This is a page from the Codex from Rohonc. If you don’t understand the writing don’t worry about it, nobody does.
Ever since it was discovered, in 1838, among the books donated by Gusztáv Batthyány to the Hungarian Academy, the attempts to decipher it never stopped. The impossible script, the crude drawings or the suspicions about the, how should I say, authenticity or maybe genuineness, of the book, did not stop the cryptography enthusiasts. No wonder, a good mystery is alluring. And it caught me too. I did not crack the code (I am proud to say that I deciphered a handful of words) but I studied and understood most of the drawings. In my posts I try to give an account for everything I found about the Codex, things that I am quite sure that are correct and prove them, as well as my thoughts on more elusive problems such as authorship and utilization.
Truth is I am not a historian, art historian, linguist, codicologist or anything even remotely related to strange little coded books. But I love a good mystery, and I stumbled upon one when I most needed it. So how did I meet the Codex from Rohonc and why did I get involved in this cipher mystery?
I have a long and a short answer. For the short one, just go to the end of this post.
Here is the long one.
As Lehmann Brothers went down and the financial crisis made its debut in 2008, here, in Romania, we thought that we are sheltered from the problems. We thought that we are so disconnected from the world’s wealth that we cannot be reached by its troubles. The fact that high rank officials said so, helped maintain this illusion. But not for long. By the end of 2009 we were asked to stay at home three working days a month, and not be paid.
Somebody enjoyed the extra walks in the park.
The same happened next month, in December. The walks were good, but Santa had a big, flat sack that year.
Well, at least we had the free days. The next year, things got really bad. As the big boys tried to find a way out from the financial nightmare, they decided to transfer it to us, the little guys. So they started talking about cutting the salaries by 25 percent, massive layoffs and such. The talks lasted for months. If it was to happen (and it did, I had my salary diminished for two years) was bad, but waiting for the lightning to strike was worse. And it affected everybody. I was surrounded by tension and frustration, and I needed to escape. Finding another job was close to impossible at that time.
I have my escapist strategies well in place. I have the books, the TV mysteries, the crossword puzzles and so on. But the pressure was too high, the bleak thoughts too insidious. My trusted traditional strategies didn’t seem to work anymore. I needed something better.
As tension climaxed (in May 2010) , I got an e-mail (the kind of mail that makes the rounds), about the book written by Viorica Enăchiuc: “Rohonczi Codex: descifrare, transcriere si traducere” published in 2002, in which she claims to have deciphered and translated the encrypted content of a little book of uncertain origin and uncertain puropose, known as the Rohonczi Codex (the Codex from Rohonc in Hungarian). In her vision, the Codex is a chronicle from the 11th -12th century of historically unattested activities of early Romanians, such as battles with the Pechenegs and Cumans or diplomatic contacts with the Byzantine Empire, written in a hypothetical Vulgar Latin, with first seen Dacian letters.
I haven’t heard about it in eight years since it appeared and it seemed to belong to a trend I do not fancy, but I decided to take a quick Internet survey of the whole story. Apart from a small group of enthusiasts, the general reaction to Enăchiuc’s work ranged from chilling indifference, to prudent reserve, to harsh criticism. And, in all honesty, the 90-something drawings looked very much religious, even to my untrained eye, not a bit historical.
The extravagant medley of crosses, stars, suns and snakes made it mysterious and intriguing. Finding the story in the pictures seemed the perfect little project to distract me from the grim reality. I am neither a historian, nor a linguist, furthermore, my knowledge on religions in general is scattered and unsystematic. The most I knew about the New Testament came from a combination of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and Zefirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth”. I was a teenager in the ’70s, you can tell. I knew as much about the Bible as any person who did not have a peculiar interest in it, grew up in a communist country, read a fair amount of books and saw a fair amount of movies would know. Some, but not much. This did not stop me from trying.
My project was to find out what the drawings were about. But the ultimate goal was to understand what made this man, or these men, to produce such a bizarre document. And years later, I can’t say I do. But I have some ideas.
I was no expert when I started and I am not much of an expert now, years later. I got a glimpse into all sorts of alphabets, a bit of history, codicology, cryptology, religion and heresy, shorthand writing, paper making and alphabets again. I learned the Cyrillic script which I can read now pretty well (in Romanian) and the Glagolitic which, unfortunately, I managed to quickly forget, and I saw many, many beautiful illuminated manuscripts. And all these on the World Wide Web. In short, it was a blast. And it helped me keep my sanity.
That was the long answer.
And here goes the short one: “Because it’s there” (George Mallory)