The Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich Manuscript featured in The Source not only exists but lays claim to being the most mysterious document in the world.  No larger than a conventional hardback novel, the world has been fascinated by it since 1912, when the book dealer Wilfrid Voynich came across the 134-page volume at the Villa Mondragone, a Jesuit college in Frascati, Italy.  Tucked inside was a letter, dated 1666, in which the rector of the University of Prague asks a well-known scholar to attempt to decipher the encoded text.  According to the letter, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia had bought the book for six hundred gold ducats.  
The manuscript contains bizarre drawings of strange plants, naked women with distended abdomens bathing in green water, and astronomical symbols, but it was the text that intrigued Voynich and the countless others who tried in vain to decipher it.  The symbols are teasingly familiar, often resembling Roman letters, Arabic numerals and Latin abbreviations.  Elaborate gallows-shaped characters decorate many beginnings of lines, while an enigmatic swirl, like the number “9” can be found at the end of many words.
When Voynich brought the manuscript to the United States he invited cryptographers to examine it, but to no avail.  In 1961 H.P. Krause, a New York antiquarian-book dealer bought it, and in 1969 donated it to Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.  In the 1960s and 1970s America’s vaunted  National Security Agency put their best cryptanalysts to work on it, but even the NSA failed to decipher it. 
In the last decade or so, researchers employing a battery of statistical methods, including entropy and spectral analysis, have discovered that Voynichese – as the language of the text is known - displays statistical properties consistent with natural languages, which suggests it is unlikely to be the random writings of a madman or fraud.  They also discovered that the text reads from left to right and employs between twenty-three and thirty individual symbols, of which the entire manuscript contains around 234,000 - which amounts to about 40,000 words, with a vocabulary of perhaps 8200.  Most words are six characters long and show less variation than those of English, Latin and other Indo-European languages.  
Despite all this analysis, however, we are still no closer to knowing what the manuscript says, who wrote it, or why.

Sample pages

Detail from page 234 of
The Voynich

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