The Voynich Manuscript is one of the oddest objects from history. Written around the 15th or 16th century, it’s a book that seems to be an encyclopedia from another world, written in a script that appears to be real. It has confounded minds for many years. The work of a madman? A book from another world? A coded Alchemical cookbook? In any case, the book has consumed the attention of countless hours of study by some pretty smart people:
Over its recorded existence, the Voynich manuscript has been the object of intense study by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including some top American and British codebreakers of World War II fame (all of whom failed to decipher a single word). This string of failures has turned the Voynich manuscript into a famous subject of historical cryptology, but it has also given weight to the theory that the book is simply an elaborate hoax – a meaningless sequence of arbitrary symbols.
In the 1970s, Italian artist Luigi Serafini created the ‘Codex Seraphinianus’, a similar work:
The Codex Seraphinianus was written and illustrated by Italian graphic designer and architect, Luigi Serafini during the late 1970′s. The Codex is a lavishly produced book that purports to be an encyclopedia for an imaginary world in a parallel universe, with copious comments in an incomprehensible language. It is written in a florid script, entirely invented and completely illegible, and illustrated with watercolor paintings. The Codex is divided into a number of sections (each with its own table of contents, the page numbers are in base-21 or base-22!) on subjects such as plants, animals, inhabitants, machines, clothing, architecture, numbers, cards, chemical analyses, labyrinth, Babel, foods… There are panoramic scenes of incomprehensible festivals, and diagrams of plumbing!
The Codex is to that imaginary world what Diderot’s Encyclopedia is to ours. Obviously, Serafini was not just attempting to create a consistent alternate world. Rather, the Codex is sort of an elaborate parody of the real world.
The invented script of the book imitates the Western-style writing systems (left-to-right writing in rows; an alphabet with uppercase and lowercase; probably a separate set of symbols for writing numerals) but is much more curvilinear reminding some Semitic scripts. The writing seems to have been designed to appear, but not actually be, meaningful, like the Voynich Manuscript.
At is best, the Codex Seraphinianus is really diverting and surrealist; at its worst, it is tedious, kitsch, and childish. This book was surely inspired by the Voynich Manuscript and designed with the spirit of Hieronymus Bosch in mind.
It’s a surreal wonderland. Here are some plant images:
Some of the strange inhabitants of the codex:
Here’s another introduction to the Codex Seraphinianus.
The entire book is viewable here.