On what the Voynich recipe section could be…

The “Recipe” section of the Voynich has many interesting properties, but since it is a purely textual part of the manuscript, it tends to get passed over.

Let’s have a quick overview of this section.

It is self-contained within the very last quire of the manuscript. It comprises many sequential paragraphs of text, with many paragraphs being illustrated (or marked) with stars. There are no drawings other than these stars.

The stars are not all the same. They have 7 or 8 arms. Their colouring changes, we find:

  • full dark shaded stars (example)
  • full light shaded stars (example)
  • only central shaded stars (example)
  • central shaded stars with a central dot, with different colours (example)
  • stars with no shading but a central dot, with different colours (example)
  • empty stars

The stars appear to be roughly in a sequential pattern. Therefore we see different patters emerging – ie, dark spot, light spot, dark spot, light spot etc.

Most of the stars have tails, which seem to have the function of marking several lines of text underneath the stars.

Sometimes we find an aberrant star, such as this tiny one here.

The obvious solution is that the stars are marking paragraphs.

I would suggest that the colour coding of the stars, along with the number of arms, indicates topic. Most likely, the type of colouring indicates a topic; the colour within then indicates a sub-category.

That the section is a “recipe book” is an old suggestion that appears to come from Currier’s original classification of the book. I understand that he was not suggestion food recipe, but rather pharmaceutical recipes, to go with the assumed medicinal purpose of the book.

However, I would suggest a different purpose to this section – it’s a florilegium.

In medieval works, a florilegium was a compendium of extracts and maxims derived from the great writers of the past. It then started to develop into other topics, bringing together maxims on different subjects such as ethical topics, civic behaviour, vices and virtues, and the like.

Florilegiums were common in scholar circles. Prof Mary Carruthers says that they were essentially aide de memoires for students, brief dictiones summarising the topic which are presented either ad verba (verbatim) or ad res (a summary).

One of the best known scholar’s florilegiums is De universo, a Carolingian encyclopaedia compiled by Hrabanus Maurus. Of course, this was Middle Ages, far before this book.

By the late Middle Ages / early Renaissance, the florilegium had developed into more of a layman’s treatise. Short homilies for personal study which were designed to remind the reader of the greater text.

They were short summaries of wisdom, designed to make the reader recall the main body of information.

This florilegium theory explains the short abbreviated nature of the paragraphs, together with the stars, which here serve as topic markers.

It doesn’t get us any closer to what the content actually means, but it does provide a new perspective for further analysis.

Incidentally, the term florilegium (which essentially means to gather flowers) was adopted afresh in the Renaissance to describe herbals.

One thought to “On what the Voynich recipe section could be…”

  1. David
    You are very wise to include a definition of ‘florilegium’ here. When I explained to Santacoloma’s mailing list members that the internal evidence of the imagery showed it to be not a single authorial composition but a florilegium of practical information, not only was the response of the vocal a stream of ridicule – because none of the vocal were able to imagine an alternative to the authorial idea, but none had read enough medieval history to recognise the meaning of ‘florilegium’ as anthology.

    When one wonders if the study is advancing at all, one only needs to read mailing-list and blog-comments from 2010 to see how rapidly things have changed since then. All very uplifting, actually.

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