The Codex Seraphinianus is a book written and illustrated by the Italian artist, architect and industrial designer Luigi Serafini during thirty months, from 1976 to 1978. The book is approximately 360 pages long (depending on edition), and appears to be a visual encyclopedia of an unknown world, written in one of its languages, a thus-far undeciphered alphabetic writing.
The Codex is divided into eleven chapters, partitioned into two sections. The first section appears to describe the natural world, dealing with flora, fauna, and physics. The second deals with the humanities, the various aspects of human life: clothing, history, cuisine, architecture and so on. Each chapter seems to treat a general encyclopedic topic. The topics of each separate chapter are as follows:
- The first chapter describes many alien types of flora: strange flowers, trees that uproot themselves and migrate, etc.
- The second chapter is devoted to the fauna of this alien world, depicting many animals that are surreal variations of the horse, hippopotamus, rhinocerus, birds, etc.
- The third chapter deals with what seems to be a separate kingdom of odd bipedal creatures, apparently engineered for various purposes.
- The fourth chapter deals with something that seems to be physics and chemistry, and is by far the most abstract and enigmatic.
- The fifth chapter deals with bizarre machines and vehicles.
- The sixth chapter explores the general humanities: biology, sexuality, various aboriginal peoples, and even shows examples of plant life and tools (such as pens and wrenches) grafted directly into the human body.
- The seventh chapter is historical. It shows many people (some only vaguely human) of unknown significance, giving their times of birth and death. It also depicts many scenes of historical (and possibly religious) significance. Also included are examples of burial and funereal customs.
- The eighth chapter depicts the history of the Codex's alien writing system.
- The ninth chapter deals with food, dining practices, and clothing.
- The tenth chapter describes bizarre games (including playing cards and board games) and athletic sports.
- The eleventh chapter is devoted entirely to architecture.
The illustrations are often surreal parodies of things in our world: bleeding fruit; a plant that grows into roughly the shape of a chair and is subsequently made into one; a lovemaking couple that metamorphoses into a crocodile; etc. Others depict odd, apparently senseless machines, often with a fragile appearance, kept together by tiny filaments. There are also illustrations readily recognizable, as maps or human faces. On the other hand, especially in the "physics" chapter, many images look almost completely abstract. Practically all figures are brightly coloured and rich in detail.
The writing system (possibly a false writing system) appears modelled on ordinary Western-style writing systems (left-to-right writing in rows; an alphabet with uppercase and lowercase letters, some of which double as numerals) but is much more curvilinear, not unlike cursive Georgian in appearance. Some letters appear only at the beginning or at the end of words, a feature shared with Semitic writing systems. The language of the codex has defied complete analysis by linguists for decades. The number system used for numbering the pages, however, has been cracked (apparently independently) by Allan C. Wechsler and Bulgarian linguist Ivan Derzhanski, among others. It is a variation of base 21.