The Voynich manuscript, sometimes described as the ‘world’s most mysterious text,’ may be written in proto-Romance, a language that arose from a blend of spoken Latin (Vulgar Latin) and other languages across the Mediterranean during the early Medieval period following the collapse of the Roman Empire and subsequently evolved into the many Romance languages (Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, Catalan, and Galician).
The manuscript originates from Castello Aragonese, an island castle and citadel off Ischia, Italy, and was compiled by a Dominican nun as a source of reference for Maria of Castile, Queen of Aragon, according to research by the University of Bristol.
The Voynich manuscript, named after the Polish-American antiquarian book dealer Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired it in 1912, is a small book 23.5 x 16.2 cm of about 240 pages. Nearly every page of the manuscript contains scientific and botanical drawings in various shades of green, brown, yellow, blue, and red. The vellum used in the book was carbon dated to 1404-1438.
The Voynich manuscript is written in proto-Romance, ubiquitous in the Mediterranean during the Medieval period, but it was seldom written in official or important documents because Latin was the language of church and government. As a result, proto-Romance was moslty lost from the record.
The manuscript’s alphabet is a combination of unfamiliar and more familiar symbols. It includes no dedicated punctuation marks, although some letters have symbol variants to indicate punctuation or phonetic accents. All of the letters are in lower case and there are no double consonants.
Translations reveal that the manuscript is a compendium of information on herbal remedies, therapeutic bathing and astrological readings concerning matters of the female mind, the body, reproduction, parenting, and of the heart in accordance with the Catholic and Roman pagan religious beliefs of Mediterranean Europeans during the late Medieval period.
It also tells the adventurous, story of a rescue mission, by ship, to save the victims of a volcanic eruption in the Tyrrhenian Sea that began on the evening of the 4 February 1444. Maria of Castile, Queen of Aragon, led the rescue mission as regent during the absence of her husband, King Alfonso V of Aragon who was otherwise occupied, having only recently conquered and taken control of Naples in February 1443.
The island of Ischia, Italy is historically famous for its hot volcanic spas, which exist to this day. The manuscript has many images of naked women bathing in them, both recreationally and therapeutically. Queen Maria and her court are even shown conducting trade negotiations whilst bathing. The spa lifestyle was highly regarded as a form of physical cleansing and spiritual communion, as well as a general means of relaxation and leisure.
The next step is to use this knowledge to translate the entire manuscript and compile a lexicon, which will take some time and funding.
A paper was published online April 29 in the journal Romance Studies.