Written in a language that has never been translated, “its origin and purpose are entirely obscure”by Kevin Jackson / August 30, 2016 / Leave a comment
In the middle of August—traditionally the “Silly Season” for reporting—several British newspapers ran the story of a small publishing house which had just secured the rights to produce a limited edition of “the most mysterious book in the world”: the Voynich Manuscript. As all lovers of curious lore will know, this is a richly and strangely illustrated text, written in a language that has never been translated, or a code that has never been cracked. Carbon-dating has shown that it was created some time in the early fifteenth century, thus exploding the legend that it was the work of the thirteenth-century English occultist Roger Bacon, but otherwise its origin and purpose are entirely obscure.
The book had been lost to history until 1912, when a Polish collector, Wilfred Voynich, bought it from a Jesuit monastery in Italy. Since 1969, it has been housed in Yale University’s Beinecke Library, where it goes by the less glamorous name of “MS 408.” In recent years, the library has received thousands of emails about it every month, both from a few serious academics and from hordes of obsessive types who believe it to possess the Key to All Mythologies or evidence of extra-terrestrial life. It is partly in the hope of stemming this electronic tide that Yale has finally agreed to allow its publication.
Or so the story went in our press. Like many another scoop of the season, the story was hardly a novelty: El Pais first ran it in December 2015. It was of patriotic interest, because the enterprising publisher was Spanish—Siloe, based in Burgos, in northern Spain. Siloe, obviously a gloriously eccentric outfit, issues its books in palindromic print runs: the Voynich book will be issued in an edition of 898. It will be not so much a reprint as, so to say, a clone—made from the same vellum as the original is, torn and stained and dirtied exactly as the original is. And it will cost you about £6,000 for a copy.
The British press also failed to do a few minutes’ research, and so find out that some perfectly serviceable paperback editions of MS 408 have been available for over a decade—most Voynich addicts own the 2005 edition, by Jean-Claude Gawsewitch—or that Siloe will also be issuing a…