A proposed identification of a word found on f77v – by Darren Worley

This is a post sent in by Darren Worley – thanks Darren.

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In this report I suggest a possible reading for a text label found on f77v. This follows on from a 2015 post on the same topic (here) that I now believe to be incomplete. I also speculate on what this might imply for the identity of Voynichese.

The text label under-disussion is shown bordered in red in the image below. It accompanies a diagram of the male genitals. Importantly, also depicted within the same image is a pregnant female figure. I believe that this pregnant female figure is critical to correctly interpreting the meaning of this text label.

There are slight variations in the possible readings of this word. Here are the variants from published EVA transcriptions:

# left center figure, above W nymph
<f77v.N.4;H> sosoral=
<f77v.N.4;U> sororal=
<f77v.N.4;V> saroral={Grove’s #6}

Applying the phonetic transcriptions based on Prof. Bax’s 2014 paper (A proposed partial decoding of the Voynich script), yields :

EVA:sosoral -> “sasarul”
EVA:sororal -> “sorarul”
EVA:sororal -> “sararul”

I would interpret this word as being composed of a root verb (sara- or sora-) with a gender, tense or plural suffix (-rul).

Previously, I suspected this word maybe related to the Arabic “sararat” for jetting out water (fountain) or perhaps the Persian “shasha” for urine, exudation [ref: Dictionary of Persian, Arabic, English; Johnson]. However, this interpretation fails to explain the pregnant female figure.

However, whilst researching the origin of the root “s-r-” for “flow, stream” (ref : here I identified what I consider to be a better set of matches.

Better matches are provided by words found in Semitic languages (Hebrew/Amharic/Arabic/Syriac) that have meanings relating to conception, which aligns well with both the image of the pregnant female figure and the male genitals.

For example, here are examples of related terms in several modern languages. (You can hear some of them being spoken using Google translate.)

 

It would therefore appear that the text label (EVA:sororal → sararul) is describing either conception, or a related term like seed, seminal fluid, ejaculation or offspring. Specially, the root of this word (EVA:soro- read as “sara-”) appears to be related to the word for “seed” in Semitic languages.

I also considered similar terms in other languages,for example, there are similar terms in Sanskrit. However, these words do not relate to conception or pregnancy, suggesting a weaker link with Sanskrit.

For example:

sar “to flow, move” (Sanskrit)
sara “liquid, water” (Sanskrit)

I also gave thought to the possibility that this word might be related to the Latin verb serō. However, this does not fit as well with the phonetic transcriptions.

serō (present infinitive serere, perfect active sēvī, supine satum); third conjugation
1. I sow, plant.
2. (of persons) I beget, bring forth, produce.
3. (figuratively) I found, establish; scatter, spread, disseminate; propagate; excite; cause, produce.

In conclusion, I propose that the label above the male genitals and figure of a pregnant women, [EVA:sororal -> “sararul”] means “to seed” (conceive). Furthermore it would appear that Voynichese has similarities to Semitic languages (Hebrew/Amharic/Arabic/Syriac) or contains borrowings from them.

 

This identification also demonstrates that it is possible to make meaningful identifications using the transcriptions described by Prof. Bax in his 2014 paper.

It also informs us that text labels do refer to the accompanying images.

Finally, on a more speculative note, I wanted to discuss what Voynichese might be, based on this evidence.

Of the languages described above, both Hebrew, Arabic and Syriac are written from right-to-left. Only Amharic, like Voynichese, is written left-to-right.

It is interesting to speculate that Voynichese might be related to Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. There was some cultural contact between Ethiopia and Europe in the early 15th-century when the Voynich manuscript was written, for example, four Ethiopian monks attended the Council of Florence in 1441. However, what is perhaps more interesting is why Amharic switched to being written left-to-right: it was due to the influence of Greek.

This historical example of a switch in written direction, suggests that when a Semitic language is influenced by another language that is written from left-to-right (eg. Greek, German or Latin etc.), this might provide the conditions to reverse its normal written direction. Such conditions could have possibly re-occurred amongst Hebrew speakers in Europe (by Jews right across the European continent), or amongst Arabic-speakers in Europe (in medieval Spain or Malta).

We must also remember that Hebrew, Arabic and Syriac are living languages, however, there were other now-extinct languages spoken in the European and the Arabian/Mediterranean region. I think another good candidate language for Voynichese might be the language of the Sabians. This group of people lived in the region around Harran and Edessa (in modern day Turkey close to the border with Syria) until the 11th-century when the populations were dispersed following Muslim expansion into this area. Contemporary Muslim sources refer to Sabians as Syriac-speaking pagans and Greek immigrants. (ref : Gündüz, The Knowledge of Life, p.131-32).

Centuries earlier, many important Sabian astronomers, astrologers and mathematicians were to be found living in Baghdad. I’m inclined to think the Voynich manuscript is likely a “summa”, a compendium of knowledge of various topics including astrology. For this reason I find a link with the Sabians to be plausible. I’m also mindful of the fact that the Kitab al-Bulhan or Book of Wonders (late 14th-century) a manuscript probably bound together in Baghdad contains Voynich-like symbols.

Texts based upon the works of Sabian writers were circulating in Europe at the time that the Voynich manuscript was created, for example, the Sabian astronomer/astrologer-philosopher Thabit ibn Qurrah (826-901) is named in one of the important astrological texts of the period – the Picatrix. Thabit’s native language was Syriac, which was the eastern Aramaic dialect from Edessa, and he was fluent in Greek and Arabic too. Latin translations of his astrological works continued to be widely copied into the 15th-century. Its perhaps, not too much of a stretch of the imagination to think that a Sabian manuscript might have survived in a copied form. There was a great interest in unusual manuscripts in the 15th-century, and collectors travelled widely collecting and copying unusual manuscripts.

One other possible explanation for the identity of Voynichese is that it represents an attempt to write Judaeo-German (Yiddish) or a now-extinct form of Judaeo-Czech (Knaanik) using a novel alphabet. I find both these possibilties plausible, especially the latter, since Voynichese shares many common characters also found in Latin abbreviations and medieval Czech. Furthermore, a significant number of parallels have been reported between the Voynich Zodiac symbols and similar depictions found in other Central European manuscripts from the same time-period. The earliest known history of the Voynich manuscript places it in Prague and its earliest known owner, Jacobus Horcický de Tepenec (Sinapius) (1575 – 1622), was born in Borenovice in Moravia. Both these locations had local Jewish populations, and this might have provided the opportunity to write a regional Jewish-Moravian/Bohemian dialect in a left-to-right direction.


This is a post sent in by Darren Worley – thanks Darren.

 

10 Comments

  1. Christina Hansson

    I wonder about the “womb” word. I tried searching old words, but I could not find anything like the above, which at first looked like “orsosder” to me. I better go read your decipher, see where I went wrong.

  2. Hi, Darren!
    My version of decryption F77v.N.4. ‘SOSORAL’ : SOSO = cataboli [c / re / sm?], OR = arca, AL = urina [e / lis]. ‘Cataboli [c] arca urina [e / lis]’; ‘the output capacity of the urethra’.
    The third letter in this “word”, determined by the majority of researchers as EVA-S or EVA-R, in my opinion, differs from the standard S / R-outline. I define it as a sign “T ‘with a title.”
    to more details – http://limanov.livejournal.com/8084.html

    • Darren Worley

      Hi Alexandr – I had a look at your webpage.

      I found your comments about the attribution of the Pisces star as “Kullat Nun” to be the most interesting. Can you identify some of the other zodiac labels? It would be good to learn if you can identify a pattern across several labels.

      I’m still working on applying the same method I described, to identify other labels, based on similarities with Semitic words.

      I don’t know Latin well enough to comment on the accuracy of your translations, but how can EVA:al (from f77r.X.6) mean “vein”, and yet the same text EVA:al (on f77v.N.4) mean “urine”?

      • Hi Darren!
        Here are three steps))
        Take the Latin word “vein” (Latin – vena). According to the norms of the Latin abbreviation, there are two letters from it: VN. Now look at the word “urine” (Latin – urina). It can be cut in three ways: UN, UR or UrN. In the third case, the letter “r” can be represented by a overline (titlo), by a superscript cap (letter) or be eliminated. And the Latin letter ‘V’ in written form is identical to the Latin letter ‘U’.
        So… finally, EVA:a = LATIN:u/v; t. And EVA:l = LATIN:n, p. I guess)))

      • As for the other zodiac labels, I have not yet found an option, as obvious as Taurus. Alas)

  3. Hi Darren,
    re your comment of May 15, 2017 – 7:41 am

    Sorry not to have replied earlier; I don’t often come by.

    My general principle is that attempting to name an individual as “author” for this ms is unlikely to have any positive result. The chances are very low that the text is original and authorial, and even if it is one day proven so, the odds against his name having made it to our history books is fairly low. Perhaps the cipher – if there is one – could be attributed to somebody, but so far we have no clue to that.

    I’d say there’s a fair case for a more general attribution to Jews of Ancona, or of the Majorcan kingdom (which included parts of what is now France and Mallorca) or even of France, England or southern Italy.

    btw – the Harranians who called themselves ‘Sabians’ weren’t (to my knowledge) welcome in the eastern Christian centres and they certainly considered themselves descendants of the Hellenistic-Egyptian culture of Egypt. Scholars writing since the 1980s have also demonstrated pretty clearly that they were not Mandaeans, as older writers had speculated. Edessa and Harran were savage rivals, each working to have the other’s city destroyed by whichever regime ruled both cities. In the end, the Edessans won, but the victory was short lived and it would be interesting to know how they coped when both obliged to live and work in proximity in Baghdad.

    • Darren Worley

      Hi Diane – I should clarify that I don’t think Jacob d’Ancona is the author (its quite possible that he never existed). However, I do agree with the more general attribution that a medieval Jewish-Italian merchant who travelled across land-and-sea through the Near East, to India and beyond, is a good “character profile” of a possible author.

      I’m mindful that any proposed attribution needs to fit within historical record and with other evidence that’s been presented here. For example, Derek reported that many of the plants names he’s identified, seem to derive from Indian terms and there has also been plausible matches made with Persian and Jewish plant names too.

  4. Darren, the jetting water sounds reasonable enough, but I see you dismiss it on the grounds that the figure has a rounded belly.

    I don’t know that it is characteristic that can be taken so definitively; preference for wasp-waists and board-flat, adolescent -looking bellies is a fashion that comes and goes, but a rounded belly is fairly natural. So if you’re ditching one possible interpretation of the text on that basis, perhaps consider both possibilities a bit longer?

    • Darren Worley

      Diane – in your accompanying post you make the case that Krymachak should be given serious consideration. Given that the Krymachak are Jewish ethno-religious communities from Crimea, it seems that the identification of a text label, in a Semitic language, is consistent with this attribution. Do you agree?

      I have no evidence to suggest Voynichese is Krymachak. I think it much more likely to be based on Arabic, Hebrew or Syriac. The Jewish rabbi-merchant, Jacob d’Acona, who lived in Ancona (Central Eastern Italy) in the medieval period would have known the local Italian dialect. He also knew Hebrew and appears to have been familiar with Arabic from comments in his travel writings. Arabic was the common language for trade in this period, certainly on the trade routes he travelled. He also writes about his family/business connections with Acre [Northern Israel] and Ancona was a centre of trade with the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean) where Syriac would have been used.

  5. MarcoP

    Hello Darren, thanks to you (and Stephen) for the new post!
    The interpretation you propose is certainly interesting and (being related with a wide range of languages) is compatible with several possible theories.
    I was also thinking about how your interpretation could be extended to the whole bifolio 77-82. These four pages represent about twenty “nymphs” standing on tubular objects of various shapes. In general, what can these nymphs represent?

    Taiz and Taiz (The Biological Section of the Voynich Manuscript: A Textbook of Medieval Plant Physiology? – 2011) interpreted this section of the ms as representing the reproduction of plants. Their proposal is that “the nude females may serve as metaphors for the vital force, or vegetative souls, of the plant, which, according to Aristotle, directs the growth, development, and reproduction of each plant species”. As you proposed in the 2015 post you linked, their idea could also be applied to an interpretation focused on human physiology, rather than plant physiology: the nymphs could still be personifications of vital forces. You wrote that the women could be seen as “angel/nymphs (representing stars) … depicted alongside the body-organs that they govern”. This also is similar to Panofsky opinion that the Voynich ms discusses “the medical properties of terrestrial objects, particularly plants, by celestial influences transmitted by astral radiation and those “spirits” which were frequently believed to transmit the occult powers of the stars to the earth.”

    I also noticed that a nymph with a label similar to the one you discuss (EVA:sororl) appears at the bottom left of f82r. Could she be related with the nymph in f77r? What could be the possible meaning of the complex scene at the bottom of f82r?

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