The Voynich Manuscript
January 15, 2003 1:08 PM   Subscribe

The most mysterious manuscript in the world. The Voynich Manuscript is 235 page manuscript written in a cipher that has yet to be decoded. The manuscript includes many images. Almost all pages of the manuscript are available online. There have also been several books (1,2)written claiming to solve the manuscript. You can also follow the modern day progress of deciphering the Voynich manuscript.
posted by patrickje (35 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I know there have probably been plenty of Voynich posts in the past, but I love being reminded of this queer document. Enough with the NewsFilter, SocietyFilter, and BushFilter, we need more of these! :-)
posted by oissubke at 1:15 PM on January 15, 2003

oooh, I am fascinated by this... thanks for the links!
posted by greengrl at 1:21 PM on January 15, 2003

Oh yeah, I've read that. The ending is Fantastic!
posted by quibx at 1:21 PM on January 15, 2003


The qw kjf kpnw dv did it!

posted by sharksandwich at 1:44 PM on January 15, 2003

I've seen this before and it's always been intriguing. What I've always wondered about are the statistical properties of the script? There's an alphabet, you can even download fonts containing it, so at that level things look to be on the up and up. How often are each individual letter used in the document, how often are each pair of letters used and so on. I've never seen the actual results of any statistical analysis. One link says "It would be quite remarkable if ANY language were to appear as random as this one does".

Is it a hoax? Possibly, but it is an elaborate hoax if so. Leonardo Da Vinci was known to write in a code (mostly a reversed handwriting if I remember correctly), could somebody have been paranoid enough to both create an alphabet as well as encrypt it?
posted by substrate at 1:46 PM on January 15, 2003

Nice Link! (much more interesting than the dismal reduction of the US middle class to grovelling peasant servitude)
posted by troutfishing at 2:01 PM on January 15, 2003

Alternatively Voynich script can be displayed under DOS (yes, DOS with a SVGA video card)


I've always been intrigued by this manuscript as well, as both an exercise in decryption as well as being a mystery that's so far been been unsolved after hundreds of years, even though we've (relatively) easily deciphered texts far older!

Personally, I subscribe to the Twelve Monkeys theory that a time traveler got sent back too far and was trying to call attention to himself, using the equivalent of stone knives and bearskins. I believe his name was Mallansohn or something like that ;-)

Great linkage!
posted by WolfDaddy at 2:01 PM on January 15, 2003

Maybe it's just someone's crappy novel.
posted by gottabefunky at 2:03 PM on January 15, 2003

Just my vote, but I bet it is the work of a slacker monk tasked with duplicating some boring text. Instead of working, he spent his time hunched over some sheets of vellum, aimlessly doodling and writing what looks like characters in the same way that I aimlessly type random letters on my keyboard whenver my boss comes into the room. I look busy, and that's all that's really important in this work-a-day world.
posted by Fezboy! at 2:06 PM on January 15, 2003 [1 favorite]

Darn you patrickje, I've been meaning to put together a Voynich post for months now and never got around to it. Here's a pic of a nekkid women in cups illustration that also shows a lot of the indecipherable writing. Wazzit all mean? Who knows, but it's always interesting to read about.

posted by yhbc at 2:07 PM on January 15, 2003

Those aren't women, they're George Washington showing his man-boobs.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:14 PM on January 15, 2003

This is the first truly engrossing Metafilter post I've seen in a very long time. Thank you.
posted by interrobang at 2:31 PM on January 15, 2003

You too can write Voynich with the help of this typeface. (from the modern page progress page linked by patrickje)
posted by astirling at 2:37 PM on January 15, 2003

I did see a BBC4 program about the Voynich manuscript. My guess is it's a hoax, but a 500 year old hoax at that.

Nevertheless, incredibly fascinating.
posted by BigCalm at 2:47 PM on January 15, 2003

posted by Espoo2 at 2:59 PM on January 15, 2003

great link, though unsolved ciphers and scripts give me the creeps! zodiac cipher, linear a... you name it!
posted by inkeri at 3:25 PM on January 15, 2003

My weird find from these (sweet, and by sweet I mean totally cool) links:

Some interesting new insights into the manuscript were provided in the [19]70's by Prescott Currier, presenting some of his results at an informal Voynich manuscript symposium at the National Security Agency in Washington (D'Imperio, 1978).[from the solutions section of the first link]

Now, what, pray tell, was Prescott doing at the National Security Agency with this book? The plot thickens...
posted by zpousman at 3:56 PM on January 15, 2003

"... Drink... more... Oval...tine...!"

Ha. Anyway, I can't post a link to the May Day Mystery, because there's already been one, but if anybody wanted to participate in an ongoing, less cryptographic effort that is open to the public, it would be a good place to start.
posted by Hildago at 4:01 PM on January 15, 2003

Women in Cups (German Wedding Cups which go back to the same period) -- don't know if there's a connection just noticed.
posted by stbalbach at 4:39 PM on January 15, 2003

One thing to know about the Voynich - while the mystery is very interesting, it has little to offer academics. There are hundreds of manuscripts in scripts we can read from this period that are untranslated; the one oddball cypher is more of a sideshow. But a fun one. If it's a forgery it's very good.
posted by Nelson at 5:29 PM on January 15, 2003

This is good stuff. Now if only I could figure out this and the Beale Cipher, I'd be rich!
posted by Fabulon7 at 7:08 PM on January 15, 2003

A brilliant modern descendent of the Voynich Manuscript is CODEX SERAPHINIANVS by Luigi Serafini. You can get some sense of what reading the CODEX is like by visiting Kevin Weber's Codex Page.
posted by alms at 7:39 PM on January 15, 2003

Ah, I knew I'd find those links.

One of the sticking-points about the Voynich manuscript (the "VM" to them that debate its finer points ad nauseam) is the depiction of this flower on one of the pages in the "botanical" section.

Looks a heck of a lot like what someone who had never seen a sunflower before might draw to represent one, don't it?

Well, kind of - and that observation, combined with the fact that sunflowers were unknown to Europe before 1493, led to one school of thought that the VM had to be from after 1493 (scroll down a bit), and to another (only slightly less wacky) school of thought that the VM had to have therefore been brought to Earth by the immortal St. Germain" (warning: AOL homepage, likely to go down soon, and without all the original graphics anyway - and again, scroll down a bit). Oh, and there's also a (much more sensible) middle ground that holds that the picture in question isn't of a sunflower at all. On the other hand, if you don't like any of those theories, you can just say that Leonardo DaVinci must have written it.

I'm not sure what I believe, or what I want to believe - but I am glad I got to do my Voynich post after all.
posted by yhbc at 8:01 PM on January 15, 2003

Substrate - here are some statistics.
posted by hockeyman at 8:43 PM on January 15, 2003

zpousman, assuming you're seriously asking, the NSA is at the forefront of modern cryptological research, known as the Puzzle Palace for good reason: they (probably) more or less invented public key cryptography, the basis of most modern code systems, prior to the "official" discovery of the technique. There are plenty of above-board professional reasons for the NSA's researchers to be interested in the manuscript. Probably, though, they were just curious --
posted by dhartung at 8:50 PM on January 15, 2003

More crypto-manuscript posts!
posted by hama7 at 8:52 PM on January 15, 2003

On the subject of fascinating manuscripts that found their way into Rudolf II's collection in Prague, here's another...
posted by misteraitch at 1:00 AM on January 16, 2003

This was a great series of links. Very well done, patrickje.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:21 AM on January 16, 2003

Good lord, inkeri...clicking on your zodiac link in the middle of the night in a big, quiet house all by myself is not reccommended, what with the embedded sound file. Sheesh. Interesting, though.
posted by ArsncHeart at 2:59 AM on January 16, 2003

ArsncHeart, my humblest apologies. forgot about the extra-creepy sound file. (note to self: next time try not to scare people unconscious with links sent to metafilter).
posted by inkeri at 3:41 AM on January 16, 2003

yhbc, Mr_Crash_Davis - Naked woman in CUPS? Those aren't CUPS, you fools! - Those are cheese graters, hot tubs, and old beer cans peppered with .22 fire!
posted by troutfishing at 5:18 AM on January 16, 2003

Personally, I subscribe to the Twelve Monkeys theory that a time traveler got sent back too far and was trying to call attention to himself...

I have solved the mystery! The manuscript was created using Ubbi Dubbi! Obviously someone who grew up watching Zoom in the 70s got thrown backwards in time, maybe by following one of the strange experiments and games they used to feature on the show.

Nubow whubere's muby rubewubard? Hubuh?
posted by amberglow at 10:05 AM on January 16, 2003

the text was an account of an ancient civil war written in an archaic, vowelless form of Ukrainian

Wow. This is quite possibly the funniest sentence I've read all day. ROFLOL.

(via yhbc's post)

Seriuosy, patrickje, thanks for an absolutely fascinating post.
posted by charlesv at 1:40 PM on January 16, 2003

This is some good post of the year, maybe.
posted by Mack Twain at 2:11 PM on January 16, 2003

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