Skies above: 6b Due (pro-) portion.

Header: detail from an item of north African red-slip ware, dated 5thC AD.

Two previous:

This series so far

Taking the ‘March’ diagram on folio 70v-i as paradigm, we have seen that the ladies’ ‘boneless’ arms and shoulders are the result of transmission through a community with attitudes different from the original maker’s.   The time-range in which shapely female figures are found whole and unclothed within the Mediterranean world is limited to a period  between   c.3rdC BC to c. 5thC AD –  after which they do not re-emerge within the art of western Europe until a couple of generations or more after the period (1404-1438) when the Voynich manuscript was made.  It follows that the figures’ first enunciation had occurred during the earlier period and within the stated limits, if we  accept as working hypothesis their first enunciation occurred in lands adjacent to the greater Mediterranean (that is, including the Aegean and Black Sea).

NOW…:

I move on to those parts of the research investigating the reason for, and meaning expressed by, setting these ‘shapely ladies’ with their flower-stars, or star-flowers, within what appear to be highly ornamented baskets placed – not altogether equally- around the circuit(s) of the month-diagrams.

I’m aware that a majority of Voynicheros are best acquainted with Christian Europe’s medieval art and history, so have deferred discussion of ‘Artemis women’ for the time being to begin instead with the late 4th-early 5thC AD,  Augustine, and north Africa.  In this post, too,  I’ve included a deal of historical-comparative material for readers who have had little exposure to comparative historical studies, or cross-cultural histories of iconology.

Adding even a little of  that comparative material made the post very long indeed – as long as a 20-page report – so I hope readers will forgive me if I don’t do the same in later posts – and if I  allow some weeks to pass before posting again.

 

§1. North Africa 4th-5thC;

links to the eastern Mediterranean; Mutual beliefs and images.

The header for this post shows a detail from a piece of  North African red slip ware*  dated to about the fifth century, and possibly made during Augustine’s lifetime.** It was discovered in Metz, in northeastern France.

*called ‘terra sigillata’ or ‘-sigilata’ in the older way.  ** Augustine was born in 354 AD, and died in 430 AD, before the Vandals invaded.

When Augustine was born and throughout his youth,  north Africa was (contrary to what you will read in the wiki article) a backwater of the Roman empire, over which Rome exercised little direct control, and it was yet to be invaded by the Vandals and Alans, which latter event would occur in  439 – almost a decade after Augustine’s death.As we have seen, polytheism was still alive and moderately well. To judge from the  perceptions of an admittedly jaundiced and xenophobic Rutilius Namatianus, the Christian monks who maintained the classical literary traditions later were as yet rarely seen. He speaks of just one group, on an  “ill-kept isle full of men who shun the light. Their own name  for themselves is a Greek one, “monachoi” (monks)… What silly fanaticism of a distorted brain is it to be unable to endure even  blessings because of your terror of  ills?”  (Rutilius Namatianus: de Reditu suo I.440ff).

  •  Augustine’s environment – see this site, for an overview but allow for that author’s pro-Christian bias e.g. “In some of the same [dark] corners, old local pagan cults could still be found”. In fact, Augustine’s father maintained the older Phoenician religion and did so without any fuss made by his wife or by his son, though the wife plainly preferred her own, Christian, religion. It is evident that Christianity was not yet “the dominant religion” of the area.  On the political situation and cultural mix, though, the essay is good.

The population about Carthage was a mix of Berber and Roman military, remnants of the original Punic population and a large Jewish population. Manichean and other forms of Christian belief had reached so far from centres in the eastern Mediterranean and informed the views of large, but not yet predominant number in the population. An influx of Roman refugees from the Goths, and  food shortages after a disastrous tsumani in 365 AD had changed the earlier social, religious and economic environment while Augustine was in his teens.

Though the detail in our header is clearly no expression of Christian beliefs, it might well be captioned by quoting from a text which Augustine also quotes in his City of God:

And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and many of the just as the stars forever.

(Daniel 12:1-3)

That passage was actually first composed in Aramaic, and in the eastern side of the Mediterranean, during the 2ndC BC – the time when Sergius Orata built his fishponds.  The Book of Daniel is a work of Jewish religious literature, but Christianity  adopted it with many other Jewish works and so it was translated into Latin, and used thereafter throughout the Christian possessions – and so known to Augustine.

We needn’t suppose the book of Daniel known to the potter.

Like the author of Daniel, and like Augustine, the potter refers to ideas widely prevalent and of great antiquity, but which Augustine will express through a lens of Christian interpretation.

No element in the pot’s ornament was an invention of the potter’s.  Not the ‘fish’-like shape of the baskets, nor their being suspended on a rippled line, nor the evident maturity of the angelos’ figure, nor her costume.  It is what they (still) signified for persons of that time; and more,  the antiquity of those ideas  which – as well what they look like – elucidates what we see on folio 70v-i.

At the religious level, the image on the fifth-century AD pot is derived from older ideas about Artemis, her character/s and cult/s but what I want to emphasise before we go further is that a modern reader must consciously demolish that wall which today we imagine to exist between the ‘business of religion’ and that of daily life.One also needs to abandon the idea that the secular ‘business of living’ is something which is necessarily better for being conducted without reference to ideas once universal among humankind.What we find in the earlier history of humanity is not best described as ‘superstition’; it was rather a view of the world in which the everyday and the numinous intersected; where human action was an echo – and one observed – by deity, much as children’s play imitates and is overseen by the parental eye.The microcosm was less something distinct from the macrocosm than its reduced expression. In modern terms we might speak of symbolism and metaphorical imagery, but it is important to understand that in the ancient world, a string of ‘fish-lights’ was not simply one poetic metaphor for the stars; it spoke volumes about cosmic order, the presence of the numinous in everyday activities – even fishing or hanging suspended lights.The old woman who came from none-knew-where might be – not a metaphor for Artemis or Athena – but actually Artemis or Athena.There was no mutual ‘wall’ against the gods and people; it was a barrier only one-way.And as Jonah, St.Paul and many others learned to their peril, it was the ‘god who travelled just below the hull’ to whom would be consigned any who went on board ship in a state the Christian would describe as sinful.Since it is part of my aim in this post to show just how older polytheistic concepts survived and were translated into Christian expressions in art, I’ll illustrate this example too even though it is tangential to our present subject.The illustrations below are (once more) those used when I first introduced this matter to Voynich studies in posts to Voynichimagery.In the fifth century AD, as we saw in the previous post, a living polytheism co-existed side by side with the same Christian authors whose ideas  re-worked, as much they opposed, the older ways of seeing.Those Christian authors and the verbal and visual images contained in their texts continued to be read in Latin Europe throughout the medieval centuries and still in the early fifteenth – when interest was rising among a few in finding and reading un-edited texts from the pre-Christian world.  It was at this time, probably in mainland Europe, that the Voynich manuscript was made in the form we have it. So far, the internal evidence of the month-diagrams (with folio 70v-i as paradigm) suggested  first enunciation in a range from the 3rdC BC- c.5thC AD.Futher research limited that range – as you’ll see – but to suppose such pre-Christian works or ideas could not be copied in early 15thC Europe is to quite misread the history and temper of those times.Gibbon says that Cosimo de’ Medici, (1389 – 1464) brought in his ships  loads of spices and manuscripts together. At that time Tunis, Constantinople and the Black Sea ports were the chief entrepots of the spice trade.

“[Cosimo] … corresponded at once with Cairo and London; and a cargo of Indian spices and Greek books were often imported in the same vessel.” Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I quote from Volume IV of the ‘Chandos Classics’  edition published in four volumes in London by Fredrick Warne & Co, in 1883.  (p.454).

§2. Lights along the Margin

§2.1 the rippling line. 

Neither is the potter’s setting those lights on such lines, nor with such spacings, an act of artistic license. Intelligent order was the very definition of the Greek term kosmos.. And that was his subject. The boundaries ordained by the divine were the definition of cosmic order – and the rippling line here signifies a boundary of that sort.

Here, as in other folios which depict the ‘ladies’ – though not in the month diagrams – we find employed the rippling line that signifies a cosmic, and divinely ordained boundary: as between the earth proper to humankind and the sea;  as margin between earth and those  higher heavens whose boundary only the gods might cross embodied and yet  live – unless the human body had been made immortal.Even when referring to the earth itself this line may signify a boundary between the land proper to humans and that uninhabitable or unknown.As late as the fourteenth-century, the author of the Muqaddimah could speak of the far southern part of the earth as a region in which nothing could live or multiply.Roman maps, like the Voynich map and various medieval maps,  make that southern boundary of the human domain a ‘rippled’ wall. I cited this same example (above, right) among others, when treating the Voynich map in detail – the first time it had been provided with any clear definition or any detailed systematic commentary.My conclusions proving unsupportive of any theory then circulating, the results were initially ignored or presumed another theory-driven narrative; efforts to create more Eurocentric-friendly versions began about eighteen months later – late in 2012.As so often the same illustrations, and many of my sources and my findings were re-used, but without reference to their source or the historical and technical commentary which had given them point.Omission of the present author’s name, in such cases, also prevented others from weighing the opinions of the original study against  later efforts.In the case of the fifth-century artefact, we are looking at the boundary between earth and waters – those of the world below and of the heavens.  When used in this sense the rippled line is customarily described as the  ‘cloudband’ and in that way (if not accurately in every instance) it has been applied to details in the Voynich manuscript’s imagery since the early 2000s. I have been quite unable to credit the person who first contributed this insight to the study – for which again we must blame that pernicious habit of re-using others’ work without due credit given from the first. This has become a systematic error in the study – and as we all know, system error creates error exponentially.
 the terms ‘wolkenband’ and ‘nebuly line’ in Voynich-related writings:

 

Nineteenth-century historians of art, even when writing in English,  littered their essays with terms adopted from other European languages, in a way that seems pretentious today if a viable alternative exists.  For ‘cloudband’ English writers often used the German, ‘wolkenband’.  The habit faded after the first few decades of last century and is not employed today unless you’re writing in German or describing certain types of traditional eastern rugs – in which latter case it remains the technical term.  Oddly enough, though, its use came to be a habit in Voynich studies and by 2010 a number of Voynicheros had developed the idea that employing the German term ‘wolkenband’ supported a theory of the Voynich manuscript as in some sense a unique expression of a Germanic culture.

That proved an idea difficult to shift, and as late as 2017 when I closed Voynichimagery, few seemed to have accepted information, historical notes or illustrations I’d provided to explain this was not so.  I daresay some still use the motif to support a theory of that sort. It has always puzzled me that so few who speculate and theorise about history or image-making appear to doubt their impressions even to the point of checking them against a text-book on these subjects.  One sometimes has the odd sense that many imagine this manuscript to be a virtual, or theoretical object existing on a plane of existence otherwise unoccupied, and which might, therefore, be known only theoretically, much as theologians understand the afterlife.   Some few reacted to the argument over terms and implications by inventing another word entirely, though a neologism vaguely related to medieval heraldry, as ‘nebuly line’. This new – indeed, unique – usage proved remarkably popular among some of the online ‘Voynich community’, and certainly did away with any need to check or quote histories of art, in which no such term will be found.

 

§2.2.   Survival and transmission.

Depiction of the cosmic boundary (and its lights) in the older way would survive through the Roman, into the Christian era and its art.  The Byzantine version of angelic warriors is known well enough, but the following instance is a consciously ‘antique’ image painted in the fourteenth century, and in Padua, by Menabuoi.  As it had always done, from as early as the Babylonian era, the rippling line marks the boundary between the world of men and that alien to him. It is here the ramparts of heaven.  Part of the reason for its re-introduction and the form it takes there, was due to contact with Asian artefacts received though lands to the east that had already inherited a comparable custom. I hope readers will forgive my not elaborating  that matter here.A still more remarkable example shows the limnal angeloi in an unmistakeably Asian or Indo-Asian form (and colour). The detail (below) comes from  the Rohan Hours,  made between 1418 and 1435 in France,   a manuscript that is in all other respects  impeccably ‘Gothic’. The rippling ‘cloudband’ is there, although difficult to see clearly at this scale.

(detail) Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS. Latin 9471 f.159r

§3. Margins, proportion and Cosmic Order

Other works, first enunciated in the eastern Mediterranean, alluded to beliefs comparable to those expressed by the image on the fifth-century pot, whose rippling line is hung with ‘basket-lights’ of equal weight and regular (if not entirely equal) spacing.  As alternative expressions for the underlying beliefs, we may continue to take passages from Jewish works known to Latin Europe, e.g.

 “Thou hath disposed everything according to measure, number, and weight. (Wisdom 11:21).

or again

 “When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a boundary to the face of the depths: When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth.”    (Proverbs 8:27-29)

in relation to this idea of cosmic order see e.g.,

  • Evgeny A. Zaitsev. ‘The Meaning of Early Medieval Geometry: From Euclid and Surveyors’ Manuals to Christian Philosophy’, Isis, Vol. 90, No. 3 (Sep., 1999), pp. 522-553

 

3.1 …  Angelos, limnatis and phosphoros. 

Exactly that same perception of the cosmos is reflected in images of Artemis that once stood in the temple of Ephesus, but first I should clarify the relevance here of Artemis’ character as Phosphoros, because I want to suggest that fifth-century image of the angelos with her line of fish-basket lights explains an otherwise enigmatic reference in  Greek writings to  ‘phosphorai’ a matter that I consider directly relevant to the ‘unclothed souls’ of folio 70v in their baskets and with their stars on strings, like flowers on stems.

Artemis-Angelos

 

Artemis Limnatis: ‘Lady of the Boundary/Marshes/Harbour’ –

Another of Artemis’ titles and which saw her as protector of those who travelled the ways of earth and of waters.  She was especially beloved in Crete.

 

 

Note: Shimmering lights upon the margin.

 

‘Phosphoros’ (Gk. Φωσφόρος). This term is often taken, correctly, as referring to the planet Venus as ‘morning- and evening star’, and though the 5thC potter’s theme is surely ‘Phosphoros’ I do not think he understood in the older way the difference between the dawn star by that name, and Artemis’ when given that epithet.

To her, I think , it is better understood as closer to its use in describing Hephaestos, or Hecate – with the second of whom Artemis was regularly associated.

 

3.2 Fire in the darkness: the fire- ‘basket’.

The common theme in uses for phosphoros is of ‘light in the darkness’; the difference being that with the Dawn star the darkness is dispelled utterly, where the epithet’s use to describe Hephaestos and Hecate, and (I believe) Artemis as phosphoros suggests rather the idea of light gleaming within the enveloping darkness.    A fire contained – a glittering or shimmering light which alleviates something of that  darkness and draws one to it.

Iron itself was known earliest in the form of meteoric iron and many ancient peoples regarded it as the material of the stars and of the heavens  from which they saw it fall .  Despite the fact that iron rusts, it was still identified with the immortal and eternal in ancient and classical art. The standing type of iron fire-basket we call a brazier, but there was another type, which was suspended.

As so often, here, the sources which elucidate imagery are not written works or theological treatises, but the materials, activities and objects of everyday life.  It is these which record things the literate might consider trivial, and where we see how a given community saw the interaction and intersection of mundane activities and divine action.

 

3.3. The suspended ‘fire-basket’ / ‘fish-basket’.

There was another sort of ‘basket-light’, one employed in night-fishing and –  like Artemis – its virtue lay in drawing prey out from below cover – in this case the cover of water and of night.

Below is shown, first, the artefact as illustrated in a Byzantine copy of Oppian’s Haleutica and then by a physical example recently recovered from a wreck off Dor.  This is how the ‘sun of night’ – the light of the afterworld is seen on many ancient artefacts As a ‘sun’ criss-crossed with lines as of basketry.   And just so Artemis, as –phosphoros “draws forth to sight from its cover”.  Note how the illustrator of the Greek manuscript equates the net, too, with the shape of a basket.

πυρευτική – fire-fishing. From a copy of  Oppian’s Halieutica, a didactic poem written in Asia Minor c. 177–180 AD. .  

More….

NOW – to see how this activity is mirrored in the ideas informing the fifth-century artefact illustrated in our header, and how the mundane and supra-mundane mirrored one another, imagine the scene from that  manuscript (detail above, top register) as it would have appeared in life, and from the shore. The darkness has descended; the string of small fishing boats now invisible save for their basket-lights, moving gently in the swell as their suspended lights sway in the breeze.  The boats are  strung along an uneven line off the coast, each allowing a reasonable distance to the next, and all with those glittering, iron, ‘fish-baskets’ shimmering in the dark.

When the flood waters receded, … Astraea felt so sorry that she wept, and her tears. hitting the earth, turned to star-flowers (asteriskos). Sea=aster.

How natural to see their reflection in the dark waters below as parallel to the shining lights which shimmered in the night sky above. And just so the string of ‘asteriskos’ – sea-asters – gleamed along the margin between earth and sea to guide the seamen safely to shore.

These rippling lines of lights are  metaphors of the margins – of which Artemis was again patron – as Artemis Limnatis. And it was the virginal Astraea who was credited with creating the  asteriskos.

 

§4. The Cosmic order – the Artemis of Ephesus and north Africa.

The Christian Gospel of St.John is thought to have been composed in Ephesus, , and Christ’s mother to have died there, these things occurring almost contemporary with the presentation, by Rome, of a statue to the Temple of Ephesian Artemis.  It is believed a close copy of the old temple’s ancient cult-statue of which the original had probably made of cedar wood. Pausanias (4.31.8) counted Artemis’ temple one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Hadrian would later build another temple to Artemis-Diana in Ephesus, and place a second version of the statue in it.  The differences between them are significant, as we’ll see and indicate that first enunciation of the Voynich month-diagrams is unlikely to have occurred after the 3rdC AD.

The gift was made shortly after the eruption of Vesuvius and should be considered less an act of magnanimity than of appeasement, Rome’s “total eradication” of Carthage being something of which even the Romans were later reluctant to speak.

It is the earlier statue – or some details of it – which explain those ideas which, ultimately, inform the ‘ladies and stars in baskets’ in the Voynich month-diagrams, by way imagery extant from 5thC north Africa.

Between Ephesos and the Libyo-Phoenician (Punic) people of north Africa  were ties so ancient that even the Greeks believed that they predated their own arrival in the Mediterranean. To that time, too, archaeologists believe the original temple of Ephesos belongs.  When it was built, it overlooked a harbour, already reduced to a marsh by the 2ndC BC.

This first of these Roman gifts was made soon after the underworld’s eruption through Vesuvius had claimed the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum and the lives of thousands. One phenomena observed was that the sea withdrew from the land, but did not then return – no tsumani. The message seemed to be that Poseidon could not advance, but Demeter might take from his domain what the Romans had taken from hers. Though the Romans saw Ephesian Artemis as a ‘Diana’ she was understood to equate with their Juno Caelestus (‘queen of heaven) in Ephesos.  In fact, she appears to have been the deity governing order in the kosmos, including the underworld, and had much in common (as we’ll see) with Tanit, the chief deity of Carthage.

I’ll illustrate this point, and also the endurance and survival of certain ancient ideas, by considering a couple of  details from that statue.

 

§4.1 The ‘crown’ – heavenly City.

These architectural style employed for the top storey – the eternal mansion – of the crown in the first statue presented to Ephesus is of classical Greek and Roman type; it is all the more interesting, then, to find it is not that depicted so in the ‘Caedmon’ manuscript,  where the full scheme is found in Christianised form.  The detail shown below (centre and right) show some evidence of influence from Armenian and Byzantine art, but are clearly a reflection of that ancient and long-enduring vision of the kosmos as a floating tower, just as anciently as represented in Ephesus.The arca had a range of meaning, but essentially a self-contained ‘world’. It was often used in the conceptual and symbolic sense and might allude to memory or to the chest of books in which wisdom was preserved; it served in Egypt as an early symbol for the heavens in which each star ‘sailed’ and in the early Christian church as an image for the gathering of elect souls, the ecclesia. In the centre detail (above) we see  the elect admitted into that ‘crew’ bound for the heaven-haven.   That this is intended as part of a cosmic scheme is evident from its full depiction in the same codex.In these case,  the ‘angel of the gate/harbour’ retains its ancient importance, whether called ‘the butler or the mourning woman’ in the habit of the old Egyptians, or as the angel at the gate of Paradise, or as Peter in Christian terms.In fact the chief figures, above and below that here made  Christ, describe particular stars and constellations and their traditional lore.  These images from Oxford, Bodleian Junius 11 are most reasonably explained as descending ultimately from the first phases of Christianisation in the eastern Mediterranean and north Africa.The angel receiving the peacock feathers as ‘palms’, for example, is Orion, whose ancient role as marker of the crossing over is retained even now in Islamic terminology, millennia after it actually marked the vernal equinox.It appears that in the full-page (above) Christ is  being identified with Sirius, the ‘triply bright’ though in other Christian works he becomes Orion.   A number of errors in the Junius version (above) are plainly due to euphony – as in ‘sole’, ‘sole’ and ‘soul’… but I digress. Enough to say that the woman bound to the fires below is no longer a well beloved Persephone or Demeter but perhaps the type for Sekhmet-Nut-Tanit.  It  is rightly placed (as ‘Eve’) in Julius Schiller’s astonishingly well informed  ‘Christianised Heavens’, published by Cellarius in the 17thC.  Most have supposed Schiller invented his imagery but it is, just as he says, only ‘Christianised’. One would love to know his sources.  His fallen angel is indeed the ‘Lucifer’ – Canopus.

 

§4.2 the ornament: Suspended lights

As you see (below) Artemis’ adornments include  what may have been a silver crescent; then a net of pearls, drawn up at each side from which are suspended a series of pendants, eight being visible.  Their form is (I think intentionally) multivalent.  They are easily likened to the fish-shaped basket-lights  we see in the African red slip ware (see header).  Equally, they can be read as a line of figures, dancing with hands held high; or as figures winged, and again as deep vases of fire. All these motifs are compatible with what is known of Artemis’ cult/s and character/s and there is no need to choose one and suppose it ‘the‘ reading.  Religious perception (as distinct from theology) is inherently poetic.

1st century CE Roman copy of the cult statue of the Temple of Ephesus. now in Museum of Efes. photo wiki commons

Now, when we turn to Carthage before the rise of Rome, and to those regions under its influence, we find that Tanit is the only figure who wears such pendants on a necklace, and that they are first shown in the coins (below, first register) in a form is very close indeed to those of the ‘basket-lights’ depicted almost a thousand years later in that piece of  red north African slipware made in the days of Augustine. As previously noted, polytheism was still very much alive then, and Augustine’s father himself continued to observed the older, pre-Roman religion of the region.

Coins made for Carthage a century later resemble more the form of that necklace on the first Roman gift to Artemis of Ephesus. (below, lower register).

They mark not simply a line between a woman’s shoulders and head; they mark the boundary between the carnal and the intellectual; between the physical earthly world and the realm of the divine as the higher heavens.  So too if formed as ‘hanging basket-lights’, or as winged figures.  It is the boundary between realms which no human may pass in body – unless the body is made immortal.

 

§4.3  Artemis and the circling stars: a Roman zodiac

The Roman rulers’ now (1stC AD) presenting marble replacements for various hallowed objects of great antiquity to eastern temples such as that at Epehsus shouldn’t be imagined apology or regret, but rather as a sort of bribe.  Rome had now begun to fear divine retribution from the many tutelary deities of communities and peoples they had decimated, enslaved, and whose temples had suffered rapine and destruction at Roman hands.

Even more would be spent on replacing a major cult centre of the Phoenicians in Syria, doubtless to persuade those deities, too, to overlook Rome’s ‘total war’ against the Libyo-Phoenicians and others such as the inhabitants of Thrace.

The first of those statues was illustrated further above.

One has to appreciate the very close connection perceived to exist between the underworld, death, and that life represented above all by grain –  which sprang from the same  earth into which the dead were received by those deities below earth – and not so far below the surface of the earth as we might imagine today.  This interrelated set of ideas – of grain and life in return for the dead; of descent of the body and possible ascent of the soul or spirit –  was intrinsic to older perceptions of the world and are – or rather is –  conveyed by these statues of Artemis and again implied (in my opinion) by the ‘ladies’ in the month-roundels.

Being Romans still, the officials of Rome who presented these statues saw no reason they should not also use them to advertise  Roman ideas and dictates.  The second statue is a case in point. The Romans never quite grasped the idea of hubris and had now taken it on themselves to rearrange the cosmic order when they invented a new constellation – Aequitas/Libra.

Apparently unaware, too, that the stars used to mark the lunar path were not identical with those of the sun’s road, they reduced it all to one. Evidently believing (rightly or not) that the pendants had represented the solar path, they replaced them with their then-novel form for the zodiac, placing their ‘Scales’ prominently if not dead-centre.  (below, left). The advantage for us is that it confirms the equation between those ‘fish-shaped’ basket ornaments and stars of the ecliptic.

A copy of this statue too  was found in North Africa, near Cyrene, but shows how diplomacy and tradition might both be accommodated.  The moon’s path has been restored – as a winding ribbon around the necklace, making it now appear less like a net than a wreath.  A small adjustment also allowed devotees to avoid looking at the new-fangled Roman constellation.

Note also the form given the constellation of the ‘Fishes’  – this has them lying parallel and head to head – the same form employed for the ‘two fishes’ coins made for Byzantion, and for Gades, and  which – as we saw earlier – appears in the 12thC Complutense manuscript of the Libros.. Apologies for the blurred centre image ( above, left).

There’s so much scholarly literature now on the subject of ancient and later perception of the heavens, that good work is easy enough to find.  I’ll add just one recent publication:

  • David Weston Marshall, Ancient Skies: Constellation Mythology of the Greeks (2018).

Augustine well understood the older ideas and their vision, while interpreting them through the lens of Christian belief.  Thus, while excoriating contemporary astrologers and Manichaeans, he can still laud the stars themselves as

clarissimo senatu ac splendidissima curia…

Augustine, City of God  V.1.

Since neither Latin nor Greek has a ‘y’ it was difficult to distinguish between a transliterated [Greek]  ‘kyria’ (Lady) and the Latin ‘curia’ (council), and all the more so given Artemis’ earlier role as mistress of the Council’s executive in Athens.  Still, Augustine’s understanding is clear enough: the stars are perceived as a  splendid house of brilliant counsellors.

So – in their bringing  illumination and wisdom to the darkness, the stars suggested comparison with the suspended lights of daily life, and with that idea of  overseeing counsellors, an idea which, incidentally, we have recorded from the time of the Egyptian pyramids.

Association with the Greek Artemis ‘of the Council’ was – as ever –  not merely metaphorical or conceptual but practical and physical.  As Artemis Bouleia and -phosphoros, she was revered in classical Athens where she presided over the various activities of the Council’s executives: the Prytani.  And, to show how well these ideas meld, let me again quote that passage from the Book of Daniel:

And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and many of the just as the stars forever.

(Daniel 12:1-3)

which allows us to move on to the still more practical matters of death and taxes.

 

§5  clarissimo senatu ac splendidissima curia… ”   Artemis –bouleia & phosphoros:…

In a building called the ‘tholos’ – which otherwise describes a beehive-tomb – these executive members of the Council (Boule) were chosen by lot to serve in turn for 36 days – a tenth of the year – as the executive members.  The work of the Prytaneis was formally ‘chaired’ by Artemis as Bouleia, though the ‘senate’ (Boule) and the executive (Prytaneis) were allotted separate buildings.

  • Any reader interested to know more of Artemis at Athens, if they have Italian, is recommended this pdf.

The Tholos stood on the Acropolis, overlooking the potter’s field and market.

Incoming members were required to  pay certain. dues to Artemis and what you see in the centre of the room in the drawing (above, lower register) is the type of container into which such dues or taxes were paid, in coin in this case, but also in goods when the taxes were of that sort.

Similar containers were also used in the following, Roman, period.  When treating Roman tax-collection,  modern scholars may speak of the ‘tax bucket’ or describe them in the older way as ‘cista’ or ‘cistella’ – which last term, as we’ve seen, saw remained in regular use in old English to describe a type of basket.

5.1  Container – ‘Cista’/’cistella’. Due portions

As neatly defined by the and various dictionaries, ‘cista’ is “is a box or basket used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Etruscans and Romans for various practical and mystical purposes.” – which just about includes everything save small shapely ladies, even allegorical ones.

The Roman tax-buckets were often, if not invariably, made of metal.  Used as funerary urns they  were set on feet and were usually provided with finial ornament.

I first brought this term, and object, to the attention of Voynicheros in 2010 at Findings– citing the examples I’ll use again here (below). I repeated the historical and other notes from my own investigation in a number of posts to  Voynichimagery, my   point being that this Roman, type remained in use to as late as the 3rdC AD but I that I could find none depicted later.  It thus suggests a a possible terminus ad.quem for the simple cylindrical containers in the ‘leaf and root’ section if (and I’d emphasise if) the Voynich month-diagrams (excluding the cenrtal emblems) and that leaf-and-root section were both supposed of Mediterranean origin and near-contemporary in their first enunciation.

Further, I pointed out that if, again, one supposed their red colour true to an original, then a period of not later than the  1st-2ndC AD  was indicated – and for technical reasons I won’t repeat here, though I provided it in brief in those earlier blogposts.

Since then – as so often – one has seen the same images reused by various  Voynicheros, though rarely with any reference made to the present writer’s introducing them to the study, nor to the research and the historical context which gave them point.

Details:

The subject of the cista – with other terms and uses for such objects – was introduced, and then expanded to  ‘Updated: Red containers and esparto’  (Findings, Wednesday May 12th., 2010). That post included details shown below (centre).   The third-century coin (below, left) was introduced at Findings in a post of  Wednesday, November 9, 2011, and again   reprised for the new, wordpress, blog  Voynich imagery.

 

(left) one side of a 3rdC coin, possibly associated with Gordion III;  (centre) – front and reverse of a coin of Ephesus; right – details from the ‘leaf and root’ section of Beinecke MS 408.

What is seen on the coin of Ephesus (above, centre) is always described as ‘cista’ (kista) or ‘cista mystica’. The two details on the right (in case you missed the earlier posts) are from the Voynich manuscript’s “leaf and root” section, which is commonly – though I think mistakenly- theorised as related to pharmaceuticals.

Once again, but in Athens, we find Artemis’ as ‘Bouleia’, and in that role specifically linked to her epithet ‘Phosphoros’, both directly linked to Ephesos and to the enigmatic phosphorai. ( I hope some readers are beginning to see why I believe the Voynich manuscript not merely interesting, or intriguing, but important.)

from: Homer A. Thompson, ‘The Tholos of Athens and its Predecessors’, Hisperia. Supplement IV: The American Excavations in the Athenian Agora.(1940).

A sizeable fragment of a large stele bearing an inscription in honor of Ephesos and ambassadors from Ephesos of the period 224-196 B.C. was found in 1934 just above the fork in the Great Drain, i. e., ca. 18 m. due east of the front of the Tholos Porch. The inscription was to be set upThe marble had apparently been re-used in a late repair of the Great Drain, but, as pointed out by its editor, it had probably been moved little from its original place.

Artemis Boulaia appears commonly in the inscriptions honoring the prytaneis of the third and second centuries before Christ among the divinities to whom the prytaneis sacrificed before meetings of the Assembly.’ Hence it is reasonable to suppose that her altar stood in the immediate vicinity of the Bouleuterion or Tholos. From the ancient authors it is quite clear that the prytaneis made sacrifices by the Tholos and so we may safely infer that the altar of Artemis Boulaia stood within the Tholos precinct. In the prytany decrees of the second century before Christ Artemis Boulaia bears also the epithet Phosphoros, an epithet which, though occasionally attached to other divinities, is most commonly applied to Artemis.  This being so, and the area being now so closely limited, we need scarcely hesitate to associate Artemis Boulaia-Phosphoros, the Phosphoroi, the altar, and the statue, assigning them to one and the same sanctuary within the Tholos precinct.

We are still in the dark as to the precise status of the Phosphoroi, but we may regard them with assurance as female divinities closely related to Artemis…we have gotten abundant new evidence for one of the minor functions of the Tholos, viz., the safeguarding of a set of official weights and measures.

In one sense, then, Maitre Francois was not entirely mistaken in envisaging a sort of fish-basket (‘cistella’?)  suspended above, nor in giving Sergius Orata ‘oriental’ clothing, nor in having ‘naked souls’ occupy those baskets.  Where he erred was in conflating  Orata’s practical, earthly activities with a specifically religious vision of the stars.  The waters in which the stars bathe, or sail, are those of the cool northern skies or those southern heavens imagined to look upon boiling seas and earth so hot that it could not support life. (And still says the author of the Muqaddimah as late as 1377, the year in which the Papacy returned from Avignon and just two years before after the King of France would receive the marvellous work of a Jewish cartographer of Majorca, Abraham Creques.

Afterword.

To end this series of posts, we need only treat the baskets’ forms and ornament, the matter of Artemis and her ‘ladies’ and the most intriguing questions of all, namely  which of the many three-tier systems for representing the heavens (and associated ideas) is being employed here, and what were the first enunciator’s likely languages and those of the persons who preserved and transmitted the material, making the shoulders and limbs ‘boneless’ at some stage.

Of course, we have no proof that the present text hasn’t also been affected by its last phase of transmission(s). In a worst-case scenario the written text could be no older than the present manuscript and might also – as many have long been believed – been enciphered too.

I had hoped to include some of that in the present post,  but it is long enough.

By this stage, then, I had found a lucid explanation for the manuscript’s association of stars with baskets and for the ladies’ ‘shapely’ appearance, something which had  puzzled Panofsky who like everyone of his time supposed the Voynich manuscript an autograph .

I had, also,  one tentative explanation the figures as a conclave or assembly composed (chiefly, if not only) of ‘ladies’ and if I continued to take as default that first enunciation occurred within the greater Mediterranean, this might be understood as a misinterpretation – at some stage – of a Greek description of the “Lady’s assembly” (mod. Gk: τη συνέλευση της κυρίας) for  “assembly [curia] of ladies”.

It was just a possible explanation of error – but the imagery wasn’t necessarily erroneous. What it did indicate – were it an error and that its reason – a greater familiarity with Latin than with Greek.  Other details in the manuscript had by now limited the initial range for first enunciation from 3rdC BC-5thC AD to, 3rdC BC- c.1st-2ndC AD, but still with the caveat that the ‘ladies’ sections may not have been first enunciated in the greater Mediterranean.

  • Marie-Louise Bech Nosh. ‘Approaches to Artemis in Bronze Age Greece. From Artemis to Diana. The Goddess of Man and Beast’, Danish Studies in Classical Archaeology, 2009, Copenhagen, Denmark. pp.21-36. ffhprints-01056261f

The Book of Daniel has long been a source of controversy, exacerbated by modern – chiefly American – Christian fundamentalism which has flourished notably since the 1950s.  Readers are urged not to rely on publications found online except if they carry the name of a reputable scholarly publisher.  However, for an idea of the arguments, their duration and complexity see e.g.

  • (1898), George A. Barton, ‘The Composition of the Book of Daniel’, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 17, No. 1 (1898), pp. 62-86 (25 pages) and bibliography.
  • (1911) ‘Book of Daniel’ Catholic Encyclopaedia (reprinted at New Advent, online).
  • ‘Aramaic’ Encylopaedia Brittanica, (online). A good brief outline of the spread and variety of Aramaic dialects – though not of scripts.  The text suggests too sharp a division between use of one tongue and another – e.g. neglects continuing use of Aramaic among eastern and western Talmudic (Rabbanite) Jews and the continuing use of Greek as the Mediterranean’s lingua franca well into the earlier medieval period, including by Jews, among whom the revival of  Hebrew as a spoken language apparently dated to c.10thC AD.

Skies above Pt 6a: Adding and removing layers

Header.  details from an Apulian terracotta, showing ten-rayed star; seven-rayed ‘star-flowers’, sun of night as fire-basket; clothed female figures.  (Metropolitan Museum of Art,. Dated third quarter of the 4thC BC;  inset – detail from an Attic krater, black figure ware.  Rape of Cassandra by Aias (Ajax) before the image of Athena.  (Met. Museum of Art, New York. Dated 6thC BC).

Two previous:

 

ALREADY, by this stage, a possible explanation had presented itself for the apparently deliberate avoidance of representing living things too realistically/literally.  The logs show that after noting a second exception (on f.116v)  I moved on to two more questions after putting notes in the margin to remind myself where to pick up later this matter of the  ‘boneless’ ladies** 

** vis: “Job 31:22.   Ezekiel 27:19; 29:6; 40:5-8; 41:8, 16-19.”

The two subsequent questions were 1. “Why female? why unclothed?” and 2. ‘why baskets? – March diagram. Significance?’. 

In fact I treated the second matter first, but will reverse the order here.  

 

“Why female? Why unclothed?”

Initial jottings:   ok. in Egypt.  Earlier Gk examples but in Mediterranean chiefly from c.2ndC BC. vide Pompeii; North Africa… Syria;  Black Sea, northern India and further). Western revival late – Renaissance latter half 15thC [cf. Panofsky and keeper of mss]. Female still  later.  Venice-Florence. .  

It was evident to me that the ladies’  first enunciation could not have occurred in an environment that was monotheist, aniconic or anti-iconic, nor within Latin Europe until a couple of generations later than the Voynich manuscript had been made.

It was equally clear that at some later stage they had been affected by such an environment. Logically, this indicated an impact during the period of transmission from when depiction of unclothed females might be of the generic sort (in the Mediterranean c. 2nd C BC – 5thC AD) to Europe where, early in the fifteenth-century, the present manuscript is thought to have been made but where depiction of unclothed female forms was still relatively rare and of ‘shapely’ ladies very rare indeed. Just as Panofsky observed in 1932. 

It not difficult to imagine a context in which an astronomical diagram of this type might have been first enunciated in medieval Latin Europe. But  I should think that imagination would be its only support.

So by lifting aside the intervening accretions (that is to say, the chronological strata), the figures in the month-diagrams can be seen again as shapely ladies with arms and shoulders whole, though without the still-later overlays of dress and heavy paint which a number of the deformed bodies now bear.

That the Voynich ‘ladies’ were originally unclothed, and their covering due to a relatively late sequence of additions is quite clear, the stages are exemplified below by details on folio 71v-ii.

In the first stage some additional lines were drawn,  details of breast and groin omitted or erased, and the body covered by a light wash. (below, left)

Heavier pigment was then applied, unevenly and not in all diagrams nor in every case.  The example (below, right) is again from f. 71v-ii. 

It seems to me that this heavier pigment which is consistently applied for the central emblems, was applied to the ladies as much in an effort to cover up their boneless limbs and ‘normalise’ the body as it was to render them more modest. 

 (The head wear is not peculiar to the western Mediterranean,  nor to the medieval centuries). 

But what this must imply is that the copy upon which those ‘improvers’ worked already showed the ladies with those boneless limbs – and so that the work had only recently entered their own horizons if the work was indeed done within western Europe.  In Latin Europe the usual practice was to eliminate or ‘correct’ images inconsistent with Latin customs or theology, and within a short time – an act of translation as the copies were made. 

In some few other folios we do see efforts at improvement/translation of the drawings per se, but it is noticeable that when such changes are very marked – as where a ruler was taken up to draw elements in the ‘bathy-‘ section – that hand does not remain present long.  The implication in that case, and where such details occur in other sections of this manuscript, is that the aim was to reproduce with near-facsimile exactitude, matter gained from one or more exemplars.  And then these drawings were ‘improved’ as if now under other guidance. The first wanted a precisely copied work; the other (whose effect is seen only in these month-diagrams) wanted something less awkward-looking.

Overall, I can only conclude that our present copy can be no original composition, nor any traditional product of medieval Latin culture.

Other items to be considered in connection with these figures (as I noted in the log) are that:

  1. the star-flowers may have seven points;
  2. a faint trace of ‘roses’ appears even in that altered figure from the ‘light April’ diagram. 
  3. ( certain of the baskets are drawn with a side-seam and in the detail from f. 71v shown above left, the basket might have two side-seams. A person doesn’t imagine such structural elements for an object if every object of that type they’ve ever seen lacks them.  So here the inclusion of a seam in the drawing is another technical detail, and another limiting factor, and all the more if these ‘baskets’ really came waist high: for ancient and medieval peoples say about 2’5″ (c. 62-63 cm).  [As it happened, that detail proved important]. 

A further question: Was the star itself identified only with the centre of these flower-like forms? To take the example of the aster, was it identified only with the disk flowers –  while the ray-flowers (‘petals’) were supposed… rays (Lat. radii)?  Implications for Q.20?

 

Why ladies?

The question  arises because, if the material had been transmitted through a community averse to realistic depiction of living things, surely they might have just omitted the ladies altogether, at very least from the month-diagrams. On the other hand, if their way had been informed by an idea that it was only a realistic or ‘workable’ likeness which was prohibited then the form itself and not the subject-matter was the focus of that prohibition.  In other words, their view was not that ‘you shall not make an  image in the likeness of any thing’ but ‘you shall not make an image as the likeness of any living thing’. So long as it did not actually imitate a living thing, you could make, or keep as many images as you liked.  This is also an attitude that speaks to an earlier time, when it was not uncommon to believe that a physical image and a living thing, both, had their animation or soul from the stars.  The soul was the star-soul, and it was drawn down into a perfected body – hence at birth.  Death saw that soul return to whence it came.  Something of this ancient belief remains today in the location imagined for a heaven of souls.  But there isn’t time to explain so much here, except to say that within the Mediterranean this idea was at least as old as the pyramids in Egypt.

That the figures weren’t omitted, but merely distorted might also, or alternatively, imply that the information was perceived as so important that only superficial changes were permitted.  Supposing them simply astronomical types in some sense, however, isn’t enough.  We have the model provided by some Hebrew- and Arabic-inscribed astrolabes to prove  that astronomical types could well be omitted without altering content.  But if each represented a personality (cf the Jerusalem Astrology, Sortes Sangalensis,  or the late ‘angels of the day’ in Agrippa) then they might be irreplaceable.  Or if each also was the token of a place and important for that reason when the original had been made.   But then why associate the stars predominantly with ‘ladies’?   One obvious possibility is that link of star-and place; with the tyche or other ‘patron’ – and some of the ladies in the month-diagrams and the bathy- section do wear battlemented crowns – technically ‘mural crowns’.  (This last was a matter which  I investigated a few months later than the work being discussed now. After I’d published some of my conclusions on that point, Koen Gheuns kindly cited my work when considering the same). Other Voynich writers have since referred to the same illustrations.

Below is a detail showing a star-holder, from an instrument probably made in Diyabakir, east of the Mediterranean coast. It was made during the lifetime of Roger Bacon and of an embassy which came to Europe representing both the Mongols and the Church of the East (‘the Nestorians’).  Diyabakir had been long been one of two major seats for the Nestorian patriarch (=pope), and remained so until 1402, when possession of the city and its surrounding lands was summarily handed over to the  Aq Qoyunlu  (the ‘white sheep’ Turcomans).   Eastern Greeks had  the astrolabe by c.200 BC

 

 

The ‘March’ diagram (f.70v) and the ‘classical nude’.

Reconsidering the ‘ladies’ on folio 70v as if with limbs restored to  “classical” form, the Mediterranean world provides only a  limited period for first enunciation of such figures and effectively excludes Greek art of the classical period – or rather that of indigenous origin.

Such a usage is commonplace in the Near East in the person of Astarte or Tanit, as well as in Egypt where it is quite normal for a fully frontal naked female to display her charms, but not in Greek art. In the 6th century [BC] it is only in extremis that women are portrayed naked or semi-naked, but this rule is broken in the case of hetairai, notably in two-dimensional art. Not until the end of the 5th century BC does mature female nudity begin to be emphasized.By contrast, it [was] acceptable in the minor arts imported from outside Greece to show the naked female form…

  • Alexandra Villing et.al, ‘Naukratis: Greeks in Egypt’ paper published by the British Museum.

While the Greeks happily drew male figures without clothing, there are very few exceptions to the rule that the female body is clothed, whether it represents a divine or a mortal being. Four exceptions are (i) Aphrodite (ii) Cassandra (ii) bathing women (iv) heterai. We see no multiplicity of unclothed female forms depicted in these cases.

The Kneeling Bather.

Robert F. Sutton, Jr. has argued that in Greek art true ‘nudes’ occur from the  5thC BC with the type he calls the  ‘kneeling bather’.  However, as you may be able to see from the examples shown below, certain of his illustrations appear to show instead a  figure dressed in a short, wide-necked garment of about knee-length and even in these cases the loins are effectively covered.

  • Robert F. Sutton, Jr., The Nature and Function of Water, Baths, Bathing and Hygiene from Antiquity through the Renaissance.(2009). Includes a section entitled ‘Female Bathers And The Emergence Of The Female Nude In Greek Art’. 

Otherwise, the ‘untainted’ nude is usually dated from Praxiteles’ execution of his now-lost Aphrodite of Cos.  (I won’t include the controversial Ludovici throne).

 

The ‘tainted’ naked woman: Helen and Cassandra types.

Where Greek imagery does show a female naked, the implication is of a reduction in social status and/or moral standing.. or that the woman is bathing as preparation for marriage. The usual subjects are Helen (later of Troy) or Cassandra, who was raped by Aias (Ajax) in Athena’s sanctuary.  A woman was considered degraded by rape almost to the status of slave-prostitute. Volition had little bearing on that perception. And despite Augustine’s spirited theological argument to the contrary in his City of God (composed in the 5thC AD), the same ideas were characteristic of medieval Latin Europe.

In the first of the two examples shown below, you also see a characteristic that will later become rare, where figures are drawn with exaggerated buttocks but calves extremely slender: almost bone-thin.  Just a couple of images of Akhenaten and some statues recovered in Kiev ((10thC AD terminus ad quem) show comparable practice, but in the Egyptian and Kiev examples, the persons are clothed.

The Roman era saw Roman goddesses generally clothed, though a number of  Greek and foreign deities and ancillary figures (such as the Karites or Charites and followers of Dionysos) were divested of their garments, and we find various examples of the frankly pronographic within some frescos in Pompeii. Of the deities Aphrodite/Venus remains the exception to that general rule against full frontal nudiry.

The next image (below) dates to the 1stC AD, and is from Pompeii.  It shows a scene which by then had a long history in Mediterranean art, and with which many of the Roman military would be familiar.  After a ten-year siege, the Greeks entered Troy. At left, Menelaus reclaims his wife by raping her. The gesture of clutching a woman’s hair expresses both contempt and aggressive sexual desire and is maintained as a convention in art from the older Greek tradition.  On the right, the aged Priam watches helplessly as Aias (Ajax) rapes his daughter, Cassandra, within Athena’s temple.  The Romans believed their own capital city had been founded by the Trojans.  As you see, the form here given Cassandra’s body has much in common with the conventions of medieval Latin art  – a long slender torso and small, high-set breasts.

Erwin Panofsky rightly noted in 1932 that ‘shapely ladies’ do not appear in Latin art before c.1450. Even by that time,  the ‘renaissance’ movement involved only a small number of artists in a small region of Europe.  In that sense, the older historians of art were justified in considering the Renaissance a sixteenth-century phenomenon in art as distinct from a revial of interest in classical texts.

Michelangelo and Raphael are credited, for example, with having “initiated the practice of making preparatory studies of the nude prior to painting the figure fully clothed, in order to better understand the underlying structure of the body.”.   The opposite has occurred in the Voynich manuscript, where the clothing is added to obscure the drawing’s points of divergence from a perceived norm,  presumably the medieval Latin.   Michelangelo was not born until perhaps fifty years and more after the Voynich manuscript was made. He was born in 1475 and Raphael  in 1483. Both reached their maturity in the sixteenth century.

It is entirely usual – it has been usual for decades – that comparisons offered for imagery in the Voynich manuscript date to as much as half a century later than it was made.

As with a cat who brings only the mouse-tail, the evidence adduced to support most Eurocentric Voynich theories is  too slender, and too late.

 

Aphrodite: the nude bather type.

Even the Greeks’ Aphrodite was usually provided some covering until the time of Praxiteles’ remarkable work. But we cannot explain the ‘ladies’ in the March diagram as a multiplicity of Aphrodites. More to the point, there is no link between Aphrodite and the star in the Greek tradition, and in the Roman tradition only via their equation between Aphrodite and Venus.

But…to cut the longer story short for the benefit of my readers…  we do find Artemis  associated with a circle of lights, and with a sequence- and a circle- of moving women.

Just so, the stars form a series and a circle of lights.. and in this case  of women.

Artemis and her women.

a type for Artemis phosphoros

Their being depicted unclothed indicates, in my opinion, that we have either the usual Roman attitude to the gods of conquered peoples, or the different attitudes expressed by art of the Hellenistic east, and particularly  what emerged among Greek, Carian and Ionian on the eastern border of what had been the Persian empire, but which Alexander reached and settled.

I’ll return to that eastern sphere later.  In the next post I’ll look further at the ‘women of Artemis’.

 

[this might be good point to take a break, have a cup of something and remember to breathe.. 🙂 ]

 

 

Foreign deities, Christian Fathers, and Augustine’s  City of God (5th and 15thC AD).

 

Some years after the research was done that I’m tracking again now,  Ellie Velinksa wrote a blogpost ( Sept. 1st., 2013. ) in which she focused on a fifteenth century French version and translation of  Augustine’s City of God (The Hague, MMW, 10 A 11).  Taking a detail from its fol. 435 (above) she suggested that those  tiered figures offer a comparison for what we see in the Voynich month-diagrams, or more exactly those in which the figures are plain and unclothed.  The Hague ms was made half a century after the Vms’ radiocarbon dates of 1404-1438. The Hague ms is dated 1475-1480.What it shows is more that even so late as the last quarter of the fifteenth century, and even in a work produced by a master in France,  the medieval body is still the norm. with its long torso, waist not emphasised and  small, high-set, round (‘apple-shaped’) breasts. The detail selected by Ellie illustrates Augustine’s explaining the irrationality of astrology and the inconsistency of the different systems.It happened that in September 2013, while I was explaining for my own readers a certain technique (‘sieving’) used to find useful comparisons for works about which some certainty already existed, I cited the following image from a text composed c.1430.  It is fairly described as both English and French as the following details explain.

from ‘Medicine and Physiognomy from 14th to Early 16th Century’ (2004).  The passage quoted below is also available in French, translated by  Marilyn Nicoud and Nicolas Weill-Parot for Médiévales, No. 46 (2004/1) pp. 89-108.

Roland was of Portuguese ancestry through his mother. He appears for the first time as a student in the registers of the University of Paris for the academic year 1419-1420. After completing his studies, he became a medical master in 1424 and dean of the faculty in 1424-25 and 1427-1430 during the English occupation. His presence in Paris in the 1430s is evidenced by several indices, the most significant being his participation in 1436 in a dispute over the days of the year 1437 favourable to phlebotomy [blood-letting] and administration of laxative medicines. From 1436 to 1442 he was regent master, and died at an uncertain date in the 1470s (1470-1477) . Among the treaties attributed to him  is a manual of Aggregatorium sive compendium artis arismetice . The latter borrows long passages from Jean de Murs’ Quadripartitum numerorum and, to a lesser extent, Nicole Oresme’s Algorismus proporcionum , so it can hardly be considered an original work. He also wrote a work on geomancy which is novel in several respects, particularly the place that Roland grants astrology in that context. His Physiognomy was one of many works which were compiled or translated by the French members of the house of the Duke of Bedford, from already existing texts. Many of these translators or compilers were graduates of the University of Paris and they probably used the funds of the Louvre library. Roland dedicated the  Reductorium phisonomie to Duke John of Bedford in the early 1430. His work has survived in three manuscripts of the fifteenth century and a copy of the seventeenth century.

This reminds us that the nearest comparison from a European work for the Voynich plants’ style of drawing occurs in a medical manuscript made in England between 1375-1425 Brit.Lib. Sloane MS 335)  and that for the first half-century of its study, the Voynich manuscript was also believed to have been written in England by the Franciscan, Roger Bacon, who had also studied in Paris.

 

In the excitement of finding something similar to the images of Beinecke MS 408 in works produced in Latin Europe, it is very easy to overlook the many and obvious differences between the style of the one and of the other.  The Hague manuscript even more than Roland’s work employ a different palette, shows clear evidence of ruling out and – unlike the Voynich images – manifest the usual patterns of western Christian ideas about the world and its organisation.

note:

On a personal note, Ellie has a good eye and one wonders what she might have discovered had she not come to the study with a ‘European-Christian-Duc de Berry’ theory, which limited the range of her work from the beginning.  She has surveyed only medieval Latin manuscripts in her work, as again in her hunt for ‘dotted stars’ (September 9th., 2013) and so remained unaware that the custom had an unbroken tradition through several thousand years, even in the Mediterranean.  Just by way of example, I’ve shown in the header a detail from ceiling of ‘dotted stars’ in a recently-uncovered tomb from pre-Ptolemaic Egypt.

 

Augustine and polytheism in the 5thC AD

While Augustine lived, the Mediterranean’s polytheistic heritage was still a living culture, one with which he was entirely familiar having converted to Christianity only in his late maturity.

Augustine was a north African, Phoenician by descent. After having been interested in Manichaeism, which was then a widespread religion across the southern Mediterranean including Byzantine north Africa, Augustine became a Christian as his mother had long wished he would.  A thousand years before the Voynich manuscript, he composed a work entitled The City of God. In fifteenth-century Europe, its message gained renewed point; those complaints voiced by Romans of the 5thC AD about the loss of Rome to barbarians were being paralleled by the Byzantines now seeking refuge in the Latin west.  In each case, there was a suggestion that the city had been lost because the older ways in religion had been abandoned.

That argument, and Augustine’s reply, may have led to the work’s renewed popularity among the non-clerical class, but certainly a magnificent copy and translation into French was made in late fifteenth century. The painter is believed the same Maitre Francois who is credited with that image of Orata whose discussion began the present series of posts.

His City of God begins with reproaches to those Romans who, by pretending to be Christians and taingn refuge in Christian churches, had been spared by the Goths during the sack of Rome. Unlike Ajax, these ‘barbarians’ respected the right of sanctuary.  Augustine knows well the classical gods and classical poets.  Nor was he alone among those whose works preserved that knowledge within Latin Europe.

Tatian, an Assyrian Christian who wrote in Syriac, had addressed the Greeks in the 2ndC AD, saying:

Be not, O Greeks, so very hostilely disposed towards the Barbarians, nor look with ill will on their opinions. For which of your institutions has not been derived from the Barbarians? The most eminent of the Telmessians invented the art of divining by dreams; the Carians, that of prognosticating by the stars; the Phrygians and the most ancient Isaurians, augury by the flight of birds; the Cyprians, the art of inspecting victims. To the Babylonians you owe astronomy; to the Persians, magic; to the Egyptians, geometry; to the Phœnicians, instruction by alphabetic writing. Cease, then, to miscall these imitations inventions of your own. Orpheus, again, taught you poetry and song; from him, too, you learned the mysteries. The Tuscans taught you the plastic art; from the annals of the Egyptians you learned to write history;

  In the same century, Clement of Alexandria could discourse on the subject of human sacrifice, mentioning Tauric Artemis as he did:

The Taurians, the people who inhabit the Tauric Chersonese, sacrifice to the Tauric Artemis immediately whatever strangers they lay hands on on their coasts who have been east adrift on the sea. …  Monimus relates, in his treatise on marvels, that at Pella, in Thessaly, a man of Achaia was slain in sacrifice to Peleus and Chiron. That the Lyctii, who are a Cretan race, slew men in sacrifice to Zeus, Anticlides shows in his ‘Homeward Journeys’; and that the Lesbians offered the like sacrifice to Dionysus, is said by Dosidas. The Phocæans also (for I will not pass over such as they are), Pythocles informs us in his third book, ‘On Concord’, offer a man as a burnt-sacrifice to the Taurian Artemis.

The cult of Artemis in Tauris had been known to the Greeks as early as the 5thC BC, when Euripides told the story of Iphigenia in his plays.  Having been saved from becoming a sacrifice at the hands of her father, Menelaus, ‘Iphigenia was taken by Artemis to serve as priestess in the goddess’ temple among the Taureans, where as part of her office she was obliged to sacrifice strangers thrown up upon that shore.  The latter part of her story is in Euripides‘ ‘Iphigenia among the Taureans’ ( Ἰφιγένεια ἐν Ταύροις)’.

Chersonese Taurica: floor mosaic (3rd-2nd century BC) Encyc. of Ukraine
Chersonese Taurica: floor mosaic (3rd-2nd century BC) Encyc. of Ukraine

Contemporary with that mosaic is the small terracotta figure – findplace unstated – shown below.

 

In the mid-thirteenth century, still, a temple of some sort stood  on an island off the coast. In c.1245, it was mentioned by William of Rubruck (Willem van Ruysbroeck), who said:

So we made sail for the province of Gazaria, or Cassaria, which is about triangular in shape, having on its west side a city called Kersona [ancient Chersonesos or Cherson; mod. Sevestopol] … And as we were sailing past Kersona we saw an island on which is a temple said to have been built by angelic hands.

The Tauric Chersonnese is now a UNESCO heritage site).

This might be a good place for images of those figures recovered from Kiev and certainly made before the mid-tenth century AD.

Nor was Augustine, in fifth-century North Africa unaware of how an unclothed woman looked.  Apart from his own experience – he had a long-term companion and several children – but from mosaics and other forms of imagery, of which a remarkable amount has survived until today from the time of Roman occupation.  Here again, however, the proportions of the body are much closer to those of medieval European art than to the Voynich manuscript’s ‘ladies’.

detail of a mosaic. Roman period. North Africa. Courtesy of theoi.com
naked, nude, un-clothed.  

I don’t describe the anthropoform figures in the month-diagrams as naked, or as nude.  The words carry overtones that I do not think can be applied yet to those figures.

Naked carries an implication of force, and chiefly of male force. A sword is naked, not nude; a body is found ‘naked’ not nude.  Unless the subject is an infant.

‘Nude’ implies a voluntary  disrobing, and a subject physically embodied.   Cassandra is naked; Helen is usually and Aphrodite invariably nude when depicted without clothing.  English doesn’t have a  neutral word for the situation we have here, where clothes may be irrelevant – so ‘unclothed’ will have to do.

The Romans’ interest in ‘shapely’ female forms ended as monotheism rose to dominate the Mediterranean.   A partial exception is found in some astronomical images, and in certain medical works which would emerge, in Latin Europe, from the schools of Paris during the 1400s.  But here again – as almost always – they offer no close comparison to what we find in the Voynich manuscript.  First enunciation of its ‘ladies’ occurred, in my opinion, during the Hellenistic period though derived ‘organically’ from earlier roots – and not necessarily Greek ones.

 

“They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world”.