Sunday, 10 September 2017


While I was not exactly expecting ancient aliens or magical rites and happy that scholarship has prevailed and that concern for women’s well-being was a matter taken seriously (though purportedly a bit gimmicky and patronising) in the 1400s, it was a little bit of a let-down to learn that the mystery of Voynich manuscript, released to the domain of citizen-science recently, has been deciphered.
The bizarrely illustrated treatise (especially when taken without context) rediscovered on the antiquarian circuit in 1912 had an unknown provenance with text that defied decoding captioning strange rituals and unrecognisable flowers and herbs. Created just on the cusps of the introduction of the printing-press in Europe and probably for a patron’s personal use and reference, the manuscript represented one of the last vanity publications of the times and was riddled with abbreviations, ligatures and shorthand that would be known to contemporary medical students but not necessarily to linguists and cryptographers. While we are sure other academics will want to weigh in and there is probably a useful tip or two contained in the volume, in hindsight given the Roman penchant to regard bathing as a panacea and the general paucity of writing on women’s health, it seems rather amazing that it went misunderstood for such a long time. At least we are left with the intentionally coy and evasive Codex Seraphinianus to ponder over the meaning of—though its author is just as unlikely to confirm or deny our interpretations.