Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Are the Glyphs placed in specific folio locations?

June 6, 2016 15 comments

Based on a lot of circumstantial evidence related to the weirdness of the Voynich text (such as the odd repeating words, the curious faintness and boldness of some glyphs, and the sometimes curious positioning of text words and lines), it appears that the folios were perhaps not written Left to Right (or Right to Left) and Top to Bottom.

Instead, suppose the scribe started each folio with a prescription: for example “put an h-Gallows at the top left, then put a c in the middle of the folio, then a 9 at the end of the last line”, and so on. This would be sort of like filling out the answers to a bizarre crossword puzzle.

If there was such a prescription, might it explain some of the Voynich text features?

In the following selected charts I’m showing a virtual folio from the Recipes section. Each chart has lines and columns. Line 1 position 1 is the top left of the folio. Let’s look at the chart folio for Glyph “o”:


Each disc indicates that the “o” appears at least twice in that location in the Recipes. The size of the disc indicates how many times it appears there: the bigger the disc, the more times it appeared. The random appearance of the chart suggests that “o” is not placed on the page in any particular pattern.

Let’s now look at the “s” glyph:


Here it is clear that this glyph vastly prefers the first column, but not the first line. It is infrequently found elsewhere on the folio. In contrast, take a look at the rare glyphs (I just call them “?”):


These abhor the early columns, and love the ends of the lines. They also seem to prefer the ends of the first lines (notice a little cluster there). Perhaps they hate the “s” glyphs…

The “4” glyph:


The gap after the first column is explained by how “4” only appears at the start of a word.

Here are some more glyphs:



No conclusions here, as usual!

Addendum: the distribution for “c”:




How was the Voynich Manuscript text written?

August 23, 2012 7 comments

I’ve spent many happy hours poring over the text, and am convinced that it is not as “simple” as it appears (i.e. the “words” are not words at all). Here are some conjectures:

  1. The lines look like they are written left to right i.e. the glyphs were written down from left to right, but were not.
  2. The scribe started with the drawing and started writing glyphs at various positions on the page.
  3. The method used for choosing each glyph and for deciding its position involved a mechanical apparatus, perhaps a set of co-rotating cipher wheels that were used to convert each character in the Latin plaintext into a VMs glyph and page position
  4. The apparatus is set to a new starting position for each folio/page (so e.g. Bettony labels on the three folios the plant appears on are different)
  5.  The density of ink is a clue to the order in which the glyphs were written (nib/quill freshly dipped and full of ink, or almost dry)
  6. At some point the scribe finishes writing the needed glyphs, and then fills out the spaces with pseudo-random words.
  7. There is no punctuation because what is seen are not words. What is seen makes no grammatical sense because the glyphs are not ordered and positioned linearly across the page.
  8. Perhaps the secret to unwinding the cipher is in the labels. The labels on one page are constrained to have been produced by the same initial position of the cipher apparatus, and they must come from the plaintext label.

There are so many clues as to what is going on, yet putting them all together is hugely challenging

For example, Jim Reeds suggested years ago that the order in which the text had been written on the sunflower page, f33v:


was first the text to the left of the left stalk, second the text in between the stalks, and finally the text to the right of the last stalk. This is compelling, since the ink density looks different, and the lines don’t line up well across the stalks. It becomes clearer if you saturate the image:

f33v Saturated

And in that image, what jumps out are the glyphs that are darker than the others. Those can be seen more clearly in black/white:

f33v monochrome drop

where the “o”, “y”, “8”, “e” stick out like sore thumbs. Most of those are in the left section, some in the middle, and fewer in the right. Why are these glyphs bolder, why are they inked more heavily? Were these the glyphs initially placed on the page, and contain the real information, and the rest, unimportant and pseudo-random, were all added later to make the text look “normal”?

Categories: 8, ay, Characters, e, f33v, Features, Jim Reeds, Latin, o, oy, Theories, Writing, y Tags: , ,

Copy and Conversion Errors

May 23, 2012 3 comments

Here is a piece of Greek from the Vienna Dioscurides.

Greek from the Vienna Dioscurides

Take the second line of text: we can make a simple substitution cipher to convert the Greek characters to Voynich glyphs:

One line glyph conversion

Now suppose there is a second step, where the Voynich glyphs are re-arranged into “words” according to some rules, and are then written into the manuscript.

So where am I going with this? Depending on how easily the original Greek characters are read (e.g. some lines are faint), and whether the characters are recognised correctly, would change the choice of which Voynich glyph to use. If a very old manuscript was being enciphered, this would probably be the case. Besides which, the mapping between a Greek character and a Voynich glyph might change depending on e.g. a table of equivalent characters/glyphs, or a choice of substitution cipher.

Thus if a) the original text is in a language unfamiliar to the scribe, and/or b) the original text is indistinct or otherwise hard to read, then the process of converting it to ciphertext causes errors. The same Greek letters might end up being enciphered differently depending on their readability.

Categories: Greek, Writing