The Mysterious Book NO ONE Can Read: Ancient Voynich Manuscript


The Voynich Manuscript has been dubbed as
the “the most mysterious manuscript in the world.” It is considered a manuscript codex, the nature,
language, date and origin of which have long remained a mystery. Over the years, the Voynich manuscript has
caused a lot of controversy and debate, with some arguing that the ancient medieval text
contains an encoded message written by an unknown author. Many skilled cryptographers have studied the
document and attempted to break the supposed code it contains. However, up to now, none of them were able
to crack it. Because of the enigma surrounding the Voynich
manuscript, many questions are left in the air. Does the Voynich manuscript really contain
a secret message? If so, is this encoded message an unknown
language that we are unable to break? Or, is the book a complete hoax? The Voynich manuscript is an illustrated codex
that is hand-written in an unknown writing system. The text is believed to have been composed
in Northern Italy during the Italian Renaissance, and it is named after Wilfrid Voynich, the
Polish book dealer who purchased the manuscript in the early 20th century. The Voynich manuscript has been studied by
many professional and amateur cryptographers, which include the American and British codebreakers
from the two World Wars. And since no one has succeeded in the deciphering
its contents, it remains a famous and exciting case in the history of cryptography. At present, the manuscript is safeguarded
in Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and is referred to
as a “Cipher Manuscript.” (History of the Voynich Manuscript) Much of the early history of the book is unknown,
and like its contents, the history of ownership of the Voynich manuscript is contested and
filled with some gaps. However, it has generally been agreed on that
the text and illustrations of the manuscript are all characteristically European. According to a radiocarbon dating performed
by researchers of the University of Arizona on the manuscript’s vellum in 2009, the
Voynich manuscript could be dated between 1404 and 1438. The first confirmed owner of the text was
George Baresch, an obscure alchemist from Prague who lived between the 16th and 17th
century. Upon his death, the manuscript was passed
on to his friend Jan Marek Marci – a rector of Charles University in Prague – who in
turn, sent the text to Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher from the Collegio Romano. There are no records of the book for the next
200 years after it remained in the library of the Collegio Romano. It is assumed by some that the book probably
remained there until the troops of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy captured the city in
1870 and annexed the Papal States. The new Italian government seized many properties
of the church, including the library of the Collegio. Before this could be initiated, many of the
university library’s books were transferred to the personal libraries of its faculty,
and one of them was the Voynich manuscript which was in the private library of Petrus
Beckx, the university’s rector at the time. Around 1912, the Collegio Romano sold some
of its holdings discreetly, with Wilfrid Voynich acquiring 30 manuscripts in the process. Among them was the mysterious manuscript which
now bears his name. In 1930, the manuscript was inherited after
Wilfrid’s death by his widow Ethel Voynich. When she died in 1960, she left the manuscript
to her close friend Anne Nill, who sold the book in 1961 to antique book dealer Hans P.
Kraus. When Kraus was unable to find a buyer for
the manuscript, he then donated it to Yale University in 1969. The physical characteristics or the codicology
of the Voynich manuscript have been studied by various researchers. Some of its pages are missing, but there are
currently around 240 vellum pages in existence, with a size of 23.5 by16.2 by 5 centimeters. The manuscript contains mainly texts, consisting
of over 170,000 characters that is mostly written in an unknown language which runs
left to right. The book also contains various illustrations
which can be identified according to different styles and subject matter. Based on the subject matter of the drawings
found in the text, the contents of the manuscripts fall into six sections: botanical, astronomical,
biological, cosmological, pharmaceutical and recipes. The botanical folios contain drawings of 113
unidentified plant species. The astronomical illustrations include astral
charts with radiating circles, suns and moons, as well as Zodiac symbols. A biological section contains a myriad of
drawings of miniature female nudes, while the cosmological section consists of an elaborate
array of cosmological medallions which possibly depict geographical forms. The pharmaceutical folios are filled with
drawings of over 100 different species of medicinal herbs and roots, while the last
section contains continuous pages of text – which are believed to be recipes – with
star-like flowers marking each entry in the left margin. The overall impression given by the surviving
leaves of the manuscript led some to believe that the Voynich manuscript is meant to serve
as a pharmacopoeia or a book containing directions for the identification of compound medicines,
or to address topics in medieval or early modern medicine. However, the unusual and intriguing details
of the drawings have fueled many theories about the book’s origin, its contents, as
well as the purpose for which it was intended. The Voynich manuscript is the subject of many
hypotheses, particularly about its language, the Voynichese. According to the “letter-based cipher”
theory, the manuscript contains meaningful text that was written in some European language
that was intentionally rendered obscure. This was done by mapping the message to the
alphabet of the manuscript by means of a cipher whose algorithm operated on individual letters. The main argument of this theory maintains
that it is difficult to explain a European author using a strange and mysterious alphabet
if not to conceal information. For most 20th-century experts who attempted
to decipher the text, like the informal team of NSA cartographers led by William F. Friedman
in the early 1950s, this particular theory is heavily supported as a working hypothesis
that could unlock the alleged secrets of the manuscript. There is also another theory – the “codebook
cipher” theory – claiming that the “words” found in the Voynich manuscript could actually
be codes that can be looked up in a “dictionary” or codebook. Another theory holds that the text of the
manuscript is mostly meaningless, but contains meaningful information hidden in inconspicuous
details – for example, the second letter of each word, or the number of letters in
each line. Needless to say, none of these working hypotheses
have successfully decoded the message concealed in the words and illustrations of the manuscript,
if there were such hidden information in the first place. Because of the bizarre features of the texts
of the Voynich manuscript, as well as the suspicious contents of its illustrations,
there are also theories that support the idea that the manuscript is nothing more than a
hoax. According to the supporters of this theory,
if no one is able to extract the meaning of the book’s contents, then perhaps it is
because the document contains no meaningful content at all. Those who argue for authenticity, however,
maintain that the manuscript appears to be too sophisticated to be just a hoax. While hoaxes during that period were usually
crude, the Voynich manuscript exhibits several subtle characteristics that only become evident
after careful statistical analysis. If the book is simply a hoax, why would the
author employ a complex and difficult algorithm if no one in the expected audience could be
able to tell the difference? Marcelo Montemurro, a theoretical physicist
from the University of Manchester, for example, studied the linguistic patterns in the Voynich
manuscript extensively. He found the presence of semantic networks
like content-bearing words occurring in a clustered pattern, as well as new words being
utilized when there was a shift in topic. With this evidence, Montemurro believed that
it is highly unlikely that these features were just “incorporated” into the text
to make a hoax seem more realistic. At the way things are going at present, the
Voynich manuscript is still a long way from being understood, and it will most likely
remain a riddle for a very long time, if not permanently. What we can be sure of is that the manuscript
will continue to become a subject matter that sparks intense debates among scientists, pseudoscientists
and mystics. And even without wild speculations, the Voynich
manuscript is, without a doubt, a fascinating artifact of mankind’s history and culture.

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