Coded manuscripts, maps, letters, furniture, jewelry, even household textiles – from the Billy Bones map to treasure island to Charlotte MacLeod’s Embroidered Braille Journal The family safethe dancers of Sherlock Holmes with the false Merovingian parchments in The “Da Vinci Code, literature is anything but swimming in hidden messages of some other kind. One type, “the dying clue”, is so prominent in Golden Age detective fiction that it’s almost a subgenre unto itself, and let’s not talk about all of Dan’s forgeries. Brown where the valiant hero and his friends try to decipher the mysterious hidden. Messages in a famous painting, sculpture, manuscript or poem.
This latest development actually made for a decent read. Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s The Flanders panel is a clever thriller about a painting that has its own secrets, while John M. Ford The Schoolnight arcs is a tour de force based on a lost play by Christopher Marlowe. Perhaps the most twisted recent example is that of Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason The rule of fourcentered on one of the first Italian novels, Poliphile Hypnerotomachythat it’s so stuffed with obscure references, deliberately difficult language, and delightfully bizarre woodcuts that it’s a miracle it hasn’t been the subject of a multi-part miniseries on the
Ancient Aliens Channel History Channel, Netflix or possibly Amazon Prime.
Then there are real, authentic, and real coded manuscripts. The best known is the legendary Voynich manuscript, which has the deserved reputation of being the strangest manuscript ever found. Not only has no one been able to read it since he first thwarted baroque polymath Athanasius Kircher, but no one has been able to prove that it is in fact some kind of coherent manuscript. Pretty much all anyone knows is that a) the writing system is unique, and probably invented specifically by the deranged individual who wrote/created/transcribed the Manuscript in the first place, b) the illustrations of weird, semi-identifiable plants, pregnant women frolicking about in bathtubs, and what’s either astronomical objects or the result of a really bad acid trip isn’t that good, and it’s ) it probably (but not definitely) has something to do with plants.
It’s no wonder that the discoverer, Wilfrid Voynich, not only lost all his money trying to translate the Manuscript, but eventually suffered a nervous breakdown. This leads to the possibility that the manuscript is cursed, but the current owner (Yale University) shows no signs of downfall or madness from its students. en masseso I’m skeptical.
Another Code Scroll is a collection of cipher manuscripts dating from the early to mid-19th century that somehow ended up in the possession of the founders of Britain’s magical society, the Order of the Golden Dawn. No one knows exactly who wrote them, when or where, only that they were written some time after 1842 and appeared in the possession of William Westcott and S. MacGregor Mathers in the 1880s (who may have actually written them , although no one is quite sure).
Tonight I bring you one of the most intriguing Manuscripts of Mystery. This one, which surfaced in the 1840s, deserves to be much better known, if only for the completely outlandish theories that have cropped up around it over the past two hundred years:
The Rohonc codex – this little book, once described as “Hungarian prayers” in an inventory, although it is certainly not written in anything even remotely resembling Hungarian or any other European language, including the bottom
This may not seem particularly different from the protocol observed by anyone wishing to examine a particular artifact… except that most Hungarian scholars believe that this Rohonc codex is nothing more than a hoax by a scholar/prankster from Transylvania from the beginning of the 19th, Samuel Literati Nemes. This despite a singular lack of evidence that Nemes had ever come within spitting distance of him, let alone considered something forging something so creepy. weirdwhich begs the question why the Hungarian Academy of Sciences even bothers.
Now, it’s entirely possible that Nemes forged the Codex Rohonc, even though analysis of the paper indicates the actual codex is a blank book made in the 1530s in Venice, of all places. It is also possible that the text as it stands predates the codex by a century or two, although the Hungarian scholar Benedek Láng tentatively dated the illustrations to the 16th or 17th centuries. Either way, would-be decryptors have been struggling for at least two hundred years to figure out what he’s saying, with results ranging from plausible to downright ridiculous.
Consider these assumptions, the sheer stupidity of which puts even some of the wildest speculation about the Voynich Manuscript to shame:
- Daco-Romanian. Proposed by (surprise!) a Romanian philologist, this theory claims that the Codex is a transcription of an 11th-12th century chronicle written in the Dacian dialect of Vulgate Latin, describing the heroic struggles of the Vlachs against the Pechengs and Hungarians. Unfortunately the supposed translation is marred by translating different characters/symbols to mean different things depending on the context, the glossary was so poorly done that other philologists pretty much exploded in rage and/or laughter, and l heroic semi-pagan story was nothing like the clear Christian symbolism in the illustrations (see above, even though one of the three kings is crawling up a hill, has a severe spinal deformity, or is part of a garden slug).
- sumerian. Yes: you read that right: a translator claimed to have seen traces of ancient Sumerian in the Codex, and never mind that Sumerian hadn’t been used for many thousands of years before an underpaid Venetian craftsman sews the last quire in place. The fact that this idea was based on the set of two pages of text that had been returned did not improve its chances of academic acceptance. Nor are its links to the extremely fringe fringe theory that Hungarian is a very degraded form of Sumerian, which is right there with Merovingian Jesus and similarly ridiculous concepts.
- Hindi. If the idea that the Rohonc codex is actually Sumerian is crazy, the idea that it is written in a heretofore unknown and undocumented form of the Brahmi script is so bizarre that it comes close to reaching the speed of leak. Proposed by (surprise!) an Indian scholar, this theory claims that if the Codex is read from right to left and top to bottom, it turns out to be (deep breath) a Christian apocryphal gospel/childhood narrative that begins by the resounding cry
” Oh my God ! Here the people are very poor, sick and hungry, so give them enough power and power so that they can meet their needs” (he bhagwan log bahoot garib yahan bimar aur bhookhe hai / inko itni sakti aur himmat do taki ye apne karmo ko pura kar sake)
Just Why a Hindu would like to invent a variation on an existing script to write an apocryphal Christian text and then translate it into Hungarian, isn’t clear, but hey, the idea of giving the starving masses “power and power” seems almost revolutionary enough to to be something out of Gospel of Thomasso why not?
Luckily for the sanity of everyone involved, most Rohonc researchers these days have focused on expanding the work of the 1970s researcher. Ottó Gyürk, who took a systematic and refreshing approach to the whole question of what the Rohonoc Codex was and what (if anything) it said. Its proponents, including Gabor Tokai, Levente Zoltan Kiraly, and Benedek Lang, have concluded that the Codex is in fact some kind of Christian work, with Lang in particular claiming that it is written in a coded script, possibly a unique form of shorthand. The text appears to be a paraphrase of the Gospels supplemented with unbiblical prayers, and the manuscript appears to follow the format of a standard Catholic breviary from the late 16th or early 17th century.
In short, no ancient aliens, Hindu or Sumerian childhood tales were involved in its production, just an eccentric Hungarian who stumbled across the Venetian equivalent of a Moleskine, said, “Good! Now what can I put in it? and went to town.
As for the author’s name… well, that’s for others to find out. But I’m sure someone will, or at least take a chance. Who knows? Possibly ancient aliens were somehow involved. We can always hope.
Have you ever tried to decipher a mysterious manuscript? A writing? Attempt to pronounce Poliphile Hypnerotomachy three times in a row without swallowing your uvula? Did you wonder what it was about? It’s a cold fall night at the Last Homely Shack, so grab a cup of hot cider (hard or sweet, your choice) and share…..
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