The Voynich Manuscript
Many scientists and cryptographers unsuccessfully try to decipher one of the most mysterious manuscripts that is the so-called Voynich Manuscript. In fact, this manuscript is illustrated in code, which was written by an unknown author, with the use of an unknown language and an unknown alphabet. In addition, images of unknown plants, animals and space elements have been used. Many theories have been proposed, which were often wrong. For many years, researchers have tried to find a clue to the manuscript, while its true origin is unknown. That is why it is so difficult to unravel the meaning of the message of this code. Despite uncertainty, the manuscript attracts the attention of new cryptographers from around the world and remains the most mysterious book in the history of humankind. Furthermore, despite the unsuccessful attempts to find a clue, many researchers claim that they are on the way to decipher this manuscript. This paper provides an overview of identification and decoding of the Voynich Manuscript.
It is believed that Voynich bought the manuscript in 1912 in one of the Jesuit monasteries in Rome. An antique dealer, merchant and collector of books named Wilfred Voynich bought the manuscript and added it to his collection. Afterward, he gave it as a gift to Yale University. Now, the book is kept for almost a hundred years in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Since the real title of the manuscript is unknown, it has the name of one of its most probable owners. Voynich promised not to reveal the seller’s name until his death.
It is noteworthy that the book contained a letter dated 1666. According to the study, the rector of Prague University Johannes Marci wrote it. The letter was addressed to a famous scientist named Athanasius Kircher, who lived in Rome. In the letter, the rector mentioned that the book belonged to King Rudolph II, who, in turn, believed that Roger Bacon wrote the manuscript. It should also be said that at the beginning of the manuscript, there is the name of Jacobus Horcicky, who was a pharmacist of Rudolf II. Researchers believe that Horcicky handed the manuscript to his friend an alchemist named Georg Baresch. In turn, Baresch handed the book to Kircher. However, it is unknown how the book came to the Jesuits.
Like everyone else, Voynich could not understand its origin and meaning, so he took a picture of a few pages of a book and sent them by mail to some cryptologists. In 1919, the manuscript pictures came to William Newbold, who worked as a professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. He was considered one of the best cryptologists at that time as he provided much help in deciphering military codes for US government in World War I. Working for the government, Newbold was able to decipher any code.
The Voynich manuscript was the first case when the professor did not know what to do to solve the code. However, Newbold was the first person who has attempted to identify and decipher the book. According to him, an experienced alchemist by the name of Roger Bacon wrote this book in the XIII century, who was allegedly the main competitor of Leonardo da Vinci in the field of science. Newbold believed that the book describes the human anatomy as well as some astrological events (eclipse and Andromeda, among others). However, Newbold also admitted that no assumptions were reasoned. Professor’s report has caused a sensation in the world of cryptology, and the book became very popular, making it one of the strangest books in history since that time. Almost a hundred years, thousands of scientists try to unravel the code without any result. However, scientists were able to make some major breakthroughs in recent years.
Radiocarbon analysis and a number of other studies suggest that the book was written in about 1404-1438 years. The Voynich manuscript is a book of 24,5x17 cm format and about 3 cm in thickness. It comprises 246 pages, and the cover has no inscriptions. As it was already mentioned, the text of the book is written using an unknown alphabet. However, it should be noted that the text is not a major mystery. Illustrations in the manuscript are very strange because they are composed of various images of non-existent plants, constellations, and machinery, among others. None of the images of the book is found in other books in the world. Some paintings look like real, but they are highly inaccurate.
Some researchers suggest that the book does not make any sense because it contains a meaningless set of characters and symbols. On the contrary, other scientists believe that all the symbols are logically correct, and the book was written with the use of certain rules of grammar. Recently, a theoretical physicist Marcello Montemurro said that he actively searches for a clue to the manuscript and has already managed to make one major discovery. Due to the fact that this document is very mysterious and is of particular interest to cryptographers, Montemurro’s statement was a sensation. Nevertheless, none of the cryptographers found any connection between the images, text as well as medieval and modern.
It is possible to divide the book into several parts, focusing on the nature of the images. The first part is botanical that contains drawings of plants and trees that are unknown to science. The second part is astronomical, which comprises images of the sun, stars, and the moon, among others. The third part is biological and contains images of naked women. It is noteworthy that most often, these women are shown in odd vessels, which are filled with unknown liquids. The fourth part is cosmological and comprises pictures of round shapes with unknown content. The fifth part is pharmaceutical, which has images of containers next to which there is often a certain text, presumably, the recipes. It should be noted that this division is conditional.
Cipher as the Version of the Decryption
The first version, which was offered by Professor Newbold, implies that the creators of the book used a special code. The text was written in Latin, but the key to decoding it was hidden on the last page of the book. According to Newbold, inscription Michiton oladabas multos te tccr cerc Portas is the key to decipherment. If to replace O by A, the inscription would be Michi dabas multas Portals, which means You have given me a lot of doors. However, subsequently, many cryptologists throw this theory into question, justifying this by saying that any phrase of the text can be read by using this method, and these phrases would not make any sense.
However, other researchers also believe that the text is written using the Latin language and a special cipher. The so-called Cardan Grille has been used to try to confirm this fact. This card has carved cells, which help to see the hidden message, when overlaying it on the cipher text. Proponents of this theory believe that the manuscript was written either by using multiple cards with different ciphers, or by using a single card, which was supplemented with random characters to deliberate complication in deciphering.
Relationship with Eastern Countries
As soon as the technology began to allow translating the manuscript into a digital form, the researchers began to search for statistical regularities between the letters (characters) and words as well as paragraphs and pages. French cryptologists devised a new hypothesis according to which, the manuscript text is very similar to the Chinese one. However, the East Asian and Chinese researchers were unable to confirm this assumption. Nevertheless, many of the plants depicted in the manuscript are similar to Chinese ones (for example, ginseng). Thus, this confirms the connection of the book to the eastern countries.
Other researchers believe that the text is written using the distorted languages such as Flemish. At the same time, the writer of the manuscript used deliberately distorted writing system, which was created especially for writing the book. The proponents of this theory believe that the manuscript describes the rituals of the Cathar religious movement. Cathars are extinct people of Israel, which in turn proves once again that the book belongs to the Eastern peoples.
Usage of Multiple Languages
The utilization of microscopes led to the emergence of new hypotheses about deciphering the Voynich manuscript. Microscopes as well as powerful magnifying glasses allow seeing quite different characters. It appears that each symbol comprises two separate parts, which are superposed on each other. In other words, the manuscript contains two types of text that are written in different handwritings using different languages. European explorers first came to this conclusion. They believe that the manuscript is written using two languages, which unfortunately are not known to science.
A detailed analysis of the paper under a microscope showed that many of the images and lines have been retouched a few decades after writing the book. It is possible to assume that the text has been subject to distortion and change. Therefore, many researchers believe that it is inappropriate to conduct an analysis of the manuscript that has been deliberately altered by someone.
One of the most popular hypotheses among many scientists and cryptographers is the view that the manuscript is a common hoax and fake. Proponents of this theory believe that every manuscript that contains really useful information for someone should have a clue. They also believe that a man who had some mental disabilities wrote this book. However, this is only the assumption.
Another argument that explains the hoax hypothesis can be described as follows. King Rudolf II was an ardent fan of alchemy and occult sciences. He collected various books and manuscripts, and a mysterious manuscript with strange images and text gave him a special interest. There is evidence that the king gave almost four kilograms of gold for this manuscript. Therefore, some alchemists and usual quacks wrote a mysterious text for the king who could not read that. Thus, they wanted to make money. For a long time, these arguments were conclusive that led to the popularization of this hypothesis.
As it was already mentioned, the professor Montemurro managed to establish the relationship between the characters in the book. He is confident that he will decipher the book in the near future. The professor found a clear linguistic structure of the text, which refutes the theory of mystification. To do this, Montemurro used several mathematical models that are built on the search of words with the greatest semantic importance. To put it simply, he used mathematical models to find the most common words in the manuscript. Accordingly, this enabled him to identify certain clusters of words that differ in frequency of use. The scientist also found that the book contains both important words and supplement ones. At the same time, the text can also be structured because there is a relationship between the frequency of the use of certain words and discussing certain subjects. This structure is characteristic for all known languages (ibid). In addition, Marcello Montemurro found the most important words in the book. They are quite common, and functions of words complement them, creating a certain relationship.
Theories of Arthur Tucker, Rexford Talbert and Stephen Bax
Arthur Tucker and Rexford Talbert are two American botanists who made a big breakthrough in deciphering the manuscript along with Montemurro. Unlike the latter, they did not examine text and drawings to find conclusive similarities between images of plants and their real views. They studied the ancient botanical books of many countries and tried to find a connection between them and the manuscript. Images of several dozen plants coincide with the existing (or once existed) plants. It should be noted that these plants grow in very different countries, namely Nicaragua, Texas, California and the Middle East. The researchers also believe that the book is a description of a certain botanical garden because it contains images of animals and some minerals. All the above arguments caused scientists to conclude that the manuscript was written in the Middle East, using the language of the ancient Aztecs, which is complemented by specially created codes. This assumption proves once again that the manuscript belongs to the Middle East countries.
An English professor named Steven Bax made the big breakthrough in the study of the manuscript. This scientist has extensive experience in cryptography, so deciphering the Voynich manuscript was very interesting for him. Unlike all his predecessors and colleagues, Bax used a fairly good and interesting method of decoding. He did not analyze the words and pictures, and the letters individually. Thus, all the Egyptian hieroglyphs were deciphered. Stephen studied the signatures of the plants, which were similar to the juniper and coriander. Then he learned the names of the plants in other languages and compared the writing of names to what is written in the manuscript. Consequently, this allowed him to learn that some of the plants in the manuscript have similar names due to the presence of Latin letters (ibid). In addition, some plants in the same manuscript are similar with Arabic names of plants.
In addition to plants, the researcher also analyzed other figures, especially astronomic. Using the comparison method described above, Bax began to search for signs and their combinations in other languages. Thus, he was able to decipher fourteen characters that originated in Latin, Greek, and Arabic. Accordingly, all these arguments have allowed Bax to conclude that the manuscript was written in the Middle East. This theory is confirmed by several previous statements and generated much interest worldwide.
Due to its mysterious and interesting history, the Voynich manuscript is of great interest to cryptologists and scholars from around the world. Since 1919, this work is the subject of research, discussion and debate between supporters and opponents of its origin theories. Many theories have been advanced, which partly explain the origin and meaning of the manuscript. Nevertheless, many of the theories often seem absurd so that even their supporters confirm this fact.
With the development of modern technology, the advent of the microscope, analysis of new types of paper and ink, and mathematical and computer calculus, the decipherment of the manuscript was simplified. Such scholars as Arthur Tucker, Rexford Talbert, Stephen Bax, and Marcello Montemurro made a big breakthrough in deciphering the manuscript. They were able to establish a connection between the words, paragraphs and pages of the book. In addition, the researchers found a possible origin of the manuscript from the Middle East. It is now known that the manuscript contains some message or information. One can only hope that this information will not prove useless and will bring some benefits to humankind. In any case, curiosity, which makes people work on the identification of the manuscript for a hundred years, must be satisfied.