O’Donovan notes Calendar 7c: Time and place.

The author’s rights are asserted.

c.1630 words

Readers sometimes mumble about the space I spend talking about the process of investigation, and about what can be called the psychology of vision.

I’m sorry some readers feel that way because the work of understanding images (including determining whether they are genuine) requires clarity about both those things: that is, the process of investigation AND how people perceive the physical world, because the way human beings ‘see’ the world about them isn’t wysiwyg.

Between the pattern of light which touches the eye, and the message sent to our conscious mind from the brain intervene a variety of filters and barriers – physical issues included, though the most important factors are cultural. These filters and barriers applied in the past and inform the way the world has been represented, in both the drawn line and the written line.

Add to this the individual human’s innate tendency to create narratives that lessen tension between what is before them and what they expected to see, and you have a situation where in any given time and place, those filters, barriers and invented narratives produce not only quite specific types of image, but gives those types of image forms quite specific to a given place and time. This is why keepers of manuscripts and paintings could (and still can) assign a work correctly to the time and place of making, and in some cases, though not all, to the work of a specific scribe, draughtsman, monastery or atelier. That is, even without all the current forms of laboratory analyses. It may take formal training and years of practical experience, but also involves being aware of, and consciously addressing one’s own cultural and intellectual ‘filters’ and those general in one’s own time and environment. For example, we have to be aware that for a lay person living in a twenty-first century western urban environment, there will be an expectation that all forms of drawing are by ‘an artist’ in the modern sense, and a further assumption that ‘an artist’ produces images of just two sorts – the literal, ‘draw what you see’ kind and the subjective expression of personal impressions and ideas. Meaning, in the first case, is often presumed self-evident and in the second, quite opaque and accessible only by having the artist explain it or by a process akin to aesthetic telepathy. Both these approaches, no matter how inappropriate to art of other times and cultures, have been constantly applied by modern Voynich theorists and, I’m sorry to say, by linguists and cryptographers who imagine that ‘art is easy’.

So, if this blog is to serve as a useful resource for persons seriously interested in this manuscript, such endemic errors have to be brought to the researcher’s conscious attention, especially since the range of filters and cultural attitudes (including customs in drawing) informing the majority of drawings in this manuscript are ones not only different from those which inform image-making in our society today but are not those by which we recognise and define art first given form in medieval western Christian Europe.

Don’t fret – I am getting to the calendar, and those preliminary remarks do apply.

That drawing referenced in the previous post from Kircher’s book of magnetism provided one useful example of how our human inclination to cover gaps between what is in front of us, and what we are predisposed to think *ought* to be there, works in pratice.

Kircher speaks of a heliotropic flower, and for most modern readers in Europe and in the Americas, the only daisy-like heliotropic flower they know is the American sunflower – so a great many ‘see’ that flower even though what is actually drawn is not the flower of H. annuus.

Some people are filtering the image through information gained by translations from Kircher’s Latin. Some are filtering it through that ‘heliotropic flower’ idea finding no other match in their memory’s store.

Even those who do recognise the gulf between what is on the page and what they’re primed to believe will be there, are quite instinctively disposed to invent a narrative to cover the difference – such as “the artist wanted to show this is an artificial device, so made a stylised plant”. Evidence for that idea? None. Lack of connection between what is verifiable and what the instinct offers is then so often termed ‘logical’. One has to ask, instead, if it’s true.

In fact, as we know from his own writings, Kircher’s artificial device was not so artificial as to need an imagined form for its flower; it was just a heliotropic flower pinned to a piece of cork. If Kircher intended an American sunflower – rather than any other heliotropic one – why not draw the flower of H.annuus? Another drawing in that volume resembles it far more closely, having just two layers of petals.

At this point there arises, once more, the fascinating but frustrating question of whether Kircher had actually managed to read Voynichese, and the same problem returns us to the calendar.

It is difficult to avoid referring to my own work in these notes, though I try to avoid doing so except when the omission might mislead readers. In this instance I must note that in my opinion the drawing on folio 57v may have been drawn by Kircher or someone of his time. It was a conclusion reached reluctantly, I admit, and only as an end-result of research into why that drawing, a drawing which flouts so many of the constant ‘rules’ informing the majority of Voynich drawings that no other conclusion was possible. Among those rule-breaks are the use of dividers or compass (a point noted first by Rich Santacoloma) and certain stylistics which echo very closely those in images contained in a work written by one of Kircher’s informants, and in particular one of them which Kircher had reproduced, albeit not precisely, in one of his own publications. I may reprint that research summary from voynichimagery one of these days.

And so to the Voynich Calendar…

I have long been convinced that its diagrams refer to the circuits of monthly stars together with reference to time and place: not by chorographic astrology but by simple analogy.

This can occur in two ways. You can define the place where you stand as the centre of the circuit and locate around the circle’s perimeter a number of places to occupy each ‘hour’ – whether twelve or twenty-four. Some people today will say e.g. ‘nine-o’-clock’ to describe direction relative to oneself or to a fixed object.

Alternatively, you might represent the surface of the world as the face of a ‘clock’ whose hours and minutes are marked about the circuit. If, in this case, you imagine you are looking down on the globe, that circuit can be marked by stars, by monthly sections of the sun’s annual circuit, or in the the way we describe longitude – by hours and minutes.

Many readers will be quite familiar with those ideas, but other’s may not. In addition, the weight of past misapprehensions, false premises and heavy traditionalist pressures mean that it can be difficult to break clear of the study’s accumulation of past assumptions, perceptions and theories – barriers and filters in themselves.

Kircher’s 1641 book on magnets and magnetism contains a number of illustrations whose form echoes the forms of astronomical and maritime instruments.

It is interesting then to see that below one of them, Kircher refers to might be a targum. He attributes the passage to a/the “Chaldee Paraphrase” – a term which, according to Miriam-Webster described “A targum, written in Aramaic” though Kircher has used Hebrew script. I should also mention that a language known as Chaldean neo-Aramaic was and still is spoken chiefly in what were centres for production of medieval astronomical instruments – the plain of Mosul and Iraqi Kurdistan.

In the usual way, I’d find that passage and translate it for you, but time presses (this is my lunch-break) and other diagrams from this volume are more to the point.

Consider the following two-tiered diagram from folio 320 in  Magnes sive de Arte Magnetica (1641).

Kircher labelled that image “Horoscopium Universale Magneticum”.

Horoscope: from hōra “hour; season; period of time” (see hour) + skopos “watcher; what is watched”

I have already said that the calendar’s diagrams (if not the central emblems) speak Greek, and have published on the subject of star-holders as horae (and puns* on it). In late Old English and Middle English we find the term horoscopum with a non-astrological sense, the Latin term being glossed as tidsceawere (“time-shower”). Horoscopy “the casting of a nativity” is attested in English only from the 1650s, from Latin horoscopium, from Greek hōroskopeion, from hōroskopia.

*kore, chora etc.

The point is that one needs to discover whether Kircher meant Horoscopium as “time-piece” or as a method of chorographic astrology. For us, though, the structure of that diagram is what matters. It links the circuits of time to those of place and necessarily widens the range of vocabulary to be considered in approaching the calendar’s labelese. As longer-term readers will know, I’ve already suggested before that the ‘cords’ held by the calendar’s star-holding figures might be better termed ‘chords’.

The diagram below (fol 280), Kircher labels “Planisphaereum Magneticum Universale”

I must emphasise, here, that I am not suggesting, and would strongly oppose any suggestion that Kircher is responsible for the matter in the Voynich manuscript (except perhaps f.57v), or that the Voynich calendar diagrams reflect any theories about magnetism.

The second of those illustrations should make clear that a global grid can equally well locae the position of stars as of places on earth, and how the second diagram can be correlated with the double-ring of points used in the first of those illustrations.

It only needs to be repeated that while the Latins’ habit was to name the points of that ‘Rose’ by wind-names, others in the Mediterranean used a combination of wind- and star-names, and the eastern mariners from Arabia through the Pacific, to and beyond the longitude of China, named direction by stars.

I believe it was E.G.R. Taylor who first pointed out, in this context, that a mariners’ compasso linking stars and places is attested in the Mediterranean by the time of Pompey, though likely even then it was the preserve of western North Africa’s master mariners, whose counterparts in the fifteenth century Ibn Majid would term his brethren, against all others of the Mediterranean whom he terms ‘Egyptians’.

In case it may save a reader from wasting research time, I will add that in my opinon – that is as my conclusion reached after investigation – the calendar’s inner ring is less likely to refer to a star-and/or locality on the same side as indicated by the outer ring than one lying on the opposite horizon in the given month. This is one possible definition of the Arabs’ nau.

Kircher’s  Magnes sive de Arte Magnetica (1641), is mentioned in a Voynich-related letter, when Marcus Marci wrote (twenty years before his memory was lost of “almost everything”:

It is good to gather that you are seriously thinking of visiting us as we have so long hoped. I have written about it to His Majesty and.. His Majesty replied that he had charged his confessor that very day to write to your Reverence to come here for Easter Day now that the work on magnetism is finished.

from Philip Neal’s translation, ‘The letter of Johannes Marcus Marci to Athanasius Kircher (1641)’

No matter what the languages inscribed on it, this is the ordinary European wind-compass card, over which a magnetised needle was laid from about the 12thC. The whole was then boxed, to form what was known as the mariner’s compass, buxola or bussola.

Athanasius Kircher,  Magnes sive de Arte Magnetica (1641) illustration between Title page and Dedication.

and that’s my last bit of Voynich moonlighting for the foreseeable future. The ‘Bodleian Douce 313 is written, but editing and publication must wait a bit longer. In the meantime – you might think about a certain ‘Gaudentius, bishop and martyr’ – when and where he lived and why a French Franciscan missal might include him.

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