Once upon a time, a man called Ludovico Spoletano allegedly conjured up the Devil himself, and forced him to answer a question. Some unseen power, like an invisible hand, took hold of a pen and swiftly wrote this:
[Click on the above for a larger image: or here’s a slightly sharpened version, if that’s any help.]
The story of Ludovic of Spoleto originally appeared in a 1539 book by Teseo Ambrogio Albonesi concerning the Chaldaic, Syriac and Armenian languages: “Introductio in Chaldaicam linguam, Syriacam atque Armenicam et decem alias linguas characterum differentium alphabeta circiter quadraginta et eorundem invicem conformation”, published in Pavia in 1539.
Of course, with my cipher historian hat on, it seems far more likely to have been a (small-d) devilish invention, one probably far closer to Trithemius’ idea of hiding ciphers behind a demonological or necromantic façade. Hence I suspect that we are almost certainly looking at a cipher, albeit one whose alphabet has a consciously Satanic twist (e.g. the pitchforks and bats are pretty good hints as to whom the author is supposed to be).
Albonesi couldn’t crack it, but did do his best to reproduce it in his book as well as practical: how will you fare, mano-a-mano with the Devil himself? 🙂
Interestingly, the Devil’s Handwriting inspired a short story by former King’s College, Cambridge Librarian Alan Noel Latimer Munby, in his 1949 collection “The Alabaster Hand And Other Ghost Stories”.
Related post: The Devil’s Handwriting.