The Hidden Mysteries of the Voynich Manuscript

voynich manuscript

Every now and then there are new discoveries in the field of science, mathematics, Geography, and Architecture. However, one of the discoveries in the field of literature has caught a number of eyes. A literary mystery by an anonymous creator, Voynich Manuscript is a 15th-century book that is written in an entirely unknown language with bizarre illustrations of imaginary plants, astrological signs, surreal figures, and landscapes.

The History

In 1903, the Jesuits decided to sell a group of texts from the Collegio Romano collection to the Vatican; the sale took nine years to complete. For reasons unknown, and under conditions of total secrecy, Voynich managed to procure some of the books before they entered the Vatican Library. One of them was the Voynich Manuscript. Voynich believed that his impenetrable book contained authentic wisdom—or, at least, he said so during publicity kicks in the States, trying to make his treasured book famous. “When the time comes,” he told the Times, “I will prove to the world that the black magic of the Middle Ages consisted in discoveries far in advance of twentieth-century science.”

The Voynich Manuscript

Voynich Manuscript | Manuscriptum

Brought to public attention some 100 years ago by a rare book collection Wilfrid Voynich, this book has baffled historians for ages. Since the 1960s the book has been part of Yale University’s Beinecke Library

There’s a lot of beauty in this book, even though there’s a lot of crazy in it, too,”

Beinecke’s assistant chief conservator Paula Zyats

The book is made of calfskin- an ordinary parchment for books in the Middle Ages and is the size of a small paperback. The Voynich codex measures 22.5 × 16 cm (8.9 × 6.3 inches) and contains 102 heavily illustrated folios (about 234 pages). 

History of the collection

Though the carbon dating shows the manuscript to be over 100 years old, the collections’ complete history is missing.

1527-1608: The script was with English astrologer John Dee

1576-1612: Emperor Rudolph II of Germany, believed that it was the work of Roger Bacon and purchased the collection for 600 gold ducats.

1622: Emperor Rudolph gave the script to Jacobus Horcicky de Tepenecz, an exchange based on the inscription visible only with ultraviolet light on folio 1r

1666: Johannes Marcus Marci of Cronland presented the book to Athanasius Kircher.

1912: Wilfrid M. Voynich purchased the manuscript from the Jesuit College at Frascati near Rome.

1969: The codex was given to the Beinecke Library by H. P. Kraus, who purchased it from the estate of Ethel Voynich, Wilfrid Voynich’s widow.

Inside the Manuscript

The first page of the book shows colorful, detailed illustrations of plants, flowers, and herbs. Though herbalism has been part of the medical art, what caught people’s eye was that the plants are unreal.

The picture of the plants is followed by some astronomical symbols, surreal symbols, and also nude ladies. The female illustrations are so distinct and natural, that some historians believe that the book is by a woman, trying to describe the secrets about herbs, astrology, and childbirth.

Sometimes it seems as though the leaf of one goes with the root of another with the flowers of a third.

The content of the manuscript has been divided into six categories based on its content:

1) Herbal, 112 folios: This contains drawings of 113 unidentified plant species
2) Astronomical, 21 folios: In this category are included charts with radiating circles, suns, and moons. We can also see Zodiac symbols such as fish (Pisces), a bull (Taurus), and an archer (Sagittarius).
3) Biological, 20 folios Drawings: This contains a number of drawings of miniature female nudes, mostly with swelled abdomens, immersed or wading in fluids and oddly interacting with interconnecting tubes and capsules;
4) Cosmological, 13 folios: This has an elaborate array of nine cosmological medallions, many drawn across several folded folios and depicting possible geographical forms;
5) Pharmaceutical, 34 folios: This section has over 100 different species of medicinal herbs and roots that have been portrayed with jars or vessels in red, blue, or green.
6) Recipes, 22 folios: These include continuous pages of text, possibly recipes, with star-like flowers marking each entry in the margins.

Decoding the Script

Numerous scholars, linguists, cryptologists, and other intrigued parties have attempted to decode the unknown script with little to no success. Apart from the intelligence specialists, and scholars of chemistry, law, mathematics, medieval philosophy, and other fields, some fo the people who have tried to decipher the text include:

World War 2 cryptologists William and Elizabeth Friedman
Art Historian Erwin Panofsky

The various theories that have surfaced about the Script are:

Ciphers:

The Voynich manuscript contains a significant text in some European language that was purposefully obscured by mapping it to the Voynich manuscript “alphabet” using some form of cipher—an algorithm that worked on individual letters.

Codes

 The “codebook cipher” theory, describes the words of Voynich manuscript as codes.

Shorthand

In 1943, Joseph Martin Feely claimed that the manuscript was a scientific diary written in shorthand. 

Steganography

In 1499, Johannes Trithemius said, the manuscript is mostly meaningless with some information that is hidden in inconspicuous details.

Natural language

The statistical analysis of the text also reveals a pattern similar to that of natural language. Amancio et al in 2013 argued that the manuscript is mostly compatible with nature; language and incompatible with random text.

Constructed Language

The peculiar internal structure of Voynich manuscript words led William F. Friedman to conjecture that the text could be a constructed language. 

Various transcription alphabets have been created to equate Voynich characters with Latin characters to help with cryptanalysis.

Hoax

With no success, some critics also believe that the book is a hoax by Voynich, but the carbon-dated parchment and the linguistic studies of Marcelo Montemurro suggest otherwise.

Glossolalia

In 2004, Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill in a book suggest the possibility that the Voynich manuscript may be a case of glossolalia (speaking-in-tongues), channeling, or outsider art.

Conclusion

Many people are still busy solving the manuscript and finding the perfect way out. While we still cannot be sure to encode unless we find the original manuscript.

Though the script has not been deciphered yet, The Voynich Manuscript is not the only literary work that is a mystery. Some others include ‘The Copiale CIpher’, the 16th century Book Of Soyga, The Ripley Scroll, Rohonc Codex, and many more

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