A Spanish publishing company has gotten permission to make exact copies of a 15th-century book that was written in a mysterious coded language that no one has been able to crack. The Voynich Manuscript has been something that scientists have been working on for the last few centuries. Some of the foremost cryptographers have spent their entire careers solving the problem. The issue is that no one has gotten close.
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There are about 900 copies to go into circulation, in hope that someone will crack it.
"The Voynich Manuscript has led some of the smartest people down rabbit holes for centuries," Bill Sherman from the Folger Shakespeare Library told The Washington Post. "I think we need a little disclaimer form you need to sign before you look at the manuscript, that says, 'Do not blame us if you go crazy.'"
Currently, the manuscript is guarded in a vault at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. It is extremely old and rare, so very few people have actually touched the physical copy.
"Touching the Voynich is an experience," Juan Jose Garcia, director of the Spanish publishing house Siloe, said. "It’s a book that has such an aura of mystery that when you see it for the first time ... it fills you with an emotion that is very hard to describe."
Until now, no one has been able to reproduce it. Siloe requested the right for over 10 years before they were given the go ahead.
Still, there won't be many copies available - 898 to be exact. The rarity has caused them to be quite expensive - around $9,000US each - and every original mark and blemish copied.
The origins of the book were believed to have been a 13th century English Franciscan friar and so-called "wizard" Roger Bacon, who was eventually sent to jail. However, when it was carbon dated, the manuscript originated between 1404 and 1438.
Some have said that it could have been penned by aliens or Leonardo da Vinci, no one has been able to identify anything exactly.
Since it doesn't have an author, it will be named after Lithuanian antiquarian Wilfrid Voynich, who purchased it in 1912 from a collection of rare books that belonged to the Jesuits in Italy, bringing it worldwide exposure.
The book is so strange because of the surreal images of unknown constellations, human figures, and plants. There seems to be very little rhyme or reason for the images or words. The images range from childlike to downright disturbing. Some of the strangest images have women with "swelled abdomens" that are "immersed or wading in fluids and oddly interacting with interconnecting tubes and capsules".
It is the strangeness of the pictures that might capture attention, but it is probably the words that steal the show.
"It doesn't match any other language that's been seen in any other book," Reed Johnson, host of NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday said back in 2013, when he was writing a book about the Voynich Manuscript. "The drawings often have labels, which would seem to offer a route to deciphering the code. But that hope has proved to be an illusion," he says, adding that trying to decipher the code is like trying to climb a wall, but realising all the easy hand-holds are actually just painted on, so you can never get a grip on it. My own experience with this manuscript has only been three years, so I'm a rank amateur," he adds.
Most of the copies will likely go to research institutions and libraries so that the greatest minds in the world will be able to access them for the coming generations.
Hopefully, someone will have that Eureka moment we've all been waiting for.