The Voynich manuscript – have we really found the key?

One of the most interesting news of the last days is the claim, by the University of Alberta, that researchers have used one AI to decode sections of this world-famous manuscript. What’s the hype? Well, the Voynich manuscript is the one often defined  “the most cryptic and mysterious book ever written” and, even now, nobody understands the language of it.

Not a lot is known about it, either. The manuscript (the name comes from the last owner who purchased it in 1912) is an illustrated codex hand-written, in a cheap vellum that makes it the Renaissance equivalent of a paperback. Nobody knows exactly when it has been written, but the carbon-dating system dated it about the early 15th century (1404–1438). The location is unknown, too, but experts believe Northern Italy as the most likely place of origin. And no author’s name, of course.

A lot has been written about the Voynich manuscript, and the Canadian essay at translation is only one attempt of a quite long list. “The handwritten, 240-page screed, now housed in Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, is written from left to right in an unknown language. On top of that, the text itself is likely to have been scrambled by an unknown code. Despite numerous attempts to crack the code by some of the world’s best cryptographers, including Alan Turing and the Bletchley Park team, the contents of the enigmatic book have long remained a mystery.” (Smithsonian Magazine)

Moreover, there’s not only the script that puzzles the scholars.  “The script is comprised of roughly 25 to 30 individual characters (interpretations vary) written from left to right in a single, elegant hand. Scattered throughout are illustrations off unidentifiable plants, astrological diagrams, doodles of castles and dragons, and a particularly odd section that shows naked women bathing in pools connected by flowing tubes. It looks like the map of an ancient water park, but scholars suggest it might be medical or alchemical in intent.

Did the Canadian researchers really manage to crack the code? 

Apparently not. “According to experts, the Voynich manuscript remains as inscrutable as ever. But understanding why this new research fails to “decode” the text, and what exactly it does add to the annals of Voynichology, has its own value. It also emphasizes (if further emphasis were needed) that this manuscript is one extremely odd cookie.” (The Verge)

Read the technicalities of the algorithmic technique adopted here.

For more about this amazing mystery, have a look at this.


  1. ccyager

    Wow, first I’ve heard of this manuscript. Thanks for posting!

    1. Steph P. Bianchini (Post author)

      It’s actually quite amazing. Worth all your time 🙂

  2. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    That’s fascinating! I never heard about this, but now I’m going to fill the gap, because it’s far too intriguing to set aside… 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Steph P. Bianchini (Post author)

      Yes, it is. I’ve bought the Yale hardcopy photographic edition and I’m marvelling how good it is.


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