Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Voynich manuscript

The overall impression given by the surviving leaves of the manuscript suggests that it was meant to serve as a pharmacopoeia or to address topics in medieval or early modern medicine. However, the puzzling details of illustrations have fueled many theories about the book's origins, the contents of its text, and the purpose for which it was intended. Here are only a few of them:

    Herbal - The first section of the book is almost certainly an herbal, but attempts to identify the plants, either with actual specimens or with the stylized drawings of contemporary herbals, have largely failed. Only a couple of plants (including a wild pansy and the maidenhair fern) can be identified with some certainty. Those "herbal" pictures that match "pharmacological" sketches appear to be "clean copies" of these, except that missing parts were completed with improbable-looking details. In fact, many of the plants seem to be composite: the roots of one species have been fastened to the leaves of another, with flowers from a third.

    Sunflowers - Brumbaugh believed that one illustration depicted a New World sunflower, which would help date the manuscript and open up intriguing possibilities for its origin. However, the resemblance is slight, especially when compared to the original wild species; and, since the scale of the drawing is not known, the plant could be many other members of the same family - which includes the common daisy, chamomile, and many other species from all over the world.

    Alchemy - The basins and tubes in the "biological" section may seem to indicate a connection to alchemy, which would also be relevant if the book contained instructions on the preparation of medical compounds. However, alchemical books of the period share a common pictorial language, where processes and materials are represented by specific images (eagle, toad, man in tomb, couple in bed, etc.) or standard textual symbols (circle with cross, etc.); and none of these could be convincingly identified in the Voynich manuscript.

    Astrological herbal - Astrological considerations frequently played a prominent role in herb gathering, blood-letting and other medical procedures common during the likeliest dates of the manuscript (see, for instance, Nicholas Culpeper's books). However, apart from the obvious Zodiac symbols, and one diagram possibly showing the classical planets, no one has been able to interpret the illustrations within known astrological traditions (European or otherwise).

    Microscopes and telescopes - A circular drawing in the "astronomical" section depicts an irregularly shaped object with four curved arms, which some have interpreted as a picture of a galaxy that could only be obtained with a telescope. Other drawings were interpreted as cells seen through a microscope. This would suggest an early modern, rather than a medieval, date for the manuscript's origin. However, the resemblance is rather questionable: on close inspection, the central part of the "galaxy" looks rather like a pool of water.

    Found Here: http://www.crystalinks.com/voynich.html

The Voynich manuscript is a mysterious book thought to have been written in the 15th or 16th century and comprising about 240 vellum pages of handwritten text,[1] of which the majority have illustrations.[2] The text of the manuscript has never been deciphered, and the author, script, and language remain unknown.

Since its recorded existence, the Voynich manuscript has been the object of intense study by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including some top American and Britishcodebreakers of World War II fame, all of whom failed to decrypt any portion of the text. This string of failures has turned the Voynich manuscript into a famous subject of historical cryptology, but it has also given weight to the theory that the book is simply an elaborate hoax—a meaningless sequence of arbitrary symbols.

The book is named after the Polish-American book dealer Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired it in 1912. Currently the Voynich manuscript is stored in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University as item "MS 408". The first facsimile edition was published in 2005.[3]

The peculiar internal structure of Voynich manuscript "words" has led William F. Friedman and John Tiltman to arrive independently at the conjecture that the text could be a constructed language in the plain—specifically, a philosophical or a priori language. In languages of this class, the vocabulary is organized according to a category system, so that the general meaning of a word can be deduced from its sequence of letters. For example, in the modern constructed language Ro, bofo- is the category of colors, and any word beginning with those letters would name a color: so red is bofoc, and yellow is bofof. (This is an extreme version of the Library of Congress Classification used by many libraries—in which, say, P stands for language and literature, PA for Greek and Latin, PC for Romance languages, etc.)

This concept is quite old, as attested by John Wilkins's Philosophical Language (1668), but still postdates the generally accepted origin of the Voynich manuscript by two centuries. In most known examples, categories are subdivided by adding suffixes; as a consequence, a text in a particular subject would have many words with similar prefixes—for example, all plant names would begin with the similar letters, and likewise for all diseases, etc. This feature could then explain the repetitious nature of the Voynich text. However, no one has been able yet to assign a plausible meaning to any prefix or suffix in the Voynich manuscript.

In his book Solution of the Voynich Manuscript: A liturgical Manual for the Endura Rite of the Cathari Heresy, the Cult of Isis (1987), Leo Levitov declared the manuscript a plaintext[25] This he defined as "a literary language which would be understandable to people who did not understand Latin and to whom this language could be read." His proposed decryption has three Voynich letters making a syllable, to produce a series of syllables that form a mixture of Middle Dutch with many borrowed Old French and Old High German words. transcription of a "polyglot oral tongue".

According to Levitov, the rite of Endura was none other than the assisted suicide ritual for people already believed to be near death, famously associated with the Cathar faith (although the reality of this ritual is also in question). He explains that the chimerical plants are not meant to represent any species of flora, but are secret symbols of the faith. The women in the basins with elaborate plumbing represent the suicide ritual itself, which he believed involved venesection: the cutting of a vein to allow the blood to drain into a warm bath. The constellations with no celestial analogue are representative of the stars in Isis' mantle.

This theory is questioned on several grounds. First, the Cathar faith is widely understood to have been a Christian gnosticism, and not in any way associated with Isis. Second, this theory places the book's origins in the twelfth or thirteenth century, which is several centuries earlier than most experts believe based on internal evidence. Third, the Endura ritual involved fasting, not venesection. Levitov offered no evidence beyond his translation for this theory.

Found Here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voynich_manuscript

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