The Voynich Manuscript: A New Documentary Takes a Deep Dive Into the Mysteries of the Bizarre Manuscript

If you’re a reg­u­lar read­er of Open Cul­ture, you know we like to bring you the lat­est attempts to deci­pher the leg­endary Voyn­ich Man­u­script, a strange medieval book whose lan­guage has baf­fled schol­ars for cen­turies. Like many oth­er ear­ly 15th cen­tu­ry texts, the Voyn­ich seems to com­bine med­i­cine, alche­my, her­bol­o­gy, botany, zool­o­gy, astrol­o­gy, and oth­er forms of folk knowl­edge in a com­pendi­um. But it’s filled with bizarre illus­tra­tions (see an online ver­sion here) and writ­ten in a lan­guage no one can read. Is it a lost ances­tor tongue? The secret code of a cult? Is it a hoax? Why was it made and by whom?

Researchers have tried to trans­late the Voyn­ich lan­guage as vari­ant forms Latin, Ara­bic, and Sino-Tibetan. An AI iden­ti­fied it as Hebrew. This year a father and son team con­vinc­ing­ly made the case for Old Tur­kic. No Voyn­ich trans­la­tion has been defin­i­tive­ly accept­ed by a schol­ar­ly con­sen­sus, and per­haps none ever will. This may say as much about the mys­te­ri­ous Voyn­ich as it does about the niche research area, in which aca­d­e­m­ic lin­guists, cod­i­col­o­gists, and all man­ner of ama­teur sleuths try to make a name for them­selves as Jean-François Cham­pol­lions of Voyn­ich stud­ies.

The hour-long doc­u­men­tary above tells the sto­ry of both the manuscript’s enig­mas and the cult of fas­ci­na­tion that has grown up around them. We first learn the ori­gin of the name: Acquired by Pol­ish book­seller Wil­frid Voyn­ich in 1912, the man­u­script passed into the care of his wife Ethel, an Irish artist and nov­el­ist, upon his death in 1930. Ethel died 30 years lat­er in New York, leav­ing the man­u­script behind, sealed in a bank vault. “Its fate had trou­bled both Mrs. Voyn­ich and her hus­band before her.”

Wil­fred Voyn­ich has often been sus­pect­ed as the man­u­scrip­t’s true author, but its mate­ri­als have been car­bon dat­ed to the ear­ly 1400s, and its first con­firmed own­er, an alchemist from Prague named George Baresch, lived in the 17th cen­tu­ry. Oth­er pro­posed authors have includ­ed Queen Eliz­a­beth I’s advi­sor John Dee, an alchemist and occult philoso­pher, and Fran­cis­can fri­ar and philoso­pher Roger Bacon, who was renowned as a wiz­ard almost two cen­turies before the extant Voyn­ich could have been pro­duced.

Evi­dence for these claims is often ten­u­ous, but the wealth of spec­u­la­tion to which the Voyn­ich has giv­en rise only deep­ens the mys­tery of its cre­ation. As more Voyn­ich schol­ars under­take frus­trat­ing, and often fruit­less, inves­ti­ga­tions, they add to the manuscript’s lore, itself so rich as to occa­sion anoth­er, two-hour, fol­low-up video from our doc­u­men­tar­i­an, who goes by the name The His­to­crat on YouTube. See the fur­ther “Deep Dive” on the Voyn­ich manuscript’s many his­tor­i­cal owners—both con­firmed and rumored—just above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Explore Online the Mys­te­ri­ous Voyn­ich Man­u­script: The 15th-Cen­tu­ry Text That Lin­guists & Code-Break­ers Can’t Under­stand

Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence May Have Cracked the Code of the Voyn­ich Man­u­script: Has Mod­ern Tech­nol­o­gy Final­ly Solved a Medieval Mys­tery?

The Writ­ing Sys­tem of the Cryp­tic Voyn­ich Man­u­script Explained: British Researcher May Have Final­ly Cracked the Code

Has the Voyn­ich Man­u­script Final­ly Been Decod­ed?: Researchers Claim That the Mys­te­ri­ous Text Was Writ­ten in Pho­net­ic Old Turk­ish

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (9)
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  • says:

    A man­u­script (abbre­vi­at­ed MS for sin­gu­lar and MSS for plur­al) was, tra­di­tion­al­ly, any doc­u­ment that is writ­ten by hand — or, once prac­ti­cal type­writ­ers became avail­able, type­writ­ten — as opposed to being mechan­i­cal­ly print­ed or repro­duced in some indi­rect or auto­mat­ed way.

  • Nikolai says:

    I am deci­pher­ing the man­u­script of Voyn­ich and got pos­i­tive results.
    There is a key to cipher the Voyn­ich man­u­script.
    The key to the cipher man­u­script placed in the man­u­script. It is placed through­out the text. Part of the key hints is placed on the sheet 14. With her help was able to trans­late a few dozen words that are com­plete­ly rel­e­vant to the theme sec­tions.
    The Voyn­ich man­u­script is not writ­ten with let­ters. It is writ­ten in signs. Char­ac­ters replace the let­ters of the alpha­bet one of the ancient lan­guage. More­over, in the text there are 2 lev­els of encryp­tion. I fig­ured out the key by which the first sec­tion could read the fol­low­ing words: hemp, wear­ing hemp; food, food (sheet 20 at the num­ber­ing on the Inter­net); to clean (gut), knowl­edge, per­haps the desire, to drink, sweet bev­er­age (nec­tar), mat­u­ra­tion (matu­ri­ty), to con­sid­er, to believe (sheet 107); to drink; six; flour­ish­ing; increas­ing; intense; peas; sweet drink, nec­tar, etc. Is just the short words, 2–3 sign. To trans­late words with more than 2–3 char­ac­ters requires knowl­edge of this ancient lan­guage. The fact that some sym­bols rep­re­sent two let­ters. In the end, the word con­sist­ing of three char­ac­ters can fit up to six let­ters. Three let­ters are super­flu­ous. In the end, you need six char­ac­ters to define the seman­tic word of three let­ters. Of course, with­out knowl­edge of this lan­guage make it very dif­fi­cult even with a dic­tio­nary.
    And most impor­tant. In the man­u­script there is infor­ma­tion about “the Holy Grail”.
    I’m will­ing to share infor­ma­tion.

  • Sacov says:

    Please car­ry on

  • Domingo says:

    I very recent­ly came upon your video and I would like to say that your insights and pre­sen­ta­tions are out­stand­ing and amaz­ing. Please con­tact me at my email if you get a chance.

  • Domingo says:

    Please pro­duce a video on Francesco I Gon­za­ga, in regards to his homo­phon­ic cipher com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Simone De Cre­ma. Also, please include a his­to­ry of Man­to­va (Man­tua) and Francesco’s cipher rela­tion­ship to Man­to­va a scribes that pro­duced these doc­u­ments. What reli­gious preva­lence formed the cul­ture and gov­er­nance that influ­enced the Gon­za­ga’s, includ­ing the fact that the blood of christ is at the cen­ter of Man­to­va. Did Ludi­vi­co also con­tin­ue using the cipher after Francesco? what influ­ence did Alber­ti and oth­ers have on the Gon­za­ga ciphers.

  • Josh Jones says:

    Hi, I don’t make these videos. I’ve just writ­ten the arti­cle intro­duc­ing them. I am not an expert on the Voyn­ich man­u­script. Thanks for read­ing.

  • domingo says:

    Do you know the per­son who did. If so, can you for­ward my con­tact infor­ma­tion to him. I would great­ly appre­ci­ate it.

  • Josh Jones says:

    The videos are made by dif­fer­ent YouTube users. If you click on the YouTube pages, you should be able to find some more infor­ma­tion .

  • Pat Fitzpatrick says:

    I was watch­ing a show with my wife and this Man­u­script was talked about. Found it inter­est­ing. Look­ing fur­ther into about maybe a code of text, I looked at pic­tures of pages with the pic­tures of plants. Look­ing at the text I found 3 abbre­vi­a­tions in two texts.
    The 1st was cZOG. A known Plant Growth Reg­u­la­tor.
    The 2nd pro­duced two abbre­vi­a­tions.
    APG ‑Accel­er­at­ed Post­na­tal Growth
    SEC ‑Seleno­cys­tein con­nec­tion with syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy with capa­bil­i­ties for cre­at­ing mass destruc­tion bioweapons. Also used for Vac­cines, etc.
    It may be all coin­ci­dence. But being from around 15th cen­tu­ry it reminds me on how and why Nas­trodomis wrote. Is this a warn­ing of pre­dic­tion like his? Research in these 3 abbre­vi­a­tions start­ing to resem­ble some of what we are learn­ing today. I hope its worth look­ing into. Its kind of scary of where we are at today. Thank You for your time.

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