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

  • Astrid Kuehne-Jean says:

    Very inter­est­ing sub­ject — nev­er heard of it before — and under­stand­able pre­sent­ed in video.
    The ques­tion, which lan­guage it is, is very far already for some­one like me, who has a hart time — bet­ter said — impos­si­ble moment to iden­ti­fy any sin­gle let­ter of that man­u­script.
    Although, I did­n’t under­stand the first and sec­ond lan­guage in man­u­script, are both con­nect­ed, even the same but with dif­fer­ent hand­writ­ing? Guess, I have to watch the video again.
    Thank you for that top­ic and pre­sen­ta­tion.

  • Nikolai says:

    Good day!
    Your site has infor­ma­tion about the Voyn­ich man­u­script.
    I am deci­pher­ing the Voyn­ich man­u­script and received a pos­i­tive result.
    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 We can say that the Voyn­ich man­u­script is an ency­clo­pe­dia of knowl­edge that human­i­ty needs today. I man­aged to par­tial­ly solve the mys­tery of mount Kailas ( for exam­ple, its height is 6825 meters). The man­u­script indi­cates the place where the Grail Is hid­den, as well as the Font and Cra­dle of Jesus.
    For more infor­ma­tion, see my arti­cle
    I am ready to share infor­ma­tion.
    With respect, Niko­lai.

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