This is not a full bibliography, just some suggestions which I’ll add from time to time.

THE MEDIEVAL WORLD AND MIND-SET: because there are so many works about medieval culture and books online, the most important sources for modern western readers, I should think, are Barbara Carruthers’ works. They’re not a light read, but will get your head a bit straighter.  Start, perhaps, with her Book of Memory and go from there. And afterwards you might wonder, as I do, why ciphering would be necessary at all. Secret information could just as well remain unwritten.

ASTRONOMICAL SYSTEMS: I’d start with anything and everything written by Emilie Savage-Smith (including the papers made available to the public through, unless you want to consider the eastern astronomies, in which case I’d begin with the two Davids (David King and David Pingree) and then move on to the work done on star-calendars by Serjeant and perhaps by Varisco, and move then to more recent publications.  I would refer you to the Journal for the History of Astronomy, but its future is a little uncertain at present.

BOTANICAL: Taxonomy ~ site ‘The Taxonomicon’.

ANIMALS: Multilingual glossary (European languages only, sorry) – MAGUS

Added note (March28th 2013) I do not assume that the Voynich botanical folios picture plants whose primary value was medicinal. My habit is to identify the plant from what is shown in the picture, and only if I feel fairly satisfied with that identification to go searching possible uses for it.

‘The Taxonomicon’ is useful for current nomenclature. In  general I’d suggest use of American plant data-bases should be avoided. Their descriptions can be very misleading~ e.g.  they term ‘wildflowers’ not ones native to the Americas (the world-wide usage for the term), but rather foreign plants introduced from elsewhere, and which have escaped cultivation. Similarly they often speak of ‘native American plants’ in a way that suggests endemism, though the plant may be found naturally across the entire northern hemisphere and not only in the Americas. In the same way, descriptions of a plant’s range and distribution tend to describe it in the more limited sense of where it might be found, or may be grown, in the Americas. But omission of the rest of the world from such maps can be misleading. In any case, the manuscript is thought to have been made decades before Columbus’ voyage.

Guy Mazar and Christopher Wiart: a link to their interview suggesting the botanical section might contain Asian plants. To be honest, I think I stopped reading Nick’s blog post each time before reaching its last paragraph. But I have read it now, so their precedence must be acknowledged – blast it! (March 5th 2013)

Botanical medicine in the Philippines.


 ~ Theophrastus’ Treatise is available at Farlang’s site, along with other important classical and medieval sources. See here ~  right hand column.

The many References to Theophrastus, and the Quotations from him, so frequent in the Works of all the later Writers of Fossils, would make one believe, at first sight, that nothing was more universally known, or perfectly understood, than the Treatise before us … [but]  though no Author is so often quoted, no Author is so little understood, or, indeed, has been so little read; those who are so free with his Name, having given themselves, generally, very little Trouble about his Works, and only taken upon Trust from one another, what we shall in most Cases find, on strict Enquiry, to have been originally quoted from him by Pliny.

(from the Preface to the 1956 edition)

  • HELLENISTIC/EGYPTIAN PRESENCE IN THE EAST during the early centuries AD.

note: the habit is to describe the period as Roman, but in this context there is mounting evidence that this flourishing of Egyptian, Syrian and Hellenistic influence in the east during the Parthian period was due to an influx of refugees from areas that had devastated by Roman military invasion. The Jewish diaspora was one of many at this time.

~ R. C. C. Fynes,  ‘Isis and Pattinī: the transmission of religious ideas from Roman Egypt to India’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Third Series, Vol.3 (Nov., 1993), pp.377-391.

Fynes holds that ‘in the first three centuries AD traders operating out of the Nile emporium of Coptos and Red Sea ports of Myos Hormoz and Berenike brought to India certain aspects of the Hellenized cult of Isis’ (p378-9). The paper also has a useful bibliography.

  • EGYPTIAN STARS:  67r-ii;  ‘east-left’ map on f.86v etc.

 ~ Joanne Conman, ‘It’s about Time: Ancient Egyptian Cosmology’,  Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, Bd.31, (2003), pp.33-71.

Conman’s criticisms of Neugebauer’s evaluation of the Egyptian decans should be read. Among other points relevant to this study is her noting that the terms for ‘east’ and ‘left’ were the same, and in relation to  the idea of meridians:  “The constantly turning sky was not a stationary background but an active force.. the sun was attached to the sky and functioned as a mobile meridian, so that time and direction were not easily separable concepts in ancient Egyptian thought“. (p.71)


ASIA and the south-western Mediterranean before 1438

Fook-Kong Wong and Dalia Yasharpour, The Haggadah of the Kaifeng Jews of China, Brill, 2011.



The Sassoon [Sasson] Haggadah. Parchment, brown ink, square and semi-cursive Sephardic script and later semi-cursive Provençal and Ashkenazic.  H.210mm w. 165mm. Spain or southern France.

Apparently of Spanish origin, perhaps from the thirteenth century, but with additions from Avignon made at a later date …. the list of vegetables, in various languages, should be published.

quotation from a review.


So many readers have asked my opinion of Nick Pelling’s book, Curse of the Voynich that I feel obliged to add a note about it.

My own opinion  coincides with that of one reviewer who is cited in Pelling’s own advertisement for the book, viz:

There is enough material here for both those readers who like to stick to solid, scientific facts and those who indulge in fictional narrative with a bit of mystery and adventure. Either way, you will enjoy this fine book.” – Augusto Buonafalce, Cryptologia.

Pelling was almost alone (from 2006-c.2010) in emphasizing the need to look at the manuscript as an object: the book qua book. His efforts to disentangle the apparent disordering of the quires, his study of the quiration, calls to subject the vellum, inks and pigments to scientific tests of the usual sort, and his attempts to assess the techniques used in the imagery as an aid to provenancing were not only without parallel before about 2008, but deserve still to be credited in that context.  His ‘Averlino’ story I also consider ‘a fictional narrative with a bit of mystery and adventure’ rather than the solution of any historical question, and Pelling’s understanding of the imagery I find essentially flawed – e.g. his supposing that any near-parallel lines equate to “parallel hatching” and that graphic artists of the Italian renaissance were the first persons in Europe to use near-parallel lines in art (even in manuscript art) is as mistaken as it is a corner-stone of his argument.

So, like Buonafalce, I see ‘Curse..’ as essentially two books: the one an immensely helpful and intelligent discussion of the book-as-object, the other an essay in speculative history – or historical fiction if you prefer.  Both are worth reading on those terms, and I should certainly recommend your having a copy.


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