A phrase in one of Baresch’s letters raised my curiosity before, and has just been clarified in the Voynich mailing list. J.T. Casson began the conversation, asking about this passage:
He would have acquired the treasures of Egyptian medicine partly from the written literature and from associating with experts in the art, brought them back with him and buried them in this book in the same script.
Responses to the question include these, which I’ve abbreviated a little. From H. W.:
I think the… translation should be ‘Buchstaben dieser Art‘, ‘letters of such a kind’, for the grammatically minded: talis is pronomen correlativum, not demonstrativum, that would be eisdem notis or something. A man who went to the Jesuit schools of the 17th c. would have known the difference.
to which the original translator (Latin to English) responds:
.. perhaps I translated too loosely: talibus means ‘of this kind, of the same kind as these’ and ‘dieser Art‘ is correct. Lewis and Short quote Livy, ‘haec taliaque vociferantes,’ ‘shouting these things and the like’. It is clear to me that Barschius meant letters of the same kind as are found in his manuscript,
so the sense is evidently: ‘the sort of characters you see here’.
Today, I feel like taking time off from analysing imagery, so what follows is just musing, in an area not mine. Please bring your salt.
For some months I’ve been fascinated by Voynichese as a formalised, highly condensed, technical ‘language’. I’m positively hypnotised now by the way it seems happy to conform to any number of potential examples, even including reading a graphic image of its text-properties as a weaving pattern. I wrote about this in December 2012, not really thinking of anything but the probability of connections to the textiles trade.
Voynichese also works as knitting pattern (yes, it does). And ‘knitter’s tongue’ counts too. It’s a technical notation, with specialised vocab and – if it matters – men were the first knitters anyway.
Voynichese is absolutely happy to be treated as a text of abbreviated pharmaceutical recipes ~ the model Don
Hoffman’s Hoffmann’s work demonstrates.
I almost get a sense that when a technical template is provided, Voynichese experiences (as it were) a joyful bounding relief, like a spaniel let off the leash near a shallow duck-pond.
Formulas can’t really be free-form, or ad. lib. can they. Need a tight mix of alphabetic and numeric elements, set in a formal ordering, and usually with different scripts employed: some for number, some phonetic, and the alphabetic becoming effectively acronymic. ( e.g. H2O ).
I expect most cipher-persons and linguists are way ahead of me, and I could probably stop here.
On the other hand, it’s a sunny day and this is my way of relaxing.
Tight mix of alphabetic and numeric elements:
A mix of ‘notations’ – may as well call them scripts. If the text is formulaic, in the technical not the religious sense of that term, then almost by definition you’ll need more than one sort of script.
Off the top of my head, I guess they’d distinguish..
- number values (obviously)
- standards of measure – sounds reasonable. On this point, I think putting (1) and (2) together offers a fair explanation for the ‘iiiiin’ group, but am inclined to expect our ‘n’ glyph to sound ‘d’ – as in denarius, drachma, ducat, dinar etc.
- Plain text words(?) Voynichese seems not to have a great number and I see no need for them. Notebooks in any sense are rarely expositions unless meant for teaching.
The same goes for the expectation of labels. The Voynich imagery doesn’t need them; it’s clever. All you need is in the pictures, I’m quite sure. The botanical imagery is very, very clever. In a different sense the ‘nymph’ folios are too, but I digress.
Point is that the text may supplement or complement the imagery, but is not likely interdependent with it.
It is quite possible, I’d think, that the scribe wouldn’t mind which folio a slab of text appeared, and for all we know the plants etc. are ordered to activities of the year, while the text is ordered region by region.
The act of writing might be viewed with suspicion, outside the cloister and office, an an unintelligible script thought magical by default. A manuscript like this might be carried in a pouch and read only in private – perhaps propped up on the workbench – but practical men such as pharmacists, traders and the like were busy men, unlikely to have time or inclination to sit deciphering a text they wished to use. So I think that the first user read it as easily as we might read… chemical formulae
( structural formulae do look good, don’t they).
Hang on.. we need 103 ‘acronyms’ just for the elements. Then we add numbers in plain, in subscript and even in superscript, with some forms in Greek letters too. Our chem. formulae may be ‘condensed’ but not Voynich condensed..
What are the largest, and the smallest number, of different glyphs used in a given ‘word’ in Voynichese? I’m sure someone has worked it out.. somewhere, sometime.
In that same letter to Kircher, Baresch mentions his ‘good man’ copying inscriptions on stones and monuments. I finish this post with some examples. They’re not Egyptian but from the road up the Indus valley heading toward Transoxania. When we get there, I want to introduce some astronomers. Regular readers will meet some old acquaintances too.