Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Voynich Last Page Text                         31 July 2013


In a previous post, I compared the writing style on the final page of the Voynich Manuscript to other writers living in the early 15th century, but what about the “words” themselves. The letter groups that look almost, but not quite German?

Is it possible to examine them both individually and together and make any sense of them?

There has been quite a bit of discussion, for example, that the first “word” after the plus sign is michiton or mchiton or anchiton. Before discussing this word, I’d like to back up a little, since the text at the very top is often overlooked.

The Word Groups in Detail

If you assume the last page text of the Voynich Manuscript was written left to right and top to bottom, then the first “word” on the page is something like “poxleben”. The third character looks like a closed-loop “x” where ink filled in the loop. The letter “x” was sometimes written this way in 14th century French documents and there are similar “x” shapes lower down in the VM.

The “e” shapes are written in fairly common Gothic script for the time, with a tiny nick on the top-right curve rather than a distinct crossbar. The “c” is slightly more curved. The difference is subtle, but if you look at many old manuscripts, you learn to distinguish them. In 15th century English documents with scripts similar to this, the crossbar on the “e” was usually written with more emphasis, so the style leans toward Bohemia which, at the time, included part of northern Italy (later, as the glass industry went into full swing, there was significant cross-pollination of skills between the Slavic/German/Czech and Italian glassblowers).


In German, “leben” is life—”to live” “to exist” and “leber” is liver. In Basque, “leben” means “idea”.

The “pox” is puzzling. In English, pox is a spot-creating disease or a curse, but it’s not a typical German word. Pox in German is pocken (as in a disease that creates spots that leave pock marks). In some regions, the word pox more specifically referred to syphilis. Together “poxleben” might mean something entirely different than the two separately “pox leben/leber”, or this page might be another example of cipher.

AldrovandiSatyrIn a philosophy thesis submitted to the University of Wisconsin in 1902, Charles H. Handschin references the phrase from a poet, “Ey, schendt sie pox leber und lung” and equates “pox” to “bock(s)” (buck/male animal/Billygoat) which, in turn, he equates to “teufel” (devil). It brings to mind the image of a man-goat (satyr).

Handschin’s interpretation of a 16th century phrase might shed light on the meaning of pox leber, or it might be a stretch to assume similar meanings. Perhaps the VM is not “pox leber” at all, but “pox, leber, und lung” as in pox, liver, and lung but with minimal punctuation as is common to quickly written notes and many older manuscripts.

Perhaps the rest of the text will yield more clues.

After poxleben/pox leben/pox leber?, the next two letter groupings, which are near the darker top edge, are difficult to discern.


The first letter might be a “u”. The letter “u” was often written like a “v” and, in many manuscripts, could be difficult to distinguish without context. What follows resembles “men” or “mon” (blumen is “flowers” in German, could “umen” be trees?). Perhaps it’s “um an” (two words).

The next word might start with a “u”, “v”, or perhaps a “p”. You would need a microscope to see if the descender is a mark in the parchment or ink. The next letter resembles a vowel, but is hard to read. Then there is a reasonably distinct “t” followed by what looks like “i” and “r” (or a disconnected “p”) and then what appears to be an “f” (unlike “s”, it has a crossbar) and then “e” and something very difficult to discern but probably an “r”. It’s a difficult one that looks like putirfe? or putpfer. In German, p is sometimes followed by “f” (as in pferd, horse). If the last letter is a “v” shape with a disconnected continuation of the bottom, the “feu” (French for fire/flame) is also possible.

Perhaps the reason there has been so little discussion about this line of text is because it’s not clear enough to decipher, but it still offers clues in that the letter groupings resemble the way syllables are combined in European languages.

Then there is a gap and a grouping of three lines that appear to be associated with each other both by proximity and by the cross shapes that appear between word-shapes. This is where we have the famous “michiton” which I’m pretty sure is “anchiton” based on comparing the zodiac labels and Second Script text on the final page.


poxleben/pox leben/pox leber  umen/um an u?tirfeu?/p?tpfeu/putifer/nuti?fer/putrifer

+ anchiton + oladabad/ola?abad/oladabas + miltod/miltos + re + toe? ceue/teue + portad/portas + n? +

six + marix/inarix + mocix/morix + vix + ahia/aka + ma + ma/uia/ria +

VMarorttccg valden/ualden/valsen ubren  so nim gasmich/gas mich FinalPageRock



The word-group after the first plus sign is unlikely to be michiton. If you use all the loops usually needed for an “m” then there’s no stroke for an “i” and there’s no dot over the last stroke. I think more likely it’s anchiton, with a slightly crooked “a”. It’s not likely to be nichiton either. See the chart of letter shapes below to understand my reasoning for leaning toward anchiton.

The “six” line is even more enigmatic than the previous. Lots of “-ix” and “-a” endings.

The word six means the same thing in French and English (the number 6). Note that four words in a row, at the start of the middle line, end in “x”. There are a number of Latin words that end this way, including vix, as does pyx in Czech. Note also that the next three words all end in “a”. It’s almost like an incantation, especially when preceded by something like anchiton oladabad/oladabas which has the same feel as abracadabra. Could these fragments be suffixes or prefixes, words that have been collapsed, or parts of a code with no direct relation to words in any language?

Note the “ix” ending on the first four groups and the “a” on the last three.

-ix + –ix + –ix + -ix + –a + -a + –a

Preceding “ix” it appears there are 1, 3, 3, 1 letters. Preceding “a” are 2, 1, 2 letters. It’s not enough context to discern a pattern, but it doesn’t appear to be natural language. It seems systematic, formulaic.

Normally I would consider the word group after vix to be ahia (especially since there is a mark that could be a tick over the “i”), but I’ve noticed the occasional manuscript in which a k is rendered like an h with no tail, with an extra “loop” added on the right, so there’s a small possibility this could be a “k”, especially since the tick is very faint and might coincidentally be a mark on the parchment. I’m leaning toward it being ahia, but it’s probably wise to consider both possibililties.

The third line begins with two VM text word-groups, followed by additional Second Script.

VMarorttccg valsen/valden ubren so nim gas mich

The word mich (or possibly mith) is followed by a characteristic VM drawing of something resembling a plummeting stone. Thus, we have VM drawings and text on the left, and a VM-style mini-drawing on the right, with Second Script worked in around and between the two VM word-groups as though they were written in the same ink at the same time. Note how the quill pen has been dipped just before aror and fades on the next word, then has been dipped again before valden and fades on the next word.

The “a” shape is quite different in the two scripts, but perhaps the VM “a” isn’t based on “a”. Perhaps it’s just a VM shape that looks to us like an a-shape, something like a small pot with a straight lid, tilted to one side, if you want to be imaginative. It’s already been mentioned in one of my previous posts that the Cato front-leaf writer compressed rather angular text to a smoothly curving symbol, so we can’t 100% assume a cipher text will contain the same pen characteristics as the coder’s regular handwriting. It’s possible the Second Script writer might have copied VM text, but the VM text is so dead-on similar to the rest of the manuscript, it’s hard to believe it was written by anyone but the VM author.




The enigmatic integration of the Vm text with the rest of the text suggests the possibility that the Second Script writer and the VM author are the same person despite the different styles of handwriting.

The ink on this page is quite consistent, in contrast to the Second Script labels on the zodiac wheels, which are typically darker than the surrounding text. Are there one, two or three writers? Or was this page written in a different point in time than the labels on the zodiac symbols?

When the ink from this page was tested, some ink from the VM words at the beginning of the line should have been sampled to see whether they differ from the Second Script text.

An analysis of the individual letter forms will help determine whether there are two or three writers notating the Voynich Manuscript. I’ve written about the zodiac labels in a previous post and created a chart of the months, most of which are written in French. This chart is based on previously deciphering those letters, but it’s harder to make out the letters on the final page because the words themselves are not in a recognizable language. The “d” shape in the chart below might not be a “d” at all (it could be “s” or something else), but it’s similar to how a “d” was written at the time, so I’ve listed it in the “d” row for convenience.


Some letters are very similar, like the “p” and the “t”, but it quickly becomes apparent that whoever labeled the zodiacs is probably not the same writer who penned the cryptic text on the last page. Not only are the letter shapes different (especially the b, e, i, and m), but the stroke order differs, as well. You can’t see this difference from looking at only one letter, but when you compare several, it becomes more apparent, as in the way the “a” is written.


While there is still a possibility that the final page scribe and whoever labeled the zodiacs are the same person, the handwriting suggests they probably are different people living in somewhat the same time period. Since I’m reasonably sure they are not the same, I’ll be referring to the final page writing as Second Script, and the zodiac labels as Third Script, to distinguish them from the main VM text.

Note also the “i”-shape in vix. It looks like a more assertive, backward leaning character more similar to VM text than Second Script. Was this an unconscious slip or was it already on the page? The “o” in mocix also looks a little more VM than Second Script.


Final Page Voynich Drawings

There hasn’t been much discussion about the drawings on the last page. The focus has been on viewing the cryptic text as a possible decipherment key and the images have been largely overlooked.

In the top left corner is an erect phallic shape that extends almost off the top of the page. It might be symbolic, it might be a body organ, or something unclear. Upon first seeing it, I couldn’t help thinking of the Phallus Impudicus (Satyr’s mushroom) illustrated by Ulisse Aldrovandi (16th century). To the left of what resembles testicles is a short letter grouping that looks like las/fas or lad/fad. Unfortunately, it crosses a fold and is indistinct. Underneath it, a sheep or goat or some other fuzzy animal with cloven hooves, drawn in the same style as the zodiac animals, meanders to the left. Under it is a typical VM naked woman in a headdress who might be recently pregnant or post-partum. She appears to be sitting or sliding downward. To the right of the sheep are the two VM-style word groups and, at the end of the Second Script text, is the “plummeting rock”.

FinalPageDrawings      LastVMtext                      FinalPageRock

Was this page originally intended to be an additional page to the main text that was never completed or a rough draft for something that was later expressed in a different way? Why are the figures so close to the edge of the parchment? Do the drawings have anything to do with the two VM words?

And why is the page narrower than others? Was this piece of parchment cut along the left to remove something? Might there have been a column of letters as has been wiped out from the first page? Has it also been trimmed at the top, where the words are so close to the edge?

There are many possibilities. The same person may have penned both the Second Script and VM text. The Second Script, which resembles the ciphering example in Der Neusohler Cato, may have existed before the VM writer or illustrator added to this page, or the Second Script may have been added after the VM illustrator included the drawings.

J.K. Petersen


Addendum: I was planning to upload more of my notes about the actual content of the enigmatic script, but I simply don’t have time and it would have made this blog entry too long. Much has been written about the last page of the Voynich possibly being a decoding “key” but having looked at it for a while, I doubt this. It’s my belief that the coded word on the front fly of the Der Neusohler Cato and the last page of the Voynich are charms (in the case of the Voynich, possibly a healing charm). Look at the formulaic structure of the words (especially the ones in the middle) and the plus signs. This is typical of medieval charms in northern Europe. I have many details, examples of similar charms (e.g., the margin of a Sloane manuscript), and images, but I simply can’t spare time to locate the parts spread all over my hard drive and assemble it into a blog. As mentioned in other notes, I work ridiculously long hours, trying to cope in a new global economy, but I will do it as soon as I can find time.

© Copyright 2013 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

More on Second Script Style                   ;30 July 2013


In a previous blog, I noted the similarity in writing styles between the handwriting on the last page of the Voynich Manuscript and the script from a mid-15th century German compendium of literature. While there are many commonalities, probably too many to be a coincidence, there are also a few differences.

Nevertheless, the similarities are significant and the origin of many old manuscripts can be traced by the writing styles. Students of writing are often taught to render the alphabet in a specific way, sometimes even down to the specific stroke order and direction (as in Asian scripts) and, while most will individualize their writing over time, many retain the basic shapes and way of connecting them into adulthood. Thus, one can sometimes see familial relationships in handwriting, especially in the days when parents taught their children to write or hired tutors to come to their home.

Each time I look at the Voynich Manuscript, the style of writing, the way the pages are arranged, the details in the drawings, particularly in the “Map” section and the topography and way in which the map was drawn (including the swallowtail merlins, the “pipes”, the bridges, and the escarpments), I think of four regions: Northern Italy/Southern Switzerland where the borders were fluid at the time, France, Bohemia, and, at times, Naples.

Then I put those thoughts aside and try to understand the information in the VM with no preconceptions about where it may have been written or by whom.

When I started charting the handwriting style on the last page, to try to glean some information about the writer and possibly, with luck, the writer’s identity, I came across something that brought me back to thoughts of the VM’s travels before it came into Rudolf II’s court, and discovered an intriguing piece of information that links 15th century France with Bohemia.

The Second Script Style

As mentioned in previous blogs, “Second Script” is my terminology for the handwriting that may be a different writer from the main VM text. It includes most of the writing on the last page (after some analysis, I decided to call the labels on the zodiacs “Third Script”), and possibly the column of substitution-code letters on the right side of the first page.

As previously discussed and illustrated, VM Second Script closely resembles the script in Der Neusohler Cato. So I asked myself, could I find other examples of similar writing and pinpoint the time period and location where this style of script may have been taught?

In searching old manuscripts, I discovered some notes by an academic with an interest in documenting the Glagolitic language. This excited me for two reasons: 1) the scholar uses a similar style of script to Der Neusohler Cato, but at an earlier time period (indicating a different writer) and 2) of all the languages I’ve looked at, the quirky way in which the VM author used looped shapes seems more in the spirit of cursive Glagolitic than most other languages.

Another thing that struck me about the Voynich Manuscript is the double-c shape that crosses over the stems of some of the other shapes, in the manner of ligatures. Glagolitic is known for its large number of ligatures. The VM isn’t necessarily based on Glagolitic (although the possibility is there), but the encipherment might be based, in part, upon a familiarity with Glagolitic and may have influenced the VM author’s choices.

LoopedShape1   LoopedShape2   LoopedShape3

Details of the Writing Style

The writer who documented Glagolitic is said to be a Slav who lived in the second half of the 14th century, who was at the Sorbonne, in Paris, in the late 14th century. Banská Bystrica, where the Cato originated, is currently in the heart of Slovakia.

Here is an example of his handwriting (below right) next to the VM Second Script.

VMGalmich   GeorgesGreben

Note the “g”, the angular loop, the tail on the last letter and the general spacing and proportions. Also notice the connecting tail on the top of the “g” and the curved right stem on the “g”.

There are some commonalities in general letter shapes with examples of 15th century Bastarda Book Hand from England, but Bastarda is a little more formal and angular and the examples available on the Web don’t match these examples as closely as they match each other.

In the following fragments from the Slavic writer and the last page VM, note the angular loops on the “b” and “l”, the tail on the “h”, and the way in which the “a” is somewhat disconnected from its stem.

SlavonicBLA     SlavonicSelosa          VMbla   VMfi

SalvonicAph     SlavonicACH             VMach

Notice also that the Slavic writer (below left) used the same long flat-looped “d” as the Cato writer used in the earlier parts of the manuscript (below middle) and a “g” and “n” similar to last page VM Second Script (below right).

SlavonicDI    Slavonicum          CatoDIG              VMg     VMren

The three hands don’t perfectly match when taking the alphabet as a whole—but there are significant similarities. It’s unfortunate there is no letter “y” on the last page of the VM but it’s possible to compare the Slav’s “y” with the author of the Cato’s “y” (below left) and the Slav’s “looped-x” shape with the VM “looped-x” (below right).

Salvonicy   SScriptY2                                SlavX   VMX

The odds of the Slavic writer being the Second Script author, or even the Cato author, are slim (although it might be wise to keep the idea open in case the carbon dating on the VM is off by five or ten years). He was probably a generation earlier, but could the mystery scribes nevertheless be linked in some way? Could the Slav have given the Second Script writer and the Cato writer handwriting lessons? Might all three of them have studied at the same school or learned from the same tutor? Or could they be related by blood?

Even if there is no familial or household relationship between them, it’s likely they came from the same region, given the similarities in the script, which means it’s possible that the Second Script writer was Croatian or Slovenian, or perhaps a German or English immigrant raised within the Slavic culture.

There’s also a possibility that the VM came into the hands of the Slavic professor very late in his life. Eventually the VM made its way to Rome and the United States, so it’s not impossible that it began somewhere in northern Italy, Croatia, or Slovenia, for example, and made its way to Paris.


J.K. Petersen



Banská Bystrica, the Origin of Der Neusohler Cato


CatoScriptDer Neusohler Cato, a compendium of literature created in the 15th century, includes script that is  similar to some of the handwriting on the last page of the Voynich Manuscript, as well as an example of symbolic encipherment.

A few examples have been described in a previous blog post titled Medieval Mindsets. In it, I showed an example of a torn fragment at the beginning of Der Neusohler Cato that illustrates the progression of a word into a symbol (a form of encipherment) and how the main text of the Cato has strong similarities to the text on the last page of the Voynich Manuscript.

The similarity brings up many questions, one of which is, “Where was Der Neusohler Cato created?” If the handwriting is similar to the hand at the end of the VM, could the writer who notated the VM be from the same area, the same family, or have learned handwriting from the same teacher as the writer of the Cato manuscript?

Banská Bystrica

The Cato manuscript originated in Banská Bystrica, a historical mining town. It is a region of Bohemia with mountains, caves, and many spas. Many different ethnic groups have occupied the area over the centuries. It was granted township by King Béla IV in the mid-13th century when it was primarily a Slavic community but its mining history dates back thousands of years. Schools were established around the same time the township was recognized.

A significant number of German settlers immigrated to Banská Bystrica to seek jobs in the mining industry. Neusohl (Neu Sohl) is the German name for the town.

Der Neusohler Cato is handwritten in German script. Political borders around Banská Bystrica have changed many times, it was once part of Hungary, but it is currently in central Slovakia.



I’ve often wondered if the Voynich author lived in, or perhaps travelled to, a region of mountains and caves, based on the lofty escarpments in the “Map Section” and the abundance of bathing belles and grottos in the Voynich Manuscript.

Banská Bystrica, if it is in any way connected to the Voynich Manuscript, certainly fits the bill. It is a treasure trove of caves, many as yet undiscovered, within which are breathtaking grottos, stalactites, green underground pools, and water reservoirs historically used by castle inhabitants. There are currently many spas in the region.

Also, as might be expected in or around a mining town, there are ornate metalworks dating back to before the 16th century—items that might have inspired the tall ornate vessels in the “Kitchen Section” (called by some the “Pharmaceutical Section”).

We do not know the exact origin of the Voynich Manuscript. The best guess so far is that it came into the hands of Emperor Rudolph II and made its way, through other sets of hands, to the Villa Mondragone, near Rome, where it was purchased by Wilfred Voynich.

Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II was king of the Bohemian regions in the late 1500s, in the same general area as Banská Bystrica. Rudolph was an avid patron of the arts and kept an extensive library. His castle in Prague was less than 400 miles from Banská Bystrica. It seems possible that the person who wrote on the last page of the VM and the scribe who wrote out the literature in Der Neusohler Cato could be related either by blood, by cultural background, or by political connections.

[Der Neusohler Cato is in the repository Moravská zemská knihovna v Brně.]

J.K. Petersen




Medieval Mindsets and Identifying Second Script


One of the most important steps in decoding a document that has defied decypherment for hundreds of years is to learn about the culture and times surrounding the creation of the manuscript.

What was important to people, how did they acquire materials, how did they become literate and who had the knowledge and means to create VM 408?

As mentioned in my post on the Voynich Zodiac Wheels, the Third Script writer (the person who wrote labels on the zodiac wheels and may have authored the cryptic text on the final page (although I prefer to refer to this as Second Script), and possibly added the substitution code columns on the righthand side of the first page) used abbreviations to label the zodiac symbols that are characteristic of those used by miniscule scribes, lines above the lowercase letters to represent missing letters.

So I asked myself, what other ways did authors have of encoding text, and searched through thousands of code systems used by royal families and others who wanted to keep information secret in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. This, of course, would fill books and books and has been studied at great length by cryptographers and I don’t plan to repeat it all here, but I did want to bring to light an interesting fragment that has not been mentioned yet (to my knowledge) in connection with the Voynich Manuscript.

Added Manuscript Text of Particular Interest

At the beginning and end of books, there are often blank pages, with text added by the author or someone presenting the book (e.g., a gift inscription). Often the text is written by hands other than the original author. Old bibles kept in families for generations often list the births, marriages, and deaths of many generations, and many old manuscripts have library catalog information or notes on the outer leaves, as well.

There is a written fragment on a badly torn front leaf of a long manuscript of more than 500 pages called Der Neusohler Cato. The Cato dates from the mid-1500s and the text on a front leaf shows, step by step, how the text on the left was shortened to eventually create the symbol on the right.


Here is the process. After you look at it, I also have some comments about the handwriting itself.

MoravskaCodeBreakdownThe writer started with a word,

shortened it by leaving off the last two letters,

shortened it again by dropping another letter,

rewrote the “a” as a Greek alpha shape and dropped another letter,

dropped another letter and is progressively curving the “b”,

and another, and, finally…

found a way to express the idea as a symbol that was relatively easy to write. In a document, this might look to the reader like an X with a beginning loop (or something of that nature) when in fact, it represents an entire word.

Could this fragment have any relevance to the Voynich Manuscript? Let’s look at the script on the VM final page. The last-page script has many commonalities with the labels next to the zodiac symbols and also with the writing that comprises the majority of the Der Neusohler Cato.


Note the crosses in front of each step of the Der Neusohler Cato and the crosses between each of the letter groupings in the VM. Notice also the angularity of the loops on the letters “b” and “l” in the Der Neusohler Cato, even though the writer uses curves on many of the other letters and smooths the curves on the “b” as the word is progressively broken down into a symbol.

As a point of interest, the coded VM script is overall a bit rounder and smoother than last page Second Script. This may be relevant, or it may be a coincidence.

If we make a distinction between the formal calligraphy in manuscripts and the looser calligraphy of regular handwriting, this angular loop for the “b” and “l” is not particularly common at the time and, of special interest, can also be seen (even more angular) on the Voynich final page. Was the text on the last page of the Voynich written by the same person who coded the word on the enigmatic torn page in Der Neusohler Cato? Or someone who learned to write in the same town or household or from the same teacher? Is there enough information to determine if the two sets of text are regionally similar or the same scribe?

Oladabad   Abyracula

The handwriting on the last page of the VM is not an exact match, but bears many similarities to text at the beginning of Der Neusohler Cato. It is of particular significance because the fragment from the Cato shows to compress a word into a symbol—a form of encipherment.

We don’t know when the text was added to the Der Neusohler Cato. The manuscript is from the 1450s, and the interior handwriting resembles it, but the added text might be years later or, since it is a separate, torn page, was perhaps written earlier.

Der Neusohler Cato is from a Slavic region that was once ruled by a Hungarian king where there was a German-speaking population in the late Middle Ages. The Cato is an anthology of German medieval literature and travelogues written in different hands and assembled in one volume. One might assume it was transcribed by one of the German inhabitants, but it’s also possible it’s a translation into German by someone else.

The Cato Writer and the Voynich Manuscript

The first time I saw the last page of the Voynich Manuscript, I thought that the VMLetterD shape might be a letter “d” because it is commonly written in this way in a number of languages, but I think we have to stay open to the fact that it could be a coded letter or that it might be another letter written in a quirky style. Some of the calligraphic “s” shapes in Der Neusohler Cato look almost like this figure-eight “d” and might be interpreted as a figure-eight shape by viewers who don’t notice the pen direction or the slight nick in the joint.

CatoWordDas   CatoWordDas2 In the same hand, in the Cato, a “v” at the beginning of the line often looks like a lower-case “b” and we know only that it is a “v” because it is followed by “on” to make “von” (German for “from”). In turn, a “u” is written like a contemporary “v”.

It’s also important to consider how language has changed and how spelling can be influenced by its surroundings. In contemporary German, king is spelled König. In the Cato saga, king (as part of kunigreuth)  is written with a “u” rather than ö. Also, when the writer switches from red ink to black, he begins to use curved “dashes” over some of the letters for abbreviations. Note the similarity of the shape of the one bottom right to the VM marks above the letters. It may be a coincidence, but it’s an observation worth tucking into a drawer for further observation.

CatoKunigreuth       CatoDiacritical

There is a general similarity in writing style between the final page VM, the text fragment near the beginning of the Cato, and the main body text. It’s not an exact match, the Cato writer tends to connect the letters more, but it is eerily similar, including many of the letter shapes, the slant, the proportion of the upper- to lowercase letters, the crosses, and the distance between letters and words. Could it be the same person in a different point in time or a blood relation with similar handwriting? It has regional similarities to Slavic writers and might help us narrow down the origin of the Second Script writer. Here are more examples of the general similarities.

Oladabad     CatoGelawben

CatoBabilonia     VMgasmich

The final-page VM script and the Cato script differ in a few ways. For example, the VM writer consistently uses a square top on the letter “s” that is written like a lowercase “f” in old scripts, and the Cato writer almost always curves the top so it faces down. Also, the Cato author has a very distinctive way of writing “d” with a long flattened loop to the left, a shape that is not found on the VM final page and is not common to many scripts of the time.

The following chart gives a taste of how Cato script and Last Page Second Script have many commonalities, but are not identical and probably not by the same hand. The similarity is sufficient, however, to ask whether the scribes learned writing from the same teacher.

Handwriting Comparison

On the left of the following chart are sample letters from the main text of the Cato. The second column is taken from the majority of the text on the VM final page. The third column is from the tiny fragment of VM coded script on the final page, and the last column is VM script from the main body of VM 408.

Keep in mind that the VM “letters” probably aren’t letters at all (or it would likely have been decoded by now). They are shapes representing… something. Thus the “g” in the rightmost column may not be a “g” shape in the sense of being a letter shape, it may simply be a shape arrived at by breaking down “something” (perhaps a two-letter pair) into a representative symbol, just as the example word above was compressed to a rounded “X” shape with a starting loop. Or, it could be a number. I think there’s a strong possibility the VM “g” shape is modeled after the number 9, not the letter “g” but I included it in the chart anyway.


As far as ciphers are concerned, it’s not uncommon, in the 15th century, for a shape to represent more than one letter and for a letter to be represented by more than one shape.

Making Sense of the Final Page Second Script

The Second Script on the final page appears to be in a western European style but doesn’t match any recognizable language. Some of the letter-shapes can be recognized, and others are not so easy to decipher. In the Cato manuscript, there are more than 500 pages of readable German to help a paleographer discern which shapes were used to represent which letters (e.g., a “v” shape represents “u”) but there isn’t much context on the VM final page.

For example, it’s difficult to tell if this Second Script letter (below left and center) is a “t” or a “c”. To modern viewers, it looks like a “c”, but the letter “t” was frequently drawn this way in old manuscripts. Note the longer, straighter bar across the top on the left one. It appears to have been drawn in two strokes. The one in the middle, however, is more ambiguous. Even though the crossbar is fairly straight, the letter looks like it may have been rendered in a continuous stroke, in which case it’s probably a “c” as in the German word “ich” from the Cato manuscript on the right.

LetterC                   CatoLetterC

Thus, the last letters on the final page tease us by saying “val??n ubren so min gas mich” which one is eager to read as German, it’s so close, and yet it is maddeningly incomprehensible. It effectively conveys the entire Voynich experience. It’s almost, kind of, just about, nearly…

…but not quite, decipherable.

It is, however, an important step to find a style of handwriting in 15th century literature that so closely resembles last page Second Script. It may open a door illuminating a significant moment in VM history.

[See the More on Second Script Style blog for the continuation on this style of writing.]

 J.K. Petersen



The Voynich Zodiac Symbols


In the center of the Voynich manuscript is a set of wheels spanning a number of pages (some of them foldouts) that resemble zodiacs except that they have no obvious references to Medieval astronomy or astrology other than the figures in the center.

There are two inks on the page and the script in the darker ink under each zodiac symbol is in a different handwriting from the regular Voynich script. I refer to this as Third Script* for the sake of discussion and I have written a paper on Third Script that I will upload when I have time. For now, let’s look at the labels under each zodiac symbol. They give us information about the Third Script writer, and perhaps clues to where the VM originated or travelled prior to its acquisition by Wilfred Voynich.

Pisces the Fish

Piscium, Pisces, Mars, March

deBerryPisces   VMPisces

Pisces the Fish is the first zodiac symbol represented in the VM. We don’t know if the illustrator intended to begin with March or if January and February have been lost. Another possibility is that not all the months were relevant.

The fish illustration is not original in concept.

Note that the fin arrangement (two groups both top and bottom) is similar to Pisces in the du Berry Book of Hours, and that the fish have long snouts. Both include curved embellishments (which represent cords or garlands in some depictions of Pisces) leading out of the mouths of the fish. These details are not common to all depictions of Pisces at the time, but they were not unusual either.

The zodiac fish carved into the L’Église St. Nicholas in Civray depict Pisces in a manner similar to the du Barry fish, two fish with two sets of fins top and bottom, the bottom fish upside down, and a curved garland linking their mouths. The VM illustrator drew both fish facing the same direction, akin to the fish in the Codex Schürstab (Nürnberg) and in the 15th century Book of Hours thought to be from Nantes, France (below right).

SchuerstabPisces   NantesPisces

Upright fish like the VM Pisces can be found in the Codex Schürstab and the Book of Hours thought to be from Nantes, France. both are from approximately the same time period as the VM. The one on the right features a similar curved line connecting the fish by the mouth. The fin arrangement is slightly different in the VM but the overall arrangement is the same.  In turn, the French Book of Hours painting of Pisces harks back to even earlier depictions of fish connected by a cord from the region that is now Germany and Switzerland.

The text between the fish, which may have been added by a hand other than the VM author, and which looks similar to the text on the last VM page, says Mars (French for March). The stem of the “a” is a bit disconnected, but if you look at the other labels, you will see that the writer frequently writes the “a” this way.


Aries the Ram

Arietis, Aries, Aberil, April

deBerryAiries   VMAries

The VM ram isn’t a copy of the du Barry ram, but neither does it differ significantly (if you accept that the VM illustrator was not a skilled artist) The du Barry ram’s coat and horns are longer and curlier but the hooves are very similar. The VM ram’s neck is thinner and the illustrator has put a green tree in the background similar to Aries the Ram stepping out in the Codex Schürstab.


Underneath the VM ram, in a loose script that is similar to the script in the other zodiac pictures, is written aberil. Avril and abril represent April in French and Spanish respectively.

I suspect that the zodiac labels were written by somebody trying to decode the manuscript, and since zodiac symbols are familiar to many people, even today, it’s a logical place to start. I don’t think there are any secret codes written in Third Script (like “Leonardo” spelled backwards). I think these are what they appear to be, labels to help sort things out.

The ram is repeated on the next page and the whole page painted a little differently and this too has been labeled in a darker ink with aberil representing April.


Taurus the Bull

Taurus, May

duBerryTaurus   VMTaurus

The bull representing Taurus is essentially the same as the du Berry bull except that it’s facing the other direction, has a thinner neck and, like Aries, is nibbling on something green. Under the bull’s belly is written may. In French, Spanish, Italian, and German, May is currently written with an “i” rather than a “y”. Also, oddly, there appears to be a symbol over the y resembling a caret. Like Aries, the VM author has created two copies of Taurus, with the animal essentially the same as the previous one, except that the brick red paint is smoother and more heavily applied. There’s a little more room for a longer tail on the second drawing and the anatomically male bull is more clearly outlined. In the second drawing it’s a bit easier to see that the bull is eating (or drinking) from what may be a bucket and one can also see, from looking at both the rams and bulls, that the Voynich illustrator has’t quite figured out how to draw hind legs. They mimic front legs rather than orienting the joints in the other direction. The bull from the Codex Schürstab (below right) has more anatomically functional legs.

VMTaurus0   SchuerstabTaurus

There are many clues that suggest the illustrator was cleaning up small details in the second bull. The information surrounding the duplicate Aries and Taurus pages are different, however.

Note that there is no mark above the “y” in the second drawing of Taurus. The Third Script writer may not have intended the mark on the first one.


Gemini the Twins

Graduum, Gemini, Iune, Juni, June, Yuny/Yony

duBarryGemini2 VMGemini SchuerstabGemini

Something to note about the VM Gemini twins is that they are fraternal male and female. Not all zodiacs were depicted in this way—many show the twins as the same sex (see the Codex Schurstab twins on the right). The du Barry zodiac also depicts male and female twins. Interestingly, the du Barry twins are naked, similar to Adam and Eve before The Fall, yet the VM twins, in a manuscript overflowing with naked characters, are clothed and the twin on the right is drawn almost the same as the female figure in the VM Virgo.

Between the twins, in Third Script, is written yuny  or yony (the second “y” is slightly smudged, but these are calligraphic “y”characters consistent with other y letters written in Third Script). In many areas of northern Europe. a “j” is pronounced like a “y”. For example, in Danish, June is spelled “juni” but pronounced “yooni” like a y. The Third Script writer may have been transcribing the sound of a word rather than the technical spelling. Given that borders were constantly changing, and nobility and their retinues were constantly on the move, this was not unusual.


Cancer the Crab

Cancri, Cancer, July, Juli, Iollio

duBarryCrab    VMCrab    SchuerstabCrab

If it appears, from the other zodiac symbols, that the VM illustrator might be copying The Book of Hours, Cancer the crab makes it clear that the VM may be similar in some respects to the du Barry manuscript, but is not copying slavishly (if at all) from The Book of Hours. The du Barry illuminations show cancer as a crab. Many zodiacs at the time, however, depicted cancer as a crayfish or lobster (perhaps the crayfish were drawn by illustrators who lived near lakes rather than oceans) and the VM illustrator’s crab not only follows the crayfish rather than crab style, but it is duplicated in the same manner as the pisces fish (the du Barry crab sits alone). The crayfish/lobster version of the crab is illustrated in the Codex Schürstab (right).

In second script, under the crabs is written iullio or iollio. One of the other zodiacs has a letter one would expect to be “u” but which looks like an “o” so perhaps the scribe writes a u like an o or is transcribing a local dialect. The letter “i” followed by a vowel was often used to represent the “j” sound at the time. When spoken out loud, iullio would sound like julio (yoo-lee-oh) which is a cross between the Scandinavian juli (yoo-lee) and Spanish julio (hoo-lee-oh)—both words for July. It comes even closer to the Italian word for July, which is iuglio (yoo-lee-oh) or, in Catalan, juliol. These are the modern words for July, but they are all in the same basic sound family and close enough to fit the VM label.


Leo the Lion

Leonis, Leo, August, Augst

duBarryLeo   VMLeo

There’s quite a bit of similarity between the du Barry Leo and the VM Leo, other than the thinner. In fact, the VM illustrator might have intended a female lion (without a shaggy mane), or perhaps thinner necks is simply the VM illustrator’s way of drawing necks (a number of other animals have thin necks, including Taurus the bull) just as the hind legs of hoofed animals aren’t quite right. Note the lifted right-front leg, extended tongue, and tail curling up between the hind legs are similar to the duBarry lion.

In contrast to many zodiac wheels, the VM illustrator appears to have a genuine interest in plants, and included a tree behind the lion. This clue suggests the VM author and illustrator might be the same person since whoever created VM 408 was interested enough in plants to spend months or perhaps years studying and documenting them. Or, if it were a different person, the VM author might have directed the illustrator to include plants. I think the first is more likely, but it’s an open question and there are a few zodiacs by other illustrators that include plants. For example, the Codex Schürstab Leo doesn’t closely resemble the VM Leo, but it includes trees in the background.

As an aside, note that the Voynich illustrator rarely depicts anything as fierce. The du Barry fish have the predatory expression and teeth of aggressive fish like barracudas, and the lion has a ferocious look as well, but the VM fish are rather cheerful looking and the VM lion’s expression is quite neutral.


Virgo the Virgin

Virgo, Virginis, Septembris, September, Septembre

duBarryVirgo   VMVirgo   SchuerstabVirgo

The du Barry Virgo (left) is rather demure and alluring, with a sassy pose, long wavy hair down to her knees, and a low neckline. She holds what appears to be long elegant feathers, or perhaps fronds.

The VM Virgo is more modest, dressed in a higher neckline, short hair, or hair hidden by her cap. Like many of the other VM zodiac symbols, the composition includes a plant to the lady’s bottom left. The long folds of fabric and cap are painted blue. The star-line held in her hand perhaps symbolizes her status as a zodiac symbol. The Schürstab Virgo is also dressed in blue, with head ornamentation, and a small bouquet of flowers. In this case, the VM Virgo is closer in style to the Schurstab rendition than du Barry.

To the left of the Voynich Virgo, in Third Script, is written septembre in the style of Greek miniscules, which often use a short dash above the lowercase letters to represent an unwritten letter from common letter combinations such as “em” “per” “tem” and “er”. These conventions were adapted in days when parchment was precious, expensive, and small. It also helped relieve tedium and writer’s cramp for scribes. The Codex Shürstab and Codex Manesse use these dashes to represent abbreviations, as well, so it wasn’t a practice restricted to Greek literature—parchment and time were precious everywhere.


In this example, from the 14th century Codex Manesse, the dash above the “o” represents the letter “n” (or “m”, depending on context) so the text on the middle line reads “von hohenburg” (or, in other circumstances it can represent “vom (von dem)”. The Third Script writer used this form of abbreviation when labeling the VM zodiac drawings.

Together, the style of writing of the Third Script author, which is more calligraphic than the Voynich Manuscript (the thick and thin dynamic of the quill is more effectively used), and the abbreviations characteristic of miniscules, suggest that the Third Script writer may have had experience in creating manuscripts, or had studied miniscule-style literary works. When interpreting the label next to Virgo (and the other zodiac labels), keep in mind that the 15th century letter S looked more like our modern-day f than the snaky S we use today, depending on its position in the word. For example, in the du Barry book, “septembris” is written with a final “s” that curves, but an initial “s” that resembles a modern-day, lowercase “f”.


Libra the Scales

Libre, Libra, October, Octobris, Octembre

duBarryLibra   VMLibra

The du Barry scales are shown with one end higher than the other (so the tip in the center is at an angle) to fit within the narrow ring full of stars and stil remain upright. Since the VM scale is in the center of the wheel, it’s possible to show it straight on (and easier to draw), with the cups level and the gauge in the center upright. Essentially it’s the same kind of mechanical scale, just a little less embellished than the du Barry example. The way it is drawn is similar to the Schürstab Libra (below, left), with a straight-on view, slightly deeper cups, and supporting cords without a twist in the upper portion. The main difference is that the VM illustrator has turned the fulcrum to one side to show the pointed gauge (painted in blue) that shows the level/angle of the scale.


Beneath the VM scale is written octembre in miniscule abbreviation style.


Scorpio the Scorpion

Scorpronis, Scorpio, November, Novembris, Novembre

The du Barry Scorpio (below left) bears a strong resemblance to a real scorpion. The VM scorpion looks more like a lizard, but I don’t think there is any intent to obscure the scorpion’s identity. Many zodiacs of the time have scorpions that resemble lizards, perhaps because the illustrators had never seen a scorpion and were going by spoken descriptions.

duBarryScorpio   VMScorpio   FalstofScorpio

The fairly naturalistic scorpion on the left is from the du Barry book of hours, the one on the right is from a mid-15th century book of hours known as the Falstof Master. Except for the legs, the Falstof Scorpio looks more like a mammal crossed with a reptile than a crustacean. The scorpion carved into the L’Église St. Nicholas in Civray looks like a fat lizard with a pair of front claws. Scorpio on the Benedictine Abbey Church of Sante-Marie-Madeleine resembles a goat with extra legs. The Schürstab Scorpio resembles a somewhat more crustaceous version of the “weasel-Scorpio”. Many northerners have never seen scorpions, which might account for the anatomical anomalies.

Beneath the VM Scorpio, in Third Script, is the label novembre, using miniscule abbreviation.


 Sagittarius the Archer

Sagittarius, Sagitarii, December, Decembre

duBarrySagittarius   VMSagittarius

Sagittarius is a particularly interesting VM illustration because it goes against the more common conventions. Sagittarius is usually depicted as a centaur—part man, part horse (or goat, since some have cloven hooves). The VM archer has legs. Also, it is typical for medieval and Renaissance Sagittariuses to have traditional bows rather than the crossbow in the Voynich Manuscript. The few examples of Sagittarius that can be found with legs tend to be from northern rather than southern Europe.

Here is an example of a Sagittarius with legs from a 15th century Nürnberg manuscript—Codex Schürstab. Other than the head dress, his clothing similar to the VM archer. To the right is a more conventional Sagittarius, depicted as part man, part cloven-hoofed animal.

SchuerstabSagittarius     NantesSagittarius

Even northern documents tend to show Sagittarius with an animal body. The very dynamic Sagitarrius with horse’s hooves shown below left is from Walters MS W.17, a scientific manuscript from about the 10th century. While the uncommon examples of Sagittarius with legs tend to come from northern Europe, there are exceptions. A particularly notable one is the 5th century Beit Alpha synagogue zodiac (below right) in Israel.

WaltersSagittarius   BeitIsraelSagitarrius

Why is Sagittarius shown with an animal body, even in earlier centuries as in this 8th century Geographia of Ptolemy (below left)? Because the arrangement of the lower stars traditionally assigned to the constellation Sagittarius are widely spread, suggesting the lower part of an animal, as illustrated in this 15th century drawing from the Genus Arati (Naples, Italy, below right). The red dots are the stars that make up the constellation.

PtolemySagittarius2   GenusAratiSagittarius

Capricon the Goat and Aquarius the Water Bearer are missing from the VM set, and both Aries and Taurus appear twice, suggesting either that the series was left unfinished or that the other zodiac symbols were not directly relevant to the information surrounding the center symbols.

The VM zodiac months may have been specifically chosen to represent the timing of certain events or, I suppose, drawn as a ruse to throw off a viewer from the textual content (which might have nothing to do with zodiacs), but I don’t think the pictures are a ruse. The content in the surrounding wheels shows cycles of life, and people in the Middle Ages (and many people even now) believed that cycles were influenced by the constellations and would ask astrologers to suggest good days for major events, such as marriages or journeys.


The Voynich author was surely exposed to medieval literature or the Voynich Manuscript probably wouldn’t have followed many of the conventions evident in the document, but it doesn’t appear that the zodiac symbols are copied straight from one source (unless that source has been lost). Inspiration seems to have come from a variety of sources, perhaps from carvings or documents in a monasterial or royal library. Many kings prided themselves on their collections of oddities, manuscripts, and other treasures available only to those of wealth and stature and the VM illustrator may have had access.

The zodiac labels are mostly, but not entirely written in French. I’ve drawn up a chart to make it easier to see the names for people who are not familiar with reading calligraphy or older style writing. As noted on the chart, an “e” with a slash consistently represents “em” as in miniscule abbreviation style, and the old-style “s” is represented by a shape that looks like a lowercase “f”.


The fact that some of the labels are not pure French as we know it is not unusual. Language changes, people of the Middle Ages did not have radio or television to “cinch down” a language and keep it consistent. Reading and writing were not widely taught as they are now. Also, among literate circles (usually clerics and nobility), there was a great deal of travel and many battles—the constant struggle to acquire and hold on to wealth and power kept people on the move. The king of Spain or Naples could also be the king of Jerusalem, even though these regions are geographically distant (especially in the days before cars and trains). Cross-pollination of languages in wealthy circles was probably common. It happens even today.

When I was traveling in Europe, I met a jovial fellow who managed one of the Swiss youth hostels. He could understand half a dozen languages through contact with a constant stream of travellers but he admitted he had lost most of his mother tongue and I noticed, when conversing with him, that he spoke a polyglot that could only be understood by those who knew a mixture of German, French, Italian, and English.

I get the sense that the Third Script writer (possibly someone who never met or knew the identity of the VM author) may also have been a polyglot or lived in one of those regions where the borders changed and languages blended.  It’s likely that the writer lived sometime in the 15th to 17th centuries, based on the style of writing, and there is a document in almost the same style written in the mid-1400s that suggests the Third Script writer may even have been a contemporary or near-contemporary of the VM illustrator.

What if the text underlying the Voynich Manuscript were also polyglot? A mixed language would be more difficult to decode.

[Image sources: Codex Schürstab (ca. 1472) courtesy of the Zentralbibliothek, Zürich. The Nantes? Book of Hours courtesy of the Bibliothèque de Genève. Tetrabiblos of Ptolemaios from the Geographia of Ptolemy, courtesy of the Vatican Library.]

J.K. Petersen

* Note that I renamed the Zodiac scripts as “Third Script” to disinguish the handwriting from the “Second Script” on the last page of the Voynich a year or so ago after analyzing them in more detail. I believe there are probably (at least) three hands represented in the Voynich, the main script, last-page script, and Zodiac labels (I haven’t yet posted my notes on the page numbers). One of my blog entries includes a chart showing their distinct characteristics.


Large Plants – Folio 96v

This is a placeholder page.

I have a mass of information on the Voynich Manuscript plants on my hard drive (I created the identifications and most of the notes in 2007 and 2008 and rewrote a few of the notes in more readable English in 2011 and then, once again, abandoned the project due to time constraints). I am uploading the notes and linking the pictures as I have time. This is not easy, since I am working long hours but I’ll get the task done when I am able.

Voynich Large Plants – Folio 95r


Folio95rThumbPlant 95r fills most of the page, especially toward the bottom. There is an eight-line block of text across the top of the page that is worked around the top edges of the plant.

The plant has trifoliate leaves at the end and an overall odd-pinnate arrangement, with each group of leaves opposite the other.

The flower stalk is fairly thick and has been left unpainted. It divides into four narrower stalks with round shapes that resemble berries with a knob or spot at the end of each one. The spots are colored a pale yellow. The “berries” are arranged opposite and are fairly closely spaced. They might also be flower knobs—there are a few plants that have “knobs” rather than petals, but there’s no calyx present and no rough areas, pistils or stamens, so it seems more likely these are fruiting bodies rather than flowers.

The elliptical leaves have been painted a fairly even color of medium green except for one on the lower left that has a bit of brown mixed in. The leaves on the left are joined across the stem, as is the top set of leaves on the right. The ones bottom-right have some stem showing between the leaves.

The leaf margins are very interesting, different from any of the other Voynich plants. They look more like hairs than serrations—and not straight hairs, but hairs with a very slight curve at the ends. But are they hairs or are they stylistic interpretations of serrated edges? In some ways they resemble hairs, but a couple of the leaves on the left look like they might be curved serrations.

The base of the stem has a few fibrous “hairs” but is not overtly fibrous and the top edge of the upper roots have some fibrous hairs or protrusions, as well. Is this perhaps a plant that has roots slightly protruding from the soil?

The roots are fairly broad, medium-thickness and branch fairly evenly toward the bottom. They have been painted a reasonably consistent color of brick red.


Prior Identification


Edith Sherwood has identified Plant 95r as elderberry (Sambucus nigra), possibly due to the “berries” at the end of the stalks.

Sambucus nigra does tend to have an odd-pinnate arrangement of leaves, but the group of three at the end of each elderberry branch is not as tightly fused as Plant 95r and the berry-stalks of Sambucus nigra branch frequently to create a more umbellate shape, rather than running out from the stalk in long, more singular stems.

While Sambucus nigra and Plant 95r superficially resemble each other (and we don’t know how accurately the VM illustrator portrayed plants), I believe there are plants more closely resembling 95r than Sambucus nigra.


Other Possibilities

RhusvernixPoison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix), and its close relative poison ivy, are both similar to Plant 95r, including odd-pinnate leaves and long stems with opposite-spaced berries that have a dot in the center, but the leaves are not as fused as the VM plant and the leaf margins are unlikely to inspire an illustrator to draw unusual leaf margins with a hair-like shape. Also, the VM illustrator created a large open dot and took the time to color it pale yellow. The dots on poison sumac and poison ivy tend to be small and dark.

Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) has long clusters of tightly-spaced berries and odd-pinnate leaves that sometimes look almost fused at the stem. The leaves are spiny and sometimes slightly ruffled and thus the leaf margins might be depicted differently by an imaginative illustrator, but the VM plant doesn’t “feel” like Mahonia aquifolium and M. aquifolium is a west coast plant unlikely to have been seen by a medieval European.

Lantana is an African and tropical American plant with opposite leaves and “berries,” and the leaf margins have a somewhat curved appearance from some angles, due to the slight ruffles in the serrations—it’s definitely possible that the leaves of some species of Lantana might be depicted as seen in Plant 95r—but Lantana doesn’t match in other ways. It tends to have shorter fruiting stalks in tight clusters that grow from the leaf nodes, rather than long fruiting stalks emerging from the ends of the branches. While it’s tempting to include Lantana as a possibility based on the leaf margins alone, the arrangement of the leaves and fruits isn’t similar enough to VM 95r to make it a strong contender.

ActaeaSpicataActaea spicata (baneberry) resembles Plant 95r more closely than any of the previously mentioned plants. The leaves are odd pinnate, the terminal leaves are sometimes so tightly clumped that they are fused-trifoliate, the leaf margins are raggedly serrated (one could almost call them lacerate), and the berries extend beyond the leaves from the ends of slender stalks.

Most varieties of Actaea have a small dark dot or an indentation in the fruiting bodies, but there are some that have a slightly raised, rounded protrusion.

Even with all these similarities, I wouldn’t call Actaea a perfect match. The leaf margins are different from many plants, but perhaps not enough to warrant such an unusual interpretation by an illustrator, and Actaea berries do not usually have a significant protrusion, but Actaea should probably still be considered as a possibility.


Posted by J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2013 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved 

Large Plants – Folio 94v


Plant 94 fills most of the page, especially toward the bottom. There are two blocks of text broken across the stalk and flower head.

The plant has a thick mat of overlapping leaves, yam-like tubers on long “strings,” a central stalk with a vase-shaped calyx, narrow, pointed sepals, and a scalloped or many-petaled flower head.

The central flower stalk is a little thicker than flower stalks in some of the other VM plants. The blossom at the end of the stalk is a darkish-blue that looks like it may have been mixed with a bit of brown to darken it, or perhaps the blue was applied before the brown scalloped edge was completely dried. It appears to have been turned toward the reading audience to show its internal shape. It’s also possible that the flower itself, in real life, curves at the end.

The elliptical leaves are green and greenish-teal (a small amount of blue may have been added to the green) and some are watery blue, as though the illustrator tried to create a lighter shade of blue by adding more water. The lighter blue isn’t terribly successful, it is blobby and washed out, but does create another tone. The alternating tones might represent leaves that have a slightly different color front and back or it might be a device to make it easier to distinguish alternate leaves.

The leaves are elliptical and somewhat lanceolate at the tips. The margins are serrated. The central stalk and petioles have been left unpainted.

There are several aspects of the roots that are noteworthy. First, they are rendered in two colors, brick red on the left, darkish brown on the right. Of particular interest is the rounded notch in each one. The notch is less obvious in the fourth tuber, it’s slightly filled with pigment, but it is located in the same place as on the other tubers, if you consider each one is successively rotated counter-clockwise.

The cross- or star-like symbol on the rightmost tuber is unusual and it’s difficult to tell from a scan whether it was scored into the image after the paint was applied, or whether the scoring existed in the parchment before the paint was applied and showed as “white” because the pigment didn’t fully fill the lines. Investigation of the original manuscript with a miscroscope could probably determine whether the score lines were added before or after the image was painted.

Prior Identification



Edith Sherwood has identified Plant 94v as Lychnis coronaria, Rose Campion, probably based on the numerous basal leaves and the fact that it has a vase-like calyx.


Other than these two points, however, Lychnis coronaria differs from Plant 94v in several ways:

  • L. coronaria tends to branch many times, with small opposite leaves at the branch nodes.
  • L. coronaria typically has four or five larger petals emanating from a very tiny steeple in the center, while Plant 94v appears to have many small, short petals surrounding a larger inner ring.
  • L. coronaria does have a basal whorl when the plant first starts, but the basal leaves are quite ruffled, not serrated, and are barely visible in mature flowering plants. The long slender branching stems and bright pink or white blossoms overwhelm the view of the basal leaves as the plant blooms.
  • L. coronaria does not have large rounded tubers. The roots are somewhat delicate and hairlike.

LychnisCoronaria   LychnisCoronariaBot       LychnisCoronariaRoot

The basal leaves of L. coronaria are difficult to see under the multitude of long slender branching stems and distinctive flower heads (L. coronaria Image courtesy of the Göttingen Viewux jardin botanique). The roots of L. coronaria are somewhat fine and delicate (right), not tuberous like 94v.

Other Possibilities

Apios tuberosa (American ground-nut) has yam-like tubers and somewhat elliptical leaves, but the leaves are arranged very differently from 94v, and the long plumes of flowers aren’t a match either. It’s a vine rather than an upright plant, so it probably has to be ruled out as a contender.

Harpagophytum procumbens (Devil’s Claw) has yam-like tubers attached to long strings, but the leaves are quite different from 94v. They are palmate, with very ruffled edges, and somewhat feathery compared to the leaves of 94v. The flowers are trumpet-shaped. Except for the flowers, H. procumbens, is a closer match to Plant 93v than Plant 94v.

Cyperus has yam-like tubers on strings, basal leaves, and a central stalk, but the tubers are small and the flower head doesn’t match 94v—the flower heads are branching and grain-like.

Asphodelus alba is a little closer to the VM plant in that it has yam-like tubers, many basal leaves and a flower head on a central stalk, but the flower is a long plume of blossoms with prominent stamens rather than a vase-shaped single flower-head. It’s worth considering, but probably isn’t a match.

Cochlearia armoracia (Horseradish) has many serrated basal leaves, a sometimes-rounded tuber and a central flower stalk with petals at the end. the main difference from the 94v stalk is that Cocklearia branches.

The above plants tend to resemble Plant 94v in having prominent basal leaves that are roughly elliptical, yam-like tubers or bulbs, and a central stalk with a flower on the end. The biggest difference between these plants and 94v is that the flower heads are somewhat or significantly different from 94v.

CurcumaLongaBot  Curcuma  CurcumaZedoaria

Curcuma longa (turmeric, left) has long been known as a medicinal plant and has elliptical/lanceolate leaves that can be quite large and numerous. In contrast to Plant 94v, however, the leaves tend to rise above the flower stalks.

Curcuma zedoaria (ginger, center) also has yam-like tubers at the ends of long “strings” and elliptical/lanceolate leaves growing from the base (C. zedoaria photo by Michael Wolf, GNU Public License).

Of the plants mentioned so far, a species of Curcuma with leaves not as high as C. longa seems like the best choice except for the flower head and the fact that the leave margins are somewhat irregularly smooth rather than serrated. The Curcuma calyx differs from the 94v flower head with overlapping protrusions and lighter “petals” that follow the same general pattern.

What is noteworthy, however, is that Curcuma flower stalks grow from a leafless underground rhizome. Could the two reddish tubers on the left and two darker tubers on the right represent the leaf part and the flower stalk drawn together? Curcuma stalks and leaves grow in the same vicinity, and rhizomes connect different above-ground plants, but the stalks and leaves are separate in the sense that the stalk doesn’t actually rise from the center of the leaves, it rises from a rhizome.

Or is there another plant with a comparable flower head and serrated leaves that better matches 94v, perhaps a broadleaved Senecio?

Posted by J. Petersen