When talking about mysteries, the Voynich manuscript cannot be overlooked. Considered as ‘The Most Mysterious Manuscript in the World’, best of the best decoders and cryptographers in this world have failed to figure out what is written in it. Till date, only one person has been able to decode only 10 words from the whole manuscript that has 246 vellum pages. Experts say that there were more pages but the rest are missing.
The age of the Voynich manuscript
The popular notion is that the manuscript dates back to late 15th or early 16th century. However, the pages of the manuscript have been carbon dated and found experts say that it dates back to early 15th century.
Where was it written?
In 1912, a Polish book dealer named Wilfrid Voynich bought this book. Ever since then, the manuscript has been called by the name Voynich manuscript. It is thought by the experts that the book was written during the Italian Renaissance in Northern Italy. The overall size of the book is 9.3” x 6.4” x 2.0”.
The manuscript and cryptographers
The Voynich manuscript is written in a cryptic language. It has so far not be decoded by anyone. Many attempts have been made by both amateur and professional cryptographers but all of them have failed. Even some of the most renowned code breakers from WWI and WWII had been invited to decode the manuscript but they failed as well.
The alternate name
This manuscript is today known as the ‘Cipher Manuscript’. This name was given year 1969 when it was donated to Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University where it was cataloged as MS 408 (call number) and named as Cipher Manuscript.
What is there in the Voynich manuscript?
No one has really managed to say what is written in the manuscript because no one has been able to decode it. However, it is a very highly illustrated book which is full of unusual drawings. There are drawings of unidentified plants, tiny naked women in bathtubs, mysterious charts containing diagrams which some people consider to be astronomical objects while others say they look more like live cells when viewed under a powerful microscope. Again, there are other strange charts with zodiac sign calendars and there are also tiny naked men in tiny rubbish bins.
The mysterious language of the manuscript
One could have easily understood the meaning of those strange drawings if one could have managed to understand the language in which it was written. The problem with the language is that it is completely unknown to mankind. There is absolutely no doubt that the script used in the manuscript is actually an alphabetical script but the letters do not adhere to any known letter system in European language or in English. Furthermore, there are no corrections made anywhere in the book. Also there are evidences that whoever wrote the book actually used more than a single scribe and two different languages which thereby indicates a coding system which is pretty ambiguous.
The divisions of the manuscript
Of the total number of pages present currently in the manuscript, 212 of them have images along with texts. Only 33 pages contain no images but only texts. The last page contains, what is known as the Key. The colors used for the drawings are green, yellow, brown, blue and red.
Experts have categorized the manuscript into 5 different sections based on the diagrams that are available. Here are the five categories:
- The Botanical Division: It forms the largest section of book looming over 130 pages with texts and accompanying images of unknown plants.
- The Astronomical Division: This is the third largest section of the manuscript covering 26 pages. These pages contain drawings that appear to be astronomical and astrological in nature.
- The Biological Division: 28 drawings with texts covering only 4 pages. These drawings appear to be of biological nature.
- The Pharmaceutical Division: This is the second largest division consisting of 34 pages made up only of drawings. No texts are found. The drawings appear to be of pharmaceutical nature and hence the categorization.
- The Final Division: Contains 24 pages of which 23 consist only texts with short paragraph arrangement. Each paragraph begins with a star. The 24th or the final page contains only the Key and nothing else.
Attempts to explain the language
Many attempts have been made to decode the language used. All theories have eventually ended up with intense debate with no real conclusion. Some say that the language uses an intelligible underlying text such as abbreviated Latin or phonetic Chinese or a fake natural language such as Balaibalan or Enochian. Some say it is a coded language while others say it is an artificial language like Lingua Ignota or Arithmeticus nomenclature or Johnston’s synthetic language.
Some argue that there is no underlying intelligible text in the language used in the manuscript and call it to be psychologically random strings or random strings generated mechanically.
When no conclusion was derived with human attempts, computers were put to work but unfortunately, the machines managed to only heighten the mystery. For instance, one of the findings said that the manuscript was written using two different dialects or languages which are called as Voynich A and Voynich B but they don’t have any connection with any known language.
Today’s stand on Voynich manuscript
Today, many people call it as an unbreakable cipher or an ingenious hoax but Stephen Bax who teaches applied linguistics in England’s University of Bedfordshire claims to have deciphered 14 characters, which he says, has allowed him to read 10 words. He says that he has identified words which refer to juniper, hellebore and coriander and are written alongside the drawings of the respective plants. He also found a word for Taurus that was written by the side of the drawing of Pleiades – a cluster of stars in the Taurus constellation. Bax hopes that other cryptographers will work along with him and help to break the code in the manuscript.