Posted on 5 April 2015 by Anton Alipov

Last edited on 8 December 2018 by Anton Alipov

Categories: Art, History

To Crack the Spell: Further Considerations Upon Voynich f116v

An interesting thing about the Voynich Manuscript is that it defies decisive conclusions. Almost any time you are heading for a decisive conclusion, some aspect still does not fit, and you are left with something tentative and provisional only. This is true for this article as well, which tries to further develop considerations upon f116v – the famous “michiton” (or “anchiton”) page, containing (as Rene Zandbergen expresses it) “the famous lines of extraneous writing which have inspired many researchers of the Voynich MS”. This article does not provide any breakthrough in the VMS research, but rather sums up certain ideas that have been accumulating over time - to get them over to the reader.

In my earlier notes [1, 2] certain evidence towards the German context of the VMS has been discussed in regard to the “lab” section and to the line 0 of f116v. In this article, I take this assumption of the “German” context of the VMS as one of the two starting points of investigation. This means that I will try to narrow down my hypotheses through search of parallels with other German documents of the era and through giving priority to German language in an attempt to decipher (or, to be more precise, to transliterate – because mostly it is not Voynichese but plain text) certain other parts of f116v.

The second starting point would be a general assumption about the essenсe of the “main” body of f116v, by which I mean everything except the “lab” section (which is placed in the half-torn corner of the folio and may or may not have semantic relation to the main body).


1. What is the main body of f116v?

Figure 1 shows the text area of f116v.

Fig. 1. Text area of f116v (click here to open it in high resolution)

 

The observation by Dr. Stolfi that “the handwriting is irregular and not very readable” should be complemented by another important observation (expressed e.g. by Nick Pelling) that the writing:

a) has obviously faded out in some parts; and

b) is likely to have been emended in some parts (and who knows if those emendations did not distort the actual original writing).

This given, it is not to much surprise that the seemingly “plain” text (only two “words” in line 3 are apparent Voynichese) has been successfully withstanding any univocal transliteration through all these years. The proposed solutions and transliterations have been many, based on a number of assumptions (including anagramming, recipe, prayer, Spanish code, double translation, medieval charm etc.) and supposed languages [3 - 12].

What is common to most (if not all) attempts to read f116v, is that the starting point is the supposed transliteration, from which a certain hypothesis is then developed. For example, Gregor Damschen considers the transliteration of lines 1-2, and, based on that, makes a conclusion that this is a prayer to Virgin Mary [6]. In another example, Nick Pelling suggests the reading of the third word in line 0 as “Simon”, and, respectively, the question arises who that “Simon” may be [8]. And so on.

In contrast to that “bottom-up” approach, I take a “top-down” approach, which is to form a substantiated hypothesis about what f116v is on the whole, and only then, having thus narrowed the context, to try to transliterate portions of the folio.

The central part of the main body of f116v are lines 1-2, which characteristically contain words or expressions separated by the “cross” marks. It has long been noticed (see e.g. [10]) that this form of representation is met with in medieval manuscripts, where some short prayers, spells or “charms” are incorporated in such way, the “crosses” apparently serving the purpose of structuring the text for its better memorability and/or to instruct the reader at which places to cross himself. One example is a 15th century prayer-book, Codex Chart. 208, where we encounter those crosses from page one. So it is reasonable to throw in an initial hypothesis that the main body of f116v is dedicated to some prayer or spell, as David Jackson recently did [12].

Now, then, if lines 1-2 are a prayer/spell (for the sake of brevity let us use the term “spell” hereinafter), then what are lines 0 and 3, and does “so nim gas mich” fail to fit into the picture of a prayer indeed, as Elmar Vogt argued in his discussion with Damschen?

First of all, there is little doubt that line 3 does have semantic relation to lines 1-2, because it has the same spacing. On the contrary, line 0 is clearly separated from line 1, and here several possibilities exist:

a) line 0 does not relate to lines 1-3 at all. It is some later (or earlier, as D. Jackson argues [12]) standalone marginalium, unrelated to the spell, or perhaps it relates to the “lab” section instead;

b) line 0 is some “headline” for the spell. The increased spacing serves to underscore its role as the header;

c) line 0 is a regular part of the “spell” section. The increased spacing is just accidental.

Of these three, b) seems less likely to me, while c) is even less likely. First of all, the problem is that line 0 is extremely close to the edge of the folio. If we assume that it was written directly prior to lines 1-3, then anyone having a whole free folio before him would hardly begin his text from the very edge, barely fitting the letters such as “l” and “b”. Most probably this is a later (or, indeed, an earlier) addition. A yet more sound counter argument against b) and c) is that the leading portion of line 0 transliterates into “pox leber”, which is a typical medieval German expression, one of the so called “blasphemous swears” [2]. In this light, a phrase containing a blasphemous swear is unlikely to be directly related to the subsequent spell, because a spell in particular, and magic in general, is anything but vulgar.

For the sake of this investigation, we will neglect the probability of line 0 having relation to the spell, and will not consider it as part of the “spell block”. As noted above, we do not yet touch the question of whether the spell block on the whole does relate to the “lab” section or does not.

So, with the above assumptions, we have:

  • no “header” of the spell;
  • the spell itself (lines 1-2);
  • the “trailer” of the spell (line 3).

What would the natural contents of the “header” of the spell be? Probably, the text describing what is this spell for. As noted above, we do not have any header. So information about the purpose of the spell has to be contained elsewhere. For this “elsewhere” we have only two possible locations:

  • the spell itself;
  • the trailer.

What would the expected contents of the “trailer” of the spell be? Probably, information on how this spell is to be used or applied, perhaps also some limitations of the spell etc.

To sum up the hypotheses: f116v presents the reader with some spell (lines 1-2), with line 3 explaining the practical way in which this spell is to be used. The purpose of the spell is explained either in the spell itself or in line 3. This is the formulation of the second starting point of our investigation. Remember that the first one has been the German context. So let us now look at some confirming parallels in contemporary German literature.

 

2. Codex Sangallensis 754

In September 2014 the Abbey Library of St. Gallen, in Switzerland, made publicly available a digital copy of a medical manuscript written in German language and self-dated to 1466, which is known as “Codex Sangallensis 754”. There is nothing extremely sensational about this manuscript, but it was introduced into the VMS research discussion due to many contextual parallels to the VMS that it exhibits. A review of those parallels is presented in the article [13], and, according to Brian Cham, the credits for this finding go to Job (sorry that his surname is unknown to me) from the Voynich Query Processor project.

To make it clear, Cod. Sang. 754 is not considered as another possible work of the VMS author. It is just certain similarities and parallels that link it to the VMS, thus helping us to fit the Voynich Manuscript into a particular historical and cultural context.

For the purpose of our investigation, Cod. Sang. 754 is a good candidate: it is of German origin, it is of the same period, and it is presumably of the same professional area, at least in part, because it is a medical manuscript, and the VMS is generally considered to express some medical knowledge, among other areas, such as botany, astrology or geography.

Here we will be interested only in those parts of Cod. Sang. 754 that contain “spell blocks” similar to that of f116v. There are two such blocks in Cod. Sang. 754 – on page 80 and on page 162. Fortunately, Cod Sang. 754 is far not as irregular and unreadable as the VMS is, so with the help of http://woerterbuchnetz.de/ and Cappelli [14] it is quite decipherable. (I admit that I am not very fluent in German nor in Latin, so should I make any mistakes in my reading or translation, the corrections are only welcome).

Note that both spell blocks (p. 80 and p. 162) have the “three-part” structure that we indicated above: a header, a spell itself, and a trailer. As it turns out, in both cases we deal essentially with medical prescriptions, only the disease is to be cured not by medicine, but by a spell/prayer. Let us consider these prescriptions in more detail.

Both prescriptions have titles denoting what are they for (or, actually, against). The first one, on page 80, is entitled “fur die fallenden sucht”. The "fallenden sucht", as Stefan Guzy advised me recently, is just an expansion for "Fallsucht", i.e. epilepsy. What is important is the composition of the text block and the designation of its parts.

So, “fur die fallenden sucht” - it runs - “Schrib dissen brieff

Casper fert miram + Thus melchior + baltaser aurum + Et hec tria qui secum portaner (?) it (?) ut (?) nomina regum (?) soluit (?) amorbo (?) pietate canduco (?) + in nomine patris + et filii + Et spiritus sanctii +

Dissen brieff sol er tragen an dem hals und alle die wille er den brieff an dem hals treit so nim dert in den siech tagen ??? <this character closing the line I fail to interpret>".

We see that the header and the trailer are in German, the spell is in Latin. Translated into English this runs like this:

For epilepsy, write this writing:

Casper brings myrrh + Melhior – incense + Baltasar – gold + And those three who with them <the rest of the phrase I fail to interpret> + in the name of the Father + and the Son + and the Holy Spirit +

This writing shall be worn on the neck and as long as the writing is worn on the neck it reduces [the pain] on the sick days”. And with some undeciphered character this spell block ends.

We see that the structure of the block is as follows. The header tells us what is the spell against – it is against epilepsy, and also what is the form of the spell – it should be in writing. The trailer tells us how to apply the spell – one should bear the slip of paper (or whatever) with this spell on his neck on the sick days. (Without that, it would not work, sorry).

The spell itself refers us to Casper, Melhior and Baltasar which names have been assumed by St. Bede the Venerable for the three biblical Magi, whose supposed remains were later transferred to the German town of Cologne by Friedrich Barbarossa, and are still worshipped there. It is worth noting that the spell features abbreviations and one correction. Also note, by the way, that “so nim” fits into the picture without any problem. It encourages the reader to “take” or “use” it “there” - dert - (i.e. to/on her/his neck) “on the sick days”.

Here we see that the spell is to be applied in the form of amulet. Actually, this has been a widespread tradition among the peoples of the world, and still survives – e.g. in Arabic countries in the form of the so-called ta’wiz. In our days, you do not need to master a ta’wiz yourself, they are manufactured on industrial scale, and I am afraid that they convey no other spirit than the spirit of entrepreneurship. There is a number of videos on Youtube in which sheikhs explain in detail why ta’wiz is bad from the perspective of Islam.

The example on page 162 is of a slightly different kind. It is “fur den ritten”, which, as Stefan Guzy explained to me, is an old Southern German word for "fever". The author suggests to treat it in the following way:

Wer der ritten hab der trag die name bi im die hie nach geschriben stand unz an den vier den tag

+ Eugenius + Stefanus + prothasius + Et Sebastianus + dionisius + Thelasius + omiratus (?)

Und sprich den siben pater noster un siben ave maria zu der selben helgen ere die vier tag as hilfft”.

Which I manage to tentatively translate like this:

When you have fever, carry with you the names that are written hereinafter, for four days (?):

<the names of six saints and “Omiratus” follow, the latter is not on the catholic saints list – perhaps I interpret the name incorrectly>

And say seven “Pater Noster” with seven “Ave Maria” to the honour of these saints for four days, as helps.

In this example the header contains not only the name of the disease, but also the means to apply the spell, while the trailer provides additional instructions, which are required due to the complex nature of the proposed treatment.

To sum up the two examples:

  • the header contains the designation of the disease and may also contain some instructions;
  • the trailer contains instructions;
  • the spell is expressed in language different from the language of the main text (Latin vs. German);
  • the spell may contain corrections and particularly abbreviations;
  • the spell may contain, or even may heavily depend upon, proper nouns;
  • the semantics of the spell may be difficult to comprehend, it may appear a somewhat incoherent sequence of phrases. After all, this is a piece of magic… or is supposed to be. Moreover, there are other examples of “abracadabra”-type spells without any meaning [12].

Let us now return to f116v of the Voynich Manuscript with these observations at hand. Of course, one must be careful in attributiing the f116v “spell” to medicine. Until the “purpose” of the spell is discovered, there is not enough evidence to assert that this is a medical prescription. A valuable conclusion, though, is that it is likely to be a spell in principle, and that its framework and structure are thus likely to follow those accepted at the time.

 

3. What is the spell about?

In the above examples in Cod. Sang. 754, the purpose of the spell was explained in the “header”. But in the case of f116v we have no header for the spell. Since it is natural to announce the purpose before announcing the solution (and not after that), of the two possible locations of the purpose of the spell suggested in Section 1, the text of the spell itself (i.e. lines 1 and 2) seems to me a better alternative than the trailer (line 3). Furthermore, it is reasonable to expect the purpose of the spell being explained in the beginning of the spell, not in the end or in the middle thereof.

The beginning of line 1 is “anchiton (or michiton) oladabas”. Verbatim it does not make any sense, or, at least, no sense has yet been proven to exist in there. Not that it has no meaning at all, as sometimes suggested. For example, “michiton” means “beard” in Chippewa language – but that is not very promising, indeed. It also looks like a Greek proper noun, and, by the way, is mentioned in comments to Titus Livius – as a variant of Mictio, as far as I understand. But this takes us no further. The whole “anchiton oladabas” has a look of latinized Greek, something like “ανχι τον ολα δαβας”, but I doubt that “τον” is OK to precede “ολα” from the perspective of grammar, and I do not know who or what those “δαβας” may be. Probably no one knows.

Two natural assumptions are cipher and anagram. There are examples of ciphers in similar contexts, see e.g. https://voynichanalysis.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/a-reference-similar-to-f116v/#comment-181 (although the cipher here is in the header, not in the spell itself).

Decrypting this potential cipher or anagram is difficult due to the general uncertainty about the language in which lines 1 and 2 are written. In fact, it looks like each cross segment may be written in its own language. Supposing a Latin anagram, “contra” is out of question (because the letter “r” is absent), so most probably the expression would contain such prepositions as “ab” or “ad”. I have spent some time trying to resolve a valid Latin anagram from “an(mi)chiton oladabas”, but to no avail.

Of course, we must not exclude variants where “anchiton oladabas” does not convey the name of the disease and, as already noted, where the spell is not medical at all. Some reasonable assumptions for “anchiton oladabas” (whether plain text, enciphered or anagrammed) would be:

  • name of some person, whether real or mythical, or of a deity of some kind;
  • title of the book (i.e. of the VMS itself);
  • no meaning at all (“abracadabra style”).

Personally, I like the anagram of “alchimia botandos” (Greek for “alchemy of herbs”) most – it would have been an appropriate title for the VMS. But – alas – “botandos” is not without a flaw, I think that the letter “d” is quite out of place here.

 

4. German and Voynichese in the context of f116v

Line 3 of f116v ends with a strange “o” with a dotted vertical above it. Several hypotheses have been proposed for that over time, including a picture of a stone, a correction of “a” in “+ ma +” (line 2), and a parchment impairment. With the high-quality scans available now from the Beinecke library, one can safely dismiss the parchment impairment, but the other explanations do not look very convincing neither. If it be the letter (specifically, the letter “o”, because its shape is very clear), then the standalone letter in the end of the sentence is also very unusual (except for something like “Green grow the rashes O…”, but that is not applicable, I suppose).

This “o” must for sure fit in any accomplished reading of f116v, but unfortunately I do not have any ready idea about it. On the contrary, the preceding phrase, which looks strikingly German and runs:

so nim/rim gas mich

temptingly suggests quite reasonable interpretations. It is not 100% clear whether the second word is “nim” or “rim”, but both variants make sense in the context that we are discussing. “So nim gas mich” means “so take me quickly” or “take me quickly in this way”. The other possible reading, “so rim gas mich”, would mean “so rhyme me quickly” or “rhyme me quickly in this way”. If we recall that, according to our hypothesis, lines 2-3 represent a spell, then “so take/rhyme me quickly” would designate the instruction to use the spell in some “way” that is described in the preceding part of line 3, or just a general suggestion to use the preceding spell (like “here you have the spell, so rhyme it quickly and see what happens”).

Here let us pause and make another observation. Not only many characters are uncertain in f116v (there is still no consensus even on whether it is “anchiton” or “michiton”) – which can be partly attributed to the fading and emendation – but the spacing is also uncertain. If we have a close look at “gas mich”, we will see that it is actually not “gas mich”, but “gasmich”. The leftmost ascender of the “m” (partly faded out with time) has no distinct space between itself and the preceding “s” (Fig. 2). “Gasmich” makes no sense in German. The same thing, by the way, is true for the marginalia in f17r, where “mallier” is not promising: a postal horse in French, a French surname – all that looks irrelevant. But if it be “mal lier” instead of “mallier”, then “mal lier aller luz heu…” in German is a phrase where each word is at least not meaningless.

Fig. 2. A closer look at "gas mich"

 

This careless manner of spacing would not be surprising for a regular piece of text (and indeed it is often met with in manuscripts), because the scribe wants to fit more text into the fixed area of the folio. If the reader knows the language, then it is not difficult for him to discern spaces between words. (The same is true for Voynichese, where spacing is often uncertain for us who do not know the “language”). However, for f116v this is strange, because the scribe had a small amount of text to put down and was not limited in the available area. One should expect clear and distinct writing here. Instead we have uncertain characters, uncertain spacing, two possible corrections in only four lines of text, let alone the uncertain language (at least in lines 1 and 2). So if we stand for “gas mich” instead of “gasmich”, we should provide an explanation of this strange appearance. Some apparent explanations would be:

a) the scribe was lame;

b) the inscription was made in inappropriate circumstances (in the night, during a drive, in a hurry etc.);

c) the inscription is not original, but a copy from the source, the language of which was unknown to the scribe.

The option c) is a very intriguing one. It explains almost every point. Suppose you encounter some inscription in a language unknown to you (e.g. Arabic), and you believe it to be of great importance. So you decide to copy it. So far that neither words nor even individual letters are familiar to you, you would copy it in the same way as you would copy a drawing. In this, you are likely to introduce uncertainty, mistakes, uneven spacing and all sorts of confusion, so that even a native Arabic speaker will later have difficulties in interpreting your copy. Furthermore, if the original text contains corrections (the meaning of which you are not able to interpret, and thus you try to copy them as they are), they will probably look quite embarrassing in your copy.

This explanation undermines our core assumption of the German-aware scribe. So, in turn, German colour codes, f17r and some other (like “lab” in f116v) marginalia need then to be explained in a different way. But the main counter argument against option c) is that there are two Voynichese words in the beginning of line 3, and, without any doubt, they constitute an integral part of that line. It is unlikely that one would wind words that he does know into the text that he does not understand. One might argue that the Voynichese words are also copied; but developing the discourse in this way will bring us to the inevitable conclusion that the whole VMS with all its marginalia and colour codes (some of which are painted over) is a copy, which is somewhat overcomplicated.

So the strange “careless” appearance of f116v still lacks a decisive explanation. However, this does not prevent us from considering elements of the spell block as if one of the proposed explanations were valid. This mainly means that we should be careful about spacing – there could be actual spaces where we do not assume them, and, vice versa, a space that we do assume might be not a space but just an increased interval between letters of the same word. For example, in line 3, one should consider a possibility of “val den” instead of “valden”, in line 1 – a possibility of “anchi ton” instead of “anchiton”, and so forth.

Let us now consider the Voynichese part of f116v in the light of our “spell block” hypothesis. Supposing that “Voynichese” is some sort of “encryption” (and not an unknown writing system or language), an immediate question arises: why only part of the spell block is encrypted.

The unencrypted appearance of line 0 can be explained just by that it might not refer to the spell at all, which (as we noted in Section 1 above) is quite probable.

The unencrypted appearance of lines 1 and 2 can be explained by that they represent the actual spell, which is valid only when conveyed verbatim. E.g., it is important to convey the original phonetics without distortion. Or, if it is to be applied in written form, it should be used strictly as it is.

Another interesting possibility for lines 1 and 2 is that “Voynichese” might be applicable to encryption of only a certain language. Suppose “Voynichese” is applicable only to German, while lines 1 and 2 are in Latin. Then those simply cannot be encrypted and are forced to be left in clear text.

The unencrypted appearance of two thirds of line 3 is most puzzling. Note that the puzzling part is not why “aror.sheey” is encrypted, but why “so rim gas mich” is not encrypted. Why not encrypt the whole line?

Suppose the nature of “Voynichese” is that a text can be encrypted on-the-fly. Then the scribe would just encrypt the whole line, which is not the case.

Suppose, on the other hand, that the nature of “Voynichese” is that a text cannot be encrypted on-the-fly; in other words, one needs some sort of encryption device or code book to enable the process. And while putting down the “spell block” the scribe did not have that at hand. But then he would not be able to encrypt anything at all, which again is not the case.

One possible explanation is thus: a text generally cannot be encrypted into “Voynichese” on-the-fly. So, due to the absence of the encrypting device (or code book, or whatever) the scribe is not able to encrypt the whole line 3. At the same time, the scribe remembers some common and frequent words in “Voynichese”, so he readily “translates” the German (or whatever the underlay language is) beginning of line 3 into them. This also would mean that:

  • “Voynichese” is a “one-to-one” transform, i.e. each word of the underlay language is always mapped to the same word in “Voynichese”;
  • there is no “key” to the cipher in the VMS itself, unless “Voynichese” is something asymmetric (in which case the VMS could contain the decryption mechanism without containg the encryption mechanism). Otherwise it would have been easy to encrypt the whole line 3.

For the sake of the below discussion, let us call this assumption the “familiarity hypothesis”.

To verify this assumption, let us check if Voynichese aror and sheey are frequent throughout the VMS, so that the scribe would be likely to remember them by heart. According to http://www.voynichese.com, aror appears only 20 times with only 6 exact matches, and sheey appears 200 times with 144 exact matches (we cannot totally dismiss inexact matches, because they can be word forms). While sheey is “so-so” (daiin, the most frequent word in the VMS, appears 1393 times with 864 exact matches), aror is a clear outsider. So the “familiarity hypothesis”, unfortunately, does not look valid in this light.

Another explanation is irrelevant to the “on-the-fly” aspect and assumes that the author encrypted only the most important part of the spell block, for whatever reason. For example, translation from German to Voynichese might have been a very tedious process, so the scribe was lazy to encrypt the whole line. Let us call this assumption the “tediousness hypothesis”.

What would be the most important portion of line 3? Surely, the most informative/specific one. Recall that we expect line 3 to contain instructions on how to use the spell. Recall also that we have not yet confidently located the purpose of the spell. So the possibilities are:

  • quantitative characteristic, like “three times” or “seven days”;
  • qualitative modus operandi, like “wear on the neck”;
  • name of the disease, like “against delirium tremens”.

The exact word form aror appears only in the “balneological” and “recipe” sections. The exact word form sheey is distributed more evenly (appearing as early as in f2r), although with a clear shift towards the balneological and recipe sections too. But in no case, except for f104r and f116v, is aror followed by sheey.

We should not dismiss the possibility that aror is something composite, for example a two-digit numeral. Note that ar has 352 exact matches and or has 366 exact matches. However, arar has only 7 exact matches, oror – 5 exact matches, and orar – 10 exact matches, all those not earlier than f58v (the supposed arar in f31v looks rather like “ar.ar” to me; again, due to the uncertain spacing it is not clear whether e.g. “ar.ar” is meant to be the same as “arar” etc.). Within the framework of the “numeral” assumption, aror would most probably mean something beyond 10, because Roman digits would not yield such low frequency of composites. However, large numbers are less likely to be used with spells. (If you need to cast the spell too many times, then you begin to doubt its effectiveness, you know).

Interestingly, the “two-digit numeral" hypothesis allows us to revive our previous “familiarity hypothesis”: ar and or are both frequent words, and constructing, e.g., “13” from “1” and “3” is trivial. Although that still does not explain why the remaining portion of line 3 is not encrypted (even if Voynichese encryption is not applicable to German, then why not express line 3 in a language to which Voynichese is applicable, and encrypt it?)

Supposing that digits are encoded with two-character sequences beginning with a or o, the famous “ior.an.on” in the leaf in f2r is another object to consider. Apart from the evident assumption of a color code, this inscription may hypothetically inform us of the year in which the VMS was made.

I admit that all the above considerations in favour of the “numeral hypothesis” are quite speculative and were not put under a broader check. One good test would be a frequency analysis of digits and numerals in 15th century manuscripts.

Anyway, this “aror.sheey” in the beginning of otherwise unencrypted line 3 certainly deserves serious attention.

 

5. Transliteration attempts

I would not undertake yet another attempt to transliterate lines 1 and 2 – the major reason for that is that I do not expect anything except “anchiton oladabas” to contain any interesting information. If we agree that this is a spell, then whatever words it is composed of, it is ultimately nothing more than a spell.

In line 3, between the Voynichese “aror.sheey” and quite meaningful “so nim/rim gas mich” we have that enigmatic (and not unambiguous) “valden ubren”. I believe that transliteration and interpretation of this portion of line 3 will be most effective if we link it with the particular supposed meaning of “aror.sheey”. If “aror.sheey” is modus operandi, then there is one subset of possibilities for “valden ubren”. If “aror.sheey” is the name of the disease, then there is another. And so on. But even with this approach, the variants are too many.

For example, “ubren” might be literally “ubren” – but this word is not found in MHD dictionaries. It might be “uhren” (“hours” or “clock”, “watch”) with its “h” later erroneously emended into “b” – however, this is not very likely, because of the absense of any trace of the characteristic descender (compare with “h” in “anchiton”).

Assuming a space in between, it might be “ub ren”. Here “ren” might stand for “coagulum” (which would be a nice correlation with the “lab” section of f116v) – see Lexer [15], or it might stand for “kidney” (which is also not bad in the medical context) – see Meyers [16]. “Ub” means “effort” – see Rheinisches Worterbuch [17] or, alternatively but of the same base, it is a conjugation of “üben” (“to practice”, “to cultivate”). In modern German, “üb” is the singular second person imperative of “üben”. So the meaning of “ub ren” might be “use coagulum!”

Moreover, it is not certain whether the last letter is “n” or “z”. With “z”, “ren” turns into “rez” which in Luxembourgish dialect would mean “tempting/appealing”, “water-retting of cannabis” or “edge of the wood” – see [18].

Valden” is less ambiguous, at least if we do not assume spaces within. It is not certain whether the first letter is “p” or “v”, as well as whether the fourth one is an “s” or a slightly distorted “d”. Note that we do not have a clear reference for “d” elsewhere in f116v; the character in “oladabas” might be not a “d”, but a capital “S” resulting in “ola Sabas” (St. Sabas?). As for “s”, the 8-shaped “s” is not characteristic for the middle of a word. So my preference is for “d”.

Search for “palden” or “pald” yields nothing. The meaningful options are:

  • valden” which means “folds”, “wrinkles” or “to fold”;
  • a conjugation (past imperfect, I suppose) of “vellen” (“to drop”).

If we do assume spaces within “valden”, then possibilities multiply. Supposing a space before “en”, the best match for the fourth letter would then be “s” (because it would be in the end of the word). “Vals” means “falsehood”, “fraud”, “fraudulent person”. “En” is a function word and can have different translations depending on context: e.g. “in”.

Supposing a space after “l”, “val” means “pale”, “discoloured” or “yellow”, “blonde”; while “den” is a function word.

An interesting reading is “8en” instead of “den”, which could then stand for abbreviated “achten” (“eighth”, like English “8th”). However, I do not know if such abbreviations were already used in 15th century, and I consider this variant unlikely.

To make something of all this taken together, an input from an expert in FNHD grammar would be most useful. In this, one should not forget that “valden ubren” appears not as a standalone phrase, but rather a continuation of the enciphered “aror.sheey”.

With my limited knowledge of German, I would not undertake to announce any decisive translation. Is this all about “false watch”, were Swiss watches being faked as early as 15th century? Or the talk is about clepsydra? Or about a folded watch? Does the author encourage us to use coagulum, probably revealing some secrets of making cheese? Maybe we will know one day.

 

6. Conclusions

We started with a reasonable hypothesis that lines 1 and 2 of f116v contain a spell of some kind, continued with a trailer in German language (line 3) containing information related to the spell.

The purpose of the spell may be contained in the spell itself, in enciphered or anagrammed form, or it may be explained in line 3. The instructions on how to use the spell may be contained in line 3.

The Voynichese part of line 3 is likely to contain most informative part of the instructions, such as modus operandi or the purpose of the spell.

The ending of line 3 presents a German phrase “so nim/rim gas mich”, suggesting the reader to rhyme (rim) the spell quickly or to use, or, literally, to take (nim) it without delay in some way described in the preceding part of line 3. The preceding part of line 3, being partly Voynichese, partly unintelligible, withstands interpretation attempts. Possible options include a reference to coagulum (ren) which is a product of a rennet-bag (lab) depicted in the upper left corner of f116v, a reference to hours, watch or clock (uhren), a reference to the process of dropping or folding (valden).

Any interpretation of the first half of line 3 should provide for the relevance of its second half – the “so nim/rim gas mich” recommendation. In other words, the first half of line 3 should describe the particular way to use the spell and/or the reason for that use.

In analysis of f116v, particular attention should be paid to the following aspects:

  • strangely “careless” manner of writing and uncertain spacing;
  • clear text appearance of the ending of line 3;
  • the “o”-shaped character with a vertical dotted line in the end of line 3.

Some explanations have been proposed above, but they are not completely satisfactory.

Input from experts in MHD/FNHD is crucial for the successful decipherment of f116v.

***

It looks like the best way to approach f116v is plain brute force. The wide VMS research community could try applying the spell in all possible variations and by all possible methods and look if anything happens. Any positive result will at once indicate the correct decipherment of "aror.sheey" and "valden ubren", which, in turn, will pave the way for the complete decipherment of the VMS, let alone it will decide between "anchiton" and "michiton" at last. Beside that, our understanding of the spell might greatly assist humanity from the practical point of view. What if it helps to become young again or, at least, to attract wealth? So if you succeed, please let me know. I am not a rich man, nor a particularly young one.

 

Note of December 2018: I would like to thank Stefan Guzy who provided some corrections in respect of my far-from-ideal understanding of old German handwriting and wording. These corrections have now been incorporated into the text of the article.

 

References:

1. A. Alipov. The Bulbous Object Identified: A Short Note Upon Voynich f116v. - Mar. 27, 2014.

2. A. Alipov. God's Thingum: On Voynich f116v, Line 0. - Mar. 15, 2015.

3. J.Stolfi. Attempts to unscramble the anagrams on page f116v. - Nov. 20, 1998.

4. http://www.voynich.nu/q20/f116v_tr.txt. - Dec. 4, 1998.

5. S.B. Palmer. Notes on f116v's Michitonese. - Dec. 2004.

6. G. Damschen. The "key" f116v.1-2: a Latin Prayer to Virgin Mary. - Sep. 5, 2005.

7. E. Sherwood. The Voynich Manuscript Decoded?

8. N. Pelling. Por le bon Simon Sint… what? - June 23, 2009.

9. N. Pelling. Esther Molen’s Voynich Manuscript f116v theory… - Feb. 03, 2012.

10. J.K. Petersen. The Voynich Last Page Text. - July 31, 2013.

11. D. Jackson. Decrypting the Michtonese on f116r. - Feb. 18, 2015.

12. D. Jackson. A comparison of f116v with medieval charms. - Feb. 27, 2015.

13. B. Cham. Cod. Sang. 754 And the Voynich Manuscript. - Dec. 23, 2014.

14. A. Cappelli. Lexicon Abbreviaturarum. - 2. verb. Aufl. - Leipzig, 1928.

15. Matthias Lexer: Mittelhochdeutsches Handwörterbuch. 3 Bde. Leipzig 1872-1878.

16. Meyers Großes Konversationslexikon. Ein Nachschlagewerk des allgemeinen Wissens. Sechste, gänzlich neubearbeitete und vermehrte Auflage. Leipzig und Wien 1905-1909.

17. Rheinisches Wörterbuch. Bearb. und hrsg. von Josef Müller, ab Bd. VII von Karl Meisen, Heinrich Dittmaier und Matthias Zender. 9 Bde. Bonn und Berlin 1928-1971.

18. Wörterbuch der luxemburgischen Mundart. Luxemburg 1906.

All images are taken from the Beinecke Library website and cropped as appropriate.

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View/add comments


  1. Brian Cham · 5 April 2015, 01:58 · URL

    Job doesn’t release his surname.
    From what I’ve seen of some people’s handwriting in everyday life, I don’t think the careless writing and incorrect strokes and spaces are anything out of the ordinary…
    If it’s ciphered, I prefer the tediousness hypothesis. Though I must say that around this point the article does ramble and wander into speculative tangents.
    “The wide VMS research community could try applying the spell in all possible variations and by all possible methods and look if anything happens.” – Would we also need to contract every possible disease beforehand to see which one is cured? ;)

  2. Anton Alipov · 5 April 2015, 02:51 · URL

    The problem is with that inherent contradiction:

    If you are able to encipher on-the-fly, then you may be careless indeed with your plain text. But then why won’t you encipher the whole line?

    On the other hand, if you are not able to encipher on-the-fly and hence you put special effort into enciphering aror.sheey, then it’s hard to believe that as early as in the next (or at least in the second-to-next) word you will be so careless as to completely neglect spacing.

    No, there’s something weird about all this. Maybe “valden ubren” is not plain German at all. In any case, input from MHD experts is definitely most needed.

  3. Diane · 5 April 2015, 09:51 · URL

    I’d like to read about any other possibilities which you considered, but after some careful examination, rejected. Even within your all-European German thesis.

    I think it would add greater weight to your arguments if there were more perspective offered; it would prevent readers from thinking that – as you began by assuming a Latin context and within it already held a German hypothesis – your argument is self-referential but less than conclusive. In earlier years we saw something similar happen, when those positing the old idea that use of cloud-band pattern proved German origin. The argument was only tenable because it never looked beyond the limits of its various authors’ initial thesis of Latin European (subset German) provenance.

  4. Brian Cham · 5 April 2015, 11:35 · URL

    I see what you mean.
    Yes it’s all weird. My article about René Zandbergen may have been a joke but the comparison to Hydra heads is true, every time we think we have addressed an issue in this confounded book, we are presented with multiple in its place!

  5. Anton Alipov · 5 April 2015, 16:08 · URL

    Diane:

    I see what you mean, but I’m afraid you understand my approach slightly in the wrong way.

    From the very beginning I state that the two assumptions – the “German” context and the “spell” context are hypotheses, not assertions. For the purpose of this article, I started from these, as I do consider them likely (not quite unreasonably). This, however, does not mean that one may not start from some other assumptions.

    I am more than unwilling to defend any speculations, and if I throw in any speculative suggestions (as Brian correctly noted above), this is because I consider those aspects worth of deeper investigation, not because I believe them to be necessarily true.

    I noted elsewhere (was it in Mr. Pelling’s blog?) that the “German” hypothesis (as I understand it) is something vague and its major point is that the scribe was German language-aware and had some reason to express some of his writings in German. That does not necessarily mean that he was a German (and, besides, what is “German” in 15th century Europe?) or that the VMS was written in “Germany” (which is, again, quite vague expression for the era in question).

    Self-reference is not as bad as you may think. There are things which are completely self-referential. Geometry, for example. The point is whether, through the way of “self-reference”, we do arrive at irresolvable contradictions (either with ourselves or with the external practice) or we do not.

  6. David Jackson · 6 April 2015, 16:26 · URL

    Anton: A fascinating article.
    I would point out another possibility for the inclusion of the Voynichese: the writer of f116r simply assumed he knew what “oror sheery” meant and included it into his spell. He didn’t necessarily know what it meant any more than we do :)

    I personally feel that this isn’t a spell recipe, but voce magica in action. The spell we are looking at isn’t designed to be transmitted, it’s actually being used here. Which explains the lack of clear instructions, the scribe knew what he was trying to do.

    I had a nice example of an Occitan spell from Cambridge MS R. 14.30, f. 146r for fevers which instructs the caster to write the line “ on lona onu oni one +onu onus oni one onus” on parchment and hang around their neck. It’s the sort of nonsense “voce magica” we are seeing on this page.

  7. Anton Alipov · 6 April 2015, 21:29 · URL

    David:

    I don’t think that “aror.sheey” is the part of the spell, because there was plenty of space in the right portion of line 2 to accommodate it, yet the scribe preferred to start a new line (line 3).

    If this is not spell as a “recipe”, but spell “in action” (which is of course a valid possibility), this is worse from the perspective of the further research. Actually what would be of practical value in the whole f116v is to evaluate the semantic relation of “aror.sheey” to the following plain text, and through this way to build some guesses about what those “aror” and “sheey” may be. If one ever succeeds in this, this would show what a fatal flaw it was for the scribe to encipher (or translate) only part of the whole line 3.

    If lines 1-3 are a “recipe”, then there are relatively few possibilities for “aror.sheey” (I listed in the article those which occur to me). But if this is not a “recipe”, then “aror.sheey” could be virtually anything, and further analysis of f116 would not help us in any way in deciphering the VMS as a whole.

    By the way, after I wrote this article, it occurred to me that the first word of line 1 may be neither “anchiton”, nor “michiton”, but “nichiton” (supposing somewhat “ornate” ascender of the leading letter). “Nichiton” was the historic name of Frangokastello, as Flaminio Cornelio suggests in his book “Creta Sacra”. Don’t know if it’s the real case, but at least it is not as hopeless as the Chippewa beard or the Greek leader of the Roman era.


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