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History of research of the manuscript

Introduction

The history of the Voynich MS is described in three parts, on three pages:

This page addresses the third part, the history of the manuscript research and analysis.

The modern beginning

When Wilfrid Voynich first saw the manuscript, he immediately considered the 13th Century Franciscan friar Roger Bacon as its possible author, most probably prompted to this by the reference to Bacon in the Marci letter. He then embarked on a thorough study of the MS's history, in the hope of being able to prove this. While that would make the Voynich MS an incredibly important and valuable document in the history of science, a fact to which an antiquarian book dealer would not have been insensitive, it is apparent from the way in which he performed his search that he seems to have genuinely believed that Bacon was the author of the Voynich MS (1).

We need, however, first to go back in time, as we now know that already centuries ago people have attempted to solve the puzzle presented by the Voynich MS.

The earliest research

The first evidence of attempts to crack the Voynich MS is presented on its first folio (f1r). In the right-hand margin there is an apparently erased cipher table, which is only partly visible even under UV illumination. It has one column with the characters of the Latin alphabet, a second column with the characters of the Voynich MS aligned with the Latin alphabet, and a third column, slightly more displaced, with again the Latin alphabet, but shifted up by one position. The first attractive idea could be that this is the key to the MS, left here for us by its author, but as we know from character entropy analysis (2), the Voynich MS text cannot be the result of a simple substitution. Therefore, this table must be a decipherer's attempt, although Dr. Gerhard Strasser proposes an interesting alternative, by which these are notes made by a later owner, who is creating his own code from the cipher alphabet of the Voynich MS (3).

It is not certain when this cipher table was written, or by whom. If it has indeed been erased at the same time as the Tepenec signature, then perhaps it predates Kircher as the erasure of the signature is more likely to have been done before the MS was sent to Kircher (4). Both Barschius and Marci would be prime suspects here.

Barschius

Georgius Barschius (or Baresch) wrote two letters to Kircher, the second of which has been preserved. Both from this letter, and from the Marci letter accompanying the Voynich MS (5), it is clear that Barschius must have spent many years trying to read the Voynich MS. We know from his 1639 letter that he thought that the MS described medicinal wisdom from the Orient, brought to Europe by a traveller. This immediately evokes two associations.

The first is that of Leonhard Rauwolf, famous for his travels to the Orient, during which he collected plants which he dried and glued into his herbals. As descibed in the history page, Rauwolf's herbals were brought to emperor Rudolf II and sold to him.

The second, and even more interesting one, is the preface to the German Herbarius or 'Herbarius zu Teutsch,' sometimes also called the German Ortus Sanitatis, or the Smaller Ortus (6). The German Herbarius appears to be a work independent from the Latin 'Herbarius' (ak.a. the pseudo-Apuleius) except for the third part of the book — the index of drugs according to their uses — which may owe something to it. It appears from the preface that the originator of the book was a rich man, who had travelled in the east, and that the medical portion was compiled under his direction by a physician. The latter was probably Dr Johann von Cube, who was town physician of Frankfort at the end of the fifteenth century.
Since Barschius also writes in his letter that 'the volume contains pictures of exotic plants which have escaped observation here in Germany' it seems plausible that Barschius owned, or at least used, a copy of this German herbal.

Barschius was an alchemist, interested in its application to medicine (7). We can also only guess what Barschius really knew about the origin of the MS. Tantalisingly, Marci writes in his letter to Kircher that he not only sends him the Voynich MS, but also Barschius' extensive notes of his work. These notes have not surfaced so far. It is rather likely that they have been lost, but if they still survive, they could quite possibly include valuable information. If Kircher received and kept them, they would have been part of the collection confiscated by the Italian state in 1873 and would now be preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma (8).

Mnišovský

We know from Marci's letter that Rafael Mnišovský discussed the possible origin of the Voynich MS with Marci, and this must have taken place before 1644. Philip Neal even interprets the translation of the Marci letter to indicate that this should have been between 1626 and 1636. In any case, at this time, Barschius was still alive (9), so still the owner of the MS. Mnišovský states the opinion that the Voynich MS is a Roger Bacon MS. Was this also the opinion at Rudolf's court? We don't know, but it is certain (10) that Roger Bacon was held in the highest esteem at this time, and considered one of the greatest alchemists. Mnišovský was, according to his own words, deeply interested in alchemy, and a great supporter of the Polish alchemist Sendivogius (11).

Marci

We have no information about any research by Marci on the Voynich MS. We just know that he held on to the MS between the time of Barschius' death and his own serious decline in health, when he ultimately sent it to Kircher. From the letters of Godefrid A. Kinner (12). we know that Marci was extremely eager to find out what Kircher thought of the MS. He must have been aware of the two different theories of Barschius and Mnišovský, and writes in his letter to Kircher that he does not want to express an opinion about it.

Kircher

Kircher's complete silence about the Voynich MS has puzzled many. More recently, the Czech historian Josef Smolka discovered Kircher's reply to Barschius' first (now lost) letter (13). In a letter from Kircher to Theodor Moretus, dated 12 March 1639 and now preserved in Moretus' scientific diary kept in the National Library in Prague (14), Kircher responds to a letter from Moretus and writes about unknown symbols from a book surrounded by mystery which Moretus sent to him in his letter. Kircher reports that he was not successful in translating it, but is still hoping for success later on. Furthermore (but this may refer to another item sent by Moretus - the Latin is somewhat ambiguous) he recognises a similarity with certain Illyrian characters in the style of Hiernoymus, i.e. the Glagolitic script. We know from Barschius' second letter that he had his first letter sent by Moretus, and now we see that Kircher responded to Moretus directly, some six weeks before Barschius sent his second letter. The wording of the second Barschius letter suggests impatience, perhaps even exasperation from the side of Barschius, but it appears as if no further correspondence took place on this topic.

Back to the 20th century

Wilfrid Voynich

After Voynich acquired the MS, he set into motion a proper campaign to find out more about it, and he contacted many experts. Kahn (15) names in this respect: paleographer H. Omont of the Paris Bibliothèque Nationale (who had written a learned article about a 15th-C cryptographic MS on alchemy), Prof. A.G. Little, a foremost authority on Bacon, a Harvard authority of anatomy, George Fabyan of the Riverbank Laboratories, the vice president of the Royal Astronomical Society in London, and 'even' Dom Aidan, Cardinal Gasquet, prefect of the Vatican Archives. Almost certainly these and others tried to solve the puzzle. Among these, in 1917, was John M. Manly, then second in command of Yardley's MI-8.

When the manuscript was first shown to expert cryptologists, they thought that solving it would be easy as the text was composed of "words", some of which were more frequent and occurred in certain combinations. This soon turned out to be a mistake; the text could not easily be converted into Latin, English, German or a host of other languages.

Parts of Voynich's own research can be reconstructed from his notes in the Beinecke library, and his 1921 publication (16). He searched for Roger Bacon autograph MSs, in order to match his handwriting to the text in the Voynich MS (in particular on f116v (17)). From 1918 newspaper reports, it appears that by this time the Prague history of the Voynich MS was still completely unknown territory, and the first dated research by Voynich in this area is from February 1921. He tried to identify the unnamed seller of the MS to Rudolf II. A handwritten note of Voynich in the Beinecke library contains a list of names he found, and we can be certain that he extracted these names from Bolton (1904) (18). His conclusion was that a Roger Bacon MS was most likely brought to Prague by John Dee (19).

Then, apparently in preparation for his 1921 publication, he concentrated on tracing the history of the MS by investigating the people associated with it. To resaerch the Prague part of the history, he wrote to the Bohemian state archives early in 1921, inquiring primarily about Jacobus de Tepenec and Dr. Raphael. In parallel he had his London employee Herbert Garland research Tepenec. This correspondence has largely been preserved. Garland seems to have spent most of his time in the library of the British Museum and was very effective, and Voynich sent him ever increasing requests for other names (20). From these letters we see that Voynich based all his knowledge about the court of Rudolf on the same source (21). By the time Voynich received a very long and detailed answer from from Prague, from Dr. Ladislav Klicman in March 1921, Garland had already provided him with most of the essentials (22), and Miss Howe, of the same London office of Voynich, had found the indication of the previous owner: Barschius, in the book 'Philosophia Vetus Restituta' of Marci. In his thank-you letter to Dr. Klicman, Voynich further inquires about Barschius, but there does not appear to be any answer (23).

Voynich also found out from a catalogue of Kircher's museum: De Sepi (1678) (24) that there once was a 12-volume binding of Kircher's correspondence, and immediately realised (correctly as we have seen) that this must be a valuable source for additional information about his MS. He decided to find out about this collection with Henri Hyvernat (about whom more below), who was in Rome at the time. For an as yet unknown reason, Voynich did not write to Hyvernat directly, but asked his trusted friend W.W. Bishop to do that for him. Hyvernat then inquired in Rome about Kircher's correspondence, and even the foremost expert, Fr. P. Tacchi Venturi (official historian of the Jesuits), who himself had already searched for it in all the principal libraries in Rome, didn't know anything, and was not even aware of the fact that this was a 12-volume collection. He suggested that it was probably lost some time between 1773 and 1824.

Newbold and Manly

In 1919, some of the reproductions of the Voynich MS reached one William Romaine Newbold, a professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. He set to work and decided that the Voynich MS is based on a very complicated cipher, involving anagrams of sections of 55 to 110 characters. He presented plain text solutions of various pages of the MS, indicating that it was written by Roger Bacon, and that Bacon had invented and used both a telescope and a microscope. He presented these results in April 1921, accompanied by Wilfrid Voynich's own presentation of the history of the MS (described as mentined above) and a presentation about he validity of Newbold's claims by an eminent professor of medicine: C.E. McClung.

In 1926 Newbold died, and the book that he had planned to write was published posthumously by his friend Roland Grubb Kent, in 1928 (25). His results were supported by such famous people as Étienne Gilson and Raoul Carton.

Among others, Newbold identified one page of the MS as a depiction of the great Andromeda nebula. The illustration shows a clear spiral structure and the deciphered text includes words referring to a spiral in the sky. The problem is that the spiral structure of this nebula can only be distinguished by modern telescopes (and this was achieved first not long before Newbold's days).

In 1931 John Manly wrote a critical paper (26) about Newbold's theory, exposing its important weaknesses. Newbold did not use the letters of the Voynich MS itself, but the irregularities of the edges of the letters as seen under a magnifying glass, which he converted to letters. The unreliability of a soluition based on anagraming was however the most important objection. Newbold and all those who followed his belief were to some extent disgraced and this may have had the effect of scaring off serious research of the Voynich MS.

Manly also left a statement that the solution of the Voynich MS is a relatively simple substitution cipher with extensive use of nulls. It has not been understood what he meant.

The Catholic University of America

In 1931, Mrs Voynich (E.L.V in the following), owner of the MS after the death of her husband, brought a photostatic copy of the MS to Prof. H. Hyvernat of the Catholic University. Hyvernat was a well-known expert on near-Eastern languages. In 1910 he had discovered a major collection of Coptic Manuscripts, and he had since been engaged in a major effort to ensure that the collection could stay together, rather than be scattered in different libraries all over the world. The Pierpont Morgan ibrary in New York was found willing to purchase the entire collection.

Returning to the Voynich MS, both Hyvernat and his assistant, Fr. Theodore Petersen, were immediately attracted to the problem presented by the MS. Prof. Hyvernat was too busy (and he also suffered from serious health problems) to spend much time on it. r. Petersen was not.

Theodore C. Petersen

Fr. Petersen started by making a complete photocopy of the photostats. He then embarked on the project of making a hand copy of the Voynich MS, using also the original MS kept in a safe deposit vault in New York, in the case of difficult passages. He completed it in 1944. Each page of this transcription includes comments about what it might represent. He also indicates odd character sequences and highlights frequent words. He includes many tentative plant identifications in the herbal section, using especially material by Holm and O'Neill (see below). These are presented at a dedicated page. He has also made a complete concordance of the words in the MS, but I have not seen this.

He worked on the Voynich MS until his death, and a very extensive correspondence between him, Miss Nill and E.L.V. on all possible related subjects has been preserved in the Beinecke Library archives. He became their most trusted expert, and new interested people, once they also acquired the confidence of E.L.V. and Anne Nill (e.g. Dr. Salomon, W. Friedman) were invariably referred to him. After his death, his material was given to Friedman (see below) and an inventory was made by Tiltman (see below). The material is now kept in the >> George C. Marshall Library and Archives, Lexington (Va).

Theodor Holm

A Danish botanist and zoologist (not Dutch as reported by D'Imperio (1978) (27), Section 3.3.1) who worked at the Catholic University and identified 16 plant species, all typically European. Quoted frequently in the hand transcription of Petersen.

Hugh O'Neill

Benedictine monk and botanist at the Catholic University who identified some plants as being New-World species, specifically Sunflower and Capsicum, see O'Neill (1944) (28). He is also quoted frequently in the hand transcription of Petersen.

Some scientists and historians

Erwin Panofsky

The famous Renaissance Art (in particular Albrecht Dürer) expert Panofsky (1892 - 1968) first became interested in the Voynich MS in 1931. This is recorded in correspondence of Anne Nill preserved both in the Beinecke Library and in the Grolier Club (29).

Based on the recommendation of Miss Belle Greene of the Morgan library, E.L.V. went to meet Dr. Erwin Panofsky of the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg at Hamburg, who was visiting New York, at the Morgan Library. There she showed him some of the photostats. He became immediately interested and wanted to see the original. He spent two hours examining it with E.L.V. and Anne Nill at the safety deposit vault in New York, and after an initial thought that the MS was perhaps as early as the 13th century, he changed his mind when he saw the female figures. He then dated the MS to 1410 - 20 - 30 (30). He believe that it was written in the southwestern corner of Europe: Spain, Portugal, Catalonia, or Provence; but most probably in Spain. He took a complete set of photostats with him to Germany, which he wanted that one of his colleagues see.

Many years later, Panofsky appears to have changed his mind on some of the aspects. He was requested to answer a list of 15 questions. Following is a summary of the questions and answers (31).

Q:
Have you examined the VMS itself?
A:
1931
Q:
What is it written on; with what writing tool?
A:
Parchment of some sort, not sure if vellum in the strict sense. Quill pen; coloring done with "wash".
Q:
What's the date?
A:
But for the sunflower, would have guessed 1470. "However, since the style of the drawings is fairly provincial, a somewhat later date, even the first years of the sixteenth century, would not seem to be excluded. I should not go lower than ca. 1510-1520 because no influence of the Italian Renaissance style is evident." (32)
Q:
Why do you think so?
A:
Character of the script, style of drawing, such costumes as are in evidence on certain pages, for example folio 72 recto.
Q:
What's it about?
A:
"...first, a general cosmological philoshopy explaining the medicinal properties of terrestrial objects, particularly plants, by celestial influences tranmitted by astral radiation and those "spirits" which were frequently believed to transmit the occult power of the stars to the earth; second, a kind of herbal describing the individual plants used for medical and, conceivably, for magic purposes; third, a description of such compunds as may be produced by combiningindividual plants in various ways."
Q:
Are there any plain text books sort of like the VMS?
A:
Herbals, cosmological and astorlogical treatises, medical treatises in the narrower sense of the term, and 4th, alchemy books. See Charles Singer, Richard Salomon, ..
Q:
What plain text have you found in the VMS?
A:
folio 70 ff in zodiac signs, f 66, and on f 116 v. On f. 66, R. Salomon says "der mus del" which is the same as "der Mussteil" which means the stock of household goods which cannot be withheld from a mans widow on his death. On f 116v, "so nim geismi[l]ch o", meaning, "... take goats milk, or..."
Q:
What plants, astonomical, etc, things have you recognized?
A:
Only sunflower (see note 32).
Q:
Is it all in the same hand?
A:
Except for last page, all in same hand, but not 100% sure.
Q:
Why was it written?
A:
Doctor or quack imparting secret knowledge to son or heir.
Q:
Where & when?
A:
Germany.
Q:
What do you think of the Roger Bacon theory?
A:
Quatsch. "At variance with all the available facts..."
Q:
Full title of the Dictionary of Abbreviations. Title of Hans Titze's book on forgeries, & of Mibillon's history of diplomatics.
A:
Adriano Cappelli, Diziionario delle Abbreviature Latine ed Italiane. Titze, Genuine and False: Copies, Imitations, and Forgeries, New York, 1948. Mabillon, De re Diplomatica, 1681.
Q:
What other scholars are interested in the VMS?
A:
Only Richard Salomon.
Q:
What do you think of the artificial language theory?
A:
Not much: dates are wrong. Maybe Alberti's interest in hieroglyphics was relevant (33).

In conclusion, Panofsky first thought the MS to be Spanish, with Arabic influences, and later changed his opinion that it could be German, mainly influenced by his friend and mentor Richard Salomon (for whom see below). He believed the origin to be in the 15th Century, but allowed a later date in consideration of the work of O'Neill.

Richard Salomon

Salomon (1884 - 1966) was one of the people involved in the founding of the Warburg Institute, and knew the younger Panofsky through this connection. They became close friends (34). Salomon met Anne Nill by chance as he was visiting the Library of Congress in Washington in 1936, where Anne Nill was working with W.J. Wilson (35). It turned out that Salomon was the expert who received the photostats from Panofsky as mentioned above, and he had been working with them very regularly. A long correspondence between Anne Nill and Salomon resulted from this chance encounter.

Salomon believed that the MS may be German. He was convinced that it was written in the 15th century, possibly as late as 1450, possibly earlier in the century. In particular, he suggested the following reading of some phrases in the Voynich MS (which are in the Latin alphabet): der Musdel on f66r and so nimm geiss milch on f116v.

Charles Singer

Singer was a well-known herbal expert. He compared the nymphs in the biological section of the Voynich MS to elements (archaei) in the work of Paracalsus, and generally beleived it to be a paracelsan work, for which see D'Imperio (1978) (see note 27), section 3.3.5. As reported in the previous page, he initially upset Anne Nill and E.L.V. with statements that he had seen the Voynich MS in the hands of another book dealer at the time when Voynich had discovered it, and retracted his statements, only to repeat his original opinion about the MS in a letter to Tiltman in 1957.

Other researchers

Feely

(See also D'Imperio Section 5.2).
In 1943, a Rochester (N.Y.) lawyer, Joseph Martin Feely, published a book (36) in which he announced his solution of the Voynich MS. His solution essentially proposes that the Voynich MS text results from a single substitution of highly abbreviated Latin. He does not say so specifically, but hints that the writer of the Voynich MS is indeed Roger Bacon. It is worth noting that Feely never obtained access to copies of the MS and had to work from illustrations in Kent & Newbold.
To quote D'Imperio:

Unfortunately for Feely, however, no other student has accepted his solution as valid

And she also quotes Tiltman (1967) (37) (p.6):

His unmethodical method produced text in unacceptable medieval Latin, in unauthentic abbreviated forms.

Some examples of his results are also given in D'Imperio (Fig 25).

Strong

Prof. Leonell C. Strong was a medical scientist from Yale University, reknowned for his work on cancer, and he became attracted to the Voynich MS by O'Neill's publication. Working from illustrations in Newbold's book of a few pages, he devised a complicated polyalphabetic substitution cipher in which he saw the solution of the MS. The details of his system were not disclosed and can only be partly reconstructed. He concluded that the MS was written by Anthony Askham, the lesser known brother of Roger Askham. Some of his plaintext, which has been heavily criticised as being unrealistic, is given here:

When skuge of tun'e -bag rip, seo uogon kum sli of se mosure-issued ped-stans skubent, stokked kimbo-elbow crawknot.

Some problems with this solution are:

The name of the proposed author (Askham) is read from the deciphered plain text so also this must be taken with some caution. There are still students of the Voynich MS who support and further explore the solution proposed by Strong.

Child

Proposed a solution based on a Nordic language.

William and Elizebeth Friedman


The Friedman couple with a photographic copy of the Voynich MS.

The involvement of especially William Friedman with the Voynich MS has been the subject of dedicated publications, most recently by J. Reeds. This short summary cannot do justice to Friedman's work. (See also D'Imperio Section 6.5).

William F. Friedman (1891-1969) is remembered as one of the world's foremost cryptologers. He already became involved with the Voynich MS when, together with Manly, he demonstrated the invalidity of Newbold's theory. Apart from the fact that he spent some time on the MS himself, he also tried very hard to interest other scholars in it. In 1944 he brought together what later became known as the First Study Group (FSG). During his work with them, he developed the theory that the Voynich MS represented a text in a synthetic language (constructed according to strict logical principles).

First Study Group

(See also D'Imperio Section 6.2). The First Study Group (FSG) was active from 1944 to 1946 and consisted of (at least) the following people: (<Reeds)
Robert A. Caldwell
G. E. McCracken
Thomas A. Miller
Frances Puckett, later Frances Wilbur
Mark Rhoads
William M. Seaman

This group, composed of specialists in a wide variety of fields, was doing war work in Washington and awaiting demobilisation. They agreed to get together after working hours and study the Voynich MS under Friedman's leadership. Plans were made for devising a transcription alphabet, and producing a complete transcription in computer-readable form. They transcribed most of the Voynich MS.

Second Study Group

(See also D'Imperio Section 6.4). The so-called second study group was active from 1962-1963, though the term 'Second Study Group' appears not to have been used by them. Jim Reeds has researched also their work. An audio tape of the openion session of their collaboration has been preserved, and the introduction by Friedman has been played to the audience of the Voynich MS panel discussion in the Folger Library on 11 November 2014.

John Tiltman

(See also D'Imperio Section 6.6). John Tiltman was a British intelligence specialist, working in association with William Friedman. The latter asked Tiltman for his opinion on the Voynich MS text, and sent him copies of the final quire of the MS (the so-called recipes section which does not have any illustrations apart from the marginal stars). Friedman and Tiltman independently came to the same conclusion, that the MS text appears like an early example of an artifical (constructed) language.

Tiltman published his findings in an interesting article (see note 37). He also wrote about the work done by Theodore Petersen, a reference which unfortunately I have not seen.

The 1970's

In the 1970's a revival of Voynich MS studies may be observed, with a variety of researchers approaching the problem from many different aspects.

Robert S. Brumbaugh

(D'Imperio section 5.4). Brumbaugh, professor of medieval philosophy, became interested in the Voynich MS during the '30's, and was particularly fascinated by O'Neill's publication about the American plant species. He became a follower of the hypothesis that the MS was a deliberate fraud by Dee and/or Kelly in order to dupe emperor Rudolph II, but that there was an underlying text which he tried to decipher with a code which maps all roman characters (many-to-one) onto the numbers 0-9, and these were mapped (one-to-many) onto the Voynich MS alphabet.

Using this system, Brumbaugh published solutions of some plant labels and of many of the zodiac labels. (Include references here). D'Imperio is quite supportive of Brumbaugh's theories, but despite the multiple degrees of freedom in his cipher, the produced plaintext is anything other than convincing. (38).

William Ralph Bennett

Bennett, another Yale professor, used the Voynich MS in a book about problem solving with the computer (39). Rather than presenting a theory about the meaning of the Voynich MS, Bennett concentrated on the statistics of the text and finding measures of its properties. He was probably the first to note the low entropy of the Voynich MS text, which is discussed extensively in the analysis section of this web site. The only language he found with an entropy similar to the Voynich MS was Hawaiian, without suggesting a connection, though. He also mentioned the similarity of some characters to the Glagolithic script, a view expressed already in the 17th Century by Athanasius Kircher (see above).

Jeffrey Krischer

While still a student, Krischer wrote a paper also investigating the text properties of the Voynich MS. This paper is extremely difficult to find, and we only have D'Imperio's summary analysis of it.

Mary E. D'Imperio

Mary D'Imperio was introduced to the problem of the Voynich MS by John Tiltman in 1975, and in the following years she wrote a monograph (see note 27), summarising all recorded work about the Voynich MS. For thirty years this has been the standard reference for the Voynich MS, and it is still the most quoted work about it.
She also wrote several papers about different features of the MS text (40).

Prescott Currier

See D'Imperio Section 6.8.
His landmark presentation in 1976 is available at this site (41).
Further material is about his discovery of different hands and different "languages" in the Voynich MS is discussed extensively elsewhere at this web site (see note 2).

Alfred Werner

Quoted in Blunt and Raphael (1979) (42), p.89.

A.G. Watson

Identified foliation on Voynich MS to be in the hand of John Dee (but this is still contested by other Dee experts).

John Stojko

Stojko proposed in a book published in 1978 (43) that the Voynich MS is a copy of a series of letters written in Ukrainian. These letters were encrypted by removing all the vowels and writing the consonants in a secret alphabet. The main reasons why Stojko's solution is finding little acceptance are:

Leo Levitov

Levitov proposed a pronouciation for the characters of the Voynich MS which leads to a largely pronounceable text, which he claims is in a creole mainly based on Flemish. His translation of this text deals with a Cathar cult of Isis followers, and rites related to Euthanasia. He published his results in a monograph (44). The linguistic aspect has been contested by Jacques Guy (45). and the differences with the known practices of the Cathars in S.France have been analysed by Dennis Stallings (46).

Modern research

From the earliest days of the internet, discussions related to the Voynich MS have taken place there, and in 1991, after a flurry of electronic mails via a Usenet newsgroup, a dedicated mailing list was set up. For a decade or so, this was the most focussed, yet very informal, study of the Voynich MS, by a group of enthousiast from a wide variety of backgrounds. The first ftp site dedicated to the MS was created by Jim Gillogly. Since then, many new web resource dedicated to the Voynich MS have been set up, including wikis and blogs, but the original mailing list still exists, even though it has moved a few times before it settled onto its >> current home.

The main initial activities of this new group (apart from the ultimate desire to find the solution of the Voynich MS) were to obtain access to a good copy of the MS and to continue / complete the transcription of the MS. With respect to the former, on 1 June 2004 the Beinecke library has made available a nearly complete high-quality digital colour scan of the MS. It can be accessed by clicking on the Pics button on most pages at this web site.

Further transcriptions of missing pages in the Currier / D'Imperio files were made by the group, and Reeds discovered the almost complete transcriptions made by Friedman's study groups, in the George C. Marshall Library and Archives in Lexington, Virginia. These were entered in computer form by J.Reeds and J.Guy.

In 1995, the herbal expert in medieval herbals Sergio Toresella inspected the MS at the Beinecke library and wrote, in an article concerned with 'alchemical herbals' (47) that the Voynich MS appears to be written in a script fitting with the Italian humanist book movement, and should therefore be dated around 1460, and not much later. He also suggests that the purpose of the book was to impress the gullible clientele of a doctor or quack.

Individual studenys of the Voynich MS have performed a multitude of analyses of the MS. It presently appears too difficult to properly present these at this site, and only the briefest and not up-to-date summary is presented at the analysis page(s). In any case, it is possible to retrieve the archives of the mailing list in compressed form from the >> mailing list home page (go to bottom).

Gordon Rugg

A proposed solution to the Voynich MS, which attracted a lot of attention in the press, was developed by Gordon Rugg in 2003. Based on statistical analyses done in the late 90's and early years of the 21st century by the Brazilian Jorge Stolfi, the English scientist has proposed that the Voynich MS text could well have been generated more or less randomly by techniques which would have been available in the 16th Century, and points in particular to Edward Kelley as the perpetrator of the implied hoax (48).

The proposed method consists in the use of a Cardan grille and a set of sheets with word fragments or syllables. The major problems with this are that:

There is, however, an important aspect which lies at the basis of Gordon Rugg's theory. This relates to the question why the solution to the Voynich MS has not yet been found. Rugg's answer to that question is that all analysts are making a number of assumptions, and these assumptions are prohibiting them from finding the answer. More specifically, essentially everyone assumes that the MS text is meaningful and can be deciphered. While Rugg's solution has'nt been accepted, this understanding of hidden or unstated assumptions is certainly very important.

The Voynich MS may very well have no meaningful content, either deliberately by the author, or because its meaning was lost in the process of its creation.

Astronomical events

Robert Teague has developed a theory whereby he connects several illustrations in the astronomical part of the MS with celestial events taking place in the 16th Century. He has especially concentrated on comet events, and the path of the moon through the Pleiades, which would appear to be represented on folio 68r3.

More recently, P. Han of the UK has presented a very similar theory on an elaborate web site.

Nick Pelling

Nick Pelling presents his theory about the authorship of the Voynich MS in "The Curse of the Voynich" - Pelling (2006) (49). Based on details in the illustrations of the Voynich MS, in particular the rosettes folio, he believes that the MS originates from Milan, around or shortly after the middle of the 15th Century. As author he identifies the architect Antonio Averlino, based on details of his life.

Beside this theory, Nick presents many detailed and important observations about the MS itself, related to the writing and to the composition of the codex. His work on the He continues to explore both paths at his very extensive Blog.

Andreas Schinner

Important statistical analyses were performed by the Austrian mathematician Andreas Schinner, which were published in Cryptologia (50). The results strongly suggest that the text of the Voynich MS is probably meaningless. This work has received some media attention due to its relation with the work of Gordon Rugg, but due to its complicated nature it has not yet been properly understood or assessed in Voynich MS circles.

Edith Sherwood

The retired PhD in chemistry Edith Sherwood has performed a number of analyses on the Voynich MS, which she presents at a well-designed web site. It includes (among others) her theory that the Voynich MS was written by a young Leonardo da Vinci, her identification of most of the herbal drawings in the MS, and a possible solution to the text.

Rich SantaColoma

Based on the striking likeness of the containers in the pharmaceutical section with earliest microscopes, Rich has first developed the theory that the Voynich MS was written by one of the earliest microscope developers Cornelius Drebbel, either by himself, or in collaboration with Francis Bacon. This theory also takes into account the phantasy style of the Voynich MS drawings, which he links to the idea of an imaginary world as in Francis Bacon's "New Atlantis". More recently, he also seriously considers that the Voynich MS was 'faked' by W. Voynich, finding evidence how 15th C parchment could have been available for such an enterprise. He maintains a blog about his views.

Diane O'Donovan

Diane O'Donovan believes that the imagery in the manuscript shows the Voynich to be a collection of extracts gained from considerably older sources, chiefly Hellenistic. She believes that this material was copied in the fifteenth century. Her analysis refers only to the imagery; no opinion is offered on the written text.

100 years of Voynich MS

In 2012 the traditional (51) discovery of the Voynich MS in Villa Mondragone reached its 100th anniversary. This was celebrated with a conference in the same villa, on 11 May. It was attended by a multitude of active Voynich researchers and included a series of presentations on all relevant areas of reasearch. A report of this event is provided at a separate set of pages.

More recent proposed solutions

The year 2014 has seen a flood of newly proposed solutions, some of which received some attention in the press. Most prominent were the theory that the Voynich MS is associated with the Aztec culture in Meso-America, by Tucker and Talbot, and the tentative identification of about 10 herb names in the text, by UK linguist S. Bax.

Notes

1
This is very clear from the documents left by Voynich, now kept as collateral material to the Voynich MS in the Beinecke library of Yale University.
2
As explained in a later section of this web site.
3
As recorded in the 2009 documentary film produced by ProOmnia and ORF.
4
This highly tentative conclusion is explored on the history page.
5
The Barschius letter is discussed here and the Marci letter here.
6
From Arber (1912) chapter 4, paraphrased here.
7
As discussed in detail in Garber (2002). The source of her work is quoted and translated here.
8
Significant parts of the catalogues of various collections are available digitally on-line, but searches have not turned up anything so far. It could also have ended up in the Italian State Archive in 1873. In any case, the chances that this material has survived are very small.
9
He was working until 1646, see his biography.
10
Rafal Prinke, priv. comm.
11
For more details, see his biography.
12
Which are discussed here.
13
Published in Smolka and Zandbergen (2010).
14
Sign. VI B 12b, p.70. The relevant text of the letter is transcribed here.
15
See Kahn (1967).
16
See Voynich (1921).
17
This by itself has to be conclusive proof that the Voynich MS was not a fake by W.Voynich himself, since this investigation (which he never published, presumably due to lack of success) would have been either superfluous or pointless in that case.
18
Bolton (1904). Following is a partial listing of the names, and in brackets the page number on which this name first appears in Bolton, showing that he noted these names as he was reading the book.
Christ von Hirschberg (p.19), Daniel Prandtner, alchemist (p.19), Magister Jeremias (p.19), Salomena Scheinfplug (p.20), Claudius Syrrus (p.20), Ch.Guarinonius Ital. alchem. (p.23), Wresowitz (library ???) contained akchells ??? (p.37), George Kretschmar (p.39), Drebbel, was imprisoned (p.93), Typotius Libr. To Rudolph (p.160), Sebald Schwertzer [long] (p.65), Sendivogius (p.123).
19
Ironically, among the people listed in the above note, Sebald Schwertzer actually sold (or rather gave) a Roger Bacon MS to Rudolf. It is now preserved in Leiden, see a >>web page of Philip Neal.
20
After Tepenec came Dr. Raphael, followed by Mardochaeus de "Delle" (Bolton's mistake, it should be "Nelle") and Jacopo di Strada, and others not directly at Rudolf's court.
21
Bolton (1904), see also note 18 above. Garland pointed out to Voynich that it is a popular and romanticised book, based on the writings of Joseph Svatek.
22
Yet, in his 1921 publication Voynich acknowledges the support from the director of the Bohemian State Archive, but not that of his own staff.
23
For the research about Barschius, see also: source material: Marci about Barschius and source material: Voynich about Barschius.
24
De Sepi (1678), p. 65.
25
As Newbold (1928)
26
See Manly (1931)
27
D'Imperio (1978). This publication will be cited frequently on this page.
28
O'Neill (1944).
29
I am grateful to Richard SantaColoma for providing copies of the letters in the Grolier Club.
30
From a letter of E.L.V. to James Westfall Thompson, written in 1932. Now preserved in the Beinecke Lirbary archive.
31
Information provided to the Voynich MS mailing list by J. Reeds. It will be of interest to find the source of this information.
32
As regards the sunflower, Panofsky is referring to the publication of O'Neill (1944)
33
The famous renaissance architect Leon Battista Alberti (1404 - 1472). He is also one of the suspected authors of the mysterious book "Hypnerotomachia Polifili" (more popularly ascribed to one Francesco Colonna), which includes text in hieroglyphics.
34
See >>wikipedia article.
35
William Jerome Wilson was co-author of De Ricci's census...., the first editing of which was being completed at that time, and Anne Nill was working for him, composing the various indices to this publication.
36
See Feely (1943).
37
See Tiltman (1967).
38
I will include some of his zodiac (star) label decryptions here (later) to show this.
39
See Bennett (1976).
40
One of which is available at this site.
41
See this dedicated page. See also here.
42
Blunt and Raphael (1979).
43
See Stojko (1978)
44
See Levitov (1987)
45
See >> Link preserved by J. Stolfi
46
See >> here
47
Ref: Toresella (1995)
48
Published in Cryptologia, Jan. 2004 and Scientific American, Summer 2004
49
See Pelling (2006).
50
See Schinner (2007).
51
From all remaining evidence it is impossible to conclude whether it was 1911 or 1912. The latter date is preferred as it is the date Voynich used in his first presentation on the MS in 1921. The role of the Villa Mondragone is further analysed critically here.
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Latest update: 23/11/2014