Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Voynich Manuscript: Fish

I received a comment from fellow VMs researcher who is disappointed by the negative reactions toward Tucker/Talbert Aztec solution of the Voynich manuscript. So, I am trying to explain my reaction. The authors are scientists and experts and we expect them to know better. This is why it is hard not to voice concerns about their work. Shiny example of fishy logic is the following proposal:

"...The fish illustrated on fol. 70r are most definitely the alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula). This fish is very distinctive with its pointed snout, length/width ratio, prominent interlocking scales (ganoid
scales), and the “primitive” shape and distribution of the rear fins. The alligator gar is found only in North America... Curiously, there is an addition of what seems to be “Mars” (French, March?) in a darker, different ink and handwriting at this illustration..."

Most definitely? There are no other 'snouty' fish anywhere in the world? There is no way that the Limbourg brothers modeled their 1411-1416 Pisces after alligator gar and the 15th century French fish snouts are no smaller than the ones in the VMs. Maybe the Limbourg  the brothers were inspired by some pike or barbel on the menu - the fish seems to be posing from a platter :)

So let's see how 1. Aligator gar, 2. VMs fish and 3. Limbourg brothers Pisces compare with each other using Tucker/Talbert criteria.

Snout: check, check, check
Length/width ratio: check, check, check
Prominent interlocking scales: check, check, check
“Primitive” shape and distribution of the rear fins: check check, check

Let's add some criteria of our own.
Tail: check, check, nope
Fin on the back of the head: nope, check, check

Still no winner.
Pair of two fish: check (I've seen a photo), check, check
Ropes coming out the mouth: check (I've seen a photo), check, check

Then we have to consider circumstantial evidence.

Relation to France: nope, check (names of the months are written in French hand, but maybe not by the author), check (French manuscript)
Relation to Aztec: check (they have Aztec name for the gar), check (some similarities found with post-Columbian Spanish herbal manuscripts, but not related to this particular image), nope

I will weigh in the VMs blonde people, architecture (it points to Italy and western/central Europe); the similarities with other 14th/15th century European herbals; the fact that the Limbourg brothers drew their fish during the time period when the  the VMs vellum was produced. So, it seems to me that it is a bit more likely that the VMs artist had seen Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry than the Alligator gar. The artist also may have seen both or neither - the VMs fish may coincidentally remind us of the alligator gar or the de Berry manuscript.

In the blog-sphere we can speculate all we want, but we expect the scientists to at least pretend they made some effort to disprove their hypothesis before publishing it as 'most definite' (in this case explaining why similar European fish species should not be considered as probable). 


  1. Hi Ellie! How about 4 Vms characters for the Pisces sign: The large captial 'P', numeral 9 (for sound g or k), the back-facing S (which represents R), and the tall pair of poles which both have loop on top (ell). The pair of fish could be identified as 'pickerel'. If you prefer the name of the Zodiac figure -- even simpler is:
    Large 'P' i 'sickle (Cyrrilic capital 'C' which is sibilant) "Pi S ee S' " Pisces
    I've referred to that Cyrillic 'hand-sickle shaped' alphabet many times in past posts, here and elsewhere, Pi ? e ? -- remove the dot from the question marks and you end up with the entire word P -i -sees.

  2. As far as Tucker et al (American Botanical Society?): I tried to read one of their publications but came to a standstill at "most unique". Really, if they somehow were able to elude the 'grammar' part of their educations (beginning in 5th grade here in the US) and actually managed to get a college degree, I'm seeing the results of the use of crib sheets (cheat sheets) during various exams. So, my usual sign-off with 'tongue in cheek': ;-)