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.

MS-Kircher-Linnaeus-O’Neill-MS: Art imitates art?

I have a provenancing problem to address, one that has nothing to do with Beineke MS 408 but will keep me occupied, I should think, until close to the end of this year, or early in the New Year so I hadn’t meant to put anything up here until then. As it is I have no time to spare for editing, cutting-out, proof-reading and marking categories and tags – for these and other errors, your indulgence is requested.

c,2600 words The author’s rights are asserted.

What takes me from more pressing work, is a post by Thony Christie which has put a new angle on the ‘sunflower’ thing and raised some interesting questions which I’d like to share.

For newcomers – in 1944, a minor American botanist wrote a note to Speculum (which not a botanical journal). His note included no references, no sources, no evidence that he had done any work aimed at even discerning whether the drawing’s intention was literal or not. He simply asserted that the drawing on folio 93r ‘was’ an American sunflower.

One important fact often neglected in discussion of this and other Voynich plant drawings is that they do not come with any scale-rule. There are indications of size within the conventions used for these drawings, but of those conventions I believe no commentator on the Voynich manuscript was aware before I published analytical commentaries for about forty of the drawings, and since my conclusions were unhelpful to the most energetically-promoted theories, they met the usual combination of determined ‘blind spot’ and ad.hominem remarks – informed as much by resort to fantasy and imagination as are those theories themselves.

So the fact remains that O’Neill had no grounds for presuming the plant a large one. For all he knew, the drawing might represent a plant no taller than, say, 5cm or 2″ high, or it might allude to one (or more) growing to 100 times that size. His opinions were not derived from any deeper or well-informed study of the drawing. Their only genesis was his imagination – as is the case for so many Voynich theories.

Now, in addition to that obvious, if overlooked fact, there are two historical facts to be kept for what follows.

First, that to date one has seen no objective evidence which requires us to take as fact that the Voynich quires were inscribed later than 1438 AD. Of late there has been some suggestion that the quires might have been left unbound for some time after that date, but so far nothing has been seen by way of evidence – at least not seen by me. Perhaps it will emerge at ‘Voynich 2022’.

However, the vellum’s date is obviously a problem for the three most publicised theories – the ‘New World’ theory, the ‘Central Europe Rudolfine’ theory and the ‘modern fake with telescopes’ theory. What theorists habitually do when the manuscript refuses to endorse their imagination-based theory, is to dismiss or to re-define the manuscript’s evidence, or to tweak the facts. To engineer a situation where there is one and only one theory, obviously the manuscript’s dates must be altered – and a date in the sixteenth century would suit at least two of the three, and also allow absorbtion of a ‘telescope’ theory, amoeba-like, and re-definition of the ‘modern fake’ idea to apply to nothing but the written text which (of course) none of those three theories can account for.

Most Voynich theorists are salesmen – and like salesmen, some really believe in what they want you to buy, and some are no better than con artists. Caveat emptor.

Too many Voynich theories are constructed less like a case for the prosecution than like an alibi, trying for an airtight story than a fair account of the evidence.

O’Neill bothered not at all with evidence, or with research. His position was “Trust me, I’m a botanist”.

He never attempted to show that the Voynich drawings were intended as specimen-portraits of any plant. He presumed so and relied on the tendency in his audience to define contemporary European habit as the right, natural and normal. But if that thoughtless presumption is inaccurate and the drawings not intended as ‘portraits’ of single plants, then how was he to know which elements could, and which couldn’t be read literally?

Again, like Voynich theory-spinners before and after him, he cherry-picked to suit whatever ideas had been produced by his imagination

He also presumed to apply to a manuscript then described as the work of a thirteenth-century Englishman the attitudes and scientific classifications created during the 1750s-1760s by a Swedish botanist named Carl von Linné.. It was he who would describe the Amerian plant as Helianthus annuus, coining an entirely new word from two Greek ones hēlios (sun) and anthos flower]. By convention such neologisms are described today as ‘new Latin’.

Before von Linné, the first European drawings of the American sunflower had appeared around the end of the sixteenth century and earlier seventeenth. The plant wasn’t called a ‘sunflower’ as Helianthus, but as ‘the Peruvian chrysanthemum’ or ‘Flos Solis Peruvianum’ and as Charles Heiser’s study noted “According to the descriptions, the first sunflowers introduced into Europe had purple disks..” The image on folio 93r has no petals and its centre is not dark-coloured.

Theorists have an easy way to avoid modifying their theories in the face of objection from the primary document, or from any better informed research – from a Voynich writer or any other. They say to all within earshot, ‘Pay no attention; this is unnecessary’, proceeding to do as they have advised. Or to that determined ignorance they may add some theory, as imaginative and disconnected to reality as any other, about the dissenters’ motives, character and so forth. Hence theories that the artis-draughtsmen were incompetent, mad and so forth. Persons with plausible-sounding alibis, discourage cross-examination.

O’Neill used the simple ‘Just ignore’ approach – listing no sources, naming none of those he claimed supported his ‘identification’ and determinedly refusing to engage with the criticisms of the far-better informed Fr. Theodore Petersen.

What makes the subject worth another look at Voynich revisionist is an image posted recently by Thony Christie from a book published between the time the first sunflower images were printed in Europe and the time when Carl von Linné was born.

This shows a plant evidently believed to turn with the sun, and which might therefore be used as a kind of living sundial. This Kircher labels in poor Greek – not in Latin or even in ‘new Latin’ – Oroskopion ‘Eliotropikon.

Note – (1st November, 2022). A comment by Thony Christie made me realise I’d expressed the last sentence poorly. Instead of saying that Kircher labelled it in poor Greek, I should have said ‘labelled the drawing’ in poor Greek. The drawing is (as I failed to make clear enough) of Kircher’s conception of a flower-powered time-piece. That Kircher or his illustrator did know what a sunflower’s flower looked like is evident from other illustrations in the same book. These you can see in a short, well illustrated blogpost by Caroline Edge which I first read in 2010 and can still recommend:

‘Kircher’s Magnetism’, Heliolatry: photography and light (blog), 11th Sept. 2008.

As you see from the way that diagram has been captioned (above) everyone who looked at the picture imagined it showed the image of an American sunflower – but it does not. The leaves are not those of Helianthus annuus (as we now call it). And no more is the flower. A sunflower does not have strap-like leaves. Its leaves are not wrapped about the stem or stalk as so many tropical plants’ and lilies’ are, and neither does it have four (or is it five?) layers of petals.

The sunflower (H. annuus) has nothing in common with the plant we are shown in Kircher’s book apart from the fact that sunflowers are included in the enormous family Asteraceae, which at last count contains 32,000 species described in 1,900 genera. Some of them do – unlike the American sunflowers, produce many layers of petals. Here are just four plants among those many.

The image on folio 93r does not show any petals at all. It shows only a seed-head. We know this meant for one of the Asteraceae because the way it is characteristic of that family of plants.

Here are seed-heads from just two of the 32,000 species. Compare particularly the small, outer leaflet- or petal-like phyllaries surrounding each. Again, don’t try to opt for one of these illustrations as the subject of the Voynich drawing.

(detail) Yale, Beinecke MS 408 f.93r

Although we do not know just how much the illustrator of Kircher’s book was subject to Kircher’s instructions, nor what other sources he consulted, it is fairly clear that he cannot have been trying to draw the ‘Peruvian chrysanthemum’ from what are now the known illustrations published before 1643. They looked like this. (NOTE- the labels given these next images have added Linnaeus’ descriptions which is – strictly speaking – an anachronism).

Herbal (1615 AD) by Francisco Hernández, court physician to Felipe II of Spain.jpg

We know that Athanasius Kircher proof-read his books before they went into print and I must presume until I have time to check it, that he also approved the drawings made to illustrate his works.

That means, I think, that we cannot resort to the usual last resort of the theorist – blaming the artist for not producing images more like what the theorist’s imagination would like to see.

And since the drawing in Kircher’s book does NOT present us with a specimen-drawing made from a living specimen of any American sunflower, and is not even nearly close to the way American sunflowers had been represented by the three earliest known sources: the Flemish Dodoens in 1568, the Sienese Mattioli in 1586 or by Hernandez in 1615.

This raises several very interesting questions and possibilities. First, whether the ‘sun-turning’ seeds which Kircher hoped to use as a sort of mechanism came from any plant he’d ever seen in life. Second, whether the assumption that his ‘sun-turning’ – heliotrope – plant was in fact the plant which von Linné would later describe as Helianthus annuus, and which – as we’ve seen – resembles neither the plant in on f.93r not that adorning Kircher’s 1643 treatise on magnetism.

It is of course interesting to try working out just what plant was intended by that drawing made for Kircher’s book and which (for the meantime) we must suppose he approved. But for persons working on the Voynich manuscript, the more interesting question is whether that drawing had been influenced by the drawing on folio 93r of what is now Beinecke MS 408.

It will be remembered that the person who had the Voynich material longest and who is reported by himself and by others as having studied with persistence and determination over years, and who had not spared time, expense and even public denigration in the cause of having the mattter better understood had sent copies of some sections to Kircher as early as 1637, asking his help in identifying the Voynich script. Kircher did not trouble to reply for almost 18 months, and then was so ill-mannered as to respond not to Baresch directly but (as it were) by insulting him at one remove, a habit we used to describe as ‘suburban’ in my youth.

So it is not beyond possibility either that Kircher’s access to the enormous range of scripts maintained by the Vatican library had allowed him to identify the Voynich script (his letter to Moretus speaks of Jerome and refers to ‘Illyrian’. I believe I do no Voynichero an injustice in saying that I first introduced the following image to Voynich studies. This was done in 2011, as I looked into the question of what Kircher had meant by ‘Illyrian’ in his letter to Moretus.


We can accept that the seed-head shown on folio 93r is that of some member of the Asteracea and that the flower drawn in Kircher’s Oroskopion ‘Eliotropikon is also a member of the Asteracea.

The real problem on all counts is the way the leaves are drawn on Kircher’s plant.

They are shown as leaf-sheaths, which is no characteristic of the American sunflower, nor generally of the Asteraceae but of grass-like plants of the monocotyledons, including the Graminaceae or Gramineae, and now often called Poaceae, which included grasses, reeds, cereals, and sugar cane. Other monocots have the same characteristic, such as the bananas, ginger plants and Strelitzia. The leaves of H. annuua are not formed in that way.

and while, for reasons I have already explained in considerable detail and by reference oth to detailed analyses of the Voynich plant pictures and what is for me the usual range of documentary, textual and iconographic sources, that the Voynich plant pictures are formed as intelligent and clear composites of plants grouped by non-European customs and by their natural proximity (habitat) and uses that are complementary or alternative, the issue is very different when images are considered that were produced in early modern Europe, by Europeans, for a European audience of that time – already habituated to the idea of realistic (illusionist) scientific specimen-drawings as a norm.

In the circumstances, the inclusion of a scroll reading ‘Nature and art combined’ is certainly intriguing, but utterly unilluminating. One is left asking whether, in fact, Kircher had learned to read Voynichese; whether he understood that the Voynich figures were composites… and so on. So far as I’m aware, the only Voynich writer to have had an intimation of the fact was John Tiltman, to whom the idea had occurred, but whose expectation of a wholly European authorship denied greater insight.

leaf – Lily of the Valley.

The leaves in the Voynich drawing can be fairly argued those of a monocot and if we take the paint’s applications as any useful indication, we might compare them in a very general way to the venation in some other monocots in whose leaves no central vein may be evident from the front – as one sometimes sees e,g, in leaves of Convallaria majalis.

Even so, difficulties remain in comparing the stem/trunk of Kircher’s Heliotrope with this plant drawing from Beinecke MS 408, because even though it is possible to argue both show leaf-sheaths, the Kircher image is unequivocal on that point, where the Voynich image is not, and its leaves are broader, shorter and above all pendulant in contrast to those given Kircher’s ‘heliotrope’ with their prominent central veins.

Was Kircher influenced by drawings in Beinecke MS 408? Was he influenced particularly by the drawing on folio 93r? If so, did O’Neill know Kircher’s book and had that same frontispiece any influence on his decision to proclaim the Voynich drawing to be what it is not in any respect – viz. the drawing of a specimen of H. annuua, or the copy of any early modern European drawing of H. annuua. (If you know better, feel free to say so in a comment – go on, Don’t be afraid of the ‘thou-shalt-not’ brigade. If you prefer, add a ‘NFP note to your comment and I won’t publish it.)

So now, the fascinating question is whether Kircher knew, or believed he knew other kinds of heliotropic plants, of which there are a few. Some European plants were called ‘turnsol’ or ‘turnsole’.

Middle English turnesole, from Middle French tournesol, from Old Italian tornasole, from tornare to turn (from Medieval Latin) + sole sun, from Latin sol (accusative solem)

Miriam webster.

We have a genus Heliotropium, which includes herbs and shrubs of the borage family.

The flowers of Euphorbia helioscopia turn towards the sun.

A dye-plant native to Europe Chrozophora tinctoria is another turnsole.

The wonderful deep red Tulipa schrenckii follows the sun.

None of them have seed heads similar to the Asteraceae.

…neither does the Tree helitotrope, Tournefortia argentea, formerly Heliotropium foertherianum and sometime described (I don’t know why) ?Heliotropium arboreum.

For the Voynich drawing, I think it quite possible and certainly consistent with the results from studying about forty other of its plant-pictures in detail, that T. argentea should provide one element in the group on f.93r, but in that case, I should expect to find the referenced member of the Asteraceae occurring naturally in the same region and employed with, or as alternative for T.argentea. Discovering how a given plant was used in a given time and environment before 1440 is the serious part of investigating these drawings in Beinecke MS 408. ‘Medicinal’ is not a useful default.

What type of plant or plants composed Kircher’s fantasy sun-dial interests me less than whether an image from Beinecke MS 408, copied at Baresch’s initiative and expense, played some role in the form it is given in Kircher’s frontispiece.

And that’s as far as I’ll take the question.


In the earlier page about O’Neill’s theory (here) I referred mischievously to Scalesia villosa – beautifully photographed by David Day (here). It was mischievous – to show that impossible identifications can be suggested by the loose standards of O’Neill’s theory, but here in fairness I should add that the ‘Daisy Tree’ is found chiefly in the Galapagos islands, which had become known to some Europeans as early as 1535. Whether any are heliotropic I haven’t enquired; it is not relevant imo to understanding the Voynich plant-drawings. However, for those interested, a page on earliest recorded Europeans in those islands, a first basic outline is on theDiscovering Galapagossite.

Interim post – poor Beinecke

Many things about the Voynich manuscript are described as ‘mysterious’ – which is a way to avoid saying that so far efforts to understand them have not been made by people with the ability to understand them.

An Anglophone trying to avoid saying they’ve not bothered trying to learn Chinese or Sanskrit might, in the same way, call those scripts ‘mysterious’. People ignorant of the visual language of non-European peoples might – and do – describe those images as ‘mysterious’. They weren’t mysterious to the people who made them. Mystery is in the eye of the beholder.

What I do consider ‘mysterious’ and have never been able to understand is why the Beinecke library has been so desperately dependent on unqualified, ill-qualified and theory-driven types for its ideas about its manuscript 408.

Still more difficult to understand is why its website introduces the manuscript by repeating a list of apparently baseless ideas – and to external scholars and keepers of other manuscript collection, such practice reflects very badly upon the library and upon Yale itself.

Such as – “Written in Central Europe at the end of the 15th or during the 16th century.”

is this a reasonable assessment ?

Run the normal checklist, as any curator does on acquiring or being offered another medieval work.

Vellum. Anything uniquely ‘central European’ or post-1440 about the vellum? The vellum’s finish? The dimensions of the octavo quires? The inclusion of the fold-outs? What exactly about the vellum led to the Beinecke’s concluding this manuscript a product of that date or region? The choice is between ‘no evidence’ and ‘a bloke told me’ because no suitably qualified or experienced external specialist ever said so. And the Beinecke knows that.

Ink and Pigments. If there anything about the ink which says it must have been made post-1440? Any pigment whose use is unattested in western Europe before 1440, and afterwards only in ‘central Europe’ – however that vague term might be defined.

Written text. Is there something uniquely Germanic-central European about the handwriting (we speak of ‘hands’)? Is there something uniquely post-1440 about that handwriting? One doesn’t define a manuscript by a line of marginalia, a late addition by definition.

How about the language(s) of Voynichese?

Any statistical linguistic or cryptographic analysis identify the underlying language(s) as unique to middle Europe and if so which of its many languages and dialects?

How about the pictorial text – has any independent, professional evaluator of art (say one of the curators from the Louvre, or from the Vatican, or from the British National Gallery.. or indeed any other…) asserted that the manuscript’s drawings are in a style characteristic of post-1440 ‘central Europe’?

To the best of my knowledge the answer to every one of those questions is a simple, flat ‘NO’.

The radiocarbon date-range for the vellum is 1405-1438.

The few informed public comments about the vellum have noted it was coarse, even for the thirteenth century, and/or have attributed it to Italy or ‘Spain or somewhere southern’.

The hands have been identified, variously, as somewhat like Carolingian minuscule, or as influenced by humanist style, or as reminiscent of informal Sephardi scripts of the thirteenth-century.

Of the extraordinarily careless and ill-informed use to which the manuscript’s drawings have been put by Voynich theorists, I won’t even try to speak. It is so very poor, biased and not merely ill-informed but determinedly ignorant that it leaves me speechless.

Amateur efforts to assert (by creating distribution-charts) that a certain type of motif is found only in one or another part of central Europe have not always been biased, but have invariably been distorted by the fact that such charts had no purpose but to add an air of greater credibility to some theory of which the maker had already been persuaded. Time and again, if one tests the historical facts, one finds such efforts reach inaccurate conclusions – as we’ve seen recently in investigating the ‘lobster-Cancer’ and in considering the cloud-band.

A manuscript is made of physical materials, and upon those an opinion of origin, date and provenance must succeed or fail.

Reegardless of whether anyone has yet read the written or pictorial texts, the materials themselves set appropriate limits.

Does the manuscript’s palette include smalt, copper resinate, lead tin yellow, or naples yellow? What materials form each of its various reds?

And then of course one must address the evident fact that the ‘heavy painter’ was later-come than the earlier painter who had used line and wash.

How about the language informing the written text?

What objective linguistic, statistical or even cryptological efforts have concluded that the informing language is one of the Germanic group?

Perhaps the Beinecke library is unaware that the ‘central European Renaissance’ theory which now dominates every public arena, ignoring and suppressing all other informed voices, was invented by two persons in advance of any discovery of evidence.

After two decades of attempting to find matter which might be claimed to support that theory, determinedly ignoring even the best-informed opinions if they denied its validity, and tireless networking by its two inventors – Rene Zandbergen and Rafel Prinke of the Central European University – we had a situation arise some time ago where it was said by a number of other scholars that the Beinecke had been given the impression there existed some sort of club entitled the ‘Voynich community’ and of which Zandbergen was imagined the official representative, so that the library been responding to all research questions sent to the library by turning to him either for answers or to relay the library’s response. I understand, too, that the error had been corrected by the time Clemens was appointed chief librarian.

The fellows at Malta whose work Zandbergen proposed showcasing by initiating a “Voynich 2022” are again linked directly to Prinke and Zandbergen, both of whom are listed as conference organisers and presumably had some voice in deciding what material will be presented and what will be excluded.

One naturally hopes that ‘Voynich 2022’ may bring in people from outside the Voynichero bubble, and help the Voynich manuscript be treated as any other medieval manuscript is. One would hope that opinions about it will come from persons whose qualifications and scholarship can place this manuscript in its correct context – in terms of manuscript studies, palaeography, codicology and perhaps even with input from persons accustomed to identifying and reading problematic images – say, from the Louvre, the British Museum or UPenn’s libraries and collections.

Assertions made under Yale’s name reflect on Yale, and if the Beinecke is to have the reputation its collection deserves – on par with that of the British Museum Library, the BNF and so on, the keepers of its manuscripts must be recognised by Yale as scholars, not as form-fillers or book-shelvers. A collection of such value and range requires for its holding library a greater level of independence than an ordinary library, more research-time for its members and if necessary more training in the sort of technical studies needed to maintain and provide reliable comment on the collection. Second-hand speculations and theories just aren’t good enough. A fellow wanting to write on the subject of aberrant imagery in medieval Europe, for example, wants information which he or she can safely quote, with the Beinecke as authority. For such things subjective definitions of ‘plausible’ just won’t do.

Reference to the best scholarly opinion creates a mutual respect, because specialists recognise the opinion of an eminent scholar in their own field. Great libraries do seek opinions from their own universities, but also from abroad. One wonders if the keepers of the Beinecke’s collection are encouraged and funded to do that. Surely if they had been, the library would not have continued promoting Hugh O’Neill’s theories for decades; any competent historian of the Columban voyages would have laid the idea to rest immediately.

Still – you never know. ‘Voynich 2022’ might turn a corner and this manuscript’s study start resembling study of any other.

O’Donovan notes. Calendar 7b – Old Ideas and Good Ideas.

2500 words.

The author’s rights are asserted

Introduction: I have already written that promised post about a certain calendar and Oxford, Bodleian Douce 313), but the amount of background information which that discussion needed made the post impossibly long, so here are sections pulled from it and which provide a little of the historical context needed to make sense of what will now follow in the next post.

Some of the material concerns attitudes to new knowledge in Europe during the time of Michael Scot and Roger Bacon. Some concerns the back-story for ideas first offered about the Voynich calendar in Jim Reeds’ mailing list but which have never yet been formally presented or tested by the people who raised them there.

If what follows has a common theme, it is how people react to new information, especially to the arrival of new and better information from a community whose ways of thought differ from those most familiar and comfortable for the recipients.

The new math

Little more than a century after Michael Scot’s death, we find him depicted in Italy as the archetypal negromancer and heretic. We are shown a figure dark of visage, dressed in what looks like a woman’s pink dress, with dark curly locks and long nose. He is shown ripping pages from some book, indifferent to Dominic’s exposition of the Truth – towards which almost all others, including foreigners, display awe and deference.

What this tells us is that Scot was already, so early, identified as a practitioner of the black arts – making it all the more remarkable that the ‘lobster’ type for Cancer, a type widely used at that time, should have come to be attributed by recent scholars to Michael Scot’s writings in particular, rather than just to England and France where he had gained his education.

Nothaft refers to one monk, a contemporary of Roger Bacon Michael Scot (1175-1232), and who had clearly mastered the new ‘Arab’ learning as it related to computus. His name was Cunestabulus, and being instructed to give an account of that foreign matter, cries aloud and most emphatically that he only records such matter in obedience to his superior… and even then feels obliged to add a rant against:

novelty-hunters and shameless scorners of antiquity … [who] arrogantly reject the position sanctioned by authority, as if it were not sophisticated enough, and who, in relying on their own wit, wish to think otherwise …as if they were the only ones in the know.

quoted in C. Philipp E. Nothaft, ‘Reluctant Innovator: Graeco-Arabic Astronomy in the “Computes” of Magister Cunestabulus (1175)’, Early Science and Medicine, Vol. 22, No. 1 (2017), pp. 24-54.

This was written a hundred and fifteen years* before the king of England ordered all his Jewish subjects expelled as a way to avoid honouring his financial debts. Just so does Cunestabulus refuse to acknowledge his sources and, thus, defaults on his intellectual debts.

*corrected (18th Oct.) ’15’ should have read 115.

One does not need to be very old, or very wise, before one realises than in order to remain embraced by any community, monastic or social, certain words, names, ideas and beliefs must be treated as ‘not to be spoken’. No monk in Bacon’s time could say openly that ‘The knowledge of the Arabs and Jews’ is right” if it seemed to contradict the Book of Genesis. The fact that Genesis was a Jewish book was another thing that was not to be said too plainly.

In the earlier twentieth century, in England and in America, there were lso certain statements which could not be made, however true, and certain ideas which could not be offered honestly without negative responses from the academic community and from the general populace. Among them was that Europe had been the passive beneficiary of superior Asian learning or practice.

Lyn Thorndike battled without success to explain that Roger Bacon did not invent gunpowder. Lynn White would struggle to have the Anglophone and German world accept the reality of Asian presence in the west, and its effect in medieval and Renaissance Europe before 1490.

More recently, and to give an example to which I can attest, general readers may be forgiven for having no idea at all that for at least ten years, promoters of Eurocentric theories have been aware that the cloudband motif – often mis-called ‘wolkenband’ – came into the art of western Europe from Asia during the Mongol century.

The word’s being rendered in German may convey an idea that there’s something peculiarly German-central-European about the presence of that motif in the Voynich manuscript but such an impression is false. Because this matter will be relevant for the next post, I’ll repeat a few of the illustrations presented in my earlier essay on the subject. The first example is from fourteenth-century Padua.

That detail is taken from a painting by Guariento di Arpo (1310 -1370 AD), part of a fresco he painted for the church of the Eremitani. This shows the cloudband in its original, free-flowing form, while other details (such as the red-winged angels) suggests mediation through Byzantine forms and/or works produced earlier in the south-western Mediterranean.

This next example is from a fourteenth-century Persian miniature depicting Genghis Khan’s conquest of Baghdad in 1258.

(detail)  from Rashid-ad-Din’s Gami’ at-tawarih. Tabriz (?), 1st quarter of 14th century.

The miniature is believed painted in the city of Tabriz, in the region where the Azerbaijani is widely spoken and which was an early centre of the Yemeni Azdi. Under Mongol rule, Tabriz served as a major multinational centre of learning and of trade until it became the capital of the Turkic Qara Qoyunlu in 1375. The detail shows how that convention could also be also used for the flowing, and amorphous waters below. Christians of the Byzantine, Latin and Syrian churches, as well as Muslims, passed through Tabriz during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and have left accounts of the city’s magnificence and activity. It was there, and at the observatory of  Maragheh, that Gregory Chioniades learned Persian and studied the most recent developments in astronomical studies, specifically the updated tables of Claudius Ptolemy. 

In general, however, Europeans weren’t so comfortable with a line so irregular and chaotic, and there we soon find the motif made more nearly regular and treated more like a repeat-motif. The following example is taken from a later (c.1425-50) copy of Vox Clamantis, composed by the English poet John Gower between 1330 – October 1408.

It is certainly true that this motif is relevant to study of numerous drawings in the Voynich manuscript. It is also true that forms of ‘cloudband’ pattern were to prove popular in German-speaking regions, and especially among printers, but it is misleading to say – or even to to imply – that the presence of this motif is in itself proof that those drawings express any uniquely Germanic-central-European character. To use the term ‘wolkenband’ is of course quite correct when writing in German, but to use the German term if writing in English today is inappropriate.

Refusal to acknowledge accurately one’s sources of information, or to misrepresent the historical context by omitting any but theory-supporting material is one reason we see Voynich theories advance, while Voynich studies, as such, does not. Instead one sees the same ideas raised, supported, or let fall below the horizon, until some later person re-presents, re-discovers or re-invents them. The phenomenon Pelling once termed the ‘Voynich ground-hog day’.

Failure to do any more than raise ideas or repeat ideas without troubling to investigate and test them is another factor which prevents the study’s advance.

I am grateful to a former Voynichero* for bringing to my notice a series of communications made to Jim Reeds’ Voynich research mailing list in 1998. Among them are some which raise or make points I’ve made again recently in all ignorance. For example, I did not know that Jorge Stolfi had spoken of the “zodiac” – in quotation marks – in one of those communications. Another contributor in that year raised, apparently for the first time, the interesting possibility raised several times since then, but never actually researched, that Voynichese may use a script invented to record foreign languages.

*who is quite determined to remain anonymous, I’m sorry to say.

We also see, in that year, a communication from Rene Zandbergen in which he sketches roughly a theoretical link made between some drawings in the manuscript, certain ideas about astrology and about women’s medicine. Since 1998 many of those items, separately or together, have hardened into things ‘everyone knows’ though to my knowledge neither Zandbergen nor anyone else has actually presented a formal paper arguing that such matters are found united in any particular time and place. Any who might care to present such an argument should not neglect to mention Zandbergen, should he have been the first to raise that possibility.

Jorge Stolfi was contributing an account of the Chinese calendar, and from that information we learn that it was not only the Jews whose calendar considered a 19-yr cycle. He also provides another possible explanation for what we’d regard as months of 30 or 29 days, and refers to notional ‘agricultural seasons’ of 15 days or half-months. To my knowledge, no-one but P.Han ever attempted to argue the Voynich calendar a Chinese calendar.

Stolfi wrote,

“I wonder if there is any resemblance between it [the Chinese calendar] and Vms “zodiac” charts. I am not holding my breath, but still…

The classical Chinese calendar, in use for over 3000 years, was the “yin-yang li” or “lunar-solar calendar”. A “vanilla” year had 354 days, divided into 12 months, alternately 30 and 29 days, adding to 6 x 59 = 354. To keep the calendar in sync with the solar year (~365.25 days) and lunar month (~29.59 days), an extra would be inserted in some “leap years”. (An early scheme inserted 7 extra months in a fixed pattern over a period of 19 years).

The agricultural seasons: Independently of this lunar-solar system, the solar year was also divided into “agricultural seasons” by 24 seasonal points, spaced exactly 15 degrees apart on the zodiac. Therefore, a season lasted usually 15 but sometimes 16 days.

There’s a lot more in that communication, but my point is that almost a quarter-century ago, Voynich research had already reached a point where the “zodiac” idea was doubted; where researchers knew that a 19-yr cycle was not found only in Jewish calendar-calculations, that a time-marking system existed which could described the year in terms of 15 (or 16)-day periods and/or in terms of nominal “agricultural seasons” providing 24 periods of 15 degrees each.

In 1998, no-one looked more deeply into that question of Asian influence, perhaps because the study was still deeply reliant on Mary d’Imperio’s little book, and affected by the fact that the twentieth century’s attitudes had been unrelievedly Eurocentric.

Annette Stroud asked (April 15th., 1998) whether the Voynich script mightn’t be “a sort of shorthand capturing the graphic elements of an unfamiliar script.” She mentioned Arabic in particular.

Another member immediately blocked any conversation developing about that possibility, chiming in to state with apparent authority that:

“The totally European (Italian) character of the Ms has been used as an argument against an Arabic origin”.

To the best of my knowledge no-one has yet investigated the question of how foreign languages might have been represented by foreigners who went to foreign lands to trade, to preach or to reside and who learned to speak but not to write the local languages. We know, of course, that Jews would often write Arabic in Hebrew letters, and one sometimes sees other cases of mingled scripts Here, for example, are Egyptian (‘Coptic’) numerals combined with Syriac letters, though perhaps numerals are not relevant.

The next communication of April 15th., 1998 came from Zandbergen.

He does not react to Stolfi’s writing “zodiac” in quotes, but says:

the birthplace of Peter of Abano, whom I once tentatively connected with the zodiac section [sic], was a famous thermal spa in Roman and medieval times, known for treatment of (a.o.) women’s diseases. Abano translated a Persian work about the astrological significance of each of the thirty degrees of each zodiac sign (by Abu Ma’shar, a.k.a. Albumasar, also quite famous).

I’m not saying Abano wrote the VMs. He’s about as likely a source as Roger Bacon.

And on that inconclusive note, discussion of the Calendar ended for the time.

In concert with other Voynicheros, notably Toresella, Edith Sherwood, and ‘Steve D’, Zandbergen would attempt more than a decade later to create an official ‘Voynich herbal’ as adjunct to an extraordinary theory involving women’s baths, women’s medicine and an apparently fictional ‘Voynich villa’ located somewhere in Italy – though the narrative drew in some of Dana Scott’s identification of English plants, and some of my own plant-identifications (re-assigned to other folios at random to avoid due acknowledgements).

No solid evidence from archeology, historical or ethnobotany, or any informed analysis of the drawings was ever offered as support for that quasi-historical scenario or the rather dubious effort to own the plant-drawings. Whether the material was ever inflicted on the public in print I do not know. It can hardly have improved scholarly opinion of Voynich studies.

Another oddly arbitrary attitude to provenancing our present manuscript occurred in 2011. As soon as the radiocarbon range was published, it was asserted that since Roger Bacon cannot have hand-written the Voynich text, so the entire matter of an English provenance could be abandoned, along with the question of an Italian provenance, and both could be replaced by the ‘German-central European’ theory which had been waiting impatiently in the wings,

The difference was that the two previous opinions had come from persons experienced in evaluating a manuscript’s palaeography, codicology and general appearance, where the novel theory was not.

Persons trained and experienced in evaluating manuscripts had offered only two possibilities between 1912 and 2011 – England, or Italy.

Fixation on some ‘single author’ theory had blinded most to the fact that the one consensus was not necessarily incompatible with the other. One might well describe he origin (and hence the appearance) of the content, and the other the present quires’ place of manufacture during the early fifteenth century… as we shall see.

O’Donovan notes – Calendar 7: the diagrams are not for amateurs, sorry.

c2000 words

The author’s rights are asserted.

It is now more than a decade since I pointed out, for persons then involved in Voynich studies, that while the calendar diagrams’ central emblems use a visual language near-enough to Latin conventions, the diagrams themselves do not.

Given the enormous optimism, self-confidence and positivism one finds in Voynich writers working outside their areas of special competence – and which is surely needed to address so problematic a manuscript in the absence of prior studies – I expect my opinion will be unwelcome that any correct reading of these diagrams (if not of their written labels) will need specialist knowledge at a level we associate with such names as David A. King, Elly Dekker, and the late David Pingree and Paul Kunitzsch – Kunitzsch’s death in 2020 ending one of my own long-held hopes for this study.

The diagrams raise a number of highly technical issues which only a deep grounding in the history of medieval astronomical texts, tables and charts can clarify. Many of those issues will be invisible to a general reader and amateur theorist, especially any misled into thinking that all one needs are “two eyes and commonsense” and some computing skills.

I had hoped to avoid pouring such cold water on enthusiasts who enjoy guessing or who have confused traditionalists’ repetition of old theories with statements of fact.

I include this post so that my silence may not mislead readers of this blog into thinking that I believe the Calendar section expresses nothing but the habits of western Christian (‘Latin’) Europe.

Whether we consider the ninth century, the twelfth century, the mid-fourteenth century, or the early fifteenth century, astronomical knowledge involved wider and more complex interactions than the usual historical summaries suggest.

It is more than a decade since I realised that there is an inherent conflict between the iconographic information provided by the Calendar’s central emblems as against the diagrams as such.

Take, for example, the long-enduring assumption that each of the calendar’s anthropoform figures represents a day (or night), or that each star in each diagram does so. The stars, and the nymphs have been counted by various writers over the years – in publications, as in conversations to mailing lists and forums. Most recently, I understand from one amiable forum member, Anton Alipov has counted them again and shared his results at voynich.ninja.

The rhyme everyone knows today was known in medieval Europe by the ninth century. In modern English it runs,

Thirty days hath September, April, June and November.

All the rest have thirty-one, excepting Februrary alone

which has 28 days clear, and twenty nine in each leap year

Even if we were to treat the doubled months as split months and count their stars together, still the tally must read (according to the copy I’ve been sent)

  • March: 29 or 31(?)
  • April: 30 [As 15+15]
  • May: 30 [as 15+15]
  • June: 30
  • July: 30
  • August: 30
  • September: 30 [and one extraneous star]
  • October: 30
  • November: 30 [and one extraneous star]
  • December: 30

The logical question to ask (one would think) is where and when we find calendars of comparable design, ones lacking any evidence of intercalation?

That has never been the response made in the past.

Those unable to contemplate the possibility of non-Latin character for the manuscript’s contents (or who can imagine it, but find the idea preposterous) have veered off and created alternatives – often by inventing imaginative-hypothetical theory-patches mis-represented as the fruit of historical logic. The basic traditionalist position is that if the manuscript’s content doesn’t look Latin, or act Latin, then it jolly well ought to, and really does “underneath it all” and/or that the author/draughtsman got it wrong, poor thing. 🙂

It must be understood that the “all-Latin-Christian-European” theory-narrative IS the traditionalist theory because the study’s founding fathers – Wilfrid Voynich, William Newbold and William Friedman – began by assuming it an autograph composed all at once by a thirteenth century Englishman, or by some other European male important enough to figure in Europe’s story of its own intellectual advance to the mid-twentieth century.

Especially for the Friedmans (and thus for Mary d’Imperio) even to suggest the content included “foreign” matter was offensive, because to them the foreign implied the inferior and unimportant.

Added to this was the theory that the written text should prove to be a consistently-spelled and neatly grammatical plain-text because without such standardisation (as they thought) encryption and decryption became impossible. That it was an encrypted text of ordinary prose or poetry was the cornerstone – the non-negotiable element – in the theories they created.

For the time of Roger Bacon, Scot et.al., that meant in practice assuming the text written in one of the liturgical languages and given their bias – it meant Latin, English or German, none of which is indicated by the usual statistical analyses. The same assumptions and prejudices so common in the nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries are why Panofsky’s recognising non-Latin elements – presumably in the manuscript’s layout and drawings – was not taken seriously by the Friedmans and by Mary d’Imperio was imagined mediated by some Latin figure. Hence the references to Ramon Llull and anachronistic allusions to a consciously Christianised Cabala.

As so often, Voynich theorists have attempted to assert a section’s meaning, or a drawing’s meaning, though paying scant attention to the form given an image or section – as we’ve noted recently in discussing the series of emblems used as centres for the Calendar diagrams.

Inherited bias, within the traditionalist theories, seem to me to explain why a hundred years and more have passed without any Voynich writer asking, and seeking to understand even the simplest of questions about this section: such as “Why do the central emblems not form a zodiac sequence, even of just these 10 months?” Or “What kind of calendar might have 30-day months for every month from April to December, inclusive?”

The larger questions about calendars and the history of astronomical works are not within the brief of an iconographic analyst; what we can address is the curious choice of emblems to fill these diagrams and why they present such an odd mixture of zodiac-like and non-zodiac like forms.

I would add another question – why do they include forms which appear in some cases compatible with images found in England and in France over the period from the eighth to the twelfth centuries, but with other emblems unattested in Latin works until the mid-fourteenth century?

I’d point here not only to November’s crocodile but to the history of the Arcitenens type. The Parthian type with its goat-legs appears early, in the work of one Anglo-Saxon monk who also worked in France, and as a fully human figure in the 9thC, but it was not the form preferred thereafter in Latin manuscripts’ representation of the 12 zodiac figures and seems to disappear soon after from the Latin sources.

Nonetheless in its old Pan-like form it reappears in one Jewish manuscript* that the holding library dates to the 15th-16thC, and whose chief text is the Six Wings of Immanuel Bonfils of Tarascon (1300 – 1377). And the same manuscript has a prawn-nosed lobster for Cancer. I cite the example only to show that history – including the history of images and forms – is no simple “forward-march”.

*On this see first: Gerrit Bos, Charles Burnett and Tzvi Langermann, ‘Hebrew Medical Astrology: David Ben Yom Tov, Kelal Qaṭan: Original Hebrew Text, Medieval Latin Translation, Modern English Translation’, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society , New Series, Vol. 95, No. 5 (2005), pp. i, iii, v-vii, ix, 1-61, 63-121.

image is not to be copied or re-used.

Alfonsine Tables.

The part played by Jews, including Jews from French-speaking regions, in the translations made for Alfonso X of Castile is another subject unsuited to amateurs and speculators, for it is still debated by scholars who may fairly be described as eminent specialists in that field. When such scholars as Pingree and Mercier are unable to agree about transmission of the Persian Syntaxis or Byzantine reception of the updated version of Ptolemy’s Handy Tables, the issues can hardly be resolved by less well-informed writers – yet such matters must impact on how one explains the extraordinary number of stars which seem to be referenced by the Voynich calendar.

Alipov’s recent count gave a total of 299 figures of the star-holding type (he calls them ‘nymphs’) and a total of 297 stars – presumably including some he describes as extraneous (ornamental?).

I call the number extraordinary because any survey of astrolabes and other flat representations of the heavens, produced before 1440 (and more realistically to 1350 AD), generally include between 17 and 30 stars, with 50 being an unusually large number. Similarly, one does not find in the Latins’ calendars, breviaries or books of hours from which so many Voynich writers have taken their zodiac images such things as star-tables or lists, nor do their months consist of mostly of 30-days.

From time to time, since Jim Reeds’ mailing list was opened, individual researchers have tried to raise the matter of the lunar calendar and the lunar asterisms known as lunar mansions or as towers – only to have the topic submerged, ignored or bulldozed under some determinedly Eurocentric theorising – typically focussing on the Picatrix in pretty much the same way that “southern and Jewish” has been transmogrified by theoretical narratives about Ramon Llull and Christianised Cabala.

Illustrations in copies of the Aratea may add red dots to mark stars, and Elly Dekker, in 2010, published a paper on the Leiden Aratea* which shows it referencing more than 600 stars by the red dots with which its pictures of the constellations are adorned. How much work was required to identify those stars, her paper shows plainly enough an although I include here one table [Table 3] from that paper, I cannot emphasise strongly enough that no use should be made of it to invent or patch a theory – at the very least the trouble should be taken to read the paper in full and realise just how much expertise is required even to identify stars embedded in an illustration of a constellation.

Leiden Aratea (Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek MS Voss. lat. 4° 79) – produced in the first half of the ninth century for the court of Louis the Pious (814-40). It is not a typical work of that time, but an exceptional one – in its size, artistic quality and content. It contains images of forty-two constellations as we count them now, and the Pleiades.

*Elly Dekker, ‘The Provenance of the Stars in the Leiden “Aratea” Picture Book’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes , Vol. 73 (2010), pp. 1-37. Accessible through JSTOR.

While respecting the level of scholarship needed to attempt an accurate reading of the Calendar diagrams, we may continue to investigate the central emblems which – I’ll say again – do not appear to me to agree well with the character and content of the diagrams proper .

Two more passages worth thinking over before we turn to those manuscripts I’ve been promising (one very early semi-Christian calendar, and Oxford Bodleian MS Douce 313).

Both these passages (below) come from papers by Raymond Mercier, a former editor of the Journal for the History of Astronomy.

The first relates to the ninth-twelfth centuries; the second to the early fifteenth century.

In the first Mercier notes a curious instance of alteration/adjustment in a twelfth-century Latin text, apparently attempting to harmonise the Christian with the Jewish calendrical system, while at the same time back-dating it to the ninth century. The author of the tables he mentions – Luhot ha-Nasi – was Abraham ben Hiyya, known as Sarasvorda , who was born in Barcelona c.1070, and who died in Narbonne or in Provence in 1136 or 1145AD.

In this second passage from one of Mercier’s papers, he is speaking of events which occurred close to when the Voynich quires were made (1405-1438).

I would add, as a simple matter of fact, that the Persian New Year began in March, and we learn from Ibn Majid, a fifteenth century navigator who knew his stars, that the eastern mariners counted their sailing year from the date of the Persian New Year. It was important to count one’s days on those eastern maritime routes, because if wrongly calculated, the monsoon winds on which their navigation relied might be misjudged with disastrous consequences, physical and economic.

additional note (13th October 2022) on the moveable date of that Persian New Year relative to the Julian calendar, and the Arab navigators’ practice of counting their days pp. 361-2 in G.R. Tibbett’s English translation of the ‘Kitāb al-fawāʼid fī uṣūl ʻilm al-baḥr wa-al-qawāʻid’ of Ahmad b. Majid al-Najdi, the translation published as Arab Navigation Before the Coming of the Portuguese…etc. Any reader who is particularly keen to have the information but not quite so keen on the book’s price is welcome to email me and I’ll type those two pages.