10 Mysteries of the Voynich Manuscript


Embark on a mysterious voyage of the Voynich Manuscript, one of the strangest manuscripts ever written in the Renaissance era.

For a long time, books have been the gatekeepers of knowledge and storytelling, taking us to different times and places. Several books, such as those on medicine and botany, have played essential roles in molding our understanding of these areas. Consider the Historia Plantarum (written between 350 and 287 BC by Theophrastus) and Charaka Samhita (a Hindu text on Ayurveda), which have transformed our understanding of plants and life sciences! But wait, certain books have defied all attempts to decode them, remaining an enigma to this day. And the most mysterious of them is the Voynich Manuscript, a cryptic book believed to have been written in Italy during the Renaissance period. The manuscript is full of secrets and puzzles that have left people scratching their heads for centuries. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most puzzling aspects of this mysterious book that will surely amaze you.

What to Know About Voynich Manuscript?

1. No One Knows Who Wrote the Voynich Manuscript 

A portrait of the Welsh mathematician John Dee, who might have sold the Voynich Manuscript
John Dee may have sold the manuscript to Emperor Rudolf around 1600. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Over the centuries many researchers have speculated about the authorship of the Voynich Manuscript, but none have presented concrete evidence to support their theories. This bizarre manuscript is an illustrated code written in an unknown script with no clear meaning or indication of its author, which has undoubtedly brought it to the attention of curious minds. By far the most popular theory of the authorship of the manuscript is that of renowned philosopher and alchemist Roger Bacon, who is believed to have written it in the 13th century. This was suggested based on similarities between the Voynich script and Bacon’s own cipher. However, there is no concrete evidence to support this theory, and it is widely considered unlikely.

Others speculated that the manuscript was written by John Dee, a 16th-century Welsh mathematician, astrologer, occultist, and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I. There are many factors why many believed so. One of the reasons is that John Dee devoted much of his time to the study of alchemy and hermetic philosophy.

Some researchers have speculated that the Voynich Manuscript may have been a product of Dee’s collaboration with the Czech alchemist and physician Edward Kelley. But due to a lack of conclusive evidence to support this theory, the claim was rejected.

The name of the 15th-century Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci was also proposed. It is speculated that the Italian artist wrote the book when he was a child due to his unique orthographic peculiarities, which are similar to the plant names in the botanical section of the Voynich Manuscript.

2. Mysterious Provenance of the Manuscript

This is a portrait of emperor Rudolf II who had the Voynich Manuscript.
Rudolf II, portrait by Hans von Aachen. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 Till now the origin of the book is still a mystery. Research suggests that it was first discovered in the early 17th century in the possession of a Jesuit college in Italy, but it is unclear how it ended up there. At one point the manuscript went missing from the library of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II, who apparently purchased it for 600 gold ducats from John Dee.

The manuscript later passed through the hands of several collectors before being acquired by the Polish-American antiquarian bookseller Wilfrid Voynich in 1912, after whom the manuscript was named. Eventually, in 1969, the codex was given to the Beinecke Library by H. P. Kraus, who had purchased it from the estate of Ethel Voynich, Wilfrid Voynich’s widow.

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3. Very Bizarre Illustrations

Weird image of women in the bath tub of the Voynich Manuscript
Source: Wikimedia Commons

As much as the Voynich Manuscript seems bizarre, it is equally interesting. Historians have divided its unique content into many categories, including botanical, biological, astronomical, cosmological, pharmaceutical, and recipes. Each of its sections is loaded with strange and colorful illustrations of plants, animals, and human figures, many of which are unlike anything seen before. There are also some zodiac symbols, naked women lounging in pools of green liquid, and some are being pushed along by water jets; very strange tubes; and even a dragon and a castle. Some of the researchers have argued that the content inside the book can be purely imaginary. 

There are scholars who argued that the content can be related to the practice of alchemy, which was popular in the 15th century. In the medieval period, many alchemists were using symbolic language and imagery to express their ideas, and maybe the Voynich Manuscript could be an alchemical text.

4. Intriguing Writing Style

The intriguing writing style of the Voynich Manuscript. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Another intriguing feature of the Voynich Manuscript is its disparate writing styles, which are considered highly irregular thanks to their weird letters and words written in different styles. Scholars who have analyzed the manuscript stated that there are many signs that multiple authors have contributed to it.

The written content is in an unrecognized language or writing system. There is a series of curving and looping characters, some of which were initially thought to be of Arabic origin until recently when some scientists used artificial intelligence to help decode the language of the document in depth.

Natural language scientist Greg Kondrak of the University of Alberta and his student Bradley Hauer created an algorithm for artificial intelligence to decipher the writings of the manuscript and discovered that the nature of the language is that of ancient Hebrew. They used Google Translate to translate a text that read: “She made recommendations to the priest, a man of the house, and me and people.”

5. The Coded Language of the Manuscript

The coded language of the Voynich Manuscript
The coded language of the manuscript. Source: Wikimedia Commons

What makes the Voynich manuscript really unique is hands down its coded language. Many believe that the script is an elaborate encryption or code, while others argue that it is a hoax or simply gibberish. There have been many attempts to decipher the coded manuscript, and some cryptologists used algorithms to solve the mystery of its content.

It was observed that the document contains about 37,919 words (with 8,114 word types) separated by whitespace, and the body of the text is left-aligned. Its elegant script consists of 23 to 40 different characters, and there are also detailed illustrations. These elements have pushed some scholars to argue that the manuscript is an elaborate historical cipher. Among the many encryption methods used, there was also the use of homophones and newly created symbols. But the medieval manuscript is still very much shrouded in mystery.

6. Purpose and Hidden Messages of the Voynich Manuscript

The unusual drawing of the Voynich Manuscript
The unusual drawings of the manuscript. Source: Wikimedia Commons

With an in-depth analysis of the pages,  it was suggested that the manuscript was intended to be used as a medical handbook for medieval or early modern periods. But, the unusual drawings in the book have sparked numerous theories about where it came from, what it talks about, and what it was used for.

For example, the first part of the book is probably about herbs, however, the images aren’t particularly realistic, making it difficult to identify the plants. Only a few of the drawings, such as the wild pansy and the maidenhair fern, can be identified with certainty. Some of the images appear to have been created by merging different portions of different plants, which is unusual.

Additionally, people during those times believed that the positions of the stars and planets could affect a person’s health, so astrology was often implicated. In the Voynich Manuscript, there are drawings of Zodiac symbols and planets, but we are not sure about their purpose.  

Some scholars have also suggested that the text may contain hidden messages or codes that can only be deciphered by those with the key. There are also theories that the manuscript contains alchemical or magical secrets, or that it is a lost work of a famous philosopher or scientist. 

7. Unusual Binding and Colors

unusual binding and colors of the Voynich Manuscript
Source: Wikimedia Commons

It was discovered through research that the book’s binding and covers are not original to the book. The manuscript is actually bound in an unusual way, with some pages folded in half and others in quarters. Goatskin binding was applied, and interestingly, there are insect holes on the first and last folios of the manuscript, which suggest that a wooden cover was used prior to the later covers.

It was observed that the manuscript underwent repairs so as to stabilize the binding. Also, some of the folios, for instance, 42 and 47, were thicker compared to others.

Interestingly, some argue that the manuscript was most likely painted by more than one person due to differences in brushwork (smooth and scratchy) and color mixing. Observations suggest that colored paint was applied to the ink-outlined figures at a different date.

8. Unusual Materials Used in the Voynich Manuscript 

Unusual materials used in the Voynich Manuscript

Apart from its numerous mysteries, another weird characteristic of the Voynich manuscript is the unusual material used to create it, for example, its parchment. The manuscript is made of high-quality vellum, a type of parchment made from animal skins, which is very sturdy and long-lasting.

Back in 2009, the parchment was analyzed by radiocarbon dating, and the result was that the parchment was dated between 1404 and 1438 with a 95% probability. Also, researchers analyzed the style of the manuscript, and it was confirmed that the manuscript was created during the Italian Renaissance in Italy.

In 2014, a protein texting was conducted on the parchment, and it was found that calfskin was used.  At least fourteen entire calf skins were used to prepare the parchment.

9. Missing Pages 

missing page of the Voynich Manuscript
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Researchers have found out that there are about 14 folios missing and they are of two types. For instance, folios 2 and 74 are single missing folios, while the “other halves” of the two corresponding bifolios remain. After the manuscript was bound, these two folios were removed.

Folio 75 still has cut traces from the cutting out of folio 74. Because the Voynich Manuscript is missing several pages, it has been speculated that they contain vital information that could reveal the manuscript’s secrets.

10. Non-Linear Organization of the Content

non-linear Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich Manuscript doesn’t appear to be in a clear arrangement with its sections on different topics, which are interspersed throughout the document. Some experts think that this was done on purpose, probably because there are hidden connections between apparently unrelated topics. Or maybe the manuscript was meant to be read in a non-linear fashion.

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