Friday, 3 June 2011

The Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich manuscript is one of the world's great unsolved mysteries.

It is a handwritten book, 16 by 23 cm and about 5 cm thick thought to have been written in the 15th or 16th century in Northern Italy.  It has about 240 vellum pages, carbon dated (within the last year at the University of Arizona) to the early 15th century.  The author, script, language and purpose of the document remain completely unknown in spite of various conflicting claims in recent years that it has been decoded. For these reasons it has been described as "the world's most mysterious manuscript"

It is named after Wilfid M Voynich who acquired it in 1912 and is currently owned by a Yale University library.  People have speculated that it was written by Francis Bacon (who died in 1294, much too early for this particular volume), or by a young Leonardo da Vinci.

There are many mysteries about this intriguing volume.  For one thing it is written in a unique code which  is statistically plausible compared with known languages, using metrics such as letter frequency, word length and word frequency.  It is consistent from page to page, so it is thought not to be nonsense writing.  If it is nonsense then it is very good nonsense.  It also contains no corrections, and there are no places where the text is squeezed in to fit the space (as is common in hand-written books), so it has been suggested that it is a very well planned copy of an earlier text.  (This is where Francis Bacon comes back into the list of possible authors).

It has (perhaps) six sections.  Most pages in the first five sections are decorated with illustrations.  The first depicts 113 types of plants and flowers that do not actually exist.  The second is on astrological topics, and the third 'biological' section is filled with pictures of frolicking (generally naked) female forms.  After 'cosmological' and 'pharmaceutical' sections, the final part of the book is known as 'stars'.  Containing no illustrations at all, each paragraph starts with a star symbol.

Whatever the purpose of the Voynich Manuscript it is still a mystery.  You can find images of all the pages here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In 2009 a research team, led by Gordon Rugg of Keele University carried out a linguistic analysis of the MS, which led to the conclusion that it is gobbledegook, and in all probability, a fraud.