Voynich Manuscript

by Lori Bogedin

Imagine entering a Jesuit library in 1912. You enter the gallery filled with books, and from there, it leads to hallway after hallway of old and antique books that fill every nook and cranny. As you wander the halls, silence fills your ears. The scent of old books tingles your nose while dust shimmers in the shafts of light from the small high windows. Then after hours of wandering, looking, and reading, something very unusual catches your eye. That may have been the scene that brought us the codex known as the Voynich Manuscript.

What is the Voynich Manuscript

That is what some believed happened when Wilfrid Michael Voynich, a Polish book dealer, left with his purchase from an Italian Jesuit library in 1912. Still, others debate the purchase of the book by Voynich as much as the origins of the manuscript itself. Voynich Manuscript is a 240 page illustrated ancient document. Handwritten and illustrated script with diagrams and an unknown writing system. The book seems to use this to represent different objects, actions, and ideas, but no one has ever figured out what any of it means.

The left to right looping handwriting and drawn images seem to be dreamlike in appearance. Some of the vellum pages are foldable sheets that offer more surface area for the hand-drawn illustrations. After purchasing the manuscript, Wilfrid Michael Voynich tried to get people interested in translating the text but to no avail.

The manuscript is now housed since 1969 at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The vellum on which it is written has been carbon-dated to the early 15th century approximately (1404-1438). The Voynich manuscript is one of history’s biggest unsolved mysteries.

Brief History of the Codex

It is thought that the manuscript was written in central Europe late in the 15th or early in the 16th century. Because of the unknown origins of the language and the subject matter, it is thought that text is a descriptive magical scientific grimoire at one time belonging to English astrologer John Dee (1527-1608).

John Dee (July, 13th 1527-1608 or 09) was the renowned sixteenth-century Anglo-Welsh mathematician, natural philosopher, astrologer and student of the occult. He spent much of his professional life studying alchemy, divination, and the Hermetic philosophy. During Queen Elizabeth I reign, John Dee was a crucial advisor to the queen.

There are many gaps and discrepancies when it comes to the Voynich manuscript’s history. It is believed to have belonged to Emperor Rudolph II of Germany (Holy Roman Emperor, 1576-1612), who is said to have purchased it for 600 gold ducats. The emperor believed the work be have been that of Roger Bacon, a medieval English philosopher and Franciscan friar who placed significant importance on the study of nature through experimentation, but that has never been verified.

After that, the Voynich Manuscript was given to Jacobus Horcicky de Tepenecz (d. 1622). This exchange is known only because of an invisible inscription that you can only see with ultraviolet light. The book is not seen again after Voynich’s purchase in 1912 and then again in 1969 when the codex was given to the Beinecke Library by H. P. Kraus, who had purchased it from the estate of Ethel Voynich, Wilfrid Voynich’s widow.

What is Inside the Voynich Manuscript

Besides the undecipherable text, almost every page of the manuscript contains scientific drawings alive with character and vibrant washes of various shades of red, blue, yellow, green, and browns. The document has botanical illustrations, 113 of which are still unidentified. There are astronomical and astrological drawings and astral charts. It also seems that there is a section dedicated to recipes with written notes in the margins. 

Drawn in the manuscript are beautiful radiating circles, suns and moons, the zodiac symbols, nude females emerging from what look to be chimneys, and sections show small pregnant female figures wading in fluid in interconnecting tubes. There is a section dedicated to pharmaceuticals with over 100 different species of medicinal herbs, an intricate arrangement of nine cosmological medallions, some depicting geographical formations.

Has the Voynich Manuscript Been Solved?

(Link to Lisa Fagin Davis’s article (https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/08/14/why-do-people-keep-convincing-themselves-theyve-solved-this-medieval-mystery/)

There are rumors every so many months claiming the Voynich Manuscript has been solved. Sound familiar? Spoiler alert: No, it hasn’t, according to Lisa Fagin Davis executive director of the Medieval Academy of America. Davis states, “Why do people keep convincing themselves they’ve solved this medieval mystery? They haven’t and I’ve seen them all.”

Davis goes on to say, “I’ve been critiquing Voynich theories since I was a PhD student at Yale in the early 1990s and had a job at the Beinecke Library. In addition to my other responsibilities, I was tasked with handling Voynich-related correspondence. Ever since I first laid eyes on the manuscript 30 years ago, I have been captivated not only by the object itself but also by the hold it has on both the public and the persistent and devoted “Voynichologists” who can’t get enough.”

Conclusion

Nowadays, the manuscript is kept locked up safe and sound deep in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. No one to this day has ever been able to decipher the unknown language or come up with the books intended purpose. Yale has, however, put this very mysterious manuscript online for those who would like a chance at cracking the mystery. If you think you are ready to have a go at the puzzle, that is the Voynich Manuscript go to the downloadable PDF copy at – Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library: the Voynich Manuscript. If you figure it out, LET US KNOW!

Link to the Voynich Manuscript

References

Goldstone, Lawrence, and Nancy Goldstone. 2005. The Friar and the Cipher: Roger Bacon and the Unsolved Mystery of the Most Unusual Manuscript in the World. New York: Doubleday.

Romaine Newbold, William. 1928. The Cipher of Roger Bacon. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Manly, John Mathews. 1921. “The Most Mysterious Manuscript in the World: Did Roger Bacon Write It and Has the Key Been Found?”, Harper’s Monthly Magazine 143, pp.186–197.

Washington’s Post August 14, 2019 at 6:00 a.m. EDT by Lisa Fagin Davis

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