14 February 2011

The Voynich Review

The 'Galaxy' diagram from the Voynich Manuscript (left-hand page).
Note dark blot in approximate location of Sol.

The Voynich Manuscript is in the news again, this time because a team of scientists has established that it is at least a hundred years older than previously believed. If you haven't already heard of this mysterious and somewhat creepy document, the first link above will tell you all you need to know about it, and this one will allow you to view the Manuscript for yourself (just click on the pictures to see entire chapters). It is, quite possibly, the strangest book in the world.

Out of curiosity, I searched for it on the Goodreads website, where I'm a member, and to my astonishment found there actually was an entry for it. This being an opportunity far too good to pass up, I proceeded to write a review of the Manuscript, awarding it five stars. For your amusement, I reproduce this below. The idea that one of the diagrams represents the Galaxy is not mine; it originates, as far as I know, in this post on abovetopsecret.com.

A Review of the Voynich Manuscript 

No-one who has read this marvellous text could possibly fail to be captivated by its thesis and convinced by its arguments. Diego Almodovar, in his encyclopaedic critical survey of unread and undiscovered texts, Scriptorium Incognitum, devotes an entire chapter to the Voynich Manuscript, following what he calls the 'golden thread of induction' that runs through, and ties together, the various sections modern scholars have dubbed 'astrological', 'cosmological' and 'biological'; he claims that this conventionally indecipherable narrative develops an empirical proof of the alchemical principle, 'as above, so below'.

Almodovar refuses to speculate, however, on what might be the exact subject of the Manuscript and gives no precise listing of its contents. He disagrees with the various assertions of Kircher, al-Khimidi and others who have given their own opinions on the matter. Like Aldomovar, I too am convinced that until the recondite script in which the Manuscript is written is finally translated into a modern language, there is simply no point in making claims in this regard. It suffices merely to read it in the original, making use of the appropriate portion of the Key of Solomon to do so, and absorbing its message within its own peculiar context: that of a culture, indeed a race unknown to us, of whose provenance the only clue we have yet been able to decipher is the fact that one of the diagrams in the 'astrological' portion, when reversed as if viewed in a mirror, is clearly a diagram of the Galaxy with the position of our home star rendered as a broad black dot - more properly described as a blot - and on which a constellation of smaller dots appears in a location almost diametrically across the Galactic centre from Sol.

If, as it appears, the original diagram is in fact a very large-scale map of the Galaxy viewed from a point several hundred light-years south of the galactic plane, then one among this constellation of dots (which the careless scholar might dismiss as fly-specks or the results of a carelessly shaken fine quill pen) may indeed indicate the place of origin of the manuscript, or of its author, or of some being known to the author. Given the late mediaeval provenance of the Voynich Manuscript, this interpretation of the diagram raises a number of fascinating questions. These the text of the document answers satisfactorily, and I would write the answers here but for the difficulty of translating them into any known human tongue.

It is said that the great Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges was familiar with the Manuscript, and was inspired by it to write such well-known works as 'Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius' and 'A New Refutation of Time'. However, it is not known when, where or by what agency Borges obtained a copy of the manuscript; it is certain he had no access to the original. This is, however, the least of the mysteries the Voynich Manuscript holds for us. I give this book (more properly, this codex) a richly earned five stars.


  1. You're an erudite beggar, I must say. The manuscript could be another example of the lengths to which intelligent men felt they had to go to hide what they were doing. The 15th century was when the Spanish Inquisition got started, and science was regarded as little more than witchcraft.

  2. Talk about blaming the victim. In this case the victim is a fifteenth century manuscript on which all sorts of calumnies and fantasies have (probably) been projected. Maybe the manuscript really is 'mysterious' but we won't know until we can read it. Till then, the problem isn't "mysteriousness" but simple ignorance -our own.