My Personal Top Ten of Proposed Solutions

Please note that since I lately changed my mind, this list doesn’t reflect my current ideas anymore. But I want to leave the list in its original state, so you could see what my mindset is and where I’m coming from.

There is no shortage of proposed solutions and theories regarding the Voynich manuscript out there, and they range from the reasonable to the outrageous.

Here you will find my absolutely subjective, biased and unevenhanded (Nick begged for it!) Top Ten of proposed solutions for the VM, subject to change with new developments, or according to my whim. From the fact that even the top entry doesn’t exactly get an enthusiastic rating, you’ll find that there’s still room at the top.

Please don’t feel slighted if you’re included in this list, nor if you aren’t.

This page is still under construction.

  1. Champion: Me — Proposed author: unknown — Germany, Netherlands, or France, mid-15th century (based on gut feeling)
    Personal rating: There is a chance. Somewhat. Somehow.
  2. Champion: Glen Claston — Proposed author: Anthony Ascham — England, mid-16th century
    At the core, this theory, which has originally been hatched by Leonell C. Strong, isn’t too spectacular: It says that the VM is primarily a medical book with undertones of a theory of everything written by the Howard Hughes of his time. Strong’s “translation”, though, reminds one of the rantings of the French in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, played backwards, but “GC” might have improved on the original scheme.
    Personal rating: Moderately plausible. The jury’s still out until a final decipherment is achieved, but that should be the case any time, we were told. Since 1949.
  3. Champion: H.R. Santa Coloma — Proposed author: Cornelius Drebbel (microscopist and submariner) — England, early 17th century.
    Rich has found some interesting resemblances between “tubes” or “jars” depicted in the VM, and early microscopes. There are also matches between VM illustrations and various microscopic images, but it’s difficult to assess how much of this is coincidence. Setting out from his finds, Santa-Coloma has proposed the VM might be a prop made in connection with the New Atlantis movement, much in the manner people will write the Necronomicon to fill Lovecraft’s ideas with life. Rich doesn’t claim a decipherment for the VM.
    Personal rating: Possible, but not compelling. Suffers somewhat from the fact that the Rich’s theory is in constant flux, and his website can’t always keep up with the latest developments.
  4. Champion: Nick Pelling — Proposed Author: Antonio Averlino (Italian renaissance architect) — Italy, mid-15th century
    Nick Pelling has written a book, The Curse of the Voynich, in which he develops the theory that the VM was written by Antonio Averlino aka “Filarete”. According to Pelling’s theory, Averlino tried to reach Istanbul around 1465, and enciphered in the VM some of his own works about various engineering topics to be able to export his knowledge to the Ottoman Turks past Venetian border guards. Pelling doesn’t claim a decipherment either.
    Personal rating: Plausible, if one is willing to explain away everything which doesn’t fit in with the theory as intentional deception on the part of the author. Compelling only if one thinks the best idea to smuggle secret papers is to wave a very obviously enciphered book right in the face of the border guards.
  5. Champions: Claude Martin, Gordon Rugg, Andreas Schinner et al. — Hoax
    There is a bunch of people out there who presume the VM is a hoax, which no actual content, but a text made up by some more or less clever automatism. Martin suggests a fairly complex system of anagramming numbers which help him to reproduce something which vaguely looks like VM text, but doesn’t explain how he arrived at his conclusions, nor why he is convinced that he is right. Rugg created a stir with his theory that the VM was created by means of a kind of set of Cardan grille which were supposedly overlaid over tables of nonsense doodles, and the words visible through the holes were copied into the VM. Andreas Schinner showed that some statistical properties of the VM are similar to gibberish. Which also holds for some theories about the VM.
    Personal rating: As much as I’d hate it, but there is a good chance that the VM is a hoax or a case of glossolalia. What saves our hopes that there is some meaningful content is the careful overall design of the VM, and the subtle rules which govern the text composition and are more complex than a hoax would require, but also show more exception than an automatism would suggest.
  6. Champion: John Stojko — Proposed author: Unknown potentate — Black Sea area, before the birth of Christ
    Problems with time and place aside, which are two millenia and several thousand kilometers away from the usually accepted origin of the VM, Stojko also translates it into “vowelless Ukrainian”, whatever that is supposed to be. The result is difficult to understand (to avoid the word “gibberish”), and is interpreted by Stojko as correspondence notes between diplomats of the era. Even Stojko has to admit that the copious images in the VM not even remotely fit with the contents — generally a Bad Sign(TM) for any translation attempt.
    Personal rating: Not likely.
  7. Champion: Leo Levitov — Proposed author: Cathar priestsFlanders (?), 14th century
    Levitov linked the VM to an obscure cult of Isis, apparently followed by the Cathar heretics, called “Endura”, which is supposed to be something like ritual suicide. Dennis Stallings has written a scathing review of Levitov’s work, pointing out that neither had the Cathars anything to do with Isis, nor was the Endura a mode of suicide, not to mention the fact that Levitov’s proposed “translation” doesn’t parse into anything recognisable. (He himself called it a “polyglot oral tongue”, for what it’s worth.)
    Personal rating: The proverbial Napalm-coated snowball in hell.
  8. Champion: Steve Ekwall — Proposed author: “It”“It’s older than you think.”
    Steve Ekwall is a haunted soul. Several years ago, he experienced what is, depending on your point of view, either a psychotic episode or a supernatural revelation. Steve, who hitherto hadn’t had to do anything with the VM, was summoned by “It”, and given some information crucial to deciphering the VM, though not the key itself.
    Since then Steve (who personally hasn’t much interest in the VM) has persistently tried to communicate his experience to the VM community in the hopes that someone might pick up his clues and come to a solution for them VM. He is hampered by the slightly esoteric background story of his and the fact that he tends to write in a stream of consciousness style with plenty of interjections, asides, and copious quantities of cAmElCASe oRTHogRaphY, which makes those parts of his postings which aren’t already difficult to understand at least more difficult to read.
    While I’m too catholic to believe in “It” or in God’s meddling with funky pieces of parchment, I’d be hesitant to declare Steve a nut. I’m not sure, but perhaps he is onto something — a kernel of truth, a shortcut to a solution, a glimpse of the light, caused by a short circuit of neurons during a fit of epilepsy? I don’t know. Beside more vague statements like “The VM is good for man and woman” or “It’s older than you think”, Steve has also put forward an enciphering concept for the VM which is based on a “Tic-Tac-Toe” shaped piece of paper where the cells of the “Tic-Tac-Toe” are filled with latin letters. The paper is supposed to be folded in various manners — the VM letters giving instructions on the exact folding process, and the letter lying on top at the end of the folding is the plaintext letter enciphered by a VM word. Unfortunately, Steve has never communicated enough detail for an exact reproduction of this method, but I think this approach has some merit. Each VM letter being an instruction for a direction in which one is to take a “step” on a table of plaintext letters? Hm…
    Personal rating: Not sure if Steve is in the same league as the rest of us or even playing the same game, but for some reason I can’t bring myself to ridicule him.
  9. Champion: David Suter — Proposed author: n.a. — The VM is a work of cartography, not literacy.
    David Suter, first of all, keeps confusing me because his mail address is “MONET”, which keeps reminding me of the painter of the same name. Anyway, David hasn’t committed himself to precisely one scheme yet (at least not in public), but in general he assumes that the VM is not about text, but about maps which have been “enciphered” into the manuscript in some manner. It might be that the VM words are actually coordinates in a certain code (giving — what? A list of 20,000 places?), or that the shapes of illuminations and text paragraphs are supposed to represent the outline of islands or regions. It might go even so far, if I understand David correctly, that more subtle feature equivalents could be employed: A long sentence represents a long river, a short sentence represents a short one. (Of course, the leads to immediate problems. Suppose you wanted to write “The Pissa river near Kaliningrad is notable for the funky fish in it”, but if the Pissa is actually quite short, all the space you can allot will only render “The Piss.”)
    Personal rating: Too vague for a final verdict, but not on the top of my list.
  10. Glossolalia

22 thoughts on “My Personal Top Ten of Proposed Solutions

  1. You always “get it”, don’t you? I appreciate the accuracy. As for Levitov, I love the “Napalm-coated snowball in hell” allegory. What would be the opposite of that? Maybe a “liquid oxygen coated snowball in heaven?”. On the snowball scale, where do the chances of my theory fall? Between a “crunchy snowball in the shade on a fall evening”, and a “snowball floating in a bath of lukewarm dishwater” I hope. Of course I find myself adding snow to it all the time, so it could be warmer than that. Rich.

  2. Ni Nick — As soon as you come up with something new and original, I’ll be happy to tear it to shreds again. ;-)

    Rich — If you insist, I’ll rate it “A chocolate-coated snowball of powdered sugar next to a steaming cup of coffee.” (No, it’s not quite true — What I like about the Drebbel idea is that it’s kind of spicy…)

    Thanks for the kind words, people!

  3. So is Roger Bacon (c. 1214-1294) completely out of the theories? I first learned about this manuscript two years ago, and since then it’s fascinated the life out of me! Do you know anyone who has scanned each page of the manuscript into a book format, for the average “reader” or viewer? A work could be entitled, “The Complete Voynich Manuscript”?

  4. IIRC, briefly after the discovery of the VM, Roger B. was considered a candidate, because his name showed up in early deciphering attempts. Voynich (the man) pushed the notion to increase the market value of his manuscript.

    Nowadays, it’s not seriously considered anymore. Nothing in the VM seems to point to RB in particular, and the assumption of his involvement brings up the need to explain how he could foresee fashion victims of more than a century after his death. (Not to mention the notorious trigger happy Sagittarius.)

    As for a reproduction this site provides a download of a pdf with medium res scans of the book in its current format. (50 MB, Copyright status unclear, ie do download while it’s there!) I also think, you can buy a facsimilie here at Amazon Germany, but you’ll probably also get it from your local Amazon dealer.

    Party on!

  5. Nearly… but not quite.

    WMV apparently convinced himself that only RB could have written it. So, when he read broadly the same attribution in the Marci letter, he became even more convinced. All he needed was someone to decipher it…

    PS: I’m pretty sure that Claudio Foti’s book (to which your comment just linked) is a facsimile edition of the VMs – you’re probably thinking of the Jean-Claude Gawsewitch edition. :-)

  6. Ooops – spot the typo. :-(

    Claudio Foti’s book is _not_ a facsimile edition of the VMs, while the Gawsewitch book contains colour copies of nearly every page.

    Unfortunately, because most of the margins have been trimmed off, the Gawsewitch edition doesn’t really count as a facsimile edition, strictly speaking. But it’s a very nice thing to have, all the same. :-)

  7. Any idea what happened to the hi res photos available at the Beinecke Library a few years back, in the ominous sounding .SIDS format? I had them on aa old computer – I even downloaded the special software to read it, but that hard drive crashed a while ago, so now I am reduced to the dubious quality Russian pages…

    My theory had always been that Voynich himself had forged the manuscript, perhaps on original vellum, since I tend not to trust nineteenth century communist revolutionaries as far as I can throw them. Anyway, I found your work to be enjoyable and helpful, thanks for everything!

  8. Thomas — The SIDs can still be viewed over Beinecke, provided you manage to navigate their slightly cryptic system. I think you have to click on the images directly rather than on the zoom buttons to get to the SIDs, but I may be wrong.

    An easier solution is GC’s Voynich Central, which even matches the images and the folio numbers quite nicely…


  9. Yes, and I forgot that 6.) and 7.) (Stojko and Levitov) are now blown out of the water, too. (Unless you make them copies of an earlier blablah.)

    Seems like the Top Ten shrinks to a manageable shortlist…

  10. Francis, you’re right: The East-Asian connection should be mentioned. I’ve known it for some time, but forgot to include it.

    I’m taking a kind of divided stance towards it; while I see the point of the linguistic arguments, virtually everything else in the VM makes it appear as European as can be…

    Perhaps it’s time to draw up a completely fresh list.

  11. Flogging the Armenian origin of the VM a bit more, it might be pointed out that many languages of the Caucases are related. Armenian is phonetic but for written work some symbols will not be needed. Ethiopian is almost identical with Armenian as the Christian church of Armenia was instrumental in translating their Bible after having done that of Armenia. There is a very precious ms in a monastery in Odessa, Ukraine in a language closely related to Armenian that is called Odessian and many symbols of the VM are the same as that found in Odessian. Unfortunately, the Odessian ms is off limits to all but a few and down to a few pages only.

    The Crab nebula was well known to Armenian astronomers who picked up many passes of Halley’s comet, many supernovae (the source of the Crab) and knew the Julian calendar which is still used in some Armenian churches, was seriously off with respect to the equinoxes, particularly the important vernal eq that was tied in by the RC church to Easter.

  12. Pingback: I Like A Good Ancient Mystery: The Voynich Manuscript « Quirk

  13. To Thomas’ comment: I can’t speak to the rest of your points, but Ethiopian is not “almost identical with Armenian” — in fact, the two languages are completely unrelated. Armenian is an oddball Indo-European language, whereas Ge’ez (which I assume is what you mean by “Ethiopian” — the classical language used by the Ethiopian church) is a South Semitic language (related, though not terribly closely, to Arabic and Hebrew).

  14. Thomas I’ve seen the Odessian manuscript – in a photograph, and also a palimpset discovered in a Syrian monastery, which had the same script underneath. It really looks very interesting, because there is a legend in Islam that the so-called Prester John(s) of Ethiopia were actually a group of Alans who decided to take themselves south, where they founded a fairly short-lived dynasty. In what we would call Nubia, but which medieval people called the land of the Ethiops. More to it, but interesting in the light of the Syrian manuscript. The later Abyssinian-Ethiopian kings were the ones which the western missionaries knew and whose liturgical language was Ge’ez. It’s script is said variously to derive from late (demotic) Egyptian or one of the Arabian scripts, though probably not that used for Arabic which spread from a fairly restricted area of Arabia and was in effect a script invented to serve the Muslim faith.

    My own investigations of the ms do suggest orgins in much older works – contemporary with Ptolemy’s geography perhaps, but to be on the safe side I say c.3rdC BC-3rdC AD. I have found some evidence of northern/Black sea influence, mainly in the ‘balneology’ section, but since the emphasis seems to be on maritime routes and trades, that’s not much wonder. The grain route from the Black Sea to Egypt is one of the oldest attested in the Mediterranean – at least to 1500BC. The bulk of imagery in the botanical and pharma sections, though, refer to plants of the eastern sea: spices, dyes, fabrics, oils.. the usual thing. Also attested from classical times to medieval ones – information literally worth its weight in gold before the Portuguese rounded the horn.

  15. Dear All, A. Abrahamyan has witten a book on Armenian crptography where he deals with many in detail (there were over 400 over time). Unfortunately it is Armenian. Well reading around on Armenians, it seems they were often in or surrounded by unfriendly dynasties, often of Arabs. The Ottomans allowed them some independence and many of the finest mosques of the early Ottoman empire were designed by Armenian architects (like Sinan). Amenians being Christian from the 4th C onward were forced under the Ottomans to wear blue caps or kerchiefs, a color common in the VM, particularly in flowers of the herbal section. One common Armenian code is to use double letters to represent one glyph. One candidate for coded letters might be the gallows glyphs. A computer approach would be to compare standard Armenian with VM “Armenian” and see where excess letters show up. Just a thought. Cheers, Tom

  16. Dear all, I have completed an eye-ball analysis of colored inks used in the herbals. I think traces of the original inks can be seen in nearly all of the herb depictions. Colors used were a faint yellow, a light tan, a deep blue, a light brown and a pale green. The blues have faded in most cases and perhaps in some cases disappeared totally. These fugative inks prove I think that the herbs were tinted by the delineator of the herbs. I am guessing that some preliminary drawing of the herbs was made, maybe with a bare nib or something like a pencil, and then inked with the a diluted version of the iron oxide ink used for the texts. Here and there, lines are missing in the drawings indicating I think that a rough original is being followed. Reinking has been done in most, perhaps to hit some of the misses. The water color, (sometimes goache) and crayoning was done much later, I think one herbal sheet contains a smidge of gesso with what looks like a Greek delta in lower case. Hidden writing abounds in the herbals, some is in Latin letters and indicates intitials (I think) of later tinters. When Nick’s other sites are up and running again, I will write more on the original inking. It happens to be the case that the Armenians of the middle ages had over 200 colored inks and usually their scribes used iron oxide inks for text. Chinese and Indians used carbon based inks as did the Hebrews. All for the moment. Tom

  17. Pingback: I Like A Good Ancient Mystery: The Voynich Manuscript | Quirk

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