When rare book collector Wilfrid Voynich stumbled upon a centuries old manuscript in the Villa Mondragone near Rome in 1912, he surely knew he had found something odd. The language scrawled on the roughly 250 pages of this enigmatic book was unidentifiable – the script seemed to bear some similarities to known languages, but it was neither one nor the other. It was, by all accounts, an unknown writing.
Aside from the unknown text, the manuscript featured plants that could not be identified, astrological symbols and other strange sketches – some geometrical in design, others just downright strange. Without a Rosetta stone of sorts, it was impossible to decipher what the illustrations represented in relation to the text. Lacking the skills to understand the book, Voynich eventually made it public in the hope that someone would be able to work out what the odd manuscript was all about. For almost a hundred years, scholars and members of the general public have attempted, in vain, to determine what the Voynich Manuscript means.
A few weeks ago, US researchers ascertained, via radiocarbon dating, that the manuscript was written on 15th century parchment pages. It was the initial belief of Voynich the manuscript had been created by English friar and scientist Roger Bacon in the 13th century – but that theory has now been discounted. Knowing the age of the manuscript is one thing, yet the question still remains – what the hell is it? A growing number of sceptics believe that the manuscript is nothing more than the obscure doodles and ramblings of some nutcase Renaissance artist. The fact that the manuscript makes no sense in our technologically advanced age has given rise to the arrogant belief that it can’t be deciphered simply because it is a tome of rubbish. But as some learned folks have pointed out, book publication of this kind was an expensive and time-consuming effort in the 1400’s. It is highly unlikely (yet not impossible) that someone would have taken the time to create this oracular opus simply for a lark.
As is to be expected, theories abound on the manuscript’s contents. The writing itself has been compared to Latin letters, Roman numerals and even bearing a similarity with runes. But no one is closer to any clear understanding of the text itself, and what it means. At first glance, the manuscript is elegantly composed. The illustrations accompanying the text are puzzling, yet there are some that reveal some startling detail. For example, one page (above) clearly depicts a woman standing in a shower/bath, with pipe work beneath. However, just to complicate matters, the same page also represents two women operating some kind of machine or organic mechanism that is completely alien. And on another page (below), an unusual grid is displayed on an impressive foldout section of the manuscript. From careful examination, some have said that it appears to be the engineering grid of a major city, divided into nine circular sections and featuring bridges and towers. Could the Manuscript be some sort of extraterrestrial instruction manual? Perhaps a coded text written by the First People? A literary relic of Atlantis? Or is it simply the musings of some bright person/s – a fifteenth century in-joke, known and understood by a select fraternal few?
Now housed at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, the Voynich Manuscript – often described as “the world’s most mysterious manuscript” – will no doubt continue to confound for many more years. It may never be deciphered unless a key can be obtained to understand the puzzling language in which the manuscript is penned. In all likelihood, an armchair enthusiast will crack the code before any educated nerd at the FBI or Yale can.
by Max Drake
Max has been in self-imposed exile for the past year.
Pics: from Wikipedia