Expert Opinion: Myth vs Materials Science Pt3

Header Illustration, from Erik Kwakkel. ‘The work of the scribe’ (essay for the Khan Academy).
Two previous:

diagram corrected – 18/04/2019.

NOTE (20th Dec. 2022) –

The following information about the samples taken for radiocarbon-14 dating comes courtesy of H.R. Santacoloma, who photographed a slide that was presented by the analyst, Greg Hodgins, at a Voynich conference.

from Quire 1 (folio 8):  returned a raw result:  490±37, which works out to 1423 to 1497.
from Quire 3 (folio 26)  ….  514±35, which works out to 1401 to 1471.
from Quire 6 (folio 47) ….  506±35, which works out to 1409 to 1479.
The fourth sample was taken from Quire 9 (folio 68) which, after the necessary cleaning yielded … 550±35, which works out to 1365 to 1435.

For more detailed discussion and varying views, readers might read comments to Nick Pelling’s post ‘Radiocarbon dating and the Voynich Manuscript‘, ending with valuable contributions from Karl.  Of course, I assume you’ll read the main post too.  Some of the same information in that post may be found repeated at Rene Zandbergen’s


As far I can discover no written description of the Voynich manuscript’s  structure had been made before 1967, when  Barbara Shailor described its collation for the Beinecke Library’s catalogue record.

I-VII^^8 (f. 12 missing),

VIII^^4 (leaves foliated 59 through 64 missing from center of quire),

 IX^^2 (double and triple fold-out leaves),

X^^2 (1 triple fold-out),

XI^^2 (1 quadruple fold-out),

XII^^2 (f. 74 missing, followed by stubs of conjugate leaves),

XIII^^10, XIV^^1 (sextuple fold-out),

XV^^4 (1 triple and 1 double fold-out),

XVI^^4 (1 double fold-out; ff. 91, 92, 97, 98 missing, 2 stubs between 94 and 95),

XVII^^4 (2 double fold-outs),

XVIII^^12 (ff. 109-110, central bifolium, missing).

In 2017, one of the  essays in Yale’s photo-facsimile edition*  included a brief comment about the quires:

* hereafter: ‘Yale facsimile edition’; the  limited edition, reproduction facsimile is published by Ziereisfacsimiles.

The book consists of 18 quires (sections), some of which include 4 bifolia (folded leaves that form 4 pages), others include 1, 2,5 or 6 bifolia. There are 11 foldouts of various sizes and configurations…. (p.24).

  • A. Bezur, D. D.Driscoll, M-F Lemay, E. Mysak, J. Stenger and P. Zyats, ‘Physical Materials’  in Raymond Clemens (ed.), The Voynich Manuscript,  Yale University Press (2016) pp. 23-37.-

A diagram showing the manuscript’s construction carries the caption:

“The Voynich manuscript consists of 20 quires held together in a binding technique typically in use in 15thC Europe. The quantity and style of the foldouts are unusual for the time. Several leaves… were removed or lost at some time.”

The general reader is left  with an impression that the manuscript’s construction differs from the  norm for Latin (western Christian) Europe only by being “a little unusual” or “a little ahead of its time” while the fact is that a century’s effort to discover any comparable manuscript in the Latin corpus has failed.

*-failed’... save that there is a reasonable possibility that some, at least, of the images used to fill the calendar’s centres are linked to Norman era Anglo-French illustrations for the zodiac and/or for Thomas of Cantimpre’s  De naturis rerum.  (The second item  was provided, fairly  recently, by Koen Gheuen’s research into its unusual form for Cancer).

What those codicological descriptions lack is any indication to the reader of just how unlike the construction of  European manuscripts is that of MS Beinecke 408 ,  or what significance this may have  – in terms of comparative codicology – for efforts to discover the origin of matter now informing the text and imagery.   As Agati says:

Given the importance of these assembling operations, a manuscript scholar has to observe every little detail, stressing the homogeneity of the situation where the quires still today seem to be regular. In the opposite case, he has to indicate, scrupulously, all that seems to be anomalous in the attempt to find a possible explanation.

  • Maria Luisa Agati, The Manuscript Book. A Compendium of Codicology, (English translation by Colin W. Swift), Studia Archaeologica 214 (revised and updated edition, 2017).  p.160

This post provides initial sources and background for researching questions raised by the Voynich manuscript’s quires and collation.

A codicologist’s Vocabulary [pdf].

This extended glossary was developed from a conference paper which its author  (J.P. Gumbert) had delivered at the  Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität,  in Munich in 2004.

A  formal codicological assessment, today, is expected to consider, and to include where relevant, the wider perspectives of comparative codicology.

Comparative Codicology – its importance.

Codicology is a science. Comparative codicology is a highly specialised branch of that science and, like any other active science, is evolving.

Some curators and scholars were accustomed to consider a manuscript in the broader context and one sees such comment made long before the 1990s but as a formal discipline, comparative codicology’s growth followed the publication of Beit-Arié’s landmark paper in 1993:

  • Malachi Beit-Arié, ‘Why comparative codicology?’ Gazette du livre médiéval, n°23. Automne 1993. pp. 1-5

The last twenty-five years has seen a parallel and mutually-enhancing revolution in laboratory studies and techniques, and in the quality of comparative codicological studies.   Some idea of the range and depth now informing the latter can be gained by considering these abstracts – for papers delivered at the University of Hamburg’s Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures in 2017.

  • [pdf]  “Manuscripts East and West – Towards Comparative and General Codicology” 17 – 19 October 2017
Nick Pelling’s contribution

Before going further, I want newcomers to realise  that the study of this manuscript’s codicology is fairly said to begin with research done by Nick Pelling.

He raised the matter in conversations to the first mailing list, and then in his book (2006) and later in his ciphermysteries blog.

Interested chiefly in possible consequences for those working on the written part of the text  of disruption and loss from the quires,  Pelling attempted to reconstruct what he believed was the contents’  original order while advocating such cutting-edge techniques such as multispectral scans –  well  before the Beinecke library undertook such work.

It was not until about six years had passed with little response – not until about 2013 or so – that others added to the usual reproduction of the Shailor description (with or without illustrations) some few of Pelling’s observations, but nothing followed of any substance, despite the vital information embodied in y a manuscript’s form, composition and materials.  Such comments as do appear, today, seem chiefly aimed at reassuring us – against the obvious  – that the manuscript is no more than a ‘little unusual for its time’. The question is rather just how unusual it is for the place.

Codicological structure of MS Beinecke 408:

The following diagram of the Voynich manuscript’s quires was created by Peter (surname not provided) the designer of the facsimile edition.  It was included in the  ‘Physical Materials’ essay.  This scan comes from my own copy; I hope Yale won’t mind my adding the quires’ descriptions.

Quire classes:

Binions. Single bifolium

preferred practice today reserves ‘binion’ for a quire of two bifolios and uses ‘single bifolio’ for a folded pair of pages – but researchers should be aware that terminology may differ between sources. (Note added 27/04/2019)

Shailor’s catalogue record posits three  binions singles (as quires 12, ^16, and ^18)  though  what we have is a  single folio as Quire 12 (f.73).  During his talk to the 2012 Voynich Conference, Pelling expressed reservations about  (the posited) “Quire 18”, and there is now a discrepancy between the text of the Yale facsimile’s  ‘Physical Materials’ essay and that of the caption given its diagram ( above).

I don’t have a copy of the original paper, but quote Pelling’s reference to it in a post to his blog, last year: “Codicologically: even though f96v and f99r would at first appear to have had a pair of pages inserted between them at some stage (i.e. f97 and f98), they ended up facing each other in the Voynich’s final state. Moreover, f96v is the last page of quire 17, and f99r is the first page of quire 19: my best reading (that I put forward in 2012 in Frascati) is that there was never any such pair of inserted pages, but that instead someone else had previously misnumbered the final two quires (Quire 19 and Quire 20), and that the two extra pages there were added to account for the ‘Quire 18’ that was never actually there. Perhaps none of this is actually important: but I think there’s a good chance that – contrary to their final folio numbering – f96v and f99r have sat facing each other for some time, perhaps even in the original gathering order.”N. Pelling,’A Possible Internal Voynichese Text Match?, ciphermysteries, (3rd.March, 2018)
folio 73v and detail of excised folios. Remnant of a single bifolium (Quire 12)


  • Erik Kwakkel, Rodney Thomson, The European Book in the Twelfth Century, (2018)
  • Albert Derolez, The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books: From the Twelfth to the Early Sixteenth Century, Cambridge Studies in Palaeography and Codicology No. 9. (2013).

Quaternions are  the norm for quires in  Latin European manuscripts  made in Germany, France, and England before c.1438, but of the Voynich manuscript’s posited twenty quires, only seven are quaternions and together they were placed last (at the top) of the quire-stack before it was bound.

Not unexpectedly, samples taken from those quires returned closely similar radiocarbon dates, and all came from folios whose text is ‘Currier A’ type   Just one sample was tested from a a lower (non-quaternion) quire and it came from Quire 9 (f.68)  half-way down the stack. It returned the earliest raw date: 1400.

The quaternion was also the default for  Byzantine (Greek) manuscripts – as Gregory could say as early as 1886:

‘The unit of construction for a Greek manuscript is the quaternion or quire of four double leaves or of eight pages’

  • Caspar Rene Gregory, ‘The Quires in Greek Manuscripts’, The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1886), pp. 27-32.
  • Nadezhda Kavrus-Hoffmann, ‘Greek Manuscripts at Dumbarton Oaks: Codicological and Paleographic Description and Analysis’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers
    Vol. 50 (1996), pp. 289-312,

And again,  characteristic of Persian manuscripts, with Yemeni manuscripts’ quaternions attributed to Persian influence in that region.

detail from Quire 7 – a quaternion
the Radiocarbon dating (2011):

Acting on instructions from the persons commissioning the study, the technicians were obliged to abandon the practice of randomising samples. This is why the sampling seems skewed, three of the  four samples taken from that minority group –  specifically from Quire 1 ( f.8 ); Quire 4 (f.26); and Quire 7 (f. 47).

For further details and comment see:

One is often obliged to quote Pelling, whose training as an historian and personal inclination to cryptology kept him able and willing to comment intelligently on new ideas and information about the manuscript, regardless of whether or not it seemed compatible with his own historical theory.  He is not always capable of appreciating insights or researchers frankly denying his theoretical history or his ideas about e.g. iconography or linguistics,  but his technical comments have often proven so valuable that they have been constantly, if selectively, taken up and re-presented on numerous other blogs and websites – with, or without, correct attribution.

Carelessness in attributing such contributions to the study to their original source means that what were in fact sharply original insights about e.g. the written text, or the radiocarbon range may later  appear to newcomers as no more than ‘what everyone says’, a state of affairs I find regrettable  not only in Pelling’s case but in the many others where original insights (of sufficient worth to be taken up) have been similarly cannibalised by individuals ignorant of how things are done, or too eager to gain a reputation they cannot acquire by their own ability.

Note re Currier ‘A’ (and -‘B’):

Jorge Stolfi wrote to the first mailing list in 1998:

INTERLN17.EVT is based on the files:, FSG.NEW and tiltman.txt with some small corrections. The Currier version was originally coded in Currier’s alphabet. I translated it to FSG “enhanced” alphabet using Jacques Guy’s BITRANS program and a set of rules CUR2FSG2 based on a message by Jim Reeds to the Voynich mailing list. The FSG alphabet does not contain the Currier characters 6 and 7. To preserve these, characters 6 and 7 were kept unchanged in the resulting FSG version. Currier 6 usually corresponds to K in FSG, while 7 was transcribed as K or 8 by the FSG team.
I added a few “end of line” – and “end of paragraph” = marks where missing to keep line lengths equal between versions. …

According to the website, it uses the form of a transcription issued by “Jacques Guy and Jim Reeds .. in January 1992”..

detail from Quire 13 – a quinion

Quinions: (quires of five bifolia, amounting to ten folios)

Quire  8 was-  and quire 13 is a quinion.

N.B. The Quinion is  considered characteristic of manuscripts produced on the eastern side of the Mediterranean.

Modern writers tend to associate it chiefly with Islamic manuscripts – e.g.

the overwhelming majority of parchment quires in Arabic manuscripts consist of quinions (i.e. five bifolia, ten leaves).

  • Adam Gacek, Arabic Manuscripts: A Vademecum for Readers (2009) p.212.
  • François Déroche, Islamic Codicology: An Introduction to the Study of Manuscripts in Arabic Script (2006) – the standard reference.
  • Élise Franssen, ‘What was there in a Mamlūk amīr’s library? Evidence from a 15th-century manuscript ’,  Ch.15 in  Yuval Ben-Bassat (ed.), Developing Perspectives in Mamluk History. Essays in Honor of Amalia Levanoni, Leiden, Brill, p. 311-332.

However, they are also characteristic of Irish manuscripts.

The standard for Irish medieval manuscripts was the quinion, or five sheets of parchment folded to make a gathering of ten leaves or twenty pages.

  • T M Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland (2000).
  • Robert K. Ritner, Egyptians in Ireland: a question of Coptic Peregrinations’. (pamphlet) Rice University Studies, 62, no. 2 (1976).[pdf]
  • Gregory Telepneff, The Egyptian Desert in the Irish Bogs: The Byzantine Character of Early Celtic Monasticism (2003)
  • C.M., ‘Coptic influence in the Early British Church’, StGeorge Orthodox Ministry, (20th. January 2018)
  • In an English manuscript (Brit.Lib. Harley MS 80) the fourth quire, of paper, is a quinion.

Codicologists who have no involvement in the study of Beinecke MS 408 rarely so much as mention the quinion if their subject is the Latin codex. It doesn’t appear at at all (for example) in  Mathisen’s chapter on Palaeography and Codicology, though when summarising the codex’ historical development, he says in connection with the last centuries bc:

By the first century bce, parchment codex notebooks were being used, like codices made from wax tablets, for rough drafts, keeping accounts, and so on. In the following century, the codex came into increasing use as a means of copying literary works. Each group of folded pages with a common internal fold is known as a ‘quire’ or ‘gathering’. Early codices were of a single-quire format, but the bigger the book, the more clumsy this method was; fatter books were liable to crack at the spine, and the outer pages had to be much wider than the inner ones. Thus, it was eventually found more practical to bind several quires into books of whatever length one desired. The sixteen-page length, the ‘quaternion’ (tetrad¯es in Greek), made from four folded sheets, became standard; although one also encounters quires of other sizes, ranging from binions (two sheets) and ternions (three sheets) on up. Beginning in late antiquity, the bottom of the last page of each quire was often marked with a sequential quire number, or ‘signature’, for example, ‘Q III’, or ‘the third quaternion’. These numbers facilitated binding, and also are very helpful in reassembling books that have come apart or survive only in a fragmentary state. (pp.133-134.)

  • Ralph W. Mathisen, ‘Palaeography and Codicology’, Part II, Ch.7 of  Susan Ashbrook Harvey and David G. Hunter (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies (2008)  (pp. 140-168).
  • review by : Kenneth B. Steinhauser for Church History and Religious Culture, Vol.90 Nos 2-13 (2010) pp.345-493

The information from the sources above are reinforced by an important palimpsest from Mount Sinai, which shows that quinions were still employed in Syriac manuscripts shortly before the time of the Islamic conquests.  This codex is known as the ‘Syriac Galen Palimpsest or SGP.  Beneath its tenth-century Christian text lies a  sixth-century copy of Galen’s work on drugs.    Kessel and Smelova write:

It was established that the original manuscript must have consisted of at least 22 quinions, 14 of which have survived in full or in part. The parchment is folded flesh side in, and thus each quire begins and ends with the hair side. As it was possible to recognise two quire signatures in Syriac numerals – waw for quire six (see illustration 1) and tēt for quire nine, it could be deduced that three quires were missing from the beginning of the manuscript and that the preserved text starts with quire four.

  • [pdf] Grigory Kessel and Natalia Smelova, ‘Sinai Syriac manuscripts in exile’

This is another telling point, for (as Beit-Arié has noted), the standard Latin practice was to have the flesh side outermost – though an exception is offered by quires in  Brit.Lib. Harley MS 80′.

Beit-Arié’s comments on the quinion provide more detail and more nuance than  other sources:

The quinion composition was the standard composition in the Middle East (in all Semitic manuscripts) and in Italy in all the dated [Jewish] manuscripts, which comprise around a third of all the dated Hebrew manuscripts. Nor are the several sizes of senion composition, which was the secondary composition used in Hebrew manuscripts in zones of Sefardic book culture (and was common among Latin parchment manuscripts in the 13th and 14th centuries, see below n. 48) consistent with the assumption that quires were created by folding the sheet. Collette Sirat proposes that the odd (quinion – five folios) composition of the early non-Hebrew codex quires written in the Orient were suitable for papyrus, which was rolled into a scroll after its manufacture, and then cut into any number of sheets,.

to which he adds (note 48)

48 For examples of manuscripts localised in the Orient and Italy and inscribed by immigrants who continued to employ the script of their country of origin for many years but whose book craft reflects – entirely or at least partially – the practices of the region in which they were active, see Beit-Arié, Hebrew Codicology, pp. 104-109.  MS Oxford, Corpus Christi College 133 is to my mind the most instructive illustration of the problematic and complicated nature of Hebrew codicology and palaeography, due to the unique mobility of the Jewish people. This manuscript, inscribed in the early, square and semi-cursive Ashkenazic script, is a copy of a prayer book whose unique text version is presumably descended from the custom of French Jewry, used by the Jews of England before their expulsion in the twelfth century. On two pages which were left blank (fols. 349v and 350r) numerous records were added attesting to payments received from prominent Christians from all over England (be it Bath, Norwich, Exeter or Winchester), half of which had been identified as having been active at the end of the twelfth century. Most unexpectedly, the records — inscribed no doubt by a moneylender who was manuscript’s owners at around 1200 C.E. — were in Judaeo-Arabic in a Sefardic (Andalusian) cursive script! The Sefardic owner of the prayer book noted that his records included מא כאין לי מן די אנא הונא פי אנגלטירה (‘all that I own since being here in England’. See Beit-Arié, Makings, p. 138 (translation and transliteration of the document by Ephraim Wust), pp. 147-148 (plates of the records); Beit-Arié, English appendix (identification of the local English notables by Zefira Anton-Rokéah).

  • M. Beit-Arié, Hebrew Codicology: Historical and Comparative Typology of Hebrew Medieval Codices based on the Documentation of the Extant Dated Manuscripts Using a Quantitative Approach (Preprint internet English version 0.1)  [link includes pdf for the English summary and Hebrew text. Another pdf link here]

There seems little doubt that use of the quinion and larger gatherings originated in the eastern Mediterranean and became part of the western Mediterranean and insular traditions only by direct connection to the eastern side, occurring in Irish manuscripts and in Jewish and Arabic works.

Here, one is again reminded of the extraordinary precision of Erwin Panofsky’s evaluation of the manuscript in 1932.  He not only dated it accurately (1410-1420-1430), but identified Jewish and Islamic influences in it.  Since he was apparently never asked to write a paper, or to elaborate, we cannot know what exactly informed his judgement, but the presence of quinions and larger gatherings may have been a factor.

  • Javier del Barco, The Late Medieval Hebrew Book in the Western Mediterranean: Hebrew Manuscripts and Incunabula in Context (Brill. 2015). Explores “the production, circulation, transmission, and consumption of Hebrew texts in the western Mediterranean (mainly Iberia, Provence, and Italy) between the thirteenth and the sixteenth centuries”

To illustrate how quire-types  help us date (as well as place) a manuscript, the following table shows changes over time in Armenian manuscripts from the 11th- to the 16th centuries.

from: Kouymjian, D., “Notes on Armenian Codicology. Part 1: Statistics Based on Surveys of Armenian Manuscripts,” Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies Newsletter no. 4 (July 2012), pp. 18-23.
  • Dickran Kouymjian, ‘Notes on Armenian Codicology.  Part 1: Statistics Based on Surveys of Armenian Manuscripts’, Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies Newsletter (4th. July, 2012) pp.18-23.  [pdf]

Senion (a gathering made up of six bifolios)

There are no senions in Beinecke MS 408,  though they occur in certain European manuscripts, such as the often-mentioned  Brit.Lib. Egerton MS 747,

  • Brit.Lib. Egerton MS 747,  Dated to c.1280-1350 Made in southern Italy (possibly Salerno), its first nine senions (ff.. 1-108) contain a copy of the Tractatis de herbis believed an autograph by the author ofthat work, Bartholomæus Mini de Senis (ff.1-106r) and three folios showing images of plants, these continuing into the first side of the following quire, a quaternion (ff. 106v-109r), the remainder being occupied by a lunar calendar (f. 111r) and text in a mid-14thC Gothic cursive hand. Then follow three more senions (quires xi-xiii; ff. 112-147) containing practical medicinal-pharmaceutical texts including the Antidotarium Nicolai ( ff. 112r-124v) and a Synonyma (ff. 128v-146r:).

This recalls Beit-Arié’s comment that:

” senion composition … was the secondary composition used in Hebrew manuscripts in zones of Sefardic book culture (and was common among Latin parchment manuscripts in the 13th and 14th centuries)”.

The table above shows the senion  also characteristic of Armenian works from that time.

But there are no senions in the Voynich manuscript.

Codicology can not only lend weight to a proposed provence; it can also argue against it.

Elsewhere, Beit-Arié defines more exactly what he means by  “Sefardic book culture” (see ‘details’ following) saying, among other things,

Thus, all the surviving dated códices iocalised in Siciiy, which was under the rule of the Crown of Aragón since 1282, show Sefardic physiognomy and should be regarded as an offshoot of the Spanish entity. Likewise, the Iberian type of book spread beyond the Peninsula and across the Pyrenees.

The distinctive codicological features and the three modes (square, semi-cursive and cursive) of the type of script which characterise Hebrew códices fabricated in Spain since at least the early twelfth century, typify also Hebrew manuscripts produced in other regions and territories which were dominated by Spanish kingdoms either politically or culturally.
Thus, all the surviving dated códices iocalised in Siciiy, which was under the rule of the Crown of Aragón since 1282, show Sefardic physiognomy and should be regarded as an offshoot of the Spanish entity. Likewise, the Iberian type of book spread beyond the Peninsula and across the Pyrenees. Since 1202, the date of the earliest extant Iocalised and dated Hebrew codex in Provence, all the manuscripts produced in Provence and Bas-Languedoc reflect Iberian technical practices, visual configuration and book script. This diffusion of the Iberian booklore followed the political incorporation of a large part of Provence into Catalonia at the beginning of the twelfth century, and the arrival of scholars who fled from Andalusia after the Almohad invasión and the destruction of Jewish centres in the middle of the twelfth century.
Consequently, Provence and lower Languedoc were incorporated into the Sefardic scribal entity, as it was culturally integrated with Spanish Jewry in general. But the Iberian Hebrew scribal entity encompassed also a vast área south east of the Peninsula and across the sea – the Maghreb. All the surviving dated códices fabricated in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria share with the Iberian manuscripts codicological practices and type of script. However, the North African scribal tradition cannot be depicted as merely an offshoot of the Iberian one. Cultural-historical evidence as well as extant Maghrebi Hebrew códices dating already from the tenth century – about a century and a half before the extant earliest dated Spanish manuscript – attest that North África, mainly Tunisia and its main Jewish academic centre Kairuan, which attracted students from Spain, must have been the origin and the inspiration for the Jewish scribal tradition of Iberia. It is very likely that oíd Maghrebi practices and script were adopted by Hebrew scribes in tenth-century Mosiem Spain. The amazing economic and cultural development of the Jewish communities in the Peninsula from one hand and the decline of the Jewish population in the Maghreb soon resulted in an invert process of influence. (pp.162-163.)
  • M. Beit-Arié, ‘Colophoned Hebrew Manuscripts Produced in Spain and the Distribution of the Localised Codices’, Signo 6 (1999) pp.161-178, [pdf]

The structure of the The Missal of Cardinal Angelo Acciaiuoli (1402-1405) Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum MS 30 offers an example in proof of Beit-Arié’s comment about Italian manuscripts (quoted above, under Quinions):

The codicological structure is highly regular. Most quires consist of five bifolios (quinions). The exceptions are quire 1 (six bifolios [a senion] common in Calendars), and quires 15 and 30, each comprising a single bifolio (fols. 131-132 and fols. 273-274 respectively).

One example of a senion in a late fifteenth-century German manuscript is provided by Codex Germanicus 6,  described as “a personal notebook, in Middle High German, dated to 1450. Codicologists have noted that  its “25th quire is very likely to have initially been a senion, but appears in the bound manuscript as a 7-bifolium quire” (p.128) – in other words, a septenion(!)

  • Ira Rabin, Oliver Hahn, and Mirjam Geissbühler, ‘Combining Codicology and X-Ray Spectrometry to Unveil the History of Production of Codex germanicus 6’ [pdf]

and – just by the way – Senions were the norm for Greek Manichaean manuscripts on parchment.

Septenion (A gathering made up of seven bifolios.)

Quire 20 is calculated as having been a septenion,*

* – a term so rarely seen that I almost despaired of finding it attested.

(details) recto/front and verso/back of folio 103 – the septenion

To separate sentences or verses with a  rosette is characteristic of Persian and Islamic works; the form of this  ‘star-flower’ I have not seen in any Islamic work and its purpose may be different. It  would appear to have significance, since these motifs in Quire 20 are not drawn uniform, but with variations in number of points and whether the centre is coloured.

update – June 22nd., 2021.  Septenions are sometimes found in western manuscripts. An interesting example from the first half of the fifteenth century is in a manuscript at Harvard – or at least that ms. was at Harvard in 1905. See: E. K. Rand, ‘A Harvard Manuscript of Ovid, Palladius and Tacitus’, The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 26, No. 3 (1905), pp. 291-329.


There are 11 foldouts of various sizes and configurations….

For the manuscript’s fold-outs, nothing comparable has been found in any Latin manuscript to date, not of the fifteenth century nor earlier. Concertina-fold books were characteristic of regions east (and north-east) of Arabia, attested in China from the Tang period (7th to 10thC )

  • e.g.  illustration in ‘A Chinese-Tibetan bilingual Buddhist manuscript‘, International Dunhuang Project (blogpost Nov. 20th., 2015).
  • Peter Francis Kornicki, The Book in Japan: A Cultural History from the Beginnings to the Nineteenth Century (Brill: 1998) p.43.

It might also be as well to recall  Sirat’s comment (quoted earlier), though it was made in a different context, because  Georg Baresch evidently believed the manuscript  a copy of matter which was – in some sense –  ancient and ‘Egyptian’.

Another possibility is that the fold-outs are copies to vellum of content from rolls or scrolls.

Glen Claston’s comment on Quire 13.

Some years ago, in commenting on the Voynich manuscript’s ‘Quire 13’ Glen Claston (Timothy Rahel) made some worthwhile observations.  His speaking of ‘Galenic’ medicine is of interest, given the content in the Sinai palimpsest.  Responding to a reader’s request,  Nick Pelling revisited that conversation. (24th March, 2016).

While I do not agree with  Claston’s use of  ‘medical’, ‘balneological’ etc. Claston was at least aware (as many newcomers are not) that use of Newbold’s terms was never meant to imply they were accepted as formal descriptions for the content itself, but were simply adopted as ‘tags’ to assist conversations in the first mailing list.

minor typos corrected 27th April 2019