Breaking the World’s Most Mysterious Code:
The Voynich Manuscript
The Voynich Manuscript is the biggest unsolved code in the world. What is it that fascinates people to find it?
You might have never heard about the undeciphered Voynich manuscript. It is not really that famous in the Eastern part of the world. Whilst watching a video on the world’s most strangest books, I came across this name. Fascinated by it, I also found the manuscript’s mention in the world’s biggest unsolved mysteries. This is when things got interesting.
The Voynich Manuscript is one of the world’s biggest unsolved mysterious. Even though it may seem familiar to my earlier blog about the undeciphered Indus script, this manuscript is different. In case of the Indus script, decipherers don’t have the necessary information. On the contrary, the Voynich manuscript is a long and well-illustrated 240 pages manuscript.
The Voynich Manuscript is written in the Voynich Code, one of the few codes from middles ages that is still undeciphered today. Decoding this code is much like a game: legendary decoders have tried and failed. The Voynich Code smirks at the number of people who have tried their entire lives but failed miserably.
What is it that is so appealing about this manuscript?
Once you turn the cover page, you are greeted with a plethora of hand drawn pictures. Colours of green, red, blue float across the pages.
There are detailed pictures of botanical plants. Some of these plants do not correspond to real life. Could they be someone’s fantasy? Furthermore these plants are highly out of symmetry. The leaves are bigger than the roots and the flowers look strange.
Yet one’s eyes are drawn towards this book. What could the author have been thinking? What did the author mean by these illustrations?
Besides this, the book seems to have been a life-work of an individual. The vivid pictures are so detailed and well painted.
Apart form the botanical references, there are zodiac signs and constellations drawn in much detail. Words seem to dance beside the diagrams in swirling circles.
Constellations drawn in a circle show women with different gestures. And the fascinating bit? If these circles are spun around, these figures appear to dance!
What is the manuscript’s story?
The Voynich manuscript came into the hands of an American, Wilfred Voynich. He acquired it in Rome at the Jesuit College at Frascati in 1912. That is how the manuscript gets its name.
By tracing this manuscript back, scientists have found its previous owners, yet there are some years where the whereabouts of the book is unknown.
Wilfred Voynich must have miserably failed in his attempts to find out about this undeciphered Voynich manuscript but he managed to uncover something important. Whilst examining the pages, he found a name on one of the pages. He could decipher that language. It read ‘Jacobi de Tepenecz.’ Even today, with the use of ultraviolet light, the scribbled name can be seen on page 1R.
Apart from this, in today’s terms, the lifelong research of Wilfred Voynich is disregarded for the quest to uncover the code.
What historians now wanted to do was know when the book was actually written. They began tracing it back.
They took the first clue ‘Jacobi de Tepenecz.’ Who was this man?
Jacobi de Tepenecz seemed to have received the book as a repayment of debt by Emperor Rudolph II of Germany. When the Emperor had died, his debt was paid off using his collections. Tepenecz seems to have gotten the book. That explains the name on the manuscript.
The mention of this codex under Emperor Rudolph II of Germany (Holy Roman Emperor, 1576-1612) comes around 1586. He paid 600 gold ducats for the book.
Records and memories suggest a name- John Dee. John Dee was an English astrologer. He collected books by Roger Bacon, a famous philosopher and scientist in the Middle Ages. The Emperor seemed to be under the premise that this strange undeciphered Voynich manuscript had been written by the great Roger Bacon. Was it written by him?
Since its rediscovery in 1912, researchers of the Voynich manuscript had longed for it to be carbon dated. Previously you needed a large piece of material to do this. Thus, they couldn’t use this technique on the codex. Now thanks to technological advancement, they could.
Small pieces of paper from different parts of this book were taken and dated. The results were marvellous.
Scientists were able to date the manuscript to 1404-1438 AD.
This helped them trace the owners till Wilfred Voynich albeit with a little gaps. The first 150 years of the manuscript were in the dark.
Till date the writer of the manuscript is unknown.
What do the pages of this book tell us?
Researchers turned their focus from the Voynich code to its elaborate illustrations. Humans can understand pictures better, can’t they?
They have studied the paints and ink used.
It is interesting to know that not a single letter or word has been erased or cut. This means that the writer has not made a single error in 240 pages including the pictures! This is almost humanely impossible.
Secondly the question arises: in its almost 700 years of existence, how hasn’t the paint gone dull?
Scientists also lab tested the paints and ink used. Inks used have tested to be iron gall. The writer has had to make the ink over and over again since it slightly varies in consistency and ingredients. It is also known that the writer used a quill.
As for the bright paints, they all have a mineral origin. It is difficult to make colours using mineral materials and paint with them, but the writer seems to have mastered this art.
And finally the pages. What do these pages tell us? They are made from animal skin. Some pages are full pages, taken from the middle of a bigger sheet. Acquiring such pages would have been a costly affair. These pages are very much still smooth.
And whilst we are at pages, historians have also been able to divide this book into 6 sections using the illustrations- botanical, astronomical, biological, cosmological, pharmaceutical and a section full of texts with stars in the margin possibly indicting recipes to make medicines.
Theories and Questions
Since the codex remains undeciphered, there are certain theories that have come up over time. Almost all have been questioned.
Some believe that the codex is indeed a secret code. The botanical plants and astrology contents refer to this book being written by an accomplished doctor. Perhaps the doctor didn’t want his work to be found? Why would a healer do this? Since at that point in time, Church was above doctors and anyone using science didn’t find it easy to survive, maybe the doctor hide his work in a code?
Recently some researches have proposed an entirely different theory. They say that this manuscript is a hoax. The pictures and words are gibberish. They are probably made to look like an old code, a facsimile to be sold off for high sums of money. Although if it was indeed a prank, why would someone go to the lengths of designing it carefully using the best of paints, ink and paper?
Some also claim that it might be the work of an amateur artist. Another candidate is a child born in a rich family with good knowledge of using paints. They say that the paintings made don’t only look like fantasyland but are also too crude to be drawn by a good artist with a thorough knowledge of paints.
What is your take on this? Suggest a conspiracy theory in the comments section below. I can’t wait to hear more from you!
Today the Voynich manuscript rests at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the Yale University, USA. Work is still ongoing behind this codex. New technology might throw insight into it. Although some cannot help but ask- is this manuscript even written by a human at all?
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