Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Not that Voynich Manuscript Again
In the course of running Medieval Writing I get a number of interesting emails. I also get some uninteresting ones. (No, please, I don't want a 50 page document on the heraldry in your personal family tree!) I also get some rather odd ones. Some of these concern the Voynich manuscript.
For those who have been concentrating on their real work rather than following this, the Voynich manuscript is a mysterious beastie that resides in no less august an institution than the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale University. It may be a fake, or maybe it isn't. It may be medieval. It looks like some old herbal and astronomical text that was written by someone who had perchance partaken of too many of some of the illustrated herbs, and is written in a code that nobody has cracked. It has been examined by experts in many different disciplines relating to language, paleography and cryptography.
The holding library seems to have a very generous attitude to dissemination of digital images of the manuscript, or perhaps it has just escaped from lawful custody. There are complete digital facsimiles on the web, and some dodgy CDs going around with images of all the pages. So everybody and his dog is having a crack at it now, and there are various blogs and collaborative websites where ideas are pooled.
This seems to be based on the Wikipedia principle that if you get enough people on the job, the obsessed and fruit cake cases will cancel each other out, and a variety of expertises will create a synergy that will lead to new approaches and ideas. However, it seems that an awful lot of people are just poking about in it and stirring the pot, creating a huge muddlement of unsorted theory and misinformation.
So here is my theory. In Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels there is a character called Leonard of Quirm. He is a mad multitalented intellectual genius who is kept incarcerated by The Patrician for his own protection, although he can escape whenever he wants to. I believe that the Voynich manuscript was written by Leonard of Quirm. The script is clearly Ankh-Morporkian minuscule and the code is one well known to the scorpion pits of that city, used to pass secret messages between the prisoners. Through a strange hole in the space-time dimension, it has escaped into our world where it is creating chaos and confusion, not only because of its incomprehensible cultural context, but because the fabric of reality has been distorted during the transfer. I am not prepared to discuss this theory any further. That is my last word on the subject.