Voynich Manuscript must be one of the most interesting historical riddles still waiting to be solved. Ever since I saw its unusual and puzzling illustrations and texts years back I became intrigued with its meaning and origins. I was reading about multiple decoding attempts that have been made by scholars over the years. And I still do. What can I say, I’m a sucker for big mysteries! But what is this manuscript exactly, you might ask? Well, to understand it better you will have to see it for yourself. This manuscript is a parchment codex containing up to 116 parchment leaves. Of which 14 are now missing. How odd! Indication of the writer is nowhere to be found. The text itself is written in elegant unknown writing on glorious 200+ pages. The manuscript is profusely illustrated. It appears to be a scientific work from the middle ages. Illustrations of similar type are mostly grouped together in the manuscript. One may tentatively identify these. We have Herbal, astronomical, cosmological, biological, and pharmaceutical and recipes section. OK, that sounds cool so far, but what is it all about? To be honest, no one knows with certainty. However, couple of theories are acceptable. It could be early discoveries and inventions by the 13th century friar Roger Bacon. Maybe written in some sort of code. On the other hand it could all be a fake written to impress. Third theory is that it is a rare prayer book from the Cathars, not destroyed by the inquisition. Who knows?! But maybe the illustrations themselves can paint a different picture. Let’s take a closer look.
So called “Herbal Section” covers about half the manuscript. These pages contain plant illustrations with some short paragraphs of text written to carefully avoid the drawings. The composition is similar to some of the herbal manuscripts produced between late antiquity and the early Renaissance. Apart from this similarity, there is also a striking difference. As traditional manuscripts are usually based on copy traditions they usually look the same. However, the Voynich manuscript has truly unique and original drawings. It was apparently not further copied by anyone.
Some other manuscripts from that era have had similar style in plant studies. However, these illustrations still remain a mystery. The first known attempts have been collected in the hand transcriptions of Th.Petersen, and by Ethel Voynich in her notebooks. Some very interesting herbal identifications have been made in recent years. Several people wrote and it was published in various sources. It is difficult to confirm these as they are always subjective, but many are highly convincing.
These plant identification attempts have changed the point of view of many. It appears like the plants are just a product of someone vivid imagination. However, many of them could be associated with the known plants of that era.
Astronomical, Cosmological, and Zodiac illustrations might be one of the most interesting ones in this manuscript. Cosmological pages feature geometric designs, all essentially circular.
Some of these appear very unique. Others are quite similar to cosmological illustrations found in other medieval manuscripts.
The zodiac pages contain concentric circles with about 30 nymphs holding stars. Usually with an emblem of a zodiac sign in the center. The zodiac emblems themselves are easily recognizable. In some cases very unusual though. Libra is completely standard, while Sagittarius represents a standing male figure holding a crossbow. This is a deviation from the much more typical centaur with a bow and arrow.
You can read more of the interesting details about these illustrations following this link.
Voynich Manuscript Decoding Success!
After years of unsuccessful decoding attempts we might actually have a chance of decoding these pages in recent future. Stephen Bax is a Professor of Applied Linguistics at the University of Bedfordshire. He says that he has decoded words in it for the first time. Professor Bax is using linguistic analysis to work on the script letter by letter.
The manuscript has a lot of illustrations of stars and plants. I was able to identify some of these, with their names. All by looking at medieval herbal manuscripts in Arabic and other languages. I then made a start on a decoding, with some exciting results.
Just take a look at pages bellow. Mysterious illustrations of women in some sort of green liquid seems strange. Could it be some sort of medical treatment? It remains unknown.
Only a small number of words have been decoded so far. However, I really hope that we will be able to understand some more about this mysterious piece of art in our lifetime.