Voynich Manuscript: Re-Ordering the folios in Quire 13

Re-Ordering the Folios in Quire 13



Following Nick Pelling’s comment below, I have revised the proposed order of folios slightly within subquire C (flipped the outer folios).

This post was inspired by a discussion on a Cipher Mysteries page presenting Nick Pelling’s “Block Paradigm” (read about it here: http://www.ciphermysteries.com/2014/12/07/introducing-the-block-paradigm-for-voynich-manuscript-research-part-1). The article and its lengthy comments section discuss the text on folio 81r and its layout. One of the many questions raised is: does the large blank margin on the right side of the page reflect the nature of the text, i.e a poem or song, or is it due to some other factor?

Nick Pelling referenced a suggestion made years ago by René Zandbergen that the blank space may have been left by the scribe to leave room for a marginalia type of drawing which never ended up being added. With all due respect to Mr. Zandbergen, who has considerable expertise on the manuscript and whose website (http://www.voynich.nu/index.html) is a real treasure trove of Voynich-related information, I believe that this particular hypothesis of his can be disproven, as will be shown in the following paragraphs.

Mr. Pelling has demonstrated that Quire 13 was originally in a different order than it is now, as evidenced by the connected tubs of 78v and 81r. His work with Glen Claston on the MS brought them to the suspicion that Quire 13 might best be viewed as consisting of two distinct quires. I recently found a page discussing this at Cipher Mysteries (http://www.ciphermysteries.com/2013/05/30/evidence-of-bifolio-reordering-in-the-voynich-manuscript), but it does not provide any link to Claston’s work and I was unable to find any online exposé of the reasons that brought him to consider Quire 13 as consisting of two subquires, (which they call 13a & 13b).

In this post I will be presenting my own reasons for reviewing the folio order, and the original ordering of quire 13 as I see it, which is based on the type of layout and drawings we find within its pages. It may be that Glen Claston had made the same observations as the ones I will be presenting, but as I said, I was unable to find his writings on this subject: I just want to emphasize that I am not trying to plagiarize anyone’s work,  and that I cannot claim beyond doubt to be the first person to identify the properties that lead me to my conclusions. Here they are anyway:

Original Quire 13 Folio Order:

76, 77, 79, 80, 82, 83, 84, 78, 81, 75

Here’s why:

The section of the manuscript known as Quire 13 displays two types of page layout structures which can be grouped as M and C types of folios:

  • C type folios feature large Central tubs with clearly visible “walls” and  structured sides: these are man-made basins, sometimes connected with tubing. C type folios have no marginal drawings (no figures in the margins).
  • M type folios feature pools which have no such walls but are marked by wavy edges, possibly indicating natural pools. M type folios however, feature plenty of man-made elements in their numerous Marginal drawings.
  • It is also worth noting that while the nymphs in M are active, hold objects and carry out all sorts of interactions, the nymphs in section C are almost completely passive, just standing or laying in the water.

Each folio’s recto and verso sides belong to the same category.

The grouping is as follows, and apparently mirrors Claston’s 13a/b division:

M: 76, 77, 79, 80, 82, 83

C: 84, 78, 81, 75

On some folios there are central pools and marginal drawings, but in these cases the pools do not display structured tub walls like the others in the folios classified as C type folios, and they are therefore M types.

When the bifolios are reordered to reproduce this order, we end up with two subquires, quire 13M and 13C. I believe M precedes C in the original ordering, because f76r, with it’s emphasized initial character and vertical key-like sequence of characters, make for a better header for the overall section. However, one or several bi-folios may be missing from 13C (Pelling says this was also postulated by Claston), so this cannot be known for sure at this point.

Within each subquire the order of the bifolios is obvious, as sub-quire 13C necessarily has bifolio 78-81 as its center, however it may be missing folios, or could perhaps just tell a shorter “story” than the one being told in 13M.

Returning to the hypothesis that 81r’s layout may have been intended as leaving room for marginal images, this can now be ruled out, as we can see 81r is a C type page, consistent with its other side 81v, and therefore was not intended to feature drawings in the margins. The layout is likely the result of the scribe’s avoidance of a stain in the margin, as suggested by “Job” in the comments section of the Cipher Mysteries article mentioned above, or a reflection of the nature of the text itself (poem, song, or other).

If anyone has a link to Claston’s work on quire 13, please let me know, I’d love to read it!


9 thoughts on “Voynich Manuscript: Re-Ordering the folios in Quire 13

  1. Thanks, and yes I agree about not reading too much into the colors. I too believe that most of these were added later. Still, they are rather distracting and I have to constantly remind myself to ignore them!
    But I do think that animals bathing in the water would indicate the end of a process, or the run-off, rather than the beginning or middle.
    Here’s why:
    I may be out of touch with medieval mindsets, but I would think that the waters used in thermal baths or balneo-therapeutic institutions would come directly from the spring (most of these spas were located near hot springs), rather than re-use water that has been bathed in by horses, lizards and sheep, or whatever those creatures are on 79v.
    Of course, depending on what’s actually being depicted here, it might be normal for some ladies to bathe in river water (see Dante’s Inferno and his Canto 14 reference to “sinful women” bathing in the stream at Bullicame).
    I actually made the kind of printout you refer to last year when I was brainstorming the ideas behind this post. It was very helpful indeed!


  2. I differ of course from Nick on whether or not the use of blue vs green is to be taken as significant. Whether or not it is, I fail to see how it could, of itself, trigger any theory at all. 🙂

    Apart from that, I wanted to say how much I enjoy your posts here at at Voynich ninja.


  3. You’re certainly pretty close. 🙂

    In “The Curse of the Voynich” (2006) pp.62-65, I pointed out not only that the f78-f81 bifolio was at the centre of a quire (which had been suggested before me), but also that there was a very high likelihood that the f84-f75 pair (reversed) was wrapped immediately around it – the unusual “pineapple” shape at the top left of f78r would then sit right next to the reflected version of the same thing on f84v, while the two pairs of pools on the same page would sit symmetrically opposite each other.

    So this is the same as your C book, but with the outer bifolio reversed. 🙂

    Also: my Curse analysis agreed with yours that f76 originally sat next to f77, and that f76 was probably the outer part of that gathering (I don’t believe it was bound at that point, so not a “quire” as such), and I’m reasonably sure that GC didn’t differ on that. So it would appear that we’re very close to describing the same thing here.

    I’ll see if I can dig up Glen’s notes on Q13A / Q13B for you. But as I recall, the core of his argument was that the two groups of bifolios appeared to have – as you point out – different visual themes. So he was probably suggesting much the same as you. 🙂


    1. Thank you so much for this reply, and for posting your exchanges with Glen Claston!

      It is really great to be able to read how he came to his conclusions. Although his reasoning is based on other pictorial elements than mine, they end up with an (almost) exact match for the folio order… and I guess if three people arrive at an almost identical conclusion independently on this matter, surely we must be onto something!

      Thanks also for pointing out the 84-75 bifolio reversal. I hadn’t spotted that pineapple shaped element at all, as I was focusing only on the central pools/marginalia distinction.I’ll update my post to reference your remarks about that bifolio later today.

      However, I notice that he also moves the 79-80 bifolio whereas I consider it to be the center of the subquire… His positioning of it doesn’t make sense to me, beyond his medical vs. Galenic categorization which I find rather arbitrary, and because the people on 80r seem to be doing their own thing, totally unaffected by the character on 76v (who appears rather isolated, immersed in the text), so I find this unconvincing. Also, as you mentioned in your reply to him, there seems to be a pretty strong continuity between the “rainbows” on 82v and 83r.

      I would however, consider the possibility that 79-80 might be flipped, and that perhaps originally 80r may have been first, followed by 80v, 79r and then 79v: The blue water gradually turning green and the animals getting the last of it. Any thoughts, for or against this?


      1. I really wouldn’t suggest reading too much into the blue-vs-green water thing, it’s something that has triggered all manner of wonky theories over the years, none of which has yet cast any helpful light whatsoever on what is going on here.

        What I did back in 2005/2006 (and which was extraordinarily helpful) was to print out all the Q13 pages as double-sided bifolios, and just play around with the nesting order.

        I’ll dig out my Q13 bifolio set over the weekend and have another play with it all, see how all these ideas look now (i.e. with the benefit of a few years’ gap). I thought I was close to resolving this in 2006, and even closer in 2009: so perhaps it’s time to lock it down for good. 🙂


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