“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?”
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.