Friday, March 29, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Pincushion Flower

The famous Voynich manuscript (Beinecke 408) Sunflower on f33v may be instead a Pincushion flower (Scabiosa). This would explain the mysterious roots of the drawing.

UDATE: Scabiosa was first proposed by Ethel Voynich and Theodore Petersen in 1930s here

The Voynich Manuscript: Chenopodium Bonus Henricus

Based on similarities of the plant on f96v of the Voynich Manuscript (Beinecke 408) and the drawing on f18v of the Manfredus de Monte Imperiali (BnF Latin 6823 here ) I will place the Good King Henry's Chenopodium (name in the old herbal is Atriplex) as likely ID for the VMs plant.

UPDATE: Dana Scott suggested this ID in 2001 on the VMS mail list with great argument:
"This plant has leaves that look like arrow heads. It is called Chenpodium bonus-henricus (Good King
Henry). Chenopodium comes from the term for goose foot in Greece (the leaves sort of look like geese feet)."
Diane O'Donovan also researched the possibility in her post here and found a lot of arguments in favor of Chenopodiom, although she like the Strawberry Blite version of the plant.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: European Baneberries

The plant on f95r of the Voynich Manuscript (Beinecke 408) looks a lot like Baneberry. The European  Baneberry (Actaea spicata) has dark berries. The fabulous white baneberries (Actaea Pachypoda and Actaea Rubra f. Alba) belong to North America and North-East Asia. So which one matches better the drawing in the VMs? The berries are not colored... well, the dots on the berries are painted in yellowish-brownish color. So the uncolored berries match better the European baneberries.
After all, Voynich manuscript researcher should be able to convince you that the white is black, if it fits his/her story line. 

The Voynich Manuscript: Viola Tricolor

Among the easily recognizable plants in the Voynich Manuscript (Beinecke 408) is the wild pansy - Viola Tricolor.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Hazel

The drawing on f28v of the Voynich manuscript (Beinecke 408) could represent anything and very few dare to guess. My favorite plant for this picture so far is Corylus Colurna (Turkish hazel).
According to Dioscorides hazelnuts were the main ingredient in the ancient Rogain. Mixed with other herbs into paste the hazelnuts were applied then on the scalp as cure for baldness.Don't try this at home! Enjoy your hazelnuts as a healthy snack instead.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Voynich Manuscirpt: Knotgrass

Finally! I've seen this weed thousands of time and I just couldn't recall any name for it. Finally, I ahve the name - Common Knotgrass (Polygonum aviculare) - starring in the Voynich Manuscript f21r.

The Voynich Manuscript: Alchemilla Alpina

The Alpine Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla Alpina) seems to be picture perfect match for the Voynich Manuscript f36v.

The Voynich Manuscript: Basilisca, Heliotropium

The identification of the Voynich Manuscript mysterious plants may be further complicated by the fact that even 'mainstream' medieval herbals contained imaginary herbs. Great example can be found in few Pseudo-Apuleius manuscripts from 11th-12th century containing image of the herb Basilisca (Bodleian Library, Ashmole 1431 here and Ashmole 1462 here, British Library Harley 1585 here ).

The problem with Basilisca is that it only appears next to Biblical Basilisk creature, which is reportedly capable of killing people by just looking at them.  To get this herb a person has to be not just a snake whisperer, but a Biblical snake whisperer! How did anybody lived to tell the tale about this plant and give us its description is a mystery. Nevertheless, the portrait of Basilisca exists in the Oxford herbals and somewhat resembles the Voynich manuscript f3r.

The plant portraits in the old herbals often lack realistic details. Another Voynichese image from Pseudo-Apuleius is the heliotrope. Without the author's stated intentions it would be hard to connect it to real plant.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Geranium, Jasea, Syperus

Some plant drawn in the Voynich Manuscript bring more consensus among the observers than others.
The geranium possibility on f36r gets a lot of votes - starting with Ethel Voynich (according to her list of plants discovered by VMS researcher Richard SantaColoma).

Nikki Phipps, author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden, explains why geranium leaves turn yellow here:

One of the most common causes for yellowing leaves is too much moisture or over-watering...  Water or air temperature that is too cool can also result in geranium yellow leaves. Geraniums are a warm weather plant and they do not deal with cool weather well.

Other plant drawings bring more disagreement.  The spectacular picture on f16v of the Voynich manuscript includes too much symbolic to get to conclusion that can be acceptable without knowing the author's intention. I came up with at least two possibilities that I haven't seen mentioned and many of those already proposed make a good case one way or the other.

The first proposal comes from image I accidentally saw while researching belladonna. It is in BNF Latin 9474 ( here ) - picture of Jacea Nigra also labeled flamette. The flame-name today belongs to totally different flower, but in early 16th century was associated apparently with Jacea.

Case can be made also that the drawing could be meant for Cyperus.

The Voynich plants with symbolic artistic appearance still keep their mystery locked. The hope is that the author's intentions will be made known one day when the text is explained. Until then the guessing game continues...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: the Guy with the Beard

There are plenty of women drawn in the Voynich manuscript and just a few guys. One of them has a beard (f71v, second rosette, 12 o'clock). The beard is split in the middle. We can find men with such beard in any time period. In 15th century, however, it was the 'fashion trend'.

Alan Peterkin, author of 1000 Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair explains in his book:

In the 15th century, beards were once again routinely worn by nobelmen and elders to signify importance, dignity, and advanced age. They were curled with lead iron, parted at the chin, and plastered into submission.

If the Guy with the Beard was in the herbal section of the Voynich manuscript it would be an easy match to the famous Mandarke Man. The split facial hair, however, is in the 'astrological' section and may represent about anybody or anything.

The most famous split beard of the time of the Voynich manuscript parchment is probably the one of Holy Roman Emperor  Sigismund as shown on his coins,  in Chronik des Konstanzer Konzils and the Albrecht Durer's painting.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Trithemius and the Calendar of Duc de Berry

Trithemius' Steganographia is no picture book. Bummer!

There are few circle charts in it, however. The most emblematic one survives written in John Dee's hand in Peniarth MS 423D, The National Library of Wales ( here ). The chart carries similarity with the Voynich manuscript f69v (middle rosette 11 o'clock), where a  string of zeroes and symbols is tucked in the edge of the rosette. The funny thing about the Voynich letters in the string is that they can be substituted for numbers from the calendar of the Les Tres Riches of Duc de Berry.

All this, I hope, is just a coincidence, Trithemius was born in 1462 and anything linking him to the VMS will move the research away from my favorite time-frame - early 1400s. Duc de Berry's calender numbers, however, come from just the right time...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: St. John's Wort

The Voynich manuscript f1v is a great example how old herbal manuscript can help identify plants drawn in the mysterious book. The very first plant is very likely St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) based on the British Library Sloane 4016 here and the Morgan Library Dioscorides MS M.652 here  and here.

For many of us the St. John's wort brings images of beautiful yellow flower. It looks like the old herbalists were more focused on its perforated leaves. According to the legend the little 'holes' were caused by the devil who was jealous of the healing power of the herb. This explains the coloring of the leaves in VMS f1v and the 'devil's foot'-like root of the plant.

UPDATE: Rene Zandbergen correctly pointed out that the Voynich manuscript f1v also has a fruit, which appear to be round dark berry, which inspired many to see Atropa Belladonna in it.
The Morgan Library Dioscorides drawing of St. John's wort is inscribed 'androsaimom'. Hypericum androsaemum's fruit is a black berry (it starts white, turns green, red and finally goes black). The fruit is known as Tutsan berry. Compared to the Belladonna we see St. John's wort is closer to the VMS f1v, because the surrounding cup leaves are round. Atropa's are star-like sharp.

UPDATE: Sarah Goslee noted that the earliest known drawing of Atropa Belladonna (Barsines) is found in  Les Grandes Heures d'Anne de Bretagne illuminated between 1503 and 1508 (BNF Latin 9474 here )

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Voyncih Manuscript: the Medieval Tents

The Voynich manuscript 9-rossettes is probably the most fascinating and the most studied. Two castles, houses, tower-in-the-hall and Gibelin walls are only few examples of architecture scattered on the 6-fold page.
I've been fascinated personally with the elements of tent design that can be found in the 9-rossets. The top left structure reminds of the famous King Rene tent. At least two rosettes show string and knots structures similar of the way the tension ropes on the medieval tents were drawn in 14th and 15th century. If you look closer you can even find medieval version of a zipper...

The bottom-right rosette shows structure close to 14th-16th century Islamic tents.

There is also hidden colonnade in the bottom-left corner of the 9-rossette drawing (tip: focus on the white figures).

What is the symbolism of all this structures nobody knows, but it sure is fun to explore them.

At the end, just for fun, I give you what is coincidentally a 9-tent circle - The Field of the Cloth of Gold.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Chronik des Konstanzer Konzils

Browsing through of the German manuscript Chronik des Konstanzer Konzils (XVI.A.17 Národní knihovna České republiky here) I couldn't resist to share some of the images of the women depicted since they somewhat resemble the Voynich manuscript's ladies hairdo (from braided hair and scarfs to red dot cheeks).

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: the Brass Mortar

The idea about the use of brass inkwell by the scribes who created the Voynich manuscript comes from the 2009 materials analysis  (read here):
Iron gall inks normally contain iron, sulfur and carbon, and  frequently potassium. Small amounts of copper and zinc are little unusual. Sources for these elements may be as minor contaminants in the iron source, or possibly due to the use of a brass inkwell; the actual source is unknown.
 The copper and zinc may have other sources. How about using of brass mortar to crash the oak galls into ink?

This beautiful mortar comes from Austria, around 1451, and today belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (here)

Probably accidently this mortar has a frog ornament that looks very close to a drawing in the Voynich manuscript f 101v.

The use of brass mortar in medicinal recipes is described in 14th century British manuscript
called The Physicians of Myddvai (or Meddygon Myddfai) here.

...Get linseed, pound in a brass mortar, make an emulsion therefrom with pure water, boiling it as you do porridge...
...Take a handful of mallows, of snails shells, of pennywort and linseed, pound them in a brass mortar...
The physicians also used brass pots, vessels and basins.