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May 28, 2011

The Voynich Manuscript — A mystery not by Robert Ludlum


Excerpts from Michael Day's May 24, 2011 Telegraph story follow.

Somewhere deep inside the bowels of Yale's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library – the Ivy League institution's own cemetery of lost books – lies a tome that experts have studied for centuries, but which has yet to be understood by a single soul.

The book has no known author or official title; Yale librarians simply refer to it as manuscript MS 408. But thanks to its peculiar language, symbols and diagrams – often strangely familiar, but insistently elusive in meaning – it has intrigued and frustrated anthropologists, linguists and mathematicians for centuries: even the elite cryptologists at the US National Security Agency drew a blank, after they spent years trying to decode it in the 1950s. And the time that some researchers have dedicated to the problem seems all the more remarkable given the possibility that, for all the complexity and consistency of the script it contains, it could simply be an elaborate hoax.

Written in an as yet undecipherable language, with unknown letters or "glyphs" arranged into a form of seemingly consistent but unintelligible syntax, the book is commonly referred to as the Voynich manuscript, after the Polish-American bookseller Wilfrid Voynich, who acquired it in 1912. Its history, however, begins long before.

Although the earliest suggested owner is Rudolf II, the 16th-century emperor of Bohemia, the first that we know of for sure is Georg Baresch, a 17th-century alchemist from Prague, who was so perplexed by the book that he sent it to Jesuit scholars in the hope that they might translate it.

They failed, but they did pass it on to the Roman Jesuit University, from where it was whisked away to Frascati, near Rome, in 1870 to keep it safe from Vittorio Emanuele's marauding soldiers. It was bought by Voynich, and then donated to Yale in 1969.

Most theories about the book's meaning are inevitably informed by its illustrations [top], says Prof Rubio. These pictures, drawn in various shades of green, brown, yellow, blue, and red ink, are – like the script used in the manuscript's 240 remaining pages – unique. Yet while the words cannot be read, the illustrations provide a clue about the nature of the book. They suggest that the book was a scientific text, mostly an illustrated herbal manual with some additional sections on astronomy, biology and pharmaceuticals. The script itself is widely believed to be about alchemy, the medieval science with metaphysical and magical overtones, whose practitioners sought ways to turn base metals into gold.

One of the theories that has gained ground in recent years, says Prof Rubio, is that the manuscript employs steganography to conceal its contents. This means that some or even most of the text is nonsense, and that only parts or even individual characters form part of the language. If this method was indeed employed, in addition to a cipher, then translating the contents might be exceedingly difficult.

[via Milena]

May 28, 2011 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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I broke the code years ago.

Translated to the very basic it states:

"Be sure to drink your Ovaltine"


Posted by: Joe Peach | May 28, 2011 4:32:28 PM

hmmm, maybe an alien notebook, left behind? Could be...one never knows.

Posted by: tamra | May 28, 2011 3:49:28 PM

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