folio 49v – two stanzas?


Given that thousands  can be supposed to have pored over the Voynich script these past 115 105 years, I’m fairly sure that the following points have been noticed before, in general or in particular.  However, my search engine turns up  no precedent for the critical bit, so I’ve decided to post something – partly to interest readers and partly in the hope that if any kind reader knows of a genuine precedent they will direct me to it.

The ‘critical bit’  is reference to the Rondeau with its thirteen-line form, I suppose.[2]

Some Voynich writers have formed an impression from the fact that fol.49v shows a narrow column of  glyphs in parallel to the rest, that this folio is an enumerated text.


As I’ve pointed out before, though, we often see this position for the initial letters of a line when the text is a  poem or some matter very likely to be memorised.   I’ve already shown a few examples where the habit is clearer than in the next detail, but in token of the ‘Greek’ theme, I use this.  It was first included in a couple of posts published in 2015, as I  looked into a few matters related to  the style of Voynich letters. It shows the hand, and poetry, of a Cretan named Marcus Musurus ( 1470- 1517) who lived for a time in fifteenth century Florence.[3] His name hadn’t cropped up in Voynich studies before then.Burney MS 96 f144r detail verses by Musurus Cretan 1490s sml

So – it would not be an unreasonable hypothesis that on f.49v we see two thirteen-line stanzas.

To take the ‘thirteen-lines’ as possibly the result of translating, or even of enciphering, a  Rondeau would not be unreasonable either since the Rondeau was normally formed of ten- or of thirteen lines, though a twelve-line is also known.

Given that it was not uncommon for poetry to be written with the initial letters of each line distanced from the rest,  so one might reasonably hypothesise further that the column of glyphs on folio 49v should be regarded in that way: not as enumeration but as the series of initial letters for these lines.

An hypothesis is not a  “theory” in any meaningful sense, of course.  It’s  just another notion, set in the waiting-room pending clearance.

What is more – and as many of my readers know perfectly well – rigorous testing of the hypothesis by seeking contrary evidence tends to lead to results that are more solid and more enduring than that produced by hunting only items in support.   So often has the second approach been seen in Voynich studies, though, that I’ve come to think of it as a generic: ” c-e Crossbowman fallacy”.

Having come this far now,  the hypothesis must consider five Arabic numerals which appear in the left-hand margin.


By Pelling and others they have sometimes been supposed, together with that column of glyphs, to represent earlier efforts at the text’s decryption.[4]

The ‘Rondeau’ hypothesis does allow a different, but consistent, explanation – viz. that the numerals 1-5 are there to remind a musician or singer that this particular Rondeau (if such it be) is  a Rondeau cinquain.

This is where we should shift from hypothesising to investigation, enquiry and the hunt for weakness in the theory. And in my view, the first person to do that – before floating any hypothesis into the fog –  should always be the same person from whose mind any ‘bright idea’ first comes.  Ideally.

In this case, I’ll just transcribe the next item on the agenda: “Does the pattern of the Rondeau, and of the Rondeau cinquain in particular, accord with the form given the written text on folio 49v?”

The -cinquain rhyme pattern runs “ AABBA–aab–AAB–aabba–AABBA and  thanks to wiki commons, I can illustrate how text and music interact in  forms of Rondeau.


Before getting too deeply entranced by the hypothesis, this is when one has to step back and see how it accords or not from the broader historical background, and the many specific items so far treated in one’s earlier research.

Since most of my own observations and research have followed this pattern of observation, followed by the asking of testing questions, the study of history and the various other subjects ancillary to iconographic analyses, so by now I have a fair bit of matter which might offer objection to the “stanzas” idea.  None does.

I think that I’ve already posted enough to show why I place little value on the ‘central European’ hypothesis, but also why I think that the manuscript and the historical context offer enough to turn attention to the period between the mid-twelfth to late fourteenth century – not as when the manuscript was physically made, but the time when the works from which its sections were copied had taken their present form.

I’ve also shown why we should focus on regions where, at that time,  Occitan and Judeo-Catalan were spoken, and sometimes even written:  northern Spain to northern France, and including regions closely influenced by those regions during that period.  Among them were, for example, Mallorca and the Morea.

Artur Sixto’s case for the month-inscriptions’ language as a Judeo-Catalan dialect seemed always treated with less attention that the content of his argument deserved – or so I thought.  I was also dismayed to see efforts to diminish or wave away the observations made by Don Hoffmann in relation to the orthography of the month-names.  He showed a close correspondence exists to what we find on astronomical instruments (one in particular) attributed to Picardy c.1400.  Ellie Velinska had a “royal court of France” theory as early as c.2o11, but since then she has ceased to work as an independent scholar and become one of a team working to find support for a common theory.

I’ve had reason to discuss the early phase of Opus Francigenum, its glass and style for depicting Sagittarius in that medium.

So how  does all this (and much else) fit with the history of the Rondeau?  Pretty well, it seems.  The American Academy of Poets says:

The rondeau began as a lyric form in thirteenth-century France.

Not bad.

And forgive my smiling at this, but it is not even a week since I debated this  matter of the written text’s date as against  first enunciation of most of the manuscript’s  imagery and gave it as my view that although there is no denying the antiquity of so much of the imagery,  I thought it most likely that the written part was first composed during the Mongol century. The ‘Mongol century’ is dated  1271–1368.

So – no obvious problems with this hypothesis so far –  which doesn’t prove that folio 49v contains two stanzas, or that the form is a Rondeau.  Hypothesis stays in the waiting room, still.

However – and I’ve also been at pains to show, this period is precisely when Calais was part of the realm of England, and when  scholars routinely went from England (including Oxford)  to study in Paris. After 1305, we also see many travelling to the papal court of Avignon with its remarkable library.  Scholars from other parts of Europe did the same, of course.  And about Avignon I think I’ve presented enough to show why I consider papal Avignon relevant to our study.

The late thirteenth-century saw expulsions of Jews from France and England, after which both regions show evidence that the wealth gained by such means included intellectual as well as other forms of capital.

And then, to top all this.  In 1415   – slap in the middle of the date-range for the Voynich manuscript’s vellum (1405-1438) – we have the battle which soon saw ‘France’ still more ‘English’ – the battle of Agincourt.

But all the above notwithstanding the hypothesis about the text on f.49v as a ‘Rondeau’ is still just an hypothesis. More cross-examination is in order.

Accounting for the Refrain

In addition to its verse,  a Rondeau  included a refrain.  Is there any sign of one on f.49v?  In fact, the way that refrain was formed was so very simple and easily worked out that if it were not written, it wouldn’t kill this hypothesis.  The Rondeau’s refrain was made by taking the first two words of the first line and repeating them.  Easy enough to understand if the scribe hadn’t bothered to write it out in full.

Each stanza on f.49v ends with the following ‘vord’,

fol-49v-8aiid– which brings us to another yellow “Caution”

When any person look at that ‘vord’ what they think they see will be determined by the limits of their present knowledge.  So what appears to be a ‘plausible’ rendering, or a ‘plausible’ explanation is less a matter of relative truth in such cross-disciplinary studies as a measure of belief.

Switching from an objective to a personal acceptance of information can occur at a level that by-passes conscious thought.  Falling for a ‘plausible’ argument has thus less to do with an individual’s intelligence, than his nature.

As example –  not only Nick Pelling but many acutely intelligent persons before him had perceived the last part of that “vord” shown above through the lens of their assumption that the posited “plain text” must be Latin or Italian (as indeed it could prove to be).

However, that untested expectation, an hypothesis, led to perception that the second part of that “vord” shown above was a series of ‘small case” Latin alpha-numerics; then that these were to be read as number and finally (given the highly-elaborated theory proposed by Pelling in 2006) that these ‘numerals’ encoded Arabic numerals.

I’m referring to opinions expressed in Pelling’s book (2006) and it is possible that he has since modified his earlier opinions, though for years he held tenaciously to the same ideas that he had published in Curse of the Voynich.

On the other hand, it would appear that Landini saw the final glyph in that ‘vord’ as less resembling the Latin “v” than the Greek “n” – so his EVA transcription renders the end of that ‘vord’ as “aiin”.  All those who adopted Landini’s EVA transcription, including Pelling, now use the same convention.

How much wider they might have cast their net before settling on their several hypotheses is an interesting question, but just because I’ve recently compared some Voynich glyphs to some early Coptic ones, here’s a table from which you can work out how the same ‘vord’ might have been interpreted by a medieval Christian of Egypt.


As a rule, I post the results obtained after researching every one of the questions on the research agenda for a given folio, but on reflection I think I won’t do that this time. (It’s not as if one expects cheers and raised glasses to follow one’s presenting such matter). So the two unanswered questions above may be joined by a third, the last on my list: ” Test the patterns in the text on f.49v against not only the Rondeau but as many other forms of verse or litany etc. in a set 13-lines is attested.”

Specialists in languages, linguistics, medieval literature, comparative literary studies and, of course, cryptology are better equipped to investigate properly these last questions from my list.

Good luck to you.



[1] Since my search engine turns up no earlier comparison to the Rondeau, so  I’ll have to rely again on the kindness of my readers to ensure correct credit given.  The Rondeau was normally of ten- or thirteen- lines, but a twelve-line (as 7+5) is also known.

[2] I can only accept securely-dated items such as mailing-list or forum comments, and published works or fairly securely dated items such as  blog-posts.  Voynicheros websites may be wonderfully elaborate but because their alterations and additions are rarely date-marked, a recent observation may be incorporated into that page, though the page itself bears a date even earlier than the original research was done.  This makes the whole business of citing any Voynichero website so problematic that I no longer do so – except as reference for a biography or the date of an historical event. Even then, of course, one has to cross-reference.

[3] I think readers will be ok citing my posts from 2015 as first mention of this Cretan poet in connection with the Vms.  Musurus lived for some time in Florence.  The references I gave are in this post, and then this.

[4] I first read the ‘enumeration’ and ‘attempted decryption’ hypotheses for these Arabic numerals in the left-hand column as part of an argument in Nick Pelling’s book, though Pelling appears to believe that Brumbaugh first supposed the numerals a ‘translation’ for the initial glyphs. See N.Pelling, The Curse of the Voynich (2006) p.158. At present, I’m spending a huge amount of time hunting correct information for footnotes.  Given the often lamentable quality of apparatus in much online Voynich writing, this is proving harder labour than it would normally be.  I’m still not able to discover the name of the person who first proposed a link between the Vms text and music.  The usual sources often prove to have settled for the name of someone recent, or with whom  given writer happens to have existing personal connections.   But one can tust Pelling’s book (2006), and always trust Philip Neal’s work so these are the two models of correct form that I’d recommend, regardless of the opinions which either may have held in the past, or hold now.


  1. Addendum. I phrased the following poorly:
    “I thought it most likely that the written part was first composed during the Mongol century”
    – I should have phased it better:
    “I thought it most likely that the written part took its present form during the Mongol century.”


  2. Yes…yes.. I noticed that ‘cinquain’ is not quinquain – but thanks to those three readers who thought “cin.” an error and who were then kind enough to take time to try helping correct it. Good will is always a fine thing to encounter – and my sincere thanks to each.


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