belated thanks

I’ve just fallen over an old post on Nick Pelling’s cipher mysteries blog, “A Miscellany of nine rosette links” (29th May 2010).

I’ve read it before – apparently – because I left comments there.  But as so often, the piles and piles of stuff written mean that the good stuff is easily forgotten – by the writer as often as by the reader, especially if the reader doesn’t give a particular point so much weight.

I’d already begun working on folio 86v by that time, but don’t think I’d begun publishing the results (must check that). Anyhow, the important thing is that this old post of Nick’s includes all sorts of lovely information, some of which I’m now writing happily into my ‘credits and acknowledgements’, though the only one of the sources Nick mentions which I read, was Santacoloma’s.  It made no sense to me, and I cannot offer Santacoloma any credit in this – sorry Rich.

Priorities being priorities and since I’ve no guarantee anyone will take the time to read Nick’s old blogpost, let me mention specifics here, too.

I might begin by quoting Nick’s introduction to the map, which he was still describing thus a few months before I began publishing the analysis. (He describes folio 86v (85v and 86r Beineke foliation) as the ‘Nine Rosettes Page”.

“For the most part, constructing plausible explanations for the drawings in the Voynich Manuscript is a fairly straightforward exercise. Even its apparently-weird botany could well be subtly rational… Yet this house of oh-so-sensible cards gets blown away by the hurricane of oddness that is the Voynich Manuscript’s nine-rosette page.. arguably the most outright alien & Codex Seraphinianus-like. Given the strange rotating designs (machines?), truncated pipes, islands, and odd causeways, it’s hard to see (at first, second and third glances) how this could be anything but irrational..How should we even begin to try to ‘read’ it?”

ok, so in May 2010 that was the current last-word on the subject  – because back then Nick kept up-to-date with pretty much everything said or published about the manuscript, and his reviews and links to the original source (not a second hand rehash by ‘mates’ as some others used to do) was what made his blog so immensely helpful for anyone newly arrived and bewildered.

Anyway – in that article he included the following useful information, useful then but even more useful to me now that I’ve met it again.

  • Robert Brumbaugh thought that the shape in the bottom left was a “clock” with “a short hour and long minute hand”.
  • Mary D’Imperio (1977) also thought [that] resemblance “superficial”, noting instead that “an exactly similar triangular symbol with three balls strung on it occurs frequently amongst the star spells of Picatrix, and was used by alchemists to mean arsenic, orpiment, or potash (Gessman 1922, Tables IV, XXXIII, XXXXV)” (3.3.6, p.21).
  • Joel Stevens (in 2008) suggested that the rosettes might represent a map, with the top-left and bottom-right rosettes (which have ‘sun’ images attached to them) representing East and West respectively.

NOTE WELL:  Joel Stevens was apparently the first to realise that the map’s East was to the upper left (!!!).  Why did no-one make use of that information – no one did to my knowledge – or realise that it implies that the ‘castle’ which I identify as Laiazzo must lie on the eastern side of the ‘mini-map’.  I don’t know why no-one worked from that basis later,   – but no-one did from 2008 to late 2010 or early 2011 when I realised it all over again [D]

Nick also mentioned that:

  • Joel also thought Brumbaugh’s “clock” at the bottom-left [was] cunningly representing a compass in the form of the point of an arrow pointing towards Magnetic North.

about which Nick added “You know, I actually rather like Joel’s idea, because it at least explains why the two “hands” are the same length…”

NOTE: But that’s not why.   It’s an old sign for the great star in the southern heavens, Canopus, but was used in earlier medieval Europe more generally to signify the depths of the south, and its ‘hell’. [D]

Anyway, Nick continued by saying:

  • This same idea (without Joel’s ‘hidden compass’ nuance) was proposed by John Grove on the VMs mailing list back in 2002. He also noted that many of “the words appear to be written as though the reader is walking clockwise around the map. [THE map!] The words inside the roadway (when there are some) also appear to be written this way (except the northeast rosette by the castle).

– and so there’s John Grove, even earlier, first acknowledging that the ‘castle’ is near the north-east.

So then what happened?

Clearly, these people writing twelve, or nine, or eight years ago were well on the way to interpreting the map… and then it all stopped?  Why did no-one dig out medieval maps, and itineraries, and modern topographies and geographies and tidal charts, and archaeologists’ reports and pictures, and landscape pictures.. and all the other things which helped me, at any rate, identify locations and routes?  I guess that, once again, everyone was too busy forming their theories to actually check whether another person’s had more value.

Nick’s comment here shows clearly enough what the prevalent ideas were then, and which remained dominant not only in 2010, but to 2014:

“John’s “clockwise-ness” is a non-obvious piece of evidence which any theory about this page would probably need to explain. And yes, there are indeed plenty of theories about this page!  In 2006, I [Pelling] proposed that the top-right castle (with its Ghibelline swallowtail merlons, ravellins, accentuated front gate, spirally text, circular canals, etc) was Milan; that the three towers just below it represented Pavia (specifically, the Carthusian Monastery there); and that the central rosette represented Venice (specifically, an obfuscated version of St Mark’s Basilica as seen from the top of the Campanile). Of course, even though this is (I think) remarkably specific, it still falls well short of a “smoking gun” scientific proof: so, it’s just an art history suggestion, to be safely ignored as you wish”

Other theories – evidently – include

  1. (2009) Patrick Lockerby’s.  He proposed that the central rosette might well be depicting Baghdad (which, along with Milan and Jerusalem, was one of the few medieval cities consistently depicted as being circular). Alternatively, one of [Lockerby’s] commenters also suggested that it might be Masijd Al-Haram in Mecca ..  (Note –  I think this comment to Lockerby’s proposal of Baghdad might be that ‘silly idea’ offered by Zandbergen as comment, suggesting Mecca instead).
  2. (2009) P. Han proposed a link between [folio 86v etc.]  and Tycho Brahe’s “work and observatories”, with the interesting suggestion that the castle in the top-right rosette represents Kronborg Slot. (which, of course, is west of the Bosphorus).

With regard to my own identification of the centre as Raidan, and the ‘towers’ as forms meant to evoke incense burners,  there was nothing similar on offer as late as May 2010, for Nick tells us that:

Han [had also pointed out in 2009] the strong visual similarity between the central rosette’s ‘towers’ and the pharma section’s ‘jars’: D’Imperio also thought these resembled “six pharmaceutical ‘jars’”. I’d agree that the resemblance seems far too strong to be merely a coincidence, but what can it possibly mean?

… and (also in 2009) Rich SantaColoma put together a speculative 3d tour of the nine-rosette page (including a 3d flythrough in YouTube), based on his opinion the VMs’ originator “was clearly representing 3D terrain and structures”. All very visually arresting: however, the main problem is that the nine-rosette page seems to incorporate information on a number of quite different levels

In all of this we see a very characteristic ‘Voynich’ habit of focussing on a personal theory while failing to distinguish between another researcher’s passing notion, an acute observation,  matters of fact, and ‘other’.  Those things which should have moved the study forward years ago, and which would in the usual way inspire other investigations crediting the original, are in Voynich studies overlooked or allowed to pass without their significance realised, until they are forgotten in the way that the wheel’s invention wasn’t.

Nick’s conclusion to his post is telling and shows very clearly that there was no particular inclination towards any of those items listed above.  He says, to end:

“I suspect that the nine-rosette page will continue to stimulate theories and debate for some time yet!”

I began publishing my detailed analysis in the following year.


Luckily  – thanks to Nick Pelling – I’m able to properly acknowledge those who went before, and who made the right sort of observations ~ as much as nine years ago.  It is not their fault they left so small a ripple in the near-unfathomable Voynich lake.  Here’s to them, and may their memories endure.


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