NEWBIES best introduction

To describe the state of this field in 2015 in the best possible light, through the opinions of a lucid thinker, here are extracts from a post written recently by “Sam G.”

His comments offer an excellent model for any newcomer to the study, and will help you sort out the sensible from the not-so-much. 

“Sam G”’s comments show that he is both well- informed and clear-minded.

We need more researchers of that kind working on this manuscript. You could be one. 🙂


There’s nothing about the physical aspects of the manuscript that suggests a modern hoax.  The vellum, inks, and colors are all consistent with the early 15th century.  … [N]obody with any qualifications (or even any highly knowledgeable amateurs, as far as I am aware) … shares [the] view that the inks are suspicious.  …

It’s worth emphasizing here that, unlike many other hoaxes which evaded recognition for a long time, many people have suspected that the VMS could be a hoax since the beginning, so it has been heavily scrutinized in this regard.  …
There’s also the aspect of many types of physical wear on the manuscript … there’s nothing wrong with portions of the manuscript being well-preserved..

Most of the “expert opinions” on the dating that have been offered over the years on both the text and the illustrations have not really been based on much, in terms of comparisons to known manuscripts; D’Imperio also complained about this.

Also, many of these experts seem to have started with a conclusion in mind and looked for evidence to back their preconceptions up, such as people seeing it as a Roger Bacon manuscript looking for evidence that it was made in the 13th century, or people wanting to force fit the manuscript into the familiar realm of Renaissance-era cryptography looking for 16th century connections.  I also wonder how much time these experts really spent with the VMS.  Did they study it deeply, or just take a quick look and render a verdict? That obviously matters a lot, too, and at least some of the opinions out there seem to have been made after only a cursory examination.

So I don’t see the fact that “the experts” generally got it wrong as proving a whole lot.  In fact, it’s worth pointing out that most of the comparisons that have been made that are clearly not coincidental have been made by amateurs scouring old manuscripts on the web, and that  these comparisons generally come from the early 15th century or earlier.

It’s clear to me that the marginalia on 17r, 66r, and 116v were added by the scribe who physically wrote the text and did the outlines of the illustrations.  I don’t agree that “pox leber” is an anachronism because I highly doubt that that bit of text actually says “pox leber” (aside from whether it would really be an anachronism at all).   I don’t agree that just because we can’t read the marginalia that it is therefore meaningless, and suspect that it will be read eventually once someone finds a manuscript made at roughly the same time and place containing similar marginalia …. .


Look at the quire numbers, for instance – these were long thought to be entirely unique to the VMS until Thomas Sauvaget found some nearly identical ones in some digitized Swiss manuscripts a few years back.  I think we will come across more finds like this as people keep looking.
I also don’t buy [the] idea that small bits of marginalia are always readable without knowing anything about their context and I don’t think [one] can cite a source for that claim … .

I don’t think that the “pharmaceutical jars” are based on microscopes, since many objects (including ordinary ceramic vessels) have simple cylindrical shapes like that.  … yet it is clear from the context that whatever these jars are, they are all in the same “class” of object – so if some of them are not microscopes, then probably none of them are.  (In general, I think many people would do well to adopt this “structural” way of thinking about the illustrations – i.e., valuing comparisons between illustrations in the manuscript to other illustrations  in the manuscript above comparisons to outside sources, which may of course be coincidental. .

I do not agree that the diagram on 69r is an attempt to depict a diatom, since the comparison is not really that close, and many objects have a similar geometry with lines radiating out from a central point.  Again, this illustration is grouped with other illustrations which do not resemble diatoms, suggesting that if the others aren’t diatoms, then this one isn’t either..

I don’t agree with the other interpretations of the cosmological diagrams …[mentioned].

The Tepenecz signature could not have been “easily copied”, since unless I’m mistaken there are only several other known examples and they’re all in libraries in Prague, and have turned up after 2000 or so.  Doesn’t seem that plausible to me that Voynich somehow knew they existed and managed to track one down and copy it, but I guess it’s hard to prove that he couldn’t have..

…. foldout pages … were apparently extremely rare in medieval European manuscripts.  More likely that the vellum we see in the manuscript was … prepared for this particular manuscript..

The paradox regarding the apparent skill it would have taken to produce the manuscript on the one hand, with the sloppiness of execution on the other, is easily explained if the VMS is a “sloppy copy” of another manuscript, and quite a bit of evidence suggests that it is in fact a copy.
My guess is that the original had substantially nicer illustrations.*.
* a point on which I should see no reason to insist, myself – D.

As far as the VMS text as cipher is concerned …  not only is it too complex to be 15th century, it’s too complex to be 21st century, since no one has ever created a cipher capable of replicating even a fraction of the properties we see in the VMS text.  So, it’s not a cipher, as eminent cryptographers like Friedman and Tiltman have also concluded.

Note – added 20/8/2015.  I might mention that Nick Pelling reads the text to mean “Rather, [Friedman] concluded that it was formed from a number of overlapping simple ciphers cleverly arranged”.  I have re-read the originals, and conclude that “Sam G’s” interpretation is correct: that both Friedman and Tiltman concluded that the text was not in cipher at all.

But whether the text is meaningful or not, it is clearly very language-like, yet has a decidedly non-European phonotactic structure.  While this wouldn’t be too hard to explain if produced today, with many constructed language enthusiasts out there inventing languages with all kinds of exotic features, it certainly would have been well ahead of its time …

Again, the structure of the text is absolutely there, regardless of whether the text is gibberish or not. ..

Even assuming [someone] could have come up with [a fake] structure, we still have to explain how the text was generated.  I think Cardan grilles or other methods of pseudo-random word generation can be ruled out, and “written glossolalia” doesn’t seem likely either – certainly there are no examples of such a thing in existence that can account for what we see in the VMS.  It’s clear to me that there’s at least some sort of “grammar” in the VMS, which I obviously think is the grammar of a genuine natural language, but whatever it is, it certainly adds to the complexity of what [anyone] would have had to go through to generate the text (again, whether it’s gibberish or not – different difficulties in either case though, perhaps).

It’s not true that the Voynich manuscript exhibits no similarities to any known manuscript.  The script is plainly derived from the Roman alphabet** and symbols used in medieval Latin abbreviation, and the illustrations employ many conventions used in known European manuscripts; It’s only the language in which it’s written and the apparent content of the illustrations (i.e. what ideas the illustrations are attempts at conveying) that are foreign.

** in my own opinion, what is being seen is a more general resemblance to the family of scripts descended from Aramaic, many items of which co-incide with the Roman alphabet and which includes forms close to the Voynich glyphs that do not appear in the Roman alphabet. – D.

This paradox is resolved if we take the VMS to be an attempt by some group of medieval Europeans to import the scientific knowledge of some foreign culture, and of course we see precisely the same combination of European stylistic features combined with foreign language and content in other known, later examples of Europeans importing foreign knowledge, such as in the early post-colonial Mesoamerican codices. (I realize that not many people here will agree with this part, but to me the VMS as European record of non-European culture is obviously the only explanation for the VMS that makes any sense and agrees with all the available evidence.


and my personal advice:

Forget about the ego involved in trying to develop an “original theory”.  Devote your first couple of years to close study of the manuscript, beginning with its materials and codicological structure. Then see if you can identify the sort of ‘hand’ in which it’s written – don’t take the opinions of any “Voynichero” about anything; find out for yourself.

After that, you might take the time to try getting into the mind-set of people who lived before 1400 or so. Lots of boring reading there, but for a quick and shocking introduction, try reading Mary Carruther’s, The Book of Memory.

Don’t worry, reading books from this earlier period won’t magically turn you into a member of the older western church.

A lot of it you may find boring, especially if you avoid the temptation to read only magic, astrology and alchemy –  but if you don’t know where the matter in this manuscript is coming from, you’ll never break any new ground.

Most of what was said and written about it before c.2010 or so was not actually about the manuscript; it’s about individual’s fantasies and imaginary scenarios, dignified by use of the term “theory”. Most of the worst errors were established as supposed ‘fact’ before the second world war, and just expected to the true from that time.

Study is my advice. Study the object; study the historical context and try to understand the thing rather than wasting time creating yet another “theory” all your own. Harsh, perhaps, but genuine advice, kindly meant.

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