Tuesday, 22 April 2008

APOD Voynich discussion...

Browsing idly through the few Google search results for Voynich above Voynich News a few days ago, I wondered how voynich dot org, a parked domain with no content and no inward links could rank so highly out of 225,000 hits. Now that is a mystery: whatever SEO ayahuasca they're using, I want some.

Following that micro-enigma, the next two search hits along (dated 2002 and 2005) are for APOD, the "Astronomy Photo of the Day" from our dear friends at NASA, faux Star Wars space mission specialists and erstwhile inventors of the Techno-Trousers. Why does Google mysteriously rate these two tiny pages (both featuring the same cropped picture of f67r1) so highly?

Well... it seems that the author of the 2002 APOD entry received so many emails related to it that he re-posted it again in 2005, with a request that interested parties should not post their, ummm, fascinating thoughts to him (tellingly, the email address has been replaced by "please.do.not@send.us.email.about.this") but instead post them to The Asterisk* online forum. And so they did, again and again, with about 280 posts in the main thread within a week, plus various auxiliary threads (such as this one) since.

I thought I'd trawl through them to see if there's anything of any interest there. Despite lots of posts debating Gordon Rugg's "Ruggish" hoax hypothesis in a fairly vacuous way, here is what I found (though heavily edited, or I'd still be typing in a week's time).

(1) Adrian Nedelkovic from Beograd (Belgrade) in Serbia, mentioned his hypothesis that had been published on p.42 of the 28th October 2004 edition of "Planeta", a Serbian popular science magazine. In a dusty corner of the Wayback Machine are copies of his first two pages (part 1 and part 2, though the images have long vanished into the ether), where he proposes that one particular fragment of Voynichese should be transcribed (you'll see in a moment why I've put certain parts in bold) as:-

Tu kur uluruda ula kur deiiv fulkaiko fuias kus cius deiiv D kur fueiiv
kileiiv kllur kus kur clus da uila fuileiiv da
Ailca kur a ileiv deiiv cilla u leiiv uila ulccl deiiv
Allcallk a leiiv ulcur ulus ula lusda
Nedelkovic believes that this "is about applying a medicine in a right and wrong way, with a warning in the end about the wrong appliance or a lost recipe", and translates it as (with "?" for missing words):

To cure your ? cure ? ? fools ? close ? ? ? ?
The cure (for you) cause cure close the ? ? the
? cure a life ? ? you live ? ? ?
All call a life you'll cure, you loose you're lost

Which would seem to add an as-yet-unknown type of deciphering delusion to the list: the misplaced belief that text messaging was invented in the early Renaissance.

(2) As a representative sampling of the messages in the thread, Samten suggests that the 24 spokes on f67r1 represent the "planetary hours", "D J Matulewicz suggests that the same picture might represent a "sailor's compass through the night sky", while geon wonders whether f34r shows when to cultivate opium poppies, f76r1 when to harvest them , and f75r/f78r how to turn them into morphine, possibly as part of an entire book about manufacturing narcotics.

(3) The first really substantive post on f67r1 in the whole thread (a third of the way down this page) comes from dandelion, who excitedly points to "the Calendar Pages from the "Antiphonal, León Cathedral, 8 Fol. 10v and 19v., 10th-11th century" " as mentioned in "Illuminated Manuscripts of Medieval Spain" by Mireille Mentré: and concludes that "it is definately a Calendar" of undetermined age.

(4) Woody NaDobhar suggests (a third of the way down on this page) that the VMs might be a "Book of Shadows", "a book of times and recipes used by practitioners of hedge magic", but with many of the "obviously not real" plants being "botanical chimera" in a kind of "Georgia O'Keefe" way.

(5) It should be noted that few of the posters really engage with the VMs (but then again, at least one of them was a 9-year-old boy, who at least showed courage). This annoyed Helen, who rather snarkily wrote: "The poster who suggested that we can't read [the VMs] because it's not English and the one who enters nonsensical links followed by emoticons are to be commended for managing to post on the internet in spite of their severe limitations." Say it like it is, sister: how many times have I pulled back from typing this myself?

(6) About halfway down this page, Hotrod (Mike H) sees f67r1 as an "Archeometre"-style drawing [actually a 19th century "Atlantean" text, with a pseudo-Lullian Renaissance vibe], and infers from the large number of apparently-pregnant women that the whole manuscript is about fertility: while at the very bottom, theAtarian suggests a similarity between it and an Egyptian hypocephalus. The preceding page has a post by MrTim (Tim Ackerson), linking to his page describing the VMs as being a single substitution cipher hiding a mix of Early Welsh, Irish, Latin, Old Cornish and numerous unknown (and probably unknowable) languages. While on this page, Misfit wonders whether it is written in cursive Bulgarian, before going on (in a separate post) to suggest a translation of "qokedy" as "who will give", "qochek" as "the head or hard part of a cabbage", while "dal" means "whether or not".

(7) We're now onto page 17 of 19, and (at long last) a sensible post. John Keirein had just seen a PBS travel program about Arcos de la Frontera in Spain, with an f67r1-like pattern on the plaza outside the church. "But the mysterious highlight is this 15th-century magic circle: 12 red and 12 white stones — the white ones with various constellations marked. Back then on a child's baptism day, the parents would stop here first for a good exorcism. The exorcist would stand inside the protective circle and cleanse the baby of any evil spirits. Then they could proceed into the church." (Copied from this site). Then Misfit posts again, this time about a magic circle his aunt gave him; and then some more translations (he says it is phonetic "Macedonian", i.e. a Bulgarian dialect): "oteey chedal oteedy" = "why does it burn why did you give"; followed by tales of his aunt apparently poisoning half his family, but that's OK because it's her religion.

Then, just as things were starting to warm up in a nicely mad way, the moderator pulled the plug and locked the thread. Finito, fin, the end: all in all, he'd had just about enough of so many odd-shaped peas jammed in APOD. And, despite all the occasional flickers of intelligence, can you really blame him?


Blogalot said...

Hello Nick,
It's too bad so few comments are left on your fascinating and articulate blog, as it is a reliable source of amusement and amazement for me. Keep it up!

Sean Bentley

(PS i left a link to you on my page at
http://uitext.blogspot.com )

Emily said...

whatever SEO ayahuasca they're using...

Maybe they somehow found a recipe for such a potion in the Voynich manuscript, but decided the world is not ready to know of it.