No sooner than I decided to sit my butt down to write a post about the possibility that the legendary cryptic Voynich manuscript has been “decoded”…new controversy! Now it may not really be decoded. Here is what happens when medieval scholars throw shade against each other online.
Carbon dated to the 15th century and “discovered” in 1912 by Polish book dealer Wilfrid Voynich, the handwritten and illustrated codex featured a lot of weird pictures of “otherworldly” plants and text written in a type of cryptogram. There have been tons of rumors as to the provenance of said Voynich manuscript, including that it was written by Albertus Magnus and/or Roger Bacon, that it possibly was owned at one point by John Dee, that it was somehow created by aliens, and, the most tantalizing theory of all…that it was just a hoax perpetrated by Mr. Voynich himself.
To this date, nobody has been able to break the code…until, maybe, now.
The Times Literary Supplement (TLS) has triumphantly published an article by Nicholas Gibbs claiming that he has “solved” the mystery of the manuscript. And his conclusion is???
That the Voynich manuscript is a poorly-done sort of “bootleg” collection of women’s remedies previously “published” (you know, handwritten) by other authors:
By now, it was more or less clear what the Voynich manuscript is: a reference book of selected remedies lifted from the standard treatises of the medieval period, an instruction manual for the health and wellbeing of the more well to do women in society, which was quite possibly tailored to a single individual.
Booooo!!!! Too boring!! I like the aliens theory better!
Gibbs also has claimed to have deciphered a couple of lines from the book; his belief is that each character in the manuscript was not letter, but represented a specific abbreviation.
But as The Atlantic points out, there has been a marked resistance on Medievalist Social Media to Gibbs’ findings. Some of this seems to be based on the fact that Gibbs is an “outsider” to both the academic community and amateur Voynich enthusiasts. Also weakening the “Gibbs solution” for critics is that a lot of his claims seems to hinge on a theory that a index to the manuscript, which would have labeled the abbreviations, at one point existed but was then lost.
Then there is the general question that has been asked by the more “fringe” Voynich theorists over the years: mainly, if it wasn’t some incredible secret book of magic or hidden alien lore or whatnot—why go through the trouble to place it in code at all? What was/were the author(s) hiding?
There certainly could be the chance that even if the manuscript was about “women’s remedies,” it also had some sort of alchemical-type overtones or whatnot that was considered “prudent” to hide. And were these remedies approved by the Church? Writing stuff like this was really dicey back then.
But we just don’t know, because, despite the bombastic title of the TLS piece, the Voynich manuscript really hasn’t been “solved” yet. This feels almost like a Medieval Studies version of “clickbait.”