This 2011 documentary on the mysterious "Voynich Manuscript," named for its discoverer, Wilfrid Voynic, who found it in a trunk owned by Athanasius Kircher, one of the most famous scholars of the 17th century. The book had come to Kircher through Johannes Marcus Marci in the hope of Kircher being able to decipher it.
Much of the manuscript resembles herbal manuscripts of the 1500s, 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. 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. It has defied all decipherment attempts, becoming a famous case 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 documentary comes from National Geographic, so it's not as cheesy as some of the stuff the Discovery Channel runs these days. Be sure to check out the Wikipedia entry as well.
Men have always tried to encode secrets, military communication, love letters, forbidden knowledge, and most secret text is eventually decoded, but among all of history’s cryptic writings one stands out. It’s the world’s most mysterious book written by an unknown author in an odd alphabet and brilliantly illustrated with puzzling images. For centuries, it defies all attempts to unveil its secrets. Now, for the first time, experts analyze the ink, pigments and parchments of the Voynich Manuscript.
What secrets are hidden between these lines? Who wrote them and why? At the headquarters of the US Military Intelligence Service, experts succeeded in decoding Japan’s so called Purple Code. William Frederick Friedman, the service’s Director is one of the world’s best cryptographers. For practice between jobs, Friedman and his team decode ancient cryptic texts. One by one, the codes are cracked, but one book, The Voynich Manuscript, stubbornly defies all attempts to decode it. Unnerved, the cryptographers give up. It’s the only code they’re unable to crack.
The roughly 200-page manuscript, with its strange symbols has been a mystery for decades. At the beginning of the 20th century, an antiques dealer from New York visits Villa Mondragone near Rome looking for precious books. His name is Wilfrid Voynich. Villa Mondragone is home to many historical texts from a Jesuit school. Wilfrid Voynich is allowed to inspect a trunk that comes from the estate of Athanasius Kircher, one of the most famous scholars of the 17th century.
Among various manuscripts, the trunk contains an unusual book. Voynich buys the manuscript, and for the rest of his life tries to decipher it. He dies without even coming close to a solution. After Voynich’s death, the manuscript ends up at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale. The library possesses a wealth of literary gems, but probably none as famous as the Voynich Manuscript. Rene Zandbergen is one of the leading experts on the Voynich Manuscript and has been working on it for years.
When Rene first saw an image of the page of the Voynich Manuscript, he immediately had the feeling this is something he can decipher, this is something he can read, but as the years went by, this turned out to be wrong, so he couldn’t read it like so many other people before him.
Watch the full documentary now - 46 min