An Introduction to the Voynich Manuscript, the World’s Most Mysterious Book




“The Voynich manuscript is a real medieval book, and has been carbon-dated to the early 1400s.” No modern hoax, this notoriously bizarre text has in fact “passed through the hands of many over the years,” including “scientists, emperors, and collectors.” Though “we still don’t know who actually wrote it, the illustrations hint at the book’s original purpose,” having “much in common with medieval herbals, astrology guides, and bathing manuals.” Hence the likelihood of the Voynich manuscript being “some sort of medical textbook, although a very strange one by any measure. Then there’s the writing.”

This summary of the known history and nature of the most mysterious manuscript in existence comes from the Youtube video above, “Secrets of the Voynich Manuscript.” Its channel Hochelaga has previously been featured here on Open Culture for episodes on medieval monsters, a guide to supernatural phenomena from renaissance Germany, Hokusai’s ghost art, and the Biblical apocalypse.


In short, the Voynich manuscript could hardly find a more accommodating wheelhouse. And as in Hochelaga’s other videos, the subject is approached not with total credulity, but rather a clear and straightforward discussion of why generation after generation of enthusiasts have kept trying to figure it out.

No aspect of the Voynich manuscript fascinates as much as its having been “written in a mystery language with a unique alphabet and grammatical rules.” It could be an existing language rendered in code; it could be one created entirely and only for this book. Though attempts are made with some frequency, “no one has been able to definitively solve the Voynich manuscript’s language.” It could, of course, be that “we’ve fallen for one big medieval prank,” but the video’s creator doesn’t buy that explanation. Even in its incomprehensibility, the text appears to possess great complexity. If it were to be decoded, “would the magic and mystery disappear? Or would we uncover a whole new set of questions and embark on another journey entirely?”

Related content:

An Animated Introduction to “the World’s Most Mysterious Book,” the 15th-Century Voynich Manuscript

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

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

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

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

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

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.


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  • Wayne says:

    Nice overview of the Voynich document. In viewing the pictures of “bathing” my first inclination was actually crude pictorials of human anatomy, e.g.,uterus, ovaries, kidneys, gut and the transport of then-called “humors” in the physical body. The females possibly represent the movement of the entities inside the system. I had an elementary human anatomy picture book when I was a kid that used small creatures to represent the content moving through the various body channels and organs. The overall text seems to focus on writings of a then-expert in female fertility, encompassing all aspects of herbal remedies, female cycling and possible anatomical system functions.

  • Matthew Brubach says:

    “The Voynich Manuscript is no modern hoax” is not a statement you can make with any degree of certainty. The vellum was “supposedly” carbon dated to roughly 1406-1420, but no carbon dating can be performed on the ink. If you look at page 27R, you will see a plant with a jigsaw puzzle piece in it’s roots.

    The first jigsaw puzzle was created in 1762 by a British cartographer. So how would a jigsaw puzzle piece be painted in the roots of a plant, 300 years before it was even conceived? It very possibly could be a modern hoax.

    Thanks for your time.
    – Matt

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