The Voynich Manuscript

A cryptic page from the famous The Voynich ManuscriptJust two years before the episode of the First Community War, an United states traditional publication supplier and enthusiast, Wilfrid M. Voynich, was visiting European countries in search of unusual historical lighted manuscripts. While analyzing a huge selection of historical manuscripts kept in Apartment Mondragone in Frascati, near The capital, he found a very unusual and absolutely baffling manuscript.

This manuscript was unlike any other that had ever been found in that it was written in an unknown script, with characters and symbols that are different than that of any known language in the world. The manuscript is also lavishly illustrated with odd drawings of plants, stars, and alchemical symbols. To this day, the interpretation of the manuscript has baffled scholars and historians. In recognition of Wilfred’s re-discovery of this remarkable work, the manuscript was given the name "The Voynich Manuscript."
The Voynich Manuscript Cryptograms
Pages from the Voynich Manuscript: Cryptograms

In an earlier time, the manuscript was part of a collection owned by a resident of Prague. In 1639, the manuscript’s owner Georg Baresch, wrote to the famous Jesuit scientist Athanasius Kircher, telling him of the mysterious work. He explained to the scientist that the manuscript was written in a script that he could not understand and that it was profusely illustrated with awkward and oddly colored drawings. Baresch believed that Kircher would be able to decipher the manuscript. The famous scientist, however, was never able to decipher the document, and neither have a long and distinguished list of modern-day linguists and cryptographers who have tried to make sense of the manuscript.
While no one knows of the origin of the manuscript, scientific analysis of the paper and the pigments of the colored inks along with a scholarly assessment of the style of the calligraphy and drawings, suggest that the manuscript dates back to at least the 13th century.

The time in which the Voynich manuscript was thought to have originated was a period of treachery, persecution, and betrayal. In those harsh times it was a foolish man who wrote down a secret in any way other than one in which it would be concealed from his enemies or detractors. In the late medieval period, the craft of cryptography was (thought to be) somewhat unsophisticated using relatively simple methods such as words written backward, or replacing vowels with symbols or even dots. Cryptograms (ciphers) were used not only to conceal matters of the church and state, but were also used to conceal alchemical and magical writings, which their authors considered too powerful or too incriminating, to fall into the wrong hands.
Voynich Manuscript Herbal Pages
Pages from the Voynich Manuscript:
The herbal section of unidentified
fantasy plants.

The Vatican and the Italian city-states were pioneers in the development of the cryptogram.  In 1379, the first of the Avignon popes, Clement VII, had separate cryptographic systems constructed for each of twenty-four correspondents.  As cryptography evolved, ciphers developed more complex methods, languages, and algorithms that were unknown and unintelligible to their own race or others and would require men of science or scholar to decipher (with a great deal of effort.)
The Manuscript:

For some very strange reason the actual length of the manuscript is debated. Some researchers assess that it is 200 pages, while others consider it to be only 170 pages in length. Part of the disagreement is largely due to two points of view.  One point of view suggests some believe it is an incomplete document, and evidence suggests several pages have disappeared over the years. Therefore, it is impossible to say with any certainty how long the manuscript may be. The other point of view suggests it is constructed in a "folio" style with certain pages folding multiple times into the book, and that when opened, they prove to be up to six times the size of other pages in the manuscript.

With various speculations that the manuscript is some kind of ancient alchemist’s guide or a book of mystical spells, enchantments, and incantations concealed in a secret script, the manuscript has provided a few clues at least to its structure. Several researchers feel that the illustrations actually identify topical sections of the manuscript (although, this is still in the realm of speculation since the script has in no way been deciphered):
Manuscript Sections:
  • Astronomical section (with what appear to be zodiac symbols)
  • Herbal section (unidentified fantasy plants)
  • Pharmaceutical section (vases, pedestals & parts of plants)
  • Biological section ('anatomical' drawings & human figures)
  • Cosmological section (circles, stars & celestial spheres)
  • Recipes section (section with short paragraphs)
The Script:
The "script" appears to be an alphabetic script. The alphabet appears (depending on the scholar that you ask) to have between nineteen to twenty-eight letters, (again disagreement on the count) none of which appear to bear any relationship to any English or European alphabetic system. Other symbols are largely unrecognizable but hint at being of alchemical or astrological intent.
As with the clues provided with the illustrations, there are also artifacts within the script that may provide useful clues to eventually deciphering the manuscript, such as:
  • several 'key-like' (cryptographic) sequences throughout the book
  • margin notes in archaic German (probably added later in a deciphering attempt)
  • names of the months in the astronomical section (appear to have been added later)
  • extraneous writing that is different from the rest of the manuscript
  • pagination and gathering numbers

The Illustrations:
As long as the script cannot be deciphered and read, the illustrations are really the only clue that could reveal the true nature of the book. According to these illustrations, the manuscript would appear to be some type of scientific book. While many of the drawings seem to be of a herbal or horticultural nature, the plants are not recognizable as plants that grow or have grown on earth.

In addition, there are drawings that are rendered in an odd geometric style and have a mathematical or astrological sense about them. Many interpreters feel that many of the "chart like" illustrations depict astronomical objects as might be seen through a telescope, or as others suggest, live cells as might be observed through a powerful microscope.
Stranger still are numerous illustrations that include images of tiny naked women, who appear to be taking baths or showers wrapped in some sort of strange apparatus. In other illustrations the nude images appear to be part of intricate plumbing systems, with the connections appearing to be anatomical rather than hydraulic, emanating from various parts of their bodies.

Deciphering Attempts:
Attempts to unravel the coded mystery of the manuscript have occurred many, many times over several hundred years, all of which have failed. Noted scholars and both private and military cryptographers have applied their best efforts to the task, but so far no one has solved even a fragment of the mystery. In several instances, frustrated scholars and cryptographers have suggested that the manuscript is a hoax, created in the dark-ages to simply defraud noblemen out of large sums of money.
(In 1586, Rudolph II of Bohemia, purchased the manuscript for three hundred gold ducats, or in today’s equivalent, roughly fourteen to fifteen thousand dollars.)
There is one perplexing flaw in the hoax theory however, and that is certain word structures and statistics found in the manuscript are characteristic of natural languages (according to Zipf's laws first postulated in 1935). What this really means to the scholars is that it is extremely unlikely that any forgery from the 15 or 16th century would "by mere chance" produce a text that follows these linguistics laws. Furthering the mystery, in 1976, a Captain Prescott Currier discovered, and was able to provide convincing evidence that the Voynich Manuscript must have been developed by at least two different authors and in reality two different languages.
This discovery of this additional "cryptographic" complexity at least offers clues as to why the best minds in the world have struggled to unravel the secrets of the Voynich Manuscript.

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