March 11, 2013

The World’s Most Mysterious Manuscript

The Voynich manuscript, named after the man who purchased it in 1912, dates back to the 15th or 16thcentury.

The book contains about 240 pages (though it appears some might be missing) of information on plants and herbs, their possible medical uses, some recipes, as well as diagrams that relate to biology, astronomy and cosmology.

The manuscript first appears in history as the property of Emperor Rudolf II (16th century) who paid a pretty coin for it.  From there, it can be traced to a botanical garden master, followed by an alchemist, a rector (after which the manuscript was lost for about 200 years), and finally to a Jesuit order, before Mr. Voynich purchased it.

But what makes it so intriguing is that:
1.       Most of the plants depicted in it (113 of them) are unknown.
2.       The writing (in glyphs) is unreadable—that is, either it’s a completely new language we’ve never heard of, or it’s in a cipher that’s yet to be cracked.

Questions about the manuscript abound, not all related to its content.  Was it copied from another source or the product of a paranoid and possibly psychotic mind?  If the former, is the information contained therein the remains of an ancient civilization (it could perhaps be the writing used at the time of the Tower of Babel)?  Or maybe something less far-fetched, like the gift of some alien hitchhiker?  Or is it all a hoax?

No one knows… and that's one mystery that might never be solved.

For anyone interested, this wonder can now be found at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (I’d love to take a look in there, wouldn’t you?).

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