Captain Prescott Currier and Voynich research…

In the 1970s, Captain Prescott Currier noted that the Voynich Manuscript’s text seemed to contain two separate ‘languages’ (“A” and “B”), each containing sub-languages that varied yet further. For him, the language differences were primarily statistical rather than linguistic: to tell what we now call ‘Currier A pages’ & ‘Currier B pages’ apart, he observed that (using the EVA transcription):-

(a) Final ‘dy’ is very high in Language ‘B’; almost non-existent in Language ‘A.’
(b) The symbol groups ‘chol’ and ‘chor’ are very high in ‘A’ and often occur repeated; low in ‘B’.
(c) The symbol groups ‘chain’ and ‘chaiin’ rarely occur in ‘B’; medium frequency in ‘A.’
(d) Initial ‘chot’ high in ‘A’; rare in ‘B.’
(e) Initial ‘cTh’ very high in ‘A’; very low in ‘B.’
(f) ‘Unattached’ finals scattered throughout Language ‘B’ texts in considerable profusion; generally much less noticeable in Language ‘A.’

Similarly, he thought that the writing seemed to have been done by at least two hands (specifically, a larger, rounded hand he called “1” [mainly on A pages], and a more cramped, tighter hand he called “2” [mainly on B pages]), which he was convinced were those of at least two different people. He also pointed out that certain Voynichese letters appeared to have a very position-dependent behaviour, and that a line of text seems to be a functional unit in some way.

I would argue that Currier’s work has been arguably the single most influential piece of Voynich research of the last few decades, because it in effect erects a pragmatic conceptual framework for working with the Voynich Manuscript that every researcher who follows should strongly bear in mind, if not actually use.

So when I get told about so-called Voynich ‘research’ that treats the entire Voynich Manuscript as a uniformly homogenous linguistic entity (i.e. ignoring Currier completely), I give a little sigh of muted exasperation and move swiftly on. This is simply because Currier’s languages are to the Voynich manuscript what the Gillogly strings are to the Beale Ciphers: hence any claimed explanation or decryption that fails to account for Currier’s raw (yet actually rather unexpected, if you think about it) set of statistical observations is simply doomed to failure, period, even 40 years on.

I think it’s important to point out that Currier wasn’t some technical-minded Army codebreaker doing a bit of Voynich moonlighting: having graduated in Philology (with a focus on Romance Languages) from the University of Washington, he was surely perfectly placed to contribute a balanced analytical insight into the elusive internal structure of Voynichese. Hence I think the real reason that Currier’s work has been so influential in the field is that he really cared about what he was doing, and that he wanted to make a constructive, positive difference to Voynich studies.

Sadly, Currier’s insights failed to inspire a community-wide statistical assault on the Voynich Manuscript: researchers trundled on with their existing ad hoc studies, perpetually reinventing wheels – the big red revolution bus never arrived at the Voynich stop. The only obvious difference was that at least a few sensible people (Rene Zandbergen, Mark Perakh, etc) did manage to do statistical tests on A and B pages separately, which is a start, I guess… but only a start.

But because Currier restricted his work to statistical observations, he never built his framework up into the kind of thing Annales historians call a problematique, i.e. a fully rounded research question that drives future research forward. It’s all very well cleverly spotting the presence of different languages (some people prefer to say “dialects”, but it’s an open question) within the text, but that does beg some rather big questions, so-called “elephants in the room” that everyone can see but nobody talks about:-

* Why are the different languages fragmented across the document, often mixed up within a single quire?
* What gives rise to all the variation both within Currier A and within Currier B?
* Why was there a need for multiple languages at all? Why not just stick with Currier A?

Fast forward to 2013, and I think we can answer at least one of these questions, and provide reasonable (if tentative) answers to the other two.

Firstly: the simple reason that the Voynich languages are in disarray appears to be that the bifolios themselves are in disarray. I and others have uncovered numerous different codicological artefacts that strongly suggest the initial gatherings were disrupted, bound, rebound, and indeed misbound; and there is even specific evidence that quite a few bifolios ended up reversed relative to their original facing direction (i.e. folded back to front across the central crease).

Essentially, as the bifolios themselves were scrambled, so too were the languages: which is why A bifolios and B bifolios appear juxtaposed within individual bound quires. Yet given that there are large homogenous stretches of A and B bifolios, it seems likely that the scrambling wasn’t absolute – while I don’t think the Voynich bifolios were ever blown down a street in the wind, I do believe that what we see arose from a combination of planned shuffling (e.g. moving the large multi-panel bifolios towards the back and binding them there) and unplanned shuffling (binding breaking on some quires, spilling the bifolios onto the floor).

Secondly: I strongly believe that the structural and palaeographic differences between A pages and B pages tells a strong story of two major writing phases (let’s call them the “A phase” and the “B phase”). Identifying different composition phases through close reading is the kind of thing that modern historians do all the time, so this isn’t a fundamentally new approach: the only nuance here is that rather than close textual analysis (for Critical Reading) or art technique de-layering (for Art History), we’re instead looking at a cryptanalytical close reading. But then again, isn’t that what Currier was hoping for?

Note that I’m not speculating here about why there were two writing phases: at this point it’s enough just to identify them and give them names. But it does point to some interesting questions about why there should be both Herbal A pages and Herbal B pages, and what the difference between them might turn out to be (a topic upon which I’ve previously speculated more than enough for one lifetime, some would say).

Thirdly: within each of the A & B writing phases, I believe that the variations in the statistics will turn out to have arisen because of cryptographic evolution during each phase. By this, I mean that the core cryptographic system in use at the outset of each phase evolved during the various writing phases, as the author(s) finessed the system to work around specific cryptographic challenges encountered along the way, and so ending up a very different beast at the close.

I suspect that this will prove to be a set of “ratchet” effects, in that once changes were made to the system they would probably tend to stay in place until they in turn were replaced or finessed. I therefore believe that the cryptanalytical challenge we face is working out the evolutionary curves that the A system and the B system traced out – quantifying and then mapping them as if the system driving them were a probabilistic Markov state machine, its configuration relentlessly evolving as the text flows from page to page to page.

As to the specifics of how we should do this, you’ll have to wait for the next post…

56 Comments

  1. avatar Diane April 30, 2013 6:09 pm

    Please don’t think I’m trying to put a spanner in the works; I just can’t help trying to find holes that need darning.

    Looking again at the Vindolanda finds again and the variety there of cursive scripts: I wonder if it mightn’t be possible that the two read the forms they were presented with differently, and so created the different densities that Currier described?

    As if one person saw iv and rendered it as ‘n’ where another thought it read ‘m’ and so forth. Is that possible, do you think?

  2. avatar Sergi Ridaura May 1, 2013 4:13 pm

    Solo hay un lenguaje, la diferencia es el autor.

    Estoy muy ocupado por temas de trabajo y no he podido continuar el proyecto. Pero tengo pruebas de lo que digo. Espero que dentro de medio año, pueda dedicarme al libro y finalizar la traducción del manuscrito.

    Un saludo a todos y en especial a Nick.

    ***

    There is only one language, the difference is the author.

    I’m too busy for his job and I could not continue the project. But I have proof of what I say. I hope that within half a year, to dedicate the book and completing the translation of the manuscript.

    Greetings to all and especially to Nick.

  3. avatar bdid1dr May 1, 2013 4:39 pm

    And, if there are any holes that need darning (such as sock heels) one needs a “darning egg” –. You do know, Nick, that you’ve got more than a few “egg-heads” on your team?

    :)

  4. avatar James Warren May 1, 2013 6:49 pm

    What do you make of Steve Ekwall’s claim that plants correspond to RNA and humans correspond to DNA? Following this, Currier A would be RNA and Currier B would be DNA.
    The first explanation I came up with is that one language is simply more encrypted than the other. Perhaps the author encrypted the text like an encyclopedia or a dictionary, encrypting a simplified language with a small dictionary and then using the simplified language to define the full language. The actual crypto system might be more like a compression algorithm.
    What do RNA and DNA do differently as far as medieval crypto is concerned? Was ES pointing to DNA’s hereditary role and RNA’s active role in the cell? The illustrations in Quire 13 seem to be connected together in a linear process, while plant drawings seem to function independently.
    DNA is translated to proteins by means of RNA. Did ES mean that proteins are the plaintext ? If so, it follows that Currier A is less encrypted than Currier B. Most of the text by be a description of how the plaintext is encrypted. Quire 20 might be the only section which holds the message. So Currier A might tell you how to encrypt the message, Currier B could tell you how to encrypt Currier A, and Quire 20 would contain the encrypted message.

  5. avatar Tricia May 1, 2013 10:03 pm

    “plants correspond to RNA and humans correspond to DNA … Currier A = RNA and Currier B = DNA”

    Currier A+B … Horrors!

  6. avatar Ellie May 3, 2013 2:28 pm

    Thanks Nick, this is a very good article.

    One way to produce two vocabularies with the same symbols is if one language is ‘every other letter’ and the other is ‘every third letter’.

    Imagine the Rugg experiment performed with meaning – pick one for L from ol, el, il in the first language; eel, col, rol in the second language. Put random spaces.

    I am not saying this is what really the encryption is – just an idea.

    All the best! Ellie

    http://ellievelinska.blogspot.com

  7. avatar bdid1dr May 4, 2013 12:45 am

    Hola Senor Ridaura!

    mi espanol y portuguese es minimal – perdoneme muy mal langue!

    Vms folio 11v es importante especial. Arbor morus & pablumox por sericene industrial.

    Tu es publish en Espanol/Portuguese/Anglais? Por favor?!

    Gracias!

    beady-eyed wonder

  8. avatar bdid1dr May 4, 2013 12:52 am

    And, of course, full gratitude to Nick for making this WWW discussion possible!

    bdid1dr

  9. avatar eric chapuzot May 6, 2013 9:38 pm

    i persist to say that there is no language in those folio, only a code to describe the draws… there are only old fashioned jpeg…

    https://echapfr.wordpress.com

  10. avatar bdid1dr May 8, 2013 12:16 am

    While doing my translations on various folios, I’ve noticed what might be an explanation for the variation of scribal styles of writing: Fatigue and discomfort developing as they approach the bottom of each page. Having taken a look at various WWW-sites’ offerings of manuscriptorium operations (and the fixed slope of the “easels” that were used, not to mention the quills, and inkpots contents) I no longer wonder why the writing becomes more distorted, confused, or illegible by the time the scribes get to the bottom of each sheet of vellum or parchment. Length of time spent at each easel, with arm extended, and with the angle of hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder all becoming more stressful, can all contribute to some irregularly form scripts.

  11. avatar eric chapuzot May 10, 2013 7:10 pm

    yes Bdid1r, i notice too that the density of symbols were differents on the edges of the folios, perhaps lights or lens or holes or grids used to analyze draws make that…

    https://echapfr.wordpress.com

  12. avatar Diane May 11, 2013 2:02 am

    Or they may be scholia, etc.

  13. avatar bdid1dr May 11, 2013 9:29 pm

    Hmmm, scolia; a new term for me (former med student). Perhaps we’re thinking along the lines of carpal tunnel syndrome (tendonitis), scoliosis (of the spine)? Perhaps scolia is another term for for students/scholars/apprentices?

    I can definitely relate to the scribes’ condition, whatever it may have been — if not plain, downright, exhaustion!

  14. avatar bdid1dr May 11, 2013 9:42 pm

    I checked both spellings: scholia and scoliosis (of spine). Actually spinal scoliosis (I have) can have effect on one’s whole body actions — right down to the hands trying to create legible words. (I’m a southpaw, to boot!) Eric, Mr. Chapuzot, the words in the parentheses means I am left-handed — on top of all my other aches, pains, and general discomfort. :)

  15. avatar Rene Zandbergen May 12, 2013 1:49 pm

    The two languages observed by Currier are at least as relevant a piece of information as you describe here, Nick, but they are a partial view only. I tried to demonstrate this, but the fact that I have not yet been able to convince most people shows that I did not present it properly.

    There is a transition from A to B, on pages that Currier did not analyse. However, it is a ‘fast’ transition.

    Another important point is that there are several flavours especially to Currier B, which are really very different.

    It is too early for me to present any ‘explanation’. However, I should present my observations anew. On-going work, as usual,

    Rene

  16. avatar Diane May 12, 2013 4:04 pm
  17. avatar bdid1dr May 13, 2013 3:09 am

    Pretty neat, Diane! I found the scribe’s colophon to be of particular interest, because many months ago I tried to point out the Voynich scribes’ (maybe at least 2) colophon which appears on the last page of writing (f 116 ?)

    Many months ago, Esther (Molen?) presented what appeared to me to be the best translation of all “Cherish liber……

    So, I may be drifting off-subject here, now that I see we’re on voynich research lead 2. I’ll catch up with y-all in a day or so.

    Nick wish your wife a Happy Mother’s Day for me (if you happen to celebrate Mom’s Day in Britain?

  18. avatar bdid1dr May 13, 2013 4:10 pm

    Mr. Zandbergen,

    Although I’ve been following discussion about Currier and Tiltman’s efforts to decode the Vms, I have not ventured down those paths, as far as trying to decode what became obvious to me. I did, however, recently translate one of Tiltman’s files released into the public domain:Vms folio 33v (a curialim sanatio for scabies).

    Several times, in this past year, I have attempted to give you a translation of Vms folio 86r3, which you classified as “cosmological”. That particular folio is discussion about the dangers of eating field mushrooms, and the hallucinations and death which can result from eating the “Alcohol Inky”. The discussion is telling the story of Alcyone (origin of the current-day term Hallucination) and her husband Ceyx.

    Just recently, I was given a book which discusses the works of art and craft commissioned by Francesco de Medici. The very last piece of cut-rock crystal portrayed in this book is discussing the human figures of the god and goddess being turned into kingfishers.

    The book to which I am referring is part of a series, “Treasures of the World – The Renaissance Princes” by Olivier Bernier

    So, just two weeks ago, I was able to validate my translation (into latin, then english) of the story being told in folio 86 r3. The most interesting thing about that cut-rock crystal dish was the “ghostly” appearance of the mythic story being told in the glass. Also, which I found to be grossly overdone were the gold and lapis lazuli figures of a man and woman being turned into birds. The legend says they were turned into “kingfishers” : birds which nest on or near water

    I’m hoping you will be able to catch up with me and be able, at least, to change your category of “cosmological” to “mythological” on your blog.

    My sincere admiration for your work and contributions to Nick’s discussions! (I have already approached Elmar Vogt and Rich Santa Coloma with my hope that they would let you know of my attempts to communicate this info to you on your blog).

    Nick, please forgive me if I am committing a faux pas by posting my slightly off-topic (for the umpteenth time) on this particular page of discussion.

  19. avatar thomas spande May 20, 2013 9:18 pm

    Dear all, Nick’s re-emphasis on Currier’s work on the two languages and two scribal styles, leads one to suspect that the whole of the “baly” section is in language “B” mainly by the scribe using the tight style. I think the point Currier makes about “unattached finals” occurring in language “B” may well be irrelevant. It is very likely that word lengths in the VM are arbitrary and invented; just compounded from shorter words (look at the occurrence of “89” for example) or split off from longer words. Word length analysis is pointless because Voynich “words” are just randomly made with spaces in a sentence inserted willy nilly. Scribal abbreviations compound the problem. This suspicion of imaginary word lengths has been out there for quite some time and several have argued that point. So an “unattached final” is going to be a “will o’ the wisp”.. Not worth paying attention to as we really don’t know if it a “final”, an “initial” a “medial” or even a “null”.

  20. avatar Diane May 21, 2013 6:47 am

    Thomas
    Speaking as a complete novice with regard to the written part of the text, I don’t really understand why you think
    “unattached finals” ..may well be irrelevant.

    Mightn’t they signal number?
    e.g. containers/grams…4.

    Or a grammatical structure?
    … not “I”

    You say
    look at the occurrence of “89″ for example..
    I can think of equivalents in general – such as genealogies that run X son-of Y son-of Z. In some languages that construction would be just two letters, like the Hebew bn.

    I’m not arguing for or against, but curious about why you think a short ”word’ irrelevant.

    Also – am I right in thinking this is conditional?

    Word length analysis is pointless because Voynich “words” are just randomly made with spaces in a sentence inserted willy nilly.

    Has that been proven – I thought it was an idea of Rugg’s that convinces some, but not others.

    I admit that the “some” apparently including Tony does reduce me to baffled silence, but about the written text I’m fairly baffled, full stop

  21. avatar thomas spande May 21, 2013 4:07 pm

    Diane, Currier made the point of “unattached finals” occurring in B and very little in A. I attach no importance to these at all for the reason I give, that word length in the VM is totally arbitrary. The “89” I cite happens to be “et” in Armenian as Armenian like Arabic did not use “Indian numerals, often referred to as “arabic” but rather letters in their alphabet. Romanization of Armenian gives for the diglyph “89” the Latin meaning of “and”. I think sometimes it is simply et=and; sometimes the letters et are incorporated into a word.

  22. avatar bdid1dr May 21, 2013 8:21 pm

    ThomS, Diane, & Nick,

    Several times and on several topics, I have tried to explain the various mysterious cipher combinations, and the necessity to determine the different, but similar appearing “glyphs”

    One more time (all of these have enabled me to do full translations of the discussions, regardless of the scribes’ native language/handwriting):

    figure “8” or figure “&” is the phoneme “aes”

    Figure “9” (the larger) when appearing anywhere in a line of text, except at the very end of the line, is the sound of G or K.

    When the larger “9” appears at the end of a statement/line, it is representing the word ending ceus, or cius, or even geus.

    When “8” and “9” appear together at the end of a statement, it usually indicates “aes-geus” or “aes-keus”.

    When one sees what looks like a tinier “9” at the end of a statement, and hasn’t been precluded with “8”, one can read that symbol as “scius” or “xius” — or just plain “x” when it appears all by its “lonesome” anywhere in the text.

    I don’t have the energy to explain the very elaborately curlicued “P” nor the tall poles, except to say that they can be added onto and/or extended greatly over various groups of vowel combinations. The most frequently used “P” appears at the beginning of each botanical discussion — and in that case, the latin word “es-pecies” is being indicated.

    I’ll let y’all figure out the difference between “an” and “am”

    I’m sure Diane has scrutinized my every discussion in re the Vms scripts, here is one that I was able figure out only very recently (and usually only appears at the end of a lengthy discussion:

    “tius” is represented by what looks like a short, backward-facing diagonal, which is topped with an incomplete figure 8, which tail extends to below the line of script. This figure usually only appears at the end of a paragraph of discussion — and usually the end of that discussion.

    I am now tying up loose ends on 15 botanical folios in addition to the sets of folios which discuss Artemis/Diana and her temples and sacred groves. Of most interest to me have been the folios which discuss the region of the Alban Lakes (Lake Nemi, in particular) and Rome/Frascati.

  23. avatar SirHubert May 22, 2013 8:12 am

    Bdid1dr: a small point but I’m curious to know where you’ve read that ‘halcyon’ is connected with the Latin ‘hallucinatio’. The words look superficially similar but I’m pretty sure they’re not related etymologically.

  24. avatar bdid1dr May 22, 2013 4:30 pm

    SirH:

    Not a small point at all ! Considering the two or three hours of consulting three dictionaries and a latin grammar which refers to the poets/mythologists, I also went online to see how the word hallucin evolved. Though online sources were vague, and could only cite their educational background (greek and roman mythology) they were a great help in my reading the contents of Vms folio 86 r 3.

    All of the above-mentioned activity and research was done only after I had recognized the mushrooms being discussed on folio 86 r 3. I go way back (1980’s) in hunting EDIBLE field mushrooms in the mountains of UC Santa Cruz.

    I found to be most interesting the “format/layout” of the discussion on this particular folio, because it resembled “lecture notes” which could be placed on a lectern and rotated as the discussion evolved.

    Allen & Greenough’s (Grammar)
    Cassell’s (Latin-English dictionary)
    Chambers Murray (Latin-English Dictionary)
    Audubon Field Guide (North American Mushrooms)
    Google and Wikipedia’s offerings
    Various university websites (U Chicago being one, Leiden/Leyden another)

    Nick, I’m doing my best to stick to the subject of discussion for Voynich research leads. I’ve been hoping that some of my offerings/interpretations may have meaning to you and your “fans”.

    Ennyway, I’m off this weekend to one of my Greek food and dance festivals. Yassou! Opa!

  25. avatar Diane May 22, 2013 5:42 pm

    Bd1dr
    I hope you find a sympathetic editor one day and are able to publish your efforts.

    You seem to be aiming for an idea that the Vms was intended to be one of the Jesuit’s teaching texts – is that right? You said that school books and workbooks were found behind the wall.

    I’m not sure that school-rooms worked as discussion centres back then – but who knows? Sounds a very modern and egalitarian style. On the other hand, if you’ve followed up my recommendations and read Ivan Ilich, Vineyard of the Text, you may be thinking of the way pictures were sometimes meant to fall over the lectern in church and be seen by the congregation – I think that’s what he said. Almost twenty years since I read it, and memory no longer serves as it did.

  26. avatar SirHubert May 23, 2013 9:34 am

    From LS&J and Lewis and Short (both online and just as well, because my old ex-university copies are still waiting to be unpacked):

    http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/lsj/#eid=4574&context=search

    and

    http://artflx.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.0:2067.lewisandshort

    Both interesting words. I didn’t know that the initial ‘h’ of ‘halkuon’ was a later change through false etymology.

  27. avatar Diane May 23, 2013 10:24 am

    SirHubert

    I can just imagine the Renaissance wits tormenting their tutors with puns on “alucinans pastor” – poor chaps.

  28. avatar xplor May 23, 2013 6:17 pm

    The Jesuits could not have used the MS 408. They were the army of god at that time and would have killed anyone that possessed the book. They were the Counter-Reformationary force in charge of black ops for the church.

  29. avatar bdid1dr May 23, 2013 7:03 pm

    Sir Hubert (and Diane O’D)

    My recent commentary, on the recent discovery of the manuscripts which were buried/closed off when the Roman College was transformed into the Gregorian University umpteen centuries ago, seems to have created a flurry of disconcertion.

    Diane, why not visit the video presentation made by the conservators of the Gregorian University (about 2 years ago) which is still available online? See, for yourself, the glimpses of the manuscripts which have been hidden for some centuries. You will have, at most, only brief glimpses of the manuscripts being digitized. Thrilling, nonetheless!

    Sir Hubert, I do not claim to be an expert in European history or any other field of education. I do claim to be an expert in records management, including historical records of a couple of cities and counties. I’ve also participated in several Nursing audits. One of the audits required evidence from some missing documents. I was able to find the documents which, basically, prevented the hospital from being sued for malpractice and malfeasance.

  30. avatar bdid1dr May 23, 2013 7:41 pm

    Sir Hubert,

    There you have it! My frequent, but apparently unread, references in several discussions with Nick, Rich, Elmar, and many attempts to contact Rene Z. and give him some positive feedback on Voynich Manuscript folio 86 r 3.
    Folio 86r3 is all about the discussion of two mushrooms which look very much alike. However, the one mushroom (Alcohol Inky) can cause severe HALLUCINATIONS and DEATH if alcoholic beverages of any kind have been consumed within a week of eating that particular mushroom.
    I refer you to the illustrations of mushrooms, birds swimming on “waterfalls”, persons huddled behind stems, and obviously waving for help.

    I don’t feel that my frequent references to this particular folio is inappropriate. Who knows: there may be some serious ‘shroom-hunters “out there” — picking mushrooms as I type!

    :)

  31. avatar bdid1dr May 23, 2013 8:06 pm

    Sir Hubert,

    Other folios I’ve translated are Folio 11v (mulberry fruit pictured). Discussion is about the pablum-ox (chopped mulberry leaves) fed to silkworm caterpillars (sericine). The only reference to the mulberry tree, itself, is in the 5th line of discussion: “arborog/k-aes-g/keus”. The very last word of discussion “blattae-ro-ce-ox-aes” refers to “moth-eaten” — and is basically saying that the larva within the cocoon MUST be killed before it eats through the very valuable, continuous, strand of silk which can be more than a mile long when unwound onto a reel.

  32. avatar Diane May 24, 2013 12:40 am

    Xplor
    You seem to have learned about Jesuits from movies and Dan Brown.

    Europe of the time was infected with two obsessions: religious hysteria – endemic in European society – and obsession with caste.

    Everything a person did, or didn’t do, was constantly monitored to see if they were “one of us”.

    That disease wasn’t limited to any sub-sect of a sub-sect. Everyone behaved in that way, and residues still exist – there are genuinely some people who will argue that slaughter of Jews and Catholics by Protestants was less morally repugnant than slaughter of Jews and Protestants by Catholics.

    I see no distinction.

  33. avatar Diane May 24, 2013 2:40 am

    Bd1dr
    I don’t know about being disconcerted, and for all the advertising, I could find no site where the documents are available online – could be my search engine, or perhaps the project is still in process.

    Has anyone else fared better?

  34. avatar bdid1dr May 24, 2013 2:54 pm

    Well, I’ve done my best to prove my consistent method of decipherment many times on several of Nick’s most active pages. So, my question to Nick, and all of his followers, now is this:

    Have you been able to disprove any of my decipherments? I do see many attempts to divert the discussions into inanity. I am most proud of being able to decipher/translate a couple of Tiltman;s and Currier’s failed efforts at decoding. So, I have been hoping that Nick and his many friends and fellow bloggers would give me some positive feedback.

    I’m still hoping.

    I don’t give up easily.

    :)

  35. avatar nickpelling May 24, 2013 3:28 pm

    bdid1dr: in my experience of crypto history, I’ve yet to see a single genuine anagram-based historical cipher. I suspect this is simply because there are so many possible anagrams to be had of even a short ciphertext that it makes it a poor choice even for scientific proof of discovery anagrams (a slightly different category).

    Furthermore, my experience of Latin is that it is a very well-structured language, and the pieces of Latin that you have decrypted so far seem to be quite loose and ill-formed, quite unlike normal Latin texts.

    All of which means that history, statistics and linguistics would currently all seem to be stacked against your claim. But I could be wrong, so make of that what you will. :-)

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  36. avatar xplor May 24, 2013 3:53 pm

    Diane, we agree. I am only looking at it from the point of view of the book. Why would the author bother to encrypt it, if not out of fear of it falling into the wrong hands? Encryption was a tool of politics and war not of scientific text books. Why the need for polyalphabetic cipher and mnemonic devices?

  37. avatar Diane O’Donovan May 24, 2013 4:40 pm

    Xplor
    mnemonics were just a way to aid memory – not a huge deal and though a private system not necessarily secret in intent or in practice. A halo around a saint’s head is a mnemonic as well as being a marker (emblem). Saves having to write “this is a saint” three hundred times and is visible from a distance.

    Mnemonics aren’t an aspect of cryptography – any more than writing is. They just save space and time. Imagery impacts quicker and more permanently than anything save chant+movement.

    About ciphers and encyption I cannot speak – I would not even be able to offer an opinion on whether the text is or isn’t so.

  38. avatar Diane O’Donovan May 24, 2013 5:12 pm

    Nick (or anyone who cares to respond)
    – a technical question

    I have assumed that to describe something as a “mysterious steganography” is a contradiction in terms – steganography meaning only rarely a shorthand like Tironian notation, and far more often a text which does not appear mysterious at all, but as plain readable text, the hidden meaning being undetectable to casual readers.
    That is so, is it not?

  39. avatar nickpelling May 24, 2013 5:43 pm

    Diane: “steganography” = “hiding information in plain sight”, whereas “stenography” = “shorthand”.

    There are thousands of ways of hiding things in plain sight, each of which may or may not be mysterious. :-)

    For example: did I answer nicely elsewhere?

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  40. avatar thomas spande May 24, 2013 6:04 pm

    Dear all, I think Diane has put her finger on an important aspect of the VM texts and that is the use of cunning scribal notation that passes in many cases for glyphs that are “normal”. The most common one is a “c” null underneath a “)” right paren. The “)” was a common Tironian note but in the case of the use mentioned above, i.e. over what appears to be a “c”. the end result looks like a backward swirly “S” that could be Armenian for an “S” but in the VM has some additional meaning, like maybe “st”? It can often be seen as having been done with two scribal strokes, sometimes really obvious, sometimes more cryptic. I think what appear to be scribal exhuberance with the gallows where the horizontal stroke goes on and on, is a hidden macron, indicating a deletion has taken place somewhere underneath it. There are many others like an “m” pushed against a “)” that resembles an “i” and tipped “?” but is an m (I think) with a concealed Tironian note indicating a contraction. Both scribes use them a lot. Nearly every line of the VM has one or more but the density seems higher in the botanicals and lesser in the “bathy” section. I know that Nick has been here long ago and will have his own take on this theme.

  41. avatar thomas spande May 24, 2013 6:36 pm

    Dear all, I think I am just rediscovering the wheel here but has anyone proposed the purpose and contents of those cylinders on f78r? I think I am going down a known path in recognizing the “beehive” like structures at upper right and left as rain-producing clouds? Incidentally,has Diane (or anyone else) found depictions like these and those on f84r for clouds anywhere in voynichimagery studies? Simple scalloping is seen on f72v and f75v and could also indicate clouds producing rain?

    “Armenian bole” was a reddish clay with health promoting properties that was used in bathing and a very tentative proposal is that the cylinders have such a substance in them and release ions and maybe alkali that were considered beneficial to bathers. The red pot to the right of the central vignette of f84r might be the same stuff for direct addition to the bath. Armenian bole was even thought to help in resisting plague. East of Suez, there was a huge interest in medicinal properties of boles or “earths”, either for external or internal use. Particularly among Persians and Arabs, where Armenian bole was prized. It was always in short supply.

  42. avatar bdid1dr May 24, 2013 8:44 pm

    The writers (2 at least) and artists (maybe more than one) were composing a reference book for the care and nurturing of women and young girls, period. They were also trying to keep some trade secrets “secret”. Whatever social status may have been for those women is another whole discussion to which I will not volunteer my “suspicion”.

    I am continuing my translations, but will not impose on your kindness much longer. It is a shame, though, that so many open-minded researchers seem to be blind to what is obvious about the “Voynich” manuscript: It is a handbook for “estates-managers”. Yes, the latin writing is clumsy, but deliberately so: There were secrets: The care and feeding of the insects which made the international silk trade so lucrative. The slave trading — and maintenance of the temples to “mythic” gods and goddesses. (Diana/Artemis). The myths of god and goddess who were worshiped by sailors during storms at sea (Alcyone and Ceyx”.

    Last, but not least, are all of the combinations of various leaves and roots portrayed in the “pharma” section. Each and every combination which appears in the pharma and botanical drawings is accompanied in the pages of script which appears between those sections. Each item of discussion is “bulleted” with a little “star-like” flower.

    I urge you to follow the discussion, however, for another very dangerous medication which is discussed in folio 83v — the mandrake FRUITS which are labeled in “Voynichese”. I tried, several months ago, to give you a translation of the Voynichese as well as referring folks to a very interesting site of information on some of the specimens in the Voynich:

    Ambrosia Society (host recently deceased, but apparently still being maintained).

    All of them are intelligible to me. I will not impose on your kindness and tolerance with any more contributions to your “Voynich” presentations. I sincerely hope, though, that Rene will have the opportunity read my translations.

    I will still be following your other very interesting discussions.

  43. avatar Diane May 25, 2013 2:17 am

    Nick,
    My etymological dictionary comments that steganography was sometimes used also to mean shorthand of the Tironian type. But, as I said, not often.

    Though Vms script can hardly be called ‘plain text’ – Kircher doesn’t call it an unknown language, nor a mysterious cipher. Why not? He knew a great many scripts and languages, at least by sight – what was he seeing here.

    Give that habit of Kircher’s of being ironic (or snide) in letters to fellow Jesuits, I’d be inclined to see this choice of words as deliberate parody of content – presumably quoting Baresch’s words – in the original covering letter.

    As you did here, I think, Kircher would have assumed the use another example of that ignorance he imagines of Baresch, and the sense given that the text is beneath the attention of a mind such as his. Impressions which Marci and others tried to dispel.

    Baresch’s letter (April 1639) can be read as direct responses to both points –

    This task is not beneath the dignity of a powerful intellect. …

    .. this thing cannot be for the masses [a ‘mystery’ in the strict sense] as may be judged from the precautions the author took in order to keep the uneducated ignorant of it.

    – he avoids the term steganography, but possibly didn’t know what Kircher would consider appropriate, so uses none.

    I read your posts and comments too – all the better to gain instruction. :)

  44. avatar Diane May 25, 2013 2:32 am

    Thomas,
    I agree that the cylinders are clay – but since I don’t see the female figures as meant literally, but as personifications, so here I see the pipe-lengths, though drawn with the pattern which appears here and in the month-roundels to mean impervious-to-water (clay?), are intended to mark journey-stages. Analogies inc. kombologion. I expect the association might be informed by homophony in the original language.

  45. avatar Ellie May 28, 2013 2:13 pm

    Hi Nick,
    In your study of the VMs page order – are the ‘zodiac’ pages currently in the ‘right’ order.
    Is it possible that fol. 71 (the extra April and May) was at the end of the ‘zodiac’ representing April and May in the next year. In this case the author did not draw in January,February and March of the second year (or the pages are missing).

    http://ellievelinska.blogspot.com

  46. avatar Ellie May 28, 2013 2:41 pm

    The reason I am asking about the ‘zodiac’ pages is the possibility they represent the 1494/95 campaign of Charles VIII in Italy. The French King entered Rome on December 30 1494. The VMs calender stops. On March 31 1495 is the announcement of the creation of the Holy League – the calender resumes with the extra April and May. The Battle of Fornovo is on July 6th 1495 – the book is taken :)

    http://ellievelinska.blogspot.com

  47. avatar Ellie May 28, 2013 4:43 pm
  48. avatar nickpelling May 28, 2013 5:18 pm

    Ellie: the zodiac pages can only be in the current order because f70v2 (Pisces) and f70v1 (dark-half Aries) are the final two pages of Quire 10. f71r (light-half Aries) starts Quire 11, and on it goes from there. There’s no other order that makes sense.

    If it’s any consolation, this has caught out a lot of other people over the years. ;-)

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  49. avatar Ellie May 29, 2013 12:47 pm

    Hi Nick,
    Thanks for the reply! I just want to make sure I understood correctly – there is no physical possibility for fol.71 r/v (light goat/light bull – April/May) to have been after fol. 73 r/v (November December).
    The page with the light goat and the light bull is not part of the tri-fold May-June-July-Augst-Sept-Oct. It is a separate page. Is it connected in some way to the tri-fold in a way that is impossible to move?

    http://ellievelinska.blogspot.com

  50. avatar nickpelling May 29, 2013 2:24 pm

    Ellie: f71r/v is physically connected to f72r1/r2/r3/v3/v2/v1, (i.e. they’re all on a single super-wide n-folio), and holds a complete sequence from Light Aries to Libra. At the same time, f70v2 and v70v1 are at the end of a wide bifolio.

    If you think (as I do) that the only likely layout is the one where the Dark Aries page is sequentially followed by the Light Aries page, and that the Scorpio page must have similar followed the Libra page, then you’d conclude that the current page order looks very likely to be correct.

    That is, the only two possible places the ordering can vary are (a) the Aries-Aries join and (b) the Libra-Scorpio join, both of which look basically correct as they are. Hope this is a help! :-)

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  51. avatar Ellie May 29, 2013 2:36 pm

    Thanks Nick, I see now they are on the same parchment sheet.
    One more question (hopefully the last) – is it possible the drawing to be put on the parchment first before all the sewing of the quire is done – so the Light Goat/light Bull was meant to be at the end of the quire, but instead it was sewed at the beginning of the quire. Were the quires prepared in advance, or were they added as each series of drawings were complete?
    I understand it is unlikely, plus the drawing styles of all the goats and surrounding figures suggest we have the right order.

    http://ellievelinska.blogspot.com

  52. avatar Ellie May 29, 2013 2:50 pm

    Hi Nick, never mind – that would leave the November and December is wrong order. So the order is right. Thanks for your help! I will update my post.
    All the best! Ellie

    http://ellievelinska.blogspot.com

  53. avatar bdid1dr June 21, 2013 3:48 pm

    So, Nick, Diane, Ellie, & friends,

    Have any of you considered my suggestion that the entire manuscript, with its several “fold-out” folios, may have been a lecturer’s/professor’s/ambassador’s notes and/or travelogue? Or maybe a diary? (Again, Clusius’s correspondent Busbecq comes to my mind.)

  54. avatar nickpelling June 21, 2013 3:54 pm

    bdid1dr: it’s a suggestion. But then again I could amply stuff a double mattress with all the Voynich suggestions, ‘might-be’s, ‘could-be’s and ‘should-be’s I’ve heard over the years, and still sleep like a sedated log.

    As you can tell, I’m not too big on suggestions right now.

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

  55. avatar bdid1dr June 22, 2013 3:40 pm

    O-kay, no more suggestions from me. B-u-u-t, I’m not backing out entirely. Opinions? Speculations? Wonderments? Contributions?

    Really, though, I’ll give you a break. You are a great web-host!

    Let’s see if I can make a “smiley” here……. :)

  56. avatar nickpelling June 22, 2013 5:14 pm

    bdid1dr: I’m not sure there’s a smiley to express “exhaustion and nausea from prolonged exposure to an excess of Voynich theories and suggestions”…

    http://www.nickpelling.com/

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