The Voynich Manuscript: a mysterious book in an unknown language

Throughout the 20th century, linguists, historians and cryptographers have been wondering what is written in a mysterious book called the Voynich Manuscript named after the antiquarian Wilfrid Voynich, who rediscovered the manuscript in 1912. The surname Voynich, in general, is familiar to the Russian reader. Ethel Lillian Voynich-Boule, daughter of the Irish logic and mathematician George Boole (heard of "Boolean algebra"?), Wrote the novel "Gadfly". This book is not important for this story, but Ethel herself, who later became the wife of Wilfrid Voynich, will still be found in it.


The modern history of the manuscript began in 1912, when the New York antiquarian Voynich bought in a mysterious place a whole bunch of old manuscripts. He hid the source in every way until his death, which was a condition of the contract. The sellers were the monks, employees of the Jesuit College at Villa Mandragora in the Italian town of Frascati. They urgently needed funds for the restoration of the building, but they did not want anyone to find out how they manage their treasures.

Voynich drew attention to a strange manuscript. There were strange drawings, and he could not read the text. The book was accompanied by a letter in Latin dated 1665 (or 1666), the year in which it was reported that the book was supposedly written by Roger Bacon, a famous medieval alchemist. Voynich decided that the book is the encrypted alchemical notes of the scientist, and spent many years trying to decrypt them. An important part of the decryption was the most accurate establishment of the history of the strange book. Here is what is known today.

The mentioned letter was addressed to the Jesuit monk Athanasius Kircher, who had the authority of a person who could decrypt any document. In the letter, he was invited to take up the decoding of the text and described a brief history of the manuscript. This book was brought to the court of Emperor Rudolph the Second Bohemian, and he bought it for 600 ducats - money that was absolutely unthinkable at that time. Obviously, the manuscript made a strong impression on the monarch. The fantastic sum of 600 ducats became subsequently the main argument in favor of the theory that the manuscript is a fake. Then the book fell into the hands of a man named Jacobus Tepenets. He was one of the courtiers of Emperor Rudolph, the head of his Botanical Gardens.

From this moment on, the book disappears from the field of view of historians and appears only in the 20th century. Voynich unsuccessfully tried to decipher the book, attracting the best minds to this work. Even the brilliant William Freudman - the man who cracked the Japanese diplomatic codes during the Second World War, could not cope. After the death of her husband, Ethel Voynich sent copies of the manuscript to universities and research centers. This caused a wide resonance, but to no avail. After the death of Ethel, the manuscript traveled a little more, and in 1969 the book and the entire archive associated with it were presented to Yale University, where it is still stored to this day.

How she looks like

The manuscript originally contained 116 pages. So far, 104 of them have survived. The book is small, about 15 by 22 cm, but some pages are significantly larger and doubled and quadrupled. One page is even 6 times larger than the book format (45 by 45 cm). Both the font and the illustrations are unique. Nobody has seen anything like it anywhere else. Until the text of the book is read, illustrations are the only key to the content. In that case, of course, if they are somehow connected with the text, and are not just decorations. But if we assume that the text and pictures are interconnected, then we can assume that this is a scientific book, most of which is a herbalist, but there are additional sections.


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