No title or author
16 x 23 cm vellum book
20 booklets of 8 folios each, the folios are uneven and stained
252 pages, some fold-out
33 text pages without illustrations, the rest illustrated pages
40.000 words in unknown language
Dated by carbon 14 to the 15th century
Facsimile available: Complete Codex: Siloé, arte y bibliofilia
Discovered in 1912 by Wilfrid Voynich in a collection of manuscripts and ancient books that he bought in the library of the Jesuit college in Villa Mondragone, Italy, the incomprehensible texts and the strange images, unrelated to those of any other known manuscript, were striking from the outset. Voynich tried from the outset to decipher their contents by sending copies to various experts, but to no avail.
We know part of its history thanks to a letter that one of its successive owners, the physician, mathematician, philosopher and orientalist Johannes Marcus Marci of Cronland (1595-1667), when he sent it to Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680), a Jesuit scholar, theologian, mathematician, graphologist and orientalist with a passion for hieroglyphics and the occult sciences, with the aim of deciphering it..
Thanks to that letter we know that the Voynich Manuscript, dated by carbon 14 between 1404 and 1438, would have belonged to Rudolph II of the Holy Roman Empire (1552-1612), Prince of Austria, Hungary and Bohemia, a great fan of art, science and esotericism, which would have paid 600 gold ducats to its previous owner. He also reports that the book belonged to Georg Baresch ( 1585-1662), an alchemist in Prague, after whom it passes Merci and Kircher
From here its track is lost for three hundred years. Possibly it remained in the library of Pierre-Jean Beckx (1795-1887), who was superior general of the Society of Jesus and director of the Pontifical Gregorian University and transferred by him to Villa Mondragone, a palace located near Rome and bought by the Society of Jesus in 1866, where it was discovered by Voynich.
After his death, the manuscript belonged to his wife, who left it in inheritance in 1960 to his secretary, who sold it to Hans P. Kraus , a bookseller of old books who finally bequeathed it to Yale University in 1969 whose library is extraordinary, since it has numerous unique and very old works for what is known as The Library of Rare Books.
There are many hypotheses about its authorship, which has been attributed to characters so different, and so distant in time, such as Roger Bacon (1214-1294), impossible for being two centuries prior to the dating of carbon 14, John Dee (1527- 1608), English mathematician, astronomer and alchemist, in this case a later century, and many others, although if we accept the dating none of them could be its author but they could have owned it before it was handed over to Rodolfo II.
Nor is the object of the book known, nor its contents after being analyzed by the best cryptographers, some like John Manly or Friedman, experts who worked in the American navy deciphering German and Japanese codes in the two world wars, and later with the help of computers, but everything has been in vain. On the text, which consists of about 40,000 words of varied length formed by more than 170,000 signs written from left to right, it has been concluded that it is written in unknown language, or perhaps in several, as up to twelve different writing systems have been detected, although it also appears that these are not invented languages. However, it seems to be written by two copyists who use two different fonts.
The book was made with fine pigments and vellum foil of great quality; in addition, the fold-out is unique, since it is almost a whole skin, something rare at this time in which the skins were cut to use them better in the form of folio.
The different pigments and pieces analyzed are all from the same period, which suggests that the manuscript was made in a short time, something that involved an exceptional cost.
These characteristics make this work a very special and very expensive book, which removes the possibility that had been suggested that a Leonardo Da Vinci almost child could have drawn it.
Studies show that the writing was done from left to right and that the style is humanistic of the fifteenth century, closer to the English script than the Italian.
The drawings, particularly those of women, recall those of the fifteenth century. On the contrary, the plants recall the herbariums of the Middle Ages.
Some even speak of a similarity with the Aztec language and with the plants of the New World (America).
On the other hand, there are many hypotheses about the object of the manuscript, which has been considered as a treatise on medicine or alchemy, botany, or as a set of astronomical charts, a recipe for the elixir of youth, a work of art and even as a joke/scam.
Estimated to consist of 6 separate parts:
- Herbario:occupies half of the work, in it we find all kinds of plants, one or two per page. The drawings do not seem faithful to reality. Some plants are reminiscent of those of known species: sunflower, fern, poppy, but they are decorated with roots or strange leaves and naifs. The herbarium occupies half the work.
- Astronomy(close to Astrology and Cosmology): we find constellations like circles of stars and various stars. In the center of some of these circles, we find signs of the zodiac in the order: Pisces (March), Aries (April), Taurus (May), Gemini (Yony), Cancer, Leo (Anyst), Virgo(illegible), Libra (October), Scorpio (November), Sagittarius (illegible). It may be noted that the scorpion is represented by a kind of lizard, and that the lion looks like a cheetah.
- Biology/Balneotherapy: lets naked women bathe in pools filled with a green liquid that are connected by ducts and drains, you can even guess a kind of shower. The organs are also drawn. Some bathers wear crowns, others hold vegetables in their hands. The text is very dense.
- Cosmology: contains confused circular diagrams; on a folding sheet in six parts we can see a complex drawing: nine « islands » connected by roads, of which two of the islands contain castles.
- Pharmacology: section that presents small drawings of plants and devices called “pharmacy” compared to furnaces used in alchemy. These drawings have legends and are full of explanations. Sometimes, we find a page of herbarium, which suggests that explains how to prepare plants.
- Alchemical-esoteric recipes?: the final part – about twenty pages – only contains text. Each paragraph begins with a star-shaped mark.
The real fact is that despite having been studied by the best experts in cryptography, linguistics and medieval miniature, there is no plausible explanation that can solve for the moment the enigma of this singular work, So far it has not been possible to cast more than conjecture, some more extravagant than others.
It remains mysterious and this is what gives it the greatest charm.