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VMs: Re: Offlist post to the VMS mailing list

Jeff wrote:

> The very reason that Ficino and Agrippa were
> appropriating past theology and myth are Central to
> the VMS.

I'm a little busy to respond to everything I want to respond to, but it
shouldn't surprise anyone that I'm in agreement with Jeff on this single
point, at least as far as Agrippa goes.  I'm not familiar with Ficino, but
the connection being made, it's on my list of things to discover.  I of
course don't exactly know what Jeff means by his post, but if I were making
this statement myself it would be appropriate to my understanding, that the
works of Agrippa and Trithemius are historically significant to what we find
in the Voynich.

It is my belief that one must go back in time past Leon Battista Alberti's
publication of 1467 and possibly beyond Honorius to understand the roots of
the problem, but Alberti is the first glimpse we see of something
approaching "modern" cipher.  An understanding of its roots can only be
found by digging deeply into the works of several authors, all of which I've
not yet discovered because they are not traditionally associated as those
who shared a "common ground".  I'm certain that once the "idea" becomes
known to the mainstream, the research into this will progress significantly.

It's an unfortunate fact that historians have "blind spots", and as much as
I've tried in my years to address these to the historians in question, the
subject of cipher is one into which few wish to venture.  An exposition to
Alvin Voss of the ciphers contained in Roger Ascham's letters gained no
significant response, even when I demonstrated that the hidden messages were
contrary to the surface text.  In one particular letter to Lord Burghley,
(1552), Roger whines at length over having to wear the same old worn coat
and how thin its gotten and no longer a protection against the cold.  The
opening portion of the cipher contained therein says something to the effect
"Doing great and having a good-ol' time".  An historian like Voss takes the
text at face value and offers commentary on conditions of English servitude,
but when faced with contrary information, fails to comment or include this
information in any commentary that would conflict with his original opinion.

I bring up this particular example to highlight the fact that Gustavus
Selenus described the cover text of a well-implemented steganographic cipher
as "dead text", meaning that the surface text could say anything and be
contradicted by the actual message hidden within the text.  His meaning was
that you could hide a message in anything from magical spells to religious
sermons, since the surface text is only a delivery mechanism.  The real
meaning is to be found in the cipher itself.  This is Henry Cornelius
Agrippa in a nutshell.  Consider these statements by Agrippa:

"But here haply you may blame me again, saying, "Behold thou being a youth
didst write, and now being old hast retracted it; what therefore hast thou
set forth?" I confess whilst I was very yong, I set upon the writing of
these books, but, hoping that I should set them forth with corrections and
enlargements, and for that cause I gave them to Tritemius a Neapolitanian
Abbot, formerly a Spanhemensian, a man very industrious after secret

"And hence it is possible naturally, and far from all manner of
superstition, no other spirit coming between, that a man should be able in a
very time to signifie his mind unto another man, abiding at a very long and
unknown distance from him; although he cannot precisely give an estimate of
the time when it is, yet of necessity it must be within 24 hours; and I my
self know how to do it, and have often done it. The same also in time past
did the Abbot Tritemius [Trithemius] both know and do."

If Agrippa were only distantly familiar with the writing of Trithemius, some
of his own work would be plausible as a surface text, but we discover that
he was a routine correspondent and student of Trithemius, and he invokes his
association with Trithemius on several occasions as an apology for his
books.  The connection may have been something rather secret and subject to
the interpretation of "masters" (per Agrippa) back when his three books were
written, but now that we know that every suspect text of Trithemius was
devoted to cipher, Agrippa's close association with Trithemius requires

A couple of years ago I made a discovery in Agrippa having to do with a
verbose cipher, and addressed the problem to Jim Reeds, something to do with
Agrippa's Hebraic "Right Table of Commutations" and my belief at the time
that this table was in effect, the standard "Vigenere" table we use today.
It was Jim Reeds who noted that this very same table sat opposite the
Trithemian table in Latin letters in the Polygraphiae, and queried whether
the same mistake in the Hebraic table existed in Agrippa as it did in
Reuchlin and Trithemius.  Even further connections can be made when one
determines that the Hebraic tables in Agrippa also show up in Vigenere as
systems of cipher, the polyalphabetic type.  One is left with the suspicion
that caballistic numbering systems were in fact the basis for modern cipher,
and may have been used as such much earlier than current history allows.

Agrippa presents a peculiar problem in verification of the cover text, since
commentaries tend to say that 1/3 or more of his source texts are no longer
extant.  This problem increases in severity when we consider that a "young
man" by Agrippa's own admission, had access to several books on which
surviving commentary only exists in his works and no other. This is a
problem to standard historians, but if Agrippa's intent was to "conceal"
something, one can easily invoke Selenus and term the cover text "dead" -
without significant historical meaning.  Oddly enough, this definition would
round nicely with Agrippa's later letter of apology and the Vanity of

Something to think about.


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