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The Enigma of the Voynich Manuscript - Mystery Files

Updated on February 5, 2016

The Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich Manuscript - Strange Plants
The Voynich Manuscript - Strange Plants

The Voynich Manuscript

Way back in 1912, Wilfred M. Voynich, a successful book and manuscript dealer of Polish-Lithuanian-American descent, after some negotiation, had managed to acquire a quantity of priceless mediaeval manuscripts and documents from one of his European sources at the Villa Mondragone in Italy.

Most of the purchases were pretty standard fare for those who deal in antiquarian books and documents, but as he sorted through the manuscripts, Voynich noticed one particular book which was very unusual - very unusual indeed! The book which caught his eye was a codex composed of 234 pages of fine vellum (vellum is not a type of paper, it's actually animal skin, stretched and treated to accept writing and illustration).

The Voynich Manuscript - Naked Ladies!
The Voynich Manuscript - Naked Ladies!

The book was a remarkable piece of work. Hand written and profusely illustrated with coloured drawings depicting, among other things,

  • Strange charts which appear to be astronomical views through a telescope and cells as viewed through a microscope
  • Tiny naked ladies in bathtubs which are connected by parts that appear more anatomical than hydraulic.
  • Unidentified flowers and plants
  • What appears to be illustrations for medicinal recipes

The manuscript was assumed to be some sort of magical or scientific work from the middle ages. Unfortunately, no one knew for sure because no one could read it - The entire book had been written in code. It bacame known as "The Voynich Manuscript"

The Enigma Begins

There was also a letter attached to the manuscript, written in Latin and dated 1666. It was from from one Johannes Marcus Marci of Kronland, (who had once rector of the Charles University of Prague), to the Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher in Rome. the letter offered the manuscript for translation, and said that the author was believed to be Roger Bacon (1214-1294). It further stated that Emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia had once owned the manuscript for which he had paid six hundred Gold Ducats.

Voynich began a campaign to have the manuscripts deciphered, and the text became quite famous in the 1920s when William Romaine Newbold proclaimed that he held the key to the decipherment. This would, he said, prove that the text was indeed written by Roger Bacon, furthermore, it would also prove that Roger Bacon had not just dreamed of microscopes - but had actually built one!

Unfortunately, Newbolds cryptolgical solution was disproved in 1931 by John M. Manly. The attempts to pry the secrets from the Voynich Manuscript continued. Through the 1940s and 1960s, William F. Friedman, an eminent cryptanalyst aided by groups of experts, made many brave attempts at deciphering the book, but all to no avail - the book still kept it's secrets.

The Voynich Manuscript - Magical or Medicinal recipes?
The Voynich Manuscript - Magical or Medicinal recipes?
The Voynich Manuscript - Undecipherable?
The Voynich Manuscript - Undecipherable?

The enigmatic allure of the Voynich manuscript continues to this day. It has been studied by many cryptographers both professional and amateur, including British and American codebreakers from both World War I and World War II.

Still it continues to defy all attempts at decipherment , and has become a cause célèbre in the field of historical cryptology. No other example exists of the language in which the Voynich Manuscript is written.

The text does not appear to have any corrections at all. Although It is an alphabetic script, the alphabet used seems to vary between nineteen and twenty-eight letters, and none of them bear any relationship to any English or European lettering system.

According to investigators Currier and D'Imperi, there could be evidence that two different "languages" have been used, and more than one scribe, which will almost certainly produce an ambiguous code.

It remains unclear to this day whetherthe Voynich Manuscript actually contains any meaningful text at all, although it has been established that it is not a forgery. Researchers at the University of Arizona performed carbon14 dating on the manuscript's vellum in 2009, which proves that the vellum was made between 1404 and 1438 and the McCrone Research Institute in Chicago found that most of the ink on the document was added not long after this date, confirming that the Voynich Manuscript is indeed an authentic medieval document

In 1961, H. P. Kraus, a New York book antiquarian bought the book for the sum of $24,500. Kraus later re-valued the tome at $160,000. Unfortunately, he was unable unable to find a buyer for the Voynich Manuscript and donated it to Yale University. It is now owned by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, and is formally referred to as "Beinecke MS 408", it is still best known however, as the Voynich Manuscript.

The mystery of the Voynich manuscript has gripped popular imagination, spawning a profusion of fanciful theories (and even the odd novel or two). and remains an undeciphered enigma to this day.

More on the Voynich Manuscript

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

Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill explore the mystery surrounding the Voynich Manuscript, examining the many existing theories about the possible authors of this work and the information it may contain. They trace the speculative history of the manuscript and reveal those who may be connected to it, including Roger Bacon, John Dee, and the Cathars.



Submit a Comment

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @nemanjaboskov - Yes, I had heard vaguely about the story some years ago, and thought that it would be worth searching out to use as a Hub subject.

  • nemanjaboskov profile image

    Nemanja Boškov 

    7 years ago from Serbia

    Bill, another great hub! You really did some serious research on this one, right?

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ samantha stacia - I gather that some people regard the plants as unidentifiable (and thus, possibly a hoax), whereas others regard them as identifiable, but disguised, as is the text.

  • samantha stacia profile image

    samantha stacia 

    7 years ago from Arizona

    This is something I have seen in some of my research but never knew all this about it. Is it true that the plants aren't ones that are identifiable?? If that's true, I hadn't heard that before and find that extremelly intriguing!

    I love old manuscripts and this is a great article.

    Thumbs up again!

    Samantha Stacia

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @a.a.Zavala - Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • A.A. Zavala profile image

    Augustine A Zavala 

    7 years ago from Texas

    Fascinating, I had no idea. Thank you for sharing.

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @Case1worker. Thanks. Yes you could be right. Today's super computers didn't make a dent in it apparently - But in the future, who knows?

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @Nell rose - Thanks Nell. Angels writing books! - They probably write on Hubpages these days ;)

  • CASE1WORKER profile image


    7 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

    great hub- i guess it might be solved one day when we have really super computers

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 

    7 years ago from England

    Hi, I think I remember reading about this a while ago, I believe one of the theories was it was written in Angelic! I know that was a bit 'out there'! lol but people always think if they can't figure it out, it must be supernatural! great hub, cheers nell

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    Thanks Scarytaff - I like a good mystery :)

  • scarytaff profile image

    Derek James 

    7 years ago from South Wales

    Well researched, Gaizy. terrific hub.


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