The Voynich Manuscript

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The Voynich Manuscript has remained a mystery for centuries. First off, it’s written in an unknown script by an unknown author. It might be a hitherto unknown language, a cipher, or just plain nonsense. It features images of unknown plants, possible star charts featuring zodiac-like imagery, and pictures of naked women bathing in pools connected by tubes which may be balneological (relating to healing baths). Several pages are missing from it.

The Yale edition includes several essays providing background information. There’s one essay regarding the previous owners of the manuscript. At one point, it was owned by the pharmacist to Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II before passing into the hands of the Jesuit Order and finally to book dealer Wilfred Voynich. A biography of Voynich, who had quite an interesting life, is also included. There’s an analysis of the book binding, ink used, how medieval books were usually made, what ultraviolet and infrared scans reveal about how it was made, etc. One possible clue as to where the manuscript originated is a picture of a castle on one page which matches the design of northern Italian castles.

It likely isn’t a modern forgery since it’s been carbon dated to the early fifteen century. It used pigments that were common and inexpensive at the time. It was made of calfskin, which was common throughout Europe. It has several pages that fold out, which was a bit unusual for the time, but it would have been difficult for a modern-day forger to obtain so many large parchments of medieval paper.

There’s an essay detailing previous attempts to figure out the manuscript using cryptography. (Spoiler alert: no one has figured out what it says yet.) There’s also an essay on alchemical traditions in which metals such as gold and silver are often depicted as nude people bathing together to indicate that certain metals should be combined together. However, alchemical texts usually depict both men and women bathing while the Voynich manuscript contains only women. (Or mostly women. I’m pretty sure there was at least one or two male figures also bathing.)

Like everyone else, I can’t make heads or tails of the manuscript itself. A lot of the words seem to be repeated multiple times in a row, though, so I suspect the script doesn’t actually say anything. Perhaps it was created by someone who was illiterate trying to mimic writing. Or maybe a medieval con artist created it to trick a rich person into paying a lot of money for it, claiming it contained occult knowledge or something. In the end, I suspect this is one manuscript which will always remain a mystery.

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