View Full Version : Codex Seraphinianus - The World's Weirdest Book

3rd October 2013, 21:55
Some people think it's one of the weirdest books ever published. An art book unlike any other art book. A unique and disturbing surreal parody. Grotesque and beautiful. It's very hard to describe. Codex Seraphinianus by Italian artist Luigi Serafini is a window on a bizarre fantasy world complete with its own unique (unreadable) alphabet and numerous illustrations that borrow from the modern age but veer into the extremely unusual.

It was first published in two volumes by Franco Maria Ricci in 1981. The pictures in this AbeBooks article are from the 1983 American edition published by Abbeville - 370 pages of the Twilight Zone. There is also a 1993 single volume edition and a revised 2006 Italian edition with new illustrations - this final edition is the most affordable version.

Created in the late 1970s, the book's blurb on the cover flap talks about Codex Seraphinianus being a book for the "age of information" where coding and de-coding messages is increasingly important in genetics, computer science and literary criticism. "The Codex presents the creative vision of this time..." goes on the blurb. If Serafini was so influenced by "information" in the 1970s to create this maverick art book, then what must he make of today's information age? Codex Seraphinianus Covers featuring Facebook, Twitter, blogs and Google? Countless websites and blogs can be found pondering the meaning of Codex Seraphinianus or simply admiring a truly original piece of art/fantasy/imagination - call it what you will.

1983 US Edition
published by Abbeville

The cover alone is worth studying. The 1991 Abbeville edition features a couple having sex and being transformed into a crocodile. Shakespeare described sex as the "beast with two backs" but Serafini is operating on a different level to the Bard. The 1993 edition uses a different image for its cover - a man in very unpractical headwear appears to be riding a llama, which has an impressive set of antlers. They are both staring into a mirror outside a stone building that appears to be offering some sort of brightly colored food. Both covers are strange but the crocodile sex image is more disturbing.

Essentially an encyclopedia about an alien world that clearly reflects our own, each chapter appears to deal with key facets of this surreal place, including flora, fauna, science, machines, games and architecture. It's difficult to be exact because no-one has ever understood the contents page. Elements of today's world are visible but they are nearly always given some surreal twist - floating flowers, a peeled banana containing pills, a strange car covered in flies, clothing that would seem strange even in the 1970s, a man wearing roller-skates - with a fountain pen's nib instead of a hand - stabbed through the chest with a pen, and lots of biped creatures with human legs attached to all manner of crazy things.

Codex Seraphinianus was No.8 on BookFinder's report of the most searched for science fiction, fantasy and horror books in 2008. AbeBooks has sold 44 copies of this book at $350 or more, and the most expensive copy to ever sell on our site was a true first edition in two volumes signed Luigi Serafini that went for $5,000.

Artists have studied the book's illustrations, philosophers have pondered the book's meaning, codebreakers have tried (unsuccessfully) to decipher the text (although the numbers are now understood apparently), science fiction and fantasy fans have embraced it, and academics have tried to classify the book. Collectors just like to own it - an invaluable tool for making house-guests slightly uneasy.








3rd October 2013, 22:56
Looks like the artist was using magic mushrooms, DMT or something similar. :p

3rd October 2013, 23:03

4th October 2013, 00:38
Where do you get all your ideas for your threads! Its like Dianna's world of the bizarre

Must say I am enjoying them, I really want to check this book out

Interesting title Codex Seraphinianus

Maybe a reference to the seraphim, a fascinating class of angels, although the ianus at the end is a bit disturbing:confused:

4th October 2013, 01:07
Some more info by a bulgarian guy who cracked PART of the code:

Codex Seraphinianus: Some Observations

They say that the text of the Codex Seraphinianus was never meant to mean anything; all the same, I mean to treat it here as if it was. Sounds crazy? I tried being sane once, and it nearly drove me mad. Anyway, don't blame me; it was Luigi Serafini who started it.

I don't own a copy of the Codex; I'm working from some notes I took in Michael Everson's library.

The Structure of the Text

The Codex consists of eleven chapters, each of which contains the following pages:

A title page (right-hand), blank except for an illustration and the chapter_title.
A summary page (left-hand). The header is C1a0F0F0H0 A10F1 chapter_title A10F1A10. (Note that I have not devised a complete notation for the script of the Codex, and what I'm using here is subject to change without notice, so don't rely on it.)
A table-of-contents page (right-hand). Apart from the header A10E1C0a0, it contains a list of section_titles (on the left), one or more subsection_titles (on the right) and the page number for the first subsection (on the extreme right); paragraphs are not listed here. One chapter (the ninth) contains two subchapters with separate titles (one on food and one on clothing).
Any number of body pages, each of which has a header of one of the following types:
A10F1 section_title F1L0J1a0 (or, in the first several sections in the Codex, F2L0J1a0);
L0L1L0 section_title G1C1a0C1a0;
a unique character followed by a dash and a subsection_title;
L1L0 paragraph_title F1L0J1a0;
L1L0 paragraph_title G0C1a0;
L0L1L0 paragraph_title G1C1a0C1a0;
If the body ends on a right-hand page, a blank last page precedes the title page of the next chapter.
The whole book ends with the word A11P0C1a0F3F3 (presumably `The End').

Page Numbers

Page numbering is reset to 1 at the beginning of the sixth chapter; the codex is thus divided into two volumes of approximately equal size, without distinctive titles, but with lines to the effect of `End of A10 volume' and `End of B1 volume' at the end of each. There is some sort of index (under the header L0L0C4a0F1L0) to the second volume only.

The number system in which page numbers are written is, on the whole, base-21. This implies that a number is expressed as a sum of what I'll call scorones (i.e., twenty-ones) and ones. (You may think of scorone as an Italian-style augmentative of score or a contraction of score+one.) Suitable for counting on one's fingers, toes and nose or something. Telefol uses a base-27 system, and its speakers have the same anatomy as the rest of us, which is more than can be said of many kindreds in Serafini's world.

Now there are 21 digits (from 0 to 20), by means of which the quantity of ones is expressed. Not much is remarkable about them, except that 7 consists of 5 followed by a dot on the line; 5 itself looks like a wedge (on the relevance of which anon); the digit 16 is something (but not another digit) followed by a dot on the line and the digit 17 is something else followed by a raised dot.

The quantity of scorones is expressed in an opaque way (by which I mean that the number of pages in each of the two volumes runs to less than 9*21, and it does not appear possible to guess what happens afterwards). This involves the use of a vertical bar, a vee (that is, an upside-down 5), a dot on the line, a raised dot (here written as i, v, . and ', respectively, except when the dots form part of a digit), the digit 5 (the wedge) itself and, mirabile dictu, iteration of the digit that expresses the quantity of ones. To make it even more complicated, a quantity of scorones between 3 and 6 is expressed in one way with a quantity of ones up to 14 and in another with ones from 15 onwards. Further deviations occur if the quantity of ones is 5 or 7. (Some of those -- but not all -- can be attributed to the apparently regular substitution, probably for ęsthetic reasons, of 5v for 55 as well as vv.)

In the table below a tilde indicates the digit corresponding to the quantity of ones.

Ones 0--4, 6, 8--14 5 7 15--20
0 ~ 5 7 ~
1 i~ i5 i7 i~
2 ii~ ii5 ii7 vi~
3 vii~ vii5 vii7 5vi~
4 5vii~ 5vii5 5vii7 i5vi~
5 5vii~~ 5vii5v 5vii7v i5vi~~
6 ~ii~~ .vii5v vii7v i~i~~
7 i~~~i i5v5v '5v5vi i~~~i
8 ii~~~i ii5v5v i'5v5vi ii~~~i
It gets totally out of hand in the ninth scorone:

8121 is written iix03i (where x is the digit 10);
8221, 8321 and 8421 are written ii111i, ii222i and ii333i, respectively;
page number ii999i is absent in both volumes, though there is no knowing whether the number 8921 is regularly written as iixxxi (and 8X21 as iieeei, etc., possibly returning to the normal routine at some later point), or the number 177=8921 is not used as a page number due to some taboo (think of 13 and the numbering of floors and rooms in hotels in some countries).
There are larger numbers here and there in the book (each of the portraits in the chapter on history is accompanied by two numbers, which presumably stand for the years between which the person lived, ruled the country, or something), but those are written in a system of their own. And in many places in the text there are sequences of number symbols that don't form a legitimate number according to the rules stated above (a very common sequence is 22).

The use of iteration in the notation may be able to teach us a lesson. In the systems used for writing numbers in our world (Arabic, Roman etc.) the repetition of a symbol indicates that its numeric value somehow participates two or more times in the number. For example, in the number 33 the value of the symbol 3 appears twice (3*101+3*100=33); in the number XX the value of the symbol X (i.e., 10) also appears twice (10+10=20). But in a Serafinian number such as 5vii66 (5621=111) the repetition of 6 does not indicate two sixes; it merely signals that the six ones are added to five rather than four scorones (cf. 5vii6=4621=90). By analogy, one may suppose that the very frequent iteration of characters in titles and other words in majuscules also indicates something other than repetition of the corresponding phonetic value -- if indeed they have a phonetic value.

Back to Words

Which brings us back to the writing system. (I'm only discussing words written in majuscules here -- titles of chapters, sections, subsections and paragraphs, for the most part.) Several dozen different characters appear in them, far too many for the writing system to be an alphabet, and there are too many long words for it to be a syllabary. Some characters occur very many times, others only once or twice.

What is even more striking, however, is the tendency of the characters, even the less frequent ones, to reoccur within the same word or group of words (e.g., within the titles of the various subsections and paragraphs in a section). If a character occurs in a word at all, there's a good chance that it occurs there at least twice -- perhaps thrice in a row (which is next to unseen in any sort of phonetic writing system), up to six times altogether. It is as if the headers of most pages in an English book were such words as bookkeeper, googol, grammar, Ouagadougou and Wassamassaw.

On many occasions the titles of a section and its first subsection are cognate, though not derived from a common base in uniform ways. The titles of several other sections are derived from the sequences of the first characters of the titles of some or all of the corresponding subsections (usually, but not always, in the same order). (This is quite common in the first two chapters, but occurs only occasionally in the rest of the first volume, and not at all in the second.)

A meaning-oriented writing system? Or a philosophical language?

And to make it worse, otherwise distinct characters which share certain components or are mirror reflexions of one another seem to form similar patterns. But I'll say no more now.

Telefol counting starts with the fingers of the left hand (1 being the pinky), progresses from the thumb (5) to the wrist, lower arm, elbow, upper arm and shoulder (6--10), the side of the neck, ear and eye (11--13) and thence through the nose (14) and right eye (15) to the right pinky finger (27). The Telefol idea of a very large number is kakkat=14*27=378.
Created and maintained by Ivan A Derzhanski.

Last modified: 29 September 2004.

4th October 2013, 01:13
I'm a fan of abstract realism right up to the point that the 'artist' steps inside it and turns around for my continued attention.

4th October 2013, 02:31
Where do you get all your ideas for your threads! Its like Dianna's world of the bizarre

Thanks Dorjezigzag!

4th October 2013, 03:34
By the way, a new edition is coming out on this OCT 2013 ... Check Amazon.com

4th October 2013, 13:22
Amazing ... I want a copy! Thanks for sharing


53 M download

12th February 2017, 00:57
Wow, my brain hurts. I just came across this book and it both horrified and mesmerised me at the same time. I'm a bit confused by it, okay, a lot confused, but I really want to know more about it.