Voynich manuscript

The cryptology world has put quite a bit of effort into the mysterious Voynich document. The news is that it is not encrypted at all.

I have had a long-standing interest in the Voynich manuscript.

A few years ago a UK PhD, Gerard E Cheshire, took a fresh look at it and eventually figured out how to translate it.

I don’t remember how I found out about this, but have followed his work. Most of the translation turns out to be a rather mundane women’s health manual, but part of it is an account of a team of people who rescued people who were living on a nearby volcano when it erupted in 1444.

That’s just the cover. To read

2023, Google Books. ISBN:9781399954990

A copy costs and review copies are normally free. I would like to see it widely discussed. If you review books, have PayPal, and buy one, I will gladly reimburse you (up to a dozen anyway).

Keith Henson


It seems that Gerard Cheshire’s claims about translating the document are controversial. For instance, a 2019 news report (link) ends with the following:

The University of Bristol has distanced itself from the study, which it said was entirely the author’s own work.

It added that it was not affiliated with the institution.

In a statement, it said: "Concerns have been raised about the validity of this research from academics in the fields of linguistics and medieval studies.

“We take such concerns very seriously and have therefore removed the story regarding this research from our website to seek further validation and allow further discussions both internally and with the journal concerned.”

The paper, The Language and Writing System of MS408 (Voynich) Explained, is published in the journal Romance Studies.

A more in-depth discussion on the Voynich portal, also dating back to 2019, calls out the credibility of the Cheshire interpretation.


I have followed this work for years.

Rather than relying on a 4 year old second hand report, why don’t you get a copy and read it. Directly see if it makes sense.

I will even pay for it if you have PayPal.


My interest in the Voynich manuscript is at the trivia level. Since you are much more keen on having a discussion, perhaps you could share your perspective on the Voynich portal assertions regarding Cheshire’s interpretation?

The Voynich portal analyzes snippets of the proposed Cheshire translation. It was not sufficiently convincing for me to prompt the purchase of either the original Romance Studies article or the book.

Moreover, Cheshire published another short paper in 2019 paper providing his own description of the approach (link)

This article answers frequent inquiry about how the solutions were found for the writing system and language of Medieval manuscript MS408, as described in the peer-reviewed Romance Studies journal paper titled: The Language and Writing System of MS408 (Voynich) Explained. (Cheshire, 2019) As finding the solutions was largely intuitive, then explaining how it was done is something of a challenge in and of itself.

The first detail is that no effort was invested in researching previous attempts by other scholars, working on the simple logic that they must already have covered all possible combinations of potential letter symbols and languages, given that so many had tried over so many years. It was therefore possible to reason that the solution required an intuitive approach. So, the starting point was to consider the manuscript afresh, with an open mind, unpolluted by the ideas of others or any prior linguistic rules. The metaphorical canvas was left entirely blank to allow complete freedom and flux in ideas and thought experimentation.

It’s a short 5 page read that left me thinking the author’s claim his interpretation is correct is very thin. What the reader would have to consider to be true is that “lateral thinking” and a “presumption of the mundane” are sufficient for “solving” a manuscript that stumped many other generations of linguists. Possible? Maybe. Likely? I don’t know, it seems like a fairly extraordinary claim that would require some level of extraordinary evidence.

But I am interested in learning what is your take on the validity of Cheshire’s approach. Paleography is nowhere near my area of expertise and I am always curious about new things.

In conclusion, the writing system and language were explained and identified by deploying a logical and systematic approach in combination with experimentation, extensive research, lateral thinking, intuition and, lastly, a presumption of the mundane. That final point is important as it constrained ideas entirely to using the available information (data). That is, it eliminated any temptation to imagine information and connections that were not present.

Avoidance of both confirmation bias and negation bias is part of the scientific discipline, so that results can be considered impartial. The aim is to arrive at the most likely explanation, rather than unequivocal acceptance or rejection of the hypotheses that comprise a theory. In that light, the described explanation for the writing system and language seems to be correct based on many thousands of experiments and associated cross-reference. Above all else, application of theory and method consistently produces reasonable translations, which is the objective of any translation technique. After all, we unthinkingly do the same when we read text using a more familiar writing system and language, such as the text on this page.

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