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Re: Voynich Manuscript book

From:Sally Caves <scaves@...>
Date:Saturday, February 19, 2005, 16:54
Thomas was good enough to send me this post of his on last Sunday (I signed
in again to CONLANG on Monday).  I ran out and bought the book at Borders
yesterday, and here is my assessment.

> Greetings all, > > I've been intrigued by the discussions about the Voynich ms. on this > list for some time, though I know very little about it. > > Anyway, at the bookstore I work in we just got a brand-spankin' new > book about it, called "The Friar and the Cipher" by Lawrence and Nancy > Goldstone. I was wondering if any of the folks on the list who are > knowledgeable about the Voynich ms. have seen the book and have an > opinion on whether it's any good and whether it's worth the $26. > > Thanks!
It's only worth the twenty-six dollars if you want to read chapter after chapter about famous men of the middle ages and the Renaissance and their intellectual surmises: Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, John Dee, Roger Bacon, Francis Bacon, Edward Kelley, Roger Bacon, Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon, Roger Bacon, Roger Bacon. And some biographical material on Wilfred Voynich who purchased the manuscript in 1912. It is written by two book collectors who as far as I can tell have little knowledge of cryptography or linguistics. The book is in hardback, it comes with an insert of beautiful color photographs from the Voynich manuscript, replete with pictures of exotic plants, mandalas, smiling naked ladies sliding through tubes of water, and one lovely page of the "cipher" with its beautiful calligraphy, and for THAT I'm glad I have a copy. But as far as shedding any light on the mystery of Voynichese, this book is a bust, and it is biased, to boot. The authors give really very little close analysis of the actual cipher... they are more interested in the friar. They cling stubbornly to the idea that the manuscript is thirteenth century and that Roger Bacon wrote it, and so they lean heavily on William Newbold's theories, which proposed Bacon as the author on the basis of his having discovered the "key" to the cipher in a questionable Latin text on the last page of the book, and a very garbled writing of his name (supposedly). Chapter 17 is a panegyric to Newbold's intelligence and academic achievement. So most of the book is taken up with long discussions of the thirteenth-century mindset and its interest in alchemy, steganography, cryptography, and the rhetoric of secrecy--as though these very issues were not entertained as well in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Only in the very last chapter called "MS 408" do they actually discuss the efforts to decipher the manuscript, and this is basically a rehash of the various theories already out there; and they return to Newbold, after a completely silly discussion of "quantum cryptography," which destroys the code that it breaks. In the meantime, they neglect describing the nature of the characters themselves along with the efforts to "romanize" it that would reveal the strings of echoism and what others have called "low entropy": dokedy dokedy dokody--that sort of thing; or what the tubes of water with the naked ladies could signify. Mind you, I was falling asleep at almost every page that I scanned, so I might have missed something. The jacket blurb writes that "The Friar and the Cipher is a wonderfully entertaining and historically wide-ranging book that is one part _The Code_, one part _Possession_, and one part _The Da Vinci Code_," so you can see what audience the publishers are catering to. There are no footnotes. Now I have no special reason for disliking the Bacon theory, except that I've read too many articles debunking Newbold's findings, and giving evidence of a later date for the manuscript. Also, what would Bacon's incentive be, and what was he writing about? And for whom? (questions that could be asked of any other author of this text). It seems that any later author gifted in crypto-writing could have done this kind of thing. Just because Bacon is famous doesn't mean we have to pin it on him; who knows what brilliant, weird mind, lost to time, could have produced something that really looks more like it belongs to the late fourteenth, early fifteenth century? The Goldstone book is basically light reading and uses Roger Bacon as a selling point; and it is so padded with information that is basically irrelevant to the matters that interest me that I was appallingly bored and frustrated by all the colorful digressions. Even the John Dee chapter bored me. In another context I would have been able to stay awake, but trying to comb the book for information about the actual manuscript was torture. I strongly recommend Mary D'Imperio's scrupulous, beautifully set out (and hard to find) analysis of this curious book called _The Voynich Manuscript: An Elegant Enigma_ (Fort George G. Meade, Maryland: National Security Agency/Central Security Service, 1978). She is/was an NSA cryptographer, and she gives one of the most thorough analyses of the language and script, the theories surrounding it, and admirably concise discussions of relevant medieval and renaissance theories of language and code, with no attempts whatsoever to jazz it up or dumb it down for the lay reader. It was a microfilm in our Government Documents library; it took me four hours to scan all the pages from the microfiche, but it was worth it. Sally Al eskkoat ol ai sendran, rohsan nuehra celyil takrem bomai nakuo.


Mark J. Reed <markjreed@...>quantum cryptography [Re: Voynich manuscript book]