The Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich Manuscript

  • A mysterious book written in the 15 century with an unknown language and writing system is considered as one of the most famous cases into the history of cryptography.
  • With a lot of pages missing and 240 remaining, the MS 408 (Voynich Manuscript) contains weird and bizarre illustrations that divides the book into six sections

The Beinecke MS 408, or mostly know as “The Voynich Manuscript,” has been a mystery since the moment it was discovered back in 1639 by Georgius Barschius. In a written letter Athanasius Kircher claims that he found a book with an unknown script and illustrated pictures of plants, chemicals, and stars. Since he couldn’t read the text, he was hoping that Athanasius could do it for him, but neither was he up to the task.

The book was passed from hand to hand and gaining the fame under the name of “Unknown book.” In 1912, a book dealer named Wilfrid Voynich purchased from the Villa Mondragone in Italy. He presented to the public in 1915 and around that time cryptographers became interested in the writings. But no matter how professional or amateur they were, no one could understand the secrets behind it.

The medieval book is handwritten, with illustrations of plants and astrology. It has 240 pages, approximately 10 of them missing. The people who have tried to understand the manuscript suggest that it is a cookbook with sections of cosmology. Some suggest that it has a too low information content to be an alphabetic (syllabic) representation of a human language. If true then it is almost certainly not "real writing". No one really knows, but the three most viable suggestions are:

  • Early discoveries of the 13th century, written in an unknown language and code.
  • A rare prayer book of the Cathars, saved from the inquisition.
  • A complete nonsense, written by a medieval quack, trying to impress his clientele.

The theories and superstitions are endless. The idea that the Voynich manuscript is a medical text seems plausible, but maybe it really is just a bunch of meaningless symbols and drawings.

The Contents

The Manuscript can be divided into 7 sections.

The herbal section covers more than the half of the book, filled with illustrations of plants, leaves, and paragraphs of text and symbols written carefully close to the illustrations. On the surface, it is similar to other early renaissance books, Voynich but features unique and original drawings that can’t be found in another source or book.

The Voynich Manuscript.
After a lot of attempts to identify the herbal illustrations, only two of the drawings could be successfully distinguished -- a sunflower and a pepper plant..

The central mystery of the manuscript is that none of the plants in the herbarium besides sunflower and a pepper plant don't actually exist in nature.

The Voynich Manuscript.

The so called astronomical focus on the sun, moon, and star spirals that might represent the galaxies. With only twelve pages, this is the shortest chapter.

The Voynich Manuscript.

Cosmological chapter is full of complex and large drawings. One of the illustration is a six-page fold-out, consisting of nine connecting circles with four smaller items on the corners.

The Zodiac illustrations are one of the most famous parts of the Voynich manuscript. 30 small Nymphs holding stars and an emblem of the zodiac in the center. The astrological signs start with Pisces, which is actually rather unusual. Then Aries and Taurus. Capricorn and Aquarius are missing altogether.

The strange illustrations appear to be related to paranatellon -- a term used in the astrology for the angle of the zodiac (of which there are 30 per sign).

The Voynich Manuscript.

The biology, or “Balneological", section, contains the drawings of the nymphs that leave the impression of being part of a chemical or natural process.

The Voynich Manuscript.
The Voynich Manuscript.

The pharmaceutical chapter features large drawings of cannons, sometimes referred by researchers as containers and pipes, which don't make any sense the context.

And the missing pages? Well, those pages are from the very same section together with the index.

There are many crank analyses floating around the Internet. One that has some believability is the video analysis below. The linguistics think it is a real writing, likely related to Roma/Syriac, and they have some very convincing arguments.

The Voynich Manuscript.
The Voynich Manuscript.

Why was it done? What was its purpose? And who wrote it? Most of these questions will likely never get an answer, the Voynich Manuscript may remain one of the biggest mysteries or hoaxes.

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