|2.||Description of the manuscript|
|3.||Origin of the manuscript|
|4.||Known history of the manuscript|
|5.||Past analysis and proposed solutions|
|6.||Analysis of the illustrations|
|7.||Analysis of the writing (script)|
|8.||Analysis of the text|
The year is 1912. The successful dealer in old books Wilfrid M. Voynich acquires a number of priceless mediaeval manuscripts from an undisclosed location in Europe. Among these is a parchment codex of 234 pages, written in an unknown script.
The manuscript is profusely illustrated, with drawings, among others, of plants and astronomical patterns. It appears to be a scientific work from the middle ages, but due to its unknown script, the contents are a complete mystery.
Voynich took the MS to the United States and started a campaign to have its text deciphered. Now, almost 100 years later, the Voynich manuscript still stands as the most elusive enigma in the world of cryptography. Not a single word of this 'Most Mysterious Manuscript', written probably in the first half of the 15th Century, can be understood.
Attached to the manuscript was a letter in Latin dated 1666 from Johannes Marcus Marci of Kronland, once rector of the Charles University of Prague, to the learned Jesuit Athanasius Kircher in Rome, offering the manuscript for translation and mentioning that it had once been bought by Emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia (1552-1612) for 600 gold ducats. The letter further mentioned that it was believed that the author of the MS was Roger Bacon (the Franciscan friar who lived from 1214 to 1294).
Another early owner of the MS was identified by Voynich when, on the lower margin of the first folio, under special illumination, the erased signature of Jacobus de Tepenec was found. Tepenec was one of Emperor Rudolf's courtiers and the director of his botanical gardens and he must have owned the manuscript between 1608, when he received his title "de Tepenec", and 1622, when he died. The MS has changed hands sevetal times, and apart from some minor gaps in our knowledge its path from the court of Rudolf II to its final resting place, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, can be traced fairly accurately.
The MS became famous when, in the 1920's, William Romaine Newbold proposed a spectacular decipherment with which he meant to prove that it was indeed written by Roger Bacon, and that Bacon had not only dreamt of, but actually built microscopes and telescopes. When this 'solution' of the MS was disproven by John M. Manly in 1931, the MS gradually became a pariah in world of mediaeval studies. In the 1940's and 1960's the eminent cryptanalyst William F. Friedman made several valiant attempts at deciphering the MS, aided by groups of experts, but also he did not find any solution.
In 1961 the book was acquired by H. P. Kraus (a New York book antiquarian) for the sum of $24,500. He later valued at $160,000, but unable to find a buyer he donated it to Yale University. Though officially registered as MS 408, it is still best known as the Voynich Manuscript.
Innumerable people have tried to decipher the text, and many have claimed that they have found the solution, but none of these has been convincing. Today, it is still unclear whether the MS really has a meaningful text. It is equally unclear whether, if the text is meaningful, it relates to the illustrations or not.
For a long time there has been a suspicion that the MS could be a modern forgery, perhaps even from the hand of Voynich, but recently its parchment has been scientifically dated using radiocarbon analysis, showing that the parchment dates from the first decades of the 15th century.
Neither the author nor the place of origin of the MS could be established until now, so the mystery remains. It has, however, been confirmed that this is a real mystery, not a modern forgery...