O’Donovan notes #6.4a – Who needs a zodiac?

c.700 words

The author’s rights are asserted.


A few years ago I offered some students, as an elective option, study of some drawings in Beinecke MS 408 – with the opportunity of dialogue with other interested persons through a certain Voynich arena, given the lack of Voynich-specific texts. The project was premature; the students were immediately subjected to attacks ad.hominem. The option was withdrawn as incompatible with our duty of care.

However, a few exercises had already been completed and some readers might like to try the first and easiest of them.

Designed to inculcate the ‘Where-and-When’ approach which is the core to our discipline, and to teach the routine documentation of sources, this exercise was intended quite specifically to reduce any tendency to accept without investigation ideas presented as “commonsense” or “what everyone knows”. The rule is – check the evidence.

Here’s that first exercise.

“Libra is the only zodiac sign that is represented by an object” – wikipedia.

Q. 1. Timeline (from c.3rdC BC – 1440 AD). Provide an iconographic history-timeline for the constellation’s being represented as an inanimate object (see the example). All examples cited in the time-line must be captioned with (i) find-place, (ii) time and date of manufacture with cultural context if known. (iii) details of your source/s. (No fewer than 15 cited examples, and no more than fifty). The aim is to provide an outline of the lineage for representing “Libra” as inanimate object.

Q. 2. Now locate the example provided within that timeline, to the best of your ability.

Q.3. In 100-150 words, comment on the stages of your research and observations arising from it.


To complete this post, I might as well respond briefly to queries about the Voynich archer’s hat. I’ve already contributed a detailed study of that emblem, some while ago, so I trust readers will forgive my brevity now.


The calendar’s ‘December’ figure.

One reason I chose that illustration (right) when reviewing the history of the ‘croucher by the Scales’ type was because it shows ‘tailed’ headwear was known in the west, in Spain, by the tenth century and in that particular copy, still, during the twelfth century.

In the fifteenth century, headwear of comparable form (though now with a higher crown) was still associated quite specifically with a southern character, and was used by a Flemish master to denote Japheth, son of Noah as an Arab-looking Spanish Jew.












In that 15thC detail you see too the same long, narrow face and pointed, sparse, ‘Spanish’ beard that has been given the Voynich archer, below whose hat remains a hint even in our fifteenth-century copy of the neck-covering veil below it.

(in the original study, I explained that while Jens Sensfelder was a very honest writer, who was open about his doubts and the difficulties he had in provenancing the archer’s bow, he had made some basic errors in approaching the drawing which had the result of skewing his analysis – for example his assumptions about about the maker’s intentions, about whether the drawing could be presumed to scale – and about accepting a Voynichero’s habit of just waving away any detail unsupportive of an otherwise comfortable theory).

And on the subject of headwear…

Another copy of the Apocalypse’s text – this in a thirteenth century French Bible Moralisée, one finds that what may strike a modern reader as some form of padded headwear. It was, at that time, used to denote a kind of halo used – and used only – for a celestial deity,

IN that image (above) we also see a ‘spiral armed’ motif employed – as it is used in a number of diagrams in Beinecke MS 408.

Though western practice did not accord a halo to living persons or pre-Christian deities as a rule, other regions and peoples had no problem marking any ‘elevated intelligence’, living or dead, in that way.

For an example see FIG. 4 in my post of September 14th. HERE.

Stars were still considered sentient as late as the time of Clement of Alexandria, a Patristic author whose name has been mentioned before and will be mentioned again fairly soon).

‘lordly’ appearance

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