No. 118 (essentialsaltes) wrote,
No. 118

The Voynich Manuscript, edited by Raymond Clemens

Once upon a time, I wrote a little article about the Voynich Manuscript (aka Beinecke MS 408 at Yale's Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library) for The Unspeakable Oath #10. I learned a lot about it (or what was known) at the time, and I keep my eye out for things when they bubble up from time to time. But it was a real treat to find that Yale has put together a lovely large format book on the topic. The heart of it is a beautiful full color reproduction of the manuscript. It's really eye-opening. Even up til recently, the total number of pages that were reproduced (almost always in black & white) was pitifully small. So now to see the whole thing in living color is amazing.

Also interesting to see how different the experience is of reading that it has several fold-out pages, and being able to physically fold out the pages. In one case, a leaf folds out to 6 times the size of an ordinary leaf.

Surrounding the text are an introduction and several essays on various aspects of the text. I would have appreciated more material on the alleged solutions to its encryption, but since they are all crap, maybe it's just as well. The essay on the physical/scientific study of the book is quite interesting, in particular the carbon dating of the calfskin to the early 15th century. Alas, that early date dispenses with both my leading ideas -- that it was created by Edward Kelley (Dee's notorious associate) or that it was created as a fake herbal/grimoire/encyclopedia 'from the New World', since the plants in it don't look like European plants (of course, they don't look like American plants either, but that's beside the point).

Another excellent essay is on Voynich himself, who is nearly as interesting as the manuscript attached to his name.

So what is it? Nobody knows. I still doubt there is actually a sensible message encoded in it. One thing that particularly bothers me (and becomes clearer now that I've seen the whole thing) is that every paragraph begins with the same one or two characters, and they are also used internally in words. So unless it's a strange alliterative work, these characters were chosen primarily because they look cool. So in that sense it is 'fake', but it is a fake from circa 1425. 

Bringing this back around to Lovecraft, it's hard not to think something is lurking behind it all when you read the note left by Voynich's wife (also reproduced in the book). Just the note on the outside of the envelope is enough to set your imagination wandering.

Concerning the Cipher MS

Not to be opened till after my death and then only by A.M.Nill or one other responsible person in place of her.

and then the conclusion:

Father Strickland gave his personal assurance that [Voynich] could be trusted, and on that assurance he was allowed to buy, after giving a promise of secrecy. He told me at the time in confidence, feeling that someone should know in case of his death. For the same reason I am leaving this statement in the safe, in case of my death.

Tags: book, lovecraft

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