Category Archives: The Second Script

The Charm of the Voynich Last Page                             30 Dec 2013

The Strange Formulas in the Voynich

The Last Page of the Voynich was introduced in a previous blog entry and is notable not only for its enigmatic content, but also for the way it differs from the rest of the document—in writing style, content, the balance of the text on the page, the size of the parchment, and the quality of the parchment, which has holes and seams.


The style of most of the writing is significantly different from Voynichese, less round and careful, and  perplexingly combined with a couple of words in Voynich script. The relationship between the text and the drawings is not clear, if there is one. The crosses between the “words” is unique to this page.

It’s remarkable that a page with so little content can generate so many questions.

Medieval Charms and Healing Prayers

I alluded briefly to the fact that syllables like oladabad/oladabas and the crosses between the words are reminiscent of medieval charms characteristic of northern Europe. Even the “+” shapes at the beginning of several words (if it is, indeed, an “+”) are common to many charms and combination charms/prayers.

I also mentioned having found a coded word on the fly leaf of Der Neusohler Cato that really caught my attention due to its similarities to the last-page text of the Voynich Manuscript.

MoravskaCodeBreakdownI guessed that the coded word at the beginning of Der Neusohler Cato might be a charm/symbol and that it might have a similar function to the text on the last page of the Voynich almost two years before I found time to read about medieval charms. My hunch was based on its sound and character.

When I finally looked for more information on charms, late in 2012, I discovered a few examples in Leechcraft (Pollington, 2000) with crosses and apparent nonsense words (or words whose meaning has been lost) and a few months later a more specific discussion in Middeleeuwse witte en zwarte magie in het Nederlands taalgebied (Braekman, 1997) which describes charms/healing prayers that contain a mixture of Latin and sometimes incomprehensible “charm” words. You can look up the document online—here are two examples:

     In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

    + Ire + arex + xre + rauex + filiax + arafax + N

In particular, note these ending patterns:

   + Ire + arex + xre + rauex + filiax + arafax + N

They’re not identical to the Voynich, but they have a similar character.


And a second example from Braekman:

    + aladabra + ladabra + adabra + dabra + abra + ra + a + abraca + [the person’s name]

The breakdown of the word abgracula on the fly leaf of Der Neusohler Cato to a single symbol made me wonder if the final “coded” symbol was intended to be engraved on a pendant, amulet, or weapon. That might be, but apparently there’s another reason I didn’t anticipate that is mentioned by Braekman. He points out that charm-words are often broken down from larger to smaller units to represent the breakdown of the malady as it subsides. He uses the well-known “magic” word abracadabra (ha brakha dabra) along with another word, ararita, as examples. The crosses are associated with healing and apparently things are helped along by signing a cross in between chanting the magical words.

Many healing charms from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance have a Christian character but it has been my feeling from the beginning that the Voynich Manuscript is not specifically a Christian document despite the occasional cross held in the hands of female characters. The ring and Christian-style cross were common symbols across cultures in those days and may simply be a literary device. Many of the VM drawings have pagan characteristics and the entire enigmatic puzzle-like character of the document points to cultures that keep their secrets close the chest or encode it in some way. The Zarathustrians, Gnostics, and Jewish Kabbalarians come to mind.

Whether the Voynich was encoded because it contained taboo subjects related to sexuality (particularly women’s sexuality) or because it was hard-won knowledge intended to be passed down only to someone “deserving” (perhaps an heir) is not clear. Either way, the secret is still mostly a secret after half a millennium and is providing more food for thought than the Voynich author could ever have imagined.


J.K. Petersen


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

Feb. 20, 2017 Addendum: I stumbled across a Hebrew blessings phrase, “Ha-Brachah-dabarata” once again, from another source, some time after writing this blog and when I said it out loud (again), it still rings true as the possible origin of A-braca-dabra. Also, some of my research indicates that the charm word Abracula may be derived from the name Abraham (pronounced with a hard-h that sometimes gets transcribed as a hard-c).


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