Episode 2: Scribes of the Voynich Manuscript

“The best cryptologists in the world…have worked on this manuscript for decades, and no one has ever been able to read it.”

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About This Episode

Recorded April 2, 2020. Produced and transcribed by Aylin Malcolm.

In this episode, Dr. Lisa Fagin Davis speaks with Aylin about the Voynich Manuscript (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, MS 408), an undeciphered text that uses an unknown writing system. By using DigiPal to compare the glyphs, Dr. Davis discovered that this manuscript was originally written by five different scribes.

The manuscript is so infamous that medievalists and other scholars have been conditioned to roll their eyes when the very name is mentioned. It is easy to forget that underneath the media buzz and unsubstantiated theories lies an actual medieval object well worthy of study, six hundred years old, with a lengthy and fascinating recorded history.

– L. F. Davis, “How Many Glyphs and How Many Scribes?,” Manuscript Studies 5.1, 2020, p. 164.
Detail of Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, MS 408, fol. 71r.

Lisa Fagin Davis is Executive Director of the Medieval Academy of America. Her publications include La Chronique Anonyme Universelle: Reading and Writing History in Fifteenth-Century France (2014) and The Gottschalk Antiphonary: Music and Liturgy in Twelfth-Century Lambach (2010). Dr. Davis writes about manuscripts across the United States on her Manuscript Road Trip blog, with a special emphasis on collections that are isolated and often overlooked. Follow her on Twitter at @lisafdavis.

Dr. Davis’s research on the Voynich Manuscript scribes appears in the Spring 2020 issue of Manuscript Studies, which will be open-access as of May 2021 .

Characteristic glyphs of the five Voynich scribes (L. F. Davis, “How Many Glyphs and How Many Scribes?,” Manuscript Studies 5.1, 2020, p. 173).

Resources and Further Reading

Resources mentioned in this episode include BiblioPhilly, Biblissima, DigiPal, Digital Scriptorium, IIIF, and vHMML.

Dr. Davis has given several lectures about the Voynich Manuscript and its history, including one in March 2020:


Download the episode transcript at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1jAVbZR0bVuvO8B5OEXKY_AIGuXQHnZTc/view?usp=sharing.