The World’s Most Enigmatic Manuscript

Have you ever read a Government publication that discussed such topics as the Hermetic tradition, astrology, demonic and angelic magic, alchemy, the Cabala, and the history of Hindu-Arabic numerals?

I thought not.

All of those esoteric subjects and more can be found in The Voynich Manuscript: An Elegant Enigma, published by the National Security Agency (NSA). The Voynich manuscript, often dubbed “the world’s most mysterious manuscript,” is a remarkable conglomeration, written in an unknown script and language and profusely illustrated with carefully rendered images of unidentified plants, enigmatic astronomical drawings, and puzzling human figures. Known to have existed since the late 16th century, when it was owned by the physician of that most enigmatic of rulers, the Emperor Rudolf II of Austria, it has been labeled variously as a magical manual, a herbarium, and a hoax. NSA’s interest stems from the widely held belief that the manuscript is enciphered. The noted American cryptologist William Friedman, as well as many other professionals and amateurs, have tried without success to crack the code – if code there is.

The Voynich Manuscript gives a brief history of this mystery, along with its possible connections to the topics I’ve listed above, and a discussion of the many unsuccessful attempts to crack the code or cipher, or at least discover whether it is written in a natural or artificial language. Although none has been successful, efforts are still underway, as even a brief perusal of the Internet reveals.

Is it a hoax? If so, the hoaxer must have labored for years to create it – surely too much effort for very little known return. Given the penchant of early modern scientists and philosophers to disguise their researches through the use of symbols and allegory, its obscurity is not unprecedented, although obviously extreme. One clue may reside in this book’s reference to the Art of Memory, a system of using physical or mental landmarks to enable the memorization of incredible amounts of information. Is the Voynich manuscript a colossal “memory palace”?

The Voynich Manuscript is more evidence that the world of Government publications is almost infinitely vast and surprising. It tells a great story and provides enough decipherment tables to delight the amateur and aficionado alike. You can read this very unusual publication here, order your own copy, find it in a library, or, to get a real feel for thee original (and maybe solve the mystery!), you can study the real thing, page by page. Note: Some readers have run into a problem in downloading the PDF of the Voynich Manuscript. Try clicking the link that says “PDF with text,” which downloads much quicker.

25 Responses to The World’s Most Enigmatic Manuscript

  1. Sanna says:

    The Voynich manuscript has been studied by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including American and British codebreakers from both World War .

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  2. akash says:

    The Voynich manuscript is an illustrated codex hand-written in an unknown writing system. The book has been carbon-dated to the early 15th century (1404–1438), and may have been composed in Northern Italy during the Italian Renaissance.The manuscript is named after Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish book dealer who purchased it in 1912.Great post.

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  3. Nicholas Passehl says:

    Ive noticed that some of the words start with what looks like the number 4, the number 8, the number 9, and some backwards english letters. and if you put the computer upsidedown while viewing it, it seems to reveal a bit of english words.. and im only 12 and i would like to know of this

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  4. Styela says:

    Thanks for the review it was really interesting.I found this piece of information which is correct. You should get a special thanks for providing the online version of the Voynich Manuscripts. The quality is also camera like.

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  6. Chris says:

    I had a long curiosity for this Voynich Manuscripts. I searched at various sources but found nothing which is concrete. At last I found this piece of information which is correct. You should get a special thanks for providing the online version of the Voynich Manuscripts. The quality is also camera like.

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  7. constinh says:

    Very informative. Thanks

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  8. Louie DeMarini says:

    Thanks for the review it was really interesting. I have downloaded the PDF and it has been fun to look through it.

    You wrote that the book could be a reference to the Art of Memory. What exactly is this Art of Memory?

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    • GPOBookstore says:

      Great question, Louie. Jeremy Norman provides a great explanation in his remarkable site, From Cave Paintings to the Internet: Chronological and Thematic Studies on the History of Information and the Media:

      “Frances Yates first called attention to memory practices as an object of historical inquiry with her pathbreaking study of the long reception of the ancient arts of memory [Yates, The Art of Memory (1966)]. The art of memory was designed to facilitate recall by associating the items to be remembered with vivid imagery, often related to the places in a building. Aristotle and Cicero explained the origins of this method from the story of Simonides who remembered all the guests who were killed at a banquet by the places they had occupied around the table. Today, still advice books on improving memory recommend similar techniques of association with vivid images and places.

      Basically, from ancient times, associating images with a concept or fact is an oft-used technique for improving memory and retention of pertinent facts.

      Another memory technique used particularly from the Renaissance on is note-taking. Comments Norman: “Starting in the Renaissance, note-taking can be studied from abundant surviving sources. Images were valued as mnemonic aids in manuscript and print, but repetition and copying out were the keystones of Renaissance pedagogy.” I imagine a scribe who had to copy the same passages over and over by hand certainly learned them by heart!

      And the third technique he mentions, is the physical presentation or layout of the information. Norman explains that since early printing days, “Page layout in both manuscript and print could also facilitate recall of material from the look of the page on which it appeared. . . .” (Blair, Too Much to Know. Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age [2010] 75-76). This is something that has translated as well to web pages, as users become familiar with information laid out in a certain format and retain more if the layout is designed for that in mind.

      All of these techniques help with the Art of Memory.

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      • Louie DeMarini says:

        Thank you for the quick reply.

        So if I understand this correctly each picture or maybe even word would trigger a special memory.

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      • GPOBookstore says:

        It’s more of the concept that if you want to remember something or you want your readers/audience to remember something, including a compelling image to associate with the information to be captured will improve the retention of the information.

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  9. [...] Mark Russell added a comment to a Voynich-related post on the Government Book Talk website (which was, sensibly enough, actually discussing how to [...]

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  10. Jared W. Jarvi says:

    Thank you for the opportunity to experience wisdom not sought out by by everyone. Yes as in the Ancient Mystery schools, knowledge can be non verbal and the feeling you get from images can teach you some thing if you listen for your inner voice. Peace

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  11. Zlatoděj J.T. says:

    Ahoj,
    Voynich manuscript is writen and encrypted in the Czech language.Author in manuscript czech alchemist 15 th century John of Lazy.Manuscript can not resolve the English language.Contain nothing mysterious,alchemical many only description of operations.I have compiled many pages of the manuscript.Pictures are only symbolic. Women in the alchemy symbol of rebirth.And not only in alchemy. Plants are only symbolic.
    Real name manuscript = GOLD MUD.(Zlato Bláto)1454.

    Zlatoděj J.T.

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  12. zannias vasilis says:

    OF COURSE I CAN NOT BELIEVE ,ENIGMA , AND OTHER PAZZLING STORIES!BUT , IF SOMEONE WANT TO LEARN THE TRUTH STORY OF OUR PLANET , HE MUST STUDY THE ANCIENT GREEK MYTHOLOGY!THIS IS NOT MYTHOLOGY , THIS IS A REAL ENCIPHERED STORY!AND , I HAVE A QUESTION?WHERE ARE THE ANCIENT GREEK MANUSCRIPTS?

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  13. Knowledge and Information says:

    Good post,,
    I tried to download the PDF of the actual manuscript at Archives.org or the book on the NSA site..

    Like

  14. MARK RUSSELL says:

    VOYNICH MANUSCRIPTS—My observations

    1) Before the 1600’s most all things were based
    upon Natural Order.
    2) 99% of all the Stars in the book are 7 pointed
    not 6 pointed.
    3) 99% of all the Pictures are of Women that are
    very small Busted.
    4) In one of the pictures they have a picture
    of a Pre Historic Fish/Mammal in the Middle of
    the page.
    5) Recently they have found Two of these
    Fish/Manuals in the ocean—Must be over
    100,000,000 years old in evolution.
    6) They say that this species of fish/mammals was
    the evolution of Man going to Land.
    7) A Dolphin has five fingers on their front
    Pectoral Fins (has not changed in evolution for
    the last 15,000,000 years).
    8) Many of these pictures look like a Venus Fly Trap
    or Living Eating Plants.
    9) Charles Darwin was stumped by the Trilobites—–
    400,000,000 Old. He did not see any linkage or
    any species precursor to them on Earth.
    10) Gold did not come from the Planet Earth–An
    Asteroid hit the earth over 100,000,000 ago
    with Gold.
    11) 99% of all Irrium 3000 comes from Meteor
    Sites. They use Irrium 3000 (20 times more
    Magnetic then anything) in Electrostatic
    Magnetics.
    10) Many of these pictures look like Women or Seeds
    Growing from these Plants–Coming out of
    Hibernation or Birth.
    12) If you go back to Baghdad Iraq to the Samarian
    Culture–1200 years before Moses.
    13) The Samarian’s believe that the Annunaki’s came
    from another Planet—The 10th Planet.
    14) If you go to the British Museum in London you
    will see their Scrolls.
    15) The Annunak’s were the Giants over 7′ Tall. They
    say that, —-“They came from the Heavens”. On
    their Scrolls you will see space Ships and the
    10th. Planet (British Museum London).
    16) Moses got the “613 laws of the Mitzphot” from the
    Samarians 1,200 years Prior. He based the Jewish
    Laws upon Samarian Culture and Laws
    17) The Scales on many of these pictures look like
    the scales from the Pre-Historic Fish/Mammal.

    I personally don’t know how to read this book or what the pictures mean. Recently in the last 5 years the NIH has identified over 350 Microciams—Microscopic living Organisms in the Human Body only scene by Electron Microscopes. The NIH has a goal to identify 350 more Microciams in the next 5 years. In 1946 they had the 1st. Antibiotics. The 1st. Blood Transfusion was in 1898. It is very interesting that this book has a Picture of a Fish/Mammal—We have only found (2) of these Fish/Mammals in the last 100 years. There is no way anyone should of been able to see one of these Fish/Mammals back in the 1400’s or the 1500’s. Remember that the 1st. Mass Printing Presses were in the 1400’s and that transportation was very limited.

    Thanks for this book.

    Sincerely,

    Mark Russell
    Mrkruss@aol.com

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  15. Trajan Rom says:

    No more today just to express my thanks for your very interesting posts.

    Like

  16. Richard Pethoud says:

    I tried to download the “Voynich Manuscripts:An Elegant Enigma” but it would not download.

    Like

  17. Armando Monnar says:

    thank you for allowed my family and myself to enter this address

    Like

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