The Voynich Manuscript is written by hand and bears a lot of pictures in various colors. The script is unknown as there is no mention of the origin of this manuscript. Why this manuscript was written is also not clear.
Many believe that it originated in Italy during the Renaissance period. Various other researchers question the timing. However, the most acceptable date is around the 15th Century. Radiocarbon dating was used to determine its age.
Various others believe that the unknown script was created for a natural language. However, the Voynich manuscript remains a mystery for linguists. I.t can be just a hoax hypothesis
1. Description of Manuscript
The Voynich manuscript consists of 240 odd pages. Although many pages are missing. There are some fantastical illustrations with many diagrams, people, colored pictures and plants, astrological readings, etc.
A book dealer name called Wilfrid Voynich is written on the manuscript. Although the authorship is still debatable. Currently, the manuscript can be found in the book and manuscript library at Yale University.
In the academic world, many linguists have been trying to decipher the Voynich manuscript but to no avail, it is written in an unknown language and is very difficult to decipher it.
None of the scholars has been successful till now and all the hypotheses that are given by many people over the last couple of centuries are still hypotheses. None has been proven yet. In 2020, Yale University published a digital copy of the manuscript, made up of 225 pages in total.
1.1. Physical Outlook of the Voynich Manuscript
The Voynich Manuscript’s cover, parchment, and binding have been studied deeply by various experts. After the radiocarbon dating, the date of the parchment is somewhat between 1404 and 1438 CE.
Study analysis shows that the parchment is made up of calfskin but the quality of the pages is not so good. The binding of the Voynich manuscript is not original. It was added sometime after the creation. Goatskin is used for the cover and binding.
After conducting various studies, it has been concluded that a sophisticated ink was used which contained carbon, iron, sulfur, some amount of calcium, etc. There is a similarity between the ink used for drawing and script ink.
White, blue and green, and red-brown colors are used for illustrations. Figures outlines were made after some time of the creation of the script. It was analyzed by electron microscopy and ultraviolet light.
Computer scientist, Jorge Stolfi was successful in analyzing the Voynich manuscript. He retouched by some darker inks over the earlier fainter texts.
The unknown script is all over the Voynich manuscript. It is written from left to right, and some phrases here and there are written in Latin.
Some margins are also left on both sides to make some room for figures and illustrations. It is surprising to see that there are no corrections or error marks. The whole text runs singly smoothly. Charts are also added in some places.
1.3. Statistical Analyses
Through the help of computational linguistics, the whole text of the Voynich Manuscript consists of 170,000 characters divided into 35000 groups. There are many patterns observed. A careful study shows that some characters are repeated in every word, some appear at the front, and some at the back.
The range of word length is 2 to 10 characters. Few scholars studied the Voynich text statistically.
1.3.1. Stephen Vonfelt
He concluded that the Voynich manuscript appears to be similar to the Mandarin language of China in terms of distribution and correlations of characters.
Although there are some differences in the length of the words of the Voynich manuscript as to the Mandarin text, Records of the Great Historian.
1.3.2. Diego Amancio
He and his team analyzed the relationship between text structure and the number of words per line has almost 90% similarity to normal books which was a sign that it is an actual language and has meaningful text.
1.3.3. Claire Bowern and Luke Lindemann
These two studied the relationship of the language of the Voynich manuscript with other languages and concluded that, although certain words were found to be different.
However, on the higher organization of words, there is a similarity between the Voynich characters and other language characters.
This manuscript is very likely a form of a natural or constructed language. It is possibly created by multiple “hands”, indicating more than one form of language technique.
Broadly, the whole manuscript can be divided into two sections based on language. The first is in the pharmaceutical section while the other language is in the medicinal plants, herbal remedies, and astrological sections.
1.4. Diagrams and Illustrations
Illustrations are given on almost all pages of the Voynich Manuscript. There are different types of diagrams illustrated. Since the manuscript is not readable, illustrations are a better option to analyze. These can be divided into various sections
1.4.1. Astronomical Diagrams
There are pictures of the sun, moon, and stars. Some zodiac symbols are also present, like Taurus, Pisces or Sagittarius, etc. Pictures of naked women holding some symbols of stars are shown.
Each page contains some or the other form of plants indicating herbal medicines and some medical treatises.
Containing some maps of islands and some circular figures which are hard to decipher. However, they are more planet-like structures.
This section has more clear pictures of plants and parts of plants. Some are shown with separate roots and leaves and others are shown as a whole.
Naked women are shown who are wearing some kind of jewelry and sitting. Bathing women are shown while standing in pools or tubs.
Although the language is unknown, some kinds of recipes for dishes can be identified from the text.
2. The Voynich Manuscript History
The history of the manuscript is unknown. However, carbon dating reveals a possible date in the 15th century. At the same time, the ownership of this manuscript is debatable. The first known owner is Georg Baresch from Czechoslovakia in the 17th Century,
He was very keen to decipher the text, so took help from a Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher, from Jesuit College, who was the next owner. It is not known whether Kircher was successful in deciphering the manuscript or not.
It remained in Italy for many centuries and in 1903, the Vatican Manuscript library held an auction to clear out some books. Wilfrid Voynich purchased the manuscript that currently holds his name. Voynich spent years attempting to decipher the manuscript.
After voynich’s death, the manuscript ended up in the Beinecke library of Yale University in 1969.
3. Mystery of Authorship
It was argued by Raphael Mnishovsky that the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, once bought the Voynich manuscript. But, the author of the manuscript was Franciscan friar and Roger Bacon.
It was this assumption of Roger Bacon being the author that led Voynich to conclude that John Dee was the one who sold it to the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. John Dee was a mathematician by profession who collected a lot of Bacon’s work.
But Wilfrid Voynich, who was probably the strongest proponent of this manuscript, rejected this claim and claimed that Albertus Magnus was the real author. However, there was an allegation that Voynich could have manipulated the script by himself and this shows that there is no fixed date of origin of the Voynich manuscript.
But the carbon dating revealed that it is not possible to have different periods of the manuscript because of the dating of parchment and cover of the script.
Some other experts made similar illustrations as compared to Voynich’s manuscript. Giovanni Fontana, an engineer by profession, by using a simple cipher manuscript in his illustration to describe some kind of machine.
3.1. Other Theories
Voynich did not stop there. He argued that Jacobus was once the owner of the Voynich manuscript because he was able the read his written name on the manuscript. If it is analyzed today, it is still visible with the help of ultraviolet light.
Emperor Rudolph gave Jacobus an honourary title and made him a curator of gardens. He also worked as a physician for some time in Rudolf’s court.
A book written by Nick Pelling in the year 2006 made a striking discovery with the help of carbon dating. The author of the Voynich manuscript was Antonio Averlinoa 15th century architect from Italy.
4. Problem of Language
Earlier, it was argued that the Voynich manuscript has some close relation to the European romance languages and has some real meaning due to the letter-based cipher theory.
This theory was neglected because the cipher system could not match the Voynich manuscript. After all, the letters are distributed in such a fashion that they are not related to the distribution of letters in other languages.
4.1. Theory of Stenography
Stenography suggests that most of the text of Voynich manuscripts is meaningless. Only the second letter of each word can be taken as meaningful and can crack a code.
4.2. Natural language
This mysterious text is composed of language that is similar to other natural languages due to its similarity in patterns of letters. Many linguists related it to Mandarin but later with the large group of Sino-Tibetan languages, Austroasiatic languages, etc.
In 2014, Professor Stephen Bax was able to translate some of the characters of the language in terms of their relation to other languages. There were 14 characters and 10 words.
4.3. Construction of Voynich Language
William Friedman propounded this theory that the Voynich manuscript is a result f synthetic universal language which is constructed based on systematic placements of letters. For example, plant words are constructed by using the same first letter for all the words.
4.4. A Calculated Trick, Not a Language
Some scientists believe that the Voynich manuscript is a fake construction of a language that cannot be deciphered. Prefixes and suffixes were added to construct it.
A similar language can e created even today by adopting some tools and techniques like the paper overlay technique. The Cardan grille is one such tool that was invented in the 16th century for encryption.
This is called the Hoax theory because a language like this which has possibly less meaning can be generated by placing some letters in an orderly fashion.
This was an experiment done by a computer scientist, Gordon Rugg who wrote a research paper claiming to generate large text using the grille method.
5. Decipherment Claims by Various Scholars
Over the last couple of years, many scholars claimed to decipher the mysterious book, and the words found are deciphered using different techniques to unfold the book’s secrets.
5.1. William Newbold
He claimed that the whole words are not holding any meaning. But every letter is carefully constructed with little marking that can only be dissected under a microscope. These markings have some connection with the ancient greek language that gives it some hidden meaning.
He was able to decipher whole paragraphs with this technique. He used the microscope to draw a picture of a circular shape. He termed it a galaxy, though many linguists dismissed it.
5.2. Robert Brumbaugh
He claimed that the Voynich manuscript is a total hoax created only to fool the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II to trick him into purchasing it.
5.3. Stephen Bax
He was a linguist and a professor who claimed to decipher 10 nouns and 14 letters and related them to the Asian languages. He used a technique similar to the one used for deciphering Egyptian ancient text.
5.4. Niholos Gibbs
The famous television writer Nicholas Gibbs claimed in 2017 that he has deciphered the manuscript which was a poorly abbreviated version of Latin and it was a mostly plagiarized guide on women’s health.
5.5. Ahmet Ardic
An engineer by profession, he posted a YouTube video in 2018 and suggested that the manuscript is an old version of Turkic poetry-style writing.
5.6. Gerard Cheshire
He used the word “CALIGRAPHIC PROTO-ROMANCE” for the manuscript. He also described that the manuscript is a guide for herbal medicines and therapeutic bathing and gives the information mostly through illustrations.
6. Digitalization of the Manuscript
The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University created high-resolution digital images of all the pages of the manuscript in 2004 and published them on its official website.
A facsimile of the Voynih Manuscript was published by the Beinecke Library and Yale University together. Many other scholarly works have been published on the same to study the complexity of this mysterious book written in an unknown script.
6.1. Literature inspired by this Medieval Manuscript
Over the years, many writers, novelists, and film producers created wonderful fictional works, plays, and movies inspired by this manuscript. Some of the works are:
In 1995 a fiction called Indiana Jones and the Philosopher’s Stone was written by Max McCoy. In the same way, many other fictions were composed like Codex by Lev Grossman, Trust NoOne by Linda Sue Park, The Sword of Moses by Dominic Selwood, etc.
Some took inspiration from the pictures of the manuscript, while some took up the theme on which the pictures were based like pharmaceuticals and plants.
Music was also composed by a Symphony company based on the central idea of the manuscript.
7. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is a Manuscript?
Before the advent of mechanical printing presses, handwritten books, documents, or a script was used to be the norm. These handwritten scripts were called Manuscripts.
Who was Wilfred Voynich?
Voynich was from Poland. He was known for his revolutionary ideas, but his main contribution was his business of rare books and the most remembered rare book was this manuscript which came to be known as The Voynich Manuscript.
What is Renaissance Period?
This was a period in Europe when it was taking a ‘Rebirth’ in terms of its culture, philosophy, art, politics, and Economics. New ideas were emerging and old ones were relinquished. Generally, it is regarded from the 14th Century to the 17th Century.
What does the term Decipher means?
Decipher simply means to read something which is not easily readable. It can be based on handwriting but most of the time decipherment is used for a new language whose letters are not known to the common knowledge and which should be made readable.
What does Natural Language mean?
A type of language that is developed naturally by the people. It is not constructed by adding or subtracting any letters in a specialized manner. Common examples are Mandarin, Hindi, English, Spanish, etc.
What is Constructed Language?
A language that is created artificially through any tool or equipment. Java and Python are computer languages developed by computer systems to develop programs. Similarly, Esperanto is another artificially created language.
What Parchment is made of?
Parchment is made up of animal skin, mostly cattle, which is used for making a cover of a book or any type of manuscript in earlier days. It is now illegal as animals cannot be subjected to such cruelty. But in medieval times, it was in heavy use.
Describe the technique of Radio Carbon Dating.
Radio Carbon dating is a technique to determine the age of an object using radiocarbon, an isotope of carbon, and radioactive. It is very useful in archaeological surveys where ancient artifacts, tools, equipment, weapons, utensils, etc. are recovered from the sites.
How does this technique works?
When cosmic rays interact with atmospheric nitrogen, radiocarbon is constantly made. This radiocarbon becomes CO2 by combining with Oxygen. CO2 is consumed by plants and then by animals. At this point, it starts radioactively decaying.
Measuring the amount of radioactive carbon can tell us when the plant or animal died.
What is Balneology?
Balneology is an ancient technique of treating diseases by bathing in a therapeutic solution. This was a rich tradition in ancient times when hot springs and public baths of therapeutic medicines in hot water were used for curing diseases like skin-related diseases or arthritis, etc.
What are Zodiac Symbols?
Zodiac symbols are astrological signs that represent a 360° revolution of Earth around a sun in a year. There are 12 symbols placed at a 30° angle each. These are Aries, Gemini, Libra, Sagittarius, Taurus, Leo, Virgo, Cancer, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, and Scorpio.
It’s a pseudoscience that makes predictions for the future according to signs but has no scientific basis.
What is Hoax Hypothesis?
Hoax is the acceptance of the greatest falsehood of any work by a large section of society, especially scholars so its acceptance value increases even if the text, work, or hypothesis is completely based on false assumptions.
Hoax is different from fraud. In the case of fraud, the wrongdoer has the impression that legal scrutiny can be initiated. However, in the case of hoaxers, they believe that their work does not need any scrutiny at all.
The Voynich Manuscript appears as a medieval manuscript originating from the renaissance era in the central Europe region. Most of the claims for authorship are not verifiable because of lack of evidence and they are so many of them, but the ownership was significantly a factor.
Many linguists and scholars tried to decipher the code words, but none were successful in deciphering the whole document. Although there was a significant contribution by William Newbold, Stephen Bax, Nicholas Gibbs, etc. Wilfred Voynich was the one who introduced it to the world.
The book has influenced many cultures and artworks. Many authors in the western world took its theme to illustrate them in their books like Indiana Jones and Philosopher’s Stone, Codex, Trust No One, etc.
Overall, it remains a mysterious text and its unknown author is also a mystery, but the conservation of art pieces like this helps us to produce more creative works like this.