Since we are on a roll with old books and manuscripts, I give you the 240-page Voynich manuscript. It is an unsolved enigma: a manuscript found in Italy; the paper has been dated to between 1404-1438. It contains text in an unknown script, unknown language, and illustrations of non-existing plants, constellations and humans apparently doing inexplicable things.
No one has been able to decipher it. This is not for lack of trying. Cryptographers, linguists, codebreakers, statisticians, computer experts in all sorts of fields have tried; professional and amateurs alike. It seems to conform roughly to european language structures, but is inconsistent. Some believe the whole thing to be nonsense, the scribbling of a mad person. Or a personal secret language. The illustrations are fantastical, and the objects depicted does not correspond to anything we know. The book seems to consist of six sections, each dealing with a subject.
Of course, the idea that the whole thing might be an elaborate hoax might well be valid. The book is not possible to decipher because there is not actual content. We might never know.
Wikipedia has an excellent article You can find the entire manuscript digitised here
9 thoughts on “Voynich manuscript – secret knowledge or brilliant hoax?”
One of the weirder mysteries the world has to offer. The manuscript plays a large role in the rather amusing book ‘PopCo‘ by Scarlett Thomas.
Hah! Cool! Would you recommend it?
I would, though I can image it’d be an acquired taste. Thomas’ ‘The End Of Mr. Y’ is more accessible and more fun.
Matt Harris says:
I reckon it was a drunken friar having a laugh – joke’s on us :-)
Might well be – a monk on magic mushrooms :D
It certainly took more than just an evening to make — not mentioning the amount of (expensive) paper and ink involved…
Yes, I have been thinking that too. Actually, I think it is written on vellum. That would make just the materials wildly expensive. So if it is a hoax, it seems strange to spend that much money and effort in constructiong inconsistent “language”, imaginary solar systems and plants.
To me it would be pointless, as I would never see the effect of my elegant hoax… then again, religious people might imagine that they will sit in heaven for eternity and be entertained by hundreds of years of head-scratching down here.
Then again, if some monk or other were convinced they were divinely inspired with the task to make this manuscript, and they were influential enough, money and time would not have been an object.
Very good point. Divine inspiration, alchemy…