The Book That Can’t Be Read

Despite recent claims, the Voynich Manuscript remains one of history’s biggest mysteries. 

A detail from a ‘balneological’ page from the Voynich Manuscript © akg-images

The past is full of unsolved mysteries. Gaps in the historical record leave countless details unknown and tantalising puzzles to be solved. Some puzzles, however, seem to fall more readily into the preserve of enthusiasts – or ‘scholar adventurers’, as Richard D. Altick termed them in his 1950 book of that name.

For those working in the field of medieval manuscripts, perhaps the most notorious of these mysteries is the so-called Voynich Manuscript, a late medieval book of modest proportions, written in an undecipherable script. We do not know who wrote the manuscript. Nor do we know why or for whom it was written, or what it is about.

It was acquired in 1912 by the antiquarian book dealer, Wilfrid Voynich, and it is by his name that the manuscript is now commonly known, although he referred to it as the ‘ugly duckling’ of his collection.

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