Cod. Sang. 754 and the Voynich Manuscript

Voynich Manuscript

Every now and again we uncover manuscripts with possible direct or indirect links to the Voynich Manuscript. They might contain a similar glyph, a similar illustration, or perhaps a similar diagram. A good example was Cod. Sang. 839 (discovered by Thomas Sauvaget) with the same quire number style.

Cod. Sang. 754 is perhaps special in how many similarities there are.

All credit to the discovery goes to Job (from the Voynichese project); I am simply documenting it for him. I will avoid making any bold claims and simply lay out all the similarities and let you make your own decision. I’ll also not bore you with the details of the manuscript until the end.

1. The illustration

The first thing Job noticed was the style of the illustration on page 164.

Page 164 of Cod. Sang 754.

Page 164 of Cod. Sang 754.

It should speak for itself.

(it’s the only full plant illustration in the manuscript so don’t bother looking for others)

2. The label

Then I noticed that the plant (Agrimonia) was labelled twice. “Huh, I wonder what’s the point of that,” I thought. Then something struck me about the lower label.

Agrimonia label on p164

Agrimonia label on p. 164

The writing is heavily sloped backwards so the strokes resemble Voynichese “i”. This is despite the fact that the rest of the manuscript’s writing, and even the other “m” and “n” on the same page, are upright.

This really got the ball rolling.

3. The last page

Now let’s look at the markings on the last page (p. 168).

Page 168 (last page) of Cod. Sang. 754.

Page 168 (last page) of Cod. Sang. 754.

It’s mostly nonsense

The last page is very similar to the marginalia on the last page of the Voynich Manuscript (f116v) in that it’s inscrutable.

Marginalia on f116v  (last page) of the Voynich Manuscript.

Marginalia on f116v (last page) of the Voynich Manuscript.

I profess no skill in Latin nor medieval German, but I can see that very few sequences on page 168 are meaningful (e.g. what does “vn vn von don an a_” mean?). Makes sense given that it’s probably a pen test and not intended to be a meaningful text. Not only that, but it’s mostly pseudo-Latin with some pseudo-German, the same as f116v of the Voynich Manuscript.

Letter stroke shapes

The shape of the “x” is the same too. Page 168 has three in a row.

Top:

Top: “morix + vix” from the Voynich Manuscript f116v.
Bottom: “fol xxx ß” from Cod. Sang. 754 p. 168.

The way that the vague “an”/”m” beginning is constructed also parallels the marginalia of the Voynich Manuscript.

Top: Possibly

Top: Possibly “michiton” or “anchiton” from the Voynich Manuscript f116v.
Bottom: Possibly “antifmens” or “mufmens” from Cod. Sang. 754 p. 168.

Voynichese-like words

The Voynich Manuscript’s f116v has Latin characters distorted to look more like Voynichese and we can see that in Cod. Sang. 754 as well.

There are three words in a row with the Voynichese word ending “in”:

Cod Sang 754 in endings

The last two words seem to be “domini noster” so I don’t know why this ending would be appropriate. The “d” is connected so it’s almost like the numeral 8.

This example shows more connected d’s and a nonsense word with the Voynichese “-aii-” structure.

Cod Sang 754 dadaiiid

Maria, gas

Finally, the last page of both manuscripts contain the words “maria” and “gas” (albeit differently).

Top:

Top: “maria” and “gas” from the Voynich Manuscript f116v.
Bottom: “maria” and “gas” from Cod. Sang 754 p. 168.

4. Doodles

Now let’s get to the bulk of the manuscript. Just like the Voynich Manuscript, the author has a habit of doodling random quadrupeds, secret snakes and dragons eating bits of plants.

Animal doodles in Cod. Sang. 754.

Animal doodles in Cod. Sang. 754.

Animal doodles in the Voynich Manuscript.

Animal doodles in the Voynich Manuscript.

The loop-de-loop doodles are also similar:

Top: Loop doodles in Cod. Sang. 754. Bottom: Ornate gallows in the Voynich Manuscript.

Top: Loop doodles in Cod. Sang. 754.
Bottom: Ornate gallows in the Voynich Manuscript.

5. More writing details

Cod. Sang. 754 also contains no punctuation (except for hyphens).

Job and I have looked for matches to the Voynich Manuscript’s marginalia in the text itself. The best we could find were “die leber” (throughout), “ſo min” (throughout) and “nu” (p. 68).

Dotted vowels

One of the minor mysteries of the marginalia on f116v was the vertical line of dots above the last “o”. Vogt stated in his marginalia study that we didn’t know if it was intentional, nor what it could mean.

Dotted

Dotted “o” in Voynich Manuscript f116v marginalia.

It appears so often in Cod. Sang. 754 you could be forgiven for thinking it was a common convention!

Vowels with vertical lines of dots in Cod. Sang. 754.

Vowels with vertical lines of dots in Cod. Sang. 754.

They seem to be diacritic variations (old umlaut?).

More Voynichese-like text

The connected d’s and Voynichese-like “in” appear throughout the manuscript. Near the end of most paragraphs, and sometimes instead of “h”, there are symbols that look like Voynichese “k”, “z” and “m”:

Distorted

Distorted “har” in Cod Sang 754 p. 52.

These can lead to some familiar looking word shapes:

A word that looks like Voynichese

A word that looks like Voynichese “daiin” in Cod Sang 754 p. 81.

A word that looks like Voynichese

A word that looks like Voynichese “keeeeey” in Cod. Sang. 754 p. 148.

More stroke construction

We also find an open-topped “p” or “r” annotation:

Left: Annotation from Cod. Sang. 754 p. 157. Right: Annotation from Voynich Manuscript f20r.

Left: Annotation from Cod. Sang. 754 p. 157.
Right: Annotation from Voynich Manuscript f20r.

And more of the highly backwards-sloped and unconnected writing scattered throughout (mostly as annotations and marginalia):

Another backwards sloped word in Cod. Sang. 754 p. 160.

Another backwards sloped word in Cod. Sang. 754 p. 160.

The exception is p. 32 which is entirely in this hand.

Crosses

There are two pages with the “word, cross, word, …” format we see in f116v’s marginalia.

Crosses in Cod. Sang. 754 p. 162.

Crosses in Cod. Sang. 754 p. 162.

(the other one is page 80)

Summary

That’s it for the similarities. I’ve included everything we noticed so there are some strong matches and some weak ones. But collectively I think it is remarkable to find all of these features in a single manuscript.

Note that I am not proposing matches but rather resemblances, and again I will leave you to interpret these comparisons as you will. At the very least it hints at a culture/time/place that produces a superficially similar work. Even if it is completely unrelated to the Voynich Manuscript it helps to put things into context. That is, at best it is a sibling and at worst it is a cousin, either way it is closer than what we have found elsewhere.

Manuscript details

Still with me? Want to know more about Cod. Sang. 754?

What: Untitled collection of medical texts in German (by the same person). It is listed as “Manual of drug practice (fragment, beginning missing)”. Carlton Bach told me it was specifically Middle High German.

It contains medical information, recipes and a herbal (with only one illustration). The introduction and (implied?) astronomical sections are missing, though since the ornate capitals disappear partway through the book (there are just blank rectangular spaces where they ought to appear) and there is only one illustration for the herbal, I wonder if it was unfinished or interrupted.

The details mention that the manuscript is written in one hand which is mostly true for the main text, but there are others in the annotations and last page.

Who: Appears to be anonymous. The description talks about the various sections including names, but it’s not always clear which sections are copied and which ones might be original. For example, it doesn’t say the first section is a “copy” or “excerpt” like the others. Yet it says it is “for Rudolf von Hohenberg” and the last person of that line (Rudolf III) died in 1389, well before the 1466 date.

Where: Description says “Glarus” which is in Switzerland. Not sure if that means the town or the canton, nor if that was the actual place of publication or just the earliest known location.

It was later in the collection of Aegidius Tschudi (from the town of Glarus) in the 16th century.

It is now in St. Gallen Stiftsbibliothek which is where Cod. Sang. 839 (mentioned in my introduction) also ended up, interestingly enough.

When: Dated 29 January 1466. Well, at least the first section.

Where to from here?

Descriptions say that this manuscript is related to 2° Cod. 572 of the Staats- und Stadtbibliothek Augsburg (1446, Bavaria or Swabia, printed by unknown) and Cod. Germ. 1 of the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg (c. 1460, Swabia, by scribal community). Second hand descriptions are promising, as they are also collections of plants, recipes, astrology, medicine, alchemy and so on. They have similar structure, style, production, and even have some text in parallel (more details here). What’s most interesting is how they are from around the same time and place, Lake Constance area circa 1460, which corroborates other estimates about time, place and marginalia language.

Unfortunately, neither of these have been fully digitised. Would any interested German speakers want to write to these institutions?

Update 1 [2014-12-27]

Thanks to everyone who read this article from the mailing list! I’ll post some of the following discussion here so that regular viewers aren’t left out of the loop.

Steve D. suggests that f41r of the Voynich Manuscript also depicts Agrimony but in a different style from Cod. Sang 754. The seed pods may be emphasised because the medicinal oil contained within was the focus of the text, and the leaves deliberately hidden to avoid identification.

Yulia M (Russian site) found some other similarities in the manuscript which I re-post with her permission.

1) “M” (page 154)

Cod Sang 754 M's

2) Combinations “-ll-” and “-bl-” (page 148)

Cod Sang 754 ll and bl

3) Unknown objects

Cod Sang 754 unknown objects(Anton Alipov identifies the one on the left as a rennet bag)

Rene Zandbergen says that the “striking” resemblance of the Agrimonia illustration may arise from a similar production method. The artist first drew an ink outline, then paint was applied sloppily with only a few colours (and perhaps by someone else). He points out two major differences – the Voynich Manuscript’s plant illustrations put more emphasis on the roots, and are done more carefully. Though with only one plant illustration in Cod. Sang 754, it is hard to really compare with confidence.

Helmut Winkler says that I have misread many German words, e.g. the “gas” in Cod. Sang. 754 should actually be “gans” (goose). However this is not so important as the main focus is mostly about the constructions and strokes.

The question about the double-labelling of Agrimonia has been answered; the later addition can correct the spelling of the first label, provide a more readable version, or provide the name in an alternate language. Apparently this is common in herbal manuscripts and double-labelling occurs elsewhere in Cod. Sang. 754 (e.g. page 160).

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14 thoughts on “Cod. Sang. 754 and the Voynich Manuscript

  1. I think the VMS research is going in the right direction recently, trying to what I call “to narrow the context”. The fact that libraries continue to digitize mediaeval manuscripts – thus making them truly publicly available – greatly facilitates this research process. As I understand, this MS has only recently been digitized.

    I already heard about this Cod. Sang. 754 from the comments in Nick Pelling’s blog, had a look at it, and I agree that this is a nice finding. Thx for this post, some good observations here. The “crosses” pages are most suggestive. What’s good that they confirm my conclusions on VMS f116v. I hope I will be able to write a (long delayed) post about all that in spring, until then I’m pretty busy unfortunately 😦

    1. I’m also glad of the digitisation trend, though it can have its downsides. The sheer number of available manuscripts can become overwhelming to look through. Ah well, that’s what crowdsourcing is for.
      All in good time.

  2. I also disagree in general that the last page of Cod. Sang. 754 is mostly “meaningless” text. Even if it be a collection of pen tests, one won’t try his pen writing some “meaningless” constructions. Most probably it’s just a problem of our reading. Also, the first and last pages of anything are perfect places for accidental and idle notes. I like the inscription to the right of the “funny head” drawing: “??? est ad d dadamd (?) dammel”. Dämel means fool in German. 🙂

    Or the one to the bottom: “Ich sol vor (?) ??? fol” (I shall be ??? full) – some funny folklore rhyme for sure.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. Trying not to let our modern eyes tarnish the “reading” is always important but is easier said than done. I don’t know any variety of German (medieval or otherwise) so I can’t comment on your readings. It’s an interesting thing to consider for sure.
      Of course it’s also debatable whether f116v’s writing is meaningful either.

  3. It’s interesting to think that the latest additions (final page, marginalia etc.) seem to point to that time and place.

  4. Ps – sorry that I can’t agree about the Agrimony picture. Leaves are too well veined, and roots too cursory – imo – to resemble the Vms’ plant pictures. But for everyone who won’t agree, there are usually as many who do.

  5. I should have added that some of the letter-forms have really convinced me, though of exactly what I’m not sure. The ‘m’ is almost identical, I agree. On the other hand, the pen-tests (as ‘doodles’ on the last page of a Latin European ms are usually called) might include animals and calligraphic ornaments, but their not quite like the beasts and other bits on f.1r.

    I agree with Rene – in fact I’ve been agreeing since before Rene said it, come to think of it, that the use of the plant roots to convey information, with care, is one big difference between the Vms and any remotely similar imagery in the Latin west.

    Very interesting blogpost. Thanks.

    1. Hello Anton,
      Thanks for the continued interest. Very good articles, I appreciate the sound contextual comparisons and considering previous efforts.
      You may be glad to know that I have plenty more evidence for a High German context, but this won’t be ready for several months at the least.
      I have replied on the posts’ comments.

  6. Hello, thank you for discussing this interesting manuscript! Here is my attempt at transcribing and translating three Latin lines from the last page of the manuscript. Also, many thanks to Job for voynichese.com!

    Item non accident [for “accedent”?] a[e]stuans aut i[n]f[a]mans
    cu[n]futatis [for “confutatis”] liliu[m] et filiu[m] eiu[s] unicu[m] dominu[m]
    c[h]ristu[m] dominu[m] nostru[m] a[e]stuans

    Also they will not access / the burning or the defaming /
    [when they have been] condemned / the lily and his only son the lord
    Christ our lord / the burning

    Please note that this is not a coherent sentence. “aestuans” is in the nominative case and should be a subject. “lilium”, “filium” etc are in the accusative case and should be an object. I could not think of an English translation that somehow rendered this incoherence. The slashes in the translation mark the boundaries of unrelated fragments.
    Also, I am unsure about the proposed interpretation of the most interesting word(s) “autifmans”.
    Words like “burning”, “condemned”, “lord” point to a Christian eschatology. Also, consider the sentence “ad regnum accedere” (accessing the kingdom) which stands for “entering heaven”.

  7. Hello, you’ve offered some interesting observations.

    The figure-eight doodles were not uncommon in medieval manuscripts, especially in signatures, pen tests, and margin embellishments, but it’s interesting that you found some with dots inside, which are less common.

    I wanted to point out that the “distorted” letter “h” in the word identified as “har” is probably not an “h” but rather “cl” as in “clar”. Also, the shape of the “x” and several of the other letters mentioned was quite common in Germanic manuscripts and would be consistent with the “almost German” text on the last page.

    Also, the double-dots in your example pics from Sang. 754 are the medieval equivalent of umlauts or other diacritical marks, which were quite variable (sometimes dots, sometimes a curve, sometimes a line) and not always consistently applied due to the variation of pronunciation in different regions, but as far as I’ve seen, they were never written as four dots as on the last page of Beinecke 408 and the shape/penmanship of the circular object with the dots above it in the VM does not match very well with the other “o” letters on the page. I think it’s unlikely due to its shape and position in relation to other text that the VM shape is meant to be ö.

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