Starting from scratch #7 c – “Seeking the Voynich Hand..” continued 2

If you have no time to read a long post, the short story here is that I found another [1] example of a handwriting style that looks and feels to me rather like the Voynich “hand”.  It is the hand of a Greek poet from Crete, which was then under Venetian rule. The illustration shows part of his transcription, onto paper, of some of his own poems while he was in Florence in the 1490s.

– So there it is; and now you have the headlines, you needn’t wade through the rest of this post, need you?  🙂

Burney MS 96 f144r detail verses by Musurus Cretan 1490s sml

(detail) B.L. Burney MS 96 f144 r. Inscribed by the poems’ author, a Greek from Crete under Venetian rule – Marcus Musurus – while in Florence, 1490s

MARCUS MUSURUS wrote a larger, more energetic script than one sees in books from Constantinople, and more energetic than the script in MS Beinecke 408, but his ‘provincial’ style in Greek cursive is of interest in having a comparable evenness of its flow, its balance between vertical and other elements, its lack of discriminating pressure and the rapidity with which its ‘full pen’ reduces.

detail 58r

It is not the same hand, I think, but it is one with similar habits and allows us to direct our attention to regions where “provincial” Greek was written – as distinct from the formal style of Byzantine Greek texts.

In passing ~ there has been a common belief that the Voynich ‘hand’ is the Milanese version of Latin humanist book-hand but our manuscript’s overall format and appearance being that of the ‘viliores’, one would also have to look to the less formal cursive versions which, as we have seen, form the letters sharp.  If the set of comparisons is limited to Latin hands, and Italian ones at that, then the Milanese would seem most like: the most ‘orange-like’ apple in the barrel, as it were. Don’t take my word it, though. There’s a nicely technical discussion by the ‘Scribe scribbling’ (blogpost) on April 29th., 2013 here.  For a French hand, I’ve seen no argument, nor for a German hand except in connection with the quire-numbers – which was inconclusive.  It is perhaps worth mentioning again that none of the original professional assessments ever suggested an Italian hand: they referred to England, or  to Spain.

So back to Greek styles …

The following example shows a fairly typical Byzantine page  with its appropriately small, neat script. The page layout and ornament are, however, just as representative of traditional Byzantine Greek style, and  neither resembles MS Beinecke 408 in the least.  Again, like most manuscripts from Coptic, Irish, early English, Greek, Armenian and many Islamic regions, it is comfortable using interlace – not a vestige of which is  anywhere in MS Beinecke 408 and indeed to me it appears that the older makers of our manuscript’s content had a positive  aversion to any use of criss-crossing lines, to the point where there is no glyph used which resembles the Greek, Roman or Coptic “x” shape – nor is there even a “k”. So I don’t think the eastern Christian manuscript traditions can be reasonably supposed responsible for the style and presentation of what we see in MS Beinecke 408.

Byzantine 14thC music manuscript Pant monastery

I chose the folio (above) as my contrasting example because it includes the Greek musical notation, as written in fourteenth-century style – and some of those ‘glyphs’ I admit are a little reminiscent of the Voynich gallows and of some Voynich glyph-strings –  just as Musurus’ style of cursive/abbreviation can evoke one or two of the most ornate Voynich glyphs.

The image shown above just as it was uploaded to Pintrest a year ago by Maureen Cox-Brown –  who notes that it came from (a?/the?) Pantokratos monastery.

In regard to music, too: I recall once seeing it suggested (though if you know by whom, please leave a note) that the dimensions for the Voynich folios would be natural result if the bifolia were from parchment made to the size which was normally employed for sheet music (or for charts?).

and here (just fyi) an example of one fifteenth-century “Byzantine [Jewish] hand copied in the [then] Ottoman empire” – from the former MS Sasson (Sassoon) 290, now Genève, Bibliothèque de Genève, Comites Latentes 145. Paper 210 mm x150 mm, 15thC Ottoman empire. (p.2).

detail fol MS Sasson 290 now


Dr. JUDAH b.MOSES MOSCONI was a fourteenth-century ‘provincial’ Greek from an area taken into the Ottoman Empire during his lifetime, the conflict driving him from his homeland. A Jewish traveller, physician and scholar, Mosconi is associated with Spain, with Egypt, the Balearic islands and Tlemcen*, and was ultimately the owner of a library so marvellous that the king of Aragon used his prerogative to prevent the collection’s sale post-mortem, taking the greater part for himself! Whether Mosconi’s own handwriting looked anything like those three examples shown above, I don’t know.

From the generation immediately following that forced acquisition, we find Spanish manuscripts adopting traditionally Jewish style and motifs , the works in Latin, Spanish and Occitan, and the congruity is especially noticeable in charts and images of time, tide and stars.

* ‘Tlemcen’ – link is to a wiki article

Dr. Mosconi came from Ohrid, (Ocrida) which stands by the lake bearing its name, in the heart of an area where Greek was an ancient presence, maintained by the Byzantine religious culture even when the Slavic languages had become the vernacular. Ohrid lies on the direct route overland between Constantinople and the Adriatic, a way known as the Via Egnatia from the second century BC when it became a Roman road.

Ohrid Leo Grec Dr Majorca

Ohrid is a town established on Lake Geneva, marked red on the map.

Ohrid lay within the borders of contemporary Bulgaria in 1906, when Mosconi’s biography was written for the Jewish Encyclopaedia, but would later be included in a modern state named ‘Macedonia’ –  whose establishment is still a source of local political friction.

As recently as 2012, a Belgian museum was asked to remove the word ‘Macedonian’ from the title of a planned exhibition of medieval manuscripts, one of the protestors arguing that,

there are no such things as Macedonian medieval manuscripts, only Bulgarian, Serbian and Greek ones in [modern] Macedonia.

Bulgarians Force Changes to Macedonian Manuscript Show‘, Balkan Insight (blog) 12th. September 2012.

Two manuscripts from that exhibition ( as shown in the site linked above). The second in what Kircher might have called ‘Illyrian’ script, but which we call Glagolitic. The point is that both were used in this region, and the customs of one may well have influenced ‘provincial’ scripts in the other. In addition, someone used to both might use a few forms from each – quite sufficiently obscure to prevent unwanted attention in the fifteenth century or earlier.

Slika 1 Makedonski rukopisi

Slika 2 Makedonski rukopisi

Despite current objections to use of the word ‘Macedonia’ for this region,  Ohrid and its surrounding lands were part of ancient Macedonian territory, the city of Dr. Mosconi’s birth anciently known as Λύχνιδος (Lychnidos) in the Greek and later in the Latin as Lychnidus. Nearby Heraclea Lyncestis was reputedly founded by Philip II of Macedonia, father of Alexander the Great. So Greek was not only a medieval liturgical language there, but one with ancient roots.

map Macedonia ancient Ohrid Lychnidos

map: borders of ancient Macedonia, showing Lychnidos (mod. Ohrid).

MOSCONI may then be reasonably supposed to have known both Greek and the “Illyrian” scripts – in addition to Hebrew, Arabic and any others of which we know, and indeed he came to be known to the Christians of Aragon (at least) as Leo Grech that is, “Leo the Greek”.

I’ll break the post here..



1. the first being the Catalonian Sephardic cursive script (see previous post).



next post…. #7d








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