The Voynich Manuscript is one of the most enigmatic manuscripts around the globe, which no one has ever managed to decode.
Way back in 1912, Wilfred M. Voynich, a successful book, and manuscript dealer of Polish-Lithuanian-American descent, after some negotiation, had managed to acquire a quantity of priceless medieval manuscripts and documents from one of his European sources at the Villa Mondragone in Italy.
Most of the purchases were pretty standard fare for those who deal in antiquarian books and documents, but as he sorted through the manuscripts, Voynich manuscript noticed one particular book which was very unusual – very unusual indeed!
The book which caught his eye was a code composed of 234 pages of fine vellum (vellum is not a type of paper, it’s actually animal skin, stretched and treated to accept writing and illustration).
The book was a remarkable piece of work. Handwritten and profusely illustrated with colored drawings depicting, among other things,
- Strange charts which appear to be astronomical views through a telescope and cells as viewed through a microscope
- Tiny naked ladies in bathtubs which are connected by parts that appear more anatomical than hydraulic.
- Unidentified flowers and plants
- What appears to be illustrations for medicinal recipes
The manuscript was assumed to be some sort of magical or scientific work from the middle ages. Unfortunately, no one knew for sure because no one could read it – The entire book had been written in code. It became known as The Voynich Manuscript.
The Enigma Begins
There was also a letter attached to the manuscript, written in Latin and dated 1666. It was from one Johannes Marcus Marci of Kronland, (who had once rector of the Charles University of Prague), to the Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher in Rome. the letter offered the manuscript for translation and said that the author was believed to be Roger Bacon (1214-1294).
It further stated that Emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia had once owned the manuscript for which he had paid six hundred Gold Ducats.
Voynich began a campaign to have the manuscripts deciphered, and the text became quite famous in the 1920s when William Romaine Newbold proclaimed that he held the key to the decipherment.
This would, he said, prove that the text was indeed written by Roger Bacon, furthermore, it would also prove that Roger Bacon had not just dreamed of microscopes – but had actually built one!
Unfortunately, Newbold’s cryptological solution was disproved in 1931 by John M. Manly. The attempts to pry the secrets from the Voynich Manuscript continued.
Through the 1940s and 1960s, William F. Friedman, an eminent cryptanalyst aided by groups of experts, made many brave attempts at deciphering the book, but all to no avail – the book still kept its secrets.
The enigmatic allure of the Voynich manuscript continues to this day.
It has been studied by many cryptographers both professional and amateur, including British and American codebreakers from both World War I and World War II.
Still, it continues to defy all attempts at decipherment and has become a cause célèbre in the field of historical cryptology. No other example exists of the language in which the Voynich Manuscript is written.
The text does not appear to have any corrections at all. Although It is an alphabetic script, the alphabet used seems to vary between nineteen and twenty-eight letters, and none of them bear any relationship to any English or European lettering system.
According to investigators Currier and D’Imperi, there could be evidence that two different languages have been used, and more than one scribe, which will almost certainly produce an ambiguous code.
It remains unclear to this day whether Voynich Manuscript actually contains any meaningful text at all, although it has been established that it is not a forgery.
Researchers at the University of Arizona performed carbon14 dating on the manuscript’s vellum in 2009, which proves that the vellum was made between 1404 and 1438 and the McCrone Research Institute in Chicago found that most of the ink on the document was added not long after this date, confirming that the Voynich Manuscript is indeed.
In 1961, H. P. Kraus, a New York book antiquarian bought the book for the sum of $24,500. Kraus later re-valued the tome at $160,000. Unfortunately, he was unable to find a buyer for the Voynich Manuscript and donated it to Yale University.
It is now owned by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, and is formally referred to as “Beinecke MS 408”, it is still best known, however, as the Voynich Manuscript (check here).
The mystery of the Voynich manuscript has gripped popular imagination, spawning a profusion of fanciful theories (and even the odd novel or two). and remains an undeciphered enigma to this day.