Age of Voynich

“Most Mysterious Manuscript
in the World” Has Been Dated

When American antique book dealer and collector, Wilfrid M. Voynich, discovered the manuscript that now bears his name, in Frascati, near Rome, he couldn’t have known that the enigma of its authorship would be still strong, almost a century later.
For since its discovery, in 1912, celebrated cryptologists and scholars, many of whom went on to start intelligence and espionage agencies for the world’s super powers, have so far failed to identify its author or decipher its content. The date of its publication, though, seems to have just been established.
Carbon-14 tests, performed under cutting edge conditions at the NSF-Arizona Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, have determined its origin to be between 1404 and 1438.
As with everything about the manuscript, such a narrow range has met some skepticism due to the vagaries of measuring anything with carbon-14. But the researchers attributed this fact to rapid changes in radiocarbon levels in early 15th century, ideal for higher carbon-dating accuracy.

The book’s content is hand-written in an unknown alphabet, on 240 vellum (calfskin) pages, with crudely drawn illustrations depicting objects resembling plants, none of which identifiable, ancient lab equipment, astrological signs, diagrams, and naked women.
Voynich credited the manuscript to Roger Bacon, a 13th-century Englishman, friar, scientist, and pre-Copernican astronomer, a theory that contradicts its latest carbon dating, and believed it belonged to Emperor Rudolph II of Bohemia. But many point Bacon’s countryman John Dee, a mathematician, navigator, and intelligence agent who lived in the 1500s, as the author, among other candidates.
Some claimed it was just an elaborated hoax, a rumor not unlike the infamous “Da Vinci Code.” Others speculated it’s the secret work of a religious sect, the only remaining document from a forgotten language, an unbreakable secret code, or the recipe for the “elixir of life.”
Whatever it is, its author, or authors, took pains to disguise its real meaning even from their contemporaries. The language doesn’t show any similarity to the known tongues used in Europe and Asia at that time. And the illustrations, long thought to be a treatise in botanical knowledge and/or alchemy, proved to be neither.
Copious notations on the margins of the pages, believed to have been added along several years after its initial publication, may attest to the zeal and attention to detail its authors wished to give to whatever it was they were trying to write about.
While the famous Codes derived in the 16th-century from The Stenographica of Johannes Tritemius, Bishop of Sponheim, were at the origin of virtually all secret encryptions adopted for over a century by military, religious and political powers of the time, the Voynich Manuscript proved unusable.
Its obscure stanzas and esoteric drawings are too cumbersome to be related in any way to the bishop’s “cipher,” an ingenious but relatively simple system.
So the mystery remains. While the mechanical art of dating ancient artifacts has evolved considerably, the identification of an author is still based in comparative studies of style and period of attribution, both tasks requiring extensive knowledge of the subject being studied.

Many an ancient document has been the focus of scholarly research for years without progress for lack of a richer context onto which to situate it. Any Shakespeare scholar knows how hard it is to probe the Bard’s era, despite voluminous bibliography, and it gets even worse for the times prior to Gutenberg‘s Bible.
In an exercise of extreme irony, imagine that some proverbial alien race visiting earth, a thousand years from now, would find no books but only the manuscript. Assuming authorship would be beside the point, what kind of parallel civilization its hieroglyphs would tell the story of? Perhaps for them, the attribution “the most mysterious manuscript of the world,” would sound somewhat redundant.

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