The Voynich Manuscript: Why should anybody care?

By Gordon Rugg

It’s a valid question. Why should anyone care about an undeciphered hand-written manuscript that almost certainly contains nothing more interesting than mediaeval recipes?

There are various answers. One is simple curiosity. Another is the challenge: millions of people do crosswords every day, which involve challenges with even less meaningful content than a mediaeval recipt. A more potent reason is fame – the first person to crack a long-standing problem gets their time in the limelight.

There’s another reason, though, which has much bigger implications. Modern civilisation depends on safe, secure codes – they’re at the heart of the Internet, e-commerce and online banking, among other things. The best modern codes are impressively good, but they’re reaching the end of their shelf life, as increasingly powerful hardware and software make it possible to crack codes that would have been impregnable just a year or two ago. Code-makers are now searching for entirely different approaches to security: types of code based on utterly different principles to anything currently known, that could resist the best modern codebreakers not just for months, or for years, but for decades.

Like, maybe, the Voynich Manuscript.

voynich closeup

The Voynich Manuscript was discovered by Voynich in 1912.  It was in a unique script, and he couldn’t make any sense of the content. He swiftly reached the same conclusion as most people who subsequently studied the manuscript – its text shows regularities that don’t match with any known type of human language, and that looked too complex to be a hoax composed of meaningless gibberish. That left a code as the remaining candidate explanation.

Over the next ninety years, some of the world’s greatest codebreakers tried to crack it, without success. That lack of success was tantalising. If the manuscript was a code, then it was standing up to attack far better than anything else ever discovered. Maybe, just maybe, it was based on some brilliant principle that had been lost for centuries. Maybe, just maybe, it would one day be cracked, and perhaps be the inspirations for a new generation of supercodes, built on very different foundations from the codes we now use.

Or maybe it wasn’t a code after all, and everyone had been looking in the wrong place.

That’s where my work comes into the story. I argued that the “meaningless gibberish” explanation had been abandoned too soon, and showed that simple ancient technology could easily produce meaningless gibberish with complex regularities very similar to those in the manuscript.

The arguments about the Voynich Manuscript rumble on. There’s no conclusive, knock-down final proof either way, for or against a hoax or a code. My view is that the hoax argument can show a simple mechanism that produces text very similar to the text in the manuscript.

So, where does that leave us as regards the next generation of new codes? It’s not very likely that the Voynich Manuscript will be the direct inspiration for them. That’s a shame; there’s something whimsically appealing about the idea of future codes inspired by something written long ago with a quill pen, on pages illustrated with fantastical images.

Here’s what a modern code looks like. This is the D’Agapeyeff Cipher, uncracked since its publication in 1939. (It almost certainly uses a well-known coding system, but it’s too short to be easily cracked.)

d'agapeyeff cropped

If you like the idea of future codes that look more exciting than five-character blocks of numbers, then there’s still hope. Here are a couple of examples that I produced to show what can happen if you systematically break standard assumptions at the heart of modern codes. Neither of these is a particularly heavy-duty code; they’re both quick demonstrations of concept. However, if you like a challenge, you might like to try your luck with them. The full codes are on the Hyde and Rugg website:

This is a page from the Ricardus Manuscript, directly inspired by the Voynich Manuscript.

ricardus image2

This is a page from the Penitentia Manuscript, deliberately designed to be very different from the Ricardus Manuscript.


Neither, as far as I know, has yet been cracked. Both contain meaningful text, and both are of significant length, so if you manage to crack one of them, there won’t be any doubt about it. I’m not planning to give any hints or clues, or get into correspondence about them, so it will be an even playing field for any would-be decipherers.

So, that’s some of the background story for the Voynich Manuscript, and why it was a challenge well worth exploring in an age of e-commerce and the Internet and technology that can reach other planets. It’s probably a meaningless hoax, but given the number of twists and turns in the manuscript’s history, there’s still that small, tantalising possibility that maybe somebody, some day, will find something amazing buried within it that will transform our world…

If you’d like to read more about my work on the Voynich Manuscript, then there are various articles on the Hyde and Rugg blog site, including a new series about hoaxing the Voynich Manuscript.




About searchvisualizer

We welcome debate and disagreement, but not abuse, trolling or thread derailment. We reserve the time-honoured right of blog owners and moderators to be arbitrary, capricious and autocratic in our wielding of the ban hammer. Gordon Rugg is a former timberyard worker, archaeologist and English lecturer who ended up in computer science via psychology. He’s the same Gordon Rugg who did the Voynich Manuscript work, and the books with Marian Petre about research. He’s co-inventor of the Search Visualizer.
This entry was posted in About SV, Voynich Manuscript and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to The Voynich Manuscript: Why should anybody care?

  1. Hi Gordon Rugg.
    Voynich Manuscript is written and encrypted in the Czech language.
    From the beginning to the end.

    The manuscropt began Anna Hlohovská. Wife of John II. of Rosenbeg. The last entry in the manuscript Petr Vok.
    It was the last Rosenberg.
    Instructions for descryption is written on multiple sides of the manuscript. It is on the first page and last page. Instuctions are written in Czech language. As a whole manuscript.

    The manuscript describes the Czech history. ( Secret information of the Rosenbergs.)
    Very delicate and secret information.
    I have translated and many pages of the manuscript.

    Hi Josef Zlatoděj Prof.

    • I says:

      The Voynich manuscript is not written In Czech. It contains specific information about a divine subject. This explains why charlimagne the Vatican and Jesuit order where in possession of it. I have decoded some of it. It’s actually easier than you think. It’s in English. A secret you do not know is that the church is in possession of the first page written in english. They do not have the rest of the cypher. Groups like the NSA and CIA have this information. All I can disclose about it sorry!

      • JamesWatchman says:

        If this is true, why isn’t the information out there?

      • Blaine says:

        You can disclose that it contains draconian knowledge and some ancient mage magik. Oh, woops. I guess you didn’t know that, right? hahaha

      • hobittual56 says:

        Yes it is written in Czech! What is wrong with everyone? Read/buy my book Voynich 101 and learn something already!

  2. Korrektur : Instructions are written in the Czech Language.

  3. that is a fantastic story! congratulations on walking through those doors of opportunity! rastreadores bbom rastreadores bbom rastreadores bbom rastreadores bbom rastreadores bbom

  4. Hi Gordon Rugg.
    Jew Hadbank Michael Voynich manuscript deciphered. !!
    The manuscript is written. Understad and translated handwriting can only Jew. ( It is written on the last page. ( Cover)). Voynich was a Jew.
    Deciphered the Voynich manuscript,shows, and writes in his letter. In the letter he writes about what writing ( manuscript) is. At the same time there writing code to translate the manuscript.
    Look at the character of the letter. In at the top right. The cat plays with a mouse !
    Mouse = Michael. Slang. Michael = Miso = Mouse. ( Polish and Czech slang).
    The cat says Polish – Kocur. It shall aply gematria. ( Kocur = Rosu R). ( Rosu R = Rose R.)
    Rose = Lords of the Rose. ( Lords of Roses = Rosenbergs). ( R = Rosenberg).
    Rosenberg holds Voynich in the teeth. ( Holder).
    The container is two things. Stoves and safe. ( Stoves to say ,Poland = Piec).
    Word Piec. From right to left. ( Ceip). Now using gematria. ( Gematria number 3= C,G,S,L).
    ( Number 8 = F,P). PIEC = CEIP = SEIF. ( Seif) . Safe, Bank.
    The bank in Switzerland.

  5. Why are you blocking my comments ? ( That you are a scientist ? )

  6. Hi Gordon Rugg. ( page 86 v)
    How to watch the big parchment. Rosette in the upper right corner. Is written in the Czech language. Turn rosette. ( wheel). When you turn the wheel to the left. Then connect the torso figure. Then omit the upper rosettes. A connecting leg figures. The name of the figure is written. Curled sentence (a spiral).
    The figure ( human) is a woman. The woman waving hand on you. Hand movement is phased. (phasing)(on several parts).
    Figur holds in his hands. Two attributes Rosenbergs. – Water and monkey. The rosette is also drawn fish. (draw fish). The fish has two large eyes. A big smile. The castle is called Rosenberg. ( as owner).
    The castle is not preserved. He was destroyed. Remained only the tower.

    The importance of great parchment,described in mine pages. ( Rubrik – Rozety 86 v)

  7. Very good written post. It will be valuable to anyone who utilizes it, including me. Keep up the good work – can’r wait to read more posts.

  8. Hi Gordon Rugg.
    Who wants to understand and decipher the Voynich manuscript. We must first decipher the letter (correspondence). Wich wrote the Voynich himself. The letter is in Beinecke Library. Signed by the E – L – Voynich.
    The letter says that the Manuscript is Czech. ( The letter is very important).
    This proves that the Voynich, manuscript deciphered. ( the entire letter – encrypted).

    info :

  9. Uinseann says:

    Am, just a thought, not a cryptographer by any stretch, however, it is almost painfully obvious that there is an abundance of numbers re occurring. The text is littered with them, add that with the prominently featuring diagrams/depictions and well… you’ve really stumbled upon a head scratcher!! But no seriously, it is unlikely this is a hoax, someone crafted this and could either readily decipher it off their own head, or there is/was a second, probably smaller text or collection of symbols, with corresponding meanings or missing links to a code that would enable you to decipher its meaning. What was this guys obsession with 4 , 8 and a green bath or stream of pregnant women really!?!?

  10. These are not numbers. These are the letters.
    ( 4 = small – p). ( 8 = small – d ).

    • uinseann says:

      Then there is another book/text with the corresponding meanings.. no way this guy had that code all in his head, they could relate to anything, each letter could symbolise a word, a number, an ingredient, something else he had in his original texts, more than likely letters, you would have to think there is a key or legend to decipher this and 10 to 1 says it died with the man and is not going to ever be found. If that isn’t the case then the guy liked his psychedelics and scribbling way too much!

  11. Key written page 116.

  12. Dear sir. I want to ask you one thing. It deciphering the Voynich letter so complicated ?
    The letter is written significance and code. Voynich know. Scientists do not know ?

  13. Николай says:

    Good day!
    My name is Nikolai.
    To a question about the key to the Voynich manuscript.
    Today, I have to add on this matter following.
    The manuscript was written no letters, and signs for the letters of the alphabet of one of the ancient languages. Moreover, in the text there are 2 more levels of encryption to virtually eliminate the possibility of computer-assisted translation, even after replacing the signs letters.
    I pick up the key by which the first section I was able to read the following words: hemp, hemp clothing; food, food (sheet of 20 numbering on the Internet); cleaned (intestines), knowledge may wish to drink a sugary drink (nectar), maturation (maturity), to consider, to think (sheet 107); drink; six; flourishing; growing; rich; peas; sweet drink nectar and others. It is only a short word, mark 2-3. To translate words consisting of more than 2.3 characters is necessary to know this ancient language.
    If you are interested, I am ready to send more detailed information, including scans of pages indicating the translated words.
    Sincerely, Nicholas.

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