Though this has method …

… yet there’s madness to it.

Lately I had speculated about the nature of the recipe section and the stars therein. What about the theory that it really is an almanac of kinds?

Threshing wildly around in my rhetorics, I surmised that —

  • This part of the manuscript might have been rebound (as the rest obviously has been), and
  • With all pages intact, the number of stars would not have added up to 365.

Now, nothing stops us from stumbling on in the fog and assume that the recipe section indeed did have 365 stars in the beginning, because it is logical to assume it was an almanac of sorts. That in turn would mean that the missing pages would have to constitute the beginning or the end of the recipe section, because only part of it is required to arrive at 365 entries.

Namely, there are 18 to 20 stars missing (depending on whether you count the odd ones in or out.) Now, the recipe pages have 11 to 20 stars each, which makes it probable that the missing stars would all be on one single page, rather than on two pages.

One likely candidate for the missing section is the bifolio f109/f110. As you can see from Rene Zandbergen’s survey, at the time of foliation this bifolio was the center of quire 20. This would mean four pages for the 18 stars, which is clearly too much (unless we assume that the quire contained a foray into a different topic before coming back to the recipes.)

The other option is that f109/f110 was originally enveloping the rest of the recipe section.

If this was the case, f109r would have concluded the pharmaceutical section, while the missing stars were on f109v, which would be a bit unusual. On the other hand, the recipe section ends on f116r, with the subsequent page f116v initially left empty (or wasn’t it?), so it’s probably safe to assume that this really was then the intended end of the book. (Not to mention that f116r ends with a long text paragraph without a star, which makes it look like a coda of the section.) But if this is the case, and if f109/f110 was wrapping the rest of the quire, then f110 also had to be empty, ie the VM would have ended with three empty pages.

So, summing it all up, this is what at the end of all my fancies the recipe section would have looked like:

  • f109r, concluding the pharmaceutical section, and f109v with the missing stars,
  • f103, f104, and f108, in any order,
  • f105 through f107,
  • f111 through f116,
  • f110, empty.

All of this has only one drawback: If f109/f110 contained one page with pharmaceuticals, one with stars and two empty pages, why was it at the time of rebinding put into the center of the quire, where it so obviously did not belong…?

“Or are these things just stories, without point or truth, brought to mankind from the pages of poets?” (Euripides: Iphigenia in Aulis)

P.S.: For what it’s worth, the three “irregular star pages” (with more or less random sequences, as opposed to the regular on-off sequences on the other pages), are all rectos. Weakest trace of all, it might just hint to the recto pages being adorned with the stars first, then followed by the versos.

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7 thoughts on “Though this has method …

  1. Arguing that f116v wasn’t the last page (working backeards from the 365-recipe hypothesis) seems pretty weak. There seems ample physical evidence to suggest that it was the last page, surely?

    Why not instead conclude that Q20 either (a) probably didn’t contain 360 / 365 recipes, or if it did, then (b) its central two-page spread probably contained comething completely different (say a big picture)?

    Alternatively, if Q20 was originally formed of ~two~ gatherings, then the missing (centrally foliated) bifolio might have originally contained one or two pages from the start of the (non-final) gathering that containing writing which was originally part of a previous section. It’s possible – but fairly unlikely without other physical evidence to support it. :-o

  2. Nick,

    I agree that probably it isn’t an almanac.

    Most mysterious of mysteries, whenever we find something in the VM which would make sense (like the recipes being an almanac), you have to go to ‘non-sensical’ lengths in other places to explain it.

    The blanket of truth seems always too short.

  3. It was common in medieval manuscripts for changable data (such as calanders, almanacs, etc) to either be on, or to have, removable single pages that could be periodically updated.
    The fact that a single leaf is required to make up a 365 count, but not curently present does not in any way affect the vialbility of the reciped/almanac section: if that is what it is.
    I’ll have to double check, but if they were a list of Dr’s “egyptian” days ( a cycle of lucky and unlukey days) then I beleve the cycle repeated at a lower number than 365 anyway. Although I’m pretty certain it’s 360 egyptian days – the intercalulotary days automatically being unlucky for everything.
    As for the wierdos, I’ve yet to find them in that section myself, but I’m assured they are there. The stars make a visual conection to the astrology section, so what the section actually is has no bearing at all on the notion that the wierdos are astrological symbols.

  4. Barbara, in all seriousness: Does the VM really look like a book that was supposed to be updated at regular intervals with new bits of information… in cipher, if possible?

    (For all other readers out there: Barbara was replying to a discussion via mail, so the mention of the weirdos may come a bit out of the blue for you.

  5. Pingback: Voynich Quire 20 notes… | Cipher Mysteries

    • There are different sorts of almanac, not just the type which is focused on astrology. It could be a summary list – of goods correlated with places, in the order of purchase/delivery, with gaps for travelling days.
      Or it could be a comparative list of major dates across the various calendars – that’s perfectly usual in the medieval Islamic almanacs.
      Or it might be a version of the memorised star-calendars used in earlier times, based on the stars marking the lunar months, and most of which appear to have ‘missing’ days – that is a few without their poetic motto. Serjeant and Varisco are the experts on the last. I think your idea is worth deeper investigation.

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