The Voynich Manuscript Finally Decoded? Maybe Not…

“After reading my report, Mr. Friedman disclosed to me his belief that the basis of the script was a very primitive form of synthetic universal language such as was developed in the form of a philosophical classification of ideas by Bishop Wilkins in 1667 and Dalgarno a little later. It was clear that the productions of these two men were much too systematic, and anything of the kind would have been almost instantly recognisable. My analysis seemed to me to reveal a cumbersome mixture of different kinds of substitution.”

Brigadier John Hessell Tiltman

A history researcher and television writer named Nicholas Gibbs published a long article in the Times Literary Supplement about how he’d cracked the code on the mysterious Voynich Manuscript. Experts and scholars are not impressed. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

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The Voynich manuscript, described as “the world’s most mysterious manuscript”, is a work which dates to the early 15th century (1404–1438), possibly from northern Italy. It is named after the book dealer Wilfrid Voynich, who purchased it in 1912.

Some pages are missing, but there are now about 240 vellum pages, most with illustrations. Much of the manuscript resembles herbal manuscripts of the 1500s, seeming to present illustrations and information about plants and their possible uses for medical purposes.

However, most of the plants do not match known species, and the manuscript’s script and language remain unknown.

Top Cryptanalysts tried and failed

The Voynich manuscript has been studied by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including American and British codebreakers from both World War I and World War II.

No one has yet demonstrably deciphered the text, and it has become a famous case in the history of cryptography.

The mystery of the meaning and origin of the manuscript has excited the popular imagination, making the manuscript the subject of novels and speculation. [Wikipedia]

Finally Decoded?

As Harvard’s Houghton Library curator of early modern books John Overholt put it on Twitter, “We’re not buying this Voynich thing, right?”

Kate Wiles, an editor at History Today, replied, “I’ve yet to see a medievalist who does. Personally I object to his interpretation of abbreviations.”

Rubbished by Experts

Gibbs claimed that the manuscript was an anthology cribbed from other manuscripts, some obscure, others popular, and that the mysterious script was an idiosyncratic version of an otherwise well-known system of Latin abbreviations. Based on this, Gibbs concluded that the Manuscript was a medical manual on women’s health, compiled by a team, possibly for the benefit of a single rich commissioner.

Lisa Fagin Davis, director of the Medieval Academy of America says that the Latin explanation doesn’t hold together, and that the “translated” lines offered by Gibbs don’t make any grammatical sense. She added that the experts at Yale’s Beinecke Library (where the manuscript is kept) “would have rebutted [Gibbs’ theories] in a heartbeat.”

Meanwhile, the part about this being a women’s health manual was already a widely discussed theory in Voynich scholarship.

The Voynich Manuscript

REFERENCES

So much for that Voynich manuscript “solution” — Arstechnica

Voynich Manuscript “solution” rubbished by experts — BoingBoing

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The Voynich Manuscript Finally Decoded?

The Voynich Manuscript Finally Decoded? Maybe Not…

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