No, someone hasn’t cracked the code of the mysterious Voynich manuscript

Enlarge / Composed circa 1420, the 240-page Voynich manuscript is considered by scholars to be the most interesting and mysterious document ever found. (credit: Photo12/UIG/Getty Images)

The Voynich manuscript is a famous medieval text written in a mysterious language that so far has proven to be undecipherable. Now, Gerard Cheshire, a University of Bristol academic, has announced his own solution to the conundrum in a new paper in the journal Romance Studies. Cheshire identifies the mysterious writing as a “calligraphic proto-Romance” language, and he thinks the manuscript was put together by a Dominican nun as a reference source on behalf of Maria of Castile, Queen of Aragon. Apparently it took him all of two weeks to accomplish a feat that has eluded our most brilliant scholars for at least a century.

So case closed, right? After all, headlines are already trumpeting that the “Voynich manuscript is solved,” decoded by a “UK genius.” Not so fast. There’s a long, checkered history of people making similar claims. None of them have proved convincing to date, and medievalists are justly skeptical of Cheshire’s conclusions as well.

What is this mysterious manuscript that has everyone so excited? It’s a 15th century medieval handwritten text dated between 1404 and 1438, purchased in 1912 by a Polish book dealer and antiquarian named Wilfrid M. Voynich (hence its moniker). Along with the strange handwriting in an unknown language or code, the book is heavily illustrated with bizarre pictures of alien plants, naked women, strange objects, and zodiac symbols. It’s currently kept at Yale University’s Beinecke Library of rare books and manuscripts. Possible authors include Roger Bacon, Elizabethan astrologer/alchemist John Dee, or even Voynich himself, possibly as a hoax.

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