Blog for the Illiterate?

Currently, there is some discussion on the Voynich mailing list*) about f116v (the last page of the VM — as shown on the header of this blog) and the other marginalia in the VM, which apparently were written in latin letters. (Here I published my own thoughts on one page of these marginalia, for what it’s worth.)

The funny thing is that not even the latin letters in the VM can be read — or, to be more accurate, they can be read, but they don’t seem to make sense. On f116v people haven’t come up with much better than “Anchiton oladabas” (whatever that’s supposed to mean…) or arcane references to an Eighties’ synth pop band

It has been suggested that, whoever wrote the marginalia might have been an illiterate, not knowing what he doodled — hence the confusion. I disagree because —

  • The marginalia seem (at least partly) to be written by the same person who wrote the VM, and that certainly wasn’t an illiterate,
  • While the letters are for a good part ambiguous, hardly one of them seems to be ‘wrong’, in the sense that it had been mirrored or otherwise mutilated, as one would expect to be the case if someone unfamiliar with the letters copied them.

The problem is not that the marginalia can’t be read, the problem is they can be read a number of different ways. (None of which makes sense.)

*) If you’re interested in VM research, why haven’t you subscribed yet…?


9 thoughts on “Blog for the Illiterate?

  1. Hi Elmar,

    Errm… if you’re interested in having enough time to do research, why haven’t you unsubscribed yet? :-p

    Actually, the problem here is that the marginalia don’t make sense as they have ended up – and so the right question to be asking is surely “how can we find out their original state?”

    And it’s you who proposed Duran Duran, I’m just the messenger! ;-)

    Cheers, ….Nick P….

  2. Hello, Elmar: You suggest people subscribe to the VMS-net… which reminded me… the subscribe page has been down for some time. I found an old copy on the Wayback machine… the newest copy they have is from October, 2007. I meant to email Dana… but meanwhile, I put a copy up here for your readers:

    It does make one realize that the subscriber list over there has been frozen for over a year… unless others found the old site, and subscribed that way.

    Sorry I have no comment on f116v, other than repeating my suggestion that “porta8” may be Della Porta, and not necessarily “door or window”. I agree the whole line is an oddity of a different type, which frustratingly suggests we were given a second chance at the cipher, but still can’t see it.

    And Nick: How can we know this is not the original state? The sentence may not have ended up this way, but actually begun and stayed this way, no? Rich.

  3. Hi Rich,

    There are really two parallel elements to consider on f116v: (1) the tangled, unreadable mess of Latin, German, and Voynichese we have inherited, and (2) the tangled mix of ink, quill, and writing styles.

    For example, the so-called “marix + morix” line seems to fade away to the original (uncorrected) round-lettered stereotypically fifteenth century handwriting, which stands in sharp contrast to the angled-stroke Germanic gothic handwriting (which is probably also fifteenth century).

    Even though my conclusion is therefore that (1) and (2) are connected, I do accept that there is a small possibility that someone could have deliberately constructed it to appear this way, layering different inks, quills, and handwriting styles in order to emulate multiple owners’ emendations. But such infinitesimally-nuanced codicological fakery would seem to be more consistent with a 20th century hoax than with a 17th century construction.

    Remember that the falsity of the Donation of Constantine was exposed in the Quattrocento on linguistic grounds, not on codicological grounds. As far I know, forensic (i.e. physical) codicology didn’t really come into existence for several cemturies after that, so to posit all the apparent layering in f116v as examples of fakery directed to fool codicologists would be somewhat anachronistic.

    Cheers, ….Nick Pelling….

  4. Hi Nick: I understand your conclusions, based on your opinions as to what that line is, and what it contains. But I would not assume all that much thought went into that line, and my point was that it’s seeming complexity may be misleading.

    It could be that it is simply an innocent notation, quickly jotted down by one very familiar with Voynichese, mixed intuitively with whatever other languages and characters that conveniently jumped to their mind (old, new, Latin, Germanic, whatever…). As such, understandable to the writer, but not really following any rules. No layers, no foolery… just a sloppy note, unreadable to us. Rich.

  5. Hi Rich,

    I think that a note in at least two different hands, at least two different inks, and at least three languages intermixed is quite unlikely to have sloppiness as its guiding principle, if written by a single person.

    You could just about argue for a (codicologically sophisticated) single 20th century hoaxer as an explanation for this. But arguments for a single author, however sloppy they were, aren’t really supportable.

    The simplest – and most likely – explanation remains that the faint fifteenth century handwriting (as per the “marix + morix” line) was indeed written by an owner (if not the author) in the fifteenth century, and that subsequent owner(s) added to and emended the page in probably well-meaning (if codicologically unhelpful) ways.

    My guess is that they could not make sense of the very faded original text, and so overwrote it with their best guesses, such “Chinese whispers” giving rise to the kind of tangled palaeographic mess the page ended up in. How could they possibly know that future generations would invent contrast-enhancement software? ;-)

    Cheers, ….Nick Pelling….

  6. Hi Rich,

    Thanks for pointing out to me that the subscription page at was defunct! (I had only checked out the front page lately, which still is there okay.) I have updated my link to point to your site.



  7. Hi everybody,

    I sent an email a couple of months ago to… whoever it is whose email is on the error page for the subscription service. Maybe you should check that email service as well, if you haven’t gotten the email that I sent.

    It’s funny how the “differences in ink from amendments” and “illiterate scribe” theories can connect – if the person amended the lines not knowing what he was amended and therefore shaped the letters wrong, be they Latin, Occitan or Voynichese, then it can easily be argued that he was illiterate in at least that very situation.

  8. Actually, I managed to unsubscribe from the list
    and then subscribe again with a new E-mail address,
    using the procedure on Rich’s page, so this is
    working fine now.

    Cheers, Rene

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