There’s a reason why I haven’t written much lately (apart from chronic lack of time). I’m researching a relatively ambitious future blog post, but the work is slow and it won’t be finished any time soon.

So while we wait, here’s a short post about something else. Three seemingly separated lines suddenly joined together in my mind. Here’s the premises:

  1. From my research on Quire 13, I have concluded that the images there are layered by design. If you look at a figure in one way you get the first meaning, but if you focus on a different part you get the second meaning. The same is true for a number of the plant drawings, both large and small. Both linking of separate spheres of information and the creation of slightly absurd images are known to facilitate learning and boost memory retention. Hence, I believe the images were first made this way to be used in a didactic context. Not necessarily a school, but any situation where the intention of the audience to learn was a strong concern.

    Layered by design.
  2. The Voynich script is incredibly simple. It looks like fluent writing that has been presented in a more accessible way. Chopped up cursive, accessible to those used to Latin and Greek scripts. Just look at the hordes of amateurs who have developed their own Voynich theory. This wouldn’t have happened if the script looked like the Visigothic example on the left. Which one would you rather transcribe?Scripts
  3. In discussions about what Voynichese could be, certain related arguments often return. The bottom line is that Voynichese as a language would make some more sense if we could assume that the spaces we see don’t really divide words. Depending on who you ask, spaces have been inserted in specific places, or the “words” are actually syllables, or the language has only one-syllable words to begin with. Bottom line, we could explain, or at least attempt to explain, Voynichese’s oddities better if we can treat the words as syllables.


But how would I link didactically layered drawings, an accessible writing system and writing in syllables? Well, I came across the following article:

Biblical scholars at the university of Texas (Austin) have discovered a Greek version of the secret teachings of Jesus, an apocryphal text. Such writings were part of early Christianity, but have not been allowed into the New Testament. The fact that this scroll is in Greek is relevant, since this would imply that it is not a translation. Hence, the new find is likely the closest we have found so far to the original.

While this is interesting already, it was the following paragraph that caught my attention:

With its neat, uniform handwriting and words separated into syllables, the original manuscript was probably a teacher’s model used to help students learn to read and write, Smith and Landau said.

“The scribe has divided most of the text into syllables by using mid-dots. Such divisions are very uncommon in ancient manuscripts, but they do show up frequently in manuscripts that were used in educational contexts,” said Landau, a lecturer in the UT Austin Department of Religious Studies.

Now I’m not saying that the VM’s contents must have originated in the same setting. For example, they envisage a school teacher with presumably young students, while I’d rather think of adults arriving in a multi-linguistic setting they are not entirely familiar with. But the principle described here does line up with the points I described above. A teaching context, easy script, apparent splitting into syllables.

It’s not something I’d put all my money on. But if I were forced to explain the “why” of the script, the language and the strangeness of the drawings, this would be part of my answer. Layered for learning, written for accessibility.