The Surrealist Encyclopedia in an Invented Language


In this article:

  • Luigi Serafini Codex Seraphinianus is a fictional encyclopedia written in fictional language about a fictional universe with its own laws of physics.
  • The surreal and intricate artwork alone made it a popular and enjoyable piece.
  • Serafini initially sent the manuscript to publishers anonymously and without explanation. Even after identifying himself, he did little to help editors or readers decode the book.
  • For decades, readers have tried to decode the made-up language and determine whether it contains deep truth or just a whole lot of nonsense.

Here’s a thought experiment: try to imagine a universe in which the laws of physics are completely different. Three lefts do not make a right, and atoms are shaped like cubes and pyramids instead of spheres.

Now imagine how this absurd set of physical laws would permeate every aspect of existence. Plant structures are completely different from those we see in Earth’s natural environments, animals have appendages we couldn’t imagine in our wildest dreams, and planets do sporadic somersaults around each other. rather than predictable revolutions.

Once upon a time, an Italian artist named Luigi Serafini took this thought experiment further than anyone had ever done. The result was the Codex Seraphinianusa surreal encyclopedia that describes, in exceptional detail, a completely fictional and fantastical world.

the Codex Seraphinianus is incredibly impressive for three main reasons. First of all, the extent to which Serafini goes into detail about his fictional universe is breathtaking, covering everything from quantum physics to astrophysics and everything in between.

Second, the entire encyclopedia is filled with beautiful, trippy illustrations that deserve respect for the skill and attention to detail that went into it. Finally, the Codex Seraphinianus is not only extremely intricate and detailed, but is also written entirely in a language that Serafini invented himself.

cover of the codex seraphinianus

That’s right. If you want to read the Codex Seraphinianusyou will need to be fluent in an entirely new language with an entirely new alphabet and grammatical structure.

While perusing the 360-page book is always enjoyable without understanding the words, learning Serafini’s secret language is the key to unlocking the hidden meanings behind the vibrant illustrations throughout the encyclopedia. However, if you don’t have time to immerse yourself in a fictional world (which most of us don’t), here’s what you need to know about the Codex Seraphinianus.

The history of the Codex Seraphinianus

Towards the end of the 1970s, a strange package arrived in the mail room of an Italian publishing house. Alberto Manguel, who would later become a world famous writer, worked in the publishing house and was one of the first people to look at the contents of the packaging. What he saw disconcerted him.

It was as if he had been sent to them from an alien planet or an alternate universe.

It was some sort of manuscript written in a language he had never seen before. Manguel quickly realized that it was not a language that existed elsewhere in the world. It was completely made up.

On top of that, the book was filled with tons of hand-drawn colored pencil illustrations depicting images that look like a cross between MC Escher, Salvador Dali, and Dr. Seuss. Many of these images appeared to be parodies of things in the real world, such as a plant that looks like a deer’s head when fully grown, tribal people in clothing made from futuristic junk, and two people with sex until they transform. in alligator.

illustration of the seraphim codex

This strange manuscript lined with eccentric illustrations did not indicate who wrote it or where it came from. It was as if he had been sent to them from an alien planet or an alternate universe. This illusion, however, was shattered when a note finally followed several days later. He was addressed by Luigi Serafini.

In his note, Luigi Serafini identified his work as the Codex Serafini. It would later become known as Codex Seraphinianus.

Other than that, however, the author has done very little to help anyone interpret the meaning of his language or the stunning illustrations that accompany it. Maybe Serafini wanted his work to remain mysterious or maybe he just wanted to maintain his privacy.

Codex Seraphinianus page written in invented language

Regardless, the Codex Seraphinianus was published in 1981 despite the fact that publishers still had no idea what it meant. Alberto Manguel once said of Serafini: “He seemed like a very secretive man. He never came to the office. We imagined him to be an eccentric artist hiding in a small Italian village, half-convinced that his illustrations depicted real things and that his script really communicated real thoughts.

What does all this mean?

Was Luigi Serafini just a madman living in an imaginary world? Or is the Codex Seraphinianus contain some sort of hidden occult truth waiting to be deciphered? Well, it seems to be the first one instead.

The language featured in the encyclopedia resembles some western writing systems.

In the words of Serafini himself during a press conference in 2014, “It’s a bit like the story of creation, as if the artist was possessed by something, by the spirit of the times, by the zeitgeist, by something shaped by forces that we don’t even know about, like extraterrestrials.”

Although this statement by Serafini may imply that there is some depth to the Codex Seraphinianusa closer analysis of the book reveals a different truth: the invented language of the codex means nothing at all.

drawing of the codex seraphinianus

The language featured in the encyclopedia resembles some Western writing systems in that it has upper and lower case letters; it is written from left to right; and certain letters appear only at the beginning or at the end of the words in the manner of the Semitic languages, the language of Codex Seraphinianus is basically nonsense.

Is it really nonsense?

It is not because the language of the Codex Seraphinianus does not have any kind of hidden meaning does not mean that there is no information to be learned from this encyclopedia. First of all, the fact that so many people were able to find “secret” meanings in this book speaks to an interesting tendency of the human mind.

The fact that so many people were able to find “secret” meanings in this book speaks to an interesting tendency of the human mind.

As a species, we tend to seek out (and find) patterns or meanings even when they’re not there. Take the constellations for example. Ancient humans looked up to the sky and saw fallen gods and heroes instead of a meaningless array of stars.

When we read the Codex Seraphinianus, we can believe that there is a deeper meaning. However, it might just be a wacky fantasy world meant to entertain and nothing more.

Personally, I think there is definitely something deep in Luigi Serafini’s work. He has completely reimagined the world around him in a comedic and surreal way, creating mind-bending puzzles and paradoxes out of everyday sights.

No, many of Serafini’s illustrations don’t make much sense at first glance, but the same could be said of Salvador Dali’s works.

the plants of the codex seraphinianus

In a way, the illustrations and the absurd language of Codex Seraphinianus are a window into the irrational parts of the mind. This is the part that mixes up the images in your dreams and leads to mental associations between things that seem to have nothing in common.

If you choose to see the world through the lens of this irrational part of the mind, you might end up seeing something vaguely similar to Luigi Serafini. Codex Seraphinianus.

An umbrella with legs. Plates that have teeth. Bathroom sinks that dispense fish. Children play Ring Around the Rosie around a refrigerator. Fried eggs climbing trees. Incomprehensible letters and numbers.

These are all things that make no sense to the rational part of the human mind. However, when you can break your rational faculties and start looking at the world from a place of creativity and imagination, the universe that Luigi Serafini created in his Codex Seraphinianus may begin to resonate with you.

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