Can you read that text? I bet you can’t.
Don’t take it personally. Nobody can. The Voynich Manuscript is one of the world’s great unsolved mysteries.
Nobody knows who wrote it, or where. The date is estimated at early 15th century. The name “Voynich” comes from Wilfrid Voynich, a bookseller who bought it in 1912.
The manuscript is 240 pages of vellum, heavily illustrated with pictures of plants, astrological diagrams, and naked women. But the language, and even the script used to write it, are utterly unique. And a century of analysis has failed to extract any meaning from the text.
One obvious theory is that it has no meaning. It might simply be gibberish, a hoax of some kind, perhaps to be sold to some unsuspecting nobleman as a curiosity.
The problem with that theory is that the manuscript has a very complex structure, and exhibits subtle statistical properties that you wouldn’t expect to find in a book of nonsense. A recent scholarly analysis concludes, “…the accumulated evidence about organization at different levels, limits severely the scope of the hoax hypothesis and suggests the presence of a genuine linguistic structure.”
So who can unravel this puzzle?
As an AI developer and statistician-in-training, the Voynich Manuscript is immensely appealing to me. This is exactly the kind of thing someone should write a program to analyze.
Maybe I’ll give it a shot.
Or maybe you will. The full manuscript is right here, an enigma just waiting to be solved. Why not take a look?
You know what… I’m probably not going to try to solve it.
However, if you are I offer this suggestion… maybe it resists analysis for reasons relating to scope.
ie Maybe the pictures affect the text, maybe the page number does. Maybe there’s something (astrology?) that was really important to the author that has not been included in the attempts to crack it so far.
I think that’s a really good idea. If there is a message to find, all attempts so far must have missed some fairly basic assumption. This qualifies.
As an avid explorer of the Cthulhu Mythos, I have been interested in the manuscript for many years. Therefore, a translation would be interesting.
However, I am not sure whether I would prefer the loss of magic stemming from it turning out to be a mundane text or eldritch horrors summoned forth by knowledge mortals were not meant to hold.
What’s the connection with the Cthulhu Mythos?
From Lovecraft onwards contributors have embedded real texts in amongst the – allegedly – invented ones. Many of the real texts have been critiqued and de-constructed often enough that they provide little evidence to support the Mythos being real.
As one of the few texts known to exist that do not have an agreed rational analysis, the Voynich Manuscript is sometimes regarded as holding evidence that other parts of Mythos tales are drawn from similarly real – but not publicly known – texts.
If the VM does turn out to be an occult text, I think it is more likely it will contain a mystic theory similar to Western Hermeticism than evidence Lovecraft was using his stories to pass on a true history. However, there is something romantic about a conspiracy theory.
Maybe it was written in a secret code, or there was a linguist long, long ago who made up their own language – similar to J.R.R. Tolkein.
Hopefully we’ll find out!