Home > f49v, Features, gallows > Ink density and glyph order

Ink density and glyph order

When using an ink pot and an old fashioned nib, one has to dip the nib in to the pot from time to time to replenish the ink. When the nib has just been dipped, the first few letters or so written often have more ink to them, as there is plenty on the nib.

If one were writing a string of identical letters, the frequency at which one has to re-dip the nib as it runs out of ink should be approximately constant. For example, if I’m writing “ooooooooooooo” then perhaps the nib holds enough ink for 5 “o”s before it needs replenishment. Then the appearance on the paper might be:

ooooooooooooooo

and so on.

On most folios of the VMs it’s apparent that some of the glyphs have been inked more heavily than others. Some possible explanations are:

  1. the nib has been refilled with ink just prior to these glyphs being written
  2. these glyphs have been re-inked for some reason
  3. these glyphs have been written at a different time with a different nib or ink or both

Here is a nice example of this feature

f49v

If the glyphs we see were written from the top down, from left to right, then the heavily inked glyphs are not spaced apart in the way expected by possibility 1 above.

One conclusion is that the glyphs we see were not written top down left to right, but in some other order.

Also, the glyphs that tend to be heavily inked are a subset of all the glyphs. “8” is very commonly heavily inked, but not always, even on the same folio. One of the gallows glyphs is also often heavily inked, but only on one side. Another is GC “1” and the downstroke on GC “y”.

(An interesting feature on this folio is the compound gallows that appears to have been constructed by first writing the standard gallows, then adding a line between each “c” that straddles it. Or perhaps the “c”s were written first, then the gallows was written and the “c”s joined later?)

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Categories: f49v, Features, gallows Tags: , ,
  1. January 15, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    A few thoughts – some about unexamined premises (a bit of a bugbear in Voynich studies) – others about the scribe’s environment.

    First – you seem to assume that the scribe was at liberty to fill the quill/pen (whatever) whenever he wished. Is this necessarily so?

    The combination of regularity, apparent fluency in transcription, and the comfort in using extremely small characters altogether seems to weigh in favour of a person who had been apprenticed to learn the scribal arts. (Compare, for example, the dreadful scrawl of Tafur, a nobleman, with the fair-ish hand of Canal, in his Zibaldone, with the formally-trained work of official and religious scribes.)

    So, by the model we have of scribal ‘schools’ both east and west, it is just as likely that the scribe had been trained to replenish the instrument’s ‘well’ of ink at certain junctures, or at certain times. For example, at the end of a word rather than half-way through it (standard penmanship rule). Or, if we consider the model of the Jewish religious scribal schools, where the teacher dictated a text letter by letter (not rarely to illiterate copyists, who tend to make fewer mistakes by pre-empting the teacher), so the teacher would time the refills. You wouldn’t want letters omitted because the scribes were each out-of-scynch, and missing letters because they’d been busy with their pens – which aren’t just dipped, but carefully wiped.

    Also to avoid confusion, there might be a rule that you only renewed the ink before a certain kind of letter – one which couldn’t be mistaken for another, even if it had a bit of a blob. The way the ‘o’ can’t be mistaken for the ‘B’ – so either might be ok for a new load of ink.

    Or it might work the other way – the pattern might be co-incidental with the amount of breath the person dictating might have.

    And those are just some of the alternative explanations if it’s assumed that the work was written to dictation, by a trained scribe.

    Better you than me when it comes to the written text.

    PS Is it possible to assign a colour to each glyph-as-we-know-it and print a ‘Voynich carpet page’? It would be such a cool desktop image.

    • JB
      January 16, 2013 at 9:11 am

      Thanks for this – I am now better educated about ancient pen/quill procedures!

      • January 16, 2013 at 2:53 pm

        Oh dear – I was just musing on the incredible amount of research needed to work on questions arising from the written part of this text. Didn’t mean to deliver a lecture – very bad habit of mine, sorry. I know that I wouldn’t dream of working on that side of it, and admire the efforts of those who do. Talk about a glass mountain!
        D.

  2. JB
    January 16, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Diane :

    Oh dear – I was just musing on the incredible amount of research needed to work on questions arising from the written part of this text. Didn’t mean to deliver a lecture – very bad habit of mine, sorry. I know that I wouldn’t dream of working on that side of it, and admire the efforts of those who do. Talk about a glass mountain!
    D.

    Not at all – my comment was not at all sarcastic: I appreciate you having written down that information.

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