The Voynich manuscript is a handwritten book thought to have been written in the 15th or 16th century and comprising about 240 vellum pages, most with illustrations. The author, script, and language remain unknown: for these reasons it has been described as “the world’s most mysterious manuscript”.
Generally presumed to be some kind of ciphertext, the Voynich manuscript has been studied by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including American and British codebreakers from both World War I and World War II. Yet it has defied all decipherment attempts, becoming a historical cryptology cause célèbre. The mystery surrounding it has excited the popular imagination, making the manuscript a subject of both fanciful theories and novels: numerous possible authors have been suggested for it.
In 2009, University of Arizona researchers performed C14 dating on the manuscript’s vellum, which they assert (with 95% confidence) was made between 1404 and 1438. In addition, the McCrone Research Institute in Chicago found that much of the ink was added not long afterwards, confirming that the manuscript is indeed an authentic medieval document. However, these results have yet to be published properly, leaving room for continued speculation.
The book is named after the Polish-Lithuanian-American book dealer Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired it in 1912. Currently the Voynich manuscript is owned by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, and is formally referred to as “Beinecke MS 408”. The first facsimile edition was published in 2005.
The illustrations of the manuscript shed little light on the precise nature of its text but imply that the book consists of six “sections”, with different styles and subject matter. Except for the last section, which contains only text, almost every page contains at least one illustration. The overall impression given by the surviving leaves of the manuscript is that it was meant to serve as a pharmacopoeia or to address topics in medieval or early modern medicine. However, the puzzling details of illustrations have fueled many theories about the book’s origins, the contents of its text, and the purpose for which it was intended.
Following are the sections and their conventional names:
Herbal – Astronomical – Biological – Cosmological – Pharmaceutical – Recipes.