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VMs: Latin Palaeography - Bernhard Bischoff

I believe that Bernhard Bischoff's book Latin Palaeography is not unknown
to Voynichologists, but I think this specific item has not been addressed
on the list itself:

Bischoff, Bernhard.  1990, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997.  Latin Palaeography:
Antiquity and the Middle Ages.  Translated by Da/ibhi/ O/ Cro/ini/n and
David Ganz.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press.  (German original in

pp. 177-178:

5. Ciphers

The middle ages had a peculiar, playful relationship with cipers.  They
were used in many cases in which actual concealment was neither called for
nor earnestly intended.  German writing practice is especally rich in
these.  According to the short tract De inuentione linguarum (instead of
litterarum), published by Melchior Goldfast under the name of Hrabanus
Maurus, Boniface transmitted two systems of cipher in which the vowels a e
i o u were expressed by points or by the immediately following consonants
b f k p x; the latter system goes back to antiquity.  English examples of
the use of this cipher make the tradition plausible.  In Germany from the
ninth century on countless OHG glosses were written using both systems.
Other ciphers use the numerals for the vowels or for the letters [all
letter, or the consonants? jek], depending on their position in the
alphabet.  A further source of secret scripts was foreign alphabets, as
they occur in the above mentioned tract and, not infrequently, in other
manuscript collections:  runes (in later manuscripts often designated
'Syrian', 'Arabic', or 'Saracen' (!) [! in the origianl - jek], Greek,
Hebrew, and the alphabet of the so-called Aethicus Ister.  In addition
there are freely composed symbol alphabets which may have served for
personal use or as ciphers [of which Viynichese in the VMs is presumably
an example - jek].  A favorite method, finally, is the inversion of the
word or syllable.  The amalgamation of several methods is also found.
Ciphers are employed in the later middle ages above all in scribal
subscriptions, receipts, and charms, especially of a superstitious nature.


I have omitted the footnotes.  The Voynich Ms. is not mentioned as such in
Bischoff's index.  There are some tantalizing vaguenesses in the brief
description above, some perhaps artifacts of translation.  This short
section, quoted in its entirety, is included essentially pro forma in the
Supplement section, which deals with abbreviations, punctuation, musical
notation, numerals, and ciphers.  Only abbreviations and punctuation are
dealt with in any detail.  Abbreviations is an extensive, but quite terse
section, not easy to understand as presented.  D'Imperio's brief examples
are on a much smaller scale.  I suspect a considerable amount of the
underlying text of the VMs might well be abbreviated.  Note that
suprascript (superscripting) was apparently a well-developed strategy in
the period Bischoff addresses.

I skimmed this book last night.  The first and only text I looked at in
any detail immediately employed a strategy of writing the sequence osi as
oi with a curved (Greek-style) circumfix above oi, possibly a development
of a style of s common in much of the period which looks a good deal like
an EVA r (though the loop curves downward while remaining above the
midline), or an rapidly written modern r, for that matter.  I couldn't
find any mention of this circumfixal s anywhere in Bischoff - though I may
have missed it, of course - from which I deduce that the writing of this
rather extended period is a very complex subject which Bischoff only
begins to address.  There is certainly much in this book that I had not
even begun to imagine.

John E. Koontz
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