Inside the Unknown

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She died in and left the manuscript to her close friend Anne Nill. In , Nill sold the book to antique book dealer Hans P. Kraus was unable to find a buyer and donated the manuscript to Yale University in , where it was catalogued as "MS ", [17] sometimes also referred to as "Beinecke MS ".

The timeline of ownership of the Voynich manuscript is given below. The commonly accepted owners of the 17th century are shown in orange; the long period of storage in the Collegio Romano is shown in yellow; the location where Wilfrid Voynich allegedly acquired the manuscript Frascati is shown in green; Voynich is shown in red; and modern owners are shown in blue.

Periods of unknown ownership are indicated in white, and the time when it was possibly created in green, based on the carbon dating of the vellum. According to the letter, Mnishovsky but not necessarily Rudolf speculated that the author was 13th century Franciscan friar and polymath Roger Bacon. The assumption that Bacon was the author led Voynich to conclude that John Dee sold the manuscript to Rudolf.

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Dee was a mathematician and astrologer at the court of Queen Elizabeth I of England who was known to have owned a large collection of Bacon's manuscripts. Dee and his scrier spirit medium Edward Kelley lived in Bohemia for several years, where they had hoped to sell their services to the emperor.

However, this sale seems quite unlikely, according to John Schuster, because Dee's meticulously kept diaries do not mention it. If Bacon did not create the Voynich manuscript, a supposed connection to Dee is much weakened. It was thought possible, prior to the carbon dating of the manuscript, that Dee or Kelley might have written it and spread the rumor that it was originally a work of Bacon's in the hopes of later selling it. Some suspect Voynich of having fabricated the manuscript himself. Furthermore, Baresch's letter and Marci's letter only establish the existence of a manuscript, not that the Voynich manuscript is the same one mentioned.

These letters could possibly have been the motivation for Voynich to fabricate the manuscript, assuming that he was aware of them. In the book Secretum de thesauro experimentorum ymaginationis hominum Secret of the treasure-room of experiments in man's imagination , written c. Sometime before , Voynich was able to read a name faintly written at the foot of the manuscript's first page: Rudolph II had ennobled him in , had appointed him his Imperial Distiller, and had made him curator of his botanical gardens as well as one of his personal physicians.

Voynich and many other people after him concluded that Jacobus owned the Voynich manuscript prior to Baresch, and he drew a link from that to Rudolf's court, in confirmation of Mnishovsky's story. Jacobus's name is still clearly visible under ultraviolet light; however, it does not match the copy of his signature in a document located by Jan Hurych in Baresch's letter bears some resemblance to a hoax that orientalist Andreas Mueller once played on Kircher. Mueller sent some unintelligible text to Kircher with a note explaining that it had come from Egypt, and asking him for a translation.

Kircher reportedly solved it. Raphael Mnishovsky , the friend of Marci who was the reputed source of Bacon's story, was himself a cryptographer and apparently invented a cipher which he claimed was uncrackable c. Indeed, the disclaimer in the Voynich manuscript cover letter could mean that Marci suspected some kind of deception.

Many hypotheses have been developed about the Voynich manuscript's "language", called Voynichese:. According to the "letter-based cipher" theory, the Voynich manuscript contains a meaningful text in some European language that was intentionally rendered obscure by mapping it to the Voynich manuscript "alphabet" through a cipher of some sort—an algorithm that operated on individual letters.

This was the working hypothesis for most 20th-century deciphering attempts, including an informal team of NSA cryptographers led by William F. Friedman in the early s. The main argument for this theory is that it is difficult to explain a European author using a strange alphabet—except as an attempt to hide information.

Indeed, even Roger Bacon knew about ciphers, and the estimated date for the manuscript roughly coincides with the birth of cryptography in Europe as a relatively systematic discipline.

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The counterargument is that almost all cipher systems consistent with that era fail to match what is seen in the Voynich manuscript. For example, simple substitution ciphers would be excluded because the distribution of letter frequencies does not resemble that of any known language; while the small number of different letter shapes used implies that nomenclator and homophonic ciphers would be ruled out, because these typically employ larger cipher alphabets. However, the presence of many tightly grouped shapes in the Voynich manuscript such as "or", "ar", "ol", "al", "an", "ain", "aiin", "air", "aiir", "am", "ee", "eee", among others does suggest that its cipher system may make use of a "verbose cipher", where single letters in a plaintext get enciphered into groups of fake letters.

For example, the first two lines of page f15v seen above contain "oror or" and "or or oro r", which strongly resemble how Roman numbers such as "CCC" or "XXXX" would look if verbosely enciphered. That the encryption system started from a fundamentally simple cipher and then augmented it by adding nulls meaningless symbols , homophones duplicate symbols , transposition cipher letter rearrangement , false word breaks, and more is also entirely possible. The main evidence for this theory is that the internal structure and length distribution of many words are similar to those of Roman numerals , which at the time would be a natural choice for the codes.

However, book-based ciphers would be viable for only short messages, because they are very cumbersome to write and to read. In , Joseph Martin Feely claimed that the manuscript was a scientific diary written in shorthand. This theory holds that the text of the Voynich manuscript is mostly meaningless, but contains meaningful information hidden in inconspicuous details—e.

This technique, called steganography , is very old and was described by Johannes Trithemius in Though the plain text was speculated to have been extracted by a Cardan grille an overlay with cut-outs for the meaningful text of some sort, this seems somewhat unlikely because the words and letters are not arranged on anything like a regular grid. Still, steganographic claims are hard to prove or disprove, since stegotexts can be arbitrarily hard to find. It has been suggested that the meaningful text could be encoded in the length or shape of certain pen strokes.

However, when examined at high magnification, the Voynich manuscript pen strokes seem quite natural, and substantially affected by the uneven surface of the vellum. Statistical analysis of the text reveals patterns similar to those of natural languages. For instance, the word entropy about 10 bits per word is similar to that of English or Latin texts.


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The linguist Jacques Guy once suggested that the Voynich manuscript text could be some little-known natural language, written in the plain with an invented alphabet. In many of these languages, the words have only one syllable ; and syllables have a rather rich structure, including tonal patterns. This theory has some historical plausibility. While those languages generally had native scripts, these were notoriously difficult for Western visitors.

This difficulty motivated the invention of several phonetic scripts, mostly with Latin letters , but sometimes with invented alphabets. Although the known examples are much later than the Voynich manuscript, history records hundreds of explorers and missionaries who could have done it—even before Marco Polo 's 13th-century journey, but especially after Vasco da Gama sailed the sea route to the Orient in The main argument for this theory is that it is consistent with all statistical properties of the Voynich manuscript text which have been tested so far, including doubled and tripled words which have been found to occur in Chinese and Vietnamese texts at roughly the same frequency as in the Voynich manuscript.

It also explains the apparent lack of numerals and Western syntactic features such as articles and copulas , and the general inscrutability of the illustrations. Another possible hint is two large red symbols on the first page, which have been compared to a Chinese-style book title, inverted and badly copied.

The main argument against the theory is the fact that no one including scholars at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing has been able to find any clear examples of Asian symbolism or Asian science in the illustrations. In February , Professor Stephen Bax of the University of Bedfordshire made public his research into using "bottom up" methodology to understand the manuscript.

His method involves looking for and translating proper nouns , in association with relevant illustrations, in the context of other languages of the same time period. A paper he posted online offers tentative translation of 14 characters and 10 words. In , Arthur O. Tucker and Rexford H. Talbert published a paper claiming a positive identification of 37 plants, six animals, and one mineral referenced in the manuscript to plant drawings in the Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis or Badianus manuscript, a fifteenth century Aztec herbal. However, the vellum, while creation of it was dated earlier, could just have been stored and used at a later date for manuscript making.

The analysis has been criticized by other Voynich manuscript researchers, [73] pointing out that—among other things—a skilled forger could construct plants that have a passing resemblance to theretofore undiscovered existing plants. In , a team led by Dr. Instead of trying to find the meaning, Amancio's team used complex network modelling to look for connections and clusters of words.

By employing concepts such as frequency and intermittence, which measure occurrence and concentration of a term in the text, Amancio was able to discover the manuscript's keywords and create three-dimensional models of the text's structure and word frequencies. The use of the framework was exemplified with the analysis of the Voynich manuscript, with the final conclusion that it differs from a random sequence of words, being compatible with natural languages.

Even though our approach is not aimed at deciphering Voynich, it was capable of providing keywords that could be helpful for decipherers in the future. The peculiar internal structure of Voynich manuscript words led William F.

Friedman to conjecture that the text could be a constructed language. In , Friedman asked the British army officer John Tiltman to analyze a few pages of the text, but Tiltman did not share this conclusion. In a paper in , Brigadier Tiltman said:. 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 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. The concept of a constructed language is quite old, as attested by John Wilkins 's Philosophical Language , but still postdates the generally accepted origin of the Voynich manuscript by two centuries. In most known examples, categories are subdivided by adding suffixes ; as a consequence, a text in a particular subject would have many words with similar prefixes—for example, all plant names would begin with similar letters, and likewise for all diseases, etc.

This feature could then explain the repetitious nature of the Voynich text. However, no one has been able yet to assign a plausible meaning to any prefix or suffix in the Voynich manuscript. In Marcelo Montemurro, a theoretical physicist from the University of Manchester , published findings claiming that semantic networks exist in the text of the manuscript, such as content-bearing words occurring in a clustered pattern, or new words being used when there was a shift in topic.

In , a method called skeleton-and-flesh SF model was introduced to split a lengthy text of manuscript into smaller syntactic segments based on the notion of semantic context shift observed in the manuscript. In the article, it also was demonstrated that the SF model can be used to identify the sentences in a paragraph and can also determine the order of the text segments.

Some scholars have been claiming that the manuscript's text appears too sophisticated to be a hoax. In other words, if no one is able to extract meaning from the book, then perhaps this is because the document contains no meaningful content in the first place. Various hoax theories have been proposed over time. In , computer scientist Gordon Rugg showed that text with characteristics similar to the Voynich manuscript could have been produced using a table of word prefixes, stems, and suffixes, which would have been selected and combined by means of a perforated paper overlay.

Some maintain that the similarity between the pseudo-texts generated in Gordon Rugg's experiments and the Voynich manuscript is superficial, and the grille method could be used to emulate any language to a certain degree. In April , a study by Austrian researcher Andreas Schinner published in Cryptologia supported the hoax hypothesis.

In September , Gordon Rugg and Gavin Taylor addressed these objections in another article in Cryptologia , and illustrated a simple hoax method that they claim could have caused the mathematical properties of the text.


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  • In their book, Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill suggest the possibility that the Voynich manuscript may be a case of glossolalia speaking-in-tongues , channeling , or outsider art. This often takes place in an invented language in glossolalia, usually made up of fragments of the author's own language, although invented scripts for this purpose are rare. Kennedy and Churchill use Hildegard von Bingen 's works to point out similarities between the Voynich manuscript and the illustrations that she drew when she was suffering from severe bouts of migraine , which can induce a trance-like state prone to glossolalia.

    Prominent features found in both are abundant "streams of stars", and the repetitive nature of the " nymphs " in the biological section. The theory is virtually impossible to prove or disprove, short of deciphering the text. Kennedy and Churchill are themselves not convinced of the hypothesis, but consider it plausible.

    In the culminating chapter of their work, Kennedy states his belief that it is a hoax or forgery. Churchill acknowledges the possibility that the manuscript is a synthetic forgotten language as advanced by Friedman or a forgery as preeminent theories. However, he concludes that, if the manuscript is genuine, mental illness or delusion seems to have affected the author.

    Since the manuscript's modern rediscovery in , there have been a number of claimed decipherings. One of the earliest efforts to unlock the book's secrets and the first of many premature claims of decipherment was made in by William Romaine Newbold of the University of Pennsylvania. His singular hypothesis held that the visible text is meaningless itself, but that each apparent "letter" is in fact constructed of a series of tiny markings discernible only under magnification. These markings were supposed to be based on ancient Greek shorthand , forming a second level of script that held the real content of the writing.

    Newbold claimed to have used this knowledge to work out entire paragraphs proving the authorship of Bacon and recording his use of a compound microscope four hundred years before van Leeuwenhoek. A circular drawing in the "astronomical" section depicts an irregularly shaped object with four curved arms, which Newbold interpreted as a picture of a galaxy, which could be obtained only with a telescope.

    However, Newbold's analysis has since been dismissed as overly speculative [85] after John Matthews Manly of the University of Chicago pointed out serious flaws in his theory. Each shorthand character was assumed to have multiple interpretations, with no reliable way to determine which was intended for any given case.

    Newbold's method also required rearranging letters at will until intelligible Latin was produced. These factors alone ensure the system enough flexibility that nearly anything at all could be discerned from the microscopic markings. Although evidence of micrography using the Hebrew language can be traced as far back as the ninth century, it is nowhere near as compact or complex as the shapes Newbold made out. Close study of the manuscript revealed the markings to be artefacts caused by the way ink cracks as it dries on rough vellum. Perceiving significance in these artefacts can be attributed to pareidolia.

    Thanks to Manly's thorough refutation, the micrography theory is now generally disregarded. The Right Key Found , in which he claimed that the book was a scientific diary written by Roger Bacon.

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    Feely's method posited that the text was a highly abbreviated medieval Latin written in a simple substitution cipher. Strong , a cancer research scientist and amateur cryptographer, believed that the solution to the Voynich manuscript was a "peculiar double system of arithmetical progressions of a multiple alphabet". Strong claimed that the plaintext revealed the Voynich manuscript to be written by the 16th-century English author Anthony Ascham , whose works include A Little Herbal , published in Notes released after his death reveal that the last stages of his analysis, in which he selected words to combine into phrases, was questionably subjective.

    In , Robert Brumbaugh, a professor of medieval philosophy at Yale University, claimed that the manuscript was a forgery intended to fool Emperor Rudolf II into purchasing it, and that the text is Latin enciphered with a complex, two-step method. In , John Stojko published Letters to God's Eye [88] in which he claimed that the Voynich Manuscript was a series of letters written in vowelless Ukrainian. Leo Levitov proposed in his book, Solution of the Voynich Manuscript: He further claimed that Catharism was descended from the cult of Isis. However, Levitov's decipherment has been refuted on several grounds, not least of which is its being unhistorical.

    Levitov had a poor grasp on the history of the Cathars, and his depiction of Endura as an elaborate suicide ritual is at odds with surviving documents describing it as a fast.

    Voynich manuscript

    In , expert in applied linguistics Professor Stephen Bax published an article in which he claimed to have translated ten words from the manuscript using techniques similar to those used to successfully translate Egyptian hieroglyphs. He claimed the manuscript to be a treatise on nature, in a Near Eastern or Asian language, but no full translation was made before his death in In September , television writer Nicholas Gibbs claimed to have decoded the manuscript as idiosyncratically abbreviated Latin. Medieval scholars judged Gibbs' hypothesis to be not novel. Professor Greg Kondrak, a natural language processing expert of the University of Alberta , together with his graduate student Bradley Hauer, used artificial intelligence in an attempt to decode the manuscript.

    However, the team admitted that experts in medieval manuscripts who reviewed the work were not convinced. Many books and articles have been written about the manuscript. Copies of the manuscript pages were made by alchemist Georgius Barschius in and sent to Athanasius Kircher, and later by Wilfrid Voynich.

    In , the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library made high-resolution digital scans publicly available online, and several printed facsimiles appeared. Between and , [] Italian artist Luigi Serafini created the Codex Seraphinianus containing false writing and pictures of imaginary plants, in a style reminiscent of the Voynich manuscript. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This audio file was created from a revision of the article " Voynich manuscript " dated , and does not reflect subsequent edits to the article.

    This section possibly contains original research.

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