The Voynich Manuscript


In 1912, upon his return trip from Frascati, Italy, a New York book dealer by the name of Wilfrid Voynich, announced that he had obtained a most curious volume of ancient works. The Voynich Manuscript is a 246 page, 5½“X 8½” velum leaved book with an undecipherable code that the world’s greatest cryptographers and linguistic experts have failed to crack to date. Today, the book rests in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. It has been dubbed the “most mysterious manuscript in the world”, and has been theorized to have different “author” sources. Authorship by Englishman Roger Bacon has been the most popular theory and most recently, the authorship by extraterrestrials has come to public attention.

What is this mysterious work and what is its origin? Voynich found it amongst a collection of ancient manuscripts kept in the library of Mondragone College a Jesuit institution in Frascati. Purchasing the volume, he brought it back to New York where the unraveling of its history began. No one really knows the origin of the manuscript. Voynich believed it to be dated back to the 13th century but today, experts believe it to be written sometime between the 15th and 17th centuries citing it to be European in nature. A piece of paper attached to the manuscript states that it was once part of the library of Petrus Beckx S.J., 22nd general of the Society of Jesus. A letter dated 1666, written by Johannes Marcus Marci, rector of the University of Prague, to a Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher, identifies the manuscript as being purchased by Emperor Rudolph II of Bohemia (1552-1612). The Emperor was said to be typical of the occult oriented noblemen of his time. He was surrounded by court astrologers and was a patron of alchemy. He fancied the odd and unusual and was intrigued by games, codes, and puzzles. It is believed that he paid a handsome sum of gold for it, amounting to fourteen thousand dollars by today’s standards. A letter was supposedly attached to the manuscript stating that is was the work of Roger Bacon. Bacon, also known as Dr. Mirabilis, was renowned as a philosopher and alchemist. His knowledge of physics and mathematics was formidable. Also thought to be a great seer, Bacon was centuries ahead of his time predicting the features of 20th century life.

Some experts believe that there is a link between John Dee, the great English occultist, mathematician, and astrologer who was a known collector of Bacon’s work, and Emperor Rudolph’s purchase of the manuscript since Dee visited the court 1582-86. The book moved from the hands of the Emperor to the director of his botanical gardens in 1608 and then to the hands of an unknown individual in 1622. This individual left the book to Marci in a will. Marci sent the book to Kircher in 1666 and until it was purchased by Voynich in 1912 it sat forgotten in the Mondragone Library.

The manuscript is mostly composed of drawings with text. There are only 33 pages of full text and one page that contains a Key. The only colors that were used in the drawings are red, blue, yellow, green, and brown. All of the script is enciphered. The entire volume seems to be divided into five sections. The first section contains 130 pages of botanical drawings with an accompanying text. None of the plant drawings have been satisfactorily identified but this section is thought to be some kind of treatise on the medicinal or curative powers of plants. The second section contains 26 drawings that are astronomical and astrological in nature. One drawing in particular has received much attention because it is thought to exactly replicate the Milky Way Galaxy. There are also charts of some strange calendar that contains the zodiacal signs and a population of miniscule naked people. The third section has 4 pages of text and 28 drawings that appear to be biological in nature. These include tiny naked women frolicking in tubs which in turn are connected by some kind of weird plumbing that looks like human body parts. The fourth section contains 34 alleged pharmaceutical drawings and the fifth section has 23 pages of text arranged in brief paragraphs prefixed by a star. Page 24 is the Key.

To date, the Voynich Manuscript has resisted all attempts and efforts at translation of its “Voynichese” by experts. It has even defied computer analysis. It is thought to be either an ingenious hoax or a truly unbreakable cipher. Seems only time will tell!