Codex Seraphinianus: semi-licit copy of a semi-legendary book of the weird

Codex Seraphinianus is a much-sought-after, very weird book, now available as a free (slightly dodgy) scanned (low-rez) download via the Internet Archive: "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."

As JWZ notes: "During my childhood, this book was treasured unobtainium. And now it's a click away. This post-informational-scarcity world is weird."

Codex Seraphinianus (via JWZ)


  1. I finally was able to get my first tattoo from the Codex in September.  I’m saving up for the really gorgeous edition, but it’s super pricey.  Glad to see it mentioned here :)

  2. Such awesomeness. I heard about this somewhen or other and looked it up in Wikipedia. After cessation of drooling, I put it in the mental too-hard-basket. Now I can see the revered contents.

  3. At least that should cut down on the number of auctions for low quality “ebooks” of the work…  It is in print again right now, too; which makes the legality of these scans even more questionable.

  4. I had never heard of Luigi Serafini’s book until I visited a friend in Tokyo in 2000, and we’re talking about collecting books and he says, “Have you see this?” And put the Codex on my lap. I thumbed through it for about ten minutes and was bowled over. It’s been #1 on my “Wants” list since then, and I still don’t own it. 

    For a long time, good condition used copies went for $499. Lately I saw one listed as “very good” for $299, but now I’m more broke than ever, so…

    I have never found a library that would lend it out, for obvious reasons. What a grand, wonderful work of surrealism! (The modern-day Voynich Manuscript?)

    I will be looking at this “semi-licit” version. Thanks!

  5. If you want a hard copy you can get the modern print at AbeBooks. I lucked out and found a US First Edition a few years ago.

  6. Only the PDF version is worth the download. The text in the other versions is made by OCR from the fantasy script and comes out predictably as garbled.

  7. Hey, I tried this before with the lp player in the car (look it up), and did not take. But I will try again.  I want to plug the fantastic The Believer magazine, which is a great mix of high and low: literature, art, music and recently includes some comics. They had a feature on the codex a few years back. Not all old articles are available full text, but that one is. Check it out. 

  8. I wanted it for years and the price steadily inflated even though it is usually in-print or available somewhere.

    Then I found out a smaller, cheaper edition was put out in Italy, sold here via Abes Books. That ran me no more than $130 after shipping + VAT (book itself was $108). It’s gone up a bit but it’s still affordable. Worth it if you’ll never pick up the full-size/full-price editions.

  9. Those freaky dogs were the inspiration for the Kitty City video posted here yesterday. I am almost certain the text is actually a form of musical notation so you can play a song while you look at the pictures. 

  10. These scans really do not do the art justice. The real book (at least the 1983 Abbeville edition I have) has large pages and extremely high quality color printing, which captures the fine detail and bright colors of the drawings. It’s an expensive book, but the price is justified.

  11. Pretty sure I used to have a better scan. Probably on some forgotten backup disc by now. Made note to check at earliest oportunity. Anyone else got one at hand and willing to donate to the Internet Archive?

  12. This is the first I’ve ever heard of it, and I downloaded the scan just now.

    I put it on my iPad to read and…wow. It’s immersive. I don’t understand it, of course (nobody does, apparently) but I can see the attraction of wanting to own it. It’s a completely alien world – a real codex, in a sense. How strange, and amazing, and even beautiful. Addicting.

    I hope that one day I can buy a copy. I would love nothing more than to have this and just browse it every now and then while drinking some delicious tea. =) This is a truly wonderful find.

    Thank you again, BoingBoing and Cory, for showing me something amazing. =)

  13. Try to get your hands on the luscious Franco Maria Ricci edition (FMR publications are known around the world for their eclectic subjects, beautiful iconography and absolutely top notch printwork). The French augmented edition (meaning the preface by Italo Calvino is in french) is still available in some bookstores in Italy – that’s where I got mine a couple of years ago.

  14. I love my copy – as people are saying, the scans don’t do it justice – but I always regret not shelling out for the pricier Franco Maria Ricci edition.

    How many of the people who know this book heard of it via Douglas Hofstadter’s writings? I’ve lost count of the cool things his enthusiasms have steered me towards.

  15. It sounds a bit like the world alluded to in Jorge Luis Borges’ work “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”

  16. That’s definitely going on my books to find list. Love the illustrations. Another strange book to rediscover is Etidorhpa by John Uri Lloyd (1897) that is up on
    I’ve had several copies over the years. One I sent to Carl Sagan in exchange for his signature on Dragon’s of Eden after we did some construction work on his house with Ann Druyan. My 2nd edition I was able to give to Neil Gaiman last year during the American Gods weekend for his All Hallow’s Read.

  17. Wow, what a weird book. Browsing through the pages, I like to think of it as a real book that crossed over from a parallel universe.

  18. I laid hands on a copy many years ago through interlibrary loan– I must confess I was sore tempted to eat the late fees & keep it!  I’m holding out for another reprint– or well, a reprint & then a few months of dropping “hints” before Xmas.  I would guess that for many, while the electronic version is nice, the object is part of the allure; having scans of the book is great, but it isn’t the same as having the book.

  19. Thanks for posting this; I had never heard of this book.  I doubt I’ll be able to afford a hard copy, but I’m enjoying looking at the pdf.  (And got a laugh from the tree that can get out of the ground, swim, etc.)

    1. One could say: so is Finnegan’s Wake.

      It’s still considered one of the great works of literature in the English language, despite most people barely understanding more than a few pages of it. =P

  20. Truly fantastic.  I especially liked the chapter on cities, and the rainbow creation vehicle was pure awesome.

  21. Voynichy!  In fact, it’s so Voynichian that it out-Voyniches evenVoynich!  You sure don’t see Voynichization like this every day.

  22. Check out this feature in the Believer magazine, of a few years ago on it:

  23. The italian 2006-edition is still availible and not too expensive (≈ 125$). And it contains a new *intruduction* in Serafinian script and a collection of essays about the book in italian.

  24. I had never heard of this book until I was at a party with a bunch of people I barely knew, I was somewhat drunk and had just smoked pot for the first time in about a year when I noticed it laying on a table and decided to open it. I was very confused. It’s an awesome book though, I have no idea why it exists or what it’s trying to say exactly, but it’s intriguing and seems so alien. It’s like something you would find in a China Mielville story.

  25. Here’s the Amazon(Italy) link:

    And like it says in the comments:

    This is a scan that appeared on Flickr in 2006 with the “All Rights Reserved” license applied. The book is still in print and available from at and that edition has a copyright page — whoever uploaded this almost certainly does not have the authority to apply the CC license.

  26. I’ve been looking for a copy for a while, but there’s no way in hell I’m shelling out more than $100 for an art book.  That’s why I appreciate your posting this.  The more people that know about it and want a copy, the more likely I’m buying a more reasonably priced printing of it in the near future.

    This is also a great example of piracy increasing demand for the actual product.

  27. I just searched in Amazon….124.87 for a new hardcover. Cheaper than the quarter of weed, you’d need to smoke for it to make sense.

  28. I was lucky enough to find a copy lying around a Hollywood bookstore back when Hollywood still had luscious bookstores.  “Expensive, but not THAT much” is how I remember it.  I had no idea till I saw this story that the thing had turned into an isotope of unobtanium.

  29. The item is not available due to issues with the item’s content.
    If you would like to report this problem as an error report, you may do so here.

  30. this book was treasured unobtainium. And now it’s a click away. This post-informational-scarcity world is weird.”

    I hereby salute JWZ as hitting the nail on the head for art in this generation. Post-informational-scarcity.

    Sadly, it has NO chance of catching on in a post-scarcity world.

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