For anyone with an interest in surrealism, the Codex Seraphinianus would be a book definitely worth getting your hands on.
The book contains 11 hand written chapters written in an unknown language that nobody has ever been successfully able to translate or decode. To accompany this are hand drawn images that resemble plants and animals and people, although there is something off about all of these illustrations that make them appear to be not of this world.
Although the book itself cannot be read, there is a distinct theme for every chapter and what it covers:
- Chapter One: Plants, trees, and nature
- Chapter Two: Surreal versions of animal life on Earth
- Chapter Three: A separate animal kingdom, which in no way resembles life on this planet
- Chapter Four: Physics and chemistry
- Chapter Five: Vehicles and machinery
- Chapter Six: Human biology and sexuality
- Chapter Seven: Historical
- Chapter Eight: The writing system
- Chapter Nine: Clothing, dining and food
- Chapter Ten: Games and sports
- Chapter Eleven: Architecture
The book is essentially an encyclopedia of life on an alien planet. Elements of our own world can be seen in the illustrations, but are given a twist that makes them seem surreal and strange. For example, humans that have wheels in place of feet, or fish that appear to be eyeballs when in the water. Every image is drawn in colored pencil crayon, and is bold and extremely colorful.
The Codex Seraphinianus was published in 1981, and is being sold for over £1000 on sites such as eBay, and even up to £4000 on Amazon. However, the book should generally only cost around £50, which is still expensive, but the lowest and most common price I have usually seen it for sale online.
Many philosophers have tried to find the meaning of the book, and many code breakers have tried to decipher it, but to no avail. But is there really a code that needs to be broken?
Sadly for anybody interested in the mystery and hidden meaning behind the codex, the author himself, Luigi Serafini, said that there is nothing to the book, and it is only art. He said that he wanted his alphabet to "convey to the reader the sensation that children feel in front of books they cannot yet understand, although they see that the writing does make sense for adults," so that explains the totally unreadable language in the book.
This may seem anticlimactic, as such an in-depth and detailed book in an unknown language and decorated with surrealism seems wasted when you can see that that's all there is to it. For me personally, it was hard looking at the captions to such strange images and pages upon pages of undecipherable text, desperate to know what it all means, only to realize that there is never any way of finding out—because it means nothing at all.
There is no denying, however, that the Codex is still extremely interesting and original, and is valuable to anyone with an appreciation for surrealist art. And if this is still not good enough for you, as someone who would prefer a book shrouded in complete mystery that genuinely cannot be understood but potentially still has meaning, the Codex Seraphinianus has been compared to other works such as the Voynich manuscript, which dates back to the 1400s. There is only one copy of this, and many of the pages are missing. If closure is not something you like in a mystery, then this may be the work for you! Only ten words in the entire book (containing over 200 pages) have allegedly been translated, so anyone with an interest still has chance to decode it.
Thank you for reading! Below are my own photographs from my copy of the Codex that I was lucky enough to receive a few years ago. It is a book I definitely recommend!