Thursday, September 12, 2013

History mystery: Manuscript of the Middle Age – Voynich Manuscript



With great achievements in the field of technology, man has made amazing headway in every sphere of life and is also making progress in solving hidden mysteries of bygone days though there are some which still remains a mystery. The Voynich Manuscript for instance remains unsolved though many attempts have been made to interpret the script written over 1000 years ago. It is a manuscript written somewhere during the Middle Age using an unknown alphabet system in an unknown language. It contains astronomical information and illustrations of plants some of which are unknown to our modern times botanists. The Voynich manuscript is a handwritten book consisting of 240 vellum pages with many illustrations and around 170,000 characters. As per radiocarbon analysis performed in the year 2009, by University of Arizona, the manuscript seemed to be originated in the first half of the fifteen century though there is no written confirmation regarding this analysis. It is still unclear as to who wrote the manuscript, its contents and the purpose of its existence. The script seems to be written from left to right which can be seen from its left alignment format. It is believed that the codex belonged to Emperor Rudolph II of Germany who may have purchased it for 600 gold ducats and the work of Roger Bacon. It could be a possibility that the Emperor obtained the manuscript from the English astrologer John Dee somewhere between 1527 -1608, who owned a number of Roger Bacon’s manuscripts.

The Voynich Manuscript or MS as it is so called, after its rediscovery in 1912 by Wilfred Voynich, is a compact parchment codex of 23.5 x 16.2 cm with 116 vellum leaves out of which only 102 remains. It seems likely from the various numbering gaps, the manuscript had at least 272 pages some of which were already missing when Wilfred Voynich got hold of the manuscript. It is believed that most of the book’s bifolios had to be reordered during the various stages of its history and the page order may have differed from its original page. The limp vellum cover which is blank gives no indication of any title or author and while the manuscript is written in an elegant manner its script is unknown. The text seems to be composed of words and arranged in short paragraphs. The manuscript is well illustrated with drawings and appears to convey some scientific work from the middle age but since the script is not known it still remains a mystery. From modern analysis, it is understood that a quill pen and iron gall ink was used for writing and figure outlines while the colored paints applied were possibly done at a later stage.

Though the Voynich manuscript was studied by many renowned professionals and amateur cryptographers from British and American code breakers, it still remains unknown and a famous case of historical cryptology. It is shrouded with mystery of popular imagination, thus making this manuscript a topic of both interesting theories and novels and none of the proposed speculative solutions over the years have been confirmed or verified. Some are of the belief that the Voynich Manuscript was donated to Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 1969 and catalogued under call number MS 408 called `Cipher Manuscript’. It may be difficult to understand all the messages, some may be easy to discern while others resemble allegory making them subjective to the reader. Most of the images are of basic iconography found in ancient text and the history of this manuscript navigates us to creation, alchemy, and the way the world appeared to the writer of the manuscript decades of years ago. The possibility could be that the author wrote the manuscript to explain his views on the working of the universe and its use in healing options. Its secrecy and cryptic aspects leave us with a big question yet to be solved which is making it more fascinating. In spite of decades of efforts made to determine the mysterious script, it still remains elusive.

Some consider it as a nonsensical text intending it to be a hoax or reason best known to the author. Debated issues among code breakers, linguistics and mathematicians are on as to whether the mysterious manuscripts would ever be solved. Undoubtedly the Voynich manuscript is intriguing and continues to hold the interest of many due to its unsolved mystery represented with its beautiful drawings made lively and bold, the elegance on the hand writing with each page portraying the images combined with text. Regardless of whether it was a hoax, a jest, an alchemical or notes on a parallel world or whatever the conclusion may be, its focus on the fantastic unsolved mystery is inducing many to learn more on this mysterious script.