Another interruption: Bee in my bonnet

[update added 1/05/2015; ‘Stolfo’ link refreshed; a  ‘Photographers direct’ image removed after complaint]

It’s the done thing, in Voynich studies, to say that everyone’s entitled to their opinion. I’m a reactionary on that point, because while I agree that everyone is entitled to hold a personal opinion, I don’t think that everyone’s entitled to expect others to hear and pay attention to an “opinion” which has no basis in relevant facts or in suitable experience.

So for those who feel as I do, I suggest you stop reading now, because what follows is an idea which has been bugging me for some time about Voynichese, but the fact is that being utterly unqualified  and without experience in decoding or decryption, I really have no right to waste anyone’s time with this flight of imagination (a.k.a. ‘Voynich theory’).


I am supposing that the person who last read the manuscript could have been Jakub Hořčický, and that his use of it was practical – you know, propped up on the work-bench, or carried about as he worked.  Maybe he couldn’t read it either, or maybe someone else put his name in it – but let’s suppose he was able to read it.

There’s something jarring about the idea of anyone’s  having constantly to sit down and figure out the text line by line.  It is too inefficient for the plainly practical content and a busy physician-pharmacist’s routine.

So, the key has to be one that relates to a memorised system of some sort.  Obviously not the periodic table, but something along those lines seemed a good idea, and during discussion of folio 9v (a ring-in, to judge by the uncharacteristic construction of its image) the idea of the ‘Tinctoris hand’ came to mind, and now it has become an idea that won’t go away. There are plenty of versions of such mnemonic hands, and I’ve shown a few here.

(What I’d really like to know is what signals were used which enabled traders in India to communicate without words and without even seeing each other’s hand-signals, but we know of that practice only from second-hand accounts, it seems. Unless anyone knows more?).

Tinctoris himself lived a little late (1435 — circa 1511) to have invented the Vms text’s encoding,but the habit is attributed in the Latin world to Guido of Arezzo (991 AD to 1033 AD).  Just btw, I shouldn’t be surprised if the text is as old as that – even as old as the eighth or ninth century, but let’s not go there now.

What I’m thinking of is a system where the necessary calculations for decoding could be performed using just one hand, the way you sometimes see people counting one-handed. Just as it’s possible to render various melodies by the one ‘Guidonian hand’ so you could mutate the cipher ~ say by beginning the count from a different point or finger according to (say) the position of the first character in that folio’s text… or the Psalm for that day of the week if you’re thinking in terms of the Latin world.  The beauty of it is that the whole process could be done from memory, and even on the move, without having to fiddle about with bits of paper as scratch-pads.

[update – I have just seen a more detailed description for Nicolo Stolfo’s “Portolano”, and realised that it is another among those items which came to an American Library from H.P. Kraus – as recently as 1986.  For those who don’t already know, Kraus is the dealer who acquired the Voynich manuscript and donated it to Yale,and who is linked with other works previously held by Wilfrid Voynich, and/or with by Guglielmo Libri who died in the small village of Fiesole, during the time that Fr. Beckx also lived there. Voynich said that he bought the manuscript and others from a trunk which had been Fr. Beckx’.  So much for background.  Though Stolfo’s “Portolan” was written a century later than the Vms’ radiocarbon date, practical information such as that in a portolan was traditional knowledge among mariners, so it is worth reprinting his ‘calculating hand’.   His portolano only covers the Mediterranean and North Atlantic; but among the “several additional sections .. [are] mileage tables, astronomical and astrological instructions, a calendar of feast days, and a chronicle of Venetian history” – according to the world catalogue entry. As readers will know, I’ve been speaking of the Vms in terms of a peripatetic profession, and that of the mariner-trader and the shipboard physician having been aspects of that discussion. So here again is Stolfo’s “calculating hand”, which I’ve shown before, but which I think well worth repeating. – 1/05/2015]

Stolfo 2

Here are a few images of the old ‘Guidonian hand’ and the ‘Tinctoris hand’. Many more, and larger, pictures can he found online. Some are ‘magical’ hands. The first gives a graphic reminder of similarity between [actual or metaphorical] ‘musical’ series and weaving.

[Here was an image from the public domain, copyrighted by a Canadian company called ‘Photography direct’  –  10/05/2015]

For more on musical scales and so on, see B.L. Harley 978 f.14

Tinctorius Handhands musical

And that’s as far as I go. Comments and results of any experiments most welcome.



2 thoughts on “Another interruption: Bee in my bonnet

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