|The Voynich MS "map".|
(Click on images for larger views.)
"The Voynich Manuscript isn’t a beautiful book; in fact, it’s crude and cheaply done. It’s traditionally divided into four sections - herbal, astrological, balneological (pertaining to baths), and pharmacological - not for what those sections are but for what analysts, grasping for understanding, think they resemble. The symbols arranged in prosaic lines look like language, though the significance of the “Voynichese,” as it’s called, has never been established. And the illustrations don’t illuminate the mystery; they only throw further shadows on the darkness.
The long herbal section, our first indication that something is off, comprises colorful drawings of what look like uprooted plants alongside paragraphs of text. There’s something unsettling about the drawings; it’s almost like a catalogue of extinct species. Hairy bulbs sprout rust-red tubers and yellow pods. Colorless flowers perch on leaves with spikes like Venus flytraps. A creature, a mix between a dragon and a sea horse, suckles on a speckled leaf. Some of the bulbs have faces.
... Many critics believe that it is a hoax. It’s probably the most persuasive theory, as everything in the book conveniently falls under the umbrella of “total nonsense.” While the European Middle Ages are often perceived as an austere and circumscribed culture, the Voynich Manuscript was conceived by a liberated imagination. There’s a genuine joy communicated through the details, like a monk doodling racy cartoons in the margins of a scholastic text. It could very well have been composed as an elaborate lampoon of medieval knowledge, and it’s amusing to imagine that we’re still falling for the trick."
- Excerpts from a article by Michael LaPointe via The Paris Review (2016): The Pleasures of Incomprehensibility. Inset right is the Voynich MS folio mentioned in the quote featuring the weird little dragon/sea-horse creature.
"The top righthand corner of each recto (righthand) page has been numbered from 1 to 116, using numerals of a later date. From the various numbering gaps in the quires and pages, it seems likely that in the past the manuscript had at least 272 pages in 20 quires, some of which were already missing when Wilfrid Voynich acquired the manuscript in 1912. There is strong evidence that many of the book's bifolios were reordered at various points in its history, and that the original page order may well have been quite different from what it is today.
...the colored paint was applied (somewhat crudely) to the figures, possibly at a later date.
...Five folios contain only text, and at least 28 folios are missing from the manuscript."
- From the Wiki entry for Voynich manuscript. Inset right is the rondel located in the upper right-hand corner of the Voynich map. It seems to describe a fortified castle overlooking a bay (with exaggerated ocean waves) in an easterly direction.
***Apart from the indecipherable script, what is it about the Voynich manuscript that defies all attempts at definition?
Actually, let me re-phrase that: is there anything about the Voynich MS that makes sense? One has to wonder if the key to the whole dilemma was hidden within those 28 missing pages... and whether those pages were deliberately removed, rendering the remainder ultimately meaningless.
Perhaps, one problem is that we assume the various sections are intrinsically related when, in reality, the only element which ties them together is the enigmatic script. In other words, we have no reason to assume the sections were originally created in the order in which we presently find them nor even created for the same purpose. Was the Voynich MS meant to be an actual manuscript, or was it fragments of a private journal which were cobbled together and somehow survived? Do the bathing nymphs have anything to do with the plants or the star-charts or are they elements of something else entirely? Judging by the marginalia (inset left) we might be looking at a science fiction tale!
In any case, in this (my second) and my third (and last) Voynich post - I'll be tinkering with a few separate elements, without necessarily trying to stitch them into one recognizable whole, and the first of these will be the enigmatic fold-out Voynich "map" (introducing this post): a series of interconnected vignettes or roundels defining a general locale... although, where this locale was located is anybody's guess!
Location, Location, Location
Despite being wedged between the star charts and a second botanical section, my guess is that the Voynich "map" most likely originally accompanied the bathing nymphs. Once again, contrary to the "medical therapy" hypothesis regarding this section, we might as easily be discussing a narrative: a fictional tale, a fanciful, historical account or plans for the creation of a medieval "spa town".* In other words, the nymph section might have a marginal relation to the rest of the MS and represent nothing apart from the nymphs (and their world) within the context of the narrative. After all, the ladies even seem to have been given names in the illustration (above), indicated by the words inscribed directly over their heads. And, as for their world, well, the image may actually hold a clue. While the various bathing enclosures in the nymph section have been compared to Jewish ritual baths - or mikvah (see Part 1) - or even Roman baths, the background details here more closely resemble a Turkish bath or hammam. Inset right is an example: a medieval Turkish bath in Granada, Spain (sourced here). Below the jump is one in Istanbul, followed by one of several 16th century Turkish baths (Kiraly Bath) which continue to operate in Budapest (the "City of Baths"), Hungary.