SirHubert has asked in another place for details of that opinion about folio 9v which was given me in 2013 when I asked a specialist in Hebrew palaeography and codicology whether they could tell me anything about the ‘tiny letters’ on folio 9v.
The opinion was kindly given despite the various inhibiting factors, and on an undertaking that their name would not be published.
Given the regrettably common habit of a small group in Voynich studies, of attacking a scholar’s credibility and character rather than taking the harder road of addressing evidence, that undertaking was volunteered.
The scholar then said, after some days, and with appropriate caution, that all the letters on the flower petals on folio 9v appeared to be an effort to write Hebrew letters, made by someone not trained to write in that way. The style of writing is not that of any standard style used by medieval Hebrew scribes (amateur or professional), and neither does it appear to have been gained by copying directly from a printed text (the standard fonts are well known).
I was more pleased than otherwise to hear that, because a number of Voynich researchers, including Julian Bunn if I recall, have said much the same about the main body of text in MS Beinecke 408: that it appears to be less writing than “drawings of letters.”
To quote directly from the letter:
“They [the letters] are not handwritten [Hebrew] because there are no strokes… However, if they were [from printed matter], there should be lines and a lay-out and there is not”.
I felt at the time, and do still, enormously grateful that any opinion at all was given. Instead of access to the original, they had only a picture which had been taken from a high res. scan, clipped, copied and then emailed.
Added to this, there was that heavy overlay of paint, and below it letters which ranged between ‘tiny’ and “very tiny’.
This is not usually the level at which one of the three or four most notable specialists in Semitic palaeography works, and it was enormously kind of that person to even consider it.
Under such conditions, one would not expect expressions of unqualified certainty and it was with due caution, after repeated visits to ensure that the impressions of one day were properly confirmed or modified by those of the next, that the opinion was given.
The larger letters might be interpreted as:
(upper group) part of one alef, tet, resh, final pe.
(right) an aleph
(bottom) yod, dalet.
These letters make no meaningful series in Hebrew, and the letters are not formed straight as Hebrew letters should be. Other interpretations of these letters are possible.
About the smaller string, however, the opinion was firmer. This is what I call the ‘micrographic string’ because the individual letters are less than a fifth of those used for the main body of the text .
These are formed more nearly correctly but again not in keeping with any of the standard calligraphic styles, and again not forming any meaningful word.
I was delighted to hear that, for reasons explained below.
The string appears to read:
het, shin, qof, nun, beit, samekh.
I had not asked for the evaluation as a way to argue that the whole of MS Beinecke 408 had been made by Jews, because I’d already come to the view that in his evaluation of the imagery, Panofsky had been ‘reading’ the exemplars which I date to about the fourteenth century, rather than the current copy which I would date to c.1427, and which I have suggested should be attributed to northern Italy, and probably the Veneto.
I was, however, looking for some internal evidence from the imagery to explain why Panofsky attributed the content to southern Jewish (Sephardic) origins.
However, the chief reason for my seeking the palaeographer’s advice was that I could see no sensible reason for the image on folio 9v’s ever having been included. It made no sense; it didn’t fit the context.
For one thing, the plant-picture itself is a “ring-in” whose style of construction differs markedly those in the rest of the botanical section, even if the maker does appear to have grasped the general idea of the botanical imagery as a ‘group portrait’ of related plants, rather than a ‘single portrait’ as those in the western herbal tradition are.
Otherwise, the image could be one straight from a Latin herbal – except that the violas shown here have never had a place in the western pharmacopoeia, as far as I’ve been able to discover.
None had medicinal use.
Viola odorata, the only one useful in perfumery, appears to have been omitted from the group.
Among those whose flowers are pictured, none save one has any value for the dyer. The exception is an eastern species which yields a yellow-brown dye, only recorded used in the east.
(all this was documented in my analysis of that folio).
When it comes to the ‘tiny letters’ we meet another contradiction. If they are read as “r.o.t” as they often are, and interpreted as if the word were German (which is also very common), then there’s the plain fact that violas are not red, yield no red dye, and that the flowers on folio 9v are not coloured red. (The usual habit is to take those letters as an instruction from the draughtsman to the painter).
So what is this peculiar image doing here? For what reason has it been included at all?
I noticed, quite incidentally one day, that the flowers are formed – and perhaps some of the leaves are formed – in a way evoking the form of a human hand. And in that connection I recalled that a variation of the Guidonian ‘Hand’ was Tincoris’ Hand, and another had been attributed to “Maestre Viole”.
So I began to wonder if these sort of mnemonic hands, and the various puzzles posed by folio 9v, mightn’t all relate to some sort of mnemonic “key” – maybe even the key to the enciphered text if, in fact, the text is enciphered.
Just a possibility, at that stage, but one worth looking into, I thought, so I began publishing some examples of those various “Hands”
That was in April 2013.
Since one of the examples was inscribed in Hebrew and with the reasons for Panofsky’s opinion still an issue, it seemed logical to enquire if the “very tiny” letters looked to an expert like any form of Hebrew or of Aramaic script.
It was an open question. I don’t set out to hunt support for personal hypotheses: I consider the manuscript and not my own ideas are what we need to have explained in detail.
If the evaluation had given a negative as result, that was one more issue sorted. But the answer wasn’t in the negative.
While the larger letters might possibly be meant for Hebrew, the case was a little clearer with the very tiny – someone unused to writing Hebrew tried to write a series of letters i the size associated exclusively in Europe with Jewish scribes, and the string was formed of discrete units, not making a ‘word’.
People didn’t ‘invent’ micrographic style – it was a Jewish art by definition, and its origins are dated.
So regardless of who wrote what we now have, Jewish influence must be supposed. That is, even if the person was attempting micrographic style to convey an impression of Jewish work.
The effort needed to write so small is considerable. It takes a lot of practice, as a person at Yale said years ago to one Voynich researcher.
Whether these letters, the tiny or the very tiny, constitute a ‘cipher key’ matters hardly at all to me; I am probably as indifferent to the written part of the text as the average cryptanalyst is to the nicer issues of iconographic analysis.
I’m not sure that the leaves were intentionally formed to suggest ‘pointing hands’ ( the Nota Bene sort). I suppose the same forms could be read as meant to suggest angelic wings or something of that sort. It does seem to me, though, that the form given them is more exaggerated than is necessary. Perhaps.
What I am certain about that the image on this folio appears to have no reason for being here. It is drawn in anomalous style and does not appear to be appropriate. Unless someone does better than I did in finding documentary evidence from the fifteenth century or earlier of these particular violas having a practical use.
To end, I want to thank SirHubert. His is the first response that I’ve received about this matter in the three years since I first wrote about it.