For over 150 years, a series of mysterious notes in an ancient copy of Homer’s “Odyssey” left scholars baffled. The handwritten annotations, written in a seemingly unknown language, were scrawled all over the margins of the 500-year-old manuscript. Although historians were pretty sure the notes had been made in the mid-19th century, nothing else was known—until the Internet got involved. After collector M.C. Lang offered a $1,000 reward for anyone who could decode the text, amateur cryptographers from around the world rushed to crack the case.
The prize was won earlier this year by Italians Daniele Metilli and Giula Accetta, who revealed the notes were made in an obscure form of shorthand invented by Jean Coulon de Thevenot in the 18th century. The decoded text was in French and appeared to be an amateur translation of the Greek text of the “Odyssey.”
The discovery required an impressive amount of work. Metilli and Accetta researched many defunct stenographic systems until they found one resembling the annotations. According to Metilli, “If I didn’t have access to online sources such as Google Books, the Greek Word Study Tool of the Perseus Digital Library and the French corpora of the CNRTL, I probably wouldn’t have won. What great times we live in!”