Codex Seraphinianus – The Book of the Weird
The Codex Seraphinianus is a book written and illustrated by the Italian artist, architect and industrial designer Luigi Serafini during thirty months, from 1976 to 1978. The book is approximately 360 pages long (depending on edition), and appears to be a visual encyclopedia of an unknown world, written in one of its languages, a thus-far undeciphered alphabetic writing.
A source claims that “Seraphinianus” is an acronym for Strange and Extraordinary Representations of Animals and Plants and Hellish Incarnations of Normal Items from the Annals of Naturalist/U nnaturalist Luigi Serafini.
The Codex’s only real precursor in terms of invented languages is The Voynich Manuscript, which was allegedly discovered by Polish book collector Wilfrid M. Voynich in a wooden chest at an Italian Jesuit college in 1912. According to an article in the magazine The Believer, the profusely illustrated manuscript was worked on by top code-breakers during World War II who were unable to fathom it.
“They failed. It’s never been deciphered. Theories on its origin and significance abound, including the theory that the manuscript is a fraud perpetrated by Voynich himself, but the most popular and conclusive theory attributes the work to Roger Bacon, the medieval Franciscan friar who, in his Letter Concerning the Marvelous Power of Art and Nature and the Nullity of Magic, noted that “certain persons have achieved concealment by means of letters not then used by their own race or others but arbitrarily invented by themselves.”
The Website Codex Seraphinianus Solved claims to have solved the mystery by consulting various Rosetta Stone language CDs:
The writing system used in his book appears to be modelled on ordinary Western-style writing systems, but with letters that curve into each other in patterns that cryptologists and linguists have been unable to break.
However, the number system used for numbering the pages has been cracked by a Bulgarian linguist, Ivan Derzhanski of Sofia, Bulgaria.
Philippe Découflé created Codex, his first choreographic version, for seven dancers in 1986, following up a year later with a filmed rendering bearing the same title. Some years later he felt compelled to rework the theme, the outcome being Decodex, for 12 dancers. The most recent manifestation of this recurring urge is today’s Tricodex, for 30 members of the Lyon Ballet troupe.
Like Picasso, who sometimes produced fresh versions of the same subject years apart, Découflé likes to run the original idea through the filter of his current concerns.
The agenda, however, remains unchanged: a meticulous, probing, zanily poetic exploration of this imaginary world that draws on many facets of a vast choreographic vocabulary.
The Codex is divided into eleven chapters, partitioned into two sections. The first section appears to describe the natural world, dealing with flora, fauna, and physics. The second deals with the humanities, the various aspects of human life: clothing, history, cuisine, architecture and so on. Each chapter seems to treat a general encyclopedic topic. The topics of each separate chapter are as follows:
- The first chapter describes many alien types of flora: strange flowers, trees that uproot themselves and migrate, etc.
- The second chapter is devoted to the fauna of this alien world, depicting many animals that are surreal variations of the horse, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, birds, etc.
- The third chapter deals with what seems to be a separate kingdom of odd bipedal creatures.
- The fourth chapter deals with something that seems to be physics and chemistry, and is by far the most abstract and enigmatic.
- The fifth chapter deals with bizarre machines and vehicles.
- The sixth chapter explores the general humanities: biology, sexuality, various aboriginal peoples, and even shows examples of plant life and tools (such as pens and wrenches) grafted directly into the human body.
- The seventh chapter is historical. It shows many people (some only vaguely human) of unknown significance, giving their times of birth and death. It also depicts many scenes of historical (and possibly religious) significance. Also included are examples of burial and funereal customs.
- The eighth chapter depicts the history of the Codex’s alien writing system.
- The ninth chapter deals with food, dining practices, and clothing.
- The tenth chapter describes bizarre games (including playing cards and board games) and athletic sports.
- The eleventh chapter is devoted entirely to architecture.
From various sources