Voynich talk April 2014

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I have recently posted a video of my informal talk in April 2014 on the script and language of the Voynich manuscript Download advanced voice recorder. Comments welcome.

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  1. Bhutanese

    The letters appear to be from a geographical range spanning from the near East to Southeast Asia. Has the possibility been explored that it could be a combination of languages ? Many of the images appear Eastern.
    I would hesitate to infer that the artistic “illuminations” of each section are directly related to the textual content of the corresponding page.
    The textual content could be about an entirely different subject than the artwork.

  2. miguel


    I watched the video and all I can say is: great work !

    There is one thing that intrigues me though. If you consider the first words of herbal folios, all of them start with one of four different glyphs (the so called “gallows”). You already identified one of these glyphs with letter “K”, so it is fair to assume the other three also represent each a different sound (e.g. a consonant). So, in a herbal of dozens of different plants, all of them start of only four different letters. It is like there was an implicit rule saying that plant names must start with only (lets say) K, D, F or T, and no other letter. Have you seen this phenomenon in any other language ? What do you think about it ?

    Best regards,

  3. Andrew Gumperz

    Hello Dr. Bax,

    I watched your videos on the manuscript with great interest and wish to offer my congratulations on your tremendous work.

    The hypothesis that the manuscript is an unencoded document written in an unfamiliar script has many interesting implications that have not been significantly discussed in print.

    When scholars thought of the book as an encoded document, there was a natural tendency to think of the content as original to the author. Why encode content you found in some other book? However if the manuscript is not encoded, but simply written in an unfamiliar script, this notion goes away. Perhaps the book, or parts of the book, are translation of Arabic or Latin scientific text into an as yet unknown language. This notion is consistent with the presence of the Centauris/Chiron content, since reference to Greek mythology would be found in contemporary medical text. Further, given that the document contains a lot of content, it seems more likely that some or all of it was taken from earlier sources than that it was 100% original to the authoring team.

    For the purpose of decoding the script, if we could identify a source written in an a known script for even a single page of Voynich, suddenly we would have a Rosetta stone. So careful research into earlier medieval scientific texts might bear fruit, so to speak :-).

    Where was the document written?
    I think the search can be narrowed based on facts about the document:
    1. The materials used were expensive
    2. The inks were high quality
    3. The document was written by more than one hand
    4. The transcription to the page was error free (no erasures)

    This suggests a team of professional scribes produced the manuscript and they must have been working for a wealthy patron who could sponsor a costly project. If the book was produced in Europe, then a wealthy monastery or a royal court would be likely locations and such locations would have had libraries where other texts–sources for the manuscript were present.

    Why Was It Written?
    The motivation for writing is a lot less mysterious if we posit the manuscript is an unencoded document written in an unknown language. The book is an attempt to disseminate knowledge into a group of language speakers who did not have access to it in their own tongue. It may also be an attempt to add prestige to their script and language by documenting scientific information in that language.

    Art Style
    I am no art historian, but I wonder if analysis by an art historian might help to localize production of the manuscript. First, the style of drawings of people may help place the book geographically. To my eye, the human figures look like the work of a European artist, since the style does not look Middle-eastern, Persian, Indian or Turkish. However, the analysis needs to be done by an expert on medieval illustration.

    Second, the manuscript is created at exactly the time period when perspective drawing is proliferating through Italy, yet its picture reflect a cruder, earlier style. That fact may say something about who drew them or where they might not have been such that they had no access to more sophisticated models.

    Lastly, its an interesting anachronism that when every other aspect of the book seems highly professional, much of the art is not. So the fact that the creative team did not have access to better artists may also say something about who wrote it, or where they were located.

    Best regards and good luck with all your further research!

    Andrew Gumperz

    • Stephen Bax

      Thanks for your detailed and thorough discussion. I agree with the thrust of it, and would add that there is a lot of evidence in the text of a mass of accumulated knowledge about plants and also about astrology. This implies that the people who wrote the manuscript were. as you say, drawing on a lot of study and learning, and that does narrow it down in the ways you suggest.

      I agree also that “if we could identify a source written in an a known script for even a single page of Voynich, suddenly we would have a Rosetta stone”, and it is amazing that we have not yet found anything of the sort. Still looking…

      Yes, the pictures have often been criticised – see also the implications of this for plant identification, which the Finnish biologist has set out so clearly. Various ideas have been suggested about the style, but nothing definitive as yet.

    • Marco

      Not exactly related to “art history”, but it has been noted that the style of the script is similar to that of ms Pal. lat. 1369 (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana), Southern Germany, mid 15th century. The text is the Book of the fixed stars by al-Sufi (Latin translation) .


    • Ali

      I’m newly exposed to this manuscript, but based on the research I’ve done and looking through some of your research, I came up with an idea as to what it might be. I am not a researcher or a scientist or a cryptologist of any type, just a regular person so bear with me.

      I’ve seen notes that say it could be an alchemist book of some type. Possibly some ‘medieval science with metaphysical and magical overtones, whose practitioners sought ways to turn base metals into gold.’
      I saw that Professor Bax said he decoded some of the words including one that appeared to be “oror” or “arar.” The word “oro” directly translates to the word “gold” in Spanish, and the word “arar” is Turkish for search.
      Could this be either an actual alchemist book that was believed to somehow magically make gold? or maybe something pertaining to searching for gold.

      Thoughts, Opinions or comments are appreciated!

  4. Marjorie Thompson

    I really enjoyed your April 10 talk about the manuscript. I previously emailed some info about the Renaissance and that book on cryptography. I looked up John Dee who was supposed to have sold the manuscript to Emperor Rudolf and found out that he was a student of Marsilio Ficino. Cosimo de’ Medici was the patron of Marsilo Ficino. I thought that my making that association was a little off the wall but was surprised to find that John Dee was his student.

    • Stephen Bax

      Thanks Marjorie. I was intrigued by your earlier posting about Arabic cryptography too.

      It is now thought less likely that John Dee owned the manuscript, but that doesn’t rule out the cryptography possibility, of course.

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