The Most Mysterious Manuscript of All

The much-illustrated book
known as the Voynich
Manuscript (a.k.a. MS 408 in
the Yale Library) is very
old, nobody knows who
wrote it, and nobody knows
what it means. It could be
outsider art or a channeled
work or it could have deep
meanings, possibly
alchemical. It it has
fascinated and confounded
experts in many disciplines
for centuries – including
professional codebreakers.
Since its writing has yet to
be deciphered, those who
have perused it have
grouped its content
according to its
illustrations. These
artworks include botanical
drawings, astrological and
astronomical graphics
including charts, biological
works including miniature
nude females, nine
cosmological medallions,
some pharmaceutical art,
and some continuous text
pages with star-flowers
marking each entry (or
possible recipe).
One of its early, though not
earliest, owners was a
17th-century Prague
alchemist named Georg
Baresch, who was so
confused by it that he sent
off a copy to Jesuit
scholars for translation
work. After he died, the
Jesuits obtained it and
gave the original to the
Roman Jesuit University.
Later, Wilfrid M. Voynich
purchased it and gave it in
1969 to Yale University’s
Beinecke Rare Book and
Manuscript Library.
There are controversies
about various claimed early
owners, such as Emperor
Rudolph II of Bohemia, John
Dee, and others. There
were claims that it was the
work of Roger Bacon. The
stories told of its
provenance are not always
reliable, and there is
apparently a two-century
gap in its records.
A Mystery Clarified
The Voynich Manuscript,
made of animal skin, has
recently yielded up one
secret. It has been carbon-
dated to the early 1400s,
and is about a century
older than previously
Its owner, the Beinecke
library, allowed the
scientists to remove tiny
bits of four pages, used for
a carbon dating narrowing
down a time between 1404
and 1438 — more or less.
Dr. Greg Hodgkins, of the
University of Arizona’s
anthropology and physics
departments, notes that
since the four snipped
sections have the same
dating, earlier suggestions
that the manuscript was
added to at different dates
now seem unlikely. Ink
analysis by the McCrone
Institute in Chicago had
earlier indicated that the
ink was applied when the
parchment was relatively
This reduces the number of
possible explanations,
especially if attention is
paid to the encryption
techniques and science
skills native to the time
period the artifact was
created. Wilfrid Voynich can
be written off as its
creator, and forgery
becomes less likely.
Hodgkins notes that it is
either a alchemical text told
with pictures or something
that was created to be sold
as a valuable manuscript.
Professor Gonzalo Rubio, a
University of Pennsylvania
ancient languages
specialist, says that the
carbon-dating shows it is
not a forgery, and rules
out that it was created by
Roger Bacon, a polymath of
ththe 13 century. Rubio
finds the text strange,
since the “language” lacks
the usual grammatical
markers to be found in
Finnish, Hungarian or Indo-
European languages. Rubio
ventures the idea that the
Voynich Manuscript was
created for fun, and/or to
prank actual alchemical
Its word-style is odd, in
that it has very few words
exceeding ten
“letters” (glyphs), and
there are also scarcely any
words of one or two letters.
But that is only one of its
seemingly countless
mysteries. Even with
improved computer
techniques and advances in
linguistics assisting its
study, the Voynich
Manuscript is unlikely to
share all its secrets.


8 thoughts on “The Most Mysterious Manuscript of All

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