There are quite a number of undeciphered books in the world but none are more enigmatic than the mysterious Voynich manuscript. It is named after Wilfred Voynich, a Polish book dealer who bought it in 1912. At the time, the Collegio Romano was short on money and sold a batch of 30 manuscripts. Among those, Voynich discovered one that would puzzle humanity for the next century.
Carbon dating revealed it was written in the early 15th century. Some of its pages were torn out but the remaining 240 contain puzzling illustrations and text hand-written in an unknown writing system. All attempts to translate the text have resulted in failure. Many cryptographers and code-breakers have studied the manuscript but it refuses to give up its secrets.
It has been described as either a magical or a scientific writing and almost every page contains drawings and diagrams inked in vibrant shades or red, green, blue , brown or yellow. While the text itself cannot be read, the illustrations divide the book into six different sections. Each of these sections has differently-styled drawings and subjects. The sections are:
- Herbal: Each page contains one or two drawings of unknown plants described in a few paragraphs. The format is typical of European herbals of the time.
- Pharmaceutical: This section contains drawings of different chimeric plant parts (leaves, roots, fruit). It also shows various apothecary equipment, some of which have been labeled as fantastical.
- Biological: The category consists of text and figures that mostly show tiny naked women bathing in tubs connected by an intricate network of pipes.
- Recipes: This section contains full pages of text divided into multiple short paragraphs.
- Astronomical: This is the most elaborate category, containing circular diagrams. Some of them show suns, moons and stars. There is a series of 12 diagrams depicting the conventional symbols for zodiacal constellations. Each of these diagrams show 30 female figures arranged in concentric bands.
- Cosmological: Also contains circular diagrams but these are more obscure than the rest. This section also includes foldouts, the largest of which spans six pages and shows a map with nine islands connected by paths. The islands contain castles and what appears to be a volcano.
No other manuscripts in the world exhibit a language similar to the one used in the Voynich Manuscript. Depending on the various interpretations, the alphabet contains anywhere from nineteen to twenty-eight letters, none of which bear any resemblance to English or other European writing systems. Some cryptographers even found evidence for two different languages and more than one scribe which would indicate an even more ambiguous coding scheme.
Linguist Jacques Guy believed the word structure is similar to languages from East and Central Asia (Chinese, Tibetan and Burmese) based on the fact that many of the words have only one syllable with a rather rich structure and tonal pattern.
Many hypotheses have been forwarded but none seems to fully explain the manuscript, its content or its purpose. It seems this is a mystery that perhaps the future will untangle. Until then, we can only marvel and speculate.