The Voynich manuscript is not an especially glamorous physical object. It is slightly larger than a modern paperback, bound in “limp vellum” as is the technical term. But its pages are full of astrological charts, strange plants, naked ladies bathing in green liquid, and, most famously, an indecipherable script that has eluded cryptographers to this day.
What could be so scandalous, so dangerous, or so important to be written in such an uncrackable cipher?
This week, the venerable Times Literary Supplement published as its cover story a “solution” for the Voynich manuscript. The article by Nicholas Gibbs suggests the manuscript is a medieval women’s-health manual copied from several older sources. And the cipher is no cipher at all, but simply abbreviations that, once decoded, turn out to be medicinal recipes.
The solution should be seismic news in the Voynich world—for medieval scholars and amateur sleuths alike—but the reaction to Gibbs’s theory has been decidedly underwhelming. Medievalists, used to seeing purported solutions every few months, panned it on Twitter. Blogs and forums started picking at its problems.
For one, the rather long-winded article features only two decoded lines of the Voynich manuscript. “The summary in the TLS is really too short to provide any serious analysis,” René Zandbergen wrote in an email. Zandbergen runs the popular website Voynich.nu, and he is a long-time researcher of the manuscript. As for what is in the TLS article, the criticism can be summed up as such: Not much in it is truly novel, but what is appears to be incorrect.