dinsdag 8 oktober 2013

The Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich manuscript, described as "the world's most mysterious manuscript", is a work which dates to the early 15th century, possibly from northern Italy. It is named after the book dealer Wilfrid Voynich, who purchased it in 1912.
Some pages are missing, but the current version comprises about 240 vellum pages, most with illustrations. Much of the manuscript resembles herbal manuscripts of the time period, seeming to present illustrations and information about plants and their possible uses for medical purposes. However, most of the plants do not match known species, and the manuscript's script and language remain unknown and unreadable. Possibly some form of encrypted ciphertext, the Voynich manuscript has been studied by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including American and British codebreakers from both World War I and World War II. As yet, it has defied all decipherment attempts, becoming a cause célèbre of historical cryptology. The mystery surrounding it has excited the popular imagination, making the manuscript a subject of both fanciful theories and novels. None of the many speculative solutions proposed over the last hundred years has yet been independently verified.

The Codex Seraphinianus

The Codex Seraphinianus is kind of like a textbook for a universe parallel to our own. Luigi Serafini, an Italian designer and architect, finished writing and illustrating the book in 1978. Strange diagrams and pictures accompany florid and incomprehensible text, which defied linguists and cryptographers for decades.

The book's overall feel is like that of a child reading books intended for adults.  It seems clear that the pictures and words have a consistency in meaning, but what that meaning might be is still lost on the reader.  The book was extremely rare for some time, costing anywhere between $200 and $400.  Library copies were very often stolen.  In 2006, a relatively affordable copy was produced and the Codex Seraphinianus was widely examined for the first time.

What seems clear is that Serafini was deeply influenced by the Voynich Manuscript.  The Voynich Manuscript is believed to have been written some time in the 1400s or 1500s and it too was written in a mysterious language and accompanied by strange diagrams and pictures.  It too seems to be an encyclopedia for an unknown world.  The most skillful cryptographers and statistical analysts in the world--from mathematicians to the CIA codecrackers--have worked to determine the manuscript's cipher with no success.  The smooth ductus of the writer's pen and the indentation of letters suggest the writer knew what he was writing.  Closer analysis reveals patterns in the words like that of a natural language.  It is theorized that the great court mystic, Roger Bacon, is somehow behind the Voynich Manuscript.  Though we don't know if he was the actual writer, he almost certainly had the manuscript in his possession for much of his adult life. 

Serafini's language, on the other had, appears to share certain traits with automatic writing.  Though the system seems undoubtedly complex, its lack of a coherent cipher, in this case, suggests that the letters were chosen at random.  Divided into eleven chapters, the Codex Seraphinianus illuminates subjects ranging from the biology of wonderous creatures to bizarre social practices and complex machines used by a variety of different humanoid races.

Serafini never put a great deal of effort into hiding his authorship of the Codex Seraphinianus. The surreal and often humorous depictions of natural and social dynamics seem intended to poke fun at absurd aspects of human social convention. Its bizarre illustrations have such a strange resonance with our own world. It reminds me of what fellow Surrealist Luis Buñuel once said when asked why he chose to make films: "To show we do not live in the best of all possible worlds."
Look at the entire Codex Seraphinianus online here.

 The Codex Gigas aka "The Devil's Bible"

It's a mysterious book that in its day was believed to contain all human knowledge. But why did medieval people believe that the author sold his soul to the devil to be able to write it?

The "Devil's Bible," a behemoth volume weighing in at 165 pounds, believed to have been produced by a single monk over the course of decades in the 13th Century, is the focus of a documentary that was featured on the National Geographic Channel.

The "Devil's Bible," a behemoth volume weighing in at 165 pounds, believed to have been produced by a single monk over the course of decades in the 13th Century, is the focus of a documentary that was featured on the National Geographic Channel.

The disc of Phaistos

In a century which has seen the cracking of Linear B, Ugaritic, and other orthographic systems, the Phaistos Disk has eluded decipherment. The disk is thought to date from around 1700 BC. 
The disc of Phaistos is the most important example of hieroglyphic inscription from Crete and was discovered in 1903 in a small room near the depositories of the "archive chamber", in the north - east apartments of the palace, together with a Linear A tablet and pottery dated to the beginning of the Neo-palatial period (1700- 1600 B.C.).
The exact location of Phaistos was first determined in the middle of the 19th century by the British admiral Spratt, while the archaeological investigation of the palace started in 1884 by the Italians F. Halbherr and A. Taramelli. 
After the declaration of the independent Cretan State in 1898, excavations were carried out by F. Halbherr and L. Pernier in 1900-1904 and later, in 1950-1971, by Doro Levi, under the auspices of the Italian Archaeological School at Athens.

The Phaistos Disk, today on display at the Iraklion Archaeological Museum,
was discovered in Crete in 1908.
Although many inscriptions were found by the archaeologists, they are all in Linear A code which is still undecipherd, and all we know about the site, even its name are based to the ancient writers and findings from Knossos.
According to mythology, Phaistos was the seat of king Radamanthis, brother of king Minos. It was also the city that gave birth to the great wise man and soothsayer Epimenidis, one of the seven wise men of the ancient world.
Excavations by archaeologists have unearthed ruins of the Neolithic times (3.000 B.C.).
During the Minoan times, Phaistos was a very important city-state. Its dominion, at its peak, stretched from Lithinon to Psychion and included the Paximadia islands. The city participated to the Trojan war and later became one of the most important cities-states of the Dorian period.
Phaistos continued to flourish during Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic times. It was destroyed by the Gortynians during the 3rd century B.C. In spite of that, Phaistos continued to exist during the Roman period.
Phaistos had two ports, Matala and Kommos.
Since 1900, continuous archaeological excavations from the Italian Archaeological School, have brought to light the magnificent Minoan palace of Phaistos with its great royal courts, the great staircases, the theatre, the storerooms and the famous disk of Phaistos.
The first palace was built at 2.000 B.C. This palace was destroyed at 1.700 B.C. by an earthquake. It was built again, more luxurious and magnificent and it was destroyed again, probably by another earthquake, at 1.400 B.C.
The location of the palace was carefully chosen, so as not only to absolutely control the valley of Messara, but to also offer a panoramic view of the surrounding area with the scattered villages, just like today, at the foot of the mountains Psiloritis and Asterousia.
The palace dominated and controlled the Messara valley and it was the center of the city. It was the administrational and economical center of the area.
Goods not only for consumption but mainly for trade were kept in its huge storerooms. The palace was surrounded by luxurious mansions and crowded urban communities. Along with the surrounding settlements covered an area of 18.000 sq. meters.
A paved road leads to the ruins of the Royal Minoan villa of Agia Triada, 3 km west of Phaistos.
Both surfaces of this clay disc are covered with hieroglyphs arranged in a spiral zone, impressed on the clay when it was damp. The signs make up groups divided from each other by vertical lines, and each of these groups should represent a word.

Forty five different types of signs have been distinguished, of which a few can be identified with the hieroglyphs in use in the Proto- palatial period.

Some hieroglyphic sequences recur like refrains, suggesting a religious hymn, and Pernier regards the content of the text as ritual. Others have suggested that the text is a list of soldiers, and lately Davis has interpreted it as a document in the Hittic language in which a king discusses the erection of the Palace of Phaistos.
In a century which has seen the cracking of Linear B, Ugaritic, and other orthographic systems, the Phaistos Disk has eluded decipherment. The disk is thought to date from around 1700 BC. It is a roundish disk of clay, with symbols stamped into it. The text consists of 61 words, 16 of which are accompanied by a mysterious "slash" mark.
There are 45 different symbols occurring 241 times. The symbols portray recognizable objects like human figures and body parts, animals, weapons, and plants. Since the text of the disk is so short, decipherment by the statistical cryptographic techniques employed by Michael Ventris in cracking Linear B are impossible.
Late last year, however, Dr. Keith A.J. Massey and his twin brother Rev. Kevin Massey-Gillespie discovered the secret they believe provides the key to cracking the Phaistos Disk.
Another ancient writing system provides the key to reading the Phaistos Disk.
At Byblos in modern day Lebanon, an advanced culture flourished for centuries. There are many signs of contact between Ancient Crete and Byblos, including signs of orthographic borrowing as pointed out by Victor Kenna in "The Stamp Seal, Byblos 6593" Kadmos 9 (1970) pp 93-96.
Further, examples of the yet undeciphered Linear A script have recently been found in Turkey, providing evidence of orthographic relationships between Crete and Asia Minor.
The Proto-Byblic script was used in the early part of the 2nd millenium BC, a time contemporary with the supposed date of the Phaistos Disk. The underlying language of the Proto-Byblic script was Semitic. It is a linear script which displays many identifiable objects, like weapons, human figures, and body parts. The Proto-Byblic script, catalogued by Maurice Dunand in the 1940's bears striking resemblance to the symbols of the Phaistos Disk. The similarity of one Proto-Byblic character to a Phaistos symbol was noted by Dunand in his book Byblia Grammata, Beyrouth, 1945 on p 90, "Il est presque identique a celui du disque de Phaestos qu-Evans avait identifie avec une colombe." [ It is almost identical to something from the disk of Phaistos which (Sir Arthur) Evans has identified with a dove.] Dunand did not pursue his observation of the similarities, yet it is this Proto-Byblic script which is demonstrated by the Massey twins as being a closely related orthographic system to the Phaistos Disk. Eduard Dhorme, one of the decipherers of Hittite, published the first consonantal values for the Proto-Byblic script in SYRIA XXV 1946 in an article, "Dechiffrement des Inscriptions Pseudo-Hieroglyphicques de Byblos." A comparison of these values with the symbols of the Phaistos Disk yielded consonantal assignments for a surprising amount of the writing on the disk.
It should be noted here that all previous attempts to decipher the Phaistos Disk have been subjective attempts, assigning phonetic values to the characters with no true objective criteria. This is therefore the first effort at cracking the disk by OBJECTIVE determinations. When these consonantal values are examined, elements of an Hellenic language emerge in the text of the disk. Scholars had never known what the significence of a mysterious "slash" on 16 of the words of the Phaistos Disk. We observed, based on our values, that each of these 16 words are numerals counting commodities on the disk, similar to the majority of Linear B texts.


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