Throughout the last weeks, I have posted a number of plant analyses from f89v 1&2. I have argued that something special has been constructed on this foldout: the author has drawn these plants in such a way as to facilitate the memorization of their foreign names.

He mixes each plant with a – to his audience –  familiar mythological image or scene. For us, the result is that these plants are hardly recognizable. For the original user, however, this foldout offered assistance for building their own memory palace.

This technique, also called method of loci, was used by the Ancients and throughout the Middle Ages, and is being rediscovered by memory experts today (see this entertaining and illuminating talk by US memory champion Joshua Foer (video)). Basically, you link new, hard to remember information to slightly absurd mental images and places. This activates our powerful spatial memory; we are much better at remembering images and places than for example phone numbers or foreign plant names.

It also helps if your brain has to do some ‘work’, so it can process the information in depth. That explains why some of these images aren’t too obvious at first. You have to study them, deconstruct their various pieces, but it back together, and when you’re done, you can’t forget the foreign plant name anymore.

It’s quite effective: just by studying these plants, I am now unable to forget the Indic word for sugar, information I wasn’t exactly trying to retain. If you’re new to this blog, you should check out my post on saffron for a clear and complete example.

Let’s take a look at our Voynich memory palace again, or rather Memory Temple:


It’s obvious that this foldout is visually stimulating: it’s full of drawings. However, something I haven’t mentioned yet in any previous post, is how the plants are clearly grouped as well, separated by blocks of text. This approach effectively creates “rooms” for the reader to use in his memory palace: he enters the first room, where he sees the Dioskouri charging the golden ram Chrysomallos, and so on.

I have talked about plants from every room, except from the last one: row E. This is a great room, because the three plants’ mnemonics belong to the same story: they represent the Greek hero Heracles (Hercules) and his two most famous opponents: Cerberus and the Hydra. Having these three together in one room is another powerful memory booster. You just have to remember that one plant sounds like “Cerberos”, and you’ll see the other two as well.

In the next three posts, I will discuss each one in detail.