Voynich Manuscript Mysteries, History and Intrigue (And Decoded?)

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 secrets to the universe.

Radiocarbon dating tests from 2009 conclude the parchment from the Voynich Manuscript is, in fact, from the early 1400s.

Voynich Manuscript Value

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 of the contents. And nobody knows who wrote it.

So, a book with unknown writing or meaning and no author that might unlock history’s 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.

See the end of this article for details on my very unprofessional valuation of the Voynich.

what is the Voynich Manuscript
The bizarre and mysterious Voynich Manuscript

Decoding the Voynich Manuscript

This is all speculation, of course, because other than the widely accepted carbon dating test results, speculation 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, it’s letters, symbols, and images concluded there to be no rhyme or reason to any of it.

The Voynich Algorithm

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.

Hebrew, Italian, Latin, or Proto-Romance?

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.

Others are convinced the book was authored by a Jewish Italian physician because of the illustrations showing naked women bathing together in a mikvah, or Jewish communal baths.

Voynich Manuscript decode
So who wrote the Voynich Manuscript? Was it a Cro-Magnon Savant, or a 17th century con-man?

Yet another theory by researcher Dr. Gerard Cheshire from the University of Bristol explains the manuscript to be written in proto-Romance, a type of blended language including Latin and other Medieval cultures in the middle ages following the collapse of the Roman Empire.

Today, romance languages include Galician, Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Romanian, and Italian, but during the middle ages, these languages may be indistinguishable from what we now recognize.

One of the big questions when attempting to decode the world’s most mysterious book is – could the symbols be a code for a known language, or are the characters merely in 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 with remedies copied from other older works, and based in Latin or Arabic.

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. 

Carbon Dated Testing the Voynich Manuscript

But carbon-dated testing of the manuscript confirms it to be from the 15th or 16th century, most likely written in Italy.

Voynich Manuscript testing
Extensive testing of the manuscript has left little clues as to the origin of the document… so far.

Linguistics 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. 

Recent theories suggest the manuscript passed through a handful of owners beginning in 13th Century England, from Roger Bacon, to John Dee, to Rudolf II.

The Voynich Alchemist

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, Jesuit priests, and the King of Bohemia.

The Wilfrid Voynich Purchase

In 1912, the Lithuanian-Polish rare book dealer Wilfrid Voynich purchased the manuscript, along with thirty others, from the Collegio Romano, just outside of Rome, 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.

The Hans P. Kraus Purchase

Hans P. Kraus, a New York book dealer, 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.

wilfrid voynich purchase
Wilfrid Voynich at his London Bookshop. Image credit Wikimedia Commons.

Expert Studies of the Mysterious Manuscript

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 mysterious Voynich Manuscript.

Some cryptographers attribute the source language of the text to Leonardo da Vinci. Some theories say Dominican Nuns wrote the text.

Indistinguishable Text

Whoever the author, there’s not one single word of distinguishable text contained in the ancient manuscripts.

The Medieval Academy of America even hosted a two-day conference to discuss the origins and history of the manuscript. Could the manuscript date back to the Aztecs?

The Friedman Study

One of the most extensive studies on the manuscript was by William Friedman. With a career in cryptography with the US Army during the 1930s and 40s, Friedman spent nearly four decades studying the text.

But he would eventually admit his only conclusion would be an educated guess to its meaning.

Voynich Manuscript testing
Not one single word or character in the manuscript is distinguishable as legitimate text. Amazing!

A Voynich Hoax?

Some people suggest the entire manuscript is complete gibberish or an elaborate hoax. If that’s the case, it was done by an incredibly creative and imaginative figure.

I’m not going to make any accusations, but one of the primary suspects is Edward Kelley. Some believe Kelley created the works and tried to link the codex to Roger Bacon, a Medieval philosopher. The theory was that Kelley wanted to sell the book and pass it off as a valuable manuscript of Bacon’s.

Other names attached as possible creators of the document are John nDee Giovanni Fontana, and Wilfrid Voynich.

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.

The Mystery Nobody Will Let Go

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.

Bewildering the Smartest Professors

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.

decoding Voynich Manuscript
Never-before seen symbols, never-before seen text. Voynich remains a giant mystery.

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.

Voynich Manuscript Solved?

Unfortunately, I don’t have any news to share about the mysterious codex being solved. Even though some now refer to the unknown text as “Voynichese,” there’s still no conclusion on the riddle.

Who Cracked the Voynich Manuscript?

The latest attempts to crack the manuscript have been from German scientist Rainer Hannig. His theory rests on the ties to the Hebrew language.

From his office at the Roemer-und Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim, Hannig says the codex is a Semitic language from either Hebrew, Aramaic, or Arabic.

What Words in the Voynich Manuscript Have Been Decoded?

Even though the Voynich Manuscript remains mostly a mystery, there are a few sections that have been decoded.

The Voynich Zodiac Section – The Manuscript includes a collection of zodiac signs, most likely copied from a hausbuch, or astrological calendar.

Voynich Symbols

Actual words in the manuscript remain undecipherable, so all we can explain are the symbols. Illustrations include creatures, bathing women, castles, plants, floating heads, massage giving, and astronomical signs.

From the symbols, we can group the book into six sections. Pharmaceutical, botanical, cosmological, biological, astrological, and recipes. That’s about as far as anyone can go in decoding the mystery.

ancient voynich manuscript text
Although no text has been decode, there are a few symbols that resemble to the astrological calendar.

Final Valuation of the Voynich Manuscript

For now, the mystery of the Voynich Manuscript remains at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript 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 hieroglyph yet to be decoded.

My Unprofessional Valuation

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’s Mystery – A History