Shedding Light on World’s Most Mysterious Book: Iowa State University Lecture Aug. 14

Jules Janick

AMES, Iowa — Clues to the riddle of a centuries-old manuscript known as “the most mysterious book in the world” will be unveiled by a renowned horticulture expert in an Iowa State University lecture on Aug. 14.

Jules Janick, the James Troop Distinguished Professor of horticulture at Purdue University, will present “Unraveling the Voynich Codex:  A 16th Century Mexican Manuscript Mystery” at 7 p.m. in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union. The lecture, free and open to the public, is sponsored by Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Janick has published widely on horticulture, genetics and breeding, horticultural history, art and iconography, and is a renowned editor of scientific publications, including Plant Breeding Reviews, Horticultural Reviews and the Proceedings of the New Crops Conferences. During his career he has released new cultivars of apple, pears, tomato, geranium and arugula. He is a member of the American Society of Horticultural Science’s Hall of Fame and recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Plant Breeders.

Janick is lead author of a new book that seeks to untangle the origins of the Voynich Codex, referred to as “one of the most enigmatic historic texts of all time” and “the most mysterious book in the world.” The ancient manuscript, containing cryptic symbols and illustrations of plant life, zoology, culture and other subject matter, was discovered in Italy in 1912 by Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish book dealer, and was eventually bequeathed to Yale University’s rare book library.

Carbon-dated to the 15th century, the encyclopedic book’s symbolic language has defied translation by cryptologists. The book was believed to be of European origin, but Janick and his coauthors offer evidence that it originated in Mexico — a breakthrough in the ability to decipher the manuscript and to better understand life in 16th century Mexico.

In his lecture, Janick will review historical, botanical, zoological and iconographic evidence of the Voynich Codex. Janick’s co-authors of “Unraveling the Voynich Codex: A 16th Century Mexican Manuscript” are Arthur Tucker of Delaware State University, a worldwide authority on plant and herb identification; Fernando Moreira of Alberta, Canada, an independent researcher of medical and Mesoamerican iconography of flora and fauna; and Elizabeth Flaherty, assistant professor of forestry and natural resources at Purdue.

Janick’s lecture kicks off an Aug. 15-16 meeting of the NC7 North Central Region Technical Advisory Committee hosted by Iowa State. NC7 is a 71-year-old multistate research project focused on conservation, management, enhancement and utilization of plant genetic resources. The project involves 33 scientists at universities in 18 states. Joe Colletti, the interim endowed dean of ISU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is the administrative advisor to the project.