Month names in the Voynich zodiac pages

A well-known oddity about the Voynich manuscript (among so many others) is the set of month names in the centre of the zodiac pages which were obviously added after the main manuscript was completed. Here is the one on the Pisces page, which seems to say ‘mars’, meaning March.

Elmar Vogt [correction: the part on zodiac names was written by Elias Schwerdtfeger] offers an interesting and detailed discussion at the end of the document which you can find here. (The rest of the document, on marginalia, by Elmar Vogt, is also interesting.) He [Elias] suggests that the month names are to be read as:

  • mars
  • aberil
  • may, mayˆ
  • yony, yong, yonij (?)
  • jolliz (?)
  • augst
  • sepembr, septembr (?)
  • octembre
  • novembre
  • decebre

He doesn’t, however, make any suggestions about where they might come from. They look like a sort of French. Some less cautious commentators have boldly declared them to be Occitan (i.e from the south of France). Others have been rather more careful and critical – see this interesting discussion which guardedly suggests a northern French origin.

I have been looking at an interesting book called  “The Ciphers of the Monks: A Forgotten Number-notation of the Middle Ages” by David A. King, which discusses a 14th century astrolabe from Picardy, northern France. The month names on the astrolabe, as you can see here, are in some cases similar to the VM names, including ‘may’ and ‘octembre’. Not all are the same, but many are. Another astrolabe referenced in a footnote has ‘may, jong, ..octembre’.

But perhaps more significant are King’s considered words, which should warn all of us not to be too dogmatic or brash in identifying any particular French dialect as the source of the added Voynich month names:

“we do not know enough about medieval French month-names to associate them with a specific region” (p138-9, footnote).

Exactly so. In other words, as so often with the VM, be cautious, not bullish with your claims!

 

 

19 Comments

  1. I ventured into using Gematria with great results for the Zodiac of f67r2. If you would like to see my cipher please visit my site. I really like this site Stephen and what are your thoughts regarding this system of gematria.

    https://voynichgematria.wordpress.com/

  2. Stephen Bax

    With thanks to Diane for tracking it down, can I reproduce what might be the first hint that these names might be Occitan?

    My post above suggests that we can’t really make that claim with confidence, but it is still an interesting one.

    In a 1997 posting on the Voynich mailing list, Jorge Stolfi said this. I’ll reproduce it verbatim:

    Date: Fri, 19 Sep 1997 09:20:34 -0300 (EST)
    From: Jorge Stolfi
    To: [email protected]
    Subject: Month names in occitan

    I have asked around for the month names in Occitan (a
    group of languages from Southern France that includes
    Provençal, Gascon, etc.) I got the following responses
    so far:

    Gascon(*) Std. Occit.(*) Toulon(**)
    ————– ————– ————-
    genièr genièr genier
    heurèr febrièr febrier
    març març març
    abriu abril abriéu
    mai mai mai
    junh junh junh
    julhet julhet julh[1]
    agost agost august[2]
    setémer setembre setembre
    octòbre octòbre octóbre
    navémer novembre novembre
    decémer decembre decembre

    (*) By Mathias van den Bossche (**) By Eric Aspert

    [1] now julhet
    [2] now avost

  3. Stephen,
    With all due respect, we are not discussing ‘ideas’ but original observations and in some cases conclusions drawn by qualified persons from their own original and sometimes substantial research. Since the only return on that time and effort is the polite acknowledgement that work has advanced the study – at least to the point where others find it worth repeating and using themselves – what we are dealing with is rather less innocuous than you describe.

    I’m quite sure that if your own observations and conclusions were taken from the internet and re-presented (in hard-copy or otherwise) without any reference to you, you would feel it not unreasonable to feel affronted.

    Publication on the internet is still publication, and the myth circulating among certain members of the Voynichero crowd that one needn’t acknowledge scholarship made freely available in that medium is most politely described as wishful thinking. Selective acknowledgements, and deliberate re-writing of earlier research to obscure its authorship is (as you’ll know) normally described in stronger terms.

    • Stephen Bax

      I agree 100% with you that in that case it is bare-faced theft!

      I confess I am not quite sure who you are aiming at?! If it is me, then I can only apologise and say that I always try to acknowledge any ideas which I use, and that I have never knowingly committed any of these crimes!

      However, I do feel that all of us writing on the internet must also be prepared to accept that we are in a jungle, and that people WILL misappropriate our ideas, deliberately or accidentally. Within hours of my first YouTube Voynich video I found that people had ripped it off. In terms of misunderstanding,
      many sites on the internet say that I have ‘cracked the code’ or ‘decoded the manuscript’ which is rubbish.

      In terms of accuracy, even reputable sites like the BBC and New Scientist made significant reporting errors which I had to correct.

      So I feel that we should just accept that to some extent we will be misrepresented and abused!

      Having said that, it would be helpful perhaps if those who have worked hard on the manuscript (such as you and me and others) offered clear summary updates of their main views so others can quickly see what they have discovered. I am guilty of not doing that enough, I confess….

      • Stephen,
        My remark was not aimed at you – as far as I know you were not involved with Voynich studies until recently. It seems to be a product of ignorance about how research progresses – namely that it moves best when run more like a baton relay than a soccer match. Cheers. 😀

        • Alan Hughes

          Though many people drop the baton or make their own, or run alongside without any baton at all 🙂

  4. Stephen,
    My experience is that a majority of Voynicheros simply “take up” results of others’ work if the research is not by a member of a given theory-club.

    With regard to an Occitan thesis, for example, I see that as early as May 10th., 2010 I noted in my research-in-progress blog that:

    “The later inscriptions on the roundel-motifs are the only clear sign that the set of ten might be a calendar at all. The inscriptions are written in a language which might (or might not) be Occitan, or some language related to it.

    I was surprised to find how fragile is the evidence for that identification as Occitan, and how uncertain the interpretation of the inscriptions themselves, even if Occitan is posited.

    Shaun Palmer’s site, for example, says that the identification was made by:

    pasting … a sample of the so-called “Michitonese” found on the last page of the Manuscript, f116v… into Xerox’s XRCE Language Guesser, it suggests Catalan_utf8 for it, hence the noting of modern Catalan and Occitan names..[because] the script may be related to that ‘Michionese’.

    Shaun himself said, on the same page, that Nick Pelling had earlier reached a similar conclusion concerning possible Occitan, so Nick has precedence if the inscriptions do turn out to Occitan, though at present our only evidence is that “Catalan_utf8″ represents Xerox’s best guess. Shaun’s beautifully magnified copies of the inscriptions are re-presented here.”

    (links omitted)

    In other words, given the regularity with which Pelling’s blog is read by so many, this matter of precedence for the ‘Occitan’ thesis is reasonably supposed common knowledge for the longer-lived and persistent collectors of Voynicheriana, and for that reason, their proper acknowledgements in repeating the matter should have seen to it that newcomers did not re-invent that unexpected wheel, nor be all-unconsciously directed to the ‘idea’ as if were some yet-to-be-explored inspiration descended direct from the heavens into the (posited) mind of that hypothetical director.

    Again, In a ciphermysteries post of September 2010, Pelling had already brought to the attention of Voynich researchers the work on Occitan manuscripts being done by Professoressa Maria Sofia Corradini at the University of Pisa.

    No-one who has seen our exchanged comments could fail to realise that I differ from Nick Pelling’s opinions about the manuscript. However, as a rule I cite no other Voynichero’s site, since he alone has never failed (as far as I’m aware) to ensure that he neither takes credit due others, nor follows the more insidious practice of allowing readers to assume, by omission and default, that important observations and conclusions which are presented on a Voynich site are those of the presenter rather than the fruit of solid research by an entirely different person.
    I have also managed to avoid being approached to investigate some ‘idea’ only to find, as other scholars have, that the ‘idea’ I am being asked to investigate, and then write about, is in fact a summary of work already done by someone whom the proposer declines to acknowledge for social or personal reasons.

    Most of all, I should caution any genuine scholar against the risk of being put in a position of effectively filching another’s work, under the misapprehension that the first writer’s work is being monitored and corrected by persons imagining themselves as quasi-overseers of all things Voynich. A couple of years ago, I had the embarrassing experience of having a scholar from far western Europe contact me and inform me that he had been asked to ‘evaluate the idea’ of folio 86v as an image related to the western ‘portolan chart’ tradition.

    WE were, of course, previously acquainted by a common research interest and I was obliged to say that, in fact, I had not long before published online a detailed discussion of this folio in which I had pointed out in detail, and with as much background as seemed relevant, that folio 86v was clearly related to that genre.

    I understand that my colleague then made his excuses, and declined to collaborate in a projected book of essays.

    So, as I say, I think it would greatly benefit Voynich studies if not only professional scholars but all involved had a crash course in scholarly ethics and method.

    That’s it from me. 🙂

    • Stephen Bax

      The problem, as I see it, is that so many people have commented on the Voynich manuscript over the years that it gets pretty impossible to find out if someone else has said something before, or if so who said it first!

      For example if you put ‘Voynich Occitan’ into Google, you 9330 results, and it is very tough to to say who first linked the month names with Occitan.

      My own view is that we shouldn’t get too hung up or possessive about ideas on the Voynich manuscript which we put onto the internet. Yes, people should try their best to find out the history of any ideas they put forward, and should credit them if they can, but inevitably some will slip through. The beauty of a site like this is that it is then open for people to come along and correct, discuss and add, and so we can all learn as we go along. 🙂

  5. Diane

    David King’s work is always well-recommended; I appreciate especially the meticulous way in which he credits his sources and acknowledges precedents for his opinions. I almost wish it were possible to require Voynicheros to attend a course in scholarly method – it would save so much doubling up and re-invention of ideas.

    • Stephen Bax

      True, but it is also possible for two people to come up with the same ideas independently! I suspect the world of Voynich is destined to repeat itself and revisit ideas and theories, possibly repeating things others have said, for many years to come. That may be part of its sociological fascination!

  6. MarcoP

    Thank you for this information, Stephen!
    The fact that the month names are clearly French, even if it is not possible to tell from which French region, seems very significant to me. This at least makes the later presence of the manuscript in Prague irrelevant as a candidate for its origin: the manuscript was already traveling across Europe.

    Thank you also for sharing the very interesting Marginalia document by Elmar Vogt and Elias Schwerdtfeger.
    I have been looking at the marginalia on f17r: I was not aware of the existence of those words!
    I have found that Cappelli mentions the ending of the third word (“c3” with a dash) as an abbreviation for “-corum”. So the third word seems to be “lucorum” Latin genitive plural of “lucus” (meaning “of the groves”).
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/518265869593328299/

    I want to propose a tentative and extremely unreliable reading of that line:
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/518265869593328311/

    1) malhor grind (Latin “molare”, see also the English “to mill” and the Portuguese “malhar”. But what language is this?)
    2) allor laurel (Latin “laurus”, Italian “alloro”, Arabic “al ghar”?)
    3) luc[oru]m of the groves (Cappelli, 4.2831, mentions c3 as an abbreviation for “-corum”, “lucorum” is Latin)
    4) her[ba] herb (abbreviation of Latin “herba”?)
    5) vullamina balsamine? (in Spanish it’s “balsamina”) valeriana?. This could be the unreadable name of a herb. Is it the same as the plant illustrated on f17r?

    grind laurel of the groves [with] herb ???

    So, the third word is rather clearly Latin. The fourth and the fifth are too faint to say anything reliably meaningful. I find the first two words particularly interesting. They are well readable, but I cannot really make sense of them, nor tell which language they are. Any ideas?

    • Stephen Bax

      Here is one suggestion – “Latin or possibly Greek”, but not with much conviction!:

      http://voynich.freie-literatur.de/index.php?show=page&id=f17r

      Plus an old suggestion – see here was that it was High German, but so far as I know without any evidence!

      • MarcoP

        Thank you Stephen. The first link says that “the letters are probably Latin, or possibly Greek”: it seems to me clear that the letters are Latin and not Greek.
        If I understand correctly, the second link talks about high German, but interprets the first word as a proper name (that of the physician Pierandrea Mattioli, 1501-77). In my opinion, these marginalia (possibly excluding the month names) were written before Mattioli was born.

  7. David Wiffler

    Both Aries and Taurus have two charts with 15 figures. So each sign has 30 figures which is consistent with the idea of the figures representing days. Why two charts? Who knows.

    • Darren Worley

      Thanks for the clarification.

      f70v2 March / Pisces (Fish) = 10 inner; 19 outer = 29 angels + 1 named star
      f70v1 April / Aries (Ram) = 5 inner ring; 10 outer = 15 angels
      f73r November / Scorpio (Scorpion) = 10 inner ring ; 16 outer ring; 4 upper = 30 angels
      f73v December / Sagittarius (Archer) = 10 inner ring; 16 outer ring; 4 upper = 30 angels

      Where I want to go with this analysis is a better understand of the zodiac/calendar system used in the VM.

      The Pisces page only has 29 angels, but an extra named star is the fish itself, making 30 named stars (and one other unnamed star). The Scorpion on the Scorpio page also has an additional unnamed star.

      Can anyone suggest a reason why the Fish in Pisces, should be an exception to all the other signs and have an associated named star, making a total of 30? Is there anything special about this sign? If so, to whom?

  8. Darren Worley

    Its also worth noting that whoever made these annotations appears to have made some mistakes –

    1) May appears twice (f71v and f72r1)
    2) Whoever wrote these comments seem to have assumed (incorrectly?) an exact correspondence between month names and zodiac signs.

    Can anyone offer an alternate explanation for these possible errors?

    A question for Prof.Bax – you’ve previously suggested that the nymphs/angels appearing in the zodiac represent days. If this were the case, then I would expect to see about 30 for each zodiacal sign. However, this isn’t the case. Can you explain why you think the angels represent days?

    For example:

    f71r April / Aries (Ram) / = 5 inner ring; 10 outer ring = 15
    f71v May / Taurus = 5 inner ring; 10 outer ring = 15
    f72r1 May / Taurus (again!) = 5 inner ring; 10 outer ring = 15
    f72r2 June / Gemini = 9 inner ring; 16 middle ring; 5 upper = 30
    f72r3 July / Cancer = 7 inner ring; 11 middle ring; 12(?) outer ring = 30(?) angels
    f72v1 October / Libra (Scales = 10 inner ring; 20 outer ring = 30
    f72v3 August / Leo (Lion) / August = 12 inner ring ; 13 outer ring (incomplete; 18?) = 30(?)
    f72v2 September (Virgo / Man??) = 12 inner ring; 18 outer ring = 30
    f73r November (Scorpio) = 10 inner ring ; 16 outer ring = 26
    f73v December / Sagittarius (archer) = 10 inner ring; 16 outer ring = 26

    Can anyone suggest an alternate reason for the number of angels associated with each sign?

  9. Darren Worley

    I’ve been interested in possible links with Hebrew astronomy, and Derek’s recent comment about a possible identification of a star with a Hebrew name has prompted a re-examination of these ideas.

    I’ve not really paid much attention to these French-looking annotations in the past. I’ve just put them down to the work of an earlier effort to decrypt the manuscript, and therefore of little relevance.

    However, I’m aware that there were many important Jewish scholars and scientists active in pre-unified Spain and France in the early middle ages, assisting in the translation of Arabic texts.

    The comment about possible links with French therefore seems worth commenting on.

    I’ve noticed that there also seems to be some similarities of these annotations with Provencal month names too. These are documented in “The Provencal Version of Levi ben Gerson’s Tables for Eclipses”. Levi ben Gerson was a Jewish astronomer/astrologer active in Southern France region in the early 1300’s (it wasn’t part of France until 1486). I’m not certain when this list dates from – presumably the early 1300’s, pre-dating the creation/copying of the VM by a century. These are taken from “Studies in Medieval Astronomy and Optics” By J. L. Mancha. p320

    Interesting, this sequence also starts with March, which was considered to be the first month of the year. I understand this changed to January in the 17th century.

    martz
    abril
    may
    iun
    iull
    aost
    setembre
    octembre
    nouembre
    desembre
    ienoier
    febrier

    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=02KQgQNL-P4C&pg=RA1-PA79&lpg=RA1-PA79&dq=octembre&source=bl&ots=gKKwDzW64L&sig=LuHiwFVu2VwhjqXNGagSS2RWggQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ajhdVMWBD5SQ7Aa2tYCgCQ&ved=0CFkQ6AEwCDgU#v=onepage&q=octembre&f=false

    There has been a presence of Jews in Provence since the first century, so this community seems to have been well established in the area.

    Its going a little off topic, but I’m struck by the vast number of Jewish-European languages. Jews have lived in Europe for several thousand years, so the opportunity for the development of a unique written script, used by a small community presents itself.

    Here is an (incomplete) list – in some cases these are extinct languages

    Yiddish : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yiddish_language
    Judaeo-Slavic / Judaeo-Czech (Knaanic) : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knaanic_language
    Judaeo-Latin (La‘az) : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judeo-Latin
    Judaeo-Provençal (Shuadit – Hebrew-influenced Occitan) : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuadit_language
    Judaeo-French (Zarphatic) : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zarphatic_language
    Judaeo-Italian : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaeo-Romance_languages
    Judaeo-Catalan or Catalanic : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaeo-Romance_languages
    Judaeo-Piedmontese : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaeo-Romance_languages
    Judaeo-Aragonese : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaeo-Romance_languages
    Judaeo-Portuguese : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaeo-Romance_languages
    Judaeo-Spanish (Ladino) – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaeo-Spanish
    And sub-dialects too: Ponentine; Occidental/Western; Haketia; Levantine/Oriental
    Judaeo-Greek (Yevanic, Romaniyot): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yevanic_language
    Judaeo-Crimean Tatar (Krymchak) : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krymchak_language

    and a brief selection of non-European languages:

    Judaeo-Tat : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judeo-Tat
    Judaeo-Aramaic : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judeo-Aramaic_language
    Judaeo-Arabic : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judeo-Arabic_languages
    Bukhori (Judaeo-Iranian) : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bukhori_dialect
    Judaeo-Berber : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judeo-Berber_language
    Judaeo-Iraqi Arabic : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judeo-Iraqi_Arabic
    Baghdad Jewish Arabic : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baghdad_Jewish_Arabic

    And lots more besides : Judaeo-Yemeni Arabic, Judaeo-Tunisian Arabic, Judaeo-Syriac etc. etc.

    There doesn’t appear to be a medieval Judaeo-English though…

    • Derek Vogt

      The comments by that other “Vogt” (it feels weird writing that when not referring to someone in my family) included the “Octembre” as a possible sign that the person who wrote it didn’t know much about Latin root words, because the reason it normally ends with “ober” instead of “ember” is that the number itself is “octo” instead of “octem”, while the other month-numbers are septem, novem, and decem.

      Also, while I was reading Vogt’s comments about the Voynich month names, I noticed two other little things about the form of the letters that reminded me of the Hebrew alphabet. First, the unusual style of the [m] makes it resemble the Hebrew letter mem. Second, the difference between the two forms of [y], apparently based on within-word position, is the same as the difference between forms for the five Hebrew letters that have dual forms, also for different within-word positions: the direction that the tail hanging below the rest of the letter points.

    • Stephen Bax

      In connection with this am struck by the work of Ramon Llul, who was Catalan (not Jewish I think) and writing before the date of the Voynich, but who had some ideas which seem to resonate with Voynich themes. He also borrowed ideas from the Arabs about what is known as zairja, a sort of letter magic which was attested by the famous Arab philosopher and historian Ibn Khaldun. See a really interesting part of his most famous work here, with a discussion of Arab letter magic.

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