The Enigma of the Voynich Manuscript
Named after one of the book’s many owners, Wilfrid Voynich, The Voynich Manuscript is a 9x6 inch vellum codex that dates between 1404 and 1438. (1) It is partially damaged with 240 of 272 pages intact, but is otherwise in readable condition. It was hypothesized the book is a type of medicinal guide due to its illustrations of plants, zodiac charts, and various images of women bathing. This manuscript is a famous cryptography case due to its mysterious writing system, only becoming partially deciphered last year. Up until then, armature cryptographers and WW1 and WW2 code breakers have not been able to decipher the text.
The text remains infamous for its many wild hypotheses: was it written by aliens or part of a government conspiracy? Or was the language was completely fabricated by its author? Guesses for its language include Latin, medieval Hebrew, Malay, Arabic, and Amharic. (2)
After hundreds of years of mystery, Amet Ardic, a Canadian researcher, claims the text resembles the Turkish language from his home country and was “written in a poetic, rhythmic method called "Phonemic Orthography" which describes speech visually” (3). Working with his son, he was able to translate one of the manuscript’s many astronomical calendar pages. Months like November are roughly translated into modern Turkish as “Seper Ayi” meaning “moon of rain”.
Folio 67-R depicting the 12 months as a type of astronomical calendar.
Folio 33-v (which depicts two blue blooming flowers surrounded by text) was successfully translated; here are some notable portions:
“…the head of the plant becomes heavy and bends its head to a side and might surprisingly split the stalk.” In the accompanying illustration, you can see a wilting flower below the right flower.
“The taste of the first fruits (nuts) and the attractive appearance of the ornamented crown captivates those buying the plant and takes full control of the buyer (impressing), for even the dying person will remain impressed.”
“The harvester (farmer) cuts the spikes and fills the bag and barn. The buyer weighs it and feels heart warmed (satisfied).” (4)
Folio 33-V depicting three blue flowers, one of them wilted and hidden
Combined “P” and “L” making a visual representation of an “eep” sound, which translates into Turkik as “rope”. The visual depiction is rope-like. The word below translates to “measurements”, meaning the whole word is “rope measurements”.
However, Ardic’s research isn’t free from criticism. It is hypothesized that the manuscript draws from multiple languages, not just Turkish. Another team of Canadian researchers approached this book, this time with AI and Google Translate to help. Using a manmade computer algorithm, the researchers were able to identify 80% of the sampled manuscript pages as Hebrew. When it came time to decipher the phrases, they relied on Google Translate with some luck. However, because the text is written in some form of Medieval Hebrew, and not Modern Hebrew, there is more room for error. The goal of this study was to specifically pinpoint the code and language used in the Voynich Manuscript, not to translate the entire book.
What could be translated and observed by studying the scrip’s illustrations reveals this text is most likely women’s health guide and herbiary. Major portions of the book are dedicated to illustrations of plants that have been identified as “native to or cultivated in the Mediterranean region, in particular, Italy”. (5) Though some of these illustrations have fantasy elements (the roots of the plant in folio 90-V are cats’ bodies), it can be understood that it is some sort of plant guide. The illustrations of round women bathing in green liquid leave more to the imagination, however.
4/11/2019 10:32:01 pm
I love speculating wildly about the voynich manuscript! One of my favorite likely theories is that it is a medical guide for mid-wives and other women during the witch hunts. In europe, killing women who 'knew too much' about healing became such a problem that some have speculated the witch hunts contributed to the lack of adequate women's health today. It'd be exciting to see some of that recovered.
4/11/2019 11:05:12 pm
I find it fascinating how many possible languages there have been over centuries, but also sad to know we have lost so many as well. Possibly an adapted language of forgotten community? I also like Timothea's idea of it being owned by a mid-wife. Or maybe just a sketch book, someone into women and plants. Who knows...
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