Monthly Archives: April 2019

Maximizing the Minims

19 April 2019

There are two pattern groups in the VMS that could be related, maybe. They have traits in common that might help us understand Voynichese.

I’ve blogged about double-cee shapes (EVA-ee), but felt it would be too long if I included relationships between cee patterns and the more familiar aiin patterns, so I’ll continue the discussion here…

The Double-Cee Question

As I’ve posted before, there are many places in the VMS where cee shapes (EVA-e) look like they might be joined. There are even places where double-cee and single-cee are adjacent:

Examples of cee shapes in Voynich Manuscript text

I strongly suspect that double-cee (the one that is tightly coupled) is intended as one meaning-block.

  • In Visigothic manuscripts, the letter “t” was often written as a double-cee shape.
  • In early and mid-medieval manuscripts, a double-cee stood for “a”
  • In early and mid-medieval manuscripts, a superscripted double-cee stood for what we would call “u” (it was often next to a “q” character).

Thus, many scribes perceived tightly coupled cees as a unit.

Of course, nothing is easy with the VMS. Here is an example of overlapping cee-shapes next to ones that are separate. Do we interpret them as different or the same?

Note also how the bench joins with the row of connected cees, which brings us to the next point…

Is The VMS Deliberately Deceptive?

It’s very difficult to tell if the VMS is designed to deceive. Patterns like the following are hard to interpret.

Are the tails on these glyphs added to hide the length of a sequence? Or are they genuinely different glyphs?

In the same vein, are EVA-ch and EVA-sh cee-shapes in disguise? Could the cap on EVA-sh be yet another cee?

Here’s an example where two cee-shapes are topped with a macron-like cap (a shape that is usually associated with the benched char):

EVA-ee with cap

For that matter, is the 9-shape a hidden cee?

I don’t know for sure, but based on the behavior of the glyphs (in terms of position and proximity), I get the feeling (so far) that EVA-ch and EVA-sh might be related to cee-shapes, even if they mean something different (they frequently occur together), while EVA-y dances to a different drummer.


Cee shapes frequently cluster in the middles of tokens, just as minim patterns are frequently at the ends, but are they somehow related? They are the only two groups of glyphs that repeat many times in a row.

These examples from f4v and f7v are provocative because they suggest that cee shapes and minims might be related. Rather than being word-medial, the cees on the right are word-final and have long tails from the bottom rather than the top:

Now, let’s examine the -aiin patterns…

Aiin not Daiin, and maybe not even Aiin

I think it was a big mistake for early researchers to cinch the idea of “daiin” in people’s minds. The aiin sequences are frequently (yes, frequently) preceded by glyphs other than EVA-d.

Stephen Bax wrote a paper in 2012 (revised Nov. 2013), in which he summarized one of the most common ideas for interpreting the glyph sequence called “daiin” (e.g., that it might mean “and”). Here is a quote and a link to the PDF file:

It is argued from this analysis that the element transcribed as ‘daiin’, the most frequently occurring item in the manuscript as a whole, is in fact a discourse marker separating out sense units, functioning like a comma or the word ‘and’, and analogous to the use of crosses in folio 116v.

Stephen Bax

The Voynich manuscript—informal observations on some linguistic patterns.

And here are some of my observations…

First, let’s start with the crosses on folio 116v. There is a strong precedence in medieval manuscripts for including the plus sign in charms and medical remedies in places where the reader or speaker (or healer) genuflects. The plus sign is sometimes also used like “and”, just as we use it now (nothing new about that). However, I doubt that the plus- or cross-symbol on 116v is related to “daiin”.

Now back to the paper…

On page 3, Bax noted instances of word-final daiin, but he examined them out of context. He recorded instances of aiin that are preceded by EVA-d and basically ignored the other glyphs that precede -aiin in the same sample (as well as daii- that occurs at the beginning). I have marked the patterns that were not mentioned in red:

Studying the “daiin” pattern this way is like examining -tally patterns in English while ignoring related patterns like -ly, -lly, -ally, -aly, and -dly. He also failed to account for the fact that aiin is not a homogenous glyph pattern. It includes an/ain/aiin/aiiin and even sometimes iiin.

He further makes no mention of the tail patterns. If the length of the tail is meaningful then, like so many before him, Bax might have overestimated the frequency of daiin.

Tail Coverage

Most transcripts treat the many versions of daiin as if they are the same. They count only the number of minims (and they don’t always get that right). But there is another dynamic that gets little attention, and that is the length of the tails.

Tail coverage varies. Thus, a glyph with three minims might have three different versions of tail coverage and perhaps three different meanings:

VMS tails in minim sequences

Here is the text sample color-coded for different tail patterns, with green for one and red for two:

About half the instances of “daiin” look like dauv and the others look like daiw, if you pay attention to the length of the tail. They are not necessarily the same. If you include aiin sequences not preceded by EVA-d, it varies even more. Normally I wouldn’t consider tail length to be important. In Latin, the length of tails (a form of apostrophe or ligature) is pretty arbitrary. Some scribes lengthened the tail if more letters were left out, but this was not the norm. In the VMS, when you create a transcript and examine every token, tail-length feels deliberate.

Nick Pelling pointed out to me in a blog comment that there are dots at the ends of tails. I’m not sure I had noticed that (he’s right, there are). I had noticed the varying tail lengths. After Pelling called my attention to the dots it occurred to me that maybe the dots were to help the scribe accurately craft the length of the tail.

Tail lengths might turn out to be trivial rather than meaningful, but it’s still important to document their patterns as part of the research process. If they are significant, then vanilla-flavored “daiin” is not nearly as frequent as claimed.

Forget about the “d”…

Minim sequences don’t require EVA-d and don’t always need EVA-a. Here’s a minim sequence that stands alone (four minims with one covered, or perhaps three minims and another glyph entirely):

I think future research would be more fruitful if transcripts and descriptions of the text were more aligned with reality. Calling them minim sequences carries fewer assumptions than “daiin”.

Interpreting Minims

I’m not sure minim sequences are intended as separate characters. Just as some of the cee shapes look like they belong together as a block, the iii sequences do so as well. There are numerous instances where they resemble uiv rather than iiv.

In this example from folio 8r, a curved macron has been placed over two minims in aiiin (I prefer to call the shapes aiiiv rather than aiiin, but I’ll respect the existing EVA system for now). It is almost as though the scribe were explicitly associating two minims:

Maybe the cap is a macron in the Latin sense (apostrophe for missing glyphs), or maybe it’s a way to say, this is a “u” shape, don’t confuse it with “ii”. Note that there is a slight gap between the first “u” shape and the second (or between the “u” shape and the “iv” shape):

In this example from f8v, the first two minims resemble a “u” shape and are distinctly separated from the final glyph (which resembles “v” or “i-tail”, and yet there is a 3-coverage tail):

As for the length of the tail, in Latin it usually doesn’t matter, but there were a few scribes who pointed the tail at the particular spot where letters were missing (the tail is an apostrophe attached to the end so the scribe doesn’t have to lift the quill). What it means in the VMS is still a mystery.

Maybe progress in understanding the VMS is slow because many transcripts don’t include these details.

I have an enormous chart that documents these patterns, but it’s not yet finished and ready to interpret. This is only the merest snippet—part of the top-left corner:

Snippet from very large Minim-Sequence Chart

Minims and Cee Shapes

This is getting long, so I’ll end with one last question (possibly an important one). Is there some connection between minims and cee shapes?

Minims are more frequently at the ends of tokens (but not always). Cee shapes more often in the middle. Both tend to cluster. Both have tails of varying lengths.

It’s fairly obvious that they both repeat, but I don’t know if anyone has offered a practical explanation (other than the possibility of Roman numerals). Here are examples that illustrate the similarities:

And here is an example that is particularly enigmatic. Is it EVA-ochaien or EVA-ocheiien or ochaiin or something else? Did the scribe slip and draw one of the minims as a cee-shape, or is this a uniquely structured token?

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2019 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

Reading Comprehension?

12 April 2019

I just got a heads-up that D.N. O’Donovan is talking about me on her blog again. Once again, the information is misleading. I don’t see that I have much choice but respond to the two points she brings up over and over…

Point 1) The VMS Column Text Timeline

First, O’Donovan wrote this:

“My point was merely that the ‘gap’ is shorter than JKP thought: not 1400s to 1665/6, but only 1400s to the time Jakub owned it. It passed about 60 years later to Jesuit ownership, by Marcus Marci’s letter of gift (1665/6) to Athanasius Kircher, S.J., who was then a professor at the ‘Roman College’ – from whose collection it is known to have come when Wilfrid Voynich bought it.”

If O’Donovan had actually read my column-text blog all the way to the bottom, she would have seen that I included a timeline with the approximate date on or after which Jacobi de Tepenecz’s name was added to folio 1r of the VMS. It makes no sense to keep saying that I neglected to consider de Tepenecz in the VMS provenance. Even though the blog was about the Column Text and not about Jacobi, I included him on the timeline:

timeline of column text

Plus, I don’t think it’s wrong to consider this a shadowy area of the Voynich Manuscript’s provenance.

We do not know if Jacobi added the name to the manuscript. It is not the same handwriting as his apparent legal signature (the difference is quite striking). Some of his other books have been annotated by another hand.

Jacobi was a wealthy man. Perhaps he asked an aide to catalog his books. Maybe someone cataloged them after his death. We don’t even know if Rudolph II actually owned the book.

I think these are intriguing questions, but they are in no way settled yet, so I don’t think I was out of line in saying there is “a substantial gap in our knowledge of the VMS” that encompasses the time it may have been in Jacobi’s hands.

Point 2) Did the Jesuits Steal the VMS?

The second point, that O’Donovan has brought up several times, is someone’s “theory” (as she calls it) about whether the Jesuits stole the Voynich manuscript.

I don’t know whose theory she’s talking about, but she likes to bring it up in the same breath she is talking about me.

For the record, I have never said the Jesuits stole the VMS. In fact, in the blog where O’Donovan accused me of “slandering” “poor” Jakub (she meant libeling, but we’ll let that slide), the majority of the blog was about legal ways the Jesuits might have acquired the VMS.

Nevertheless, we can’t ignore the fact that Rudolph II died owing money to Jakub (and a lot of other people) and the VMS might have been in Jacobi’s possession without necessarily belonging to him. Plus, there is evidence that some of the emperor’s assets were stolen after he died. If we are to be good historians, we must consider the POSSIBILITY that someone (including Jakub) might have stolen the VMS from the emperor (if it did, in fact, pass through Rudolph II’s court).

I never said this happened. I only said it’s possible, and it was only one of many possibilities I discussed, so there’s no need for O’Donovan to keep implying that I am promoting myths and theories.

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2019 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved


 9 April 2019         

It was just pointed out to me by a Voynich researcher that Diane O’Donovan is writing about me on her blog. I took a look and was actually quite surprised that the information I posted in my columns blog was so badly misconstrued.

But before we get to that, let’s put this rumor to rest. Maybe someone was joking (if so, no hard feelings), but this was posted as an aside on O’Donovan’s blog…

(Some have suggested tongue-in-cheek that JKP is a pseudonym adopted by Rene Zandbergen who holds very similar views and is one of the very few who really has been constantly involved for ‘many years’ – but it’s just jeu d’esprit. I’m sure JKP is quite real).

                                                       D.N. O’Donovan, 9 April 2019

Yes, I am. And to anyone who may think the rumor is true, I’m not using a pseudonym—I blog with my real name. I’m assuming René Zandbergen is European. I am North American. There’s a rather long swim between us and we don’t know each other personally.

Also, as far as I know, Zandbergen has been involved with the VMS quite a bit longer than I have. I first learned of the manuscript through Edith Sherwood’s site sometime in late 2006 or early 2007. A Google search for Da Vinci brought me to her blog and then, in 2007, I noticed she had a lot of plant IDs, as well.

I’m very interested in plants, I love puzzles, I’m fascinated by history.

That’s how I got hooked on the VMS. I wanted to solve it and it’s a perfect fit with my interests. I never planned to blog about it (my friends talked me into starting a blog, they kept insisting I had something to offer) and I’m still not sure a blog was a good idea (it takes time away from research) but in the process of blogging and joining the Voynich forum, I have met some beautiful minds, so it’s probably worth the sacrifice of time.

Now, to other matters…

You know what. I was going to quote some of the “twists” on O’Donovan’s site and respond to them point-by-point, but I have changed my mind. There are too many. It would take too long. Plus, she chose to nullify the fact that Jacobi de Tepenecz was educated in Jesuit schools, administrated a Jesuit college, died in the hands of Jesuits, and left his estate to the Jesuits by declaring that he, “does not seem to have been an ordained member of any Jesuit community”.

If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then I don’t think it needs to be ordained as a duck to be included in general statements about the Jesuit community. My blog was not about Jacobi, it was about the column text.

De Tepenecz Signature

I’m also not sure why she posted a recreation of Jacobi de Tepenecz’s signature in connection with her comments about my study of the column text. It’s different handwriting. It should be in a separate section, not conflated with my column-text blog.

I didn’t discuss the signature because there might be a time gap between the writing of the column text and the addition of the signature at the bottom of folio 1r. We don’t know yet. I don’t have enough information on the signature to blog about it, and I think it’s premature to imply an association between them.

In my opinion there’s not enough research yet to draw any conclusions about Jacobi’s signature. In the scant examples that people have kindly posted on the Web (and which were probably difficult to find), the legal signature doesn’t match the other signatures and the other signatures almost look like two different hands, as though they were greatly separated in time, or perhaps because his name was added by someone else’s hand?

If you are interested in VMS provenance related to Jacobi de Tepenecz, Anton has been posting some very good research on the Wroblicionim annotations on some of Jacobi’s books on the forum. This enlightening detective work is slowly but surely helping to round out the picture.

Suffice it to say that in my previous blog, I presented needle-in-a-haystack work-in-progress to help fill out some of the missing corners of Voynich history, and presented it as simply as possible, and was not trying to change or misrepresent the manuscript’s provenance, as O’Donovan has implied.

J.K. Petersen

© copyright 2019 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved.

Probing the Provenance

7 April 2019          

There’s a substantial gap in our knowledge of the VMS, from the time it was created (c. early 1400s) until the time it came into the hands of the Jesuits (c. mid-1600s), possibly through the court of Rudolph II. More than two centuries are shrouded in mystery.

Part of my palaeographic research has included the faint text on the right-hand side of folio 1r because I was hoping it might reveal something about this hidden history, to fill in some of the missing provenance.

column text top

The column text on the right side of folio 1r has been partly obliterated and is very faint.

There appear to be four columns. The first two columns look like the same handwriting, with the alphabet shifted. The alphabet in the first column is complete, except that it’s impossible to make out the style of the r or the t. With very careful scrutiny, the other letters can be discerned.

The third column is slightly different. The loops are slightly rounder and it doesn’t appear to include as many letters as the first two columns. The fourth column is very faint and has fewer letters still. There also appears to be erased writing under the column letters (earlier attempts? or something else?). The spacing and style of the “red weirdos” doesn’t seem to have anything in common with the column text, so it’s probably written by another hand, perhaps earlier?

After extensive study of the letterforms, and intensive searches for similar handwriting, some of which I posted in previous blogs, I had enough information to try to reconstruct the handwriting of the person who wrote the column text. This research stretched over many years and included letterforms, spacing, final-ess styles, abbreviation styles, and time periods in which the text might have been added.

To make it easier to visualize how the scribe might have written whole sentences, I have created a font based on the style in the left-most column. It took a great deal of time and patience to try to achieve accurate reproduction of this script style. A couple of letters simply cannot be seen, but over time I became more familiar with this style of writing and how specific letters were usually written.

Scribal Specifics

pic of lower column text f1r

Fortunately, there is a certain consistency to the way the shapes are written (not all writers do this).

  • The ascenders and especially the descenders are long, and some of the ascenders have an unusually long and rounded curve on the top (e.g., f, h, and s). This long curve is not common and appears to be specific to this scribe.
  • Letters with stems have a squeezed oval loop (b, d, p, and q); those without are more round (c and o).
  • An important clue to help identify the time period is the short left stem on the letter “h”—it doesn’t quite reach the baseline. The letter “h” was written this way during a fairly specific time period.
  • Another important clue is the style of the “g”. This was not an unusual style, but it was less common than the double-chambered “g” or one that is more angular.

Years ago, when I began this line of research, I was hoping to confirm John Dee as the foliator and/or writer of the column text. Unfortunately, after heroic efforts, I have some doubt that John Dee was the author of the column text or the folio numbers. His handwriting is close to both, but I have samples that are arguably closer. Examples of the column text can be seen in previously published charts and I have gathered more text and number samples since my early research was published that indicate a number of people had handwriting very similar to one another and to the VMS.

The Column Alphabet

Here is the basic alphabet (note that the column “e” is a variant that is less common and usually only shows up once in a while. I’ve seen it a few times but no scribe uses it habitually, so I have included the “base e” here and the variant column-“e” in the block of text below).

  • The shapes for u and v were used interchangeably by most scribes and the one in the VMS is hard to discern, but it looks like it might have a pointed bottom as we now associate with “v”.
  • I am not sure how long the descender is on the “x”, the x is barely discernible, but scribes who wrote in this style usually lengthened the stroke on the lower-left as follows. However, this specific scribe may NOT have added the small hook on the bottom left. It may have had a very severe tail, like the one on the y:

Constructing a Block of Text

To make it easier to imagine the handwriting of the column-text writer, I have created a block of text in Latin (I wasn’t worried about whether it was correct Latin or even medieval Latin, I just copied and pasted something more interesting than Ipsum Lorem).


Be aware that reconstructing a block of text from an alphabet involves some educated guesses:

  • There are no upper-case letters, so the ones I included are based on writing samples that are very close to the column text, samples that took me years to locate.
  • The extent to which the writer used abbreviations is not known, so most of the following is not abbreviated except for the extremely common -us/-um abbreviation symbol that is included at the bottom of the alphabet on 1r.
  • The scale of the letter “o” is difficult to discern. I have made it a normal size in this sample BUT some scribes during this time period wrote the “o” smaller than other letters.
  • During the century or so that this style of writing was popular, some writers used long-ess as final-ess as well. Others used a snake-style final-ess, and some used both somewhat indiscriminantly. It’s impossible to know whether the column-text writer used a different shape for final-ess, so I have included both for purposes of illustration.
  • Whether the writer left out the serifs in the column alphabet because they were unnecessary, or because this is part of the writer’s style cannot be known from such a small sample, but the impression I get is that the scribe probably used serifs sparingly or not at all.

Here is the result of adapting the column text to a font that can be typed on a computer:

pic of recontruction of VMS f1r column text

Keep in mind that real handwriting is typically more varied in slant, spacing, and letterforms than a computer font. I have varied the letters slightly, but I didn’t want to stray too far from the original letters or make too many guesses, so it will be up to the reader to imagine what this would look like as handwritten text. Hopefully the reconstruction will help in that regard.

Pinpointing the Date

Preliminary date ranges were suggested in the charts I posted in previous blogs, but I didn’t feel I had enough samples to narrow it down. I’ve collected about 100 more samples since then (ones that are specifically similar to the column text) and I still don’t feel I have enough but I’m more confident now than I was a couple of years ago. Here’s a rough timeline that might help illuminate some of the dark corners of the Voynich Manuscript’s early provenance:

timeline of column text

Samples that are especially close to this script tend to be from the early 1500s, but this style was in use for about a century, so it might be premature to narrow it down any more than indicated by this date range. I will continue to seek out additional information and will post updates. I also have a great deal of information on other VMS text that I will post as I have time.

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2019 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved