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Based on the evidence of the calligraphy, the drawings, the vellum, and the pigments, Wilfrid Voynich estimated that the Manuscript was created in the late 13th century. The manuscript is small, seven by ten inches, but thick, nearly 235 pages. It is written in an unknown script of which there is no known other instance in the world.
The Voynich Manuscript is a cipher manuscript, sometimes
attributed to Roger Bacon.
It is abundantly illustrated with awkward coloured drawings of::
Detail from page 78r of Voynich Manuscript depicting the "biological" section
"Tiny naked women frolicking in bathtubs" - a fragment of
No one really knows the origins of the manuscript. The experts believe it is European They believe it was written between the 15th and 17th centuries.
From a piece of paper which was once attached to the Voynich manuscript, and which is now stored in one of the boxes belonging with the Voynich manuscript holdings of the Beinecke library, it is known that the manuscript once formed part of the private library of Petrus Beckx S.J., 22nd general of the Society of Jesus.
A sample of untranslatable text from the Voynich manuscript
There is no other example of the language in which the manual is
The VM is written in a language of which no other example is known to exist. It is an alphabetic script, but of an alphabet variously reckoned to have from nineteen to twenty-eight letters, none of which bear any relationship to any English or European letter system.
Apparently, Voynich wanted to have the mysterious manuscript deciphered and provided photographic copies to a number of experts. However, despite the efforts of many well known cryptologists and scholars, the book remains unread. There are some claims of decipherment, but to date, none of these can be substantiated with a complete translation.
View Voynich photos
curtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University.
To see all images go to
and search for "Voynich Manuscript"
and search for "Voynich Manuscript"
History of the Voynich Manuscript
The book was bought by H. P. Kraus (a New York book antiquarian) in 1961 for the sum of $24,500. He later valued it at $160,000 but was unable to find a buyer. Finally he donated it to Yale University in 1969, where it remains to date at the Beinecke Rare Book Library with catalogue number MS 408.
It is known from a letter of Johannes Marcus Marci, rector of the University of Prague, to Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit scholar, dated 1666, that the manuscript was bought by Emperor Rudolph II of Bohemia (1552-1612).
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 it could be read by no one except
At the command of your Reverence,
Historically, it first appears in 1586 at the court of Rudolph II of Bohemia, who was one of the most eccentric European monarchs of that or any other period. Rudolph collected dwarfs and had a regiment of giants in his army. He was surrounded by astrologers, and he was fascinated by games and codes and music. He was typical of the occult-oriented, Protestant noblemen of this period and epitomized the liberated northern European prince. He was a patron of alchemy and supported the printing of alchemical literature.
The Rosicrucian conspiracy was being quietly fomented during this same period. To Rudolph's court came an unknown person who sold this manuscript to the king for three hundred gold ducats, which, translated into modern monetary units, is about fourteen thousand dollars. This is an astonishing amount of money to have paid for a manuscript at that time, which indicated that the Emperor must have been highly impressed by it.
Accompanying the manuscript was a letter that stated that it was the work of the Englishman Roger Bacon, who flourished in the thirteenth century and who was a noted pre-Copernican astronomer. Only two years before the appearance of the Voynich Manuscript, John Dee, the great English navigator, astrologer, magician, intelligence agent, and occultist had lectured in Prague on Bacon.
The manuscript somehow passed to Jacobus de Tepenecz, the director of Rudolph's botanical gardens (his signature is present in folio 1r) and it is speculated that this must have happened after 1608, when Jacobus Horcicki received his title 'de Tepenecz'. Thus 1608 is the earliest definite date for the Manuscript.
Codes from the early sixteenth century onward in Europe were all derived from The Stenographica of Johannes Trethemius, Bishop of Sponheim, an alchemist who wrote on the encripherment of secret messages. He had a limited number of methods, and no military, alchemical, religious, or political code was composed by any other means throughout a period that lasted well into the seventeenth century. Yet the Voynich Manuscript does not appear to have any relationship to the codes derivative of Johannes Trethemius of Sponheim.
In 1622 and the manuscript passed to the possession of an unidentified individual that left the book in his/her will to Marci. Marci must have known about this manuscript before 1644, as the information concerning the price that the Emperor paid came from Dr. Raphael Missowski (1580-1644) (as mentioned in his letter).
Marci sent the manuscript immediately with the letter to Athanasius Kircher (a Jesuit priest and scholar in Rome) in 1666 who apparently also knew of it and had exchanged letters and transcribed portions with the previous unidentified owner. Between that time and 1912 (when Voynich discovered it) it is speculated that the manuscript may have been stored or forgotten in some library and finally moved to the Jesuit College at the Villa Mondragone. Marci's letter to Kircher was still attached to the manuscript when Voynich bought it. In that letter, Marci mentioned the name of Roger Bacon (1214-1292) as a possible author, although no conclusive evidence of authorship is available. A possible link between Rudolph and Bacon is John Dee (an English mathematician and astrologer, collector of Bacon's work) who visited Rudolph's court in 1582-86.
Parts of the Manuscript
The Voynich Manuscript is about 6 by 9inches. Some
believe it to be a book about alchemy. It contains the equivalent of
246 quarto pages, but may have originally contained not less than
The contents of the Manuscript are divided up into 5categories:
View online pages from the manuscript:
Theories about the Manuscript
To this day the Voynich Manuscript resists all efforts at translation. It is either an ingenious hoax or an unbreakable cipher. The contents and origin of the manuscript have been a matter of continuous and stimulating debate. To name some of the possibilities that have been discussed in the Voynich mailing list forum (modified from a posting by Karl Kluge):
There is an intelligible underlying text:
There is no intelligible underlying text
In analytic terms, there are a few particularities worth noting:
Computer analysis of the Voynich Manuscript has only deepened the mystery. One finding has been that there are two 'languages' or 'dialects' of Voynichese, which are called Voynich A and Voynich B. The repetitiousness of the text is obvious to casual inspection. Entropy is a numerical measure of the randomness of text. The lower the entropy, the less random and the more repetitious it is. The entropy of samples of Voynich text is lower than that of most human languages; only some Polynesian languages are as low." "Tests show that Voynich text does not have its low h2 [second order entropy] measures solely because of a repetitious underlying text, that is, one that often repeats the same words and phrases. Tests also show that the low h2 measures are probably not due to an underlying low-entropy natural language. A verbose cipher, one which substitutes several ciphertext characters for one plaintext character [i.e., 'fuf' for the letter 'f'], can produce the entropy profile of Voynich text." - Dennis Stallings
When the manuscript was first shown to expert cryptologists, they thought that solving it would be easy as the text was composed of "words", some of which were more frequent and occurred in certain combinations (Kahn, 1967). This soon turned out to be a mistake; the text could not easily be converted into Latin, English, German or a host of other languages which might possible be at the base of this document.
A first "solution" was announced in 1919, by William Romaine Newbold (Newbold, 1921), who caused a sensation by claiming that the manuscript did indeed contain the work of Roger Bacon and that Bacon had known the use of the compound telescope and microscope, seeing the spiral structure of the Andromeda galaxy* (!) only visible with modern telescopes and cell structures unknown in the 13th Century.
What Newbold discovered in the text was absolutely astonishing— enough to gather a lot of attention from the scientific community. The biological drawings in the text were described asseminiferous tubes, the microscopic cells with nuclei, and even spermatozoa. Among the astronomical drawings were the descriptions of spiral nebulae, a coronary eclipse, and the comet of 1273. One of the more baffling things about this was that many of the drawings of plants, and of the galaxies appeared to have been invented. There was no doubt that if Bacon were the author of such a text, he must have had some way of obtaining the information.
For instance, Newbold's translation of the caption near the drawing of the nebula of Andromeda (which clearly shows its spiral characteristics), gave its location by the following:
"In a concave mirror I saw a star in the form of a
The attempts to crack the code, however, were not over. In 1931, Mrs. Voynich took a photostat copy of the manuscript to Catholic University in Washington where Fr. Theodore Petersen reproduced it photographically and started a complete hand transcription of the manuscript, with a card index to the words, and lists of concordances. The transcription alone was reported to have taken him 4 years. Unfortunately, it is not known what conclusion, if any, he reached.
In 1944, Hugh O'Neill, a renowned botanist at the Catholic University, identified various plants depicted in the manuscript as New-World species, in particular an American sunflower and a red pepper (O'Neill, 1944). This meant that the dating of the manuscript should be placed after 1493, when Columbus brought the first sunflower seeds to Europe. However, the identification is not certain: the red pepper is coloured green and the sunflower identification is equally contested.
Other people involved in the study of the manuscript were prominent cryptologists such as W. Friedman and J. Tiltman, who independently arrived at the hypothesis that the manuscript was written in an artificial, constructed language. This was based on the structure of the "words" as described below. Such artificial languages were devised at least a century after the probable date of the Voynich manuscript. Only the 'Lingua Ignota' of Hildegarde of Bingen (1098-1179) predates the Voynich manuscript by several centuries, but this language does not exhibit the structure observed by Friedman and Tiltman, and it provides only nouns and a few adjectives.
Friedman came to know Petersen who at some time presented his hand transcription and other material to him. After Friedman's death, all the material was moved to the W.F. Friedman collection of the Marshall Foundation. Recently, electronic versions of the transcriptions made by Friedman's groups were produced from the typed sheets and made available on the Internet (Reeds, 1995).
Later acclaimed solutions see in the manuscript a simple substitution cipher which can only decode isolated words (Feely, 1943), the first use of a more or less sophisticated cipher (Strong, 1945; Brumbaugh, 1977), a text in a vowel-less Ukrainian (Stojko, 1978) or the only surviving document of the Cathar movement (Levitov, 1987). No acceptable plaintext has ever been produced though.
Some interesting new insights into the manuscript were provided in the 70's by Prescott Currier, presenting some of his results at an informal Voynich manuscript symposium at the National Security Agency in Washington (D'Imperio, 1978). Basing his findings on the statistical properties of the text, he showed that the manuscript is written in two distinct "languages" which he simply called A and B. Each bifolio was written in one of the two, and bifolios in the same "language" were generally grouped together. Only in the herbal section there is a mixture of A and B folios. Based on the characteristics of the writing, he showed that the manuscript seems to have been written in two distinct "hands", and he even suggested there could be as much as five or even eight different hands. A significant feature is that the hand and language used on each folio are fully correlated. Currier's conclusion was that at least two people were involved in writing the Voynich manuscript, (which he considered a point against the "hoax theory" summarised below), although alternatively, the manuscript could have been written by one person, in two distinct periods.
Due to the lack of success in the decipherment, a number of people have proposed that the manuscript is a "hoax". The manuscript could either be a 16th century forgery, to be sold for a hefty sum to emperor Rudolf II, who was interested in rare and unusual items (Brumbaugh, 1977, deriving from earlier unpublished theories), or a more recent one by W. Voynich himself (Barlow, 1986). The latter is effectively excluded both by expert dating of the manuscript, and by the evidence of its existence prior to 1887.
One problem with the earlier hoax theory is that, as will be shown, certain word statistics (Zipf's laws) found in the manuscript are characteristic of natural languages. In other words, it is unlikely that any forgery from 16th century would "by chance" produce a text that follows Zipf's laws (first postulated in 1935).
Since 1990, a multidisciplinary group of varying size, generally between 100 and 200 individuals, dispersed all around the globe and connected through the Internet, has maintained an electronic mail forum on the decipherment of the Voynich manuscript. This has led to a lively exchange of ideas and the definition of two main goals: a machine readable transcription of the manuscript text and the study of the text through numerical experiments. The following sections relate to these issues.
Related Link: Past analysis and proposed solutions
* Another interesting possibility is that the image above is a mirror image representation of our own galaxy, the Milky Way Galaxy...
The mapping of variable stars, neutral hydrogen radio maps and star clusters gives us our current view of the shape of our Galaxy shown above.
This picture shows the Milky Way Galaxy with
Edith Sherwood Ph.D., ideas about the Voynich Manuscript, Leonardo da Vinci, Bartolomeo Marchionni, and Portugal's influence on Africa.
Having reviewed the available data and taking into account the variety of possible errors in 14C dating, I have come to my personal conclusion that the animal(s) whose skins were used to make the parchment for the Voynich Manuscript were probably killed some time during the first half of the 15th century.
The Voynich Manuscript: The Unsolved Riddle of an Extraordinary Book
Which has Defied Interpretation for Centuries
In 1912, Wilfrid Voynich, an antiquarian book dealer, stumbled upon a strange volume, its vellum pages covered in a beautiful but unrecognisable script accompanied by equally mystifying pictures. The codex has remained undeciphered from that day to this. Voynich believed the codex to be the work of medieval philosopher Roger Bacon, others that of the Elizabethan mathematician and occultist John Dee. Whoever created the book—which now resides at Yale University—it remains to this day a singular enigma which continues to defy the best efforts of linguists, cryptologists, and scholars. With the benefit of the authors' exhaustive research, readers can hazard their own guesses as to the meaning and provenance of this most beguiling of mysteries.
The Friar and the Cipher: Roger Bacon and the Unsolved Mystery of
the Most Unusual Manuscript in the World (Hardcover)
Goldstones, bibliophiles and authors of Out of the Flames and other books, offer
a witty biography of controversial 13th-century Dominican friar Roger Bacon,
whose Opus Majus "presented a way of thinking, of approaching science, that is
virtually unsurpassed in the thousand years since its creation." According to
the Goldstones, by challenging the accepted view of the Bible as the source of
literal truth, it opened a schism between religion and science. The Church's
response, recounted here, was filled with political intrigue, heroes and
villains, and enough twists and turns to keep readers immersed. But this book's
highlight is the story of a mysterious book discovered in 1912 and named for its
owner, Wilfrid Voynich. The manuscript has a coded text enhanced by hundreds of
illustrations depicting exotic plants, astronomical phenomena and strange
"strings of tiny naked women cavorting in a variety of fountains, waterfalls,
and pools." Various experts have attributed the manuscript to Bacon—but as it
has kept its secrets from some of the world's greatest cryptanalysts, including
some in the CIA and England's MI-8, as well as the largest supercomputers in the
world, the attribution remains speculative. But these efforts make a compelling
story for readers of the history of science and of code breaking. B&w illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All
Solution of the Voynich Manuscript
Described as the most studied and most mysterious manuscript in the world, hundreds of scholars have attacked the Voynich manuscript. Dr. Levitov tells how he broke the text, including his discovery of the word ISIS, a pattern-word. A transliteration of the script symbols is provided.
Dr. Leo Levitov, author of Solution of the Voynich Manuscript,
presents the thesis that the Voynich is nothing less then the only
surviving primary document of the " Great Heresy" that
arose in Italy and flourished in Languedoc until ruthlessly
exterminated by the Albigensian Crusade in the 1230s. The little
women in the baths who puzzled so many are for Levitov a Cathar
sacrament, the Endura,'or death by venesection [cutting a vein] in
order to bleed to death in a warm bath'. The plant drawings that
refused to resolve themselves into botanically identifiable species
are no problem for Levitov.
He stated, "There is not a single so-called botanical
illustration that does not contain some Cathari symbol or Isis
symbol. The astrological drawings are likewise easy to deal with; The
innumerable stars are representative of the stars in Isis' mantle.
The reason it has been so difficult to decipher the Voynich
Manuscript is that it is not encrypted at all, but merely written in
a special script, and is an adaptation of a polyglot oral tongue
into a literary language which would be understandable to people who
did not understand Latin and to whom this language could be read.
Specifically, a highly polyglot form of medieval Flemish with a
large number of Old French and Old High German loan words.
Many people disagree with his claims.
The Promised Land of Error
Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (translated by Barbara Bray), 1978, George Braziller, Inc., New York tells about the testimony of peasants meticulously recorded in the Inquisition Register of Jacques Fournier, Bishop of Pamiers in Aričge. In it the Endura is described as a suicidal fast.
"There is no resemblance here to Levitov's claim that Catharism was the antique cult of Isis - and certainly no truth to the picture of the Voynich nymphs' opening their veins to bleed to death in the hot tubs!" - Dennis Stallings (private correspondence)
Archaic Revival: Speculations on Psychedelic Mushrooms, the Amazon,
Virtual Reality, Ufos, Evolution, Shamanism, the Rebirth of the
The Most Mysterious Manuscript- The Voynich "Roger Bacon" Cipher Manuscript
The Voynich Manuscript is a mysterious late medićval text, written
in an unknown script in an unknown language or cypher. It reads as
if written fluently, not by someone who was painfully calculating
each next character, but by someone who understood what he was
writing. It looks like a curious herbal or alchemical treatise, full
of diagrams of unknown plants, unknown constellations, and elaborate
networks of plumbing inhabited by plump, naked, crowned women. The
text seems to contain all the redundancies expected in a natural
language and then some. It can be traced back as far as the hands of
Athanasius Kircher, the Jesuit polymath, who was but the first of
many to have tried and failed to read the text.
Brumbaugh proposes in this book a partial "solution" that yields texts like ILEXER ILUS YUS PURUS POURLY ILUY YJSUUS PURUS PLUS URICUS. These decipherments have the merit of seeming to read like the repetitious text of the manuscript itself. He interprets this text, though, as "The Elixir is a game, purely, purely a pure game; and European." Even if he has deciphered the script, no doubt you can probably think of other interpretations on your own.
His method of reading seems to involve first turning the script into Arabic numerals, reading those numerals as any of several possible letters in the Latin alphabet. He got this by forcing letters into the script based on his attempts to identify some of the plants in the diagrams, and then attempting to extract a method of reading the characters. His decypherments are occasionally tantalising, but if this is the actual text behind the symbols, there doesn't seem to be much point in further effort. The readings appear to be flawed by the polyvalence of the script he believes he sees.
Voynich Manuscript an Elegant Enigma- An Elegant Enigma (Cryptographic Series , No 27)
D'Imperio, a cryptographer, collected and summarized all previous research on the Voynich manuscript in 1978. Sometimes dubbed the "most mysterious manuscript in the world," the Voynich Manuscript (VMS) was written at least 300 years ago (no one is sure quite when) in a fantastic unknown script, in an unknown language, by an unknown author. Given the strange illustrations (duplicated in this book) present in the VMS, it could contain secrets of astrology, alchemy, or ancient herbal knowledge. Now, thanks to the internet, a concerted effort to "crack" the message has been born, and D'Imperio's monograph has become the bible of serious researchers and hobbyists alike. Full of references and historical data related to the VMS, this work is a must for anyone intersted in mysterious history and culture, alchemy, or cryptography.
Erich von Daniken again shows his flair for revealing the truths that his contemporaries have missed. After closely analyzing hundreds of ancient and apparently unrelated texts, he is now ready to proclaim that human history is nothing like the world religions claim and he has the proof!
In History Is Wrong, Erich von Daniken takes a closer
look at the fascinating Voynich manuscript, which has defied all
attempts at decryption since its discovery, and makes some
intriguing revelations about the equally incredible Book of Enoch.
Von Daniken also unearths the astounding story of a
lost subterranean labyrinth in Ecuador that is said to be home to an
extensive library of thousands of gold panels. He supplies evidence
that the metal library has links not only to the Book of Enoch but
also to the Mormons, who have spent decades searching for it,
believing it to contain the history of their forefathers.
And what about the mysterious lines in the desert of
Nazca that resemble landing strips when viewed from the air?
Archeologists claim they are ancient procession routes. Think again!
cries von Daniken, as he reveals the data that the archeologists
never even thought to check.
History Is Wrong will challenge your intellect...and maybe a few long-held beliefs. This is Erich von Daniken's best book in years!
Strange Artifacts: Voynich Manuscript, the Most Mysterious Manuscript in
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Leonardo da Vinci, Bartolomeo Marchionni, Marchionni, Portuguese history, Renaissance, Afro-Portuguese ivories, decode, code, cipher, anagram