Voynich Manuscript Mysteries, History and Intrigue

There’s no better representation of a rare, first-edition book than the Voynich Manuscript. So far, it’s proved to be a true “one of one.” An original work with no second copy as of yet. The manuscript is extremely rare, hundreds of years old, and could contain the secrets to the universe.

Radiocarbon dating tests from 2009 conclude the parchment from the Voynich Manuscript is, in fact, from the early 1400s. You might be thinking, a book such as this must be worth a fortune. Well, it isn’t easy to value the book because nobody has ever been able to make any sense out of the contents. And nobody knows who wrote it.

So, a book with unknown meaning and no author that might unlock histories’ greatest mysteries could also be completely worthless? I would say there’s at least some value in the 600-year-old parchment made from calfskins, at the very least.

Decoding the Voynich Manuscript

This is all speculation, of course, because other than the widely accepted carbon dating test results, speculate is the only thing anyone’s been able to do with the Voynich Manuscript. Cryptologists and code breakers studied the text for decades, trying to decode the cipher on the vellum pages. Many renowned decoders have attempted to make sense of the book and concluded there to be no rhyme or reason to any of it.

A recent study applied computing power and artificial intelligence to the script. Using an algorithm specifically designed for decoding vowel-less alphagrams, a team of scientists began scanning the Voynich. From the computer algorithm, the researchers concluded that a large portion of the Voynich was encoded in Hebrew. Critics argue the computer program was using modern-day Hebrew language to decode text written six hundred years ago, hardly a study that should be considered valid.

One of the big questions when attempting to decode the manuscript is – could the symbols be a code for a known language, or are the characters merely an unknown language?

Mysterious Language or Secret Code

The text is written from left to right, totaling 246 pages and over 170,000 characters. Based on the illustrations, historians guess the book to be separated into six sections. Biological, cosmological, pharmaceutical, herbal, and recipes. Some suggest the manuscript is a medieval women’s health manual copied from other older works.

Other theories say the text was health and wellness advice placed in code to hide its contents from 13th-century church authorities, who may have discouraged putting faith in scientific health research over religious faith. 

Voynich Manuscript
The Voynich Manuscript with it’s indecipherable text and mysterious illustrations.

Experts describe the text as an elegant, looping script written in short paragraphs with detailed illustrations. The renderings include astronomical symbols, plants, and human figures, some bathing in green liquid. 

Adding to the intrigue, the first confirmed owner of the manuscript was Georg Baresch, a 17th Century alchemist from Prague. The unknown script passed through a handful of owners and then was unaccounted for over the next 200 years. Various owners are said to be Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor, and the King of Bohemia.

In 1912, Wilfrid Voynich purchased the manuscript, along with thirty others, from the Collegio Romano when it became short on money. Wilfrid spent the next several years trying to trace the origins of the text. After Wilfrid’s death and the death of his widow, Ethel Voynich, the manuscript was left to her friend Anne Nill, where she sold it in 1961.

Hans P. Kraus purchased the mysterious manuscript with aspirations of re-selling it for significant financial gains. When he was unable to find a buyer, Kraus donated the text to Yale University in 1969. To this day, it remains cataloged as the “MS 408” in the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library in New Haven, Connecticut.

Expert Studies

The world’s best and brightest minds have studied this mysterious book for decades. As a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies, Lisa Fagin Davis examines medieval manuscripts at Yale University, among many other institutions. Her latest venture includes a detailed paleographical study of the Voynich Manuscript.

Other studies have attributed the source language of the text to Leonardo da Vinci. Some theories say Dominican Nuns wrote the text. Whoever the author, there’s not one single word of distinguishable text contained in the ancient manuscripts.

A Hoax?

Some people suggest the entire manuscript complete gibberish or an elaborate hoax. If that’s the case, it was done by an incredibly creative and imaginative figure. There are unique patterns and symbol usage that seem to captivate the most discerning researchers. An old manuscript that has no meaning would be soon disregarded and forgotten. It’s hardly the only old book lying around full of strange drawings.

But this text has lasted the test of time and continues to captivate. Historians see signs and puzzles in the Voynich manuscript that they can’t seem to let go of. In fact, it’s almost a ritual now, where every year or so, you will read headlines about another expert claiming to have decoded the text. But beyond the headlines, there never seems to be a conclusion that was reached.

Voynich manuscript
Text and symbols from the Voynich manuscript

Gonzalo Rubio, a professor in ancient languages at Pennsylvania State University, commented on the mysterious word structure, “The things we know as ‘grammatical markers,’ the things that occur commonly at the beginning or end of words, such as ‘s’ or ‘d’ in our language, and that is used to express grammar, never appear in the middle of ‘words’ in the Voynich manuscript. That’s unheard of for any Indo-European, Hungarian or Finnish language.”

Other attempts to explain the mysterious text point to a man named Roger Bacon. A book published in 1943 by Joseph Feely outlined a thesis where Bacon used a system of ciphers to develop a code as the content of the manuscript. Roger Bacon was a thirteenth-century English philosopher who was also a well-known magician. It was argued that Bacon discovered an “Elixir of Life” and used a substitution cipher to write over 200 pages in symbols and illustrations.

Final Valuation of the Voynich Manuscript

For now, the mysterious document remains at the Beinecke Library at Yale University. Medieval scholars still have more questions than answers. Was the document from the early 15th century medieval period, like the carbon-dating suggests? Or was it produced by a scam artist with a wild imagination? Maybe it’s an obscure type of Egyptian hieroglyphs yet to be decoded.

After much research, my very unprofessional valuation of the Voynich Manuscript gives it a value of $8,000 on the low end and roughly ten Trillion dollars on the high end. My low estimate accounts for the well-preserved calfskin parchment pages and incredibly unique illustrations found throughout its pages.

On the high end, my ten trillion-dollar valuation takes account of the possibility that the text contains health-related advice unlocking the potential for eternal life and immortality. I’m just patiently waiting for the artificial intelligence decoding software to reveal the secret. However, we may never solve the puzzle…

The Voynich Manuscript – A History