The Ciphers of the Monks. A Forgotten Number-Notation of the Middle Ages. David A. King Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, (Boethius, volume 44), 2001.
With indices. Hardcover, 506 pp.
This is the first comprehensive study of an ingenious number-notatioThis This is the first comprehensive study of an ingenious number-notation from the Middle Ages that was devised by monks and mainly used in monasteries.
A simple notation for representing any number up to 99 by a single cipher, somehow related to an ancient Greek shorthand, first appeared in early-13th-Century England, brought from Athens by an English monk.
A second, more useful version, due to Cistercian monks, is first attested in the late 13th Century in what is today the border country between Belgium and France: with this any number up to 9999 can be represented by a single cipher.
The ciphers were used in scriptoria ? for the foliation of manuscripts, for writing year-numbers, preparing indexes and concordances, numbering sermons and the like, and outside the scriptoria ? for marking the scales on an astronomical instrument, writing year-numbers in astronomical tables, and for incising volumes on wine barrels.
Related notations were used in medieval and Renaissance shorthands and coded scripts.
This richly illustrated book surveys the medieval manuscripts and Renaissance books in which the ciphers occur, and takes a close look at an intriguing astrolabe from 14th-Century Picardy marked with ciphers.
At 12:34 12/07/2004 +0200, Elmar Vogt wrogt:
>Lately the list discussed the idea of the VM being a code a bit more
>again. (Ie, every symbol group in the VM might represents a "token" which
>be looked up into dictionary wordlist.)
>Before actually tackling the question how such a code could be broken, I
>pondered: Most of the theories about the encoding algorithms of the VM fall
>flat quite quickly, because they don't match with the properties of the code
>text. Are there any similar observations which rule out a code book from
This theory's many variants tend to see each word as some kind of
obfuscated number grouping, whether Roman numbers (as Tiltman discussed),
or something more exotic - for example, I once suggested that the gallows
ch! aracters might be loosely related to David A. King's "Cipher of the
monks" (a Cistercian numbering scheme based on lines sprouting off from a
vertical line): and also once suggested that they might be a kind of
single-stroke shorthand for X/XX/XXX/XL, based on the number of times the
single stroke crosses over itself.
If you then extend this to see all Voynichese words as somehow forming
indices into a code-book, you've got yourself a nice hypothesis to test (as
Marianna described recently)... except that it's really not clear how it
could work. Yet again, the devil's in the details.
The problem is that we can't obviously see how to generate Voynichese words
- and hence we can't really see how they could be a numbering scheme.
Models (like crust-mantle-core, and the many variations on that general
theme we've all proposed from time to time) capture ~some~ of what we see -
but an awful lot remains. Could that huge residue simp! ly be nulls? It seems
unlikely to me (though YMMV).
Anyway (back to your question), if Voynichese were a simple-minded
code-book (but perhaps with a fiendish number encoding schema), I think we
might expect to see (1) rather more obvious matches between labels and text
(etc) than we do, (2) a language-like distribution of word frequency, and
(3) uniform text structure across the text (unlike the differences between
Currier A & B we do see). Something to think about, anyway. :-/
Cheers, .....Nick Pelling.....
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