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One of the World’s Most Controversial and Mysterious Manuscripts

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The Voynich Manuscript is an enigmatic 240-page book penned in the early part of the 1400s, and which has consistently defied the world’s finest code-breakers, who have spent decades trying to decipher the odd text. It takes its name from a man named Wilfrid Voynich, a dealer of books who obtained the manuscript back in 1912. As for the contents of the Voynich Manuscript, they include a great deal of material relative to botany – as well as close to thirty- pages of imagery of the heavens: stars, planets and moons. But, as for why, and what the attendant text says, no one knows. As to how it fell into Voynich’s hands, we have this from the man himself:

“In 1912 I came across a most remarkable collection of preciously illuminated manuscripts. For many decades these volumes had lain buried in the chests in which I found them in an ancient castle in Southern Europe. While examining the manuscripts, with a view to the acquisition of at least a part of the collection, my attention was especially drawn by one volume. It was such an ugly duckling compared with the other manuscripts, with their rich decorations in gold and colors, that my interest was aroused at once. I found that it was written entirely in cipher. Even a necessarily brief examination of the vellum upon which it was written, the calligraphy, the drawings and the pigments suggested to me as the date of its origin the latter part of the thirteenth century. The drawings indicated it to be an encyclopedic work on natural philosophy.

“The fact that this was a thirteenth century manuscript in cipher convinced me that it must be a work of exceptional importance, and to my knowledge the existence of a manuscript of such an early date written entirely in cipher was unknown, so I included it among the manuscripts which I purchased from this collection. Two problems presented themselves – the text must be unraveled and the history of the manuscript must be traced. It was not until sometime after the manuscript came into my hands that I read the document bearing the date 1665 (or 1666), which was attached to the front cover. This document, which is a letter from Joannes Marcus Marci to Athanasius Kircher making a gift of the manuscript to him, is of great significance.”

Notably, a theory exists that the manuscript was the work of a secret society based in Italy – one with a very long and clandestine lineage – that extended back to the time when the Roman Empire was at its height. It apparently still existed when the Voynich Manuscript was compiled, and was said to have been just one of dozens of such manuscripts – only one of which is, today, known.

It’s intriguing to note that the National Security Agency – the former bosses of the world’s most infamous whistleblower, Edward Snowden – has taken a very deep interest in trying to crack the code of the Voynich Manuscript. Via the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, the NSA has declassified into the public domain several important papers penned by those agency personnel who tried to tackle the mystery for themselves. One being “The Most Mysterious Manuscript in the World,” written by Brigadier John H. Tiltman, a man who worked for the United Kingdom’s equivalent to the NSA, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) at Cheltenham, England. As evidence of Tiltman’s skills as a code-breaker, he was the first non-American to become a member of the NSA’s Hall of Honor. But, for all of the NSA”s skills in code-breaking, cipher-cracking, and spying, the Voynich Manuscript remains the mystery that it did when it fell into the hands of Wilfrid Voynich more than a century ago.

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