A reply to SirHubert re folio 9v

9v micrography large detailThis is as large a version as I can fit across the blog. The original that I sent to the specialist was rather larger.


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The opinion was kindly given despite the various inhibiting factors, and on an undertaking that their name would  not be published.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.

leaf hands maybe f8v

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.









8 thoughts on “A reply to SirHubert re folio 9v

  1. On “Maestro Viole” – author of a treatise on pharmacological theory – “The stratagems of compounding” – together with bibliographical details of a paper by Tsvi Langermann, who mentions him, see my post “Viola and languages” June 14th., 2013.


  2. Hi Diane,
    This is interesting. It would be even better if you could post the whole exchange (barring names or universities if you want to preserve anonymity) so that we could see what was asked exactly and the whole of what the expert replied. Nick Pelling has done this recently for his exchanges with Glen Claston about folio reordering and it was very helpful.
    Would you consider doing the same?


    • VViews,
      Thank you for the comment – glad it managed to get through to wordpress. Some apparently never make it. 🙂

      Nick has performed a service both for Voynich studies and for ‘Glen Claston’ in repeating the content of their online conversations about the Voynich manuscript. This because ‘Claston’s’ contributions to the study were valuable and there is some risk of their being forgotten, or appropriated without proper credit given – an endemic habit in Voynich studies since the closure of the first mailing list, and to which only Pelling himself, Neal and a very few others have proven exceptions.

      It is also a service to Claston’s memory. He died some years ago.

      The situation is rather different in the present case. The palaeographer had no particular interest and no intention to communicate publicly on the subject. Secondly, the communication of their opinion was done as a professional kindness, in pers.comms, which were not only not intended to be published, but which it would be a major breach of etiquette to quote at length verbatim. The content in parts of those letters most likely to assist other researchers has been re-worded and published here. On re-reading the post and letters, I do not see anything else that I would want to add. I’m sure you’ll appreciate that one has no obligation to share more widely the results of private research and personal conversations, whether spoken or written.

      Was there any particular point you hoped might be clarified?


  3. Diane,
    I have replied to your comment and explained what I hoped would be clarfified, which is that not posting your exact questions and his full replies makes it unclear how much of your post is your opinion and how much of it is his.
    I also agreed that you have no “obligation” to post more of it of course, but I have explained why not doing so makes for a lack of context, which is an essential to using quotes convincingly.
    As I asked, if you can post three lines of his reply, why not ten? Where is the breach of etiquette in posting your exact question to him?
    Of course, you have no obligation to post this comment either, but it would be appreciated. If you don’t want to reply here, but would like to do so privately, please don’t hesitate to PM me on ninja.


    • Voynichviews,

      I’m very happy to publish any comment, and am glad to hear that you had no difficulty with my ‘comment muncher’ 🙂

      If my aim were to convince others of some personal theory, then of course it would be more impressive to reproduce the whole of the correspondence. Not that it would add anything to the substance already offered here.

      However, as always, my aim is not to argue for others to adopt a theory of mine, nor to make any particular argument, but only to explain and contextualise matter in the manuscript’s imagery in the hope that the whole may be better understood – I refer to indications of chronological strata, indications of cultural origin for its content, technical aspects of the imagery’s construction and historical matter to provide those who may need it with a bit of background, however briefly sketched.

      After almost eight years of doing this (minus one for another project), I know full well that persons who are chiefly looking for something they can use or interpret in some useful way to support a favoured theory of their own, will pay absolutely no attention to anything which does not seem to provide any further material in support of that theory.

      Such is their intense focus on their theory and its research, that I do believe some would react indifferently even if the Almighty should descend bearing a parallel translation. I imagine mutters that this was a person with no reputable antecedents, without a Doctorate from a European university, and a ‘newbie’ 😀

      I offer the substance. Those who want to will take it into account; those who don’t won’t. Those who doubt my word are perfectly welcome to do what any conscientious researcher would do, and get an independent opinion – not from just anyone but from someone who has spent twenty years as a specialist in the relevant field and who has no ‘Voynich theory’.

      I cannot and simply won’t offer more than I have done.


      Although – I think it is fair to ask about any questions I might have put. There were none. One doesn’t “quiz”. I mentioned that I was working on a manuscript believed made in the earlier part of the fifteenth century; that Erwin Panofsky had said he thought it a southern Jewish work and that I had noticed what appeared to me to be a string of micrography in the detail and that I should be most grateful for any comment the specialist felt able to offer me. I explained briefly that among those interested in this manuscript were some who were not ashamed to use personal attacks and denigration as a means to lessen the attention given unwelcome information and that for this reason I should understand if the person preferred to say nothing, but that in any case I should not publish their name or reproduce the correspondence verbatim.

      I might add that this correspondence is now a few years old, and the new ‘wave’ of Voynich researchers has brought a welcome change to the atmosphere.


      • Thanks for your reply. Obviously it’s not what I was hoping for.
        The Voynich Ninja discussions are very courteous and I have seen none of the sort of denigrating that you deplore…..

        NOTE (D.N.O’Donovan). I have edited the post to remove the sort of ad hominems which, as Vviews rightly says, I deplore.
        I would add that I have never seen Vviews write remarks of that sort before and would recommend both ‘Voynich ninja’ and Vviews own blog (voynichviews.wordpress.com)


  4. Round n’ round again — with a big smile — you stick to fine details and hidden alpha-letters. I go with translating the accompanying discussions (mostly botanical items) with ‘ceas’ and ‘geus’ — ‘itius’ ill-ust-ra-ti-on —
    Spanish dialogues accompanied by Nahuatl translation below each Spanish line.

    I did finally find mention of the dandelion — but not in the botanical section of the VMS, but rather in the ‘boudoir/bathy’ section where the ladies were showing their family symbols: de Leon “the lion” as appears on French ‘shields’, or flags…… Ponce de Leon being a fair example.

    I’ll try, this last time, to post to you via google……….



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