Voynich manuscript

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Text sample from the Voynich manuscript
Illustration example
Opened manuscript (replica) with unfolded page

The Voynich Manuscript (named after Wilfrid Michael Voynich , who acquired the manuscript in 1912) is a handwritten medieval document that was once in the possession of Emperor Rudolf II of the Holy Roman Empire . The manuscript has been in the holdings of the Kniecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University since 1969 under catalog number MS 408 .

In the course of time, multiple approaches to “deciphering” the manuscript have been submitted, but so far none of these approaches has been able to withstand technical investigation and it is even unclear whether the text conveys any meaningful content at all. The illustrations in the manuscript are reminiscent of botanical, anatomical and astronomical relationships and were drawn with care, but due to the lack of context, the content of the illustrations is ultimately also the subject of speculation.


In 1962, a team of experts dated the manuscript on the basis of material and writing style to around 1500 AD, but the provenance (the consequence of the previous owners) could only be determined incompletely and with certainty. Since the content has not yet been deciphered, the dating of the manuscript is based only on the illustrations. Based on the evidence from clothing and hairstyle as well as some other clues, most experts dated the manuscript to the period between 1450 and 1520.

It was not until 2009 that the smallest samples were examined from four different angles at institutes in Chicago and Arizona. In a radiocarbon analysis, the age of the parchment used could most likely be determined to be between 1404 and 1438. Presumably all pages are of the same origin. In addition, experts at the McCrone Research Institute in Chicago have determined that the ink was not applied much later.

Detail from page 86v showing a castle with dovetail crenellations.

Details in the illustrations, in particular the dovetail crenellations, led the editors of an ORF broadcast to suspect that the manuscript originated in northern Italy, since this crenellated form was only documented there at the time in question. The early Renaissance of northern Italy was also a stronghold of early modern polymaths and cryptology.

From the hardly legible and probably not handwritten name entry Jacobj 'a Tepenece on the first page of the manuscript - if it is genuine - it can be concluded that the Bohemian court pharmacist Jakub Horčický z Tepence had the copy in his hands to read or was even its owner. Since his title of nobility is already used, this entry would have to have been made after 1608. In a letter found with the manuscript, its supposed author, the later owner Johannes Marcus Marci , writes that at that point in time Rudolf II of Habsburg , Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire , was rumored to have been the owner of this manuscript after he bought it for the high sum at the time of 600 ducats from an unknown dealer. Jakub Horčický was either this dealer, or - and this theory is considered more likely - the manuscript was entrusted to him by Rudolf II for further analysis , as he was known as a successful chemist and pharmacist .

In this story, Marci referred to his friend Rafael Mišovský , a lawyer and poet who had come to the Prague court under Rudolf II, where he taught the later Emperor Ferdinand II . Marci also reported Emperor Rudolf had believed, the author of the manuscript was the Franciscan polymath of the 13th century Roger Bacon was.

According to the accompanying letter, the next known owner was the Bohemian scholar and alchemist Georg Baresch , who lived in Prague at the beginning of the 17th century. Baresch had tried to decipher the text, but failed. So he turned to Athanasius Kircher , a Jesuit polymath and celebrity at the time who was said to have succeeded in reading the hieroglyphic script of the ancient Egyptians. That the Church's reading was completely erroneous only turned out after Champollion had successfully deciphered the hieroglyphs . In his time, however, Kircher was considered a capacity for deciphering enigmatic texts, which is why Baresch sent him a copy of the manuscript texts together with a request for an expertise. However, Kircher never seems to have reacted. Baresch's first letter seems lost, but another letter from Baresch to Kircher dated April 27, 1639, was found by René Zandbergen in the archive of Kircher's correspondence.

As the next owner, the aforementioned Johannes Marcus Marci inherited the manuscript from his friend Baresch (shortly before 1666). Marci was the author of the letter to Kircher attached to the manuscript, in which he again asked Kircher for help in deciphering the cipher. For this purpose, he did not want to send a copy this time, but the manuscript itself. However, there is no evidence that the manuscript ever came into Kircher's hands, because nothing of that manuscript is mentioned in any of the catalogs of his scholarly estate produced after Kircher's death .

What happened to the manuscript in the more than 200 years between 1666 and 1870 is still unknown. But since (according to Voynich) it was part of a library of the Jesuit order, it can be assumed that the manuscript was in the possession of the Jesuit order together with Kircher's estate, i.e. initially belonged to the library of the Collegium Romanum (today the Pontifical Gregorian University ).

There probably remained until the Papal States during the Risorgimento by the troops of Victor Emmanuel II. Was annexed in 1870 and church property from confiscation was threatened. The holdings of the papal university library were hastily transferred to the members of the faculty, since private property was not threatened by access by the Italian state. Among them was Kircher's estate, which was handed over to the then General Pierre Jean Beckx . According to an ex-libris from Beckx, the Voynich manuscript belonged to this collection. Beckx '"private library" was finally included in the book inventory of the Jesuit college Nobile Collegio Mondragone, founded in 1865 in the Villa Mondragone near Frascati .

It was probably discovered there in 1912 by Wilfrid Michael Voynich , who claims to have bought it from the Jesuits along with around 30 other valuable manuscripts. Voynich's find report:

“In 1912 […] I stumbled upon a very remarkable collection of precious illuminated manuscripts. For decades they had been buried in boxes, where I found them in an old southern European castle. The collection was apparently moved there as a result of the political unrest of the early 19th century. […] While I was examining the manuscripts with a view to purchasing at least part of the collection, my attention was particularly drawn to one volume. It was such an ugly duckling, compared to the other manuscripts richly decorated with gold and color, that my curiosity was instantly aroused. I found that it was written entirely in cipher. […] The fact that a manuscript from the 13th century was written entirely in cryptography convinced me of its extraordinary importance, since as far as I know nothing of this kind existed in such an early period, which is why I added it to the manuscripts that were to be purchased. "

- Voynich

After Voynich's death in 1930, his wife Ethel and Anne Nill, his longtime secretary, inherited the manuscript. After Ethel's death in 1960, Anne Nill was its sole owner. In 1961 she sold it to the bookseller Hans P. Kraus for US $ 25,000. He wanted to sell it for a profit, but could not find a buyer and finally donated the manuscript to Yale University in 1969 , where it is now part of the Beincke Rare Book & Manuscript Library . It is controversial how the manuscript passed into Voynich's possession. Voynich himself remained silent about the exact origin of the manuscript. It was only through a letter from Voynich's widow Ethel Lilian Voynich to her heir and partner Anne Nill, to be opened after her death , that the origin of the manuscript from the Mondragone College became known.


Scope and foliation

The Voynich manuscript is in the form of a codex , i.e. a book stapled together from several layers of parchment leaves. The manuscript originally consisted of (at least) 20 layers, two of which (16 and 18) have now been lost. Most of the layers are quaternions , so they originally comprised eight sheets, corresponding to 16 pages. The sheets were (presumably later) provided with a handwritten number ( foliation ) running from 1 to 116. Based on this foiling, a loss of layers and leaves that has occurred since then (not all layers are complete) can be determined. At the present time, the code no longer consists of 116, but only 102 pages. References to parts of the manuscript generally refer to this old page count.

Due to their size, individual sheets were folded several times, resulting in lower pages (for example “ f. 67r2” is the second lower side on the front ( recto ) of sheet 67). The manuscript currently comprises 102 sheets, including five double, three triple, one quadruple and one sixfold. The page format is approx. 225 by 160 mm.

The manuscript is bound in parchment. The cover bears neither a title nor an author's note.


Since the text cannot be read, an outline of the content can only be based on the type of illustration. The manuscript contains a large number of illustrations that were executed in ink and subsequently colored. The images were evidently created before the text was written, which adapts to the shape of the images and flows around them.

Assumptions about the content of the sections are fraught with uncertainty insofar as the contextual-historical background is uncertain or unknown. For example, the illustration of a lion in a book on zoology should be interpreted very differently than in a collection of fables or in an alchemical work. The so-called " balneological " section, for example, contains numerous images of naked women in tubs (or perhaps ponds) that are connected to one another by complex pipe systems. Depending on the context, the following could be shown here:

  • women simply bathing,
  • human (reproductive) organs,
  • Wine-pressing women
  • Wandering souls

or something else.

According to the obvious grouping of similar illustrations, the manuscript is usually divided into sections as follows:

"Herbalism" section (f. 1r – 66v)

Illustration from the "herbalistic" section (f. 34r)

The section mainly contains full-page illustrations of individual plants, which are similar to plants we know, but often differ from them in crucial details. Some images appear as larger and more accurate versions of images from the Pharmacy section. The design of the pages corresponds to the design known from medieval and early modern herbal books .

"Astronomical" section (f. 67r – 73v)

Illustration from the "astronomical" section (f. 68r)

Here are full-page, circular diagrams with the sun, moon and stars. Apart from the labeling of the diagrams, the pages contain very little text. A sequence of twelve pages (f. 70v2–73v) evidently represents signs of the zodiac . In the center there is an image representing the respective sign of the zodiac, which is surrounded by concentric rings on which women holding a star move clockwise. Sometimes the women sit in tubs or barrels, sometimes they are naked. The sequence of the zodiac signs begins with "Pisces" (instead of the usual "Aries"), in addition the signs "Aries" and "Taurus" are represented twice. The depictions of the zodiac signs “Aquarius” and “Capricorn” are missing and were probably on the missing sheet 74.

"Anatomical-balneological" section (f. 75r – 84v)

Illustration from the "anatomical section" (f. 75r)
Illustration from the "anatomical section" (f. 78r)

Both the most enigmatic and the most intriguing section of the manuscript depicts groups of naked women with arched bellies on almost every page seated in basins or tubs connected by pipes or tubes. The lines often end in partly organic and partly mechanical end and connecting pieces. This ambivalence led to both linking the content of the section with anatomical objects (e.g. human reproduction) and simply calling it (based on the appearance) a "bathing science" ( balneological ) section.

"Cosmological" section (f. 85r – 86v)

The name of this section is more of an embarrassment name. It comes from the superficial similarity of the images with those from the "astronomical" section. These are circular, rosette-like representations, which are sometimes accompanied by extensive text material. The so-called “rosette side” (f. 85v – 86r), which unfolded to show a square arrangement of nine interconnected “rosettes”, is particularly well known.

"Pharmaceutical" section (f. 87r – 102v)

You can see pictures of plants and parts of plants with inscriptions as well as of vessels that are reminiscent of containers used by pharmacists, with a few short texts. Pharmacological contents were suspected in this section mainly because of the colored vessels .

"Recipes" and "Keys" (f. 103r – 116v)

Here you can find short sections of text without illustrations, each of which is introduced with a star symbol. It has been suspected (especially since this section follows the “pharmacological” pages) that these are prescriptions for drugs or other brief instructions.

On the last page (f. 116v) there is the so-called “key”: a three-line text consisting of characters that resemble a font used in Germany in the 15th century. This short text served Newbold (see below) as an introduction to his attempt at decryption. It also allegedly contains Roger Bacon's name in the form of an anagram .

Text and alphabet

The shape of the text as such does not seem unusual: it was written from left to right (which can be seen from the somewhat more uneven right margin); the individual characters are set apart from one another by small spaces; the text is broken down into “words” through larger spaces, and something like a paragraph structure can be seen in longer text sequences.

The writing style appears to be fluid, as if the scribe had been trained in the language and writing of the manuscript, in contrast to the usual uncertainties when "copying" the characters of an unknown script. The lack of corrections is an indication that there was a template of the text from which it was copied. According to research by Prescott Currier in the 1970s, two or more scribes and script styles can be distinguished. Recent analyzes call the correctness of this observation into question. Another handwriting expert inspecting the manuscript could only see one hand.

Voynich alphabet

The text in total includes around 170,000 individual glyphs . Since with some glyphs it is not clear whether they are representations of independent characters or ligatures of several characters and whether variations of individual glyphs represent different characters (such as "1" and "l" in the Latin script) or whether they are form variants of a character (such as "t" and " t ", different fonts), the alphabet on which the Voynich text is based cannot be determined with certainty. Overall, the text seems to be able to be represented as far as possible with an alphabet of 20 to 30 characters.

In connection with the question of the Voynich alphabet, there was the problem of the transcription of the text. In particular, an examination of the text with the help of computers required the most adequate encoding of the Voynich characters. Initial approaches in this direction were made by William and Elizebeth Friedman and their working groups. As a result, both Bennett at Yale University and Prescott Currier developed their own alphabets and transcription schemes. At the Voynich Symposium in 1976, Mary D'Imperio proposed a standardization of the transcription, whereupon the scheme developed by Currier was agreed.

It turned out, however, that this alphabet left a lot to be desired in terms of the representation of rare characters and ligatures. Accordingly, new alphabets were developed, the first being the Frogguy alphabet proposed by Jacques Guy . In the meantime, the so-called EVA (European Voynich Alphabet) has established itself on the basis of a broad consensus. A corresponding computer font (EVA Hand 1) was developed for this alphabet , with which the representation of transcribed Voynich texts on the computer is simplified.

EVA (European Voynich Alphabet). Capital letters are sometimes used in EVA to represent character variants.


The text of the manuscript contains approximately 35,000 "words". These words have phonotactic characteristics similar to those of a natural language:

  • a subset of characters can be identified, from which one or more characters appear in each word (analogous to the vowels), and
  • some combinations of characters never appear.

The statistical analysis of the text reveals further similarities with natural languages:

  • the word frequencies obey Zipf's law ,
  • the word entropy resembles that of Latin or English with approx. 10 Shannon / word, and
  • some words appear only on certain pages or in certain sections, others appear everywhere in the text. In particular:
    • the “captions” of the figures have very few repetitions, and
    • in the "herbalism" section, the first word on each page appears on that page only (perhaps the name of the plant in question).

However, no other peculiarities of the Voynich text are found anywhere in European languages. For example, there are hardly any words with more than ten, but also hardly any words with fewer than three characters. Furthermore, there appear to be initial and final letter forms, i.e. special forms of characters at the beginning and end of a word, as they are used in Semitic languages. Finally, immediate repetitions of the same word or smaller variations appear with unusual frequency.

Voynich researcher and Voynich research

Wilfrid Voynich

In view of the Marci letter, Voynich quickly came to the conclusion that Roger Bacon (d. 1292/94) was the author of the manuscript. In the following years he tried to clarify the provenance of the manuscript. From the assumption that Bacon was the author, he came to the hypothesis that the English mathematician and mystic John Dee had come into possession of the manuscript - and the stranger who later sold the manuscript to Rudolf II. An assumption based on the knowledge that Dee owned a collection of Bacon's writings and was staying with the spiritualist Edward Kelley at the court of Rudolf II in the 1580s.

Voynich had not attempted to decipher the text. From 1919 onwards he sent copies of the manuscript to various experts. One of these was Newbold.

William Romaine Newbold

Newbold was a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia . He heard of the manuscript as early as 1915, but only dealt with it after 1919, after he had received three photocopied pages from Voynich. After a few hours he thought he had found a key.

As a result he developed the theory of a micro-writing. Accordingly, the actual content of the manuscript should be hidden in microscopic irregularities in the Voynich characters. On closer inspection, ancient Greek shorthand characters would be recognizable. The text read in this way was subjected to a further decryption step by Newbold. The result not only confirmed Bacon's authorship, it also allegedly revealed that Bacon not only had a microscope , but that he was already familiar with the spiral structure of the Andromeda Nebula .

Voynich and Newbold reported on their results in April 1921 in several lectures before the College of Physicians and the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. Although the first (supposed) successes came quickly, further deciphering turned out to be extremely laborious. Before Newbold could deliver a complete decoding to Voynich, he died unexpectedly in September 1926.

Roland Grubb Kent

Kent, a friend of Newbold and a professor of comparative philology at the University of Pennsylvania , cannot be considered a Voynich researcher in the strictest sense. Rather, he undertook the task of arranging and editing the estate of his friend Newbold, who died early. In 1928 he published the volume The Cipher of Roger Bacon , which damaged the scientific reputation of his friend considerably, but was to be of great benefit to Voynich research, since the volume made reproductions of the manuscript available in print for the first time. However, he also called critics on the scene.

John Matthew Manly

Manly, professor of English at the University of Chicago and cryptanalyst in the US military intelligence service during the First World War, had followed Newbold's research with interest, but also with skepticism, as evidenced by an article published in 1921 entitled “The most mysterious manuscript of the Welt ”in the US magazine“ Harpers ”. He felt he had to react to the publication of the “results”, because he feared that, if not contradicted, Newbold's theses would find their way into intellectual history unfiltered. In 1931 he published a scathing criticism of Newbold's methods and results.

In it he showed that the micro-writing was only present in Newbold's imagination, that the supposed abbreviations were rather irregularities in the application and peeling of the ink on the rough writing material. In addition, he pointed out that the deciphering method used by Newbold did not allow a reliable restoration of an original text at all, rather the decipherer had to already know the content to be deciphered (which was the case with Newbold, who found exactly what he was) hoped to find).

Joseph Martin Feely

Feely, a lawyer from Rochester, Maine, based his attempt at decryption only on an illustration of manuscript page 78r in Newbold's book. He came to the conclusion that it was an encryption by alphabet substitution (i.e. every character in the alphabet is regularly replaced by a certain other character, in this case by a Voynich character). He adopted Latin as the plaintext language. With the amount of text available, such a simple encryption could also be deciphered without a computer on the basis of frequency analyzes, as Edgar Allan Poe demonstrates in his story The Gold Beetle .

Feely therefore continued to assume that the Latin words had previously been abbreviated by arbitrarily omitting letters. The assumed element of arbitrariness in the encryption has the consequence that the decryption is based on a certain amount of subjectivity and thus enables errors. The fact that the text deciphered by Feely made no sense would have been tolerable in view of the usual hermeticism of early modern alchemical texts. However, if Feely's decryption had been correct, it should also have led to acceptable readings on the pages he had not analyzed.

Hugh O'Neill

O'Neill was a botanist at the Catholic University of America and had received a set of photocopies of the Voynich manuscript from a colleague. He tried to identify the plants depicted in the botanical sections, which is often difficult in medieval manuscripts and almost impossible in the case of the Voynich manuscript. Nevertheless, O'Neill believed that he could clearly identify two plants, namely a sunflower on leaf 93r and a type of Spanish pepper on leaf 101v .

The remarkable thing about these identifications was that both plants were not native to the Old World before Columbus, so the manuscript could not have been written until after 1493. That in turn would mean that Roger Bacon cannot be the author.

William Friedman

William Friedman was arguably the first recognized expert in cryptology to study the Voynich manuscript. He was the founder of the US Army's Signals Intelligence Service (one of the predecessor organizations of today's NSA ). Under his leadership, the Japanese PURPLE code was deciphered during the Second World War .

Friedman had heard Newbold's lecture during the war years and later worked with Manly to refute Newbold's theories. In May 1944, the two of them founded a working group whose task should be the machine-readable transcription of the Voynich “text” using punch cards . The task was not completed as the group fell apart at the end of the war. Among Voynich researchers, Friedman's group (and the transcription scheme it developed) is known as the FSG (First Study Group) .

The Voynich manuscript seems to have continued to occupy Friedman and his wife Elizebeth, since he published a hypothesis on the Voynich code encoded as an anagram in the footnote of an article at the end of the 1950s . The resolution was only known after his death in 1970:

"The Voynich MSS was an early attempt to construct an artificial or universal language of the a priori type."

"The Voynich manuscript represents an early attempt at the construction of an artificial or universal language of the a priori type ."

- William Friedman

An artificial or universal language is understood to be a planned language or logical language . Such a language is of the “a priori” type if it is not based on existing languages ​​for the sake of general comprehensibility, but if it follows logical-philosophical principles in its construction.

The consequences of this hypothesis for the Voynich text would be:

  1. The hypothesis would explain the existence of statistical properties in the Voynich text that are otherwise only found in natural languages.
  2. Deciphering a constructed language whose construction principle has been lost is extremely difficult or impossible. That would be compatible with the efforts to decipher the Voynich text that have failed to this day.

In September 1962, the Friedmans initiated another working group (SSG, Second Study Group) with the aim of using automatic data processing to decrypt the Voynich code. This time an RCA- 301 computer was to be used, to which the group had access outside normal operating hours. They would have been the first Voynich researchers to use a computer for decryption. It did not come to that, however, as RCA prohibited secondary use for this purpose. The group disbanded in the summer of 1963.

Robert S. Brumbaugh

Robert Brumbaugh was Professor of Medieval Philosophy at Yale University, so, unlike other Voynich researchers, he had the opportunity to inspect the document in the original - at a time when only a few pages were available as a (black and white) facsimile published or circulated as a photocopy, an invaluable advantage. In addition, he managed to get a research assignment to examine the manuscript. He published a number of articles on the topic in the 1970s and summarized the current state of research in the 1978 monograph The Most Mysterious Manuscript . Brumbaugh himself developed the theory that the Voynich characters are (decimal) digits, with each digit being assigned several letters of the Latin alphabet, due to the similarity of some Voynich characters with ancient digit forms. Similar to Feely's approach, such a coding would also contain an element of ambiguity; accordingly, the decodings contain a highly subjective element. The "decryption" presented by Brumbaugh did not make any (obvious) sense either.

Prescott Currier

Prescott Currier was originally a linguist (BA in Romance Studies and Diploma in Comparative Linguistics). From 1935 he began to deal with cryptology. In 1940 he served in the US Navy, and in 1941 he worked as an American liaison officer in Bletchley Park , England, to coordinate the cryptanalytic efforts of the American and English services. From 1948 to 1950 he was director of the Naval Security Group.

Currier had made the acquaintance of John Tiltman in England , who in turn had been encouraged by Friedman to study the Voynich manuscript. Currier, too, was to occupy himself with the riddle of the manuscript for many years. The most important result of his investigations was that - contrary to what was previously assumed - the manuscript has more than one scribe. Currier found that two writing styles - and even more: two "language" styles - are clearly distinguishable. These two Voynich variants are now called Currier-A and Currier-B . He presented his results in 1976 at a seminar organized by Mary D'Imperio.

Mary D'Imperio

Like Friedman, mathematician Mary D'Imperio was a cryptanalyst (at times a consultant to the NSA ). Personally known to John Tiltman (who, together with Friedman, had put forward the thesis that the Voynich manuscript was based on an artificial language) and Prescott Currier, she began to study the Voynich manuscript intensively in the late 1970s. She organized the first scientific symposium on Voynich, which took place in 1976, and published the results in a conference proceedings as well as in The Voynich Manuscript: An Elegant Enigma, which is still regarded as the best survey work today . In her work on the Voynich manuscript, she dealt with questions of transcription and the character set. Among other things, she pointed out the similarities between the Voynich characters and some Latin abbreviations used in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Gordon Rugg and Andreas Schinner

Gordon Rugg from Keele University in the UK began working on the question of how the text of the Voynich manuscript could have come about from around 1997. For this purpose, Rugg created a table with random combinations of characters, which were then used as prefixes, middle or suffixes of new "words". He pushed a so-called Cardan grid over this table , a template with three windows, as it was used in the 16th century to encrypt texts. The character strings that appeared in each of the three windows were transcribed, and a three-syllable incomprehensible "language" was created, which was very similar to the text of the Voynich manuscript. In December 2003, Rugg announced its research results. In his opinion, the Voynich manuscript is a medieval joke , confused ramblings without meaning or content.

The joke hypothesis is also supported by a text analysis by the Austrian scientist Andreas Schinner: He discovered unnatural regularities in the word order of the manuscript that do not occur in texts written in natural languages. The theoretical physicist therefore also comes to the conclusion that the Voynich manuscript is the refined work of a prankster and contains nothing but meaningless nonsense.

In 2009, a radiocarbon analysis was able to determine the origin of the parchment tape with the highest probability to be between 1404 and 1438. The encryption technology with the Cardan grid would have to have been used on parchment that was already older at the time. In addition, the practical joke hypothesis also appears extremely unlikely in that the preparation of this manuscript was not only an extremely expensive undertaking (very expensive parchment at the time, very expensive, high-quality ink colors), but must also have taken many years to complete.

Marcelo Montemurro and Damián Zanette

Marcelo Montemurro from the University of Manchester and Damián Zanette from the Centro Atómico Bariloche e Instituto Balseiro published a work in 2013 with the title "Keywords and Co-Occurrence Patterns in the Voynich Manuscript: An Information-Theoretic Analysis" at PLOS ONE . In the article, they claim to have identified semantic patterns in the Voynich manuscript. Accordingly, the manuscript could represent a ciphertext with an “authentic message”.

Arthur Tucker and Rexford Talbert

According to two American botanists, Arthur O. Tucker and Rexford H. Talbert, the Voynich manuscript shows plants of Central American origin.

This could indicate that the Voynich manuscript was drawn in Central America and written in a Central American language , so possibly in a language that is no longer spoken today.

Nick Pelling

Nick Pelling presents his theory of the authorship of the Voynich manuscript in his book "The Curse of the Voynich". Based on the illustrations in the Voynich manuscript - especially those on the fold-out rosette folios - Pelling suspects that the manuscript comes from the Milan area and dates to the mid-15th century or a little later. Based on biographical evidence, he suspects the architect Antonio Averlino , also known as Filarete , to be the possible author . In addition to this theory, Nick Pelling made other important observations about the manuscript (e.g. regarding the order and binding of the individual folios in the historical process, as well as the writing, the cipher and the possible cryptological explanations for it).

Stephen Bax

Stephen Bax, a professor of applied linguistics , says he deciphered a total of 10 words in the text, namely various plant names and the names of constellations . In his opinion, the text is in a Semitic language, and the discovery of these names, similar to the Egyptian hieroglyphs, could represent the breakthrough in deciphering the text.

Jürgen Hermes

In 2012, Jürgen Hermes presented a theory for deciphering the Voynich manuscript in his dissertation on text processing - design and application .

His encryption theory assumes that the Voynich manuscript was encrypted using a method that is similar to the Trithematic Polygraphia (PIII method). With this type of encryption, a code book is created which consists of lists. In these lists there is a fantasy word consisting of a word stem + ending for one letter each in plain text. If the suffix changes, it is a different letter. Text decryption of this type of encryption is, however, hardly possible without the associated code book.

On this basis, Hermes tried to reconstruct a potential code book. A graphemic method was used to determine the endings in the text (finding the minimum pair + clustering method ( K-Means ++ )). The morphemical analysis should identify possible stems ( keyword trees , decomposition variation search, frequency analysis ). From his analysis, Hermes concluded that the Voynich manuscript may have been encrypted by a PIII-like method. In both procedures, the text of the Voynich manuscript showed more similarities with the PIII-generated text than with the natural language text.

Artjunow et al.

In 2016, a group led by Andronik Aramowitsch Artjunow from the RAN's Keldysch Institute published a new solution. After them, vowels and spaces have been removed. 30% of the text is written in Danish or German, the rest in a Romance language (Latin or Spanish).

Greg Kondrak

Greg Kondrak, a professor of computational linguistics at the University of Alberta , used artificial intelligence techniques to analyze encrypted texts and also applied them to the Voynich manuscript. The results were presented in 2016 in the form of an article written by Kondrak and one of his students. According to this, there is a certain probability that the language of the manuscript is Hebrew , with the individual words being anagrams with missing vowels.

However, only small fragments could be deciphered and translated in this way. Only after a few manual corrections was it possible to determine a single sentence that made some sense. The two also admitted that medieval manuscript experts were not convinced by the results.

Gerard Cheshire

Gerard Cheshire, Research Assistant at Bristol University, claimed in 2019 that the Voynich manuscript was written in Proto-Romance, a linguistically constructed intermediate stage of Vulgar Latin and the precursors of today's Romance languages . In May 2019, he presented an analysis of the work in the journal Romance Studies , which contains alleged decipherments for some fragments; decoding the text by then had been made more difficult by the following factors:

  • Drafting in a language that is no longer used (Proto-Romansch),
  • in addition to more common characters, the use of characters no longer common today
  • Lack of punctuation marks,
  • Replacement of missing punctuation with modified characters,
  • Use of modified characters to set phonetic accents,
  • all characters exclusively in minuscule,
  • Absence of double consonants,
  • Use of multiple vowels as an abbreviation for missing phonetic symbols and
  • partial use of Latin and Latin abbreviations.

According to Cheshire, the work can thus be dated precisely and the place of origin and the possible author identified; the content should therefore be read as a manual on late medieval court life. As such it is a compendium of information about herbal remedies, medicinal baths and astrological interpretations on questions of the female mind and body, reproduction, parenthood and the heart and its harmony with Christian religion and pagan traditions in the Mediterranean region of the late Middle Ages. As the place of origin he identified the island of Castello Aragonese near Ischia , on which the work in the years 1445-1448 supposedly by a Dominican nun for Mary of Castile (1401-1458), wife of Alfonso V of Aragón , who made her court on the island held, was written. His interpretation is based u. a. on a map to be found in the manuscript, which is supposed to show a volcanic eruption in 1444 and an evidenced and precisely datable rescue mission for victims of the eruption, allegedly led by Queen Maria. At the time in question, however, María was actually in Valencia .

Lisa Fagin Davis , an expert at the Medieval Academy of America , criticized in a tweet that the postulate of a previously unknown "proto-Romanesque" language amounted to a circular argument. The University of Bristol removed its original report due to the criticism of the study.

In addition to the errors mentioned, the relevant work of Cheshire has numerous other serious deficiencies in content and methodology. Even the thesis that a text written in the late Middle Ages could have been written in Vulgar Latin or Proto-Romanic is not tenable, since these language levels are ancient or late ancient variants that are only rudimentarily documented and largely only reconstructed in modern times were. Cheshire claims that in the High Middle Ages , Vulgar Latin was the informal language of the upper classes in southern Europe ("the language of informal high society in southern Europe") and thus confuses the Vulgar Latin, which had passed into the Romance languages centuries earlier , with the actually spoken Middle Latin . The means of etymology or word interpretation used by Cheshire do not meet scientific requirements. When interpreting the word material, he uses any number of modern Eastern and Western Romanic languages ​​as well as classical Latin and thus assumes that in a “proto-Romanic” text, forms of the various modern Romance languages ​​could stand next to Latin forms. For example, he interprets the iterated word nar nar based on the Graubünden Romance language as 'crazy', the word nais as 'begin' in today's French, the word æos from the Portuguese aos as 'to the'. For the third person plural, Cheshire postulates a Romanian pronominal form ( lor ) and a Portuguese ( elas ).

Torsten Timm

Due to the correlation between word frequency, word similarity and word position, Timm assumes that the text of the Voynich manuscript was generated from itself while it was being written and is consequently meaningless. This would also explain the fact that there are hardly any corrections and that the text always fits almost perfectly into the space at the end of the line. The writer has selected a word in a line above - often for the sake of simplicity from above the current writing position - and modified it to a new word according to certain rules and based on spontaneous personal preferences and the available space. For example, it was possible to replace one or more glyphs with graphemically similar ones, to add or remove a prefix, or to concatenate two source words. Together with Andreas Schinner, Timm presented an algorithm that can generate texts using this procedure. To check the validity of the self-citation hypothesis, they compared text samples generated in this way with the Voynich manuscript and found that all statistical features matched well . With the VoynichTextGenerator created by Timm, the described method is implemented in an app in which a longer text can be generated on the basis of a selected line of the Voynich manuscript.

Rainer Hannig

In June 2020, Rainer Hannig , German philologist and Egyptologist , published an interpretation according to which the underlying language in the Voynich manuscript is ancient (late medieval) Hebrew. He has been working on the manuscript since 2017. According to Hannig, the words in the manuscript often have three consonants followed by a vowel, which indicates a Semitic script. He identified six “gallows characters” of the script with the Hebrew Begadkefat sounds (b, g, d, k, p, t). One of Hannig's first attempts at translation provides a medical history: A farmer had digestive problems after eating a soup, his surroundings complain, and he see a doctor who cannot help either.

Reception and effect

The Voynich manuscript was known only to a few specialists in the first half of the 20th century. In the course of the last few decades, however, the level of awareness increased, as a result of which it found its way into works of popular culture and served as inspiration for books, pictures, music and computer games:


  • The contemporary Swiss composer Hanspeter Kyburz wrote a piece The Voynich Cipher Manuscript (24 voices and ensemble) based on the Voynich text, interpreting the Voynich characters as notes.
  • One of the albums by Japanese speedcore artist m1dy is entitled Voynich Tracks.
  • The contemporary Argentine composer Juan María Solare wrote the piece The Voynich Manuscript (recorder or clarinet, violin and cello) in 2010 , working with Markov chains .

Fiction and Fantasy

The short story The Return of the Lloigor by Colin Wilson belongs to the circle of works around the Cthulhu myth , a fictional myth circle based on the stories of Howard Phillips Lovecraft . In these stories one book is mentioned again and again, the gruesome Necronomicon by the mad Arab Abdul Al'Hazred. The Necronomicon contains enigmatic formulas with the help of which demonic beings from gruesome prehistoric times can be let loose on the human world. In Wilson's narration, the Voynich manuscript turns out to be an incomplete copy of the Necronomicon. Since then, the connection between the fictional Necronomicon and the real Voynich manuscript has been further expanded by other authors of horror literature.

The Necronomicon first appears in HP Lovecraft's tales in The Hound in 1922 , two years after Voynich mailed copies to interested researchers and one year after Voynich and Newbold's first findings were made public through the Philadelphia lectures. Although the temporal proximity stimulates speculation, a mention of the Voynich manuscript in Lovecraft's very extensive correspondence is not proven.

After all, John Dee appears as a translator in the fictional publication history of the Necronomicon, which, however, says little, since Dee is a prominent figure in esoteric circles - similar to Bacon - regardless of the Voynich manuscript. If the Voynich manuscript, which was widely reported in the American press ( four articles appeared in the New York Times alone in 1921), had escaped Lovecraft's attention, it would be somewhat astonishing.

The Voynich manuscript is an integral part of the novel Indiana Jones and the Philosopher's Stone . It is supposed to show the way to the tomb of Hermes, where the philosopher's stone is said to be.

In 2015, the author couple Achim Engstler and Astrid Dehe published the novel Unter Schwalbenzinnen , in which they tell the story of how the manuscript was created. A Florentine patrician daughter “paints” narrative pictures that she reported to a copyist in 1442. The copyist does not understand every picture and cannot follow it one hundred percent. He therefore draws certain descriptions (see above pictures). The copyist has an old book in an unknown language. The visions are not without danger in a time of heretic persecution and the unrestricted power of the Medici family .

In 2017 “Das verdammte Manuskript” by the Austrian author Harald A. Jahn was published by the Viennese publisher PROverbis. In the novel, declared as a mystery thriller, a scientist in Paris at the end of the 21st century discovers old printer's type with glyphs of the Voynich alphabet and parchments that are older than the manuscript but contain the same characters. During his research, he discovers the medieval place of origin and, with the help of a mysterious helper, finds the secret.


Computer games


  • Klaus T. Steindl , Andreas Sulzer: The Voynich Riddle - The Most Mysterious Manuscript in the World , ORF, 2009, o.A.
  • Klaus T. Steindl, Andreas Sulzer: The Voynich manuscript. The most mysterious manuscript in the world , arte / ORF, F / D / A 2010, 50 min.

See also


Ordered chronologically in ascending order.

  • Wilfrid M. Voynich: A Preliminary Sketch of the History of the Roger Bacon Cipher Manuscript. In: Transactions & Studies of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Serie 3, Vol. 43, 1921, ISSN  0010-1087 , pp. 415-430, ( digitized ).
  • William Romaine Newbold: The Voynich Roger Bacon Manuscript. In: Transactions & Studies of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Series 3, Vol. 43, 1921, pp. 431–474, ( digitized version )
  • William Romaine Newbold: The Cipher of Roger Bacon. Edited with foreword and notes by Roland Grubb Kent. University of Pennsylvania Press et al., Philadelphia PA 1928.
  • John Matthews Manly: The Most Mysterious Manuscript in the World. In: Harper's Monthly Magazine. 143, 1921, ISSN  0361-7815 , pp. 186-197.
  • John Matthews Manly: Roger Bacon and the Voynich MS. In: Speculum 6,3 (1931) 345-391, doi : 10.2307 / 2848508 .
  • Joseph Martin Feely: Roger Bacon's Cipher. The Right Key Found. Feely, Rochester NY 1943.
  • Hugh O'Neill: Botanical Observations on the Voynich MS. in: Speculum. Vol. 19, No. 1, 1944, p. 126, doi : 10.2307 / 2856859 .
  • Robert S. Brumbaugh (Ed.): The most mysterious manuscript. The Voynich "Roger Bacon" cipher manuscript. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale IL et al. 1978, ISBN 0-8093-0808-8 .
  • Mary E. D'Imperio: The Voynich Manuscript. An Elegant Enigma (= A Cryptographic Series. 27). Aegean Park Press, Laguna Hills CA 1978, ISBN 0-89412-038-7 .
  • Leo Levitov: Solution of the Voynich Manuscript. A Liturgical Manual for the Endura Rite of the Cathari Heresy, the Cult of Isis. Aegean Park Press, Laguna Hills CA 1987, ISBN 0-89412-148-0 .
  • Gerry Kennedy, Rob Churchill: The Voynich Code. The book that nobody can read. Rogner & Bernhard at Zweiausendeins et al., Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-8077-1009-4 .
  • Erich H. Peter Roitzsch: The Voynich manuscript. An unsolved mystery of the past. Verlags-Haus Monsenstein and Vannerdat, Münster 2008, ISBN 978-3-86582-656-5 (2nd edition, ibid 2010, ISBN 978-3-86991-133-5 ).
  • Klaus Schmeh: Code breakers versus code makers. The fascinating story of encryption. 2nd Edition. W3L-Verlag, Herdecke et al. 2008, ISBN 978-3-937137-89-6 .
  • Klaus Schmeh: The Voynich manuscript, the book that nobody can read. In: Telepolis . October 8, 2008.
  • Klaus Schmeh: Bible Code, Koran Code, Little Red Riding Hood Code. ( Memento of April 21, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Part 2. In: Telepolis . April 18, 2010.
  • Roland Schulz: The riddle book. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin , No. 17 of April 26, 2013, pp. 40–41.
  • Matthias Heiduk: Roger Bacon and the secret sciences. A borderline case for the scientific conceptions of contemporaries and posterity . In: Martin Mulsow, Frank Rexroth (ed.): What may be considered scientific. Practices of demarcation in pre-modern scholarly milieus (=  campus historical studies ). tape 70 . Campus, Frankfurt am Main et al. 2014, ISBN 978-3-593-50078-2 , p. 109-138 ( online [accessed December 5, 2014]).
  • Jules Janick, Arthur O. Tucker: Unraveling the Voynich Codex. Springer, Cham 2018, ISBN 978-3-319-77293-6 .
  • Lisa Fagin Davis: Why do people keep convincing themselves they've solved this medieval mystery? In: Washington Post , August 14, 2019.
  • Lisa Fagin Davis: How Many Glyphs and How Many Scribes? Digital Paleography and the Voynich Manuscript. In: Manuscript Studies: A Journal of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies. Vol. 5 No. 1, 2020, pp. 164-180, Project MUSE (temporarily available online).

Web links

Commons : Voynich manuscript  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Jürgen Hermes: The Voynich mouse script: the work of an autocopist?
  2. a b c d e Klaus Schmeh: New dating of the Voynich manuscript causes a stir. In: Telepolis . January 31, 2010.
  3. a b One less veil over the Voynich manuscript. In: The Standard . 4th December 2009.
  4. Peter James, Nick Thorpe: Cuneiform writing, compass, chewing gum. Chapter 11. Communication, p. 366.
  5. a b Roland Schulz: The riddle book. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, No. 17 of April 26, 2013, p. 41.
  6. The Voynich Riddle - The Most Mysterious Manuscript in the World. In: ORF 2 . December 10, 2009, 9:05 p.m. ( Online on YouTube )
  7. ^ René Zandbergen: Voynich manuscript .
  8. ^ Voynich: Preliminary Sketch. P. 415.
  9. Churchill Kennedy, p. 279.
  10. ^ EVA ( Memento of October 28, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  11. ^ "First Study Group" Transcription Alphabet Sheets. William F. Friedman Collection. George Marshall Library, Lexington Vir, nos. 1609.1 and 1609.2
  12. Elizebeth Friedman, William Friedman Acrostics, Anagrams and Chaucer , Philological Quarterly, 1959
  13. Capt. Prescott Currier: Some Important New Statistical Findings. in: D'Imperio (Ed.): New research on the Voynich manuscript, proceedings of a seminar 30 November 1976. Washington 1978.
  14. ^ Mary E. D'Imperio (Ed.): New Research on the Voynich Manuscript, proceedings of a seminar November 30, 1976. Washington 1978.
  15. Gordon Rugg: An elegant hoax? A possible solution to the Voynich Manuscript. In: Cryptologia. Volume 28, No. 1, 2004, pp. 31-46, doi: 10.1080 / 0161-110491892755 . ISSN  0161-1194
  16. ^ Andreas Schinner: The Voynich Manuscript. Evidence of the Hoax Hypothesis. In: Cryptologia. Volume 31, No. 2, 2007, pp. 95-107, doi: 10.1080 / 01611190601133539 . ISSN  0161-1194
    The Secret of the Mysterious Voynich Code. On: Wissenschaft.de from April 17, 2007.
  17. Montemurro MA, Zanette DH (2013): Keywords and Co-Occurrence Patterns in the Voynich Manuscript: An Information-Theoretic Analysis . PLoS ONE 8 (6): e66344. doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0066344 .
  18. Karin Krichmayr: search for clues in the Voynich Code. Der Standard Online, February 7, 2014, accessed February 7, 2014 .
  19. ^ A b Arthur O. Tucker, Rexford H. Talbert: A Preliminary Analysis of the Botany, Zoology, and Mineralogy of the Voynich Manuscript. (PDF) HerbalGram (The Journal of the American Botanical Council) Year: 2013 Issue: 100 Page: 70-75, accessed February 7, 2014 .
  20. ^ Pelling, Nicholas: The curse of the Voynich; the secret history of the world's most mysterious manuscript, Compelling Press, Surbiton, 2006.
  21. Stephen Bax: Voynich - a provisional partial decoding , January 2014
  22. Hermes, Jürgen: Text processing - design and application . Ed .: University of Cologne. Cologne 2012.
  23. Anna Urmanzewa: Российские математики доказали осмысленность манускрипта Войнича . In: RIA Novosti . April 19, 2017 (Russian).
  24. ^ Eleonora Goldman: Russian scholars unlock the secret of the mysterious Voynich manuscript . In: Russia Beyond The Headlines . April 20, 2017.
  25. arxiv : 1611.09122
  26. Greg Kondraks website at the University of Alberta
  27. ^ Smithsonianmag.com: Artificial Intelligence Takes a Crack at Decoding the Mysterious Voynich Manuscript
  28. independent.co.uk: Mysterious 15th century manuscript finally decoded 600 years later
  29. transacl.org: Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics
  30. ^ Nationalpost.com: Computer scientist claims clues to deciphering mysterious Voynich manuscript
  31. ^ Robert A. Hall, Jr .: The Reconstruction of Proto-Romance. In: Language Vol. 26, No. 1 (January-March 1950), pp. 6-27, JSTOR 410406 .
  32. a b Gerard Cheshire: The Language and Writing System of MS408 (Voynich) Explained , in: Romance Studies , April 29, 2019, doi: 10.1080 / 02639904.2019.1599566 (English)
  33. García Herrero, María del Carmen: El entorno feminino de los reyes de Aragón , in Sesma Muñoz, Ángel: La Corona de Aragón en el centro de su historia 1208 - 1458 , Zaragoza 2009, pp. 327–350, here p. 334 u. 344.
  34. Jennifer Ouellette: No, someone hasn't cracked the code of the mysterious Voynich manuscript
  35. ^ University of Bristol: Statement re: Voynich research paper
  36. Gerard Cheshire: "Linguistic missing links: instruction in decrypting, ranslating and transliterating the only document known to use both proto-Romance language and proto-Italic symbols for its writing system" , in: Science Survey (2017) 1, p. 4 . (English)
  37. Cf. Gerard Cheshire: "Linguistic missing links: instruction in decrypting, ranslating and transliterating the only document known to use both proto-Romance language and proto-Italic symbols for its writing system" , in: Science Survey (2017) 1, p . 21. (English)
  38. Cf. Gerard Cheshire: "Linguistic missing links: instruction in decrypting, ranslating and transliterating the only document known to use both proto-Romance language and proto-Italic symbols for its writing system" , in: Science Survey (2017) 1, p . 21. (English)
  39. Cf. Gerard Cheshire: "Linguistic missing links: instruction in decrypting, ranslating and transliterating the only document known to use both proto-Romance language and proto-Italic symbols for its writing system" , in: Science Survey (2017) 1, p 26. (English)
  40. Cf. Gerard Cheshire: "Linguistic missing links: instruction in decrypting, ranslating and transliterating the only document known to use both proto-Romance language and proto-Italic symbols for its writing system" , in: Science Survey (2017) 1, p 26. (English)
  41. Torsten Timm: How the Voynich Manuscript was created. 2015. arxiv : 1407.6639
  42. Torsten Timm, Andreas Schinner: A possible generating algorithm of the Voynich manuscript. in: Cryptologia. 2019. doi: 10.1080 / 01611194.2019.1596999
  43. Jürgen Hermes: The Voynich text generator. TEXperimenTales, May 16, 2016.
  44. ^ Rainer Hannig: Voynich-Hebrew. The way to decryption. June 7, 2020, accessed June 16, 2020 .
  45. Simon Benne, Martina Prante, Digestive Problems Instead of World Formula, Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung, June 19, 2020, p. 8
  46. steidl.de/Buecher/Unter-Schwalbenzinnen-Florenz-Fruehling-1442 November 14, 2015
  47. http://proverbis.at/html/buecher33.html March 31, 2017
  48. Webcomic Voynich manuscript at xkcd , accessed on August 19, 2017
  49. welt.de: The book that nobody can (yet) read , accessed on August 19, 2017
  50. ^ N-tv.de: Verlag publishes enigmatic book , accessed on August 19, 2017
  51. Probably first broadcast on December 10, 2009 at 9:05 p.m., cf. ORF report from December 3, 2009 (accessed on January 5, 2012).
  52. Probably a repetition with a slightly different title, cf. arte TV program from December 1, 2011 ( memento of the original from November 6, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (accessed January 5, 2012). @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.arte.tv