Credits and Acknowledgements – do comment

I’m writing up the book’s Preface at the moment, and find I have am embarrassingly short list of persons to offer credits and acknowledgements to. If you can recall having assisted me, or offered constructive comments during the past eight years, please don’t let me forget to mention it.


So far, the list is as follows:

A.M. for first sending me some pictures from the manuscript and asking for my comment.  Fortunately he included the ‘Leo’ figure, than which there could hardly have been any more likely to rivet my attention.  Not only the Hellenistic/Phoenician/Persian sort of lion with the ‘tree’, but that apotropaic splash about which, as it happened, I’d been writing shortly before in connection with the sources of non-Latin forms in Caroline manuscripts.

To Philip Neal for his invaluable translations and his own commentaries on those documents.

And that seems to be all. Very awkward.



After the images were sent me, I spent the next months working directly from the manuscript and secondary scholarly sources, not wanting that first clear perception of the primary source to be affected by anyone else –   that’s my usual method, always. It has been for many decades now and is no insult to the ‘Voynich community’.


For the appearance of my first post about the manuscript, I owe thanks to A.M. and Nick Pelling. I chose to write about folio 25 because I hoped it would prove the neatest introduction to the public of that manifestly  non-Latin-European character evident throughout the manuscript.  At the same time, my identification of it allowed reference to Soqotra, and thus to a second important aspect of the manuscript – as I had concluded – that its most likely raison d’être was to serve the needs of a peripatetic profession which had (until about the mid-twelfth century or so)  had little or no interest in the western Mediterranean,  in Rome, or even in Jerusalem.

To Ellie Velinska‘s happening to post a particular image on her site – albeit for different reasons – I owe my having been able at last to name the wind shown on f.86v with a ring about it, and to offer another image illustrating ‘Radhanite’ style. Velinska seems not to have had any idea that either matter was referenced in the image, but I did leave her a note of thanks, with explanation.

2010-2016 – thanks to the online community.

This is the really embarrassing bit.

Where I should now thank those who have engaged with my work online, discussed or debated technical details, and who on taking up my conclusions have properly credited me, I have not a single name that I can cite.

If you are one – and I’m not talking about moral support because that comes later – then please do remind me. I should hate to omit your name.



Thanks is certainly due to Nick Pelling’s cipher mysteries.  Without it, I could not have found my way around the ‘Voynich world’ after I decided to emerge from seclusion, and cannot count how many times I was able to add a link to one of Pelling’s posts, and thus save myself a good deal of unnecessary time and trouble in writing, or even researching some point of history. See e.g. his post on “astrolabes and nocturnals”.

Those who offered any positive comment on my work while I was a member of the  (second) Voynich mailing list, do please email me. I’m sorry to say that I cannot recall any.

As I recall, it was only Nick Pelling who ever seemed willing to let me know if credit was due some previous Voynich writer as having earlier reached some conclusion close to mine, or who had even previously considered an avenue of research on which I was embarked.

I cannot say how many hours of unnecessary work I was saved by cipher mysteries – being able to add a link and point out where and why I agreed or differed was much, much easier and the relief was welcome.

As one example –  Pelling informed me, after having kindly accepted my paper, that a Voynich researcher named Edith Sherwood, and perhaps others before her had also identified the subject of f.25v as a Dracaena.  This was most heartening, even though I was  sure the primary subject was not the Mediterranean Dracaena (which has flowers, fruit and naturally white bark), but the Soqotran.  Still, it seemed to augur well. When independent researchers reach similar conclusions without reference to each others’ work, it is more likely that they are both working accurately.

Pelling mentioned Sherwood – no one else did, as I recall.

On closer inspection of Sherwood’s offerings online, however, I realised that one visit would be enough.  She had never thought to treat the images as pictures, but assumed them entirely literal and ‘photographic’ in intent, the whole according to her forming a Latin type of medicinal herbal.

It was already clear to me that this was highly unlikely, and without explaining why the images are formed as they are, and what customs and regions inform their appearance, one has no solid explanation for any.

About two or three more plants I later found  my views had been more-or-less compatible with hers:  Musaceae, a type of hemp-plant, the castor plant, and Dracunculus vulgaris. I think that’s the lot.

My work is not indebted to Sherwood for those identifications, but I believe she made them first – as far as one can tell with web-pages which retain the same copyright date while incorporating later alterations and updates. The same is why I do not refer to

Cause and effect, and thus the right to claim priority, can so easily become confused in those circumstances.



My explanation of the folios, their form, style, matter, historical and cultural context, and position within the whole has never benefited by  so much as a single ‘idea’ from any other Voynich writer.

Julian Bunn‘s work did inspire me to step outside that field in which I specialise, just to let people know that the written part of the text, as he represents it, seems to reflect woven patterns of a particular type. I noticed Julian’s diagrams while I was reading (not writing about) Ethicus/Aethicus’ alphabet, and simultaneously puzzling about a phrase in some early medieval texts, where the written text is described as “woven words”.

I’m so particular about giving credit where I owe it that I have occasionally stretched a point, being told afterwards that someone else came to even one conclusion about any detail which agreed with mine. There are certain conditions, however: that they had earlier come to genuinely believe the offered interpretation, had shown evidence of some research in depth and that the matter had been published – for the general public – and there stated to be their formal opinion.

One has to be so exact here because mailing lists and online forums and so forth produce an endless series of rambling hypotheses which are never researched in any depth, and never presented as any detailed exposition with a range of comparative images or detailed context offered by reference to written works of the appropriate period.

As long as an ‘idea’ comes with nothing but a vague description that includes a lot of ‘might be’ and ‘could be’ and even denigration by the speaker themselves of that ‘idea’ (e.g.’ my silly idea’), I cannot offer either priority or credit. I do not believe credit would usually be sought on such flimsy grounds by any non-Voynich scholar.

I admit that I relaxed the usual form in one case because the writer was so plainly sincere.

Richard Santacoloma had earlier published his opinion that folio 75r includes an allusion to five elements.

My own opinion  – that the folio includes allusion to a five-element system – had been reached by considering the forms and details within that image, by their evidently reflecting certain classical terms, and cross-referencing this to the inclusion of such terms again in such sources as Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies.

Though I did not then (nor do I now) think Santacoloma’s description  sufficient, correct in detail, or even correct in its attribution, I accept that he first concluded that the image referred to “five elements” .   He supposed the fifth element ‘ether’; I did not.  Had I seen that post of his, I might have offered comment and attempted a civil debate about it.   When Santacoloma wrote to me, pointing me to his post and claiming his right to some credit, I certainly gave it.

My habit on learning later that initial credit is claimed, or reasonably due, has been to add a postscript to the relevant post. This I did on learning that Wiart and Mazar had mentioned two botanical folios and attributed them, as I had done, to the eastern sphere rather than the western.  I went further, writing to one of the authors and asking if he would be willing, if necessary, to be troubled to comment on further identifications which I made.

Nick Pelling’s efforts at iconographic analysis did not reach me at all until late 2011 or perhaps even 2012 (if  I recall). That would have been my fourth or fifth year of involvement in the study. Since I lost my copy of the Curse in 2013, and have no note of when I received it, Nick might care to refresh my memory here if he is able.

I should like to thank the Beinecke library for receiving my emails.

Thanks to those who maintained the first Voynich mailing list archive online; I should have consulted it more often than I did and promise to read it right through before issuing a second volume of essays.

The sources used for my research have been almost exclusively scholarly ones, and initially I used to add a full bibliography not only for a particular post but for the subject it related to. After strong opinions were expressed on the mailing list, I have always tried to find something online which offered parallel information. This, in its own way, sometimes caused equal exasperation among the more academically trained.  (One recalls Aesop’s fable of the Man, the Boy and the Donkey).

Nick Pelling’s site has often been helpful as an alternative, linkable site, especcially since there can be no confusion about the date of his contributions.

P. Han appears to date each web-page separately in his site; (last I looked) does not. I refer to neither except that:

I used to refer my readers to a diagram published on and which showed the quires’ layout.  I stopped doing so when I realised that there is a discrepancy between that diagram’s pagination and that used by the Beinecke.

The same is true for another site which offers high res. pictures, but whose pagination again was quite wrong on the occasion I saw it.  (e.g. f.86v was called a  ‘rosettes folio’ and listed it out of order).

Others speak highly of both sites, but I have not used them.


Since beginning this new blog, I have received so much in the way of moral support that I will have to ask the individuals by email if they would accept formal acknowledgements.

One possible omission of credit as yet – I believe that I did read some emails to Santacoloma’s list in which David Suter mentioned an earlier program of research that involved matching details of the manuscript to topographic details in the real world.  I understand he applied the method to America, and thus I expect we agree in no particular, but he does appear to have been the first person to seriously see f.86v as a map that might be compared to the real appearance of any part of the world.  If that turns out to be so, then I shall certainly offer him credit for priority.

Vague musings, ramblings and hypotheses have been so many, and most so fleeting, unsupported by anything remotely approaching research, that it would be as impossible to credit them as unreasonable to expect them credited by me, seventeen years or more later, and without having heard of them until after my own work was published.

So there you have my credits list and the reason for each item.  Very short, isn’t it?  Far shorter than one would expect, perhaps.






    • Gregor: I have described the chronological strata which I have discerned in the imagery. Like so much else, the basic stratum I should date to the Hellenistic period. Additions and a fairly substantial redaction of f.86v appears to have occurred – again, in my opinion, between the mid-twelfth to mid-thirteenth century. It might be as much as fifty years later again, but no more. This permitted (in my opinion) the removal of what had originally filled the north roundel to the next around, so that that North roundel could now be filled with the ‘minimap’ representing the Mediterranean. In my opinion this folio had been completed finally during the time that the seat of the papacy accepted by whoever used the map was Avignon (or possibly Peniscola. There are evident connections to maritime culture of that same time: rhumb-gridded charts, a form of the ‘rose’, and I should think also that figure for the ‘Archer’ with his unusual type of crossbow relates to the same time and environment.

      While we assume this folio was also inscribed in the early fifteenth century, it is less likely to represent a fifteenth-century product of the ‘new’ style of mediterranean cartes marine than a copy of one of its early inspirations I should say. The ‘rosettes’ are fairly plainly wind-and/or-star wheels, wouldn’t you say?).

      Not sure if it is relevant here – the language isn’t my field – but I don’t think we should omit mention of the Basque role,too, in developing the rhumb-gridded charts, or in serving as mercenaries and as mariners.

      Thanks, Gregor for the comment. But on how helpful Nick’s site proved for me in earlier years,do see comments above.
      [excuse the revisions, but I wished to be quite clear and for technical reasons I can read only two lines at a time at the moment; not too good for continuity].


  1. Just a small recommendation: I like your phrasing: “I”m fairly sure the ‘ladies’, are …”
    better than “i tell you how to read the images”, or “the voynich writes about this and that”.

    I wonder, do you have a special focus, or point of interest towards the ms?

    Anyway good luck.


    • David,
      I’m not sure what you mean by “a special” focus or point of interest, unless provenancing and describing the content in imagery could be called that. It’s a professional area of specialty – in my case connected to the needs of archaeologists, museums, appraisers and so forth. Hope that answers your question. MS Beinecke 408 is probably the largest set of images I’ve considered, but then few manuscripts that have turned up in Europe have proven so problematic.

      I realise that the imagery in MS Beinecke 408 proved very difficult for people to interpret when they assumed it should fit entirely somewhere within the Latin tradition of manuscript art, and so the habit developed of offering speculative or hypothetical explanations. However, one doesn’t normally approach imagery that way – the imagery in the Book of Kells, for example, might leave someone in China bewildered and they would have to offer guesses or hypotheses until they learned something about the conventions of medieval Irish art, and a fair bit of the cultural and religious tradition which had informed those images.
      On the other hand, a professional would be expected to define the art and explain it, not by offering tentative guesses such as “I guess this is a picture of …” would they? And neither did I for the most part. I prefer to do the analysis, and provide the reasons for my judgement, including in this case, a fair bit of historical and cultural background since I have learned that most people interested in the manuscript have not the time to do the necessary research themselves and the great proportion are more interested in the written text, or indeed in researching some theory about the manuscript’s history which they happen to find attractive.

      In explaining the imagery in MS Beinecke 408, I have used the more usual methods: identifying style, informing thought and culture and certain habits and motifs that tell us still more about the people who had created, and others who had then maintained the matter in the imagery until our final work was made early in the fifteenth century.
      For all I know, of course, the written part of the text might have been composed at any time, even just for the final recension or redaction. I do not think so, but it is possible. In that case the imagery can tell us only where they had it from. I think it even possible that the imagery and text constitute two quite distinct narratives, since the imagery itself contains such a large amount of information in such economical form.

      I should add that I think it a pity that the Beinecke Library’s “introduction” remains so badly out of date. I understand that many researchers have urged them to do remove the old speculations from the 1960s – or at least to correct the given dates in favour of those obtained by the University of Arizona – but apparently they do not wish to do so.


    • Yes, I see that you’re correct. The current identification given for 25v on her site is woad. Perhaps it is one which has been altered over the past years. I distinctly recall being told when that first post of mine was published that she was one of those who should be noted as earlier having identified it as I did.

      Thank you very much indeed for noticing this. I’ve made a note on the draft to remove that credit to Sherwood, though others had earlier realised as I did that the little dragon was there as mnemonic.

      The older spelling for Soqotra is Socotra, still used on some sites. My own search engine turns up many sites with the current and with the older form, but you might like to start here:


  2. Credit – to Rene Zandbergen for responding to a query about whether the VMS folios showed any sign of having been trimmed. He responded in the negative. He bears no responsibility for, and had no idea of, how that information might affect my description or provenancing.


  3. Diane, about 40% of the images have a specific figurative meaning and are not just for fun. They probably display what is in the text. As far as i know, nobody made the same associations as I did and if you are really planning to write a book about the images, perhaps you should consider that.


    • David,
      I’m afraid it’s rather past the “thinking about” stage.

      As to whether the text duplicates the content of the imagery, I should think it probably doesn’t. My conclusion was that the imagery is so concise, and yet so condensed, that it would probably have seemed a waste of space to duplicate the content in writing. I expect the written text will be complementary – sort of the way that an Atlas index or a gazetteer is complementary to a world-map, or Ptolemy’s Tables to a star-chart, or indeed any sort of label to a self-explanatory painting.

      Don’t know that, of course, but I’ve rarely seen such elegant expression.


  4. David, re-reading your comment, I wonder if you believe that my work and yours have some correspondence. I’m afraid I don’t know which among the ‘Davids’ who have shown interest in this manuscript since 2008 you might be. From your comments, I rather thought you were a newbie. Sorry. Do you have a blog or web-page? Is there some particular post you’d like me to read? If so, do leave a note about the address, won’t you?


  5. Yes, I already thought that. It always is a problem: I do not want a blog myself because of all the nutcases and time spend on “written air”, but on the other end I really like the research of others and sometimes it brings new insights. If you go to the control panel (users/search on david) of wordpress you can see my full email address and [mydomain]. Some of my “research” is on voynich. [mydomain] and my latest site is ms.[mydomain]. But there is not much new stuff to be seen. The new stuff is private.
    My research started 2 years ago and I reach out to some because I think cooperation is one of the keys in the road to success. However, until now I did not find a good reliable match.
    At this present moment I am confident that I will unlock the text in MS, based on my findings this far. I made scientific, repeatable and consistent matches with the VMS text and a language. When this will happen, i do not know, and perhaps I am wrong and it will never happen.
    As I wrote before I interpreted some images into their specific meaning in relation to the text. I know this is vague, but I do not want to give away much more. Per day I have only about 1 hour for this project, so it is not going fast. During work hours (now) sometimes I have some extra time. We will see, perhaps I am a nutcase myself 😉


    • David – from experience I can say that a detail which it might take me a week to clarify can take many times more to put into blog-posts. One has to find equivalent, online, copyright free illustrations and (in deference to the online community’s preference) alternative and linkable sources for the books one has used. I haven’t seen any of your comments on the imagery, but when you decide to offer some of your original, but still private, work online do come back and leave a note,if you like.


    • On looking for your name, it came up on Rene Zandbergen’s site under “Analysis of the illustrations” – with regard to a fine illustration in an Armenian manuscript.

      He seems to have omitted mention of another point you make again on your site that diagrams of this form are attested much earlier in Buddhism.

      On looking back at my older blog (which you would not have seen, of course), I see I was considering the Armenians pretty early, and this note comes from a post entitled,
      “.. the whorl: points of orientation”.

      Faces III: fol.67v(i): The whorl – points of Orientation (‘Findings’ blog, May 3, 2010)

      ….Recent research has shown that groups from the subcontinent [of India], and from the Indus valley in particular, had settled about the Persian Gulf and in the Yemen in the pre-Islamic centuries. Some Islamic authors assert that Buddhism had spread not only through much of the Arabian shield, but within Mesopotamia as far as Syria before the rise of the Sassanids.

      For Berzin’s survey of Buddhism in early islam see:


      I must say that my having introduced the Armenians into Voynich studies appears to have caused a great deal of excitement among various writers since then, and produced some fruitful results. Thomas Spande was the first, certainly, to take it up and to consider Armenian astronomical manuscripts in any detail, and I rather think he precedes you in mentioning that mathematician, whose name I feel sure has come up before.

      If you haven’t already, do try to find and read the work done by Thomas Spande; I decided that any Armenian influence was secondary so the “Armenian thesis” is rightly his. I have recently reached the point of informing Voynicheros that Armenian was taught in early fourteenth century Avignon.

      If you read Thomas’ work, it may save you duplicated effort or any impression of your own as imitative: a constant problem in Voynich studies where proper credits are so rarely added, and whose purpose is chiefly to keep things clear and clean, to save wasted time re-doing what has been done, and to know who exactly first uttered an opinion, or cited a manuscript, which one wishes to discuss.

      Most Voynicheros, being amateurs, seem to fear that by acknowledging their sources they may risk having to ‘pay’ a opponent in some way or other. But a bibliography shouldn’t only consist of things written by mates and people who agree with one, should it?


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