Cryptography: The enigmatic Voynich manuscript is finally accessible


This unpublished work, written in an unknown language and adorned with strange illustrations, has been challenging cryptanalysts for a century. For the first time, it is published for the general public.

The news will delight lovers of mysteries. The Spanish publishing house Siloé (Burgos) has obtained the right to reproduce identically the Voynich, a medieval manuscript that has never been deciphered and coveted by innumerable curious people.

„We made this decision because of the fragility of the original, we can not allow a large number of people to manipulate it,“ says Raymond Clemens, curator of Beinecke Library in Yale (USA), where the Voynich is preserved. It was shot at 898 copies costing about 8,000 € each. „We have also published a photographic facsimile,“ says Raymond Clemens.

With its 234 sheets of parchment, the Voynich – named after the bibliophile who discovered the manuscript in Italy in 1912 – was made between 1404 and 1438. But according to the cryptanalyst Antoine Casanova, member of the ARCSI (Association of reservists of the figure and information security), „it could be a copy of a much earlier original“.

The meaning of this manuscript without title or author remains an enigma for statisticians, linguists, botanists or philosophers. Is it written in an encrypted script? A forgotten idiom, even invented? Antoine Casanova leans for a language derived from Latin. „The big letters ornamented with loops refer to the manuscripts of the twelfth century, he assures. The analysis of linguistic structures is reminiscent of the Anglo-Norman“.

Strange plants, constellations, sirens, lizards … The colorful drawings of Voynich intrigue as much as his writing. Especially his feminine figures in the bath. And what if the book was made by a woman? „The first European manuscript on care for women – De passionibus mulierum curandarum Trotula Salerno (eleventh century) – describes the use of therapeutic baths that can be likened to the drawings of the Voynich, argues Antoine Casanova.

But a second index opens a different track. The text of Voynich fits the drawings, which would have been made before him, which would endorse the track of a professional illustrator, probably male. One thing is certain, however, according to the cryptanalyst: „To say that it is a hoax is a way out of any research effort.“

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