Elevated souls Pt 2a. ‘Astro —-‘

  • Header image: (left) stars of northern latitudes; (right) declination and right ascension  -image courtesy ‘Sky and Telescope’.

Previous two:

 

David Pingree

In 1982, the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes (Vol. 45) published the paper:

David Pingree,  ‘An Illustrated Greek Astronomical Manuscript. Commentary of Theon of Alexandria on the Handy Tables and Scholia and Other Writings of Ptolemy Concerning Them’.  ( pp. 185-192).

I begin by mentioning it for several reasons.

The late Prof. Pingree is one of the “two Davids” whose works are among those indispensable for study of what some pre-modern peoples knew about stars and – most pertinent to our chief study – how they thought about and imagined the heavens.

The ‘other David’ of the two is David A. King, whose works include the Ciphers of the Monks, in which King drew attention to the same Picard instrument whose orthography for month-names is – as I think Pelling first observed – closely similar to that of the Voynich month-names’.

Since the matter of  ‘Occitan month-names’ is among those affected by metaphorical ‘palimpsest-ing’,  I add more detail.

Writing in 2004, Shaun Palmer credits Stolfi with the proposal and (quite properly) notes that Pelling had come earlier than himself and independently to hold a similar view.  Pelling’s book (2006) then treated and illustrated the issue in  detail (pp. 21-23).  Those three  references should give you a clear idea of the evidence and substance behind this now-widely-accepted view.Searching for ‘Occitan’ today at voynich.nu I found the references given on this point to be an anonymous blogpost of 2012  and a note of thanks to Don Hoffman for providing Zandbergen with bibliographic details of King’s book. Following the principle that  “no acknowledgement asserts no debt”, readers might assume all  unprovenanced matter on that page (which is copyrighted  to  the owner as is every blogpost)  must be a result of the owner’s own research, crediting Zandbergen accordingly.

That paper by Pingree is chiefly concerned with the manuscript Ambrosianus H. 57. sup. (= 437). The ‘tables’ in question are known as  ‘Ptolemy’s Handy Tables’ but were compiled from Ptolemy’s data a century later, by Theon of Alexandria.  Researchers working on the Voynich manuscript might like to consider, in addition, matters associated with Ptolemy’s Geography, as balance for a tendency to associate Ptolemy solely with astrology, or even solely with astronomy. See e.g.

  • Dmitry Shcheglov, ‘Hipparchus’ Table of Climata and Ptolemy’s Geography’, (available through academia.edu)

 

Question 1: Is there Astrological matter in the month folios?

Caution Newcomers should be aware  that nothing in the manuscript has yet been proven related to any branch of occult or pseudo-scientific practice including that of astrology, though  speculation has been so common –  thanks initially to Wilfrid Voynich and his inflation of the ‘Rudolf rumour’ – that many imagine it has been proven beyond doubt.  Yet the stars are part of the natural world and natural, too, may be their observation and depiction.  To represent the theological position of the earlier medieval west, we may refer again to  Augustine:

Amiens Cathedral exterior: Virgo = Threshing               see   labours of the months.

Who can fail to perceive how great is the difference between useful observations of the heavenly bodies in connection with the weather, such as farmers or sailors make … and the vain hallucinations of men who observe the heavens not to know the weather. or their course … but merely to pry into the future ….

from Augustine’s Letters  55 15

  • Anne Lawrence-Mathers, Medieval Meteorology: Forecasting the Weather from Aristotle to the Almanac (2019)
why is the astrological  idea a problem?

Objection 1.  The idea’s introduction depended entirely on ideas about John Dee’s connection to the manuscript, in combination with consideration (only) of the month-names and central emblems from the month-folios.  The latter were taken to depict the ‘signs’ forming a tropical zodiac, rather than taken literally as a depiction of the physically-visible constellations which appear in sequence through the seasons of the year.  The conflation of constellation with astrological ‘sign’ is endemic in Voynich discussions, even today.  

Even if the emblems did constitute a representation of the zodiac ’12’ there is no necessary connection between their depiction and that aspect of mathematics which defined astrology in the medieval world.  In other words, there is no necessary connection between a depiction of the ecliptic constellations and tropical- or sidereal astrology.  

That the opposite idea should be so prevalent in Voynich writings today is due to the fact that most modern readers, living in an industrialised society and urban environment, don’t need to know the stars as people did in earlier times.   Today, we use clocks, watches and phones to know the time; we learn from the weather man what sort of weather we’ll have today; we rely on automatic or printed calendars to tell us where we are in the cycle of months and seasons.   Reflection from city lights, and nights spent indoors (or outdoors) under artificial lights means  many see none but a few of the brightest stars in the night sky.   And all this, together, means that the word ‘zodiac’ instantly evokes the motifs of ‘birth-signs’ and daily horoscopes for us today, and thus seems the ‘most obvious’ interpretation for any comparable series, especially if stars are depicted. 

 Thus, the constant error has been an imposition on a manuscript  six hundred years old, the hierarchy of ideas proper to twentieth- century urbanites.

Things were different six centuries ago.

Objection 2.  No  zodiac sequence contains (as the month-emblems do) two goats, or two sheep,  or a sheep and goat adjacent to one another.

This issue and others raised by the month-emblems are rarely even noticed today by Voynich writers. and of the few who do notice, fewer speak, and of the very few who do mention a problem, the majority do not address that problem so much as seek a way to turn back into the fold any who show signs of doubting that “its-a-zodiac-and-zodiac-means-astrology” proposition chain.    In private conversation a Voynichero once said that he didn’t include both pros and cons in his own writings  because “if your mind is too open, your brains fall out” – which sounds to me like some conservative slogan gone wrong. 🙂

Objection 3. Even if we grant that,  in adding the month-names later, the person who did that truly  believed  the emblems represented constellations from the zodiac, more cannot be deduced from it than  he had  regarded the series as a series of months and their stars.  It is no support for an idea that  “months+stars means astrology”.  

Objection 4. is that the the Voynich series names only  ten months, and the months omitted (January and February) are – perhaps coincidentally or perhaps not –  the months when the fields were dormant, and when  ships of the Mediterranean stayed in harbour. The ‘sailing year’ ran from March until (nominally) November but the historical records show that in fact ships of the harbours where the most competent seamen were based might continue  sailing coast wise even as late as December.

Other points:

  • An argument that the remnants of two cut pages following  the month-diagrams  had once contained two more diagrams of that sort is – like theorised astrological purpose – only speculation at present. 
  • As I’ve explained elsewhere, correlations of month-name, month-marking constellation, and associated ‘labour’ were not uniform  even within Latin Europe., and the correlations made in the month-diagrams between emblem and month-name are not those of the northern latitudes (England, Germany and northern France).
  •   When responding to a Voyichero’s query,  Prof. Ewa Sniezynska-Stolot of the Jagiellonian University in Cracow – whose area is given as the history of European art, especially its traditions of astrological imagery-  also mentioned calendars in connection with the month-diagrams’ central emblems.  Here the difficulty is that her opinion was a short note written in response to a Voynichero’s query and it appears she was given no indication there was any reason to doubt that the content in this manuscript might have any but a medieval Latin European origin.  The answer of an expert is typically provided within the framework of the question posed.  Not knowing that explains why William Friedman got so little from Panofsky, where Anne Nill had received so much more  – and we’re not talking word-count here.
  • Nor do we know what Sniezynska-Stolot was shown of the manuscript at the time (2000), or whether in colour or copy-flo.   As translated by  Rafel Prinke and  reported in Reeds’ mailing list, her note has a distinctly off-hand tone.

By  13 Jan 2001 her note’s content was already reported to Reeds’ mailing list and members were discussing it in  connection with specific problems of the kind no longer acknowledged as existing by the most conservative faction and whose discussion is thereby discouraged, with ‘blanking’ from the record of any non-conservative who might do so. 

Still – let’s move on to one possible hint of the astrological… and trust our brains won’t fall out. 🙂

Astrological versus (purely) Astronomical

Exaltation and Depression?

Consider the following pair  from the first of the ‘April’ diagrams (folio 70v-ii), keeping in mind that the fifteenth-century draughtsman could draw ‘nicely’  but for reasons as yet unclear, didn’t wish to.  What message are we to take from their presentation? What aspects are we supposed to  read as meaningful? What about their postures, for example?

 

Did the original maker  intend the male  figure is to be read as ‘elevated’/’exalted’ and the female as ‘dejected’ or dismayed?   Or are our  subjective reactions focusing on details he would have dismissed as irrelevant?

If he meant attention paid to their posture, we must realise that such terms as ‘elevation’, ‘exaltation {Gk. ὕψωμα]  and ‘dejection/depression’ [Gk. ταπείνωμα] were used technically of the planets in Byzantine astrology, while  “seldom, if ever, found in the West” -as Pingree observes, though he finds that their illustration  in  Ambrosianus H. 57. sup is drawn ‘in western style’.

Indeed, the draughtsman’s style may be western, but it has  little in common with that of the person who drew the unclothed figures in the Voynich month-folios, except perhaps a common implication (also found in certain Islamic texts) that when figures from polytheistic religions are presented, the images should express moral censure. (see further, below) I say ‘perhaps’ because we have no proof thus far that the Voynich figures were intended as deities or anything of the sort. Neither have I seen any argument which proves that  the Voynich manuscript depicts any of the five planets, let alone all of them.

*The planets proper, the ‘wandering stars’, included only Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn in medieval times.

re planets…2001

In 2001, a member of the first (Reeds’) mailing list responded to Robert Firth’s comment on the fact that the ‘celestial’ folios hadn’t served as key to the written text as many hoped they might,  by saying  that “we” ‘ ..have quite a number of good (even if not dead certain) [identifications]:- the Pleiades and Aldebaran; – the seven planets; – two sets of twelve labels in 12-segmented circles; – one (or two?) set of 28 segments, “obviously” indicating the mansions of the moon. (12 Jan 2001).  All members of that list, at the time, would have known which of them had contributed each item, with what evidence and what argument (if any) but as yet I don’t know. If you can enlighten me on the point, please do. I’ve seen nothing one could call a cogent argument for it between 2008 and today.

detail) Milan, Ambrosianus H.57.sup. f.112v. Venus – on which see Pingree (1982) p.32

The unclothed pagan deities for each planet are depicted with a certain censure in the Ambrosianus manuscript  –  e.g. Venus (right) is depicted as as a debauchee – given the face of a young and pretty woman but a body heavy, old and exhausted from bearing children by various fathers. I see little obvious similarity between the draughtman’s style and that in the Voynich month-folios.  Expressions of moral censure in depiction of figures from polytheistic religions are  also seen in some Islamic works, notably in the  ‘Book of Marvels’ ‘Kitab al Bulhan’ (MS. Bodl. Or. 133) a seventeenth-century work (or copy) where Voynich-like “glyphs” were also inscribed.

That-last point was initially brought to notice by – I believe  – by Nick Pelling in his review (2008) of Okasha El Daly’s book. A detail (‘Crab’) from the same Bodley ms was later considered by one Voynich blogger whose blog I cannot find online today. In two posts of 2013 the present writer commented on several of  images from that manuscript, together with  other examples of ‘Voynich-like’ glyphs.

An image posted to pininterest by Marco Ponzi associates a detail from the Bodleian ms with one on folio 67v 2. His commentary may appear elsewhere but I’m not willing to join that site to find out.  (Again, if anyone already has more detail, I’d be happy to include it in the comments section below this post.)

On the Greek astrological terms and their significance see e.g.

  • Roger Beck, (2008) A Brief History of Ancient Astrology, pp. 57-8
  • Roger Beck, (2017) A Brief History of Ancient Astrology  pp. 242ff.
  • Chris Brennan, Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune.
  • James Evans. Time and Cosmos in Greco-Roman Antiquity (p.135). Evans’ equating ‘Chaldean’ with ‘Babylonian’ is over-confident.
  • Tamysn Barton,  Ancient Astrology (2002).

Neither  Aratus/Cicero’s Aratea, nor Manilius’ Astronomica  (written  c.30–40 AD) makes use of the planets, a point to be kept in mind given the date for Vat.gr. 1291 and possible  pre-Christian (but anti-Greek? anti-polytheist?) origin for its ‘women of an hour’ (see previous post).

Manilius in the west

Goold believed that before his election to Pope, Gerbert d’Aurillac had found in Bobbio a copy of Manilius’ Astronomica bound (as Gerbert said) with a copy of Boethius’ text on mathematics. Other scholars have doubted this, attributing the west’s knowledge of that text (as we have it) to Poggio Bracciolini’s practice of  commandeer manuscripts from monastic libraries by his position as papal secretary.  The ‘discoveries’ were then copied (at a price) for members of the Italian literati, who appreciated Poggio’s ‘little arm’. His own view is recorded in one colophon, which translated reads “This oration, formerly lost owing to the fault of the times, Poggio restored to the Latin-speaking world and brought it back to Italy, having found it hidden [sic] in Gaul, in the woods of Langres.” If he had acquired it from Bèze abbey, that copy is unlikely to have been older than the 11th-12thC.

Again with the older period in mind, and possible bridges between  pre-Christian astronomical works and the early fifteenth century when the Voynich manuscript was made, I’ll add here part of the description of Niceforous’ visit to Cyprus in the fourteenth century.  There was still a Lusignan ruler in the island, one who with his chief scholar George Lapithes asked the noble visitor from Constantinople to summarise for them as many astronomical texts as they could gather. They brought him copies of Ptolemy’s works, including the  Tetrabiblos, called Ἀποτελεσματικά ετράβιβλος in the Greek – but also,  according to  Niceforous (I quote from another paper by Pingree):

“all the books that still existed composed about such matters, by Ptolemy’s predecessors and by more recent authors as well as those that had been written in antiquity and by the  Chaldaeans and the Persians”. 

  • George Lapithes and David Pingree, The Byzantine Version of the “Toledan Tables”: The Work of George Lapithes?’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 30 (1976), pp. 85+87-132.

Pingree offers evidence and argument for a/the Greek translation of the Toledan Tables’  in Cyprus during the first half of the fourteenth century, to which same period, as it happens, I assign their ‘return to the Mediterranean’ phase for  the majority of parts in the Voynich manuscript.

Ambrosiana H.57. sup. – evolution 2ndC AD – c.1458..

Claudius Ptolemy lived in the 2ndC AD.  Theon of Alexandria in the 3rdC AD.   So then, discussing the content in the Amrbosiana manuscript, Pingree tells us:

We may conclude, then, that the original [i.e. the Ambrosiana] manuscript was copied in 1358, and that a series of owners for the next century added to it, rearranged it, and annotated it. It is likely that the manuscript was copied in Byzantium, and remained there while these changes and additions were being made to it. There is no absolute proof for this supposition in the manuscript itself, but it is known that the texts in Ambrosianus H. 57. sup. were copied in part from Laurentianus 28, 7;3 and that manuscript can be shown to be Constantinopolitan. (Pingree, op.cit. p.186)

and

There is no doubt, on the evidence of the script, that the codex could have been written in Constantinople in 1357-58. It is in the style associated with the Hodegoi scriptorium over a period of about half a century.  Western connexions of this scriptorium are not apparent. If they existed they would be more likely at this time to have been with Venice than with Southern Italy.   (ibid. p.192)

.. yet when it comes to those miniatures …(emphasis is mine)

The consensus of opinion is that the style of the miniatures is basically Western, though with an admixture of Byzantine elements. Islamic tradition lies behind the curious iconography, in which the planets are shown with their day- and night-houses, exaltations and dejections: this is seldom, if ever, found in the West. No immediate model has been located in an admittedly cursory search. An artist active in Southern Italy or Sicily may be indicated by the mixture of Italian and French styles. It is not impossible that an artist of, say, the Neapolitan school was working in Constantinople in the mid-fourteenth century – a time when others (Barlaam of Seminara, for example) travelled freely between that city and Italy. No artist answering to this description can, however, be securely documented in Constantinople at this time. Nor can it be assumed that the manuscript was decorated in the same place as it was written: the illustrations may be later additions. Indeed, they look very much as if they are.    (ibid. p.192)

 

For those who managed to come so far   –  here’s the sweet….

B. Astronomical?

Returning to the pair on folio 70v-ii, a closer look at the female figure…Short-ish hair, large head, figure’s right side drawn with a swelling line, indicating a breast. But where the figure’s left breast would be, there’s only what appears to be a piece of skin, marked with lines evoking sutures or something of that kind. Obviously not a skin-graft  (skin-grafting, history of)

We have a word for females who display just one breast. It’s from the Greek: a- (ἀ-) which means lacking and mazos (μαζός), which means breast   ..so, …”without breast”= Amazon.

Classical Greek and Roman imagery doesn’t depict Amazons  lacking a breast. They show a figure who is usually short-haired,  sometimes in armour which can include a breast-cover, or with only one breast covered by clothing and/or armour.

Interestingly, on fol. 70v-ii, the breastplate has been understood by the draughtsman to be of the high-collared type. The two images (at right) are shown simply to demonstrate that high-collared breastplates,  for females, are not entirely unattested.  An amazonian caryatid in Dresden wears armour very similar in deign to the Keralan type. That caryatid is described (by a seller of prints) as  ‘an ancient wall sculpture’. I can only say that their definition of ‘ancient’ is unusual.

The Keralan tradition marks by such means one of the eight chief patron- ‘mother’ goddesses, known to be warrior-women when necessary.

To this day women archers may don a breast cover in addition to the cover always provided for the forearm by the long, skin-tight sleeve and/or by a wrist-guard which might be better called a forearm-guard (but isn’t).  These were traditionally made of thick leather; The present day Olympian (below) wears ones of modern materials.

When you consider that women in pre-Renaissance Europe didn’t normally ever handle a bow, and that  the two drawings in the lower register were made  two thousand years apart from each other, the conceptual image informing the physical image per se has evidently survived remarkably well. The fifteenth-century draughtsman understood his exemplar.

 

So now – which star(s) if any might have been identified as  ‘Amazon’ by any tradition of star-lore, at any time between the 5thC BC and 15thC AD? Here are two possibilities from the Greco-Latin-Arab traditions with which I think readers will be most familiar.

 

  1. alpha [α] Virginis (Lat.Spica) ?

According to the 15thC Yemeni, Ibn Majid, the star α Virginis serves as the manzil (lunar station/mansion) and in that context is known as Simak al A’zal, ‘warrior without a spear’ (Tibbett’s translation p.100). And the figure from the first April diagram certainly has none.  However, women of the Arab tribes in Arabia, and more particularly of the Yemen, appear from the early accounts to have been treated more on par with men and in the pre-Islamic period to have been decidedly martial. By comparing with both older and early medieval works, it appears that until the seventh century AD, α Virginis may  have been often envisaged as a female warrior, one who roared or howled in the attack.   As Virgo, she is still armed in an image within the 9thC Byzantine manuscript Vat.gr.1291.

9thC Greek  (prob. from a late classical source)

A star-ceiling made in Egypt under the patronage of the Roman emperor Tiberius in 50BC, shows Virgo holding a ‘spike’ staff of some kind. The image shown here (below, right) is  as illustrated by Wallace Budge.

1stC BC. image in late-Hellenistic Dendera. If the spike is papyrus, the use of palm and scroll as alternative is understandable.

While Virgo’s spike-star  was generally envisaged as a stalk or sheaf of wheat for most of the Latin period, the alternative tradition was not forgotten, and the late image seen below shows how it was preserved – as a martyr-like palm branch held delicately by a more passive and ladylike virgin angel.

So if this is the intention behind the ‘Amazon’ on folio 70v-ii, her being without a weapon may be due to the same cultural attitudes (not necessarily Arab) which sees  the ‘ladies of an hour’ drawn with arms deprived of strength in Vat.gr.1291 folio 9r- as we also see   in the month-folios of the Vms.

Libra

In both instances, the informing ideas appear to me  indicative of deep-seated belief that the stars had effective power to harm and I doubt such fear derives from the classical Greeks or from the Orthodox Christians of ninth-century Constantinople. That Vat.gr.1291  has drawn on ideologically opposed traditions is evident if one compares the charming figure for Virgo in the ‘helios’ diagram (folio 9r) with the frankly unnerving and skeltal ‘ghost’ which is one of the few figures un-erased from the same manuscript’s planispheric ‘night sky’. (right)

So let’s return to the charming Virgo.  Unlike her counterpart on folio 23r of that manuscript, hers is not  the stocky body we associate with Europe’s late Roman art. She is envisaged as a slender and elegant messenger, whose ‘spike’  now appears more like rolled scroll. (angelos means ‘messenger’.)

This may be a good moment to remind readers that Alain Touwaide said the Voynich manuscript’s appearance suggested to him the sort of Byzantine hospital workers’ notebooks called iatrosophia, though it wasn’t one.

Touwaide has studied such manuals within his wider area of specialisation, and among his publications  is

  • Alain Touwaide, ‘Byzantine Hospital Manuals (Iatrosophia) as a Source for the Study of Therapeutics’, in Barbara S. Bowers (ed.), The Medieval Hospital and Medical Practice  pp.147-173 of Vol. 3 of AVISTA Studies in the History of Medieval Technology, Science and Art, (2007).

I agree that in the  Vms, we have a compilation of matter brought together for an entirely practical purpose, and find it possible the ‘bringing together’ may have occurred in comparable circumstances, and even within the Byzantine sphere, but having already treated in detail a large proportion of the Vms’ imagery,  I am glad that I am not in the unenviable position of having to differ from Professor Touwaide on the ‘practical handbook’ issue, or the ‘compilation’ issue, though I should have been obliged, unhappily, to do so had he said the whole was a work of medicine, or even of astrological medicine.

  • at the moment I can’t refer you to the printed version of Touwaide’s Voynich talk (or, rather first Voynich talk) at Mondragone.  The book is unobtainable, and Stephen Bax’ site where it had been shortly reviewed is presently infected by some virus.  Maybe later.

2. gamma [γ] Orionis.

Hinkley Allen informs us that in  “the Alfonsine tables” (no version or copy is specified) the star γ Orionis has a previously-unattested name, as  Bellatrix – a term from Latin and which means again, a female warrior.

Note – Ptolemy’s Tables, Alfonsine or Toledan Tables in Voynich studies

I was surprised to find no mention of any of these tables in Voynich writings or chats until speculations about occult topics had taken been current for about ninety years.

One would have thought an examination of standard sources for astronomical knowledge would be tested first before resort was had to speculation, but things went the other way.  Perhaps, yet again, we must attribute this oddness in the study first to Wilfrid Voynich’s tale, and a feeling among some that support for the ‘Rudolf’ idea had to marshalled.   However that may be, even today (Nov.2019), I find no mention of the Toledan tables at Nick Pelling’s site, or at voynich.nu.  I believe there was some talk of them in comments to Stephen Bax’ site, but at present it is under ‘virus interdiction’. I hope to check it and properly credit anyone who posted there if/when the site and its comments return.

Otherwise, I have found nothing about the Alfonsine or Tioledan tables (do let me know if you know better) until 2002 (ninety years after Voynich acquired the manuscript), when Luis Vélez’ says in  Reeds’ mailing list (Tue, 16 Jul 2002):

Thus, students of medicine at Bologna… learnt astrology [sic.] for four years, including grounding in Euclid’s geometry and Ptolemy’s Almagest. In addition, they learnt how to use instruments such as the astrolabe and the quadrant, and were taught how to use the Alfonsine Tables along with their canons. ..

 

Hinkley-Allen suggests ‘Bellatix’  was gained by mis-translation of an Arabic term, ‘roaring lion’.  I should have been inclined to dismiss this altogether, as mere transposition of some term for a star in Virgo – except that it survives experiment extremely well.  Experiment involves cultural and specific context, in addition to the image’s individual characteristics and drawing-style.

As you see, where the chap looks quite upbeat, the female looks decidedly “down”, doesn’t she?

Those interested in the written part of the Voynich manuscript might care to research uses for the opposition between elevation/exultation and subjection/ being downcast as applied by older works to matters other than planetary dispositions.

And with these two feasible identifications, mentioned  I’ll leave the astronomical and astrological possibilities for you to think about, except a last note that in another place, according to Tibbett’s note, al ibn Majid identifies Bellatrix with Orion’s hand [lit. Yad al Jauza’, usually Betelgeuse],  and it is in connection with this passage that Majid relates a condensed ‘cipher’ mnemonic for some fairly technical and mathematical matter.

Should it be of interest to any reader, description of that ‘cipher-mnemonic’ runs from the last paragraph on p.87 to the end of the first paragraph on f.88 in Tibbett’s English translation..

Postscript: From the research into historical and cultural context – I think one topic should have been mentioned, viz. the Indian tradition.  Thus, our Bellatrix (γ Orionis) is still recorded as ‘Yad al Jawzã’ al-Yusrã’ on astrolabes made in Lahore by a ‘dynasty’ of astrolabe makers in the sixteenth- and early seventeenth centuries.

  • see e.g. Mubashir ul-Haq Abbasi and Sreeramula Raeswars Sarma, ‘An Astrolabe by Muḥammad Muqīm of Lahore Dated 1047 AH (1637-38 CE)’, Islamic Studies, Vol. 53, No. 1/2 (Spring-Summer 2014), pp. 37-65

In the same context, the ‘serpentine’ extension behind Betelgeuse may allude to the ‘Ketu’ (headless body) of Rahu Ketu in Tamil and Hindu astronomy.  The sources differ considerably and I don’t want to give an impression that I place much importance on it.)

Also, we know that the Indian and Muslim traditions were both still present in Iberia during the fourteenth century, as Chabas and Goldstein (among others) have said:

quote stars Jews Spain astronomical tables 14thC Indian trad

Chorography..

I had meant to now talk about chorography, and identifications of stars with places – not by astrology but by an older system of observation and  a mythos of locality.. as well as by nominal superimposition of  celestial and terrestrial co-ordinates (made easier in medieval times if one had an astrolabe).

I would have begun from the classical sources’ identification of Amazon lands, by Herodotus and later authors, illustrated by a couple of maps, and then moved on to the technical correlations for star-and-place as well as the various astrological equations of peoples and regions …. coins, legends, Manilius, Dorothea of Sidon etc., remarks on Genoa’s colonies in the Black Sea (from c.1290s to the time the Plague came..) and so, eventually,  to Ptolemy’s co-ordinates.

But this post is already a trying length, almost 4,700 words, so I’ll leave all that material from my logs aside, except to say the Voynich ‘strings’ may bind place and star.

The star-place correspondence system has to be conceptual or temporary because the vernal equinox moves, as the first minute of right ascension doesn’t.  Then there are also the eastern navigator’s “fetterings” but …alas.. who’d ever read so much?

At least you have some sources for this last and  far from unimportant section.


edit (6th December 2019).

Can’t get the ‘comments’ to include this image, so here it is. Proof of relevance to c.1420.  See second of the comments following this post.

 

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.