A mystery code in 1504

code

Credit to Mark Liberman of Language Log who pointed out that the University of Chicago is thoroughly stumped by strange writings on a 1504 edition of the Odyssey. The writing occurs only in Book 11, which tells of Odysseus' descent into Hades. The university is offering $1000 to the man or woman who can unlock its mysteries.

Calling all historians of cryptography and stenography, Sherlockians (see “The Dancing Men”), and other amateur detectives!  The collection of Homer editions in the Special Collections Research Center – the  Bibliotheca Homerica Langiana(BHL) – includes a copy of the rare 1504 edition of Homer’s Odyssey that contains, in Book 11 (narrating Odysseus’s journey into Hades) handwritten annotations in a strange and as-yet unidentified script.  This marginalia appears only in the pages of Book 11 of the Odyssey; nowhere else in the volume.  Although the donor of the BHL is suspicious that this odd script is a form of 19th-century shorthand (likely French), he acknowledges that this hypothesis remains unsupported by any evidence offered to date.  

The donor of the BHL is offering a prize of $1,000 to the first person who identifies the script, provides evidence to support the conclusion, and executes a translation of selected portions of the mysterious marginalia. In addition to the photographs in this post, the volume is available to consult in person in the Special Collections reading room.

More information at the University of Chicago's Special Collections.