Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Voynich Manuscript

I am reading "The Book of God and Physics", a book on the Voynich manusript, and the third book I have read on this subject.

A large bibliography: Voynich Bibliography

The Voynich Manuscript  is probably the world's single most intriguing and potentially solvable puzzle. The puzzle consists in determining the age, origin and purpose of the Voynich manuscript: but first, one must be able to read it. The manuscript is written using a mixture of vaguely familiar characters with some very strange ones. Despite the efforts of a great many professional and amateur cryptologists, we quite simply do not know if the manuscript is a hoax or a code.

It is somewhat futile to try to decode any document without being able to put it into a context of time and place. It is time and place which give us our first clues as to the author's probable purpose and language. Thus, before going into any detail about the Voynich manuscript itself, I shall give some historical background. Meanwhile, just to whet my reader's appetite, here is a picture comparing a small portion of the original manuscript with a computer-readable document version.

The Voynich manuscript takes its name from Wilfrid M. Voynich, a book dealer who claimed to have acquired it in 1912, in Italy. He was a Polish revolutionary who escaped to London where he met and married his wife, Ethel. He had seen her before, from a window in his prison in Warsaw. They later emigrated to America. If the Voynich manuscript is a hoax, a fake, a means to make some quick money, then the prime candidate for the faking must be Wilfrid Voynich. Everything that can be determined about Wilfrid and Ethel Voynich suggests that he had the funds to purchase the manuscript in good faith.

Behind the Voynich manuscript lies a web of connected names so strange that it reads like fiction, or a Who's Who of academics and revolutionaries. Indeed, Ethel Voynich, by her own account, was inspired to write much of her fiction from her own experiences and acquantances. Political turmoil, revolution, espionage and intrigue; all are to be found in the Voynich manuscript story. More strange, perhaps, than the mystery of the manuscript is the list of well-known names which are connected with the history of the manuscript. Most of the names can be linked directly to Ethel Voynich.

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