Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism. Become a member today »

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library)

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library, all images via Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

The Voynich Manuscript is one of the most obsessed-over historical enigmas. A medieval book dating from the late 15th or 16th century, its strange, flowing script has never been deciphered, its origins never determined. The 113 plant illustrations it contains seem to depict no flora found on Earth, and throughout its vellum pages are visuals of the cosmos, a small army of naked women cavorting through pools of water, and the arcane alphabet that has so frustrated linguists and cryptographers.

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library) (click to enlarge)

As the Yale Daily News reported last week and aficionados discovered online, new high-resolution scans of the manuscript were recently posted at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library site. Digital versions were previously available to the curious through the Beinecke, but the new scans are even sharper, and in sequential order you can closely examine each page. As the library explained to Hyperallergic, recent conservation work addressed folds and curls that had previously blocked some pages, and new scanning equipment made the color more accurate and didn’t require so much securing with straps on the delicate pages.

In 1912, the manuscript started to make its way into contemporary conscious when it was acquired by antique book dealer Wilfrid M. Voynich, who for the rest of his life tried and failed to derive meaning from the manuscript apparently about the natural world. Believed to have been created in Central Europe, its path over the centuries is unclear — at one point in the 17th century it was reportedly sent to Athanasius Kircher, scholar of the scientific and the strange. It arrived at Yale in 1969 impressively intact, housed now in the Beinecke as the star obscurity among an incredible trove of rare texts. There its curvy writing in brownish-black ink, flowers sometimes sprouting animal parts like something from a deranged herbal, and zodiac charts beckon code breakers.

Some still speculate it is all a hoax, but carbon dating at least confirms its age, and even this year researchers are attempting to puzzle out the meaning from this book no one can be read. A linguist at the University of Bedfordshire in the UK proposed sounds to match the symbols, declaring he had decoded 14 of them. Meanwhile, researchers at Delaware State University argued the manuscript may have its origins in central Mexico after analyzing the nature of the bizarre plant illustrations.

You can find a full description at Yale’s Voynich catalog record, and perhaps form your own theory of how a book that seems so fluidly written, so packed with intended meaning, can become a complete mystery.

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library)

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library)

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library)

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library)

h/t Clive Thompson

The complete scans of the Voynich Manuscript are online at Yale University Library

Support Hyperallergic

As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever. 

Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.

Become a Member

Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...

17 replies on “New Scans of the Voynich Manuscript, a Medieval Book No One Can Read”

  1. The manuscript is solved by myself since 2007 and I have translated many pages of the manuscript in the last years. The manuscript itself is written in Latin and not in different languages as Mr. Bax attempt. He is wrong. On the other hand the work of Mr. Tucker and Mr. Talbert is knowledgeable and excellent.
    If you like to read more about the solution please visit my homepage http://www.voynich-manuskript.de or the direct link to the English version http://www.voynich.solutions

    1. Gee, thanks. Quick question: Why is it that nobody else has ever heard of your solution, and you’re reduced to making Disqus comments to get the word out?

      1. It is an absolute coincidence that my comment widespreaded so enormously across disqus. What I never have expected. For almost a year I try at Yale and various press organs to get hearing what has been treated with disrespect.

        1. And why has nobody else figured this out before you? It’s not like the Voynich Manuscript is an obscure document mouldering in a basement, after all.

          1. I tried to clarify on my pages, that the manuscript has been created by highly intelligent people. The manuscript is the result of a brainstorming session of highly gifted people, probable at least a Savant was also present, which was not created in a few days. It has been developed over a long period of time.

            All previous decryptions are following the same pattern of black and white or 1:1. The key is not only a key in the key, but it also has a measure of variability, which only makes it possible to account other processes. The second key “missing pages” I’ve found opens the next level and would not be possible with a rigid system. There are spatial mental models as a base frame, which played with language and yet the key has clear rules.

            One has just to think in the same process to recognize these formations, which are hidden in the manuscript. This also means that you cannot even sits down 1 to 2 hours to this work and leave this work then. But sometimes you can spend several days on one passage, because you have to stay in this conceptual model. It is therefore an enormous burden to earn money for living expenses and to work on it.

          2. Hi Jutta, I’m working on the manuscript too (the post after this thread) and was wondering if you might take a look at mine and see if there is something that matches your translations. If so maybe we could support each other’s respective ideas. I think the problem is that there are so many theories out there, but none of them work together. I think some of the ones I’ve seen could possibly be concurrently feasible with mine but so far I have not seen interest in such discussion. Perhaps it is that they don’t agree with mine, but they do not say this either. I find most translators do not include samples of quire 13 so I can’t say whether these fit or not, so I always ask if they can supply me with a sampling from those pages, especially with regard to the diagrams, which is what I have been concentrating on deciphering. Let me know if you are interested in collaborating on marketing our respective ideas if you find any merit in my paper. I look forward to reading your findings when you are ready to publish them.

          3. If you had read carefully you would have seen that that one who would like to support me financially get grant more insight into my work.
            It is not to be given at this time all at once cheap, because I still find myself in the middle of the translation work. But for example I have places and names translated and released in the meantime, almost half of the circle drawings. I have enough material to convince any investor to believe that I speak the truth.
            But an entirely different matter is the science. Science is really scientifically operated by individuals today, all the others are either so busy to tap knowledge from others or see coming from outer solutions as a threat to their chair!
            My appeal to science is: Science has to create knowledge and not prevent or hush up, just because they have not published it itself!

    2. This is very intriguing, but what gets me is the fact that on your website you are looking for “financial support” of $250,000. I understand that if you are speaking the truth this would take time, and you would need the financial support. But you know who else would want the money? A scam artist. There is nothing in your comment or on your webpage to distinguish you from a scam artist. You offer ZERO actual proof that you are telling the truth. A scam artist could have easily put together everything you have on your webpage. Until you do distinguish yourself I suspect that either a) you’re not going to get the money you need to finance your legitimate project, or b) you’ll attract some gullible financiers to your illegitimate project, but not nearly what you are looking for. If the answer is “a” then do yourself a favor and don’t stop trying to prove it to the academics and intellectuals, as they will be the ones to finance you. If you’re clever enough to solve this thing, then you should be clever enough to get the academics to pay attention to you without giving away your entire project. If the answer is “b” then please go away

      1. If you had read carefully you would have seen that that one who would like to support me financially get grant more insight into my work.
        It is not to be given at this time all at once cheap, because I still find myself in the middle of the translation work. But for example I have places and names translated and released in the meantime, almost half of the circle drawings. I have enough material to convince any investor to believe that I speak the truth.
        But an entirely different matter is the science. Science is really scientifically operated by individuals today, all the others are either so busy to tap knowledge from others or see coming from outer solutions as a threat to their chair!
        My appeal to science is: Science has to create knowledge and not prevent or hush up, just because they have not published it itself!

      2. Hi there, thought I’d pick you to reply to, hope you don’t mind. I too have written something regarding the voynich and I’d love to be paid to continue as well, but I thought about it and released my initial paper publicly because of the very reason that it’s extremely annoying

    1. Yeah, but Seraphinicus is known to be intentionally surrealistic. With Voynich, we don’t even know yet what was the intent of the author.

Comments are closed.