books

Did anyone ever deciphered the “Voynich manuscript”?

There are many mysteries and mysterious books or manuscripts in this world, some of which unfolded and some still hold their authentic nature of being undeciphered.

A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript

It was an evening of 17th century when an alchemist from Prague, Georg Baresch, sorted things in his library and realised these undeciphered manuscripts took up space uselessly in his library” for many years.

So, he decided to unfold the mystery behind these texts, and in the year 1639 AD wrote a letter and sent a sample copy of the script to Kircher, one of the Jesuit scholars from Collegio Romano, asking for clues.

But Kircher, who claimed to have deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphs has failed to understand the scripts and shows more interest in acquiring the book, which Baresch refused to yield and was passed to his close and learned friend Johannes Marcus Marci, then rector of Charles University in Prague upon his death in the year 1662.

Approximately in the year 1965, dated August 19, Marci sent the book to Kircher along with a cover letter written in Latin with a belief that only Kircher, a Father in Christ would be able to read the book.

The cover letter sent by Marci to Kircher:

Reverend and Distinguished Sir, Father in Christ:

This book, bequeathed to me by an intimate friend, I destined for you, my very dear Athanasius, as soon as it came into my possession, for I was convinced that it could be read by no one except yourself.

The former owner of this book asked your opinion by letter, copying and sending you a portion of the book from which he believed you would be able to read the remainder, but he at that time refused to send the book itself. To its deciphering, he devoted unflagging toil, as is apparent from attempts of his which I send you herewith, and he relinquished hope only with his life. But his toil was in vain, for such Sphinxes as these obey no one but their master, Kircher. Accept now this token, such as it is and long overdue though it be, of my affection for you, and burst through its bars, if there are any, with your wonted success.

Dr Raphael, a tutor in the Bohemian language to Ferdinand III, then King of Bohemia, told me the said book belonged to Emperor Rudolph and that he presented to the bearer who brought him the book 600 ducats. He believed the author was Roger Bacon, the Englishman. On this point I suspend judgement; it is your place to define for us what view we should take thereon, to whose favour and kindness I unreservedly commit myself and remain

At the command of your Reverence,
Johannes Marcus Marci of Crosland

No records of the book for the next 200 years have been found, but in all likelihood, it was stored with the rest of Kircher’s correspondence in the library of the Collegio Romano (now the Pontifical Gregorian University). It probably remained there until the troops of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy captured the city in 1870 and annexed the Papal States.

In 1903, the Society of Jesus (Collegio Romano) was short of money and decided to sell some of its holdings discreetly to the Vatican Library. The sale took place in 1912, but not all of the manuscripts listed for sale ended up going to the Vatican.

In the year 1912, Wilfrid Voynich acquired 30 of these manuscripts, among them the one which now bears his name. He spent the next seven years attempting to interest scholars in deciphering the script, while he worked to determine the origins of the manuscript.

Wilfrid Voynich

It is believed that in the year 1599 Karl Widemann a German author, physician and collector of manuscript sold this book to Rudolf II for 600 ducats.

Some suspect Voynich of having fabricated the manuscript himself. As an antique book dealer, he probably had the necessary knowledge and means, and a lost book by Roger Bacon would have been worth a fortune.

The vellum on which it is written has been carbon-dated to the early 15th century (1404–1438), and the text may have been composed in Italy during the Italian Renaissance.

A detail from the balneological section of the manuscript

Some of the pages are missing, with around 240 remaining. The text is written from left to right, and most of the pages have illustrations or diagrams. Some pages are foldable sheets of varying size.

The Voynich manuscript has been studied by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including American and British codebreakers from both World War I and World War II.

In 1930, the manuscript was inherited after Wilfrid’s death by his widow Ethel Voynich and then upon her death, it was left with her close friend Anne Nill in the year 1960, later sold to Hans P. Kraus, an Austrian born book dealer.

In 1969, the Voynich manuscript was donated by Hans P. Kraus to Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, where it was catalogued as “MS 408” and remains.

The manuscript has never been demonstrably deciphered, and none of the many hypotheses proposed over the last hundred years has been independently verified.

The mystery of its meaning and origin has excited the popular imagination, making it the subject of study and speculation.

Now, the Manuscripts can be checked digitally from collections.library.yale.edu/ (Catalog no: 2002046).

The same is also available in Nethovers Library, please check out.