THE VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT

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Introduction

The Voynich Manuscript is considered to be 'The Most Mysterious Manuscript in the World'. To this day this medieval artifact resists all efforts at translation. It is either an ingenious hoax or an unbreakable cipher. The manuscript is named after its discoverer, the American antique book dealer and collector, Wilfrid M. Voynich, who discovered it in 1912, amongst a collection of ancient manuscripts kept in villa Mondragone in Frascati, near Rome, which had been by then turned into a Jesuit College (closed in 1953).

Based on the evidence of the calligraphy, the drawings, the vellum, and the pigments, Wilfrid Voynich estimated that the Manuscript was created in the late 13th century. The manuscript is small, seven by ten inches, but thick, nearly 235 pages. It is written in an unknown script of which there is no known other instance in the world.

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                Wilfrid Voynich 

No one really knows the origins of the manuscript. The experts believe it is European  They believe it was written between the 15th and 17th centuries.

From a piece of paper which was once attached to the Voynich manuscript, and which is now stored in one of the boxes belonging with the Voynich manuscript holdings of the Beinecke library, it is known that the manuscript once formed part of the private library of Petrus Beckx S.J., 22nd general of the Society of Jesus.

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             Petrus Beckx S.J.

There is no other example of the language in which the manual is written.
It is an alphabetic script, but of an alphabet variously reckoned to have from nineteen to twenty-eight letters, none of which bear any relationship to any English or European letter system. The text has no apparent corrections. There is evidence for two different "languages" and more than one scribe, probably indicating an ambiguous coding scheme.

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History

The book was bought by H. P. Kraus (a New York book antiquarian) in 1961 for the sum of $24,500. He later valued it at $160,000 but was unable to find a buyer. Finally he donated it to Yale University in 1969, where it remains to date at the Beinecke Rare Book Library with catalogue number MS 408.

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                   H. P. Kraus

It is known from a letter of Johannes Marcus Marci,  rector of the University of Prague, to Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit scholar, dated 1666, that the manuscript was bought by Emperor Rudolph II of Bohemia (1552-1612).

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                Johannes Marcus Marci                                                Athanasius Kircher

REVEREND AND DISTINGUISHED SIR, FATHER IN CHRIST:

This book, bequeathed to me by an intimate friend, I destined for you, my very dear Athanasius, as soon as it came into my possession, for I was convinced it could be read by no one except yourself.
The former owner of this book asked your opinion by letter, copying and sending you a portion of the book from which he believed you would be able to read the remainder, but he at that time refused to send the book itself. To its deciphering he devoted unflagging toil, as is apparent from attempts of his which I send you herewith, and he relinquished hope only with his life. But his toil was in vain, for such Sphinxes as these obey no one but their master, Kircher. Accept now this token, such as it is and longoverdue though it be, of my affection for you, and burst through its bars, if there are any, with your wonted success.
Dr. Raphael, tutor in the Bohemian language to Ferdinand Ill, then King of Bohemia, told me the said book had belonged to the Emperor Rudolph and that he presented to the bearer who brought him the book 600 ducats. He believed the author was Roger Bacon, the Englishman. On this point I suspend judgment; it is your place to define for us what view we should take thereon, to whose favor and kindness I unreservedly commit myself and remain,

At the command of your Reverence,
JOANNES MARCUS MARCI,
of Cronland.
PRAGUE, 19th August, 1665 (or I666).

Historically, it first appears in 1586 at the court of Rudolph II of Bohemia, who was one of the most eccentric European monarchs of that or any other period. Rudolph collected dwarfs and had a regiment of giants in his army. He was surrounded by astrologers, and he was fascinated by games and codes and music. He was typical of the occult-oriented, Protestant noblemen of this period and epitomized the liberated northern European prince. He was a patron of alchemy and supported the printing of alchemical literature.

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                  Rudolph II of Bohemia 

The Rosicrucian conspiracy was being quietly fomented during this same period. To Rudolph's court came an unknown person who sold this manuscript to the king for three hundred gold ducats, which, translated into modern monetary units, is about fourteen thousand dollars. This is an astonishing amount of money to have paid for a manuscript at that time, which indicated that the Emperor must have been highly impressed by it.

Accompanying the manuscript was a letter that stated that it was the work of the Englishman Roger Bacon, who flourished in the thirteenth century and who was a noted pre-Copernican astronomer. Only two years before the appearance of the Voynich Manuscript, John Dee, the great English navigator, astrologer, magician, intelligence agent, and occultist had lectured in Prague on Bacon.

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                  Roger Bacon                                                                John Dee

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The manuscript somehow passed to Jacobus de Tepenecz, the director of Rudolph's botanical gardens (his signature is present in folio 1r) and it is speculated that this must have happened after 1608, when Jacobus Horcicki received his title 'de Tepenecz'. Thus 1608 is the earliest definite date for the Manuscript.

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       Jacobus de Tepenecz

In 1622 the manuscript passed to the possession of an unidentified individual that left the book in his/her will to Marci. Marci must have known about this manuscript before 1644, as the information concerning the price that the Emperor paid came from Dr. Raphael Missowski (1580-1644) (as mentioned in his letter).                 

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      Dr. Raphael Missowski     

Marci sent the manuscript immediately with the letter to Athanasius Kircher (a Jesuit priest and scholar in Rome) in 1666 who apparently also knew of it and had exchanged letters and transcribed portions with the previous unidentified owner. Between that time and 1912 (when Voynich discovered it) it is speculated that the manuscript may have been stored or forgotten in some library and finally moved to the Jesuit College at the Villa Mondragone. Marci's letter to Kircher was still attached to the manuscript when Voynich bought it. In that letter, Marci mentioned the name of Roger Bacon (1214-1292) as a possible author, although no conclusive evidence of authorship is available. A possible link between Rudolph and Bacon is John Dee (an English mathematician and astrologer, collector of Bacon's work) who visited Rudolph's court in 1582-86.

Parts of the Manuscript

The Voynich Manuscript is about 6 by 9inches. Some believe it to be a book about alchemy. It contains the equivalent of 246 quarto pages, but may have originally contained not less than 262 pages. 
There are 212 with text and drawings, 33 pages contain text only, and the last page contains the Key. The text is written in an enciphered script, and the drawings are colored in red, blue, brown, yellow, and green. 

The contents of the Manuscript are divided up into 5 categories:

  • The first and largest section contains 130 pages of plant drawings with accompanying text, and is called the Botanical division.
  • The second contains 26 pages of drawings, obviously astrological and astronomical in nature.
  • The third section contains 4 pages of text and 28 drawings, which would appear to be biological in nature.
  • The fourth division contains 34 pages of drawings, which are pharmaceutical in nature. 
  • The last section of the Manuscript contains 23pages of text arranged in short paragraphs, each beginning with a star. The last page (the 24th of this division) contains the Key only.

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