Computer Engineer Cracks 150-Year-Old 'Odyssey' Code

For years, researchers have been trying to translate a series of mysterious notes in a copy of Homer's 'The Oyssey,' and someone finally did it.
Posted at 3:04 PM, May 06, 2014

Leave it to an Italian computer engineer to crack a 150-year-old, handwritten code. 

Back in 2007, collector M.C. Lang donated a Venetian edition of Homer's "The Odyssey" to the University of Chicago Library – the book dated back to 1504 and featured "mystery marginalia," or annotations, throughout. 

All the library knew about the mysterious script was that it maybe dated back to the mid-19th century. So, Lang offered a $1,000 prize to whomever could figure out just what was written on those pages, with evidence, of course. 

And this week, the university announcedItalian computer engineer and University of Pisa humanities student Daniele Metilli had finally figured it out. 

Metilli and colleague Giula Accetta released a 27-page report explaining the notes were mainly shorthand for French translations of Greek words and phrases from the book.

Metilli and Accetta eliminated several possibilities before figuring out the notes were in a system of shorthand developed by Frenchman Jean Coulon de Thévénot in the late 18th century.

According to The Economic Times, the key to linking the transcription to Thévénot's system was a repeated series of lines and shapes.

The duo credits easy access to Google Books ...

And the Greek Word Study Tool for helping them make the discovery.

But one mystery remains: who wrote all these notes? Metilli says he plans to continue analyzing and translating the annotations in hopes of finding out.