The third big red weirdo of f1r

On the very first page of the Voynich Manuscript (f1r) there are three conspicuous symbols in red ink. Two of those were discussed in a previous page. The third one was thought to be a digit "2", but the high-resolution color image recently released by Beinecke Library shows that it is a larger and more complex symbol, just as puzzling as the other two:

Like the other two red glyphs, this one was first outlined, using a brown ink indistinguishable from the one used for the text. Then the outline was filled in with red paint. The two round black spots are holes in the vellum, almost certainly bookworm holes that were not there when the page was written.

Separating the paint layers

The two images below are a preliminary attempt at separating the brown text/outline ink and the red paint, using the color separation technique recently described by Gabriel Landini in the VMS list:

The "brown ink" component

The "red ink" component

Obviously the method and/or the parameters still need tuning. For one thing, part of the "brown ink component" seems to be generic dirt and stains, or shadows due to ripples in the vellum.


Not a digit

The new images show that there is no digit "2" there. The round stroke and the flat stroke that were supposed to comprise the "2" were not meant to be connected, as the brown outline clearly shows.

Was there more of it?

The strokes visible in the red-ink image above seem to comprise a single symbol or monogram. There seem to be no trace of any other red writing near it.

However, there seems to be a broad and very faint red smudge north-east of that symbol. It is well-known that the top, left, and bottom margins of the page were swabbed with some chemical by Voynich, in the 1920's. The red pigment in that faint red smudge may have come from the right half of the red symbol, which appeast to have been partly erased in that occasion.

It is also possible that more red writing was present in the margin but was completely erased by the swabbing, and that the faint red smudge is all that remains of it. Hopefully this issue will be resolved if we manage to locate photocopies that were taken by Voynich before the swabbing.

A picture, perhaps?

It is possible that the "symbol" is not a symbol at all, but rather a "picture" -- a plant, a floral ornament, an heraldic eagle, etc.

Although the "picture" is not recognizable in its present form, perhaps it did in the past. Here is one possibility: originally there was a drawing of a plant, outlined in brown ink and/or filled in in red. That drawing eventually faded almost to invisibility, and then some other person decided to "restore" it by retracing the outline, again with brown ink. (It is almost certain that such touch-ups occurred on many other pages, e.g. the Zodiac charts.) However the restorer did not know what the drawing meant, so he missed some parts, and mis-traced others. Finally either the restorer, or a third person, filled (or re-filled) the outlines in red.

In support of this theory, there seems to be some very faint brown strokes adjacent to that weirdo. E.g., the curved part of the "2" may have a vertical extension on the left side, connecting it to the two strokes below so as to make a fancy "E". Other outlined crescents may touch the top edge of that stroke, on either side of it. However these "faint outlines" may be nothing more than creases in the vellum.

Another Chinese character?

Previously I have conjectured that other two weirdos on f1r are Chinese characters that were copied upside-down by someone who did not knew the Chinese script. Can the same be said of the "third weirdo"?

The "red ink" component, upside down.

Some features are promising: the symbol is composed of multiple disconnected strokes, arranged inside a square outline. It is written in red, and if the page is turned upside down, it would be placed at the bottom left corner -- where Chinese authors and book owners usually place their red signature stamps.

However the symbol cannot be readily recognized as Chinese character, and even the stroke count is uncertain. The two bottom strokes could be the "human legs" element which is part of many other characters, such as and (*). It does not seem impossible that either of these two characters (or several others) could have mutated into our weirdo as it was copied by a naive scribe. As in the other two cases, this is easier to believe if the original character was hand-written rather than block-printed; but that assumption also broadens the set of possible candidates.

Connection to f66r?

The part above the "human legs" element resembles a "walking tee" weirdo seen on page f66r (middle column of glyphs, third from the bottom). (Keep in mind that there is a wormhole on f1r, partly overlapping the point where the two "legs" of the upper part are supposed to meet.)

Note that there is another similar weirdo on further up on the f66r list (eleventh from bottom), but the two are "walking" in opposite directions. .Curiously, there is a pair of Chinese characters ("person" and "enter") that differ only in the same subtle calligraphic detail...

Some other exotic symbol?

One could think of many other "exotic" explanations. For example, it could be a Hindu monogram, analogous to the "Om" ("Aum") symbol. Turned sideways, it could be a scribbled abbreviation "C~"for "Chapter", atop the Roman numeral "CII". Or...

(*)Character images clipped from - Chinese Characters and Culture.

Last edited on 2004-07-08 13:06:56 by stolfi