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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