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Re: Another explanation for dain daiin...
After the latest flip-flop, I feel I should clarify my current views
on the VMS.
Like everybody else on this list, I feel frustrated at seeing how
little we have gained from so much work. But I think that we *did*
make progress. Here are some things that I consider satisfactorily
* The VMS was written before 1650.
Experts haven't seen anything in the physical manuscript that
would suggest a later forgery; and Rene's discovery of Baresh's
letter in Kircher's correspondence pretty much kills that
* The VMS is meaningful text.
It has passed all the random-garbage detection tests that we
could think of. The entropy per word looks right, and word
frequencies follow Zipf's law. The vocabulary shows a normal mix
of "general-purpose" and section-, page-, and paragraph-pecific
words. Long-range statistical tests (by Perakh, Landini,
Zandbergen, et al.) show the expected amount of "fractality" and
section-dependent variation. Labels are mostly unique, but
contain some "general-purpose" words. The first word on each
herbal page looks different and is usually unique. The words
have a complicated internal structure. And so on.
* Voynichese "words" are indeed words, spaces are spaces, labels are labels.
There are too many distinct "words" for them to be just letters,
or syllables of polysillabic words. Labels have slightly
different letter statistics and are mostly unique, but otherwise
they have the same structure as the "words"; most of them are a
single "word", some are two or three. Line breaks occur at
normal "word" boundaries. And so on.
* Voynichese is not a Vigenère-style cipher.
Zipf's plot for Voynichese looks like that of any natural
language, and very unlike that of text encoded by a
Vigenère-style cipher --- or by any system that maps one plain
word to different code words according to its position. Also, a
Vigenère-like cipher is incompatible with the observed word
paradigm and constraints on character order and position within
words --- like 1 gallows max, "y" always at end, etc.. And so
on. The VMS "cipher" must be of a type that maps one word to one
word, at least most of the time.
* The (bi)folios were bound in the wrong order.
There is a figure in the bio section that was obviously meant
to be at the quire's center, but isn't. The "A" and "B" herbal
bifolios seem to have been interleaved at random, and there are
isolated herbal pages in the the middle of other sections which
could be brought together by appropriate reordering of the bifolios.
* Whoever wrote the folio and quire numbers could not read the book.
It follows from the above.
* The VMS is in a single language.
The so-called "Currier languages" share the same word
structure, with very similar component frequencies. They share
many of the most frequent words; the vocabulary differences can
be explained by change of subject or style, or by being written
at different times. There are similar differences between all
sections, and smaller but similar differences between pages of
the same section. The differences are much smaller and localized
than, say, Italian vs. Latin. They also do not seem to be due to
a change in spelling/encoding rules.
* The VMS was written by a single person.
The only writing expert opinion we have is very definite about
that. The differences pointed out by Currier are within the
normal range of variation for a single person.
* The VMS author was not Roger Bacon.
All Bacon experts say so. Raphael's comment to Marci was
probably a guess; and even if what he said was true, Rudolf was
surely mistaken. Marci himself was careful to say that he was
withholding his judgement on the matter.
* John Dee never owned it.
Dee's detailed diaries don't mention the VMS nor its sale to
Rudolf. It seems that John Dee met Rudolf only once or twice
during his whole stay in Bohemia, and was clearly a persona
non grata at the Court. The alleged identification of Dee's hand
in the folio numbers has been substantially discredited by
Prinke. Recall that Voynich brought Dee into the picture as the
person most likely to have brought a Bacon original to Prague;
but if the VMS is not Bacon's, that connection vanishes, and Dee
is at best one possibility among thousands.
* The VMS is a product of the European culture.
That follows not so much from dresses and hairstyles -- which
may have been added by an European copist/illustrator -- but
from the general "look and feel" of the script -- including
writing direction and page layout -- and the use of about 25
But note that "product of European culture" does *not* mean the
author was European, that the book was composed in Europe, that
it is in some European language, or that it contains European
subject matter. That label includes, for instance, those books
written in America by American indians, in their native
languages, in the 1500's and 1600's --- such as the original
* The "michiton" text on f116v was written by the VMS author.
The text does not look at all like a cryptographer's worksheet,
as commonly assumed. The Voynichese words <oror sheey> fit
nicely the Voynichese word paradigm, but are very rare in the
text hence unlikely to have been copied from there; and they are
embedded in the paragraph as if they were part of the sentence.
Moreover, the "telephone doodles" at the top left corner
of f116v are in the same style as the other illustrations.
Some commonly assumed "facts" that I am very skeptical about:
* Did Rudolf ever own the VMS?
If Bacon is not the VMS author, I see no rason to trust
Raphael's comments quoted in Marci's letter. He probably never
saw the "Bacon" book that Rudolf supposedly bought; most likely
he only heard the story -- "Rudolf's lost Bacon" must have been a
subject of speculation for Prague scholars of Marci's time --
and just guessed that Baresch's book was "it".
Note that in Baresch's letter to Kircher there is no mention of
Bacon or Rudolf. In fact, Baresch offered a very different
theory about the book's origins, and he seemed to think of it as a
mere curiosity that was "taking up space uselessly in his
bookshelf". That's is a strange way to describe a book that an
Emperor once paid 600 ducats for.
* Did Jacobus de Tepenecz ever own the VMS?
The faded "signature" on page f1r looks to me more like a
scribble by a librarian or late owner -- Baresch, Marci,
Kircher, Beckx, etc.. Note that neither Baresch nor Marci
mention Jacobus or his signature. In fact, the "signature"
could have been added by Voynich, in order to strengthen
the Bacon connection.
Note also that the primary sources about Rudolf's court that
were available to Kircher and his successors would have been
Jesuit chronicles such as Balbín's, which overplay Jacobus (a
Jesuit alumnus and generous benefactor), and barely mention
other "minor figures" such as Ticho Brahe, Sendivogius, Hajek,
et al.. So it was very easy for Kircher et al. to view Jacobus
as the most likely author/seller/owner of the VMS before Baresch
--- just as it was for Voynich, and has been for us.
* Was the Beinecke copy written by the author himself?
I cannot make up my mind on this question. On one hand, some
parts of the book seem to have been done rather hastily, yet
there are no obvious signs of amends, insertions, marginal
additions, etc.. There are also many things that look like
uncorrected errors, such as violations of the general "spelling
rules", malformed characters, apparent "mistakes" in the 4 × 17
sequence, etc. Often it seems that the illustrator did not know
the nature of what he was drawing, as in the "intestines" of
f79v; and the circular diagrams are incrediby crude for a
student of astronomy.
On the other hand, this is all circumstantial evidence; and the
handwriting is always readable, fluent and adaptable to the
phisical context, as if the scribe understood what he/she was
Now some things that I consider very likely, but still not proved:
* The manuscript was written between 1400 and 1650.
That seems to be the consensus of all experts. Many assume a
narrower range, such as 1480-1520, but the evidence offered for
that --- letter shapes and dress styles --- is rather weak.
"Rounded letter shapes" is an idea that could have occurred to
anyone at any time; and dress styles may just tell us when the
Beinecke copy was made, not when the original was written.
Besides, the illustrator may have intentionally imitated the
style of older books, or those may be stereotypical drawings
that he/she had learned as a child. As for the so-called
"sunflower", the match is far from perfect, and it could be some
other species with composite flowers -- which are common in the
Old World too.
In any case, the date range above applies specifically to the
Beinecke VMS, and leaves open the possibility of it being a copy
of an older original.
* The illustrations are connected to the text.
The VMS would not attract 1/10 as much attention if it did not
have all those pictures of flolickin' ladies and weird-looking
cosmological diagrams. If the author's intent was to camouflage
a dangerous text, he could hardly have done worse.
On the other hand, if he wanted to make the book more appealing
to some rich fool, he should have been more explicit -- show
gold being made, diseases being cured, virility restored, etc.
* The colors are not original.
The colors seem to have been applied rather carelessly, with a
quill pen rather than with a brush; often straying outside the
inked outline, and leaving lots of bald spots. I would expect
the author to show more respect for his own work. In many
drawings only a few items have been painted -- as a child
would often do on a coloring book.
The colors often seem to have been picked at random, or strictly
by aesthetic criteria, or without respect for the figure. For
instance, on f17r or thereabouts we see a plant with roundish
many-fingered leaves, painted red, and a leafy flower, painted
blue-green. Often the leaves, scales, etc. are colored in
alternating or checkerboard fashion.
There is a site out there which has images of the first printed
herbal. The printing was in black-and white; someone started to
colorize the book, but soon gave up, leaving many plants
incomplete. I suspect that the painter was a kid, and that a
similar fate happend to the VMS.
* The manuscript is not encrypted.
As argued above, the VMS "code" must generally map one plain
word to just one code word; and the code words must fit the
observed paradigm and order/placement constraints on the
letters. The first requirement rules out Vigenère-like ciphers
that operate on the text as a whole. The second one rules out
Vigenère-like schemes applied to each word separately. On the
other hand, the cipher should be historically plausible, and
sufficiently practical to be used for a whole book.
Those constraints seem to allow only for a codebook-based scheme,
where the code words are generated systematically by some
mechanical process --- essentially numbers in some Roman-like
notation. (This description could fit also an artificial language
with "philosophical" vocabulary, like those developed by Dalgarno,
Wilkins, and Kircher in the 1600's.)
However, the codebook theory still has some big problems.
Codebook schemes are difficult to write and difficult to read,
so they are typically used for short messages of vital
importance. I still haven't heard of any VMS-size book from
those times that was written entirely in book-code --- or in any
kind of code, for that matter. In fact, I still haven't
seen a plausible explanation for why the VMS author would have
felt it necessary to use encryption AND a completely new
* The VMS is a "transcultural" artifact.
By that I mean that the book was probably written by an European
(E) author for non-European (NE) readers, or vice-versa; or
perhaps for NE readers by an NE author, but after European
fashion (The Popol Vuh and native Inca chronicles would be
examples of this last class).
I think that the first two scenarios are more likely, because
they would explain why the book contains no recognizable
numerals, symbols or imagery, European or not: those symbols
that the author knew would be meaningless to the intended
readers. The second version could also explain the "michiton"
text as an attempt by a non-E author to produce a dedication or
colophon in what was to him a foreign language with a foreign
* The text is in some exotic monosyllabic language.
If it is not encrypted, then it is plaintext in an invented
alphabet and possibly a peculiar spelling. The word structure
rules out European or Near-Eastern languages, but seems to fit
those of East Asia, such as Chinese, Vietnamese, Tibetan, etc.
I believe this theory is quite plausible historically; in fact I
can think of many possible scenarios, and cite several cases
where Europeans invented new alphabetic scripts for "exotic"
languages. (The official Vietnamese script, by the way, is one
of them.) This theory seems to fit all the data, and explains
many otherwise puzzling things --- such as why 80 years of
attempts by the best cryptographers in the world could not make
a dent in the "code".
(For the new guys: this is the "Chinese theory" that my pizza
bet was about.)
> [Gabriel:] Then "word" sizes would not be words at all and so
> they could be phonemes or syllables as suggested in the past --
> I can imagine Jacques and Stolfi getting ready for the pizza :-)
Well, I have already tacitly weakened my bet from "Chinese" to "any
East Asian monosyllabic language", and stretched "East Asia" as far as
That's probably more than I can get away with. So, if the VMS words
turn out to be in syllables of Latin or some other "reasonable"
language, I will have lost the bet.
To those who got this far, thanks for your patience. All the bst,