View Full Version : The Book That Can't Be Read (Documentary)

The One
30th September 2013, 18:42

This is the Voynich Manuscript


It currently resides at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.It dates to c. 1430 CE in Europe, but no one has been able to decipher the language or the illustrations in it


The manuscript was named after Wilfrid Voynich, the rare book dealer who stumbled upon it in 1912. It once belonged to Emperor Rudolph II of Germany (1576-1612), who purchased it for 600 gold ducats, believing it was the work of the philosopher Roger Bacon. The book, a small 23 cm x 16 cm codex comprising 240 pages, has since been carbon dated to the mid-15th century and may have originated in northern Italy.Each page of the book features vivid ink drawings accompanied by cryptic text. It seems to be divided into six sections: Herbal, Astronomical, Biological��Cosmological, Pharmaceutical and Recipes.

But here�s where the mystery deepens:

The plants don�t appear to be real plants. Some of them seem to have the roots of one species have been fastened to the leaves of another, with flowers from a third.

Read online here http://archive.org/stream/TheVoynichManuscript/Voynich_Manuscript#page/n13/mode/2up


30th September 2013, 20:21
Seriously who stole my private drawings of me naked ???! :shocked:

The One
30th September 2013, 20:45
Seriously who stole my private drawings of me naked ???! :shocked:


Going off topic again lol

30th September 2013, 20:51
Sorry Malc , cough cough , on a serious note and back to Topic !

"They " the experts who analyzed this say the scholar who wrote this , devised a fake alphabet and basically used patterns of letters to make it look like a real language and sold it as a secret alchemical manuscript to a noble man to Make his (the scholars ) fortune !

The One
30th September 2013, 21:02
Sorry Malc , cough cough , on a serious note and back to Topic !

"They " the experts who analyzed this say the scholar who wrote this , devised a fake alphabet and basically used patterns of letters to make it look like a real language and sold it as a secret alchemical manuscript to a noble man to Make his (the scholars ) fortune !

What baffles me about that is they the experts how did they come to that conclusion.

1st October 2013, 11:15
From: The New York Times

JULY 9, 2013

Stored away in the rare-book library at Yale University is a late-medieval manuscript written in a cramped but punctilious script and illustrated with lively line drawings that have been painted over, at times crudely, with washes of color. These illustrations range from the fanciful (legions of heavy-headed flowers that bear no relation to any earthly variety) to the bizarre (naked and possibly pregnant women, frolicking in what look like amusement-park waterslides from the fifteenth century). With their distended bellies, stick-like arms and legs, and earnest expressions, the naked figures have a whimsical quality, though their anatomy is frankly renderedsomething unusual for the period. The manuscripts botanical drawings are no less strange: the plants appear to be chimerical, combining incompatible parts from different species, even different kingdoms. (Click on the images to expand.) Tentacled balls of roots take the forms of animals, or of human organsin one case, sprouting two disembodied heads with vexed expressions. But perhaps the oddest thing about this book is that no one has ever read it.

Thats because the bookcalled the Voynich manuscript after the rare-book dealer who stumbled upon it a century agois written in an unknown script, with an alphabet that appears nowhere other than in its pages. The writing system is oddly beautiful, full of looping and fluid curves. A series of distinctive letters, called gallows for their resemblance to a hangmans scaffold, are sometimes conjoined with other letters, or have been embellished with elaborate curlicues by a scribe. What these glyphs signifywhether they represent phonetic information or numeric values or something elseis anyones guess. Judging by its illustrations, the manuscript seems to be a compendium of knowledge related to the natural world, including a section about herbs, a section apparently detailing biological processes, various zodiac charts, and pages devoted to the movements of celestial bodies, such as the transit of the moon across the Pleiades. The writing flows smoothly hesitation from one letter to the next; based on the handwriting, its thought to be the work of at least two and as many as eight practiced scribes, and possibly required years of labor.

I first learned of the Voynich in 2010. I was completing an M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Virginia, and, anticipating dismal job prospects, had decided to try my hand at a Dan Brownstyle thriller. It was to be about Book M, a likely apocryphal Rosicrucian encyclopedia of arcane wisdom written, in the early fifteenth century, in magical language and letters by Christian Rosenkreuz and the seven other founders of the order. The protagonist of the novel discovers that the Voynich, which dates from the same time, is in fact the long-vanished Book M, whose secrets will, if discovered well, you know the plot. I spent a sweltering summer in Virginia trying to learn how to write a pulpy thriller (its a lot harder than it looks) while devoting more and more of my time to researching the Voynich. I made an electronic facsimile of the book for my iPad using high-resolution scans of the pages, and spent hourswhich turned into days and weeksflipping through the pages, captivated by the smallest details in the margins. A tiny drawing of a corpse holding its stomach next to discarded morsels of food, on the recto of Folio 66, sent me rushing to the university library to look up poisonous plants, which led me to research medieval pharmacopeias, which led to trade routes between Europe and India crossed by Arab merchants.

By the end of the summer, my novel was no nearer to completion. But a breakthrough on deciphering the Voynich seemed closer than ever.


I wasnt the only one who believed that he could crack the books secrets. The first person said to have owned the manuscript was the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, who reportedly was intrigued enough to buy it from its previous owner for six hundred ducats, around ninety thousand dollars in todays money. (According to the manuscripts radiocarbon dating, the book was already nearly two centuries old at the time of his purchase.) Rudolf was a devotee of the unusualhe collected dwarfs and stocked an entire regiment in his army with giantsand his fixation on alchemy and the occult made Prague under his rule a center for both mystical and proto-scientific inquiry. One prominent figure in Rudolfs court was Jacobus Horcicky de Tepenec, the imperial pharmacist, keeper of the royal gardens, and the next owner of the Voynich manuscript. Tepenec had reportedly earned the emperors favor by curing him of some grave disease. An elixir he manufactured and sold was so in demand that he became the Renaissance equivalent of a snake-oil baron, rich enough that even the emperor turned to him for loans.

Nearly everything about the Voynich manuscript has been contested over the years, and its past ownership is no exception. But a decade ago, the indefatigable Voynich expert Ren Zandbergen (on whose research Ive drawn heavily here) was browsing a set of archives from the seventeenth century when he stumbled across a letter that identified the manuscripts next owner: Georg Baresch, an alchemist in Prague in the first half of the seventeenth century, who had spent twenty years attempting to decipher the script. Despairing of a solution, the alchemist had sent a few sample pages to the cryptanalytic celebrity of the day, a Jesuit polymath in Rome named Athanasius Kircher, who famouslyand incorrectly, as it turned outclaimed to have decoded the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt. The manuscript intrigued Kircher, and he tried to convince Baresch to part with it. Baresch refused. Instead, it fell to Bareschs friend Marci, who inherited the manuscript when Baresch died, to pass on the rest of the manuscript to the Jesuit scholar. Marci was himself a well-known scientist, and served as physician to the Holy Roman Emperor, despite having once been branded a heretic for speculations on the science of conception and development of the human embryo. In the letter accompanying the Voynich manuscript, Marci describes his late friends obsession with cracking the script: 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.

Whether the Jesuit scholar made any progress with the manuscript is unknown; after the book made it to Rome, it was hidden in Jesuit holdings for nearly three centuries. During the Churchs suppression of the Jesuits, the manuscript was likely transferred to the personal library of the head of the order, Peter Beckx, to shield it from papal confiscation. At any rate, Beckxs ex libris adorned the book when Voynich bought it, in 1912.

Much can be written about Wilfrid Voynich. An ethnic Pole from the Russian Empire, Voynich was imprisoned in Siberia for revolutionary activities. He escaped, via Manchuria and China, to London, where he met his future wife, Ethel Boole. Boole, the daughter of the famous mathematician George Boole, who became a popular novelist, was enmeshed in Russian revolutionary activity in London; the bookshop that Voynich set up with her was rumored to be a secret front for organization against the tsarist regime. Whatever the reasons for his entre into the rare-book business, he apparently took to this work and excelled at it. On a buying trip to a place that, in a 1921 lecture on the manuscript, Voynich described vaguely as an ancient castle in southern Europe (later identified as the Villa Madragone outside of Rome), Voynich stumbled upon the cipher manuscript, and immediately recognized the books significance. Based on Marcis letter found with the manuscript, Voynich became convinced the book was the work of the brilliant thirteenth-century Franciscan friar and Englishman Roger Bacon. And, with the belief that proving Bacons ownership would fetch a high price for the work at auction, Voynich enlisted William Newbold, a professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania and a cryptography enthusiast, to attempt to decipher it.

Newbolds story is a particularly apt illustration of the perverse sway that the book has over its would-be conquerors: the professor spent the last years of his life and his fading eyesight on a solution that involved viewing the text under a magnifying glass and copying down the ink patterns that seemed to form each lettertiny squiggles that Newbold believed to be the texts actual content, written in anagrammed micrographic shorthand code. Although in hindsight his deciphering seems absurd (the squiggles had been formed naturally as the ink dried and cracked), it is also characteristic of the many claimed solutions to the Voynich manuscript, involving years of grinding labor and a certain amount of wishful thinking.

One of those who helped to discredit Newbolds theories was a man named William Friedman. Perhaps the greatest cryptologist of the modern age, Friedman led the decipherment of the Japanese Code Purple during the Second World War and helped to create the N.S.A., becoming its first chief cryptologist. Hed discovered code-breaking through his future wife, Elizebeth, a gifted cryptanalyst, while they were living on a sprawling Midwestern farm owned by an eccentric millionaire, a man who paid them to analyze Shakespeares works for hidden codes that would reveal the true author to be Sir Francis Bacon (a theory that the couple was able to disprove). In the closing days of the Second World War, William and Elizebeth Friedman gathered a group of experts awaiting demobilization, and together they devoted an enormous amount of time to deciphering the Voynich. But after efforts spanning three decades, Friedman declared that cracking the manuscripts code was impossible. He impishly concealed his theory about the work in an anagrammed footnote that he appended to an unrelated paperthe Voynich, he asserted, was an example of a constructed language, albeit dating from before such languages were first created in the Western world.

If crowds have any wisdom, soon we should see the fruits of a more recent deciphering project: Internet crowdsourcing. An online community has grown up around the manuscript, fostered by a network of blogs and an often fractious e-mail Listserv. On this list, amateur and professional art historians, computer programmers, linguists, theoretical physicists, carpenters, and disabled veterans swap theories and observations about the manuscript. One retired locksmith communicates with the list in some sort of camel-case code. Although the group is geographically diverse, with messages arriving at all hours of the day from various time zones, most of its membership seems to be male and over fifty, and it has more than its share of oddballs. On this score, no one is judgmental: were all happy to spend hours debating the finer points of stretching sheepskin to make parchment, or sparring about whether the manuscript is nothing more than a practical joke.

Indeed, the theory that this whole thing is a fraud comes up frequently. The mysterious text cant be solved, or so the thinking goes, because there is nothing to solve. Instead, the book is a fake, either modern or medieval, containing pages of meaningless symbols.

The hoax hypothesis cant be ruled out. But if the Voynich is a fake, its an elaborate one. A twentieth-century scam artist would have to have located a hundred and twenty sheets of blank six-hundred-year-old vellum in anticipation of the invention of radiocarbon dating (which did not yet exist when the manuscript first remerged, in 1912). Scholars remain deeply divided over the question of whether the text is likely to be meaningful. But the distribution of letters and words is anything but random, even demonstrating statistical features generally associated with natural-language textsfeatures that werent discovered until the nineteen-thirties. And although a single word has yet to be decoded, recent studies have shown distinct vocabularies coinciding with the manuscripts division into sections, like herbal and astronomical, so that certain words found with plant illustrations do not appear near astronomical diagrams, and vice versaexactly what youd expect from a meaningful text organized by topic.

But if most Voynich devotees reject the notion that the text is meaningless, the reason is perhaps as much emotional as scholarly. Weve all devoted so much time to cracking the textsome on the list have been at it for decadesthat discovering it is gibberish would be tragic. At the heart of the drive to decode the document is a deep and secret desire for transcendent meaning. At the very least, to discover something more than nonsense or a shopping list or a treasury of monks dirty jokes from 1426.

But as much as each of us strives to be the one to crack the code, I think few of us would truly like to see it solved. Wilfrid Voynich was wrong that deciphering the manuscript would make it more valuable: the books resistance to being read is what sets it apart. Undeciphered, the manuscript exists in a sort of quantum indeterminacyone that collapses into a single meaning the moment the text is finally measured and understood. And no matter how thrilling such a text might be, it will remain a disappointment for being closed off, completedfor being, in the end, no longer a mystery.

I never did finish my novel involving the manuscript. I doubt I ever will. Nor am I any closer to decoding the Voynich. That will be done by someone else, a person more accomplished at such things. But until then, Ill take pleasure in living in a world where, in spite of all our gadgets and progress, a six-hundred-year-old book remains unreadable and unread.