Skip to main content
Ages 13+
Under 13
El Libro

The Book Nobody Can Read: What Secrets Does the Voynich Manuscript Keep?


A researcher has been able to read a handful of words in this book, which for over five centuries has defied the imaginations of the world's most brilliant paleographers and linguists.

The Voynich manuscript is one of the most coveted bibliographic treasures known to man, a true password of sorts. Its origins (medieval, according to specialists) have been linked to Leonardo Da Vinci, Francis Bacon, the Aztecs, the Cathars, secret orders, Arab telepaths, the lost tribe of Israel, and even alien civilizations. The language that flows through its illustrated pages resembles many human languages, but it has yet to be translated to one of them. 

What use is a book that cannot be read? It is precisely the treasure of the unknown what bibliophiles, collectors and linguists alike have tried to discover in its parchment pages. The fictional solutions of the enigma have even led Indiana Jones, possibly the most famous explorer to date, to read in it the secret for finding the coveted philosopher’s stone, and since the 15th century the manuscript has appeared in letters, bookstore catalogues and national libraries, harvesting its quota of impossible and perplexed readers.

However, a scholar from Bedfordshire University, in England, claims he has penetrated the surface of the text just enough to extract a close translation of ten of its words. This event could be compared to the enthusiasm the first readers of the Rosetta Stone experienced just over a century ago, when they realized they had found the key to decipher Ancient Egypt’s language. With this new apparent find in the Voynich, all the illustrations of exotic plants, stellar formations and human figures that comprise it could be at our grasp. 

Expert in Semitic languages Stephen Bax, left specialists awestruck when he revealed the following handful of words: “Taurus”, “cilantro”, “hellebore” and “juniper”.

Is this, perhaps, a gourmet shopping-list, an astral catalogue or an inventory of magical plants used to conjure spirits? Nobody knows, just as nobody knows if these words are actually there. But Bax’s method for finding them seems sufficiently adequate. It consisted of identifying names that appear in the text more than once, and comparing them to Arabic manuscripts written during the same period. According to Bax, the text seems to describe, in addition to plants, the seven stars of the Pleiades.

Clearly, a work of this proportion requires the arduous work of more than one man. “My objective is to encourage other linguists to work with me to decipher the sequence… In this way, perhaps we will be able to understand what its mysterious authors were trying to tell us,” said the scholar. 

With his contribution, regardless of its results, he opened a small glimmer of hope: The Voynich manuscript is no longer considered (or at least not by all) a hoax or a metaphysical joke. Its language, as any other code, has rules; understanding them could allow us to transit through its jumbled pages as if it were a city we know by heart. In the meantime, its heavy pages keep secrets as treasures. 

Related Articles