Phytomorphs in the Pharmaceutical Section: The Rosetta Stone of the Voynich Codex

  • Arthur O. TuckerEmail author
  • Jules Janick
Part of the Fascinating Life Sciences book series (FLS)


The text of the Voynich Codex is written in about 32 symbols that appear to be an alphabet or syllabary in an unknown language. The symbols appear to be borrowed either from the Codex Osuna, scribal abbreviations, or alchemic symbols. Some symbols could be decoded by associating labels in Voynichese symbols in the Pharmaceutical section with the names of two plants in Nahuatl, Taino, or Spanish: prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) with the Nahuatl name nochtli, and agave (Agave atrovirens) with the Taino-derived name maguey. Both these names fit the Voynichese word length. Thus, nochtli allowed five symbols to be phonetically sounded, whereas maguey added four additional symbols. This system was applied to five other phytomorphs, which permitted the decoding of a total of 15 Voynichese symbols and produced many names that described the plants. Thus, it appeared that labeled plants in the Pharmaceutical section were equivalent to the Rosetta Stone, which permitted the decoding of Egyptian symbols. Folio 57v contained 17 diverse symbols repeated four times, nine of which were included in the aforementioned 32 Voynichese symbols. When sounded out, the first four of these symbols had the same relative sequence as the pronunciation of letters in the Spanish alphabet, suggesting that the author who invented the codex might have started with the Spanish alphabet.


Agave Alphabet Cactus Maguey Nochtli Phytomorphs Prickly pear Rosetta Stone Syllabary Voynich 

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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Agriculture & Natural ResourcesDelaware State UniversityDoverUSA
  2. 2.Department of Horticulture & Landscape ArchitecturePurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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