Sunday, August 26, 2012

Voynich Manuscript: Peter of Candia, Pope Alexander V

So far in my quest for creating new Voynich theory, based on my own biases, I transformed the 'zodiac pages' pages into map of Europe representing the situation in the Old World between 1400 and 1410 (time when Elizabeth of Nuremberg held the title of Roman Queen as portrait on the Teutonic Order chart) . It appears that the VMS is product of social mingling during increased diplomatic activities in Europe dealing with the Great Schism and the rise of the Ottomans.

I assigned all the ‘zodiac’ symbols to countries from England all the way to the Golden Horde, but what about all the Suns and Moons that appear in the illustrations?

The answer is found on the coats of arms of the Popes (and anti-Popes) that ruled during that time period between 1400 and 1410.

As you can see, we don’t have to go to astrology to find celestial symbols in this time frame.
It is the Sun Pope, Alexander V, who caught my attention.  His name was Petrus Philargos (also  Pietro Filargo and few dozen other spellings). He was known also as Peter of Candia (or Peter from Crete). His life story is truly unique and his missionary and diplomatic activities sent him all over the map of Europe. Born on Crete, he was found as a child with no family, begging from door to door, by Franciscan friar who educated him in the Venetian part of the island before taking him to Italy.
Pietro’s education continued at Oxford and Paris. His missionary work included Russia, Poland and Lithuania. Pietro was sponsored by Giangaleazzo Visconti. Peter and his friend and secretary Decembrio supported   Chrysoloras, ambassador sent by Byzantine Emperor Manuel II to spread the Greek culture in the West. 

 Philargo was able to secure the title of Duke for his Milan supporter after mission to Bohemia. Soon after the death of Visconti, who made Pietro Archbishop of Milan, the future Sun Pope was created into cardinal (with Sun on his coat of arms) and in 1409 was elected Pope as Alexander V during the Counsel of Pisa. That worsened the Great Schism because the Moon Pope and the Rome Pope refused to resign. 

I was able to observe manuscript of Pietro di Candia from his lecture in Wien in 1393, held in Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.  Couple of pages was enough to extract symbols very similar to the Voynich European Alphabet (EVA). On top is Pietro’s manuscript; on the bottom is the EVA.

Below is the sample page where the symbols come from. The manuscript appears to be written by more than one scribe. Some pages are neatly done (I would guess by Pietro’s secretary), some are messy, but rich and diverse in symbols (I would guess, the lecturer himself).  

 More comparison based on the VMS 'zodiac' sign writings:

Petros Philargos died eleven months after being elected Pope during visit to Bologna, where his tomb (decorated in the style of Visconti Tarot cards) is located.

While browsing through the Cary-Yale Visconti tarot set I realized the game at the time was closer to the modern Monopoly than to exotic future-readers in smoky rooms with crystal ball and black cats. The cards at the time included money (coins) and weapons, only the goal was to conquer kingdoms instead of corporations. 

Peter of Candia may not be the author of the VMS.  He, however, had the personality and the life experience to weave a web of intrigue from England all the way to Asia. Philarg also had many friends in the humanistic circles of Italy. They may have been influenced by him. His secretary, for example, Uberto Decembrio named his son, the famous Pietro (Pier) Candiddo Decembrio after his employer Pietro di Candia. Little Candido grew up to write 127 works, among them a book about animals, including imaginary, non-existent ones…


  1. So, perhaps the Vms is a rough draft of a manuscript written by Uberto Decembrio or a rough draft of his father's manuscript written by Pietro/Pier Decembrio?

    I'm still working on the "lecture notes" for mushroom identification.


  2. If I have to guess, it looks like encoded personal correspondence between Uberto Decembrio and Peter of Candia. Uberto was already his secretary in 1391 - so by the time of the Wien lecture they were working together. The neat writing in the Wien manuscript is very Voynicheze, but the messy one has the VMS symbols. My guess is - by 1400 the secretary and his employer worked out a code to communicate with each other. It may have been known only to those two.

  3. This is fascinating.

    Do you have copies of any other pages from the document?

    Have you worked out the alphabet and language these characters comprise yet? It looks like it is Latin but I do not recognize most of the characters. Have you been able to figure out where the alphabet came from?

    Don of Tallahassee

  4. Ellie - although is now more than fifteenth years since I wrote up the results of twelve years' research into the antecedents for such cards (attested, by the way as a memory-aid in twelfth-century Egypt, and attributed to the practices of almanac-makers), it is interesting to see that you also find some link between images on such cards and items in the Voynich manuscript.

    I am fascinated by the similarity between the hand-writing here. Would it be possible for you to post pictures showing more of the document surrounding the month-names you've isolated?

    The similarity does seem very strong; in isolation, though, they are less convincing than they would be in their natural context. Hope you don't mind my saying so.
    Of course, most people believe that these inscriptions were added later than the main body of the work. I have not much opinion on that point.

  5. Dear Don, I also believe the inscriptions are added later. Also, the symbols that seems so strange to us today are mainstream writing at the time according to experts I was able to talk to. The link to the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek is in the post - click on 'held in'.
    As for the language, I believe it is Slavic written in Latin. I use my own transcription which is close to the EVA, but with some differences in the non-Latin symbols. But I can't explain it the way reasonable person can believe me.

    Still I have good time discovering stories in the VM. From the writing on the first page I get the story that the author was jailed in a dungeon called Saint Cross (Sv Kros Kaznia). He/she was allowed to write. The Voynich he/she calls his/her travelings (stranstvania). When the he/she hears the noise of the guard he/she stops writing and hides the journal. There is a story on one of the 'zodiac' pages describing customs of some place (?oroshkie poriadki) in the presence of the king (kesria) people take off their hats, whoever has hats (sniat kepo kdo iest kepo) and put sand on their hair (pokie s piesk ta te kde pieskdo e po kosi) so those who have sand on their hair get handful of sweet vegetables (po shiepok ovoshe sladkie) in the hat where they inserted couscous before the occasion (vo kzktshz kdo ie vkniad o evo). It is weird stuff that I am getting from the book and I am still not able to assign few of the composite symbols. So I am not pretending to have a theory set in stone, I just keep exploring.

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  7. Ellie, please remove previous comment. I've no idea why but a line was duplicated when it printed.
    I meant to write:
    Putting dirt or ashes on the head was a sign of penitence.

    If the people were - say - prisoners of war, or imprisoned as rebels, or Manichaeans or Bogomils or Jews, it is certainly conceivable that the penitence gesture might be required before a prisoner was given his daily ration.

    I have no means to know if your translation is viable - I can only say that the scene you describe is not contrary to what we know of medieval history.

    For the part of the world you posit, the twelfth century had certainly seen a fierce punishment of the Bogomils, whose land was invaded, and they blinded and enslaved.

    It is believed that the 'noble fool' figure in the frontispiece to a 12thC copy of Gregory's Moralia in Job might be a reflection on those events.
    (The manuscript is at Dijon, Bibl. Municipale, MS 2. 1)
    I also believe the 12thC is when the matter in the manuscript was transferred to the mainstream monotheist cultures of the Mediterranean - so it's all fine by me!

  8. Thank you, Diane,
    I thought it is weird to put couscous in the hat and then somebody to put vegetables in it. As for the transcription - I don't believe anybody can prove their transcriptions, because of the way it is encoded. If you look at 15th century Kiev Bible (it is in the Russian Presidential Library) and other documents from Kievlian Rus at the time you will find out that there is no spacing between most of the words - so putting random spaces between words is already encoding for such wrighting. This however opens the door for many interpretations of the text - so I don't believe anybody will ever prove it.

    One example of Slavic written in Latin is the Freising Manuscripts - very Voynichese as alphabet stricture - however, in it same letter can be read differently - c can be k,tch and so on, z can be zh,sh and so on, u can be v,iu and so on. Latin does not work very well for the Slavic languages - Cyrilic is more fit for the job. So, if the VMS is written in Slavic in Latin and encoded - lets say every other letter or right- to left or random spacing - it would be impossible to prove transcription because the same letter can change sounds - which is the case in Freising Manuscript - one I can read and understand - church Slavonic.

  9. Yes, I've noticed something of the same - in regard to a map found in a Franciscan monastery in Dalmatia. The chap who found it had a terrible time trying to work out which region it showed, because not only were the place-names a mixture of several languages including Cuman etc., but the orthography was irregular in just the same way. There's a good deal in the manuscript which points towards the north, and especially the Chersonese - around where the Genoese settlement would be at Caffa. Thing is, though, the imagery belongs to a much earlier period than that and is mainly confined to imagery in the 'astrological' section.
    I have my doubts that it was originally meant as a zodiac, but that's another story.

  10. My suggestion to decode the Voynich Manuscript is in the fact that each of its individual pages encodes some other information . Encryption is not just a written form . There's a whole spectrum of gnosis , which, because of the limited capabilities (eg letter runicze - oldest inscriptions are from the second and third century AD, before the Egyptian hieratic writing , etc.) were also encoded in a different form - for example, by means of signs and symbols : see semiotics - from the Greek : " semasticos " - significant , " semasia " - meaning "," semeion " - a sign of " sema " - a sign , the image signal . And in such a manner is encoded Voynich manuscript - it is not my task , classic cipher written , only symbolic rebus - ideogram . Below to better illustrate the time- historical continuum in brief , a summary of the earlier descriptions of each manuscript illustration . ( From 1R to 19R )

    1R - Big Bang and Kolaps - cyclical nature of the universe.

    1V - Approximately 4.5 - 5 billion years ago - the formation of the Earth's crust.

    2R - About 3.5 billion years ago - the first organisms .

    2V - About a billion years ago - the first single-celled organisms ( eukaryotes ) .

    3R - Approximately 900 - 700 million years ago - the first multi-cellular organisms .

    3V - approximately 700 - 600 million years ago - the first invertebrates .

    4R - 500 million years ago - the first vertebrates .

    4V - 400 million years ago - vertebrates came out of the water.

    5R - 220 million years ago - the beginning of the reign of the dinosaurs.

    5V - 65 million years ago - extinction of the dinosaurs , evolution of mammals .

    6R - About 65 - 30 million years ago - carnivores .

    6V - About 30 - 7 million years ago - the formation of plants and animals.

    7R - About 12 million years ago - the first hominids .

    7V - About 7 - 5 million years ago - the appearance of man .

    8R - About 100 thousand . years ago - the emergence of modern man .

    8V - Approximately 15-12 thousand . years ago - man hiking - "bridge" Bering .

    9R - Approximately 11.5 thousand . years ago - the end of the last ice age.

    9V - About 10 thousand . years ago - hunter -gatherers , the birth of agriculture.

    10R - Around 4000 , the BC - Development of urban community Mesopotamia.

    10V - Around 3000 , the BC - The beginnings of civilization of ancient Egypt.

    11R - The turn of the second and first millennium BC - Judaism , Jerusalem.

    11V - turn of the century - Christianity . Rome .

    12R - None. According to me - Ancient Greece .

    12 V - None. According to me - the Empire of Alexander the Great .

    13R - The Roman Empire .

    13V - Persian Empire .

    14R - Huns . Mongol Empire .

    14V - Byzantine Empire .

    15R - The State of the Franks.

    15V - The spread of Islam.

    16R - Vikings .

    16V - Slavs .

    17R - The Crusades .

    17V - The Hundred Years War .

    18R - Ottoman Empire .

    18V - War of the Roses .

    19R - The Order of the Teutonic Knights .

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  13. The text is hard to read, but shortly after the "Ad propositum" it's quoting the Vulgate, Hebrews, 4.12: "Vivus est enim sermo Dei, et efficax et penetrabilior omni gladio ancipiti: et pertingens usque ad divisionem animae ac spiritus: compagum quoque ac medullarum, et discretor cogitationum et intentionum cordis", cf. here.
    And then something like Hebrews, 4.13: "Et non est ulla creatura invisibilis in conspectu ejus: omnia autem nuda et aperta sunt oculis ejus", mangled.
    So the A sign in the table corresponds to the word "omni" - "penetrabilior" is clearly readable, as is "gladio". Between them, corresponding to "omni" in the Vulgate text, is the A sign.

  14. The same procedure allows to establish a correspondence between the sign and "per" in pertingens, as well as between "oque" in quoque as the next marked sign
    ( f?) and between "in" in invisibils and the sign x.

  15. The document is not encoded in the sense of being a cypher. These are normal abbreviations for the time (think of it as in between regular writing and shorthand, although technically it's not a formal shorthand in the sense that we know it now) and most of it is quite readable.

  16. Ellie,
    Don of Tallahassee remembered this post and added a note about it on my blog. If it's ok with you, I'll add a reference as footnote in an essay I'm working up, which isn't about Peter of Candia, but the reason why folio 86v includes only one site in mainland Europe, one I'm inclined to think Avignon, or possibly a site in northern Spain. The scribal hand used by the clerici scriptores in papal service before Bracciolini is traced by some scholars to the practices evolved in Avignon to cope with massive replication of its books and documents before the first return in 1377. So it's in that context I'd be citing the example of this scribe's work - would that be alright with you?