Join 3,513 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


A manuscript deciphered
October 3, 2011 4:11 AM   Subscribe

The “Copiale Cipher” is a 105 pages manuscript containing all in all around 75 000 characters. Beautifully bound in green and gold brocade paper, written on high quality paper with two different watermarks, the manuscript can be dated back to 1760-1780. [...] the manuscript is completely encoded.

Now, three researchers, Kevin Knight, Beáta Megyesi and Christiane Schaefer, have deciphered the manuscript and published a paper on it. They discovered a German text related to a secret society called, apparently, the “oculist order.” Much more detail and the full paper (PDF!) are available from the link in the quotation. (via Cipher Mysteries)
posted by tykky (15 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's an interesting read. I do wonder, however, why they didn't get a (native) German speaker on their team, rather than relying on websites and dictionaries to see if their cypher worked.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 4:22 AM on October 3, 2011


related to a secret society called, apparently, the “oculist order.”

Because you'll go blind trying to read the handwriting?
posted by chavenet at 4:25 AM on October 3, 2011


I do wonder, however, why they didn't get a (native) German speaker on their team,

They did - a little quick googling turns up that at least one of the authors, Dr. Christiane Schaefer, is German. From the PDF it looks like they used the web translation service to get a first pass of the entire text.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:41 AM on October 3, 2011


They should try deciphering the Voynich manuscript
posted by Renoroc at 4:43 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


They did - a little quick googling turns up that at least one of the authors, Dr. Christiane Schaefer, is German. From the PDF it looks like they used the web translation service to get a first pass of the entire text.

Yeah, I assumed the same. I was surprised by this sentence:

"However, we found GESELLSCHAFT in a German dictionary"

...especially considering that they assumed that the plain-text was German.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 4:51 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Renoroc, what makes you think they (or at least one of the authors) hasn't?
posted by Schismatic at 4:52 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


They should try deciphering the Voynich manuscript

I have read a paper, claiming on mathematical analysis, that the Voynich manuscript ist just noise. Written as a joke or for committing fraud. I tend to agree.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 5:17 AM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


The “Copiale Cipher” is a 105 pages manuscript containing all in all around 75 000 characters.

Geez, I have trouble just keeping all of the people in A Song of Ice and Fire straight.
posted by CaseyB at 5:40 AM on October 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


Glanced through the PDF of the translation and have a question for someone more dedicated then I: Is there any sign as to what the goals or aims of this society was about? All I saw was a bunch of stuff on their rituals, nothing on aims or goals.
posted by Canageek at 6:08 AM on October 3, 2011


They mention on page seven:

Finally, we brought full native-German expertise to bear, by taking hypothesized decipherments (hyp) and correcting them (corr) ...

I assume this means once the language had definitely been identified as German and the transcription was fairly well firmed up, Christiane Schaefer (the native German speaker) could guess the most of the rest just by looking at it.

I think it's safe to assume that Kevin Knight, at UCS Information Sciences Institute in California, was the cryptography person on the team and did most of initial analysis. It would have been easier for him to use a combination of Google and a dictionary to check if tentative transcriptions spelled actual German words than, say, e-mail the linguists in Sweden every time. (In some cases "we" would mean Kevin Knight, in other cases it would mean Beáta Megyesi and Christiane Schaefer.)


A completely unrelated note: Though this is a pretty weak cipher, it's the sort of thing a person could learn to pick up and read without transcription with a bit of practice. The document was presumably intended for the " Ʌ " to use an order of service when conducting an initiation ceremony the way a priest or minister would use a prayer book.
posted by nangar at 6:15 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


You may enjoy reading the Cipher Mysteries site's Voynich section further, if various Voynich theories interest you. The link is at the end of the FPP.

The site author, Nick Pelling, discusses the wilder Voynich theories with a certain snarky tone, which makes for enjoyable reading in itself, but the more deserving ideas he treats with more care. I probably can't do justice to his views on the fraud theory in a short space, but he points out that the carbon dating results of the Voynich Ms materials gave an interestingly old date. This makes the simple fraud theory somewhat problematic. If the Ms is as old as its materials, were the methods that the fraud theories suggest were used to create the nonsense already known at the time? If it is from a later time, why did the fraudster go the trouble of obtaining old materials for it, because he could've created an equally convincing fraud without them too? (Carbon dating is too recent an invention to be any issue here.)

At least in his view, there is no conclusive evidence for it being a simply generated nonsense or other such simple fraud, but of course he cannot rule this theory out either. It would take someone either deciphering the text or finding the method to create its exact contents to settle it totally one way or the other. This is indeed why it fits well as a topic on a site called Cipher Mysteries.

I'd say I remain undecided on the Voynich fraud matter and leave it to more knowledgeable people to debate. But do give his site a read if you have the time, since there is a lot of interesting material there, and not just about Voynich.
posted by tykky at 8:35 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reading from the English Translation PDF, it's pretty clear this is an ordinary Scottish Rite Masonic ritual book. There must be thousands of Masonic manuals like this.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:52 PM on October 3, 2011


Charlie don't surf: it's certainly derivative of the Scottish Rite (because it makes explicit reference to it, see page 14&f of the English PDF) but if it's the manual of a real organisation then it was set up as a joke or as a sort of satire.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:23 PM on October 3, 2011


We will probably never know. Sure, a lot of Masonic rituals look silly. But this book doesn't contain any of the actual teachings of the sect. They tend to get divided as Dogma and Ritual, some groups transmitted the dogma orally and it was never written down. The rituals are just acknowledgements that you mastered that level's dogma, the ritual makes reference to stuff we will probably never know.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:49 PM on October 3, 2011


While they're at it they should have a go at Rohonc Codex too.
posted by unliteral at 6:18 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


« Older History of Visualization of Biological Macromolecu...  |  Alain Resnais' Night and Fog (... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments