The Voynich manuscript is a handwritten book containing many illustrations and is written in an unknown language. It has been dated to between 1404 and 1438 AD using radiocarbon dating methods. The book was discovered by a book collector named Wilfried Voynich in 1912. He found the manuscript in a Jesuit college in Italy. Voynich found a letter with the manuscript dated 1666 and listing previous owners of the book who lived in the 1600s. Ever since then, people have been speculating on the origin of the book, trying to figure out its purpose and attempting to decipher the text and figure out the meaning of the illustrations.
Origin of the manuscript
The first theory on who wrote the book was created by Voynich himself. Based on the letter he found, Voynich believed the author of the manuscript was Roger Bacon. However, Bacon lived during the 1200s so this conflicts with the radiocarbon dating of the manuscript.
Another theory is that the manuscript was written by a mentally ill person. The bizarre illustrations and text are similar to works created by some autistic and schizophrenic people. Dr. Walter Morgenthaler's book Madness and Art describes the artistic production of a schizophrenic man named Adolf Wolfi. Wolfi's work is remarkably similar to the contents of the Voynich manuscript. An argument against this theory is that the manuscript was written on expensive vellum, a material unlikely to be available to a mentally ill person in the 1400s.
Purpose of the manuscript
One theory of the purpose of the manuscript is that it is a botanical text. Some of the illustrations appear to show grafting techniques used for plant propagation. Some of the illustrations resemble known plants such as sunflowers, poppies and capsicum. However, the indentification of the species illustrated is not totally certain.
Another theory is that the manuscript is an alchemical text. Alchemists are known to use secret codes and cryptic illustrations to describe alchemical principles and processes in their manuscripts. Many of the illustrations could have been allegorical in meaning and the text could have been encrypted to prevent outsiders from learning the secret knowledge contained in the book meant only for alchemists. The expensive material and considerable skill involved in creating the manuscript suggests a wealthy person was responsible for creating the book and such a person could have been an early fifteenth century alchemist. However, the Voynich manuscript is an unusual alchemical text that departs from many alchemical conventions in terms of its illustrations if it is such a text.