Thorn in my Side?

Lately, when I was pondering the marginalia in the Voynich again, my eyes caught the peculiar character standing solitary as the first marginal word on f66r, which reappears as the first marginal letter in f116v:

"y" (?) in marginals on f66r
A possible thorn letter in marginals on f66r (top)
First word of marginals on f116v
First word of marginals on f116v

Usually, this letter is interpreted as “p” or “y”. Now it struck me — what if this is really an Anglo-saxon “thorn” letter?

Modern rendering of the thorn letter
Modern rendering of the thorn letter
While the modern rendering of this letter doesn’t give rise to much confusion anymore, in ye olden times the thorn looked suspiciously like a modern “y”. (Early printers had trouble coming to grips with the thorn letter and substituted it with “y”, which led to the misconception that the ancient style of “the” would have been “ye”.)

Check out these script samples from the 15th and 16th century: (Unfortunately, the pictures are strongly compressed and show severe artifacts.)

Now, what would the consequences be?

  1. Obviously, at least the marginalia are of English provenance. (Weak statement.) If we assume that the marginalia have always been a part of the VM (as opposed to later emendments), the VM as a whole should be from the British isles. (Strong statement.)
  2. The marginalia are from the early 16th century or earlier, giving a late cutoff date for the VM.
  3. Interpretation of the meaning of the marginalia should focus on english, rather than on latin, french or german readings.

Caveat emptor: “Th” is not a word. While there were a number of abbreviations including the thorn (“ye” –> “the”, “yt” –> “that”), a solitary “y” apparently was not in use.

Have fun brainstorming!

4 thoughts on “Thorn in my Side?

  1. Elmar: I think you are correct, that does look more like a thorn than a “p” to me also. As for an early “16th century cutoff”, I would have to disagree (surprise!) again: The thorn was known and used into the early 17th century. It even found it’s way into the 1611 King James Bible, as in this example: Job 1:9- “Then Satan answered ye Lord, and sayd, Doeth Iob feare God for nought?”. Of course even if less known by the early 17th century, it well may have been used for an old effect in the VMs, much like the use of primate in the New York Times title banner, or more closely, as alchemal and other ancient symbols are used in fake grimoires even today. As for #1 and #3 of your list, though… I’m game! Rich.

  2. I have seen quite a few examples of exactly this
    type of ‘p’ in Manuscripts, but despite a small
    effort yesterday evening, I have not been able to
    find such examples again.

    Searching in the Heidelberg German MS collection,
    where there are plenty of MSs with handwriting
    similar to the f116v marginalia, I found first of
    all that the ‘p’ is quite rare in German (at least
    15th C German), and also that it is usually well
    closed at the top.

    I also remember from browsing the Beinecke library
    material in 1999, that Voynich had himself been
    interested in this ‘p’ which is open at the top,
    and found some R.Bacon manuscript which supposedly
    had the same feature. No example to verify this

    Cheers, Rene

  3. “Th” might not be a word but I have seen it used as a word in print — without an apostrophe. I assume the letters followed the manuscripts or replaced a thorn.

    In the second image, thorn1.jpg, we have the series: po?[l|P]cb[o|c|?]?. It’s not a word. Try to find an English writing containing the series “lcb”. You just did. In the extraneous writing, the glyphs may have been written in a similar sense.


  4. Hi Knox,

    Well, more trivially the “c”s could really be “e”s (especially the second one looks much more like an “e” to me), or the “b” is really an “h”:

    A letter sequence like “lch” is rare, but, at least in German, not unheard of.

    Thanks for the input!

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