After 600 Years, a Literary Mystery Solved?

Scholar claims Voynich Manuscript was a mere medical manual
By Linda Hervieux,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 11, 2017 11:20 AM CDT
Updated Sep 16, 2017 9:24 AM CDT
Historian Floats New Theory on Ancient, Mysterious Book
Was the mysterious Voynich manuscript a women's medieval health manual?   (General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University)

Has a British historian finally cracked the code to what has been called the world's most mysterious book? The meaning of the 15th-century Voynich manuscript, decorated with elegant, indecipherable script and odd drawings of plants and naked women, is one of the great puzzles of the literary world. Now Nicholas Gibbs claims to have solved the mystery in the Times Literary Supplement, though his theory is being met with skepticism. Gibbs writes that the manuscript is a mostly plagiarized medical manual aimed at "well do do" society women, perhaps written for a sole individual. Gibbs, a historian, posits the tome bears striking resemblances to a 12th-century Italian collection of medical tips on "gynecology, bloodletting and bathing." Instead of decrypting a code, Gibbs says he teased out Latin abbreviations to denote herbs in medieval writings.

Skeptical scholars pounced on social media, per Ars Technica. "We're not buying this Voynich thing, right?" one tweeted. "I've yet to see a medievalist who does," another replied. Medieval Academy of America chief Lisa Fagin Davis tells the Atlantic she's surprised that the TLS published Gibbs' piece. She faulted the two lines it reprinted of Gibbs' translation, saying they didn't "result in Latin that makes sense." She also is skeptical of Gibbs' claim that the manuscript once had an index that would have made everything crystal clear, because he offers no proof. Gibbs says was hired by a TV network to research the manuscript, leading Annalee Newitz of Ars Technica to wonder whether his goal is "to sell a television screenplay of his own." (One Voynich scholar in 2014 claimed to have deciphered 10 words.)

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