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More New Scientist letters...

Hi everyone,

Cynthia Tenen (Stan Tenen's wife, and co-founder of the Meru Foundation) just told me about subsequent VMS-related letters (including one from Gabriel L) that appeared in the 8 December 2001 issue of New Scientist (all freely readable on the web):-


In the spirit of openness, I've cut and pasted them below: any comments on Tony Clarke's pineapple mayweed and period pains association (I presume he's referring to f78r)? The same plant-head would seem to reappear on a number of other pages (including the T-O map page, f86v3?).


Or the custard apple? Or the Adamites?

Very interesting... :-)

Cheers, .....Nick Pelling.....

* * * * * * * *

Language of flowers
Having never heard of the Voynich manuscript (17 November, p 36), I was really intrigued and also amused by the various attempts by the world's best cryptanalysts to decipher it.
As often happens, clever people tend to seek sophisticated and complex solutions, but maybe it's better here to look for simpler methods. The article mentions that the crudely drawn flowers and plants are unlike anything found in nature and maybe that hints at a possible solution. Could the drawings themselves hold the transcription key to decipher the text on each page?
The plants shown in the article reveal leaves and roots that can easily be counted, and possibly the resulting numbers provide the key to translate the different pages of the document. Would it not be very ironic if all these years people have been searching for a key while it was right in front of them all the time?
Rudi Van Nieuwenhove
Genk, Belgium

The reproduction of one of the pages of the manuscript on p 36 seems to show the flower head of the pineapple mayweed, Matricaria matricarioides, being "filtered" into large containers or baths where women who seem to be in pain are splashing about. This plant has been known for many years to be a herbal remedy for period pains. So I suggest that this page is indeed giving herbal medicinal advice.
Tony Clarke
Elloughton, East Yorkshire

Correction: The Voynich manuscript is approximately 234,000 characters, not words as stated in the article. The total number of "words" (word-like strings of characters separated by a space) is about 40,000, and there is a vocabulary of about 8200 unique words.

I was intrigued by Catherine Zandonella's article on the Voynich manuscript. The opening page reproduction of the two halves of a custard apple (Annona reticulata) connected by vines passing through cylindrical graters was delightful, as were the multiple images of our renowned Sara-Marie doing her famous "bum-dance".
Since so many cryptologists have found the text impenetrable, it probably is meaningless and the manuscript part of a fraud, but the illustrations struck me forcibly as reminiscent of two things.
One is the imagery of late medieval/early modern alchemy, the jargon and symbolism of which had grown so arcane by that time that the practitioners could scarcely understand one another.
The other is the visual symbolism in some of the middle works of Hieronymus Bosch. Some scholars suspected that he belonged to one of the small Adamite sects who believed, among other things, in nudity and free love. I don't believe he did belong to them, but he may have used some of their imagery: his paintings do contain nude people, imaginary plants and giant bottles and flasks.
Perhaps these possible clues might be worth following up, though if the manuscript is genuine and does derive from either of those sources, it will probably, after decoding, prove to be largely gibberish.
Tony Glad
Brisbane, Australia

Interestingly, the word frequency distribution in the manuscript approaches Zipf's law, a statistical observation regarding the word frequency that is found in most languages. This property is unlikely to be preserved in texts encoded using polyalphabetical substitutions with many alphabets, since each plain text word has alternative spellings in the substituted coded form. Such alternative spellings depend on the number of alphabets used to encode the text and the word position in the manuscript with respect to the key.
Gabriel Landini
University of Birmingham