However, since Ashmole's day it was thought to have joined the serried, densely-stacked ranks of long-disappeared books and manuscripts, in the "blue-tinted gloom" of some mythical, subterranean library not unlike the "Cemetery of Lost Books" in Carlos Ruiz Zafon's novel "The Shadow of the Wind" (2004)...
Fast-forward 400 years to 1994, and what do you know? Just like rush hour buses, two copies of the "Book of Soyga" turn up at once, both found by Deborah Harkness. Rather than searching for "Soyga", she searched for its "Aldaraia..." incipit: which is, of course, what you were supposed to do (in the bad old days before the Internet).
It is a strange, transitional document, neither properly medieval (the text has few references to authority) nor properly Renaissance. There are some mysterious books referenced, such as the Liber Sipal and the Liber Munob: readers of my book "The Curse of the Voynich" may recognize these as simple back-to-front anagrams (Sipal = Lapis [stone], Munob = Bonum [Good], Retap Retson = Pater Noster [our Father]). In fact, Soyga itself is Agyos [saint] backwards.
But what was the secret hidden behind the 36 mysterious "tables of Soyga" that had vexed John Dee so? 36x36 square grids filled with oddly patterned letters, they look like some kind of unknown cryptographic structure. Might they hold a big secret, or might they (like many of Trithemius' concealed texts) just be nonsense, a succession of quick brown foxes endlessly jumping over lazy dogs?
Stage 1: fill in the 36-high left-hand column (which I've highlighted in blue above) with a six-letter codeword (such as 'orrase' for table #5, 'Leo') followed by its reverse anagram ('esarro'), and then repeat them both two more times
Stage 2: fill each of the 35 remaining elements in the top line in turn with ((W + f(W)) modulo 23), where W = the element to the West, ie the preceding element. The basic letter numbering is straightforward (a = 1, b = 2, c = 3, ... u = 20, x = 21, y = 22, and z = 23), but the funny f(W) function is a bit arbitrary and strange:-
- x f(x) x f(x) x f(x) x f(x)
a...2, g...6, n..14, t...8
b...2, h...5, o...8, u..15
c...3, i..14, p..13, x..15
d...5, k..15, q..20, y..15
e..14, l..20, r..11, z...2
f...2, m..22, s...8
Stage 3: fill each row in turn with ((N + f(W)) modulo 23), where N = the element to the North, ie the element above the current element.
For example, if you try Stage 2 out on 'o', (W + f(W)) modulo 23 = (14 + 8) modulo 23 = 22 = 'y', while (22 + 15) modulo 23 = 14 = 'o', which is why you get all the "yoyo"s in the table above.And there (bar the inevitable miscalculations of something so darn fiddly, as well as all the inevitable scribal copying mistakes) you have it: the information in the Soyga tables is no more than the repeated left-hand column keyword, plus a rather wonky algorithm.
You can read Jim Reeds paper here: a full version (with diagrams) appeared in the pricy (but interesting) book John Dee: Interdisciplinary essays in English Renaissance Thought (2006). The End.
Except... where exactly did that funny f(x) table come from? Was that just, errrm, magicked out of the air? Jim Reeds never comments, never remarks, never speculates: effectively, he just says 'here it is, this is how it is'. But perhaps this f(x) sequence is in itself some kind of monoalphabetic or offseting cipher to hide the originator's name: Jim is bound to have thought of this, so let's look at it ourselves:-
- 2 3 5 14 2 6 5 14 15 20 22 14 8 13 20 11 8
- a b d n a e d n o t x n g m t k g
- b c e o b f e o p u y o h n u l h
- c d f p c g f p q x z p i o x m i
- d e g q d h g q r y a q k p y n k
- e f h r e i h r s z b r l q z o l
- f g i s f k i s t a c s m r a p m
- g h k t g l k t u b d t n s b q n
- h i l u h m l u x c e u o t c r o
- i k m x i n m x y d f x p u d s p
- k l n y k o n y z e g y q x e t q
- l m o z l p o z a f h z r y f u r
- m n p a m q p a b g i a s z g x s
- n o q b n r q b c h k b t a h y t
- o p r c o s r c d i l c u b i z u
- p q s d p t s d e k m d x c k a x
- q r t e q u t e f l n e y d l b y
- r s u f r x u f g m o f z e m c z
- s t x g s y x g h n p g a f n d a
- t u y h t z y h i o q h b g o e b
- u x z i u a z i k p r i c h p f c
- x y a k x b a k l q s k d i q g d
- y z b l y c b l m r t l e k r h e
- z a c m z d c m n s u m f l s i f
A final note. Jim remarks that one of the manuscripts has apparently been proofread, with "f[letter]