Voynich Manuscript


The script of the Voynich manuscript

The vvVoynich Manuscript, named for its discoverer, book collector Wilfrid M. Voynich, is an illustrated book written in an unknown alphabet in an unknown language sometimes dubbed "Voynichese", assuming that it is a language at all - this being still an open question.

Statistical analysis indicates patterns similar to actual languages, such as Zipf's law, possibly indicating that it is meaningful. For instance, in the botany section, the first word on each page occurs only on that page, and may be the name of the plant. It was apparently written by two authors who used different dialects or spelling conventions, but who shared the same script.

The language, if it is a language, depicted by the characters appears to follow "phonetic" laws of some sort; certain characters must appear in each word, suggesting that they are vowels; there are rules that forbid some characters from following another, as if phonetic or spelling conventions were being followed. Certain sequences are common; others never occur. The ductus of the script flows smoothly, as if the scribe understood what he was writing when it was written; the manuscript does not give the impression that each character had to be calculated before being put on the page. The text is, if anything, more repetitious and redundant than most natural languages; sequences where the same word appears three times in a row occur, as if an English text contained the string and and and. This is one feature of the text that has led some to conclude that the manuscript may in fact be a hoax.

Mary E. D'Imperio authored a monograph in 1978 summarizing the previous attempts to decipher the VMS, called "The Voynich Manuscript - an elegant enigma"

Contents

The illustrations of the manuscript shed little light on its contents. Some depict plants and similar vegetation; but attempts to read the text as a herbal, or to deduce words from the texts from the plants so illustrated, have failed. Many of the species cannot be recognised. Many seem to be composite: the roots of one species have been fastened to the leaves of another, with flowers from a third.

Another series relates to astronomy or astrology. There are recognisable drawings of all the zodiacal constellations, except for Aquarius and Capricorn (January and February), which were apparently lost before the manuscript was discovered by Voynich. Other portions contain circles representing suns, stars, or starburst shapes; their meaning is unknown. Some have claimed that some of these circular drawings represent views through a telescope or microscope; if true, this would suggest an early modern, rather than a medieval, date for the manuscript's origin.

Several pages contain small drawings of stout nude women, who are possibly meant to be depicted as pregnant. Some of them wear crowns. On several pages, these small nudes are placed inside an elaborate network of pipes and basins, an apparatus whose purpose likewise remains mysterious. These may be meant to be the symbols of some sort of procedure in alchemy.

The overall impression given by the surviving leaves of the manuscript suggests that it was meant to serve as a pharmacopoeia or to address topics in medieval or early modern medicine. Astrological considerations frequently played a prominent role in blood-letting and other medical procedures common during the likeliest dates of the manuscript. The alchemical illustrations would also be consistent with this hypothesis if the book contained instructions on the preparation of medical compounds.

Provenance

The manuscript, when it was found, contained a letter dated 1666, from Johannes Marcus Marci of Cronland, addressed to Athanasius Kircher. The letter mentions Roger Bacon as a possible author, though there is no apparent evidence to support this claim.

Some claim the manuscript is a hoax, and in 2003 computer scientist Gordon Rugg suggested that the language-like regularities could have been produced using an encryption device invented around 1550 called a Cardan grille. There is no consensus on the part of those who doubt the legitimacy of the manuscript concerning who might have faked it, however. Voynich, the document's purported 20th century discoverer, and Edward Kelley, the 16th century forger who befriended Queen Elizabeth I's adviser John Dee, are both considered potential hoaxers, but many other possibilities exist as well.

A few claim that the fact that some of the drawings appear to have required a microscope and others a telescope, long before either were invented, mandates the involvement of extraterrestrials. Others see these factors as further cause for suspicion regarding the manuscript's authenticity.

External links


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