The Voynich manuscript is an untranslated (and probably untranslatable) codex written around the 16th century. There have been numerous recent attempts to crack its code–usually making use of some form of breathlessly described “AI”.
Seraphs will output an infinite number of pages in an unreadable text offset by unlabeled diagrams and illustrations, matching colors and laying out the page in spreads.
Displayed at MIT Libraries as part of Author Function, a 2018 exhibit and reading series on computer-generated books.
Featured in a 2015 The Pacific Standard article on generative writing.
Liza Daly embraced whole hog the nonsense of computer-generated novels by playing with real-life inscrutable Voynich Manuscript - Zachary Littrell, BookRiot (2017)
The result is something that embraces the current limitations of generative processes. Isaac Karth, Procedural Generation (2015)
The original manuscript is heavily illustrated with fantastic sketches of fictional plants, nonexistent cosmological bodies, and a healthy number of naked ladies. The illustrations are grouped thematically. I selected keywords like “botany” and “alchemy” that, insofar as the original makes any sense, correspond to those themes.
I used the Flickr API to access the Internet Archive’s 14 million image collection. Each image is tagged with its original century, which meant that I could select “period” illustrations with any given keyword search. Trial and error landed on the 18th century being the “best” from a purely aesthetic point of view.
As with Voynich, each page has only one image on it; the dimensions and size influence which template is chosen. In the hand-written original, the text flows tightly around the illustrations. It’s possible to do this kind of layout in CSS, using the CSS Shapes specification, but that wasn’t available in my chosen output pipeline, so I went with standard floats.
There are really no viable open-source implementations of CSS’s support for advanced paged-media, so I used Prince XML, which has a limited free license. Nellie McKessan’s article on A List Apart is still the most accessible reference for producing print-ready HTML files.
Each thematic generates a full-bleed cover with a random Voynich word overlaid as the title. These end up being some of my favorite pages.
Full source code for the project and more examples at Github.