Last week, a history researcher and television writer named Nicholas Gibbs published a long article in the Times Literary Supplement about how he’d cracked the code on the mysterious Voynich Manuscript. Unfortunately, say experts, his analysis was a mix of stuff we already knew and stuff he couldn’t possibly prove.
As soon as Gibbs’ article hit the Internet, news about it spread rapidly through social media (we covered it at Ars too), arousing the skepticism of cipher geeks and scholars alike. As Harvard’s Houghton Library curator of early modern books John Overholt put it on Twitter, “We’re not buying this Voynich thing, right?” Medievalist Kate Wiles, an editor at History Today, replied, “I’ve yet to see a medievalist who does. Personally I object to his interpretation of abbreviations.”
The weirdly-illustrated 15th century book has been the subject of speculation and conspiracy theories since its discovery in 1912. In his article, Gibbs claimed that he’d figured out the Voynich Manuscript was a women’s health manual whose odd script was actually just a bunch of Latin abbreviations. He provided two lines of translation from the text to “prove” his point.