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Mysterious, Encrypted Medieval Manuscript Set To Be Published In Replica

The late-medieval Voynich Manuscript — named after the rare book dealer who unearthed it — is written in a seemingly uncrackable code.

The Voynich Manuscript is a singular mystery. But thanks to a small publishing house in Spain, the one-of-a-kind text will soon be more like one-in-900.

The 15th-century document is written in an unknown, apparently encrypted language that has defied every code breaker's efforts. It's illustrated with unknown or imaginary plants and never-seen constellations. The only copy is locked away at Yale University to protect the book; scans online are the closest most mortals can get to viewing its pages.

The Spanish publishing house Siloe specializes in replicas — very small runs of carefully re-created manuscripts, such as the 16th-century Bestiary of John of Austria and 10th-century Beato Emilianense. For 10 years, Siloe appealed to the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale, asking for access to the Voynich, Agence France-Presse reports.

The library — which tightly controls who can view the original, in order to protect it — granted permission for Siloe to examine the book, AFP writes. Now the publishing house is in the process of re-creating the volume — "every stain, hole, sewn-up tear in the parchment," the news service says.

Siloe will release 898 volumes (their standard, palindromic publishing run) and sell them for 7,000 to 8,000 euros, or about $8,000 to $9,000, AFP reports. Nearly 300 people have put in preorders.

In an annual bulletin, Juanjo Garcia and Pablo Molinero of Siloe said in Spanish that they were proud to have been chosen for the "fabulous adventure" of replicating the Voynich.

"What mysteries are hidden behind this monumental enigma?" they asked, wondering who was "the genius or the sadist" who created the book.

Maybe a few hundred precise copies of the book will help the world's code breakers answer those questions. But don't bet on it: Countless cryptographers — including some of the world's most brilliant code breakers — have dedicated themselves to trying to solve the puzzle.

High-resolution scans and active Internet-enabled collaboration have not led to any big breakthroughs.

Writer Reed Johnson spent three years of his life as a Voynich obsessive. He spoke to NPR in 2013 about the enticing mysteries of the book, named after the Polish-American book dealer who bought it in 1912.

" 'It doesn't match any other language that's been seen in any other book,' Johnson tells Rachel Martin, host of Weekend Edition Sunday.

"The drawings often have labels, which would seem to offer a route to deciphering the code. But that hope has proved to be an illusion, he says. ...

" 'The history of this manuscript is littered with ... all these people who have spent years and years trying to decipher this manuscript,' Johnson says."

In fact, over all the decades of dedicated pursuit, there's only one documented success story.

"The only person to have made any headway is Indiana Jones," the AFP writes. "The fictitious archaeologist manages to crack it in a novel."

The Siloe team is working on crafting the reproductions now; it will take at least a year and a half for the first ones to be finished.

If you can't wait that long — or, you know, are looking for a price with fewer digits — Yale University Press has a printed facsimile coming to print this fall.

In the meantime, the digitized version is available through the Beinecke library's website, where it's described as a "scientific or magical text in an unidentified language, in cipher."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

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