Books, by definition, are designed to be read. But that certainly hasn’t been the case with the mysterious Voynich Manuscript. It was named after Wilfred Voynich, and American antiquarian book dealer who bought the unusual work in 1912 from a jesuit school in Frascati, south of Rome in Italy.

Most likely, the manuscript had lain for several centuries at the bottom of the old chest in which it was discovered. Its origins and author remain unknown, although with it was a letter dated 19 August 1666, from Johannes Marcus Marci, rector of Prague University, to Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit scholar. According to Marci’s letter, the manuscript was the work of the thirteenth-century scientist Roger Bacon.

The Voynich Manuscript: The Unsolved Riddle of an Extraordinary Book Which has Defied Interpretation for Centuries

Marcus Marci notes that the book had been bought by the Holy Roman emperor Rudolf II of Prague for 600 ducats. While it is not known how it came to be in the emperor’s hands, it is thought that the book was taken to the European mainland from England, perhaps as early as 1584.

The manuscript, an octavo volume measuring a mere 15 by 23 centimeters, consists of 204 pages (another 28 pages have been lost), each covered with colorful drawings and handwritten notations in a secret cipher. Despite the efforts of scholars over the centuries – even in modern times – it is not known what language it is written or coded in, or what its author originally intended.

The Voynich Manuscript: The Mysterious Code That Has Defied Interpretation for Centuries

Superficially, the manuscript looks like a medieval herbal that describes the gathering and preparation of medicinal plants, with numerous astronomical charts and diagrams, all decorated by curious little nude female figures. Yet most of the illustrated plants are wholly imaginary – flora of the mind alone.

When Voynich’s widow, Ethel, died at the age of 96 in 1960, the manuscript was bought by another antiquarian bookseller, Hans Kraus. After several fruitless attempts to market it, Kraus finally gave the Voynich Manuscript to the Yale University Library in 1969. There it remains today, its unread secrets still locked between the covers, awaiting translation by some future cryptographer.

Solution of the Voynich Manuscript


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