Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: the Stomach

Voynich manuscript researcher Scott Curry came up with brilliant idea and shared it with the VMs list. The proposal is that the nymphs going down the 'waterfall' on fol. 75r are representing letters of the alphabet. I like the 'cheerleaders' idea, because it give us a whole new level to make up stuff based on our own theories/biases. For example, I believe the drawing on fol. 75r represents the anatomy of the stomach, so when reading the 'body language' of the nymphs I came up 'surprisingly' with 'word' supporting my theory: plcero - which resembles Italian pulsero - to pulsate - explaining the ripples the VMs author drew on the walls of esophagus and the stomach. The word also can be vlcero - ulcero - ulcerate - or any other word - or no word at all - depends on your own theory...

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Black Cumin

One of my favorite Edith Sherwood's plant ids is the Roman coriander (Nigella sativa) on fol.  29v. The seeds of the herb (black cumin) are found in tombs of the ancient Egypt (including King Tut's). According to Dioscorides the seeds mixed with vinegar are cure for crocodile and dog-bites. There is possibility that the root of the plant on the drawing represents crocodile skull - often present in medieval wunderkammer.

The Voynich Manuscript: Nettle

Voynich Manuscript plant expert Steve D has interesting proposal for fol. 30v - Nettle (Urtica membranacea). I am adding it as placeholder for this VMs page on my list.

The Voynich Manuscript: Spanish Flag Lantana

Voynich Manuscript researcher Dana Scott has a really nice id for the plant on fol. 32r of the VMs - Lantana camara (common name Spanish Flag). The leaves match and the yellow petals that crown the flower are shown as detail on the drawing. Plus, I can imagine that the root seems to show striped flag (I used the Royal Banner of Aragon as example of striped flag with Lantana camara colors). I am adding Lantana camara as placeholder for fol. 32r on my list.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Cat's Head

Cat' Head (Tribulus terrestris) is not the perfect match for fol. 90v of the Voynich manuscript, but I'll keep it as placeholder for now, because it reflects my opinion that the flowers in the drawing may be just seed pods.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Le Mystère de la Passion

As you know by now, Jehan Michel Pierrevive, royal physician of Charles VIII,  is my favorite suspect for author of the Voynich Manuscript (at least until I find more entertaining idea) in my theory that the VMs and the book with naked women, found in the tent of the King of France during the Battle of Fornovo 1495, are one and the same.

I was able to find the 1493-1494 edition of the mystery play that Jean Michel reportedly authored. Apparently he was the Mel Gibson of his time. It is in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (visit here). Le Mystère de la Passion is a printed book which is embellished really beautifully.

First thing I noticed was that the end of the lines were filled with painted decoration for aesthetic purposes which reminded me of the presentation of Prescott Currier on the Voynich Manuscript (read here ). He explained curious detail about the line in the VMS as functional entity:

"...The ends of the lines contain what seem to be, in many cases, meaningless symbols: little groups of letters which don’t occur anywhere else, and just look as if they were added to fill out the line to the margin..."
Could the explanation be that the text is poetry?

The flowers that are painted in the Passion play book are very humble ones. One particular thistle caught my eye because it was shaped to fit inside Fleur-de-lis  symbol, which reminded me of the VMs fol. 13r.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Da Vinci's Appendix

I already discussed the possibility that two of the drawings on fol. 77v of the Voynich Manuscript represent the anatomy of the intestines and the appendix (click here). Curiously Leonardo da Vinci also chose to zoom-in the appendix and draw it separately  on the same page as the intestines.

This particular drawing of Leonardo is dated 1492, so the picture would have been available in 1494 when da Vinci accompanied Ludovico Sforza to Pavia to meet the French King Charles VIII during his Italian War. Leonardo also met on the same trip the anatomist della Torre (click here ) and thus inspired the royal physician/astrologer/prophet/poet Jean Michel to make similar composition in his book that was captured later at the battle of Fornovo and smeared publicly because of all the naked women in it. OK, the part about Jean Michel is all speculation, of course.

The Voynich Manuscript: Veronica

Saw-leaved speedwell (Veronica austriaca) will be my placeholder for plant id on fol. 26r of the Voynich Manuscript. Unlike Veronica officinalis the leaves are deeply toothed. The artist in the VMs emphasized the V-shape for the classic Veronica spikes. Although it is called Austrian speedwell it is present in other countries of northern temperate Europe.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Myrrh and Frankincense

Rene Zandbergen found similarities in the drawings of the Voynich Manuscript with the 14th century French manuscript Manfredus de Monte Imperiali (BNF Latin 6823, visit here ). So the following plant id proposal is based only on similarity with the picture of this manuscript - not on real plant.
fol. 65 of BNF Latin 6823 resembles a bit the plant on fol.  25r. According to the text it is supposed to be Bdellium (Commiphora wightii) - the cheaper version of Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha).

Other interesting proposed ids for this VMs plant are Nettle (Ethel Voynich) and Coffea Arabica (Steve D.).

If there is myrrh, there must be frankincense :) On the next folio - 26r we find plant drawing with distant possibility for Boswellia sacra (frankincense).

UPDATE. Better choice for fol.26r may be Saw-leaved speedwell (Veronica austriaca)

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Mastic

The Mastic shrub (Pistacia lentiscus) with its male flowers may be the plant represented on fol. 87v of the Voynich Manuscript. The Mastic gum price in the medieval Europe was close to the price of gold. The shrub is found all over the Mediterranean cost since it tolerates salty and saline environments. There may be a better match, but for now I'll keep it as placeholder on my list.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: the Great Pox

The opinions about the meaning of the text on the last page of the Voynich Manuscript (fol.116v) are diverse. The first word of the first line 'pox' has suffered various interpretations - from devil to goat.

Piling on it, just for fun, let's take a look at the possibility that 'pox' actually means 'pox'. The word 'pox' appears at the end of 15th century when the Europeans change the spelling of 'pock', possibly, to be able to distinguish between the chickenpox and the Great Pox - the name they chose for syphilis.

The first recorded outbreak of the Great Pox (syphilis) was in 1495 when the army of the French King Charles VIII was marching on their way home spreading the disease on its way. The illness became known as 'the French disease' and the French called it 'Neapolitan disease'. Charles VIII entered Naples in February 1495. Few months later the mass outbreak of the symptoms of the new illness in his army made him pack and head back home instead of attempting other conquests.  The symptoms among the foot-soldiers were visible at the battle of Fornovo - five months after the conquering of Naples.

Syphilis (the great pox) was brought to Europe supposedly couple of years earlier by Columbus and his crew among 'the gifts' of the New World. The captain of Pinta, Martin Pinzon, died of the new disease in 1493. As new illness it brought much more damage at first, than it does today.

Albrecht Durer depicted person suffering from the Great Pox in 1496.

So if we continue to speculate about the possibility of the Voynich Manuscript to be the book captured from the tent of the King of France at the Battle of Fornovo, then a quick remark about pox on the last page in the last minute makes some sense.

Among the first treatments tried for the 'pox' was fumigation. The patient was locked in a box with mercury that has been heated to evaporate. Maybe the last line of the 'recipe' on fol. 116v refers to this process with the word 'mm gas' (mercurium gas :) ) and the word 'vbren' may be short for the German verbrennen - burn.

Anyway, all this is wild speculation, in which I engage only because it is no more outrageous than most of the mainstream suggestions about the text. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Fornovo,Mantua...Parma,Modena and Ferrara

What happened to the book with naked women captured in King Charles VIII tent during the battle of Fornovo 1495? According to Julia Mary Cartwrite Ady in her book Isabella D'Este, Marchioness of Mantua the famous book (described by  Alessandro Beneditti as ' book in which were painted various nude images of his mistresses, differing in appearance and age as his lust and insane love had impelled him in each city') ended with the Gonzaga family in Mantua:

The Dukes of Mantua had long-lasting relationship with the Holy Roman Emeprors - including royal marriages. So it is possible that the book ended up at some point in Prague - as a present or dowry.

In spectacular coincidence the Fornovo book and the Voynich manuscript share in common not only the naked women feature, but also a geographic location (at different point in time).
According to 1921 article in The New York Times Mr. Voynich discovered the famous unreadable manuscript in a lot from collections of the Dukes of Parma, Ferrara and Modena:

Fornovo is a province of Parma and the Google map shows that Mantua is not too far away either. In the scale of all Europe, it is basically - the same place.

The Voynichese location is probably just a coincidence. From the Prague correspondence we know that the Voynich manuscript was separately sent  to Athanasius Kircher (read all the letters at Philip Neal's site here).

However, just for fun, we can imagine that somebody from the area between Fornovo/Parma, Mantua and Ferrara recognized the Voynich manuscript as belonging to this area and Kircher was happy to get rid of the unsolvable book.

UPDATE. The same author  Julia Cartwrite mentions the Fornovo book in another work - Beatrice D'Este Duchess of Milan (read here ) :

Among the spoils sent to Mantua were a magnificent set of embroidered hangings from the royal tent, and a curious book of paintings, containing portraits of the chief Italian beauties who had fascinated King Charles.
Isabella D'Este protested against her husband wishes to give the tapestries to her sister Beatrice in a letter quoted in the same book which shows that she insisted the spoils to be kept in Mantua: 

Your Excellency has desired me to send the four pieces of drapery that belonged to the French king, in order that you may present them to the Duchess of Milan. I of course obey you, but in this instance I must say I do it with great reluctance, as I think these royal spoils ought to remain in our family, in perpetual memory of your glorious deeds, of which we have no other record here.
The footnotes in both books show that Julia Cratwrite used the work of the Italian archivist Alessandro Luzio as source for the history of the trophies from the battle of Fornovo. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Shrubby Cinquefoil

The Shrubby Cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa, syn. Potentilla Fruticosa) may be the plant on fol. 23r of the Voynich Manuscript. Ironically, the shrubby cinquefoil comes with flowers in about every other color but blue. Other than that, it is a pretty good match. In Mary's Garden lists potentilla is often associated with Our Lady's fingers.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Missing Codebook

The possibility that the Voynich Manuscript was once accompanied by separate code-book which is now lost is very real (and very disheartening for the text researchers). Example of such cipher during the Italian War 1494/95 is held in the Vatican Secret Archives and is currently part of exhibition (visit here ).

The code-pages belong to Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia). Here is the description of the document in display:

The nomenclator contains various cryptographic systems: two different substitution enciphering alphabets, together with a third substitution option for vowels alone; a grid laid out on three text lines containing verbs, pronouns and articles with their substitution symbols: for example a letter of the Greek alphabet, lambda (λ), for the words “being silent”; a backward “c” (ɔ) for the word “riding”; finally, on three columns, a series of words and phrases (probably the most recurring, the most “delicate”, the most “secret”) swapped with names on the first column and by syllables on the second and third columns; thus, 23 substitutes the word “pappa” (pope), 46 “facto d’arme” (armed clash), “cc” means “the pope’s daughter”, “gu” “the pope’s children”, “nu” “Florentines”, “no” “Venetians” and so forth. The utter secrecy of codebooks, which were often destroyed not to preserve any trace and periodically renewed, still prevents us from correctly interpreting some dispatches, which are destined to remain forever secret.
In short, if the Voynich Manuscript text is result of this kind of cipher then the only chance to read it is if the code book survives to this day in some dusty archive.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: The garden of Earthly Delights

Hieronymus Bosch' Garden of Earthly Delights (see here ) has been referenced in connection with the Voynich manuscript in several books and forums. On first glance, the only things in common are mass nudity and general weirdness.

Closer look reveals somewhat 'Voynichese' flower in the left corner of the center panel.

 The other similarity of the painting with the VMs is that both suffer from endless interpretations and opinions of its meaning (to which I continue to contribute).

Some scholars see pineapple in the picture so the date of the work is generally placed somewhere between 1492 and 1504. Bosch's St. John in the Wilderness includes similar 'flower' and is dated around 1489.

To add to the pile of speculation, I will share my believe that the "bag-pipe" in the Hell portion of the drawing may be a picture of stomach - thus representing the place where the gluttons suffer  after death.

For the record, I believe Hieronimus Bosch has nothing to do with the Voynich Manuscript (his women lack in body mass). I am bringing it up as example of possible hidden anatomy in late 15th century art work.

Another example from the same period is Albrecht Dürer whose works are also examined to the smallest detail and it seems that the art experts see a lot of body parts (mostly of sexual nature) in his art. Below is detail from 1496 Dürer's woodcut The Men's Bath featuring suspicious faucet and pair of apples.

For the record, I believe Albrecht Dürerhas has nothing to do with the Voynich Manuscript (his flower drawings made during his travels through the Alps are realistic and masterfully executed). Again, it is just an example of possible hidden body features in late 15th century art.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: the Original Theory

If we speculate that the Voynich Manuscript is the book found in the royal baggage of Charles VIII, King of France, during the battle of Fornovo in 1495, then the original theory about the VMs belongs to Alessandro Beneditti. He was professor of anatomy and surgery at the Padua university. At the time of the battle of Fornovo he was serving the Holy League on the field. He wrote detailed account of the events (read here, Thanks to Nick Pelling for the link).

Alessandro Beneditti saw the book, now lost for history, with his own eyes, according to his words:

...There were also precious books from the holy chapel, a plaque inlaid with gems and deserving of reverence for its sacred relics, and rings loaded with jewels. In that plunder I saw a book in which were painted various nude images of his mistresses, differing in appearance and age as his lust and insane love had impelled him in each city; these pictures he carried with him as souvenirs...
From this account we can tell for sure that the book contained various nude images of women, differing in appearance and age. It is not clear if there was a text that explained in some way that those women were mistresses and the book was meant as souvenir or this is just the theory of the observer, who had attitude toward the King of France presuming his 'lust and insane love'.  Benedetti apparently believes that the book was pained during the 1494/95 campaign.

It is a wild speculation, but maybe the VMs calendar pages, rich in nude ladies of various appearances and status (some crowned) may be the source of this first VMs theory. Starting with March (Charles VIII declared his intention to march to Naples in March 1494) and ending in December (He entered Rome triumphantly on December 31st,1494) the women in the calendar can be seen as pained in various cities during the movement of the French in the war.

Let's consider for a moment the circumstances  in which the book was discovered. We have men in aftermath of a bloody battle:

... I saw corpses of brave men protruding at intervals which had been despoiled by many; the Greek and Latin soldiers had been first and had removed the more precious ornaments even from those still living, and then crowds of native peasants who had watched the issue of the battle from the summits of the mountains carried off the armor, and finally groups of servants and camp-followers removed the underclothing and left naked everywhere soldiers who were dead or half-alive... Very many wounded were found naked among the corpses, some begging aid, some half-dead. They were weakened by hunger and loss of blood and wearied by the heat of the sun and thirst; with tongues thrust out they begged for water. In this affair no form of cruelty seemed to be lacking...  Some still breathed after hands and feet had been amputated, intestines collapsed, brains laid bare, so unyielding of life is nature. The river Taro carried very many corpses to the Po; the rest, more than twenty-five hundred, unburied and swollen by the heat of the sun and the rain, were left to wild beasts. Almost all of these had a piercing wound in the throat or on the face, but a few had been lacerated by artillery...

Not exactly a comfy place to analyze a book.

Plus, I can't find another example of such mistress-trophy book in 15th century. There are plenty of nude figures pained at the time, but usually in some religious context as excuse. Please let me know if there are surviving souvenir books of that kind from that time that I am not aware of.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Pseudo Apuleius

My research of the herbal section of the Voynich Manuscript let me to believe that some of the drawings were influenced by the Pseudo-Apuleius tradition. Judging by the surviving manuscripts Pseudo-Apuleius was fashionable between 10th and 12th century. The revival in interest of this herbal tradition in 15th century was in 1481 when Johannes Lingamine, personal physician of Pope Sixtus IV (the Sistine Chapel is named after him) printed Herbarium Apuleii Platonici. According to Lingamine the book is based on old manuscript he found at Monte Cassino which was worth printing.

The first printing of the book was dedicated to Cardinal Gonzaga - uncle of Francesco Gonzaga, who lead the army of the Holy League at the Battle of Fornovo. The cardinal died shortly, so the second printing of the book was dedicated to Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere (later Pope Julius II). Cardinal della Rovere was one of the main agitators pushing the King of France into the Italian War 1494/95. He lost the papal election to Rodrigo Borgia and his fury turned him into permanent earpiece  of Charles VIII.
So the circle of frienemies fighting at Fornovo had personal connection to the Pseudo Apueius herbal tradition.

Of course, there are many visual connections made between the Voynich Manuscript and other traditions  - the main suspects are alchemy herbals and classical Dioscorides.

Also, Rene Zandbergen proposed several very interesting possible ids for the VMs plants based on similarities with the 14th century French manuscript Manfredus de Monte Imperiali (BNF Latin 6823, visit here ). In 1426 the manuscript appears in the inventory of the Visconti library.  My favorite among this ids is the oak/ivy combination on fol. 35v so I will put it as placeholder for that page in my list.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Castor Oil Plant

The drawing on fol. 6v of the Voynich Manuscript was id by Ethel Voynich/Theodore Petersen as castor oil plant (Ricinus communis) and this proposal has been widely accepted so I will add it to my list.