Dan Brown Must Love Germans
November 17, 2012 6:16 AM   Subscribe

Wired tells the story of an old encoded manuscript, the effort to crack it, and the secret occult society that it revealed.
posted by Ipsifendus (26 comments total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
That was fascinating.
posted by COD at 6:35 AM on November 17, 2012

What a fabulous story! Thanks.
posted by mdonley at 6:39 AM on November 17, 2012

Fascinating reading and an excellent post! Thank you for posting this!
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:41 AM on November 17, 2012

I made a post on this topic previously. The linked article has a lot of new details and seems very thorough (on a quick scan), so it's all good. In fact, I think that people should read it first and then check the stuff in the older post, if they are interested in more background details.
posted by tykky at 7:01 AM on November 17, 2012

Wolfenbuttel is also where Jagermeister is made. Cool tour that was.
posted by parmanparman at 7:08 AM on November 17, 2012

This is AWESOME.
posted by jeudi at 7:24 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love reading stories like this, thanks for posting. Any photos of the eye amulets?
posted by arcticseal at 7:58 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love the idea of occluded Occidental occult ocularists.....
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:30 AM on November 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

My ears are burning.
posted by Occula at 9:02 AM on November 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

Fascinating, thanks!
posted by Azara at 9:21 AM on November 17, 2012

That is pretty darn cool.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:22 AM on November 17, 2012

Very, very cool. Loving the application of machine learning techniques to linguistics!
posted by tickingclock at 9:31 AM on November 17, 2012

Fantastic story; thanks for the post.
posted by languagehat at 9:52 AM on November 17, 2012

Cool; very interesting. Thanks for posting!
posted by jaruwaan at 10:13 AM on November 17, 2012

Is there any archive of unsolved ciphers like these? Would be interesting to try to crack one, even though I'm destined to fail.
posted by ymgve at 11:39 AM on November 17, 2012

Like many aristocrats of his day, he belonged to multiple secret societies, including an Order of the Golden Poodles, which likely sounded as goofy back then as it does today.

Not at all. Back then, poodles were big hunting dogs, not yappy little things in little old ladies' purses.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:52 PM on November 17, 2012

Not at all. Back then, poodles were big hunting dogs, not yappy little things in little old ladies' purses.

Man, you sent me down a whole poodle sidetrack. While poodles were used as retrievers, it's also true that "France had toy poodles as pampered favorites" in that time period. So it's not obvious whether an Order of the Golden Poodles in Germany would have had more of a hunting or let-them-eat-cake connotation.

Google Books is amazingly silent on the subject of poodles prior to 1800. But there is one mention of poodles in an advertisement at the back of a 1576 treatise named "Of Englishe Dogges, the diversities, the names, the natures, and the properties." While I can highly recommend the 1576 portion, it turns out the ads (and mention of poodles) weren't added until sometime after 1884. D'oh!
posted by jhc at 1:50 PM on November 17, 2012

Love your choice of title.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:06 PM on November 17, 2012

As much as I love living in the future, I love it when the real past is awesomer than the fake past even more.
posted by sonika at 8:26 PM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's a good article, even if a bit breathless. Secret societies were pretty much the LinkedIn of the XVIII century. They were joined by everybody who was somebody, thought he was somebody, or wanted to become somebody, and this fever took off especially in Germany and Italy, where the lack of a strong centralised power made this networking all the more interesting.
The hostility of the Catholic Church to those secret societies didn't really start until the French Revolution, which it saw as driven by them, and more specifically until the radical disestablishment of the French Catholic Church, and the Revolution's attempt to turn it into a different religion altogether, one pretty much inspired by the rituals of some of those secret societies. But even then, it is surprising how many Catholic clerics were (and remained) present in those societies.
Otherwise, the presence of many idle, bored aristocrats in those secret societies, in an age of much moral hypocrisy, certainly led to all sorts of crazy shenanigans. Just read Casanova's diaries, or the stories about Cagliostro or the Hellfire Club, never mind de Sade. Secret societies were fertile ground for mischief-makers, and some of them surely knew how to party...
posted by Skeptic at 1:21 AM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

ymgve: You'll find an interesting collection of unsolved ciphers here. Notice that there's treasure to be claimed, a killer to catch, and two unsolved crimes to clear up!
posted by dr. zoom at 2:00 AM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing Fantastic. Wow, talk about unputdownable.
posted by marienbad at 5:46 AM on November 18, 2012

“Die Algebra,” it said at the top of page one, a primer on the “old way of calculating.” Rows of cipher letters lay beneath. The document seemed to add them up as if they were numbers...It would appear that the Copiale symbols don’t represent just words and letters, they stand for numbers too. But if they do, Knight, Megyesi, and Schaefer haven’t been able to tease out the meaning.

I'll bet that calling it an Algebra book from the distant past was a ruse to throw off possible Inquisitors. If someone got caught with it, they could pass it off as a complex math book. How many people back then would have been able to tell the difference between it and an actual math text filled with weird symbols?
posted by double block and bleed at 7:07 AM on November 18, 2012

Plus "old way of calculating" surely had some ritualistic meaning.
posted by double block and bleed at 7:08 AM on November 18, 2012

Well, if they are cabala-inspired numbers, couldn't you translate the letters to German using the text you've already decoded, then look at the equivalent Hebrew letters and their numerical values? Those would give you numbers, right? So whatever Occulist symbols become A get translated to aleph and become 1?

That's how Mystery Hunt would do it, I think. But then you'd have to figure out what the sums meant.
posted by maryr at 8:59 AM on November 18, 2012

I'll never look at the All-Seeing-Eye the same way again.
posted by malocchio at 10:50 AM on November 19, 2012

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