Voynich ... last

Maybe ... we should appreciate the Voynich manuscript for what it truly is: a beautiful object, an enigmatic, alluring and enduring mystery that is, in the final reckoning, perhaps better left unsolved?

So ends Kennedy and Churchill's book (op. cit.), in a conclusion I entertained myself about halfway through their fair-minded, witty and elegant account of the story. On the other hand, it's impossible not to speculate, otherwise why read about it? Of all the possible interpretations canvassed in the book, these are the ones I like and might possibly believe:

1. that the Voynich Manuscript is a work of what we now call Outsider Art, an attempt by a schizophrenic (monk or nun?) to reproduce something like the 15th and 16th century herbals and healing texts s/he might perhaps have seen somewhere. If this is so it will never be deciphered because it is not, strictly speaking, a cipher at all, but a work of art whose key was lost with the death of the artist. It is thus analogous to the work of Adolf Wölfli or Henry Darger.

2. that, in the words of William Friedman: The Voynich MSS was an early attempt to construct an artificial or universal language of the a priori type. (Esperanto is an example of the posterior type of artificial language; an a priori type is made like a thesaurus, by dividing human experience into categories and then selecting terms to describe these categories, sub-categories, etc.)

3. that the Voynich MSS is a hoax book put together in the late 16th century, perhaps by Edward Kelley, in an attempt to bolster his reputation as a magus with various Central European patrons, including Rudolph II of Bohemia. It may be that several hands contributed; one variant of this theory says the drawings are bone fide, done by Dr. Dee, but the text, added later by Kelley and a rogue Papal Nuncio called Pucci, spurious. However, it might also be based upon texts of the speech of angels Kelley channeled for Dr. Dee to write down.

4. that the Voynich MSS is a complete or partial forgery perpetrated by Wilfrid Voynich himself.

One curious fact: the Beinecke Library at Yale, where the MSS has been since the early 1970s, has never allowed forensic testing of the materials from which it is made. It looks as if they too would prefer it to remain an enigma.

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