The Voynich manuscript, once again


Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Every now and then some piece of news makes the rounds about the Voynich manuscript, a peculiar hand-written book, kept nowadays at Yale. This time it’s a beautifully made video on the codex.

The manuscript is named after a Polish collector and manuscript dealer that acquired it in 1912, but it had a lot of owners before him and after him, before it ended up in Yale. The peculiarity about it is that it is written in an otherwise unknown writing system, in an equally unknown language. Because of its uniqueness, one of the hypotheses regarding it is that it is a fake; yet, carbon-dating showed that the leather (parchment) on which it was written dates to the early 15th cent. Because it remains undeciphered and poorly understood, it has attracted the attention of scholars and public alike; many prospective decipherers have tried their luck with it, but like many instances of unique pieces of writing, the validity of their proposals remains to be proven.

Last year, Yale University Press produced the first proper facsimile of the manuscript, and reviews of it appeared in the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. It is interesting how the theories surrounding the manuscript range from the occult to the conspiratorial. And I have a feeling that this manuscript will not cease to feed into fantasies and prospective decipherments any time soon.

Detail of a page from the Voynich manuscript showing, as Eamon Duffy writes, ‘decidedly unerotic drawings of groups of plump naked women, bathing in pools and conduits of blue or green water, which some students of the manuscript have suggested might be

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

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