Yes, it is the time of the year again. The mysterious Voynich Manuscript of which we have reported earlier (see “Read more here”) has allegedly been decoded yet again.
This time it was Gerard Chesire of the University of Bristol who only needed two weeks to crack the code. A great feat since dozens of scientists, amateurs, decoders, etc. have never succeeded. Chesire writes in his paper that the manuscript is written in a previously unknown “seldom written” proto-Romance language, which sounds like a possible cop-out.
Even though the purpose of this site is to bundle articles concerning history while keeping them bite-size, a personal interest makes us take a closer look into the statements of Gerard Chesire.
He claims that the manuscript was written by Dominican nuns as a reference work for Maria of Castile, queen of Aragon. He has yet to translate the entire text which is obviously needed to check his claim as previously many have “translated” small words already using their own theories.
It did not take long for rebuttals to be published. Lisa Fagin Davis, who has a PhD in Medieval Studies from Yale University and has catalogued medieval manuscript collections at Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, the Walters Art Museum, Wellesley College, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Boston Public Library, and several private collections and has written about codicology in manuscripts, states there is no proto-Romance language. She states that Chesire looks at a word he thinks he can understand due to its proximity to a drawing and then keeps on looking in medieval Romance-language dictionaries until he finds a compatible word.
The only way to disprove Fagin Davis’ hypothesis is for Chesire to translate large chunks of the manuscript instead of a few words as he has now done. It has also been pointed out that the translations that he made were either already known (the Zodiac sign names being of Romance origin even though they were probably written down later) or educated guesses based on what had already been discovered.
One of the claims is that the translations were difficult because it is not only written in proto-Romance but also features Latin phrases and abbreviations, something that had already been posited by author and lawyer Joseph Martin Feely in 1943 and pushed again by television writer Nicholas Gibbs (see “read more”).
The Daily Mail has given some pictures and translations from Chesire (see the link under “sources”).
The second picture shows a miscarriage or abortion. This is quite clear as abortions are flushed out of a woman’ body through a pipe [!]. “omor néna” thus means “dead baby” and is a mash-up of Romanian (which is an eastern Romance language and not a Slavic language) and Spanish. Furthermore there is “palina” from Italian and a fish called “mars” from French (which now became the month “March”). The same goes for “abril” which became the month April in Catalan, Galician, Occitan, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish (but is also used in Dutch, English and German which are not Romance languages).
Thus it seems true that Chesire is cherry-picking his solutions. Also, as noted above, some researchers believe that the names of the Zodiac signs have been added later and are thus possibly unrelated to the text in the manuscript.
Another critic, J.K. Petersen from Voynich Portal, a website dedicated to translating the manuscript, points out that Chesire is not consistent in breaking up his words. On a picture of a possible eruption, he takes a certain letter (the letters are named EVA-ot as a way to digitally communicate which letters they are talking about) and makes it part of a word, but a few lines further on, he uses it as a standalone letter. Considering there are no spaces between words in the text, this is subjective. Again, a full translation of the manuscript is the only way to check his theory.
His translation of this picture has nothing to do with an eruption and thus his work method of beginning with pictures and translating them can be called into question.
Digging deeper, J.K. Petersen shows that Chesire uses the letters f/ph and u/v on a rare character (< 50 times used in the manuscript out of 38,000 words) even though they are widely used in Latin. His translations also feature Germanic and Persian words. Some translations are also cherry-picked: he uses “om” as a ground word for people (om is a person, omas are mothers/babies, omo is man) but “omenas” becomes “to take charge”.
In the end, it is unclear how Chesire translated the short word next to the picture as “eruption” or “volcano”. It is possible that he got tunnel vision to get to the conclusion that since Vulcano (on an island north of Sicily) erupted in 1444 and the manuscript is dated to be from somewhere between 1404 and 1438 that this piece must be about Vulcano.
Chesire places the text on Ischia, an island near Naples, but does not really explain as to why he thinks this, besides the island’s language having “insufficient similarity with Italics to be described as proto-Italic”. It is possibly cherry-picked to link the manuscript to queen Maria who was from Naples (and thus suddenly the manuscript had been written for her use). He also uses her to explain the proto-Romance language as being a mishmash of all languages and dialects from the western Mediterranean (even though this means only a very select handful of people would have any use for such a language at all and certainly not kings and queens who, 700 years after the fall of the Latin Roman Empire would still speak Latin).
He also believes that the letters are like our alphabet going from a to z even though there is no agreed upon alphabet or even an agreed understanding how many letters there are. He just states that those that basically do not fit his theory are from “different graphic origins” or “indicate particular uses” or are “phonetic accents”.
So it seems that the only proof is in translating all of the text, even though Chesire has already written about unknown letters and other difficulties that might arise. This means that for now it is nothing more but a new theory based on previous findings, some (possible) discoveries of his own and (un)educated guesses possibly forced upon him by tunnel vision.
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02639904.2019.1599566 (The article of Dr Gerard Chesire)
https://manuscriptroadtrip.wordpress.com/about/ (About Dr Lisa Fagin Davis)
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