Fake News...
Of the Italian Renaissance

The definition of fake news for Donald the Dumb is any news about which he disagrees. That definition is as dumb as he is. Nevertheless, this essay isn’t fake news about Trump colluding with the Russians. Allow me to explain. Several weeks ago, I felt like Edgar Allan Poe as he described how he felt when the Raven entered his life.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore....”

It was late one night, and I was dragging. I had spent much of the evening grading homework and proofing a couple essays that would wind up on my website. I knew, if I didn’t turn off my computer and go to bed, that I would go from “nearly napping” to falling asleep in front of my computer.

I was reading something in the New Yorker on its Internet site, although I can’t recall the article. However, I noticed several other articles, and one caught my eye: The Unsolvable Mysteries of the Voynich Manuscript. Since the article’s title was quasi-catchy, I skimmed through the first couple of pages. When I was in graduate school, I took several classes about ancient manuscripts. We attempted to determine which manuscript or codex was more reliable than others. To be honest, fifty years after studying them, I can’t recall whether Codex Sinaiticus was better than Codex Alexandrinus, even if my life depended upon the correct answer.

Regardless, I didn’t recall a manuscript called Codex Voynich. I wrote off this codex as some Gnostic manuscripts until the essay writer said that it was written in the early 15th century. It wasn’t some Gnostic codex, which predated this one by over a millennium. Additionally, beyond it not being a Gnostic writing, no one could read the codex. In fact, no one recognized the language in which it was written. It was like the Rosetta Stone, but no one has ever decoded it in the past half millennium. The manuscript was carbon-dated to have been written ca. 1404-1438. Researchers also believe that it was written someplace in Northern Italy during the Italian Renaissance. Finally, I was wide awake.

The Voynich codex is around 1240-pages in length with obviously at least 272-pages missing. The writing is written left to right. The manuscript is written on vellum pages, which are roughly 9-inches by 6-inches and is 2-inches thick.

Voynich manuscript

The Voynich codex is divided into obvious major sections. Researchers have named the sections based upon the artistic drawings accompanying the unreadable text of each sections. The first section is called the herbal chapters due to the 113-illustrations of some sorts of plants, which are hand painted next to the text. Here are several examples.

The herbal section

Some more herbs

The next grouping of chapters is labeled the astrological chapters, which contain some sort of astrological drawings.

The astrological section

Some more astrological drawings

The next section contains cosmological drawings of round or circular objects.

The cosmological section

Some more cosmological drawings

Here are three pages from the biological section. Interestingly, this section has mostly women’s nude figures connecting a tube system carrying some sort of watery substance.

The biological section

Some more biological drawings

Some more biological drawings

Pharmaceutical section contains things like jars with some herbs inside the containers.

The pharmaceutical section

The recipes sections of the Voynich manuscript has more than what is considered 300-recipes, none of which can actually be translated.

Some recipes

All of this begs the question about the name of the codex, Voynich. The name is of a bookdealer, Wilfrid Michael Voynich, who was born in 1865 in Telšiai, Lithuania. Voynich started out as a revolutionary, was quickly arrested, and sent to Siberia. While in prison, he was able to master 18-foreign languages. Additionally, it wasn’t long before he escaped from the prison and finally wound up in New York City where he changed careers from a revolutionary to an antiquarian bookseller during WWI. After the war, he moved to London where he continued to sell old books.

Wilfrid Voynich

Voynich’s claim to fame was a manuscript, which carries his name. He bought the codex in 1912, which had been owned by a number of different people, but it remained in Voynich’s hands until his death in 1930.

None of the convoluted list of previous owners could translate anything from the manuscript. Codebreakers, cryptographers, and scholars haven’t deciphered the manuscript in the past century. This resulted in the haunting questions, who wrote it and what does the manuscript mean? This caused a Churchillian quandary, the Voynich manuscript is “...a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

Some have speculated that Voynich was the author and had created this rouse or what Donald the Dumb would call fake news, or, in this case, a fake codex. Regardless of whom might have written it, in 1969, it was given to Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and where it remains today still “...a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

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