Welcome to the whacky world of Wilfrid Voynich…

Not long ago, the writer of these lines, “in the mad pride of intellectuality”, underwent the enterprise of setting up this blog.

Shortly thereafter (obviously, else it would be an event of the future) Nick Pelling wrote a very kind review about my blog. He even went as far as calling me “a friend”, regardless of the fact that he still makes me pay for his books.

Anyway, in a side remark he suggested I might delve into a discussion of the Sagittarius’ archer’s crossbow. (Hope I got the apostrophe’s right.) I’m not sure what might qualify me for this topic, except for a certain tendency of rhetorically sniping other people’s ideas. But I recalled having colaborated some time ago in the translation of Jens Sensfelder’s article on this very subject. (Jens’ conclusion was, in a nutshell, that it’s probably a late medieval/early renaissance crossbow with few spectacular features.) So I dug into my digital cellars, came finally up with the scans of a crumpled printout of Jens’ manuscript (the original file long since having been lost), and without much ado posted it in this blog.

Four days later Nick himself announced that he has posted the original article himself in his blog. Power to the man, because back in 2003 he was involved in the translation of the article as well (which I had completely forgotten), so he has every right to do that. (And he even still has the original files, because he’s better organized than I am.) But what escapes me is why he asked me about the article in the first place.

Sometimes I feel the people attracted to the Voynich are as hard to understand as the Voynich itself…

Anyway, in a nutshell, read all about the Crossbow here!

P.S.: I will not call Nick a friend, unless he starts buying my books.

170,000 — perhaps not nearly enough

Give or take a few thousand, the VM consists of about 170,000 glyphs.

This is comparatively much. More than enough to start statistics on it.

On the other hand, it’s not really that much. For really complex statistics, the text will be to short and the results meaningless.

What I mean is: Frequency analysis on a text of several kByte enciphered with a simple substitution will most likely reveal the underlying key. The same analysis on a text of 100 letters probably won’t result in much useful.

What is reasonable (and what is not)

Sometimes in VM research, logic is employed in the place of fact. “It would have been logical for the VM author to do this or that”, or “It wouldn’t make sense…”

Tacitly, these assertions assume —

  • The VM author was sane and acted in a completely logical and rational manner
  • We have a complete and thorough understanding of what he wanted to achieve with the VM
  • We have full insight in his mindset, ie how he planned to achieve what he wanted to achieve

Hm. Now look again at the VM and probe your heart.

The deceptive nature of invented deceptions

It is a bad habit to discard parts of the VM which don’t fit with your theories or ideas as “deceptions” by the author, intended to distract wannabe codebreakers and to throw us off track.

While it actually might be the case, resorting to this stunt is technically simply an excuse for not explaining VM features.

Unless this tool is used with utmost self-restraint (some folks discard all illustrations in the VM because they don’t fit their “translations”), one will start to “explain” away each and everything, and can then arrive at any preconceived or desired conclusion.


Aside of the notorious sunflower, there are precious few plants from the VM’s herbal section which have been identified with any degree of certainty.

Here’s one from the German edition of the Wikipedia:

f56r (top) is associated with Drosera intermedia (bottom):



When browsing the VM, I noticed that f53r also bears a certain resemblance:


But what do I know about plantography…?