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Voynich Manuscript: Secret Knowledge—or a Hoax?

A breakthrough has been made in attempts to decipher a mysterious 600-year-old manuscript written in an unknown language, it has been claimed.

Written in Central Europe at the end of the 15th or during the 16th century, the origin, language, and date of the Voynich Manuscript—named after the Polish – American antiquarian bookseller, Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired it in 1912—are still being debated as vigorously as its puzzling drawings and undeciphered text. Described as a magical or scientific text, nearly every page contains botanical, figurative, and scientific drawings of a provincial but lively character, drawn in ink with vibrant washes in various shades of green, brown, yellow, blue, and red.

Now, Bedfordshire University’s Stephen Bax says he has deciphered 10 words, which could lead to more discoveries.

The manuscript, which some think is a hoax, is full of illustrations of plants and stars, as well as text. It has been latched onto by supporters of a whole range of strange theories including some linking it to Leonardo da Vinci or even aliens.

Voynich Manuscript

Thanks to illustrations, we can say that the book contains several sections, different in style and content. Tentatively there are the following sections – botanical, biological, astronomical, cosmological and pharmaceutical.

A new study, published in the journal Plos One, suggests the manuscript may, after all, hold a genuine message. Scientists say they found linguistic patterns they believe to be meaningful words within the text.

Whether or not it really does have any meaningful information, though, is much debated by amateurs and professionals alike.

It was even investigated by a team of prominent code breakers during WWII who successfully cracked complex encrypted enemy messages, but they failed to find meaning in the text.

Unidentified language

Gordon Rugg, a mathematician from Keele University, UK, is one such academic. He has even produced his own complex code deliberately similar to “Voynichese” to show how a text can appear to have meaningful patterns, even though it is “gibberish hoax text”. He says the new findings do not rule out the hoax theory, which the researchers argue.

I don’t think there’s much chance that the Voynich manuscript is simply an unidentified language, because there are too many features in its text that are very different from anything found in any real language.

Gordon Rugg does not believe it contains an unknown code, which is another theory of what the text may be: “Some of the features of the manuscript’s text, such as the way that it consists of separate words, are inconsistent with most methods of encoding text. Modern codes almost invariably avoid having separate words, as those would be an easy way to crack most coding systems.”

The first 130 pages of the volume are taken up with what appears to be a herbal, each page containing a large if somewhat sloppily executed drawing of a plant, depicting root, stem, flowers, and leaves, around which extensive text, in no recognizable language but written in a fluent cursive hand, has been carefully arranged so as to avoid encroaching on any part of the picture. This “herbal” section is followed by a cluster of large foldout pages decorated with circular zodiacal or astrological diagrams, and this, in turn, gives way to a section of ten folios containing yet more unrecognizable text, interspersed with decidedly unerotic drawings of groups of plump naked women, bathing in pools and conduits of blue or green water, which some students of the manuscript have suggested might be symbolic representations of bodily functions such as reproduction.

Voynich Manuscript

A dense continuous text interspersed with figures, mostly showing small nude women, some wearing crowns, bathing in pools or tubs connected by an elaborate network of pipes.

After a further group of large foldout pages with more astronomical images, there follows another cluster of “herbal” images. These consist of multiple small drawings embedded in the text of each page, alongside objects in the margin that resemble pharmacological jars, perhaps suggesting that this part of the manuscript refers back to the opening herbal, and was intended as a collection of medical recipes. The book’s closing section consists of twenty-three pages of closely written text without illustration, made up of short paragraphs of just a few lines apiece, each paragraph prefaced by a star or asterisk.

History of the Collection

Like its contents, the history of ownership of the Voynich manuscript is contested and filled with some gaps. The codex belonged to Emperor Rudolph II of Germany (Holy Roman Emperor, 1576-1612), who purchased it for 600 gold ducats and believed that it was the work of Roger Bacon. It is very likely that Emperor Rudolph acquired the manuscript from the English astrologer John Dee (1527-1608). Dee apparently owned the manuscript along with a number of other Roger Bacon manuscripts. In addition, Dee stated that he had 630 ducats in October 1586, and his son noted that Dee, while in Bohemia, owned ” a book…containing nothing butt Hieroglyphics, which book his father bestowed much time upon but I could not hear that he could make it out.”  Emperor Rudolph seems to have given the manuscript to Jacobus Horcicky de Tepenecz (d. 1622), an exchange based on the inscription visible only with ultraviolet light. In 1912, Wilfred M. Voynich purchased the manuscript from the Jesuit College at Frascati near Rome. In 1969, 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.





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About Mysterious Everythings

Le Minh Hieu is a national-level weightlifter and a Singapore Weightlifting sports performance coach. Hieu's biggest passion is helping everyone find confidence, happiness, and health through fitness.