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. 


  1. "Von Pocken und Liebe bleiben nur Wenige frei"

  2. Actually, the use of mercury fumes for treating syphilis was still a "last ditch" measure even into the 20th century. Isaak Dinesen, author of "Out of Africa" received the treatment for several months before her death.

    I wonder if the mashed "Scabiosa caucasica" (Vms folio 33v) may have been used prior to the "last ditch" remedy of mercury.

    Another little piece of medical history is the "cadaceus" symbol: The cadaceus appears in mythology as being carried by Mercury, the messenger.