Extra letters on f75v

This is something that has already been noticed, but doesn’t appear to have been discussed thoroughly:

Fact: there are extra letters at the end of the first five lines.

Interpretation: it seems to me they have been written vertically, because there are 6 letters for 5 lines. So it could have a particuler meaning (signature, or cypher key,… well something).

And one more thing I notice is that it is clear there have been a second layer of ink (emendations) from time to time on that page.

But what I can’t quite figure out is if these vertical letters, which do appear darker like other emendations, were there originally, or have been purely and simply added out of the blue (I would think they were there too).    Here is a zoom:



About the mark on f57v

I would like to discuss the mark on f57v.

Fact: there’s indeed the following peculiar mark at the bottom right corner:


Interpretation:  there are several things to discuss about it, namely:

– who made it? Six possible answers stand out: the original author ;  or the same hand as the quire numbers — Nick Pelling thought this in 2002 ; or the same hand as the month names ; or the same hand as the arabic numerals ; or the same hand as the f116v marginalia ;  or none of the previous ones.

– what is its meaning? Many things could be possible,but the only idea I’ve seen mentionned is by René Zandbergen that it is a arabic numeral for 17.


Here, I would like to propose another interpretation altogether: it appears to me to be the letter G as was done in german-language scripts around 1440-1470.   And I think that it is an abbreviation for the german word ‘Gebet’ (prayer, worship).

That would make sense: the four people a the center of the circles seem indeed into some form of worship, and the sequence of symbols on the second circle repeats itself four times, like a mantra/prayer.

To illustrate my idea, here is a part from this page of a little text in latin at the end of a manuscript (whose main text is in german), and where the G of the word ‘glorie’  is very close to the VM mark:

This german manuscript has been written in Bavaria around 1450-1490.  I must stress that I’ve seen many other examples of G made like this in german texts of that era and that region (some even closer visually speaking, spiky and with similar strokes, but I forgot where), and sometimes with a precise dating at the end of the text (say ‘anno 1452’), so it’s not a one-off and it has a precise german-language mid-15th century setting.

If this interpretation of  ‘G as a shorthand for Gebet’ is correct, then it definitely brings us to a german-speaking part of Europe (Germany, Austria, Switzerland)  and points to someone who understood the purpose of the circles as a prayer (but not necessarily knew what to make of them).




Irregular gallows part 2

This is a sequel to the earlier post on that topic, I’m adding here a few more that I had not mentionned yet.  Detailled logical analysis to follow in the coming weeks, hopefully.

f8r (first appearance of a “long double-loop type gallow accross other symbols”, beginning of last paragraph):

f8v (second such long gallow, beginning of first paragraph) :

f17r short gallow (seems added on top of a letter ‘u’ or a number ’11’) :

f30v (third long gallow, beginning of first paragraph) :

f35r (fourth, more elongated, long gallow, again beginning of first paragraph) :

f42r (fith long gallow, more extreme with an extra loop, beginning of first paragraph, curvy smaller line on the first leg seems to be a later addition with a different ink) :

f42v (highly decorated gallow with extra loop, could be a clue to the state of mind of the writer and thus the nature of the previous long gallow on f42r) :

f56r (sixth long gallow, very tidy, beginning of first paragraph — note: the seventh long gallow is quite far away: it’s the one on f90v already mentionned in the previuous blog post) :

f76v (beginning of a line, next to a nymph) :

f79r (yet another appearance of this type of “twisted” gallow: error recovered, or normal variant, or other rarer gallow ?) :

f84r (a twisted type of a diffent gallow, the single-loop one) :

f86v6   :

f87v (curious two-in-one):

f95v1 (long with extra loop) :

That’s it, most of the unsual ones have been mentionned, time to work out consistent ideas now.

A 1459 gallow candidate

There are several possibilies concerning gallows, depending on what the VM really is: they could be abbreviations, mere decorations above letters, actual symbols of a cypher…   And in the case of a plain text rather than a cypher, there could still be coexistence of some abbreviation-gallows and some decoration-gallows.

Here I would just like to record a visual analogy. Something very similar to the following typical VM gallow :

also shows up in other texts of the same era, something I’ve had a fairly hard time to find.

Namely, in Cod. Sang. 839, which is a 1459 Swiss copy on paper of Nicolas Oreme’s Comments on Aristotle, one can see the following on the very first folio f1r: three similar-looking symbols (click to enlarge)

The first one is very similar, the two others hint that the first loop is not necessarily meant to be closed for it to still make sense, in this latin text.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find an online copy of this text in ascii to make sure what it is, it possibly is a short hand for ‘Item’. It keeps appearing throughout that manuscript.

I’m not claiming this solves anything regarding the VM, but at least, it is a possibility from the same era.

Interestingly, Switzerland, which is close to both Northern Italy and Germany, and where, as said previously on this blog, castles with swallow-tail merlons also exist, is known to have a french-speaking area where “octembre” and “augst” were certainly used in the between the 1300s and the 1500s: here is a 1560 use of “augst” in Genève, and here is a 1364 use of “octembre” in Neuchâtel.

Notice also that in the same Cod. Sang. 839 there appears other VM-looking gallows, for instance the top line of f3r contains:

and if I’m not mistaken the part ‘9methero-gallow’ reads “cum metherorum” (which makes sense: there is indeed metherorum in the title of the text).

As for quire numbering: it is different from the VM, see the top f5r where the first quire mark appears,  but note that the mark at the top of f176r is very similar to the first one of the VM. (There are also ink accidents reminiscent of the VM, but these were probably common at the time).

All in all, Cod. Sang. 839 is certainly interesting.

About month names

I don’t quite agree with what I’ve read about month names in the VM (e.g. the Occitan ideas, and several readings), so here is my take.

Here they are from the VM (click to enlarge):


What I’m reading is:

mars  –  aberil – aberil – may – may – jong – iollet – augst – septe(m)b(r) – octe(m)bre – nove(m)bre – decebre


In particular, I’m quite certain about jong, where the final ‘g’ looks just like that of augst, it clearly isn’t yony like I’ve seen mentionned, because the curvature of the ‘y’ in may is completely different.

Now jong definitely points to a french-speaking hand for what is nowadays ‘juin’ (month of june).  Indeed, the variant joing (with an extra ‘i’) was very common in the northen parts of France and also Belgium and french-speaking England, anywhere between 1200 and 1500:

here is an example of a 1256 document, an anglo-normand poem by Rauf de Lenham, where the months appear as:  feverer – marz – averil – mai – joing –  joingnet -augst – septembre – octobre – novembre – decembre. (So here we also have averil, a variant of aberil, and litterally augst).

– here is an example from 1338 from the Flandres part of Belgium, where the months are:  mars – avril – may – joing – jullé – aoust – septembre – octobre…(Note that jullé is a typical northern variant of juillet, and so too is the variant jullet).

One can also find the variant jung for juin:

here is an example from 1404, by english king Henry IV and written in french, where the months are: marz – … – jung – jullet -augst – septembre – .. – novembre

As for the actual variant jong, it can be seen on a definitely french astrolabe dating from around 1305: london museum record here, and much larger picture elsewhere with jong on the outside circle.


Similarly, all other month names that I can read are known variants of french names. The only one I haven’t found as such yet is iollet (or is it jollet: not much room to write there for the scribe), but known variants of juillet are:  juil, jullé, julle, jule, jullet, joingnet, julie…  So this is in the realm of possibilities.

It is to be noted that scribes used their own variant even when copying a text, here is an example from around 1300 of two copies of an earlier text, where one copy has   mars- avril – mai – juing – juil – aoust – septembre – octembre ,  while the other has  marz – averil – may – juin –  julie – aust – septembre – octobre.


So to conclude: I’m confident the VM month names are normal variants from the french language, and that they probably were written by someone living north of Paris but not necessarily in then France.

Of course we do not know when this was added, perhaps just a few month after the main text, or perhaps many decades later, so the VM could have travelled quite a lot in between.  But a northen region is certainly consistant with the lizard-looking scorpion, and the crayfish-looking cancer.


New page for references

I’ve added a new page to list websites where one can find digitised manuscripts of the same era as that of the VM.


Irregular gallows

In this post I would just like to record occurences of gallows which seem bizarre. I will comment on those in later  posts.

f9r (second paragraph, first line): both look unusual, rest of the page is normal

f14r (second paragraph, first line):


f22r (second paragraph, first line):


f24v (first paragraph, first line):


f25v (third and sixth line of the paragraph)


f36r (first paragraph, first line):


f42v: the page starts with a higly decorated gallow, then on the second line there’s a funny one (reminiscent of a latin abbreviation, similar to something in the marginalia of f17r)


f43v (first paragraph, first line):


f47r (first paragraph, first line):


f47r still, now second paragraph, third line:


f48r, first line:


f58v, third paragraph, first line:


f76r: this is not bizarre, but another useful way to understand the intended shape, a capital gallow on line 1


f90v2: this too is not bizarre but a great clue: the (non-)interference between two gallows (unfortunately the vellum is folded on the scan so the beginning of the line is hidden):


f114r: first line of first paragraph: the appearance of only the ‘first half’ of a gallow, again should say a lot about its nature:


f115v: a final one, at about the last third of the page:


There may be another couple interesting ones that I’ve missed, but the bulk is there.  Ishall try to analyse them carefully in the coming days and weeks.