Weaving the Voynich manuscript – short version

Until I’m sure that Julian Bunn doesn’t mind my using his graphs to illustrate the posts, it seems best to set them to  ‘private’. Their inclusion is essential. (note added Dec. 30th. On reflection, I think that I have been too summary in mentioning the McCrone report; I’d add another post if I can before the new year to correct that.)

To summarise the content:

I have suggested before that the reason Voynichese has so few glyphs, and such an apparently repetitious character is that it consists of technical instructions, formed in something of the same way that knitting patterns are. That is, incomprehensible as ordinary language, and requiring knowledge of the given technology.

Considering the content of the manuscript overall – the extent of the world pictured in f.86v, the plainly pre- and non- monotheistic nature of the imagery, the matter and style of the diagrams and so on, it has long been evident that any input from Christian Byzantium, from the map-makers of Genoa (and so forth) came late, and in this manuscript is present as an overlay, taken from rather than informing the sort of matter in the manuscript.

The work itself is firmly and plainly  upon the needs and daily trade of a world east of the Bosphorus.

In previous efforts to explain the correspondence between text and technical instructions, I have used the example of a knitting pattern because textiles are a very likely subject – suggested by the posited dates, the routes in f.86v and the sort of matter contained in the botanical and pharma sections, and confirmed by stylistic considerations.

As a brief version of that argument about the text, I put up a postcard:

‘Knitting the Voynich’.

Julian’s graphs of glyph distributions allowed me to describe it better, and with woven fabrics of various kinds.

His graphs do not make  snapshot of the written text, changing the glyph to a colour, so the matches aren’t exact.

Nonetheless, they show an informing system strongly reminiscent of that technology.

I explained in more detail, and with illustrations, in the posts.  But without Julian’s graphs the point would be lost.

Textiles  per se, and others apart from silk, formed the greatest single element of the internal and external trade of the eastern world, and from classical to late medieval times, along the same routes shown in f.86v and implied by the botanical and pharma sections, as well as by some of the diagrams.

Europe is not the focus of those routes, and European style is not that informing the imagery.

In the first case, Europe was a recipient on the fringes of the civilised east, and in the second a ‘European’ style serves only as a late and superficial influence upon some parts of the manuscript’s imagery.

The urge to imagine the content of the work as wholly a European possession, as the fifteenth-century manuscript is presumed of European manufacture, is a desire that  is perfectly understandable.

But neither the style nor the content supports such a view.

Depiction of a cruciform object might be European and Christian; to depict it in the hand of an unclothed female (even allegorically) is not.

But to go further, as some have, and re- define the object as being  a ‘crucifix’ is no more than wishful thinking, for it clearly is not.

Similarly, a use of the oriental ‘welkin-band’ in medieval Germany makes it no more a ‘European’ element, and in this case the context and intent show again that its depiction and associated ideas are not those of mainland Europe under Christian governance.

When a Byzantine church was built in Trebizond and its ceiling decorated with a fresco showing a type of textile unattested in Europe at that time, and indeed for several centuries more, the implication is not that the textile was Byzantine, but that it was pre-Byzantine and first known to the regions about Tebizond.

No matter which section is considered, every folio contains imagery which firmly denies any origin in western or Byzantine Christian culture.

Just as consistently, it insists upon origins in an early Hellenistic context, and subsequent affect from the eastern world:  parallels occurring along precisely the same routes as those pictured in f.86v, and in which Europe scarcely figures.

I do not believe any medieval Christian or even Muslim author could so resolutely and consistently avoid stylistic conventions or forms alluding to either culture nor defy efforts at interpretation according to the usual visual vocabulary proper to either one.

Doubtless people will persist in representing (or misrepresenting) the whole work as an expression of western Christian culture,  and not merely attributing to that environment a manufacture of the object as such.

It is ever true, as Michael Scot once said, that: “The more that I consider the arcana of God and the arcana of the human heart, the more mysterious they seem.”

or to put it in the context of historical research and a bad habit of thinking human history is amenable to logic:

‘yes, you may say of this man that he travelled with a heavy purse and richly-gilded book ~ but nonetheless it may be that he was murdered rather for having a turban and beard”.

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