The Dawn of a New Era?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

today I have to suggest the possible (note the question mark in the title) break of dawn of a new era of Voynichology.

Rich SantaColoma has won me over. While I wouldn’t bet my life on it, I currently think the scenario he lately suggested is the most plausible: The VM is a “late fake”*) by Voynich himself, written on aged vellum, made to look like a “lost Bacon” book, with illustrations to prove Bacon’s advanced scientific knowledge, mixed with some outlandish esoterisms.

I know, there are lots of things speaking against this, and Rich’s theory is not free of contradictions, most notably the fact that the “early” history of the VM seems to be documented in the 17th century. But, let’s face it, right now there is no theory available without lots of gaps in it, and the image comparisons Rich has dug up (both of the microscopes and the microscopic objects) simply are too good and too many to be simply dismissed as coincidences. But if we accept them, the “late hoax” scenario seems to be the only possibility.

What actually made me change my mind was that Rich was able to find many matches between the VM and modern illustrations in very few books. If the matches were spread over a wide variety of (modern) books, this wouldn’t mean a lot to me — if you search long and hard enough, you’re bound to come up with something. But if all the microscopic specimens can be tracked down to one or two volumes, the scenario that these were simply the books available to the forger, takes shape.

Of course, one question of plausibility remains: If Voynich wanted to sell the book off as Bacon’s, then why is there no direct connection to Bacon? The link between the two of them is flimsy at best. Likewise, we may assume that the VM’s text does bear content (as opposed to being gibberish, to make sure the link to Bacon can be made), but if that is so, why did Voynich never come up with enough clues to make it possible to decipher the text? After all, his intent was to sell the book, in which he failed, so he probably could have made a “breakthrough discovery” in the decryption of the VM which would have established the link to Bacon.

As I said, I’m not 100% convinced Rich has hit the nail on the head. If possible, I would not place my money on any bet regarding the VM, but if I was forced to make a choice, currently I’d go with Rich’s idea.

But why is this a “new era”? Now, I don’t consider myself important or knowledgable enough that my opinion would make much of a difference in the history of Voynichism, but I think this may mark the first time that any particular VM theory (rather than some general “it is a medieval herbal”) has won any champion beside the original author to defend it. There you go.

Somebody please pass Rich the smelling salt.

*) As opposed to an “early fake”, ie a manuscript hoax from the 15th or so century.


14 thoughts on “The Dawn of a New Era?

  1. Pingback: Yes, I Changed the Blog Theme | Thoughts about the Voynich Manuscript

  2. Elmar! Well of course I’m with you, because I am not 100% convinced, either. But I appreciate your keeping an open mind, and in so, giving the idea fair consideration. And now, if I have to back-track, at least I will not be alone in my retreat! We are both flexible, right? We will see where this goes from here, and be ready for anything.

    And I don’t think I need smelling salts, but I admit to being a bit light-headed after reading this. I was sitting at the time, so I will be OK. Nothing broken. All the best, Rich.

    • :-)
      One thing; you earlier asked me about which ciphers Voynich may have used (between the lines: to encipher the VM). I think of all the ciphers available he would certainly *not* have used a nihilist cipher or anything similar whch was in vogue for the anarchists of the time.
      After all, the purpose of the VM wouldn’t be to be unreadable indefinitely, because only if the cipher can be broken, the book becomes truly vaulable. So, VM wouldn’t have used a top-notch (presumably unbreakable) secret code of his agitationist buddies, and he probably wouldn’t have used a ciher which was linked to 19th century terorrists either… That would have been a slightly too obvious connection, wouldn’t it?
      IMHO a reasonable choice of Voynich would have been an Alberti cipher; demonstrating that Bacon was ahead of his time here as well, but not implausibly so.

      • Elmar: I still wonder if he would have wanted it to be breakable. Although I agree with your point that it would have made it more valuable if it was readable. It is probably what should have been done. But against that, there is a far greater risk. If readable, because then the ruse becomes far more vulnerable to revelation by scholars. The pictures can be vague, and suggest R. Bacon, but if the text was readable and made even one little slip up… a small term Bacon would not have known, for instance, or mention of a person, place or object that did not yet exist, in the 13th century, it would be an instant giveaway.

        In fact that was how the Vineland map was found to be a forgery, but the use of terms in the (very short) text, that should not have been there, and could be traced to the work of another modern author. If the legends of that map were gibberish, it would possibly remain a question, like the VMs is.

        I’d insert here, something to muse on: The three or so different styles of marginalia, presumably by different hands, at different times, are all similarly unreadable. Why? Usually, marginalia is at least in part understandable. I feel this implies a desire to show marginalia for an aura of authenticity, while still being unwilling to risk an error in content.

        But I also feel (hope?) it still may have content. And then if cipher, you think an Alberti could be a candidate? I thought that had been ruled out by the structure, but I am fairly un-knowledgeable in cipher. But this is the type of cipher that the Revolutionary groups apparently used, at least, Stepniak describes this in his semi-autobiographical novel as the “cipher of the League”. Also, a mutual friend and cipher expert suggested to me as possibles in this hypothesis: A codebook: “The methods used were mainly codebooks and simple paper-and-pencil algorithms.”, or “abbrevations, nulls, simple tricks (e.g. raising every number by 10, writing words backwards), omitting vowels, using foreign language expressions”. They also said, “The field ciphers used in WWI (ADFGX, ÜBCHI)” are out, as the statistics don’t allow it.


  3. Elmar, For this particular titanic, stylistics are the iceberg. To argue this case you need not only to demonstrate a comparable presence of Fibonacci-number forms, but how the forger managed to precisely imitate forms nown, even now, in a very few archaeological finds and/or manuscripts.
    I could in theory agree that the parchment had been written on considerably later, though even there technical arguments tend towards the opposite conclusion. However, as far as the imagery goes, this all depends on Rich having correctly identified the subject of the diagrams, which (sorry, Rich) is to put it mildly not yet beyond debate.

  4. Hi Rich,
    No, it pretty surely isn’t an Alberti cipher (pretty surely it is no widely-known cipher at all), but if I had been Voynich, I would have used Alberti since it is being somewhat plausible and breakable at the same time.
    I agree, using a lengthy decipherable text entailed the risk of being found out. OTOH, *not* giving decipherable text means that the whole premise of the VM — according to this viewpoint, being a “fundraiser” for Voynich who would sell it as a Bacon manuscript — is naught, because — as was actually the case — nobody could make a strong case for Bacon as the author.
    One solution would have been to use the same trick as the Beale ciphers — have one (small) piece of text which you could reliably compose without making too many blunders, and render that fairly easy to break (including pointers to Bacon there), while making the rest of the text up from gibberish — apparently by simply using a different key and keeping the same system, while in reality messing it completely up. This would have made the VM the “unreadable Bacon manuscript”, fair enough I think.
    I also agree regarding the marginalia: It completely baffles me that *not a single word* of them is readable (with the exception of maybe the month names). This is a fact which makes no sense in *any* of the scenarios — neither for a Voynich fake, nor for an “early hoax”, nor for a genuine manuscript (no matter what Nick says. ;-).

    • Of course, I accept that anything I point to in the Voynich’s marginalia or codicology or palaeography could possibly have been faked by an ultra-sophisticated forger, so I won’t even attempt that tack here. :-)

      But that’s not the whole story either.

      I’ve long said that if the Voynich is a fake, it’s far too sophisticated a fake to have been done in the 16th or 17th centuries. So I would agree that the faked-by-Wilfrid-Voynich theory has to be the best of the faked-by-anyone theories by far.

      Yet the accompanying letter by Marci seems extremely solidly situated in to the correspondence in the Kircher archives, letters about which Voynich could have known nothing in his lifetime. And so without much doubt it is Marci letter’s relationship to the Kircher archive that provides the direct disproof to the 20th century faked-by-Wilfrid-Voynich theory.

      I think you’d need a Tardis to untangle that knot… but feel free to try. :-)

      • Hi Nick:

        “Voynich’s marginalia or codicology or palaeography could possibly have been faked by an ultra-sophisticated forger..”

        I didn’t realize you would agree it could have been faked. But I don’t think a very high level of sophistication would have been necessary at all, for the marginalia. It seems loosely written, and clever, but only to give a vague impression of importance, and mimic to some extent other types of marginalia one might be fooled into expecting here. But still, the idea that each of the marginalia bits is unreadable, when done at different times, by different people (as presumed), is a problem for being authentic, I think.

        I also want to look back at the work that guy presented at the conference, on the last marginalia: the recipe with the goat milk and all that. Sorry I don;t have his name handy. I think he gave examples of similarity. If so, that takes on a new meaning, in this context.

        [on the letters]: “I think you’d need a Tardis to untangle that knot… but feel free to try.”

        Yes the letters are the best evidence that the Voynich existed in the 17th century. In fact I would go as far as to say if the letters did not exist, we never would have even spent this much time on the problem… I wonder if it would have been thought a modern fake long ago, by enough people to make the question unimportant. I mean: odd document, by suspected forger, looks very new, has historically inappropriate elements in it, one of many “found” by him, Russian prisons, questionable associates, poor and inconsistent provenance… but with no letters to back it up? It would be a no-brainer… we may have never even heard of the Voynich, except as a chapter in a book of clever forgeries.

        So the letters are really, in my opinion, the core of it, the skeleton that supports everything else. And if they are as unassailable as most think, I won’t go far with this idea. But I have noticed that much about them is assumed so far… in the feedback I’ve gotten it is claimed that Wilfred couldn’t have possibly known about the other letters, or seen them. Rene made such a claim recently on the list. Or that they can only be referencing the Voynich we know, and no other manuscript, known or lost. But like many hard and fast proclamations in this investigation, I wonder if when I ask a few specific questions, the reality of that story will match the assumptions… or melt away, like the vellum claims have. If so, the status quo will have a better case, and this idea a lesser one… or none.

        Hell, I’ll be back to 1620 again! Oh well.

  5. Rich,
    “historically inappropriate elements in it”
    I haven’t noticed any that do not suit a terminal date of c.1430.
    Could you list some?
    Also, apart from thinking that a person espousing his political philosophy is not a good person, is there anything solid to suggest the manuscript is not genuine?

    I mean anything that you might point to which would be likely to convince an expert that the artefact was fraudulent?


  6. Hi Diane:

    Me: “historically inappropriate elements in it”
    Diane: “I haven’t noticed any that do not suit a terminal date of c.1430.
    Could you list some?”

    You can find most of my ideas on my blog, linked here. There are many points to list here, it would basically be a repeat of what is on my blog, and on my site, and also, those ideas I have posted on the VMS- list since you have been a member. I also have many points which I have not made public yet, as I am not ready. Well here are both links, for anyone reading this who is unfamiliar:

    Although it makes no sense to list them again here, I will say that I have three main landmarks: I strongly believe the Voynich is likely post-1530 for some reasons, and for those and others, possibly post-1610, and then, for others, possibly even post-1890. The last is a work in progress, with some problems, which I am investigating. We will see.

    “I mean anything that you might point to which would be likely to convince an expert that the artefact was fraudulent?”

    Convincing any experts (or amateurs for that matter) is not my goal, it is only to learn the answer to my own satisfaction. Others are welcome to then agree with me, or not. Experts are valuable to an extent, but of course “expert opinion”, or lack of it, is no proof. This is clear when you have any number of experts in the field of the Voynich who strongly disagree with each other. Which expert do you choose? The one who agrees with you (I have many)? The one who does not (I have many)? You have your choice… we each do. So what is the point?

    That being said, I do respect certain honest feedback, of various types, whether or not that feedback if from an expert, an amateur, or my cat. As long as the person seems to understand the problem, the field in question, the question itself, and my answer… as long as they know all these, and they are intelligent, sane, and exhibit some common sense, then whether they agree or disagree I respect that feedback… and it is valuable either way. But most of my most valuable feedback… almost all of it… has been from people who disagree with me… for reasons as varied as the complaints.

    “Also, apart from thinking that a person espousing his political philosophy is not a good person, is there anything solid to suggest the manuscript is not genuine?”

    I’m not sure where you got that idea, that I believe a person “espousing his political philosophy is not a good person”. I don’t know what you are referring to there, I believe quite the opposite.

    As for “solid”, that is relative. I think the manuscript is very likely either a 17th, 19th, or early 20th century fake/fraud/hoax, as the evidence, to me, is “solid” enough to at least suspect it as one of those. Likewise you think you have “solid” evidence that the manuscript is otherwise… because the term is relative, and we will not probably agree on common ground there. Thank you for your interest… Rich.

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