This is an update to a blog I did in 2012 about the Voynich Manuscript. Recent work done by Dr. Stephen Bax (Professor of Applied Linguistics, University of Bedfordshire) has resulted in some startling findings.
I love tales of missing manuscripts especially in fiction, but also in non-fiction. Last week, I finished The Swerve which featured the true story of the recovery of Lucretius’ poem, On the Nature of Things, and how it influenced our modern world. I liked the idea of a Renaissance book hunter slipping into monasteries looking for ancient wisdom. But I have a better story to share.
In 1912, Wilfrid Voynich recovered a mysterious manuscript that bears his name and resides in the Yale Library as Manuscript 408. The curious document has defied the patient and persistent attempts by all amateur and professional cryptographers to break it.
Its exact history is sketchy, but the document is alleged to have belonged to an Emperor, several practicing alchemists, and a religious order. Some have even proposed that Roger Bacon or John Dee authored the manuscript.
Consisting of 240 vellum pages with colored illustrations, the writing script is unknown and unreadable. Many of the illustrations resemble herbal texts of the 15th Century except that only a few of them can be identified. Aside from the herbal renderings, there are also illustrations covering topics on astronomy, biology, cosmology, medicines, and recipes. The drawings are fanciful, colorful, and complicated. Carbon-14 dating in 2009, dates the manuscript to between 1408 and 1438.
The text itself has puzzled for decades and even modern computer tools have proved ineffective. The writing itself seems to progress left to right with no punctuation. There are no obvious corrections, the document being very carefully executed. There are some 170,000 separate glyphs utilized throughout and many are used only once or twice. Statistical analysis of the work reveals that it resembles the flow of natural language. But what language? It seems to share some correspondences to English and Latin, but not entirely. The repetition of the glyphs is not a characteristic of European language.
Manuscript 408 remains the only undeciphered Renaissance manuscript and it continues to draw many into its mystery. Some think it’s an early herbal or medical text. Others see it as a work of alchemy (early chemistry) or hermeneutical teaching. Still others have declared it a hoax, but if it is a hoax of some kind, it goes beyond anything produced in the 15th Century. It goes beyond the codes and cyphers used then, and continues to evade codebreakers today. What is this curious work and who penned its bizarre contents?
For those intrigued enough to read further:
The Voynich Manuscript- Gerry Kennedy & Rob Churchill
The Friar & the Cypher- Lawrence Goldstone
Six Unsolved Ciphers- Richard Belfield
Drawing on work done to date, Dr. Bax undertook a detailed look at some of the plants and signs in the manuscript. He began with some of the speculations on plant names to decipher letters within the text. He believes he has deciphered ten words and fourteen signs to begin the process of identifying the language MS 408 was written in. Dr. Bax believes the manuscript is not a hoax, but rather a 15th Century book on nature written not in code but rather an unknown language. Now, the hard work begins to try to reveal more of the manuscript. It seems like this is an instance when having the right experts makes all the difference.
Watch Dr. Bax’s video describing his process and work. http://stephenbax.net/?page_id=38
22 responses to “HAS THE VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT BEEN CRACKED?”
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Fascinating! I’m very interested in this subject.
The Swerve is a great read.
Wonderful story. I love manuscripts. I hope you’ll continue to update us on the progress. Languages that have come and gone are an interesting topic in any form.
I’ll try. It will be interesting to see if see other academics get on board.
That’s really fascinating. I love the idea of an early medical text.
Reblogged this on The Crazy Lady Speaks.
The Voynich Manuscript has fascinated me for years. Now another such manuscript, The Codex Seraphinianus, has come to my attention. It’s definitely worth a google.
The author, Luigi Serafini, says he channeled the writing and doesn’t know what it means, but he drew the pictures to go with it to create a book that adults could look at like they did with books back before they could read.
The art is weirdly gorgeous and it looks like this author and the author of the Voynich Manuscript were channeling the same thing/person/entity.
Other than the script, there isn’t much fanciful or fantastic appearing within the VM. CS was a purposefully created piece of art to inspire flights of fancy, wonderment and a sense of the alien; the script, while strange, is somewhat incidental to the artwork. VM’s illuminations appear with only moderate frequency and little flourish, seeming to act mainly for illustrative purposes to augment the subject matter of the text rather than to be the central focus of the piece. The illustrative styles and script in the two works bear virtually no resemblance to one another aside from looking out of the ordinary.
Absolutely love! This will be a great addition to my resources for “ignoring ignorance”
Thanks for the awareness !
Great post and nice synchronicity as I just watched a new documentary on this just this morning, your post sheds more light on the topic though.
I saw the new bit on someone else’s blog so we’re really all connected.
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Crazy, intriguing stuff. I’d like to see the entire book.
There are many books on the manuscript, but I really recommend the 48 minute video to see exactly what Bax has done. There are links from there to read all the academic papers.
Is it possible that the author is an extra-terrestrial? I have watched a documentary in the History channel about it.
Occam’s Razor =/= Aliens did it.
Besides, why would hyper advanced transgalactic alien visitors be writing on Vellum? If they have faster than life travel, they probably also have 100 lb copy paper. 😉
I mean, can one of them used man-made materials to leave an account of their stay? What if they could not find a human that could transcribe their language? All the ancients left their own interpretations of aliens but none of the aliens left their own accounts. The manuscript might be a survivor of such an account.
Dr. Bax points out that there are instances of languages coming into existence and disappearing. He cites the case of Easter Island. Ms 408 appears to be a catalog of earth plants and other nature based material known in the middle ages. No one can rule out alien contact but this doesn’t look like a promising case for that.
I am just hoping that the manuscript is indeed inspired by alien contact. We have here an opportunity to send signals, the correct ones, to outer space.
There are a lot of theories about alien influences in the past. Why not alien language in an earthly medium?
I am very interested about the subject. 🙂
Well, based on the paper which has been linked, it’s more likely to represent a work by a group which failed to create a lasting codified written language for a(n unknown) regional dialect. Written languages are important, even in the presence of a long spoken tradition, because of the cultural identity attached to it. A relatively modern example would be the codification of the Cherokee alphabet; it helped their culture and language endure at a time when many native american cultures were going extinct. In the case of whomever created the Voynich script, however, this was not enough to save whatever culture or organization they might have been attempting to preserve.
Of all the things spacemen could be responsible for, the Voynich Manuscript looks to be pretty low on the list. Unless Space Bigfoot planted the original manuscript as a red herring.