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Science in Medieval Cipher


IN 1912, Mr. W. M. Voynich discovered in Italy a manuscript entirely written in cipher—a small quarto of 116 leaves, of which eight are missing and some are folded. It measures on the average about nine inches by six. Its history has many gaps, but Mr. Voynich is, we believe, right in his conjecture that it was sold by Dee to the Emperor Rudolph at the close of the sixteenth century, attributing it to Roger Bacon, and that it was probably “the book containing nothing but hieroglyphics” of which Dee's son spoke to Sir Thos. Browne. The usual methods of dating a MS. fail us: the writing cannot be placed, the vellum is coarse for the thirteenth century, but not impossible, the ink is good. Only the drawings remain, and owing to their complete absence of style the difficulty of dating is but increased; it is strange that the draughtsman should have so completely escaped all medieval or Renaissance influences. The cipher has been attacked by several experts in the ordinary methods, and has not yet been read.

The Cipher of Roger Bacon.

Prof. William Romaine Newbold. Edited with Foreword and Notes by Prof. Roland Grubb Kent. Pp. xxxii + 224 + 38 plates. (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press; London: Oxford University Press, 1928.) 17s. net.

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STEELE, R. Science in Medieval Cipher. Nature 122, 563–565 (1928).

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