. Trying to search for plants with the names of insects is almost impossible unless you’re willing to sift through millions of insect pictures to find one or two plant names in each language.

Summary

The leaves of Plant 51r may have nothing to do with beetles, but I thought it worth exploring because the morphological resemblance is pretty strong and the more stylized a plant, usually the more likely it is to be associative rather than naturalistic. It isn’t the most exaggerated VMS plant, there are some that are even wilder, but it is pretty animated and that adds to both its mystery and its charm.

 

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2017 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

Things that Make Your Head Spin

Do These Heads Tell Tales?

Some of the Voynich plants have a more naturalistic feel to them, including “viola” and the “water lily”, and some have stylistic differences and less obvious botanical structures that may be mnemonic, or representative of something more than (or something different from) a botanical illustration.

Plant 51v strikes me as more stylized than many of the other plants. The leaves look like beetles, the flowers have alternating colors that remind me of pinwheels (I call them spinnerheads), the roots look like a pair of medieval hose with legs crossed, including the long pointed toes that were all the rage.

Taken as a whole, the composition has a lively dancing feel to it, but I held off writing about it because I didn’t know how to convey this impression in words.

And then I stumbled upon an 11th-century image that conveys the same feeling I get from looking at the VMS plant drawing and it has the added bonus of… alternating flower-like “petals” in the same basic colors as the VMS.

Troubadours and Jongleurs

Medieval peasants and gentry loved entertainment and many of the nobility had live-in musicians, magicians, jugglers, and poets. There were also itinerant storytellers and colorful entertainers who traveled the country in wagons, a tradition that continues today in the modern circus.

This fabulous image is startling in its tropical brightness at a time when natural earth pigments could be quite pale and subdued. The colors fit well with the theme, commemorating those who brighten our day with music and sport. Other folios with musical notation are created in a similar style.

On the left, the musician wears a jaunty two-toned shirt with red collar and cuffs, and plays a double-reed flute (a forerunner to our oboe). Each cheek sports a clown-like spot of red. His fingers are unusually long and gracefully curved, reminiscent of Balinese dancers and elegantly long Buddha fingers. In fact, there’s a gourd named “Buddha’s hand” that looks just like this. The eyes resemble those in Persian paintings that feature almond shapes and long curving eyebrows.To his right is a person of small stature. Dwarves and midgets had limited opportunities for employment in the middle ages, so those with special talents often ended up as entertainers in royal courts. It is said that a gifted poet whose name may be featured on the Bayeau tapestry may have been a dwarf. Like the musician, the juggler has stage-makeup cheeks, very long, eastern-style fingers, and two objects that may be balls or some kind of round object that he is deftly spinning on his fingertips. There is a second folio that repeats this theme and shows the balls high in the air.

Musician and juggle in the Tropaire-Prosaire à l’usage d’Auch, c. 990 to c. 1010, Abbey Saint-Martial de Limoges

It’s tempting to think the manuscript was created by someone from the southern or eastern Mediterranean (or someone influenced by eastern art), but it’s illustrated by the painter of the lectionary of the library of the Abbey of Saint-Martial in Limoges, France, and much of the painter’s work shows Roman influence rather than eastern. The same painter is said to have worked on a large number of manuscripts.

Even the images with Roman themes have very long pointed fingers, mixed with fingers of normal proportions with rounded ends. The large portions of blue pigment in the jongleur images are absent in many of the other drawings, giving these pages a special look and feel.

Summary

I don’t have time to look into the Tropaire-Prosaire à l’usage d’Auch in more depth, but I thought Voynich researchers might enjoy the unique style of the image, and the juggling balls that resemble the VMS flowers. I don’t know if the pattern on the balls is meant to be decorative or to simulate the motion of spinning balls, but it’s one of the few examples of alternating orange and light “petals” that I’ve seen so far.

Getting back to the VMS plant, the shape of the plant very much reminds me of a dancer. Whether this is accidental or intentional, I can’t be sure, but if it is intended to be botanical, perhaps the unusual pose has some stylistic or mnemonic significance to the plant.

 

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2017 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

VMS F1r Column Text, updated chart

On October 24, 2016, I posted a blog about the partly erased vertical alphabet in the right column of folio 1r.  Over the next month, I added o, p, and q and one more sample of handwriting. The text is probably marginalia, it doesn’t appear to match any of the other text in the manuscript, but it may reveal a few things about the manuscript’s provenance if a match can be found.

I’m enclosing the revised chart illustrating similar hands as an addendum to the previous post, which you can read here. You can click on the revised image to see it full-sized:

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2016 & 2017 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

Mayhem, Macaroni-Style

It’s a challenge to read old manuscripts. Language has changed, writing styles were very different, a bewildering array of abbreviations occupies each sentence like a mine field, and there were no spelling checkers (or hard-and-fast rules about spelling) in the 15th century. To complicate matters, scribes often copied manuscripts in languages they didn’t fully understand.

The last page of the VMS reads like a cryptic alphabet soup, but are texts with blended languages that unusual?

Support for Billy Goat Liver?

My gut feeling, even before investigating it, was that blended languages were bound to occur in societies where a second language was an essential tool of commerce and scholarly correspondence. But a sixth sense and real data are two different things, so I kept my eyes open for an unambiguous example and found one, and inside was the most surprising Easter egg, something I never expected…

BSB CGM 8137 is a tract on fishing and has no obvious connection to the VMS, but the recipes use many of the same ingredients as folk medicine, so it reads very much like a medical manuscript. It mentions tormentilla, wine, beer and “pockleber” (goat liver)—that was the surprise! Finding goat liver is not particularly unusual, but finding goat liver in a manuscript that blends languages in such a quirky way made me sit up and take notice…

As far as I’m aware, no one has mentioned CGM 8137 “pockleber” in connection with the VMS, but it’s important because it demonstrates that this ingredient was used in ways other than cooking and might relate to the words written at the top of folio 116v. The spelling is different, but substituting “x” (Greek chi) for hard-h, ch, or ck was not unusual and “p” was often used where modern German uses “b”.

If poxleber and pockleber refer to the same thing, then this manuscript offers evidence to support the interpretation offered by Johannes Albus and anyone else who may have read the text as “goat liver”.

I was happy to find this example for two reasons:

•  it offers evidence that pockleber (both the word and the ingredient) was probably in use in the 15th century, and

•  the script is an excellent example of mixed language. CGM 8137 demonstrates that macaronic text was in practical use.

I’ve long wondered if some of the not-quite German words on f116v that are mixed with readable German might be fractured Latin (mixed in with accepted Latin) and that some of the text on the second line might even be Spanish. Here is an excerpt from fishing recipe #12 to give an idea of how intimately languages could be blended. Note also that the interpretation of “pockleber” as a compund word is unambiguous, as “leber” is mentioned again, by itself, on the fourth line:

Item rec[ipe] mayen et prachmonet pro piscib[us] et cancris ain pockleber et assa bene, pus?post? assacionem sparge desuper pulverem de gaffer. Postea? recipe das kalbs netzlen oder schaff netzlen das da frisch ist, und schlags umb die leber. Postea liga super asserem parvulum ad capiendum pisces et cancros…

The first word, “Item”, was widely used in both German and Latin, and “recipe” is middle French for “medical prescription”. Then there’s an odd combination of month names, the first Latinesque (mayen), the other German (prachmonet) (note that once again, a “p” has been substituted for “b”). Brachmonat is June in German, and calendars illustrating the month’s labors often illustrate June as a farmer tilling his fields. The next four words are Latin, followed by two German words (ain pockleber), and three more in Latin instructing the reader to dry or roast well.

The month names really caught my eye. You would think the writer would choose one language or the other for related concepts in the same sequence, but apparently there was no impulse to organize the languages this way.

The other recipes are interlaced in the same way.

It’s significant that German and Latin are mixed not just line-by-line (as in macaronic verse) or phrase-by-phrase, but sometimes word-by-word.

That’s the important part. If “pox leber” turns out to be German and even if “pfer” at the end turns out to be a German word like “pferd” that doesn’t mean the words in between have to be German. If CLM 8137 is any example, the word “um?n” and some of the German-looking words on the last line could be Latin (or something else).

The Possibilities…

CGM 8137 was created about a century after the VMS, so it’s not an exemplar, but “goat liver” was no doubt a common phrase—goats were an integral part of medieval society—which means that other examples might be found, as additional manuscripts are scanned and read.

This isn’t proof that “pox leber” says goat liver, there may be other interpretations, but it is greatly intriguing, especially considering polyglot manuscripts have been found to exist.

 

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2017 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

Why Clone the Crayfish?

Shellfish Anatomy 101

In a previous blog, I described the unusual placement of the legs on the “crayfish” in the “zodiac” section of the Voynich manuscript. Like traditional zodiacs, the crayfish or lobster occupies a position between images that we associate with Gemini and Leo. In the VMS, these positions include a courting couple and a large feline. In a traditional zodiac, in this order, the crayfish symbolizes Cancer but I’ll refer to it as a “crayfish”, which is a freshwater cousin of the lobster, because we can’t be certain this is a zodiac. Crayfish can be found in other zodiacs, but the VMS differs from them in some unusual, almost eccentric ways.

Dinner for Two?

You have to wonder why the illustrator drew two crayfish, especially when they are surrounded by naked nymphs. Could this be a romantic dinner for the courting couple? Both lobsters and crayfish have been eaten for thousands of years. Even if dinner wasn’t on the illustrator’s mind, the pairing of crayfish in a zodiac setting is unprecedented. It’s long been acknowledged that the naked nymphs are unusual, but the details of the crayfish deserve some points for originality, as well.

It is traditional for Pisces to be drawn with two fish, but why are there two crayfish? One crusty critter is the norm.

The “string” is unusual, as well. In the VMS, the crayfish are joined by a line. This little detail is usually reserved for Pisces. The VMS fish are joined by a traditional line, but the line itself is unusual. It curls outside the fish instead of in-between and, like many other parts of the manuscript, it ends in a star.

It’s not unusual for a line to connect the fish, many images of Pisces have a string or garland connecting them, due to a row of stars that occurs in this position. The extra fins are not unusual either as there are depictions of fish, in zodiacs and bestiaries, that have more fins, but the VMS is unusual in that the line curls outside of the fish rather than between them, as in the examples on the right from BNF Latin 924 and 1176.

So, the VMS crayfish are arranged in a way that is typical for Pisces, not Cancer. Normally only Pisces and Gemini are paired.

I’ve collected almost 500 zodiac cycles created prior to 1560 and have only found one that pairs several of the symbols, and it stops pairing them after Gemini, almost as though someone came along and tapped the illustrator on the shoulder and said, “Uh, no, you don’t have to pair all of them, just Pisces and Gemini.”

Morgan M.511 is an attractive calendar created in Bologna, c.1326. The zodiacs and months’ labors are drawn within circles, with trees in the background and, in an unusual departure from tradition, the first five symbols are paired.

There doesn’t appear to be a direct stylistic connection between the Bologna zodiac and the VMS. Morgan M.511 follows the Greco-Roman style—Cancer isn’t paired, and is depicted as a crab rather than a crayfish, the scorpion is naturalistic, and Sagittarius is a four-legged centaur with a longbow. The circular motif and the trees may be similar, but everything else is different. The VMS symbols include a bull-like animal eating from a basket, a “lizard” Scorpio, and a very uncommon two-legged Sagittarius with a crossbow.

So where do crayfish-style zodiacs originate?

An early example of Cancer the crab was created at the Monastery of Reichenau, in Germany, around 900 C.E. Obviously, the crab as a zodiac symbol was known in central Europe. But Vatican Reg.lat.123, created at the St. Maria Rivipulli monastery in 1056, diverges by using a crayfish rather than a crab. I mentioned this manuscript in previous blogs because it breaks from tradition in a few other ways.

Rivipulli (Ripoll) is not far from the Spanish coast, less than 60 miles, so one might expect a traditional crab, but it is at an elevation of 2300 feet at the confluence of two rivers, where the small monastery community may have been more familiar with freshwater crayfish than saltwater crabs. Before it was overharvested, crayfish was a popular food in Spain and the name for crayfish in Spanish is congrejo de rio “river crab”.

Not long after the Rivipulli manuscript was created, a zodiac cycle was carved into the Basilica of St. Madeleine in Vézelay, in Burgundy, France. The building has been sacked and neglected over the years, but the main tympanum is said to date from the 1100s. I don’t know if any of the stone zodiacs have been replaced, but Cancer is a crayfish or lobster with a curled tail.

Travel and Traditions

Is there a connection between S. Maria Rivipulli and the Burgundian basilica? Maybe. Both were Benedictine monasteries and there appears to have been regular communication among monasteries even in the days when travel was difficult. The Digital Walters collection includes another very early example of a crayfish zodiac from France, said to be from the 12th century. Like the Burgundian crayfish, it has a curled tail (Walters W.734). Similarly, Walters W.26 includes a four-legged crayfish from circa 12th century, from Augsburg, Germany.

One has to be cautious when tracing geographical transmission from scant examples, and similar traditions sometimes emerge independently in different areas, but looking at some of the other zodiac symbols in conjunction with this one, it seems possible that the crayfish “tradition” may have started in Catalonia and spread to France and, from there, to Germany.

The following diagram illustrates crayfish/lobster zodiac symbols that were substituted for crabs and when they appeared. Note that the dates and geographical origins of these manuscripts is often unknown and have been estimated by the repositories holding them. This map is specific to the VMS and does not illustrate all the crayfish zodiacs (I found 165 of them). It includes the ones that most closely resemble the crayfish with the curves on the carapace in the Voynich Manuscript. You can click on the map to see it full-sized and to read additional statistics about examples not illustrated:

So Why Two Crayfish?

Is the paired crayfish somehow related to the paired ram and bull pages, or was the VMS illustrator intending something specific to Cancer? I’m not sure, but I have a couple of ideas…

Each constellation has a naturalistic image, representing the position of the stars, but there is also a shorthand version for textual references. As mentioned in the previous blog, the symbol for Aries is similar to the “red weirdo” on the first page of the VMS. It looks like a ram’s head with two horns.

The traditional zodiac symbol for Cancer is a long-tailed 69, reminiscent of the claws of a crab (or perhaps two crabs in a whirling duet). Could the duplication of the two crayfish in the Voynich manuscript be a reference to the zodiac glyph? Would someone go to the trouble of drawing a second crayfish to mimic a symbol when the identity of the animal is already pretty clear?

That’s one idea but it lacks that special feeling you get when you cast your hook in the water and get a big tug on the line. So, I have another idea… if you look closely at the two crayfish, you’ll notice the green one has the two curved shapes on the carapace, but the red one does not. Was this an oversight, or do the two crustaceans represent different things? Maybe the upper one is a crayfish and the lower one is a lobster and the illustrator wanted to include both fresh- and saltwater species. It’s clear from the plant drawings that someone working on the manuscript had a strong interest in the natural world. But how do you explain the line running between them? Why would a Pisces tradition be applied to the crayfish as well? Is it a way of saying there’s a relationship between fish and crustaceans and between lobsters and crayfish? or is the anomaly somehow related to the text?

Summary

The paired crayfish are puzzling indeed, but it was worthwhile surveying zodiacs to discover that about 1/3 of those created between the 11th and 16th centuries specifically use crayfish instead of crabs and that they cluster in certain geographical regions.

Cancer as a crab from British Library Royal 1.D.X psalter (c.1210).

Even if the pairing remains a mystery, it’s useful to know that zodiacs from England, Switzerland, Italy, and Arabic-speaking regions were almost entirely crabs. Manuscripts from France were a mixture of crabs and crayfish (as were Hebrew manuscripts), but the crayfish/lobster was the crustacean of choice in Germany, comprising 75% of the medieval Cancer symbols surveyed so far.

Looking back at the map for zodiacs with a crossbow, we find that Sagittarius symbols created in the early 15th century also cluster around southern Germany, with one earlier example from Prague. Unfortunately, two is not enough to prove a pattern…

So what about lizard-Scorpio, another unconventional animal-symbol in the VMS menagerie? Is it also primarily from southern Germany? Nope. Nothing is ever easy when trying to understand the VMS. In southern Germany, when Scorpio diverged from tradition, it was usually in the form of a turtle. The dragon Scorpios are mainly from England and the lizard Scorpios from northern France.

How does one explain the geographical discrepancy? Was the VMS illustrator someone who traveled and dropped in on libraries along the way?

It was not unusual for scholars to do undergraduate work in Heidelberg or the southern parts of the Holy Roman Empire (what is now northern Italy) and then travel to Paris or Naples/Salerno for graduate studies, or the other way around.

The Voynich manuscript is very orderly but would be atypical if it were created by monks. It’s not impossible for it to be the work of monks—merchants and sailors sometimes took up the cloth in later years and brought their secular ways with them—but it feels more like a secular document.

I’ve long suspected that the creator was exposed to a variety of sources and didn’t rely on one exemplar or one kind of exemplar. Whoever masterminded it had the discipline to work out the separate parts and stick with a project that may have taken months or years, skills that could have been learned in a scholastic environment. It seems a bit esoteric for a merchant’s reference. Why would a merchant want wheels full of naked nymphs and pages and pages of naked nymphs bathing? Merchants are practical and time-conscious and even though trade secrets were heavily guarded, a medieval merchant probably wouldn’t have any more patience for an encoded reference than today’s businessmen.

I’m more inclined to think the VMS was for personal use of a college professor, an apothecary, or a physician to a royal court. Whether it was for a patron, or created by whoever intended to use it, I really can’t tell. Either way, a lot of work went into it and the eccentric details probably aren’t accidental.

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2017 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

The Origin of the Voynich Glyphs

The Search for the VMS Glyphs

Researchers have speculated for decades about the origins of those funny letters in the Voynich Manuscript.

When I first encountered the VMS, I recognized most of the shapes from medieval scribal traditions, but I couldn’t read the text, so I combed the world’s archives for examples of other alphabets that might have inspired the glyphs, hoping it might yield clues to an underlying language. Along the way, I discovered certain shapes are found in many scripts—loops, circles, snake-shapes, or sticks with a loop or two, seem to naturally occur in diverse regions. Shapes that look like p, s, g, and ell are particularly common.

In the end, after years of pouring over hundreds of languages and dozens of alphabets, I came back to where I started. The Latin alphabet and scribal abbreviation conventions can explain almost all the VMS characters. I already knew this, but sometimes you have to look around to appreciate what you already have.

I’ve mentioned the Latin origins many times, but I’ve noticed there is still a certain skepticism, and I’ve never posted examples of the entire alphabet due to the enormity of the task (I have thousands of examples and severe time constraints). So, I’ve decided to post it in installments rather than trying to fit it all into one very long paper that might never get finished.

Organizing the Glyphs

Most people are not familiar with Latin paleography, so I will try to include as many original samples as possible from medieval manuscripts.

Most of the VMS glyphs fall into four categories:

  • Latin letters,
  • Latin numbers,
  • Latin ligatures (two or more shapes combined for ease of writing), and
  • Latin abbreviations.

Some glyphs can be classified in more than one category. For example, in medieval script, the Greek sigma is sometimes used as a terminal-s in Latin scripts and is sometimes drawn with the last stroke looped so that it resembles a figure-8. This shape is hard to categorize unless one knows by context whether it is a letter or the number 8. Since the VMS lacks context (the text has not been decoded), I have assigned some glyphs to more than one category (e.g., letter and number, or letter and abbreviation). More on this later when I sum up the individual characters.

A number of Latin glyph-shapes are borrowed from Greek. Sometimes they mean the same thing and sometimes the shape has been adapted for other uses, as will be illustrated in today’s blog.

The Big Red Weirdo

I thought I’d start with one of the iconic shapes in folio 1r, sometimes known as the “bird glyph” or the “seagull” or simply as a “big red weirdo”. This shape is used only once.

The big red weirdo somewhat resembles a bird with a vertical squiggle between the “wings”. I usually call it the seagull glyph.

We learn in primary school that letters have more than one version, and are taught to write both upper- and lowercase letters. In most ancient scripts, there was no distinction between upper- and lowercase, but sometimes the beginning of a paragraph or line would be adjusted for aesthetic reasons or to call attention to something of importance by enlarging the letter, using different colors, or by adding lines, curves, or other embellishments.

The seagull glyph without the squiggle can be found in old languages that use the Greek character set (a variation of it can be found in Arabic, but much less often). It is not always drawn with the line underneath, but the line is used in certain writing styles or sometimes to create emphasis, as in these examples. Note the double dots above some of the letters. A Latin squiggle doesn’t have the same meaning as Greek dots, but the dots show a precedence for the position of a squiggle in later Latin documents:

These examples are from leftmost columns of new paragraphs (left) and from header text written for emphasis (right). Just as capital letters sometimes have extra strokes to make them stand out from lower-case letters, the Greek letters, such as ypsilon, sometimes had an extra line on the base to give them emphasis. In Coptic Greek this shape (without the dots) represents the letter Ue and, depending on the handwriting style, sometimes the letter Djandjia.

In Latin, the seagull shape usually represents a V, but sometimes it retains one of the Greek meanings. Note that dots have a variety of meanings in Greek. In some cases they are associated with the character (pronunciation or abbreviation), in others, dots can mean that the copied text diverges from the original, a convention that is also used in Latin.

The Seagull Tradition

Latin was a required language for medieval scholars and many also studied Greek, so it’s not uncommon for Greek conventions to show up in Latin texts. Sometimes they mean the same thing in Greek and Latin, and sometimes a shape is preserved but used for different purposes. In some cases, two conventions are combined, as will be seen when I discuss the squiggle.

You might have noticed that the seagull shape, when written as it is above, resembles the symbol for Aries. The Aries symbol is ubiquitous in Latin texts on astrology and astronomy, but the Greek convention is sometimes also used to mark paragraphs in texts not related to astronomy. You might notice that the “seagull” shape also somewhat resembles an open book, when the line on the bottom is extended. This, in combination with the way it is used in some Greek texts, might have inspired its use as a pilcrow in certain Spanish documents.

In the above examples, the shape that resembles the Greek letter is used to mark passages in a 15th-century Latin manuscript on astrology, and a 16th century New World document by Spanish missionaries. The shape underwent some minor changes, but its use as emphasis or a topic marker was retained.

This manuscript combines Greek and Latin, and the character can be seen both with and without the squiggle. Note that symbols above letters in Greek do not have the same meanings in Latin. Greek pronunciation symbols, for example, were not carried into the Latin writing traditions but the use of symbols as abbreviations was prevalent in both traditions.

In Latin manuscripts, a seagull shape usually represented the letter V or the letter V plus additional letters. If a squiggle was added, it was almost always an abbreviation. The example on the left is from the late 13th or early 14th century. The one on the right, from the 15th or 16th century.

What About the Squiggle?

The VMS character is embellished with a flame-like squiggle that sits vertically between the “wings”. This too is a Latin convention, a very common one. It can be drawn as a straight line, a slightly curved line, or a full s-curve, and it can be horizontal or vertical.

In old Greek, marks above letters are a combination of pronunciation symbols and abbreviations. In Latin, pronunciation symbols are rarely used and the symbols usually represent a number of abbreviations. You can think of them as specialized apostrophes, depending on their shape and position.

In Latin, the squiggle was particularly prevalent in the 13th and 14th centuries and it was usually drawn in the vertical direction to distinguish it from the shape that represents “n” or “m” which is straighter and almost always horizontal, but it didn’t matter whether an s-curve was horizontal or vertical, the meaning was usually the same—it stood for er, re, or ir or these letters combined with additional letters. In the illustration above, the word on the right is “versus”, with the squiggle standing in for “-er-“.

Sometimes if a squiggle had an extra wiggle, it stood for a degree of something or a series, as the “th” that is added to ordinal numbers. In this case, it was usually horizontal, but not always.

I don’t know what the seagull glyph signifies in Voynichese, but whether one considers it to be textual or an embellishment, the shape is not unusual, especially when it appears like this, at the beginning of a block of text.

Summary

It seems abrupt to end a blog on just one character, but it will take at least a dozen blogs to describe the whole alphabet and a dozen more to describe the relationships between them and their positions in the text (and that’s without going into the actual structure or meaning of the text). As will be seen from other characters, including the more exotic ones, whoever designed the glyphs was familiar with classical scripts and used Latin as the primary source of inspiration (or Latin conventions derived from Greek). This is indicated not only by shape, but by the design of the alphabet as a whole, and by position.

I’ll post examples of the other characters, including a discussion of their behavior, in future blogs.

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2017 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

Voynich Glyph Structure

This started as a comment on Nick Pelling’s Cypher Mysteries blog, where he posted some ideas on EVA-s. Unfortunately, my comment became far too long to put on someone else’s blog, and it was in need of pictures to support the text, so I have changed the focus and posted on a related topic instead.

Much attention has been given to daiin (and its relatives). This is a surprisingly frequent combination of glyphs in the VMS that has generated substantial discussion and statistical analysis. Whole papers have been written on what it might represent.

I have a fairly long list of possible interpretations, some of which I’ve posted (and some that I admit I’ve kept to myself), but in this blog I’d like to discuss something more fundamental and focus attention on the shapes that underly it.

Why I Rejected Existing Transcripts

One of the reasons I created my own transcript of the VMS text is because I interpret the shapes differently from the way they have been historically recorded. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I don’t use the EVA alphabet either (it would complicate the process of searching for patterns)—I developed my own.

During this process, I chose -auv instead of -ain to represent the end of daiin. Here are some examples from folio 1r but note that even this has a caveat (there is one additional possibility that I will discuss below). Note the separation between the first two strokes and the “v” shape is more distinct than the first two strokes that resemble a “u”. You can click on the image to better see the gaps and connections:

Note how the gap between the “u” and the “v” shape is more distinct than that between the two stems of the “u”. Note also in the first two examples in the second row, that the “v” shape sometimes follows the “a” shape directly, and is separated in a way similar to “v” when it follows “u”, suggesting that the “u” is a glyph in its own right and is not necessarily an “n” shape as in historic transcriptions.

So, rather than transcribing daiin, I have been recording this pattern visually as dauv/dauw, etc. You might say, “So, what? It’s just a different shape for the same thing,” but it’s not quite as simple as that. Since the bottom right example suggests that even the “u” might sometimes be a single glyph and might at other times be two glyphs (a double-i shape), it opens up possibilities such as aiv/aiw/aiiw/aiuv/aiuw/aiiv, etc., which means there may be more variation in the daiin family than is apparent when using historic transcripts. The frequency counts are potentially all wrong.

You might still argue that the daiin shapes are positionally similar and thus less likely to vary as much as I’m suggesting (or that they might mean the same thing even if they do). That might be true if the spaces are literal, but if they are not, then the potential variations could be important to the interpretation of the text.

And Then There’s the Tail…

Yes, the tail—the upswooped shape on the end of the “v”…

These days, most swooping tails are embellishments added for aesthetic reasons. In early manuscripts, however, the upswooped tail was a convention to show that letters had been dropped from the end of a word.

We still occasionally use this form of abbreviation. For example, the words “with” or “without” are sometimes written with a line over the “w” or a slash between the “w” and “out” (w/out). This is a holdover from scribal conventions that are more than a thousand years old. Similarly, in the middle ages, in Latin, English, French, German, Italian, Czech, Spanish, and other languages, this back-sweeping tail stood for whatever ending was appropriate for that language and could represent one or several missing letters.

In the VMS, it is not known whether glyphs with tails, such as “v”, EVA-r, or EVA-s, represent individual units, multiple units, or whether the motivation for the tails is to make the text look like Latin.

Faster Your Seatbelt, EVA, It’s Going to Get Bumpier

Now hold that thought about tails, because this is where it gets gnarly (as is so typical of the Voynich manuscript)…

In Latin and other European languages, the “v” shape could be a “u” or “v” with a tail or, it could be an “i” with a tail. In other words, it might be “auv-something” or “aui-something” or, in the more ambiguous example on the lower right, it might even be “aiii-something”. If this were conventional text, the reader would know by context how to expand the swoop, or whether it were simply an embellishment.

Which brings us to a further wrinkle… if medieval conventions allow that the VMS “v” with a tail could alternately be an “i” with a tail, there is another aspect of the text that needs to be addressed, one I haven’t seen anyone mention yet…

If the glyph at the end of daiin is an “i” with a tail then EVA-r needs to be re-examined, as well. In terms of glyph design based on some internal system known to the scribes, it’s possible that the “v” is an “i” with a bottom-tail and EVA-r is an “i” with a top-tail. In fact, there are times when EVA-sh is written with a tail attached to the top of the crossbar (similar to EVA-s but without the right-hand part of the character) and sometimes to the bottom. This is more apparent in some hands than others.

Superficially, almost all the VMS glyph shapes can be traced to Latin and Greek (I’m still trying to finish my blog on this, but I’m nose-deep in examples that have to be sorted and inserted), but even if they are, it’s possible the relationships between the shapes are based on certain conventions unique to the VMS.

Some closing thoughts…

It’s true that EVA-d occurs very frequently before ai, but we have to keep in mind that more than a dozen other glyphs can directly precede ai, as well, including EVA-t and EVA-k (EVA-k more than twice as often as EVA-t).

It’s also important to consider one-to-many relationships—EVA-d is sometimes written like a c combined with Latin -is abbreviation, rather than a rounded figure-8. If it’s a ligature, it may stand for two units or something else.

I have more examples of glyphs that may not fit the assumptions made in historic transcripts, but I’ll save them for future blogs.

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2017 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

Scribal Relationships

Today’s blog isn’t directly related to the Voynich manuscript, but may be of interest to paleographers and medieval bibliographers in general.

Connecting the Scribes

While scanning through Vatican Ross.708, I noticed the script was similar to another manuscript I had previously seen. The writing is Gothic cursive which, in itself, is not unusual. This style of script was common in the 15th century throughout northern Europe, Bohemia, Lombardy, parts of northeastern Spain and, to some extent, the area around Naples and Salerno.

In fact, it never ceases to amaze me that a specific style of writing could be so widely distributed in the days before television and public schools began to standardize culture and teachings, especially when travel was so treacherous—turbulent seas and precipitous mountain passes were significant obstacles. If you were fortunate enough to have a horse or mule, there were places you had to dismount because the trail was too narrow for both horse and rider or, if the path wound along mountain cliffs, there was a real possibility the animal would slip and plummet, and it was better not to be astride when that happened.

This book has been sewn into a swaddling girdle to protect the manuscript on journeys. The knot could be used to tie it to belt or saddle. [Image courtesy of the Yale Beinecke Library.]

Considering the distances, and the difficulties of finding food and shelter on journeys of hundreds or thousands of miles, it’s incredible that writing styles could be so similar… and yet they were. I don’t know if anyone has given an adequate explanation for this phenomenon, but it’s evident that scribes moved around and that manuscripts were carried for great distances. Book boxes, satchels, and girdles (like the one on the right) were designed to protect books while en route.

The Romans brought coins and a new culture to England in the early years and, by the eleventh century, partly due to the Crusades, manuscripts from major trading posts in the Mediterranean were showing up fairly regularly in England, a round trip of about seven thousand miles.

Handwriting as a Research Tool

A rare self-portrait of Rufilis, the rubricator and his paints, from Bodmer Ms 127.

Handwriting is an important tool for identification. Along with other clues, it can help date a manuscript, and sometimes even pinpoint a specific origin or author. For the most part, the names of medieval scribes have been lost, although there was a greater tendency to name and date them in the middle east than in Europe. This is partly because many European manuscripts were created in monasteries and humility was considered a virtue (although some monks couldn’t resist the urge to encode their names within the text or their images within the illuminations). In other cases, even if the name was known, the person who penned it may have been lost to the annals of history due to an untimely death from war, disease, or famine. In times of war, sometimes entire villages were burned, including the records.

I mentioned in a previous blog on VMS folio 1r, that the handwriting of John Dee and Isabella d’Este show surprising similarities, considering one was educated near London and the other in Ferrara several decades earlier. You can see samples here. This is strong evidence that handwriting can be similar even if it originates in different areas at different times. It doesn’t happen often, however. After searching thousands of manuscripts, I have collected a very large number of samples, and rarely see temporally separated hands that are this similar. Because there are general patterns of change over time, handwriting can help us learn about a manuscript even if we are not completely sure of its origin.

Looking for Commonalities

To determine a common origin (or a common scribe who worked at different locations), one has to study the ink and pigments, the writing medium (parchment or paper), the angle of the writing, the angle of the pen, the slant, and the spacing between letters and lines. Even details, such as the way the pages are trimmed or bound, the worm holes, the stains, and the stitching, can provide clues.

If two different manuscripts show significant similarity, but end up in different repositories, the handwriting can help determine if they were written by the same scribe or the same scribal tradition. The origins of many manuscripts are not known and the community at large might be able to help with some of the unanswered questions now that e-facsimiles are becoming available.

The Doppelganger to Vatican Ross.708

The manuscript whose handwriting closely resembles Vatican Ross.708 (recently uploaded from microfilm to DigiVatLib in Italy), is Codex Sang. 726, which is on the Stiftsbibliothek site in St. Gallen, Switzerland. The distance between Rome and Switzerland on modern roads is almost 600 miles—a three-month journey in medieval times, much of it through steep mountain passes.

The handwriting is not a perfect match, but many of the letter forms, and even whole words, are almost indistinguishable, and the slant and line spacing are a good match as well (something that often differs dramatically even if the letter-forms are similar).

Here are some samples (click to see it full-sized). The brown ink is Codex Sang. 726 (“Scribe 1”), the black photostat is Ross.708.

Gothic cursive text samples from Codex sang. 726 and Ross.708

Samples for comparison between Codex Sang. 726 in Switzerland, and Vatican Ross.708 in Rome.

The main differences are

  • the “g” (Scribe 1 characteristically loops the tail up, Scribe 2 points it down to the left),
  • the “u” (Scribe 1 writes it with an undercurl, Scribe 2 with an overloop),
  • the “w” (Scribe 1 writes it like two v-shapes joined, while Scribe 2 tightens up the first “v”), and
  • a tendency on the part of Scribe 2 to sometimes not completely close the loop on the “e” or connect the stem on the “r”.

After collecting hundreds of samples of Gothic cursive, I’ve noticed it’s rare to find two scripts that are this similar unless they are by the same hand. Maybe they learned from the same tutor. Maybe they were blood relatives (sons often learned to write from their fathers).

Both manuscripts are in Middle German. Vatican Ross.708 (digitized from microfilm) is a popular story of travels attributed to John Mandeville and Codex Sang. 726 is about Schwabian history and law, so they are quite different in subject matter.

I can’t tell if Ross.708 was written on paper or parchment, but there are some vague horizontal striations in the muddy section about an inch in from the right on the bottom of page 2 that might suggest paper but it’s not clear enough to be sure. Note the Ex Libris mark on the same page for Bibliotheca Rossiana indicating that it probably originated from the de Rossi collection before it passed into the hands of the Society of Jesuits and the Vatican.

Sang. 726 is believed to be from S.W. Germany. It is listed as a late 14th or early 15th century document but I suspect it’s 15th century, probably closer to mid-15th century. It doesn’t use a single-loop “d” or double-story “a” as was more common in the 14th century, and it was written on paper rather than parchment, which also suggests 15th rather than 14th century (laminated paper was available around the eastern Mediterranean in earlier times, but laid and the later calendered papers, as were typically used in Central Europe, came later). Paper was available in France and Germany in the early-to-mid 14th century, but did not come into common use for manuscripts of this kind until about a century later.

Summary

So does any of this relate to the Voynich manuscript? Well, yes. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, most of the writing on the last page of the VMS is Gothic cursive script, which adds another piece of evidence to the estimated 15th-century origin of the manuscript and which relates to some of the research I’ve been doing on the text (to be posted later).

Also, Ross.708 (which was brought to our attention on the Voynich forum by René Zandbergen), includes a number of alphabets that might be of interest to Voynich researchers.

Whether these Mandevillian alphabets are actual or mythical is debatable, since Mandeville’s supposed travels have never been substantiated, and they scarcely resemble real eastern alphabets (note that each Mandeville story is accompanied by different illustrations), but they have some interesting shapes, some of which can be traced to other traditions, and might provide some food for thought.

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2017 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved