Investigations of 2022 – and what emerged.

JANUARY – the form of ‘4’

JAN 13th. referring to work done in the last months of 2021):

One thing to emerge so far, while tracking use of the simple ‘4’ shape as a numeral – and we haven’t yet begun to track its use as an alphabetic form – is that, before the Voynich manuscript’s date-range of 1404-1438, it is found in Latins’ writings only among the commercial and working classes of the south-western Mediterranean – chiefly in the Majorcan kingdom with its Jewish cartographers and residents of certain maritime and trading cities of Italy – saving Venice, which is not being among the earliest to use that form for the numeral.

I quoted from Horadam:

“Use of the advanced Hindu-Arabic system of numerals, [was] gained through Fibonacci’s commercial connections in North Africa and the Levant… It must be remembered that Fibonacci’s home city-state of Pisa had an extensive mercantile fleet operating in, and beyond, the Mediterranean to Byzantium.

  • A. F. Horadam [review of] “Fibonacci’s Liber Abaci”: a Translation into Modern English of Leonardo Pisano’s Book of Calculation by L.E. Sigler (Springer 2002).

The post reviewed the wider impact of two men involved very early in teaching the new commercial maths and ‘Arab’ forms in Italy – Paolo Dagomari, nicknamed “Paolo dell’Abbaco” or “Paolo the Surveyor”, and Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli.

How Alberti mapped Rome

Dagomari born in Datini’s city of Prato about forty years after Leonardo (Fibonacci)’s death. Toscanelli was Florentine by birth. Born in 1397 and living through the period when the Voynich manuscript’s vellum was made (1404-1438) he becomes of especial interest for us.Toscanelli belonged to a family whose members were “traders in eastern luxury goods and who thus traded regularly with north Africa, Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean”. His connections offer one of the clearest examples way that commercial maths, surveying, astronomy, cryptography and theology interacted and the ‘commercial class connected with the ruling class. For a time Toscanelli collaborated with the Gian Battista Alberti, a Genoese who holds particular interest for cryptographers.

Through the rest of January, we explored chronological tables showing where, and in what form the ‘Arab’ numerals were found used, updating and correcting a couple of points in d’Imperio’s tables from Hill. Considering the ‘4’ as an alphabetic form, I concluded with:

“The most time-consuming part is not collecting formal versions of scripts, but testing homogenised ‘official’ versions against historical examples”

FEBRUARY – ‘tabula picta’ and the notion of “secret” plant-drawings(?!)

IN FEBRUARY, noting that an historian of cartography used the term “tabella picta” posts explored the relevance of that theme in treating the Voynich plant pictures. We looked first at folio 43 and its Cerastes, contrasting its accuracy of form and information with a few images from Latin herbals – comparisons which had been provided by Marco Ponzi. As would continue to be the case with each new question asked in 2022, this exploration ended with clear signs that we should be looking to southern- rather than northern Europe, and to the connections created by, and used by, maritime city states. part of the post read:

I chose the example from a post of Marco’s because he is clearly an acute observer and a meticulous worker when dealing with medieval writings. My point was that if someone so careful and so observant in that work could suppose images can be provenanced and read by simply hunting for something ‘like’ from a range pre-determined, it is reasonable to suppose that others who have far fewer skills, and less inclination to be precise, will make the same mistakes; if Ponzi was unable to recognise there is something odd about that method, one can hardly expect others, less able, would.. and later

I hope readers will now appreciate that my opposition to the traditionalists’ “all-western-Christian-Europe” narrative is simply a consequence of studying these drawings in depth; it was not at all the result of any prior theoretical or ideological stance.

In fact, when invited first to comment on this manuscript, I had been led to expect I’d be dealing with nothing more unusual than notebook by an some amateur Latin Christian.

The second half of February continued investigating that ‘maritime, southern, commercial…’ possibility, now focusing on an event that occurred in the later 1290s, a critical year for uropeans’ access to the eastern Mediterranean coast and the trade in ‘medicines and spices’. Speaking to this matter of trade and any evidence of traders’ secrecy, and the seemingly bizarre idea that anyone would want to render plant-images ‘secret’, I wrote (Feb. 25th) that in general terms ..

The Genoese met the [secretive] criterion. We may assume interest in profit, trade and commerce because, as the old proverb had it, “Genuensis ergo mercator“. As regards secrecy, let me quote [R.S. Lopez]: “A characteristic example is provided by ,,,Ugolino and Vadino Vivaldi in 1291. They were preparing to find a western route to the Indies exactly two hundred years before Columbus; they drew up partnership and loan agreements ‘per diversas mundi partes’, for Majorca, even for the Byzantine Empire” – which is to say expressing any intention and any direction but their true one.

Which still makes it possible, not certain. The point is that in following each question – of the ‘4’shape, and about the plant-pictures, and again that question of who on earth would bother making ‘secretive’ plant pictures before 1440, the line of enquiry repeatedly took us to the south-western Mediterranean and most often to the region shown in the map below.

I’ve included the walk from Perignano to Genova as reminder that people could just set off and walk if they were free to travel. A Genoese might influence, and be influenced by, things encountered in Montpellier, in Milan, in Bologna, in Rome.. and elsewhere.

MARCH – evidence of non-Latin influence

After briefly returning to folio 43v, to update and consider the implications of its vivid representation of a Cerastes (March 19, 2022), the next question was about whether peculiarities of the Voynich plant pictures might owe something to non-Latin influences gained from plant-related texts and/or images.

In the course of following that question, the present writer provided the identity of an un-labelled figure in the Manfredus herbal [see post of March 14, 2022] and reasons for thinking Manfredus’ home town was in the far south [see post of April 3rd., 2022]. The content in both those posts represents original work by the present author and had no precedent which had to be cited. A reference to the same ‘Manfredus’ herbal (BNF Paris MS Lat.6823) is presently here at My critique of the commonly-repeated comparison between Voynich folio 35v and an image in that herbal had already been provided [HERE]. As best one can discover, given the fog of fudged, erroneous and omitted credits in amateur writings, I believe credit for first proposing the comparison is probably due Edith Sherwood.

Another non-Latin herbal (the Mashhad Dioscorides) was considered for certain stylistic details (see post of March 11th, 2022).

Concerning east-west contact, I here noted again the role of Genoese and the figure of Rabban Sawma and his embassy, first brought to notice in Voynich studies, so far as I can discover, by the present author who had written of it some years before. The March 11th post shows again the role of the Genoese, saying:

The bishop consecrated as Yahballaha III was a Chinese Nestorian named Rabban Marcos, companion of the Uyghur Rabban Bar Sawma. It was the latter who led an embassy to the west pleading help for eastern Christians and military aid for Arghun in 1287, wintering over in Genoa 1287-8.

.. and noting, too, that for a classically-educated scholar such as Georg Baresch, ‘Oriens’ might have a particular sense.

Again in connection with maritime trade, Italy, knowledge of foreign parts and their goods, a post of March 12th refers to:

the Ghizolfi, a Genoese Jewish trading and diplomatic family who were closely involved in events both in the Black Sea and in Mesopotamia during the second half of the thirteenth century and in Armenia etc.,

APRIL – questions of method

3rd. More detail concerning Manfredus and his home town.

An addition to that post was made on April 4th., reprinting in full Alain Touwaide’s assessment of Minta Collins’ book – so often used and recommended by Voynicheros.

10th. Most of April investigated the important issue of appropriate and inappropriate methods and angles of approach. May be summed up as

How to approach the manuscript while avoiding the constantly-recurring errors that have distorted Voynich-related writings since 1912.

For example, on April 28th, after expressing regret that Voynich forum permitted discussions of methodology and angles of approach when the subject was analysis of the written text but banned members discussing or debating the same matters if the images or historiography was concerned, I quoted from Pelling’s review of a book by Kondrak and Hauer:

“What particularly frustrates me is that …there are plenty of ways Voynich researchers can make genuine progress towards understanding what is going on: but ..they seem seduced by the glamour of being The One Who Solved The Voynich, instead of getting on with the graft of making a difference to what we know”

The post of April 16th., addresses the need to combine analytical method and historical studies in approaching the plant pictures, A reader had asked me to republish my earlier analysis of folio 22r, so that drawing served as example.

April 21st – outstanding questions in need of research – Vocabularies (including research into the Voynich glyphs).

MAY – towards a more appropriate methodology in approaching the Voynich drawings

May’s posts treated the matter of ‘traditional’ Voynich approaches versus more up-to-date analytical method, with regard to the manuscript’s drawings.

May 2nd – # 6a Weighing images – Reading.

May 6th. #6b – Weighing images; the analytical-critical approach.

May 9th –  #6c: Sources aren’t Personalities. … Majority opinion is rarely a valid yardstick. Criticising methodology or ideas of historical writing do not constitute a personal criticism. Conversely, it is amateurish and unethical, if you cannot address another’s evidence and argument, to use disparagement of the person to avoid attention being paid to their studies. Without examining the facts fully and fairly, there is no way of knowing whether vox populi is really vox dei, or merely vox asinorum. — Cyrus H. Gordon.

May 31st – note on astronomical matter.

May 14th. #6d: ‘not exact?’ – not exactly.

May 18th. #6e: Is this your talent?

May 23rd. #6f: Uses and abuses,

May 24th. #6g: Enthroned,

May 30th. #6h: Appreciation and critique. (Explaining distinction in method and intention between works of ‘art appreciation’ and those of ‘art criticism’ or of ‘iconographic analysis’. Concerning the last,

anyone claiming all answers lie, already, within their own head (which is what is implied by the “two-eyes-and-commonsense-just-look-and-match-it” school of Voynich theorists) hasn’t thought through even their own proposition. A mosquito may ‘examine’ a manuscript. Understanding it, and what may be implied by stylistics and by specific details takes work.

JUNE – ‘Latin’ vs ‘foreign’ expression in some Voynich drawings

June 3rd. #6i: Speaking the same language – sort of. Turning to a few of the diagrams.

In the Voynich manuscript, as we’ve learned since 1912, few of the images appear legible. The reason for this, to put it simply, is that the original maker (enunciator) and his intended audience did not use the same conventions as those which informed the art of medieval western Christian Europe – from which tradition our own derive today.

On the other hand, there are some few images in the Voynich manuscript which seem to speak ‘European’, or something nearly cognate with it. One is seem on the reverse of the Voynich map, and it is this we’ll consider first.

f.85r (part)

June 14th. Additional notes to post #6i

June 15th – Interim Caution.

**June 22nd – #7.1 Range is Balance. If you read what has been written about this manuscript since 1912, you will soon realise how deeply very old, and erroneous, assumptions continue affecting the study. In particular, it becomes clear that three distinct factors have been constantly conflated – the linguistic, the political and the cultural.

That error adds to the others which distort ‘nationality’ based theories. Yet it takes only a moment’s reflection to realise that .a speaker of English may wear French fashions; that you may learn to speak one language and later speak one or more others; that territory now part of France (for example) may have been dominated, at different times, by the mores of Scandinavia, of England, of Spain, and/or of the Papacy. Linguistic, cultural and political influences are distinct, and their patterns change at different rates and at different times.

Changing historical and cultural influence in connection with one costume on the drawing illustrated above. The detail shown (above, right).

June 30th. “Knife and ….” The need to recognise and consciously oppose reflexive assumptions. Since many of these assumptions affect Voynich writers approaching astronomical diagrams, I quoted D.A. King:

The problem that specialists in the history of Islamic astronomy confront is that the modern Western world is under the impression that Islamic astronomy is somehow represented by the 5% of it that became known in medieval Europe… *

  • David A.King, ‘Spherical astrolabes in circulation: From Baghdad to Toledo and to Tunis & Istanbul’ (pre-print, 2018 version).

JULY – comparing and contrasting two diagrams

4th. #8.2. Comparing and contrasting – the diagrams on f.67v-1 and on f.85r (part). Looking for points of internal consistency, and taking note of evidence opposing traditional theories.

July 10th. #8.3a: diagram on folio 67v-1 (the centre – turned North-up.) Some details and motifs. Significance.

July 11th. #8.3b: folio 67v-1. Ancillaries. Everyone translates. Recognising when a foreign motif has been adjusted or ‘translated’ to suit a different cultural context.

July 16th. Panofsky and O’Neill’s paper, responding to a comment made by Koen Gheuens.

July 17th. #8.4: folio 67v-1. Peripheral motifs. Emblems used to denote the ‘quarters’ in folio 67v-1 are astronomical. Stars identified. Implications for study of Beinecke MS 408.

July 20th. #8.5 folio 67v-1 some questions outstanding.

Since we have been following a line that investigates diagrams having astronomical reference, we turn now to consider a couple of emblems in the Voynich calendar, to see what more light they may shed on this particular issue.

AUGUST – two emblems from the calendar’s diagrams.

August 6th. The calendar’s emblems – (November and July). Pt.1

From the earlier two analyses* it was concluded that those are most likely to have been brought into a Latin environment between the mid-thirteenth to later fourteenth centuries AD with one showing a greater proportion of its drawing compatible with the visual language of medieval Latin (western Christian) Europe than the other. Asian influence was recognised in both.

^of the diagrams on fol. 85r and fol. 67v-1.

His face isn’t green; ‘green-face’ describes the character.

NOTE (added 27/12/2022). An English reader has asked if by ‘Asian’ I mean Indian. In this case while the ‘Asian’ in one diagram is wearing a Chinese-Mongolian (i.e.Asian) garment, the ‘green-face’ in the other has the epicanthic fold, but the ‘Green-face’ and headwear relate to the history of Yemen and to traditional Tamil customs – so I had to settle, in that case, for a generality – ‘Asian’. It is not my usual custom. I feel that out of respect for the great antiquity, separate languages and long religious, medical and literary traditions of India (in which I include Tamil tradition) it is inappropriate to blur the line between India, Pakistan or Afghanistan (on the one hand) and Chinese-influenced regions of what you probably call ‘the far East’ (on the other). It is the latter I normally mean when I speak of Asia and inner Asia. As best I can, I try to keep the term geographic, not cultural. And yes – of course I’ve asked whether the Voynich plants mightn’t come from an Ayurvedic tradition, and I have looked into it – before certain materials were taken from that cave in Soqotra. Long before it was permitted to suggest anything in the manuscript might not be an expression of Latin culture, I discussed points of similarity between details in some drawings and motifs traditional in e.g. Kalamkari, and again in guest-houses created for foreigners during the Mediterranean’s Hellenistic and Roman centuries. I’m among those who accept that the Mediterranean world owes to India not only much of its Hellenistic-era medical knowledge but the very ethos of Cos and its first concept (as well as practice) of veterinary care. Despite all that, I’m reluctant to pass from observation and commentary to adopting or promoting any overarching Voynich theory. If there are, as I am of the opinion that there are, certain Indian characteristics in some drawings, there are in others details just as plainly speaking ‘European’. What impresses me most about the plant-drawings (most of them, some are out of step) is their lucidity, rationality, clarity and near-complete absence of any fog created by religious or cultural leanings.. not sure if it should be called ‘bias’.. which affect a person’s way of seeing the world about them. Such a characteristic is amazing for the time and certainly impresses me.

August 15th. The Voynich ‘November’ emblem. Scorpions in Europe. Latin traditions and tropes. San Savino in Piacenza (note Reeds’ example of ‘gallows’ glyphs)

August 20th. The ‘Scorpion’ stars. Imagined as a beast by the celestial road. Carrier-away of souls.

August 22nd. Images of ‘Scorpion’ as Hellhound in western imagery.

August 27th. Simple logic and the Bestiaries.

eleventh-century Byzantine representation of ‘scorpion’ as a kind of crocodile.


Sept 5th. Calendar emblems ‘November’ concluded.

Post includes an eleventh-century Byzantine representation of ‘scorpion’ as a kind of crocodile.

Sept. 11th Calendar emblems ‘July’ – The making of manuscripts.

Sept. 14th – Interim post ‘Nails in the wood – symbol of resurrection’ reprinted post.

Sept.17th. ‘Calendar’ emblems Pt 6.1 July’s Lobsters.

Sept 24th. 6.2 – July and computistic lobsters.

Sept. 30th. 6.3: of ‘Ausonian verses’ and Scythian bows.


October 3rd? Who needs a zodiac? Pt 1. Discerning astronomical reference in other contexts – e.g. the ‘croucher by the Scales’ in early medieval Spain.

October 7th. ‘Who needs a zodiac? Pt 2. A calendar does not need a ‘zodiac’ to describe the cycle of the year, even if it alludes to stars visible a given season. Important classical texts.

Pointing out and explaining that the series of emblems which fill the centres of the calendar’s diagrams do not form a zodiac.

October 9th. The Voynich calendar diagrams. Defining ‘astrological’.

October 11th. the Voynich calendar’s diagrams (as such) – Not for Amateurs, sorry.

October 16th. Addressing (again) the fallacy that ta cloudband motif in Beinecke MS 408 is evidence of Germanic or central European character. An idea entirely and demonstrably untrue.

October 26th. MS-Kircher-Linnaeus-O’Neill-MS: Art imitates art?

NOVEMBER – observations on observing ‘Time and Place’… with mention of Kircher and Rudolf

Nov. 1st. Calendar 7c: Time and place.

A drawing referenced in the previous post provides a useful example of how human it is to instinctively cover gaps between what is actually in front of us, and what we were predisposed to believe ought to be there.

November 4th. My stance on the rumour of Rudolfine ownership.

November 7th. ‘Rudolfine… signatures and cherry-picking.

November 7th,. “On the cryptographers’ conundrum & Rudolfine art”.

November 18, 2022. Varying attitudes towards imagery. Bodleian Douce 313 as a Franciscan missal – and its calendar.

November 28th. Revisiting the Calendar’s two ‘April’ emblems.


A Must-read. December 1, 2022

Dec. 3rd. Why a crocodile? Why November? Why c.1350? The appearance of Plague.

Dec. 12th. Quick brief note on pigments in the Vms

Dec.13th Why I bang on about wanting the full range of pigments described.

Dec. 18th. Angles of approach. The calendar’s archer.

So what has a year’s work added to what is known about this manuscript?

  1. Applying theories that depend on definitions of ‘nationality’ is inappropriate.
  2. On the other hand, natural physical barriers did affect the flow of information, as of fashions or other goods – or indeed disease. Better to imagine the map of Europe as a patchwork of regions, each linked in various ways with various others at various times.
  3. In economic history, and increasingly in other branches of history, maps of ‘entanglements’ are proving more helpful than ‘kings-were-movers’ history. Of course, mapping can concentrate on elites too, and is Johannes Preiser-Kapeller’s interest. Here is one of his entanglement maps.

From that map, you might expect strong Byzantine Greek influencess to appear in European courts both early and repeatedly, and nothing at all from the African continent or from Spain. History tells us otherwise.

Contrast that map with the next, which shows the regular links of maritime trade for three medieval city states: Pisa, Genoa and Venice.

Even that doesn’t tell the whole story, because we know that Venice also traded with Tunis.

But these aren’t ‘entanglement’ maps – what I hope they demonstrate is how out of date is the idea projected by Wilfrid and d’Imperio, and maintained by those who stick to the traditionalist narrative of a ‘white-walled Europe’.

By abandoning that notion, and accepting the simple fact that the manuscript references accurately astronomical (southern cross), zoological (Cerastes) and botanical (Myrobalans; bananas; balsam etc) information with fine details then unknown to formal scholarsip in Europe, so the probability is that information of such a kind and quality was most likely to enter Latin Europe through commercial rather than elite political contacts. If, indeed, our manuscript was inscribed in Latin Europe as has been usually assumed.

On the face of it, the old theory that the plant pages encipher perfectly ordinary herbal information is so unlikely that it’s a marvel the idea ever survived the 1920a.

By the early fifteenth century, Latin herbals were not arcana but were written in ordinary Latin and in some vernacular tongues. Local pharmacies often had one.

You may have noticed, though, that ‘matches’ offered from some standard Latin herbal are surrounded by an ordinary plaintext? Yet that plaintext never offers a key to he Voynich text on the compared page. The same applies to ‘matches’ proffered for details in the calendar – whose month-names, by the way, are also in plaintext.

Baresch said plainly enough that the plants are exotics – i.e. not native to western Europe, and clearly many are – (bananas, myrobalans, loofah etc etc.). Only in that context would an enciphered text make some sense. For plants and plant-materials of that kind, one might suggest sensible reasons for a text not written in plain. Such as:

  1. the text isn’t encipheredbut shows an attempt to render the sound, or form of a foreign script which the original recorder (trader?) hadn’t formally studied.
  2. It is enciphered, but because the information had greater potential commercial value for the user of the book.
  3. That the sort of plants shown are e.g. poison plants, but this does not appear probable to me. Is there such a things a banana-based poison, or a Dracaena-based poison or loofah-poison recorded anywhere, and earlier than 1440?

If we accept that the plants referenced in the botanical drawings are not European species or at least mostly not of European origin, the secrecy thing begins to make sense overall.

Where the plants are obtained; what selling points to use; what their purchase price and selling price is.. all that sort of thing might be kept close to the chest. As for the astronomical matter – well, let’s fist consider money matters – and as example, the rise of secrecy in western medicine.

Among other things discovered was that the assignments between Voynich emblems and months reflect a pre-Christian, Roman, practice preserved in – among other things – mosaics and the poems of Ausonius. These became known – probably from an Irish source – the English Bede, who included it in his influential de Temporum ratione, which served as a basic reference in the mathematical-computus (or compotus) sort of studies. In computistical miscellanies, the ‘signs’ are typically illustrated in a section separate from the serious stuff. I don’t recommend any Voynich theorist try re-engineering the history of these matters to create a new theory-patch for their storyline. Scholars whose area of study it is have a long and difficult field to work – and they’re not unused to dealing, with despatch, with fringe theories.

Every line of enquiry pursued in 2022 brought us back to the south-western Mediterranean and the interconnections which existed between the Italian peninsula, France, England and the wider world – and not forgetting other centres in Spain, Crete or Egypt.

For those who find most enjoyment in history of the ‘who’s who’ kind, you might look into the Lusignans. whose role in English and Aegean history is often overlooked.

2 thoughts on “Investigations of 2022 – and what emerged.

  1. I forgot to mention another point which emerged from the research: echoes of Roman and very early (c.3rdC) usages. (later – – responding to a query I’ve now added something of what’s below in the main post).

    Correlation of month-and-emblem as we see it in the Voynich calendar differs from northern ‘months and labours’ series, but is in accord with pre-Christian Roman custom of which I showed evidence from Roman north Africa, and within Italy, and in several media. In the earlier medieval period, the Roman way was preserved most obviously in Ausonius’ Eclogue, which seems to have been preserved by Irish monks who brought it into the ‘easter debate’. In that way the poems became known to Bede in England, and their assignment of sign-to-month is maintained in his de temporum ratione. That text, incorporated into computistical miscellanies, was still being copied in parts of western Europe as late as, and even after the 12thC. From the 12thC, too, we have mosaics from Otranto and from Piacenza which maintain the same ‘ancient’ pattern and one actually quotes from Ausonius. Thus the Voynich calendar’s associating (e.g….. ) Pisces with March; the Crab/lobster with July … the Archer with December etc.) is not a contemporary (15thC) error or novelty, but maintains an older practice. Another echo of pre-Christian Roman custom is its use of a crocodile as sign for November. That the Voynich is not alone in doing so is attested – c.1350 – by inclusion in an otherwise very conservative calendar from southern France (Oxford, Bodleian Douce 313) – a Franciscan missal.

    Altogether, the Voynich regional French (or Judeo Catalan?) month-names describe a system of month-to-sign assignments that are not ‘wrong’ but ‘antique’. Their lineage within the Latin west indicates to me that we should imagine the Voynich calendar not as diagrams about astrology but ones having to do with some practical applications of astronomy.

    apologies for the updates. Christmas-New Year is so full of distractions… Happy 2023 to all!


  2. The map labelled ‘Genoa’s Colonial Expansion’ courtesy of the site maintained as memorial to the work of Esther Lederberg. whose research was concerned with the history and practices of slavers. That Aldrovandi who collected herbals to which he gave the colourful name of ‘herbals of the alchemists’ is known to have had two slaves in his household. One is said to have been Mongolian.

    About those “herbals of the alchemists” Philip Neal’s comments remain good. If you have trouble linking to the site, come back and link through my Cumulative Bibliography Page [top bar], where Neal’s site is in the ‘Constant References’ section.


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