Voynich manuscript

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The Voynich manuscript is a mysterious manuscript discovered by the U. S. book dealer Wilfrid Voynich in an old Italian library in 1912. It is now in Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

The Voynich manuscript is an illustrated vellum manuscript which is written in an otherwise unknown, undeciphered script, and has so far resisted all decipherment attempts. The many illustrations (almost every page of the about 240 pages of the manuscript has at least one) are not very helpful as they are just as mysterious as the text.


The origin of the manuscript is unknown. A radiocarbon dating has revealed that it is from the early 15th century (between 1404 and 1438). One illustration shows a castle built in a style characteristic of northern Italy, so it is assumed that the manuscript originates from that area.

On one page, the name Jacobj ’a Tepenece is written, which, if genuine, would indicate that the manuscript once belonged to Jakub Horcicky de Tepenec, court pharmacist of Emperor Rudolph II at Prague. According to a letter found with the manuscript, it was later owned by the Prague alchemist Georg Baresch. The next owner was Johannes Marcus Marci, who wrote to the famous Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher, hoping that Kircher, a renowned cryptography expert who claimed to have deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphic script, could decipher it - he could not. It is not known which way the manuscript wound up at the Mondragone Jesuit college where Voynich discovered it in 1912.

Voynich died in 1930. His heirs sold the manuscript to the book dealer Hans P. Kraus for $25,000, who, failing to find a buyer, donated it to Yale University in 1969.


The manuscript is written in an unknown script which has about 30 different characters, many of them similar to Latin or Greek letters, and is thus most likely alphabetic in nature. The about 170,000 "letters" are grouped into about 35,000 "words"; they seem to obey rules similar to phonotactic rules of natural languages (for instance, it is possible to distinguish "consonants" from "vowels"). Almost every page is illustrated, but the illustrations are mostly very mysterious and do not shed much light on the text. The subject matters of the illustrations allow to divide the manuscript into sections which seem to discuss different subjects:

Pages Conjectured subject
f1r-f66v Herb lore
f67r-f73v Astronomy or astrology
f75r-f84v Anatomy
f85r–f86v Cosmology
f87r–f102v Pharmacy
f103r–f116v Recipes? Keys?

This creates the impression of a general handbook of science or (more likely) magic.

Hypotheses about the language

There are basically four kinds of hypotheses about the language of the manuscript:

  1. The manuscript is written in a natlang, perhaps an exotic one, but using a conscript. This is not widely considered likely.
  2. The manuscript is written in a conlang. This is perhaps more plausible, but not proven either.
  3. The manuscript is written in a cipher, i.e. an encrypted natlang such as Latin.
  4. The manuscript is just random gibberish. Most scholars consider it unlikely because of the cost and effort that evidently went into creating the manuscript, which would seem wasted if the manuscript was meaningless.


See also

  • Codex Seraphinianus - a similar book, but of known (much younger) origin; probably inspired by the Voynich manuscript.

External link