Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Voynich Manuscript: Thunder

Among many stars in the Voynich manuscript there is an odd spiky symbol that resembles one found in early 13th century copy of Hildegard von Bingen's Liber Scivias.

According to the label this is a symbol for thunder  - tonitrua in Latin.
Similarity is probably coincidental, but just for fun I'll speculate that the VMs spiky star represents thunder. Let's see what's around it.

The drawing may represent the fact that the light reaches the person before the sound.
What could the cross-shaped device producing thunder and lightning be? Maybe a cannon?

To quote Roger Bacon's description of gunpowder (yes, that Bacon):

"From the violence of that salt called saltpetre so horrible a sound is made by the bursting of a thing so small, no more than a bit of parchment , that we find [the ear assaulted by a noise] exceeding the roar of strong thunder, and a flash brighter than the most brilliant lightning"


  1. Ellie: You may be onto something -- that may have caused Hildegarde's hallucinations: ergotamine. Ergotamine is a fungus/mold which grew on dampened rye plants. It caused the virulent psychotic mania which became Salem Witchcraft trials.

  2. It looks like a bent compass.

  3. Dear Ellie,
    I found a somewhat similar design at Burney MS 98, f 42r - don't know how common they might be.
    I love the cannon description - great work. As always.
    Don of Tallahassee

  4. Dear Ellie,

    The VMS image seems to show trunions. Have you done any research on trunions and where they being used before and during the carbon-14 dating period of the manufacture of the VMS vellum (and presumably the writing/images)? My limited looking seems to show they were just coming into use during the early 15th Century in parts of France. Do you have information to the contrary or supplementary information? Before I start more time-consuming work on this, I thought I'd ask if you already knew the answers.
    Thank you.
    Don of Tallahassee

  5. Hi Don, I have no idea about the early 15th century. By the end of the 15th century those are easy to find in military manuscripts. The particular example is from Germany.