Okay, we’ve not read this book. Nor does anyone in the world have any idea what it’s all about. Dated to the 15th century, it’s possibly a constructed language as a creative experiment.
But no one knows what the language is. Or what any of the images are. Or who the author was. Intriguing? Indeed it most certainly is!
What’s the Voynich Manuscript?
It’s an illustrated codex dated to between 1404-1438. It was likely written during the Italian Renaissance. It uses a language that’s currently unknown—and very possibly fabricated.
The manuscript also features all manner of peculiar drawings of fauna and animals, most of which there’s no other record of.
A modern example is with Codex Seraphinianus (1981) by Luigi Serafini.
His work is a deliberately abstract and bizarre book that’d appear similarly baffling for future humans. And that suggests the Voynich Manuscript is simply someone’s creative experiment from the Middle Ages.
Or it it!? Book dealer Wilfrid Voynich got hold of the work in 1912. In 1969, it was handed into the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.
It remains under study from intrigued codicology experts, many of whom have poured over its pages looking for meaning.
What’s the Origin of the Voynich Manuscript?
Despite the best efforts of experts to create a transcription of the language in the book, it’s unclear what’s going on. Or who wrote it and why.
To this day it remains one of the most mysterious works of literature in the world. The likelihood is we’ll never know why it exists.
Since the internet really took over around a decade ago, it makes for excellent fodder for endless online debates.
We first come across it in 2012 using the (now defunct—unfortunately—StumbleUpon). But we constantly keep coming across people mentioning it.
Due to its baffling nature, the inevitable conspiracy theories have sprung up online. Explanations for its existence typically land on aliens. Naturally.
The actual purpose of the work appears to be as a pharmacopoeia (a sort of encyclopedia of compound medicines—with directions for us).
Despite many studies, the nature of the plants the unknown author lists remains a mystery. However, a handful are identifiable.
Radiocarbon dating confirms its date of writing, though, so this isn’t a hoax. The first time the book appears in records is with its first owner—the antique collector Georg Baresch (1585-1662).
There are various ideas about who may have written the thing. This includes Roger Bacon, John Dee, Edward Kelley, or Giovanni Fontana (all from the 15th century, of course).
Some scholars suggest the work is possibly a case of glossolalia—speaking in tongues. The work of a lunatic under a religious reverie, or some such.
As recently as May 2019, computer scientists Torsten Timm and Andreas Schinner suggested it was a possible generating algorithm of the Voynich manuscript:
"In this article, we investigate the structural composition of the Voynich manuscript text, using statistical (network) analysis of word/token similarity. Our results support the so-called 'hoax hypothesis,' i.e., interpretation of the text as a set of meaningless strings. Based on this analysis, we present a concrete text-generator algorithm (the 'self-citation' process), easily executable without additional tools even by a medieval scribe."
But it all seems set to remain a mystery. As humans, we typically like to find a conclusion to something like this.
Regardless, conspiracy theorists will be happy to wax lyrical about it for decades to come.
Personally, we believe it’s almost certainly a manuscript from aliens. When you think about it, that all makes sense.
Spaceships landed in the 15th century (everyone was too preoccupied with plague outbreaks to notice).
The aliens stayed for a few months, wrote the book about their findings on Earth, made some pretty elementary errors about the local countryside, utterly failed to grasp human language (typical foreigners), and then cleared off back home (good riddance).
There we go. Centuries of confusion solved by us. You’re welcome.