The Book No One Can Read
Despite being one of the world’s most attractive historical enigmas, the language of the 600-year-old manuscript still needs to be cracked. Hand-written in a mysterious and unrecognisable script, the Voynich Manuscript is a parchment codex of 22.5 x 16 cm, with well over 200 pages.
The cover is blank, leaving no indication of the author, date, or even the origin of the manuscript. It has been named after the Polish-American antiquarian bookseller, Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired the book in 1912. Upon acquisition, Voynich wrote in his diary: ‘the text must be unravelled and the history of the manuscript must be traced.’ A hundred years later, his task still has not met a successful outcome.
The neat text of the manuscript is written from left to right and organised into short paragraphs. Another fascinating element is the book’s illustration. Nearly every page presents botanical, figurative, and scientific illustrations of rather a cheerful character, captured in hues of green, brown, blue, red, and yellow. It is believed to have been created in the middle ages as a scientific or medical reference.
In fact, a radiocarbon analysis of the manuscript’s parchment showed that it dates back to the 15th century. But even with this knowledge, the theories about its provenance and purpose emerge steadily.
While the manuscript’s content remains a riddle, its drawings appear to be grouped together in these sections: a botanical section with images of herbs and unidentified plant species; an astronomical section with representations of Sun, Moon, stars, as well as zodiac symbols and astral charts; a cosmological section with circular drawings; a biological section with what appears as small human (mostly feminine) figures captured in odd poses; a pharmaceutical section where illustrations of containers appear next to various parts of herbs; and a recipes section with over 300 shorter paragraphs with star-like symbols marking a new entry in the margins.
There is only one copy of the manuscript and that is kept at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library for protection and preservation purposes. Until now, online scans were the only way one could study the puzzling content of the book. But thanks to the Spanish publishing house Siloe, which specializes in replicas of historical manuscripts and has now been granted a permission to re-create the Voynich Manuscript, 898 volumes are going to become available to the public. Siloe is said to sell them for €7,000 to €8,000 (equivalent to $8,000 to $9,000). Almost 300 people have already been placed in preorders. Given these updates, one can only imagine the increasing interest in the manuscript.
With the pages being made accessible to the wider public, perhaps someone will spot what others have missed and the mystery that accompanies this manuscript will finally unravel. But don’t hold your breath just yet. Countless cryptographers and some of the world’s most brilliant code breakers have dedicated their lives to deciphering the Manuscript’s cipher. Funnily enough, the only documented success belongs to the-one-and-only Indiana Jones who can read the language in a novel. Too bad.
The reproduction created by the Siloe team is expected to be completed in a year and a half time from now. If it seems too unbearable to wait that long, Yale University Press has planned a printed facsimile to come out this fall.
And if that doesn’t make any difference to you, here is a [link](http://brbl-dl.library.yale.edu/vufind/Record/3519597) to the digitized version which is available through the Beinecke library’s website, where it is portrayed as a ‘magical text in an unidentified language, in cipher.’