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Franco Giannini and R.M. Strollo

Father Joseph Strickland, the intermediary in the sale of the MS

This contribution is about the life and personality of the cleric who became the intermediary in the transfer of the Voynich MS from the property of the Society of Jesus to that of the famous antiquarian.

We will treat the main biographical lines of Father Joseph Strickland, who is also mentioned in the letter of the wife and hereditary of Voynich: Ethel Lilian Boole. His biography was already largely described by Lorenzo Rocci, who acquired fame as an eminent grecist.

Both Rocci and Strickland were Jesuits and worked together in the Nobile Collegio Mondragone, which was located in the old Tuscolano, not far from Rome, where the manuscript was preserved until 1912, and where, in the same year, it was re-discovered.

The presentation is completed by some notes about the Villa and the educational institution it housed, and some additional biographical notes of Strickland, with some pictures and documents about his life. These may lead to new hypotheses about how the Voynich MS ultimately passed into Voynich’s hands.

René Zandbergen

Introduction to the programme

Mary D’Imperio’s book “The Voynich MS, an Elegant Enigma”, published in 1978 was the first general overview about the Voynich MS and still counts as the main reference for the Voynich MS. Around the same time she also organised a workshop, which is generally considered to be the only one of its kind, even though several more-or-less informal get-togethers have been organised in more recent years.

Today’s event is unique in the sense that it brings together a number of people who have studied and published about the Voynich MS over the last decade(s), and that a full programme of presentations covering all main aspects of the manuscripts is offered.

It is true that the text of the Voynich MS is still completely illegible. While this might lead to the impression that there has been no progress since the appearance of D’Imperio’s book, today we will see that progress is in fact significant in many areas.

Claudio Foti

The story of the Voynich MS and focus on Poggio Bracciolini

First, we make a quick tour of the characteristics and the history of the Voynich MS (in Italian, for the sake of our Italian attendants). Next, using a profiling technique similar to the identification of criminals, we will investigate more specifically whether Poggio Bracciolini may be considered as the author of the Voynich MS.

This investigation will help us to clear up a number of suspicions, and to put us in a position to understand which are the points of contact between the great Italian humanist and the Voynich MS; whether and how Poggio should be capable of composing this MS and why he would have done that. The work should not be considered to be completed, but rather as a starting point on the road towards the identification of the author of the MS.

We will answer a list of questions and see how, apparently, Poggio Bracciolini satisfies all conditions for the possible authorship of the most mysterious manuscript in the world. We will follow his trail through central Europe, observe his calligraphy and analyse his combined competence, ultimately throwing light on a mysterious task given him by a cardinal, who was a close friend of Cosimo de’ Medici.

Rafal Prinke

History of the MS from Rudolf to Voynich

While the origins and authorship of the Voynich Manuscripts are shrouded in mystery, much of its history can be traced with considerable level of certainty from its early owners in Rudolfine Prague untill its rediscovery and purchase by Wilfred M. Voynich.

There is still not enough evidence confirming the statement of an early source that Rudolf II bought the Manuscript for a large sum of money, but the first owner whose signature appears on the first folio – Jakub Horický of Tepenec or Jacobus Sinapius (1575-1622) – was in a position which makes his receiving the Manuscript from the Emperor probable. About half a century later it was inherited by the renowned scientist Jan Marcus Marci (1595-1667), who shortly before his death sent it to the Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680).

The most enigmatic figure, whose name was only discovered in recent years, was Jirí Bareš or Georgius Baresch (c1580-c1650), the owner who tried to contact Kircher and eventually left the Manuscript to Marci. New discoveries about him will be presented, explaining the probable route by which he received the Manuscript and his relations with Rafael Mnišovský of Sebuzín (1580-1644), the important witness to its history.

Later vicissitudes of the Manuscript, although not entirely clear, were certainly connected with the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and finally found its way to the Order’s College in Villa Madragone, where it was discovered by a Polish revolutionary and antiquarian Michal Wilfryd Wojnicz or Voynich (1865-1930) about 1910-1912. He was quite a mysterious person himself and some new facts about his life will form the focus of the second part of the paper.

René Zandbergen

The pre-Rudolfine history of the MS

The signature of Jacobus de Tepenec firmly places the Voynich MS near Prague before 1622, and there is a written testimony that the MS was acquired by emperor Rudolf II of Habsburg. There is no record of the prior whereabouts of the MS.

In this presentation we will search for such evidence in the catalogue of Rudolf’s Kunstkammer (museum), and in the extensive financial records of Rudolf’s court that are still preserved in archives in Vienna. This will help us to understand Rudolf’s interests and the prices he was willing to pay for books. We will also encounter some people who may have sold the Voynich MS to Rudolf. Paths for further research are identified.

A hitherto ignored scribble on one of the folios of the MS leads to a comparison with a small herbal MS now preserved in Florence, and which has a number of similarities with the Voynich MS.

Finally, we will learn more about the Voynich MS scribe by comparing the herbal illustrations of the MS, and some annotations found near them, with other herbals of the 14th and 15th Century. We will find evidence that the native language of the MS scribe was German, and that he must have been familiar with herbal MSs available at the time of writing of the MS.

Greg Hodgins

Forensic Investigations of the Voynich MS

Technical analyses of the materials in the Voynich MS were carried out with the aim of identifying the manuscript’s age. Before this work a very broad range of ages was considered possible. The work involved chemical analyses of the inks, polarized light microscopy, X-ray diffraction, and elemental analyses of the pigments, infrared spectroscopy of the media, and radiocarbon dating of the MS parchment. This presentation will review these findings.

Twenty ink and pigment analyses revealed materials and palette characteristic of the medieval painting and manuscripts traditions. The inks were identified as iron gall, with a chemical variability expected for a document of such size. No evidence was found of anachronistic pigment use.

Radiocarbon dating was carried out on four parchment folia. All four dates clustered in the early 15th Century, suggesting the manuscript was created around that time. Radiocarbon dating identifies when the animal that produced the parchment lived, not when the finished parchment was written upon, so there is a formal possibility the Voynich MS was created at a later date. Although considered unlikely, this possibility will be discussed using evidence from related studies focusing on parchment radiocarbon dating.

The radiocarbon dating result is significant for Voynich MS studies. It places the MS in historical and intellectual context even though its meaning remains obscure. Scholars searching for clues to its origin can now focus their attention on a narrower span of time and perhaps even a more restricted geographic region.

Nick Pelling

Between Vellum and Prague

Even though its vellum has recently been radiocarbon dated to the first half of the 15th century, the Voynich Manuscript first appeared on the historical stage only circa 1600-1610, leaving an awkward 150-year gap rattling hollowly in its resumé.

Hence, a very big question is: what happened Between Vellum and Prague?

Nick Pelling has long been fascinated by this, and in this session takes a fresh forensic look at the Voynich Manuscript’s core codicological evidence, particularly its quire numbers. Disentangling and reconstructing the various transformations that occurred early in its life yields us a new set of pragmatic answers: usefully, this helps resolve many long-standing paradoxes and confusions about what we see in its pages.

With this new insight to hand, we will be able to answer some fundamental questions about the manuscript’s early existence, to wind its historical clock back ever closer to its original ‘alpha’ state – how it started its life, all those centuries ago.

Intriguingly, we discover that the Voynich Manuscript spent its missing years not languishing in some mythical Central European trunk, but instead being reviewed, rationalized, reordered and restitched in the company of the best friends that books can ever have – librarians.

Jorge Stolfi

Voynichese word structure and statistics

The structure and statistics of the presumed words of the Voynich Manuscript are quite peculiar and place significant constraints on theories about its nature. We will review some of those features, including the nested-layer word model, the nearly perfect binomial distribution of distinct word lengths, and the changes in word frequencies across sections and pages.

Gordon Rugg

Making the Manuscript: some practical points

This talk discusses some practical issues involved in producing a manuscript such as the VMs, and discusses the implications of those issues. The issues covered include the following.

The cost of materials and availability of materials (both new and old) are briefly discussed.

The second theme is scribal issues – how long it takes to write and illustrate a manuscript of this type. Two main scenarios are considered. The first involves the manuscript being produced directly in its current form. The second involves the manuscript being produced as a copy of a previous draft, or as a copy of an existing document. Issues discussed include over-writing, erasure and correction during the production of handwritten documents.

The third theme is side effects of mechanical mechanisms for producing either ciphertext or meaningless gibberish, including the implications of these for the statistical properties of the text that is produced. The presence of at least two “dialects” within the manuscript, and the unusual statistical properties of Voynichese, significantly constrain possible explanations for the manuscript. Some of these features can be economically explained as side-effects of a mechanical method of producing text, either as a way of producing meaningless gibberish for a hoax, or as a way of producing “padding” text to surround meaningful ciphertext.

Klaus Schmeh

Statistical Properties of the Voynich Manuscript Text - How Can we Make Sense of Contradicting Results?

Dozens of researchers have made statistical analyses of the Voynich manuscript text. This presentation will give an overview and suggestions for future work.

Statistical analysis of the Voynich manuscript text is not an easy task. Tens, if not hundreds of methods are available. Different transcriptions lead to different results and the two handwritings identified by Currier have different statistical properties. To draw valid conclusions the results have to be compared with other texts such as clear text, encoded text, cipher text, or nonsense. Voynich researchers have approached this in different ways, which makes their results sometimes hard to compare.

Nevertheless, Voynich text statistics have rendered interesting results. Many text properties clearly resemble natural language. Even vowels and consonants can be distinguished with statistical methods. On the other hand, the word and text structure don't look like natural language and Voynich researcher Andreas Schinner has found additional patterns which are very unusual for natural language. Other – sometimes contradicting – results were published by Landini, Knight, Stallings and others. The statistical examinations have answered many questions, but equally raised new ones.

Voynich researcher Gordon Rugg has proposed a method for creating letter sequences that resemble Voynich text, but it is not clear if this method is compatible with the text statistics observed. We need more propositions of this kind, with new statistical examinations comparing them with the Voynich text. The possibility that the Voynich text is based on natural language that has undergone a number of changes (e.g. a text collage) needs more research, too. One purpose of this presentation is to stimulate additional statistical work on the Voynich manuscript. There is still a lot to discover.

Johannes Albus

The manuscript's last page - a recipe

The text on f116v of the Voynich MS has been subject to a significant amount of analysis and speculation. The present paper presents a new transcription and tentative reading of this text. It is written in a mixture of mostly Latin, some old German (and two unreadable words in Voynichese) representing the memorandum of a medieval medical recipe. The rather abbreviated style of the Latin words is typical for such a recipe. With the illustrations on the margin referring to the text, the recipe´s ingredients as well as the title point out to a wound plaster with a billy goat´s liver as its main remedy. This supersticious cure with a liver can be traced back to the tradition of antique medicine and Pliny the Elder´s Natural history, while the addition of oil and beewax made it a soap-like balm, that was widely in use for plasters.

Transcription with abbreviations and omissions in square brackets

poxleber umen[do] putriter.
+ an[te] chiton olei dabas + multas + t[un]c + t[an]ta[a](?) cer[a]e + portas + M[ixtura] +
fix[a] + man[nipulis] IX + mor[sulis] IX + vix + alt[e]ra + matura +
... ... (two ciphered words) pals [ein]en pbrey so nim[m] gei[s]smi[l]ch O


Billy goat´s liver for wet rot
At the membrane you gave oil, then you bring a lot of the much(?) wax, in a
fixed mixture: 9 hands full, 9 morsels (from) the only just double mature
... ... (two ciphered words), squash it into a paste, then take goat´s milk.

Rich Santacoloma

Are there optical devices in the Voynich?

1) Optical comparisons: This section will deal with the many odd, and so far, unidentified, cylindrical objects in the Voynich Ms., which have striking similarities to optical devices from the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Various features of these “cylinders” will be listed, showing how they compare to features on different types of early optical devices.

2) Fantasy: This section will show imagery from the Voynich which implies this is an intentionally fictional work, while it may include both real and inspired technologies, cultures, architecture, and styles.

3) What does it mean?: The last section will deal with various possible reasons why optical devices might be found in a fantasy, cipher, document. It will describe the different types of literature, and various disciplines, which might be expected to generate, or inspire, the creation of a work such as the Voynich Ms., as an “artefact of fiction”.

Wolfgang Lechner

A contribution to the interpretation of the drawings

The Voynich Manuscript is divided into several chapters, mostly called “Sections”. Most of the sections contain drawings, e.g. of plants/herbs, naked women in bath and, at least ostensible, celestial objects and formations.

The paper deals with several approaches to analyse the drawings with some concentration in the section “astronomy/cosmology”. Starting with the idea of finding some message like it was identified on the “Nebra Sky Disk” of 1700 B.C., the result of the analysis was really surprising. If confirmed by further studies, it could lead to a complete or at least partial re-interpretation of the origination of the “Master Copy(s)” of the Voynich Manuscript.

Foti, Smith, Zandbergen, 2012
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Latest update: 13/10/2013