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.

Retrospective justifications

Lawyers may have ‘learned friends’; scholars only colleagues.

I’m going to be away for some weeks, so here’s an extra-extra-long post (originally designed as five separate posts) to serve as holiday reading while I’m gone. 🙂

NB. To skip the preliminaries, start from the heading: ‘Living Ivy’.

Abstract:  The Yale facsimile edition includes an essay predicated on the theory that the plant-pictures in the Voynich manuscript are related to the European ‘herbals’.  In that essay a comparison is offered which, if it were it valid – might constitute the long-sought (but  never found) proof for that theory, and further indicate that a niche exists for the Voynich plants within the stemmata for copies of the Tractatus de herbis type.  Credit for a comparison or  ‘pairing’ of folio 35v with  ‘oak and ivy’ from the ‘Manfredus’ herbal  is claimed by Rene Zandbergen, whose influence on the study has been constant since the early 2000s.  The following considers that experience, weighing the probability and evidence for and against such an interpretation of the image on f.35v.

 

WHEN later generations  consider Rene Zandbergen’s contributions to Voynich studies, rating high on the list will surely be his constant presence.

For at least two decades Zandbergen has been constant in reading and collecting work and ideas related to this study, incorporating his selections from such matter into his website (since 2010), and  sharing  information more widely in comments to group discussions and in private communications. Voynich studies needs people with long memories;  given the high turn-over in  researchers and degrading standards for credits and documentation of precedents, for any true history of this study we must depend increasingly on the memories of a few among the old guard and the energetic efforts of even fewer among the new. Attempting to discover whether precedents exist before embarking on a line of investigation can be very hard work indeed, and whether one of the ‘old guard’ will trouble to consult their own memories can be a bit touch-and-go.  After all, the study has devolved into a permanent ‘groundhog day’ since the early 2000s to the point where now any genuinely new insights are soon swallowed up in the mist, grabbed and repeated without mention of the source and then endlessly re-used and  ‘re-discovered’ by amateurs – many of whom confuse original contribution with ‘unprecedented invention’ and fear to admit their debts lest it cost them glory.Trying to work against that tide, to disentangle genuine from spurious claims of ‘discovery’ would require an entire team of fiercely determined and rigidly ethical members of an  ‘old guard’. And what Voynichero would care to spend more time on seeing justice done than on following his own area of interest?  But, as and when they choose, ‘old-timers’ such as  Pelling and Zandbergen are our best hope.How many hours Zandbergen has devoted to building his  website one cannot imagine. It has now become the ‘go to’ site for newcomers, journalists and others who want a quick key, to check details of dates or of  biographies.  It has also provided Zandbergen himself with a ready reference from which he, no less than journalists or newomers, can draw in writing essays.Despite this time-consuming project, Zandbergen  has still found enough time (almost every day)  to be present in most often-visited public arenas and there to take account of the discussions and contribute to them from the mass of material at his fingertips.His early achievements include his  translation into machine code of Gabriel Landini’s transcription of Voynichese – giving us EVA.  Another was his liaison with an Austrian television company which commissioned certain scientific tests.For all this – as Zandbergen reminded members of a forum just today – his qualifications are not in any field relevant to medieval manuscript studies, history or art and he should be regarded as an amateur.Few amateurs having twenty years’ interest in anything could resist the temptation to “puff” rather more.Also of value have been Zandbergen’s computing skills which produced the graphs and diagrams used to illustrate the information collected into his website.

As constant as that work has been, and his presence in most public conversations about the Voynich manuscript, so too he has shown unwavering fidelity to a theory which he and his co-author, Rafel Prinke, espoused early – perhaps as early as 2000.

At the time it was a ‘fringe’ theory, asserting that the manuscript had been made in German-speaking regions and was in some sense an expression of central European culture, and more specifically with content congenial to the interests of Rudolf II and other members of the central European nobility.While the evidence for this variation on d’Imperio’s version of the Wilfrid-Friedman theory is no more than it was two decades ago, the intervening period has seen constant efforts at its retrospective justification: German calendars have been hunted for images of Saggitarius with a crossbow and other German-language or German-made works hunted for costume which could be argued similar to costumes seen on figures in the Vms. An enormous amount of time and talk has been expended on a couple of lines of marginalia which are claimed German.    For lack of other researchers as constant and equally consistent in enthusing others to collaborate,   material accumulated today not only leans heavily to that side of the scales but almost entirely on it.  Today the ‘central European’ idea has achieved the status of what Santacoloma might call canonised myth, but which is better described, I think, as the process  by which ‘I feel’ becomes ‘it might have been’ and gradually via ‘it could have been’ is taken for ‘it must be’. The process has taken twenty years and the labour of a great many co-operating ‘ants’ as Ellie Velinska once called that group.Without being strident, Zandbergen has also quietly and unwaveringly introduced an idea that not only Rudolf, but Rudolf’s brother Matthias (Corvinus) owned the manuscript.Whether the notion that the manuscript was stolen by Jesuits originated with the Prinke-Zandbergen theory or not is another point difficult to determine but as yet there is no evidence offered by the manuscript or by any document of which I’m aware to justify either the the ‘Corvinus’ idea or that one.   On the face of it, the Jesuits’ acquisition of the work is perfectly transparent: it became a Jesuit possession when gifted to Athanasius Kircher by Marcus Marci – and we have the letter of gift to prove it.Otherwise, the Prinke-Zandbergen narrative appears to maintain the standard ideas in, or extrapolated from, Wilfrid’s tale of 1921 – such as that the manuscript is obscure only because meant for a social and intellectual elite, and that it is at base a manuscript composed of ‘ordinary’ European material including occult and/or scientific matter such as alchemy, magic, astrology and medicine in which Rudolf II (1552-1612) and his aristocratic circle were most interested.Here, however, we must be grateful for the radiocarbon dating which permits us (if we wish) to limit the range of Voynich research to the terminus ad. quem of 1438.I say this because it is easy to imagine where the ‘Corvinus’ idea might lead theorists less self-controlled than Zandbergen.   Matthias was initially given control over Hungary at a time when a large part of it was owned by Rudolf’s close contemporary Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614) and within modern Hungary there is a popular movement re-inventing her image to have Bathory a nice aristocratic woman interested in women’s medicine. It takes little imagination to see how such an idea could be imposed on the manuscript’s content.But, as I say, we can halt if we choose at 1438 and maintain a proper level of skepticism not only about the ‘Corvinus’ idea but about the third-hand rumour of Rudolf’s supposed ownership.My own position is best expressed by quoting Patrick Lockerby, one of the very few left standing when the vellum’s radiocarbon date-range was published.  Well before the test was run he had said:

My dating of the manuscript is 1350 to 1450. From that perspective, whatever happened .. after 1450 is of no relevance in formulating any theory about the Voynich ms.

~ Patrick Lockerby.

________________

Zandbergen has proven no less constant in maintaining his opinion of the plant-pictures, assuming (as had almost all before him) that these must constitute a variant form of Latin herbal: that is, a catalogue of medicinal plants employed in Latin (western Christian) Europe.

During the nineteen-twenties or -thirties when the manuscript was generally believed personally written by Roger Bacon, the limited horizons* of Wilfrid’s narrative and of any dependent on it permitted few alternatives.

*for those limited horizons and  reasons for them see ‘Fear of the Unknown and Raft Elegant‘.

However, one might have supposed that by 2000, with nine decades’ of failed attempts to discover in the Latins’ herbals any matching images – that is, matching in sequence and in style of drawing –  and with Tiltman’s negative judgement on that score expressed in the late 1960s, that researchers might have begun casting about more widely: extending the research laterally (to include other regions and peoples) or vertically to consider plant-imagery made to other purposes and/or in other media.

It didn’t happen –  not even when Tiltman’s paper was released by  NSA in 2002, under the Freedom of Information Act, or when qualified persons differed from the conservatives.  Those who were not ignored (as Mazars and Wiart were for years), were met with the usual methods by which the most conservative element avoids discussion of evidence and argument.   On a personal note, I gained most amusement from Pelling’s suggesting that in explaining the botanical imagery and the role of mnemonics  that I suffered from pareidolia.  The role of mnemonics in imagery had been unexplored by the Voynicheros before then, but the term is now constantly used, even if rarely informed by knowledge of the scholarship or of any work later than Yates – Yates being mentioned by d’Imperio.  Carruthers’ revolutionary studies have been often recommended by the present author, but no evidence of them appears in other Voynich writings to date.

Part of Tiltman’s verdict was quoted earlier,  but here it is in more detail:

if the plain text of the Voynich manuscript belongs to the illustrations on the same pages, as we have a right to expect in the complete absence of evidence to the contrary, then much the greater part of that text is related to plants. However, I have to admit that to the best of my knowledge no one has been able to find any point of connection with any other mediaeval manuscript or early printed book. This is all the stranger because the range of writing and illustration on the subject of the plant world from the early middle ages right through into the 16th and even 17th centuries is very limited indeed.

  • [pdf] John H. Tiltman, ‘The Voynich Manuscript: ‘the most mysterious manuscript in the world’ [released by NSA under the Freedom of Information Act, 23-Apr-2002  (Case #19159)

Tiltman was not a man to accept hearsay and I think we may take it that he spoke from personal knowledge of the Friedman groups’ range of research.  It is possible that some combined list of works they consulted might one day be found among documents still at the NSA, or in the George C. Marshall Foundation.

 

[Part 2] What was it which prevented Tiltman’s pronouncement’s being taken seriously, and the lesson taken from the failures of the preceding decades?

It is an interesting question and deserves more than the briefest answer, but in the space of this post the short answer will have to do, and it is this:  that by the time the first mailing list closed there was a small but growing and determined ‘conservative’ element which adopted d’Imperio’s version of Wilfrid’s narrative with others of the Friedmans’ ideas as constituting a final word on the manuscript’s history and character, and perceived its own task less as work of investigation than of retrospective justification for that matter.

Before the 1960s, none had looked further than Europe because they supposed the manuscript’s composition coeval with its manufacture and they supposed all due to a single author imagined European.

After the early 2000s, any who began to consider any but a Latin European as determining the manuscript’s content was  discouraged from doing so by the ‘mass’ online – and often as much by personal ridicule  as by reasoned argument.  Of this unpleasant tactic – playing the man, not the ball – a precedent was also provided by reports of the Friedmans’ mockery of others, including of Professor Romaine Newbold.   Jorge Stolfi was among the first of the more recent ‘scalps’ taken by such means.

A hardening ‘conservative’ position presented itself as the  ‘common sense’ position, and for the new wave of Voynicheros who appeared in public conversations after c.2004 or so, these now-entrenched ideas were accepted as if they had been established from solid evidence: they served as premises rather than as speculations to be tested – and most obviously with the ‘softer’ narratives about theoretical histories for the manuscript or notions about its imagery.

Efforts to describe,  explain, decipher or translate Voynichese remained generally subject to more rigor and overall remained focused on the researcher’s work not his character. Critics were expected to explain their criticisms in detail; and (unlike other areas) no  vague assertion that the researcher was ‘talking nonsense’ was enough. Witness the technical and well informed criticisms of even so patently nonsensical a paper as Cheshire’s.

But with that difference between standards for discussing ‘Voynichese’ theories versus historical or iconographic matters, there began the dichotomy which exists today.  Opinions about the written part of the text usually weigh the statistical and linguistic evidence, but those focused on the pictorial content or historico-social environment regularly witness the personality-centred sort of attack as theory-defence.  It is a pity that this dividing fence has been flattened recently – again with criticisms of Cheshire as example.

Any Voynich researcher or writer soon becomes aware that ad.hominem regularly meets dissent from the ‘conservative’position in certain areas and almost invariably follows criticism of any opinions or theories particularly associated with a few of the best known ‘Voynicheros’.

Here, Nick Pelling has a well-earned reputation for directing fluent streams of vitriol against any who are less than approving of his friends’ theories and methods and, to a lesser extent of his own.  In general, however, he has an equally well-earned reputation for permitting free expression in comments to his blog, sometimes extraordinary patience with the most ‘out there’ theorists, and his academic standards in keeping clear the difference between his own work and others’ remains impeccable.

In one way, there can be no criticism made of any blogger’s choice of opinion, or of response to comments to their blog,  but given Pelling’s large following, high profile and standing as one of the ‘old guard’, the old problem of influence and responsibility must arise.   Knowing that any who would subject Pelling’s “machine-plants” idea to detailed criticism and dismissal, or dispute Zandbergen’s ‘oak-ivy’ comparisons as I’m about to do may incur public denigration of their intelligence, competence, motives and personal character is certainly a deterrent to putting higher value on the manuscript’s accurate evaluation than on the ‘Voynich community’s bonhomie.  The revisionist might hope for both, but I should think not in this generation.

Specifics

Since my own is the only name I feel entitled to mention, I’ll say that during the near-decade in which I offered historical notes and analytical-critical commentary on the Voynich manuscript’s imagery the work received only two types of response from the ‘conservatives’:  results gained from that original research were taken and re-presented without acknowledgements, and/or were met by ‘criticisms’ of the ad.hominem sort.

There was just one informed criticism made over the entire period:  a correction to my description of the religious order to which Hugh of St. Victor belonged.

No qualified person in my field had been involved in the study, as far as I could discover, since the 1930s and that might explain the resort to personal criticisms by persons lacking the wherewithall to make comments of any other type.   Recently, the well-qualified   Alexandra Marracini  has produced a paper which reminds me of my very first essays on the subject of this manuscript, when I still thought I’d be dealing with nothing more  unusual than the home-made book of some amateur western Christian author.

It was from about 2010, once I began sharing online and it became clear that this material could not be made to fit a ‘central European’ or ‘Latin cultural expression’ theory that the nasty response began.   From the first it was of the ‘no-holds-barred’ type and was disseminated as brainless and information-zero ‘memes’, inventing which seems to be the one real skill that a couple of ‘Voynicheros’ may claim.

My persistence in seeking to read, and then to acknowledge precedents – if any – for my views was re-interpreted by ‘meme’ as an effort to claim credit: ‘to make a name’ as that meme had it.  Another meme that I recall said that some students of mine were not real people (the reason being, apparently, that we decided their only access to the ‘Voynich-Colosseum’ should be through my own email address).  The result of that little ‘meme’ was abuse which the students, their parents and the school found as irrational as it was unmerited, and the ‘Voynich’ option was terminated.   You may be pleased to hear the credits were made transferrable since cyber-bullying should not cost credit-points.   Another slander-meme impugned by qualifications;  the least principled did not think it too grubby for them to start memes calling me a liar, or when that one didn’t quite catch on, upgrading it to mental derangement.    Of late, it seems, the one or two core bullies have been toning it down a bit: perhaps someone explained to them in one-syllable words the meaning of ‘fact’ ‘fiction’ ‘slander’ and ‘libel’.

The meme of the month  – towards me; but I’m not the only  troublemaker – is ‘nonsense’.  Not exactly the quality of a Times Higher Education review for the amount of research it tries to cover, is it?

It wasn’t the memes, or even the fools who are unable to find better ways to defend their theory which bothered me most; it’s the number of sheep who, when the water-cooler guy says ‘Bah! duly say  ‘Baaah’.

I had supposed that with a manuscript which presents so many non-trivial problems, the sort of person who’d stick around would be one having the type of critical intelligence which likes difficult problems.

But of course, anyone with that sort of intelligence can’t be hypnotised into saying ‘baaa’ just because the chap next to them got it from someone who was told it by someone else.

They say instead – ‘where did you get that idea?’ and ‘Show me your evidence’ and.. in this particular case ‘And exactly what does this tell me that might help me better understand Beinecke MS 408’?

 

And so back to that more interesting matter…

The ‘Oak and Ivy’ comparison in the Yale facsimile essay.

In its premises and its approach the ‘herbal’ essay in the Yale facsimile edition has much in common with the book by Tucker and Janick, in that it aims only to illustrate and thus to convince readers of its premises and its premises are its (foregone) conclusions.  It is an engaging history of the medieval herbal manuscript, but one illustrated by ‘pairings’ from the Voynich manuscript – pairings whose validity is treated as self-evident.

Among them is one which – were it valid – would be of enormous importance for this study for it would offer the long-sought proof for that ‘variant herbal’ speculation, and indicate that within the stemmata for copies of the Tractatus de herbis  mss exists some niche for the Voynich manuscript’s plant-pictures.

Because it could be of such great importance, it has to be treated seriously and seriously evaluated.   One might wish it were not a ‘pairing’ for which the credit falls to a member of the ‘old guard’ but the credit is claimed by Rene Zandbergen.

He presented his ‘match’ some years ago in a power-point presentation, later passing it to others to re-present (with credit accorded him)  as e.g. to Ellie Velinska.  Still later, it was used in forum discussions where again the thanks and credit were received by Zandbergen.  Finally, with acceptance already general among the ‘online community’ the same pairing was included in the Yale essay.

On occasion Zandbergen has mentioned that Edith Sherwood had ( I am told ‘earlier’) compared  folio 35v with one in a medieval manuscript.  Zandbergen’s comment takes the following form in one forum exchange:

EllieV – 11-02-2016 The most popular example is the oak/ivy combination found by Rene in other old herbals

ReneZ – 11-02-2016 Edith Sherwood independently noticed the similarity, in her case with the Sloane MS, while I saw it in the Paris BN manuscript.

The British library’s Sloane collection includes more than one herbal, as does the collection in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France but I note that where Sherwood’s habit was always to pair a picture from the Voynich manuscript to some later botanical illustration or to a modern photograph of her preferred ‘i.d.’, some images are now included from medieval manuscripts and now she pairs folio 35v with  an image of oak-and-ivy from  Brit.Lib. MS SLoane 4016 (folio 38v) –  to which I’ll return further below,

About  Zandbergen’s alleged ‘match’  only one point need be addressed and I’ll treat the vine-like element.  To discuss the pairing in full detail (as I’ve done elsewhere) would quadruple the length of this post.

 

__________

Zandbergen’s Resources:

Zandbergen’s discussion of the plant-pictures, from 2000 until the Yale essay was published has relied in one sense on generations of the ‘Voynich herbal’ idea but more particularly on  Minta Collins’ book to which Zandbergen has constantly referred, and just as constantly referred others.

Published in that year (2000), Collins’ Medieval Herbals: the Illustrative Tradition became available two years before the NSA released Tiltman’s paper of 1967/8.   It would be two years later still before we had Touwaide’s critical review of Collins’ book in 2004, but that appears to have escaped general notice for the following decade and more, until the present author brought it to the attention of Voynich ninja members.

  • Minta Collins, Medieval Herbals: the Illustrative Tradition.(2000)
  • the above, reviewed by Alain Touwaide – Isis,  Vol. 95, No.4 (2004) pp. 695-697.

Meanwhile, constant mention and recommendations of Collins’ book within the ‘Voynich community’ had seen it elevated to a status almost equal to that accorded d’Imperio’s Elegant Enigma – whose quotation some suppose a final word.    This same period saw escalate a trick of equating conservative ideas with the ‘good and sensible’ to the point where those engaging in original lines of research were discouraged –  and if not easily by ‘blanking’ or by citations from the two ‘bibles’ or items extracted from German medieval works, then next by comments suggesting that  only a ‘bad or irrational’ person would oppose the ‘central European cultural expression’  theory.

By about 2013-14,  assertions of ‘likeness’ met positive comment only if the comparison came from a Latin herbal or from central European manuscripts and books made between the thirteenth-mid sixteenth centuries – unless it were to ‘prove’ the work a Latin product.  Velinska’s ‘Duc de Berry’ theory was exempt.   The temporal range narrowed somewhat after 2013, as challenges to the radiocarbon dating of 2011 fell silent.  The conservatives’ geographic bounderies are widening a little further today but speculations about alchemical content, inherently anachronistic, remain current and so widely believed that to so much as doubt them has recently evoked an ‘eye-rolling’ from Pelling.  It would seem that another myth has achieved canonisation.

Zandbergen has displayed the same constancy in maintaining  the Voynich plant pictures a ‘herbal’ as he has shown in all else,  discouraged neither by Tiltman’s negative judgement nor by a century’s failure to find any place for them in that tradition. It is not an idea of Zandbergen’s invention, merely maintaining the speculations and assumptions of Wilfrid Voynich in 1912 and by the Friedman groups from 1944 onwards.

 

[Part 3] The ‘Manfredus herbal’

Against this pairing by Zandbergen of an image from the Voynich manuscript with one from the ‘Manfredus’* herbal we have the general objection that the ‘herbal’ idea remains a speculation and that were it well-founded there is a low probability that the same alleged ‘match’ would have passed all earlier notice. Believing the labels might offer a key to Voynichese, the Voynich plant-pictures and accompanying text have always been a focus of  study.

*properly:  Tractatus de Herbis, de Avibus et Piscibus, of Manfredus di Monte Imperiali, Paris, BNF ms. lat. 6823, but very often seen as ‘Manfredus de Monte Imperiali’

The Manfredus ‘herbal’ has been among the best- and most widely known of all medieval Latin copies of  the  ‘tracts on herbs’ and was so before Wilfrid had ever seen his ‘ugly duckling’ manuscript.  By then the ‘Manfredus’ was already in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and detailed knowledge of it had spread across the Atlantic, in proof of which I’ll cite the book-length monograph by Edward Sanford Burgess, published in 1902.

Burgess was then a resident of New York and was still so  when Wilfrid migrated to that city from London, bringing his widely-advertised ‘Roger Bacon manuscript’ – most of it filled with plant-pictures.

Burgess’ book-length monograph had been published by the Torrey Botanical Club journal (which is still in publication).  As handy guide to the text, Burgess included a ‘Tabular view of Plant-writers before 1600’ and as you see from the clip below (from p.98) the ‘Manfredus’ manuscript is included, dated it to c.1400.

 

  • Edward Sandford Burgess, ‘Studies in the History and Variations of Asters: Part 1: History of PreClusian Botany in its relation to Aster, Memoirs of the Torrey Botanical Club, Vol.10  (22 November 1902), pp. iii, v, vii-xii, 1-5, 7, 9-93, 95-447.r

Within his monograph, in speaking of Dianthus, Burgess says, “… I have seen the plant pictured in a book which is written by Manfrēdus de Monte Imperiali.” (” Librum de simplicibus , qui in bibl. Parisina latet,”said Sprengel of Manfred’s work, in 1797 ; Fabricius knew of a copy in Paris about 1750..” (p.380)

Today, the date offered for Manfredus manuscript – that is, the digitised copy – at Gallica is again circa 1400, but the  Bibliothèque nationale de France has  1330-1340, leaving place of manufacture unspecified.  A website called ‘Manuscript Miniatures’ ascribes it to Pisa without explanation. And to Lillian Armstrong it was ‘Lombard’.

  • Lillian Armstrong, ‘The Illustration of Pliny’s Historia naturalis: Manuscripts before 1430′, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes  Vol. 46 (1983), pp. 19-39.

Some of those earlier attributions to place may owe less to consideration of the drawings or palette than to interpretations of the description ‘… Monte Imperiali’ –  on which subject the present writer’s opinion as offered  after looking into the question in 2016.   Taking it that the  ‘di’ here signifies “sent out from” rather than “born in” I concluded the post by saying:-

I see no reason why the “Manfredi di maestro Berardo da Montepeloso medicus” listed by Calvanico [on whom see Collins n.119] should not be the same person as that associated with BNF Lat 6823…Nor is it difficult to suggest why a clerk sent ‘abroad’ on behalf of Maestro Berardo might choose to describe himself in that way rather than as from Montepeloso.  A mere clerk, coming to an urban centre from the remote south of Italy – and from a place called “Mount Hairy” – would surely be sensitive to the sort of ridicule which urban lads would delight in heaping on a lowly  ‘rustic’.  Nor would that description  be a lie, for  Montepeloso (mod. Irsina) and its castle were imperial possessions until Frederick II gave them to the then newly-sanctioned Francsican order of preaching friars.  Perhaps the local community itself had been used to speaking of the mount and its castle as ‘imperial’, but to determine the last point either way would require research of a depth it scarcely warrants.

D.N. O’Donovan, ‘A note on Manfredus di Monte…’ voynichimagery, (July 10th., 2016)

At the time none of the items in that paragraph, save Collins’ reference to Calvanico, was to be found in any of the usual Voynich writers, though (as so often) the situation may have changed without notice.

Montepeloso (mod. Irsina) today. Image published earlier in post to voynichimagery ((July 10, 2016)

A more recent scholarly source is the following volume, with Givens’ valuable essay on the Tractatus de herbis:

  •  Jean A. Givens, ‘Reading and Writing the Illustrated Tractatus de herbis, 1280-1526′ in Givens, Reeds and Touwaide (eds.), Visualizing Medieval Medicine and Natural History, 1200-1550  (2006). pp.115-156.

 

In c.2010, the idea was prevalent in Voynich forums that  ‘Manfredus di Monte Imperiali’ was son to Frederick II.  This is not so, though he may have been a namesake and the same idea is found in other and older writings. It is not inexplicable if we suppose it due to a misinterpretation of the dedication which the noble Manfredus included in a thirteenth-century copy of Pseudo-Aristotle’s ‘De pomo’.  That dedication is quoted in

  • Lynn Thorndike, ‘The Latin Pseudo-Aristotle and Medieval Occult Science’, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Apr., 1922), pp. 229-258.  (n.39   p.237).

[Part 4] So, to return to Burgess.  A botanist with a particular interest in the history of plant-pictures and -texts made within the Greco-Latin world and to the 17th century lives in a city to which there comes a much-advertised ‘Roger Bacon manuscript’ filled with what are thought to be herbal pictures.   His particular focus is on antique and later mentions of the ‘aster’ family.  Does it seem likely that he could resist trying to discover what members of that family were recorded by Roger Bacon, an idol of the time?

And if he were to go to Wilfrid’s bookshop to express interest in the manuscript, would Wilfrid deny a potential buyer?  And seeing those images, is it likely that Burgess (among the many others, including Fr. Petersen or members of the Friedman groups) would consistently fail to notice that folio 35v was ‘identical’ or even a ‘close match’ for an image in the well-known  ‘Manfredus’ manuscript?

I do not know if Burgess ever saw the Voynich manuscript, though I suspect Tiltman saw Burgess’  ‘Tabular view’ and that it is among the reasons he can speak with such certainty of the “very limited range” of  “writing and illustration on the subject of the plant world from the early middle ages right through into the 16th and even 17th centuries”.

But Burgess’ example illustrates my point that the Manfredus ‘herbal’ was well and widely known to specialists on both sides of the Atlantic even before Wilfrid bought the ‘ugly ducking’.  Seeking precedents those as interested and well informed as Petersen was and as dedicated as the Friedman groups were could hardly have failed to hunt it for something ‘like’, whether or not they heeded the vital point already made by RIchard Salomon in 1936, that locating precedents or antecedents means matching style of drawing and comparable sequences.  I’ve already quoted that letter to Anne Nill in full, but here’s the critical sentence:

“… I am convinced that the only possibility of deciphering would be given by finding an older series of plant pictures corresponding in its sequence to the arrangement of pictures in the Voynich manuscript.”

Richard Salomon to Anne Nill (July 9th., 1936 ),

Altogether the circumstances offer an a priori  argument against Zandbergen’s ‘match’ being valid –  at least within the historical and social context he presumes – but here it will be enough to address just one of the many points at which the ‘match’ fails –  the vine-like plant which Zandbergen claims equates to the Manfredus’ image for ivy.

Living Ivy.

Unless employed for purely decorative effect (e.g. ivy-rinceaux), or as crown for Dionysos or something of that kind,  the depiction of ivy in medieval Latin graphic art identifies a living plant by two elements, only one of which is invariable.

The leaf was drawn (European ivy is evergreen) and if any form of support was shown, the image emphasises the ivy’s clinging character.  That second is the invariable element .   It is clear, too, that to the medieval draughtsman, ivy’s clinging was tp be depicted as ‘twining’ – akin to that of the bean or of the Convolvulus.

Sherwood’s current comparison for f.35v, as I mentioned before, is Brit.Lib. MS SLoane 4016 folio 38v.  This certainly does show ivy (accuracy in a manuscript’s labels are not to be presumed), and it is equally clear that this draughtsman expresses himself through the usual conventions of Latins’ art; his ivy is denoted by its twining habit.  He has also included the umbels of black berries.  His leaves are given five lobes.  Neither of the last two features is invariable.  The ‘clinging’ character is.

Climbing ivy has leaves of varying form, with those of a non-flowering stem having 3–5 triangular-shaped lobes and those of flowering shoots being oval to eliptical. There is also a ‘ground ivy’ depicted in some herbals, but the point is that when shown with any supporting object or plant, the medieval image tells the reader it is an ivy plant by means of that character of ‘clinging’ which is depicted as a twining about the support.    Not what we see in folio 35v of Beinecke MS 408, where the vine-like plant is not only shown to be unable to cling, but lacks any leaf.  If the latter was intended to signify the plant a deciduous one, then it cannot be European ivy.  Again, though perhaps less significant, is the fact that the berries are not depicted using the convention of that ‘fan-shaped’ umbel.  Whether the supporting plant is meant for an oak is a separate question, but the fact remains that if the vine was not intended to be read as ivy, Zandbergen’s comparison and claimed ‘match’ is invalid and once more we have no reasonable evidence, documentary or otherwise, retrospective or otherwise, in support of the constant assertion that the Voynich plant-pictures should belong in the Latins’ ‘herbals’ tradition.

Another ‘Sloane manuscript’  Sherwood had noted,  inspiring  Zandbergen to find more, was Sloane MS 56 (f.81r).  Once again, the ‘twining’ habit and a leaf.

The next example (below, right) comes from another of the best-known Latin (western Christian) herbals, Brit.Lib. MS Egerton 747, and yet again we see that to define ivy it was not the flower or any set form for the leaf which was employed, but that close-clinging habit envisaged as twining.  The suckers which we now suppose essential to the ivy are not depicted.

But here’s the interesting thing; that other Sloane manuscript (MS 56) noted by Sherwood is not a herbal. It’s an early fifteenth-century copy of John of  Arderne’s Liber Medicinalis.

[Part 5] John of Arderne’s glossary and its images

In a passing comment to Pelling’s blog, in 2009, Zandbergen mentioned a different copy of it, though also from the Sloane collection (Brit.Lib. Sloane 335), saying under Pelling’s post, ‘Pre-1450 German possibility’- Dec.21st., 2009) :

“ To add to the confusion…  I just found a very nice illustration from a pre-1450 manuscript which is more Voynich Herbal-like than anything I can remember, yet is neither from Italy nor from Germany:. ”

He omitted there to mention that it was English or to give any details or date, but in the British Library catalogue Sloane MS 335 is dated to the ” last quarter of the 14th  or 1st quarter of the 15th century”.

I find no evidence that Zandbergen explored the perceived similarities – nor did he specify any – but I agree that there are valid points of comparison to be found in some drawings from that manuscript and some few of the Voynich plant-pictures.

Still other copies remain of Arderne’s Liber Medicinalis and I think readers will be most interested in the catalogue record provided with another copy (made c.1475-1500) and now in Glasgow University’s Special Collections as  MS Hunter 251 (U.4.9). Part of that record reads:

Arderne’s style of Latin is rather colloquial; indeed, his texts may almost be described as polyglot as his use of Latin is somewhat inconsistent. As well as providing glosses in English and Anglo-Norman, the text occasionally lapses in to sections written in English for no apparent reason. Although it is impossible to say whether this was how Arderne himself originally composed his work, or whether such anomalies crept in as his texts were copied from manuscript to manuscript, it nevertheless demonstrates the multilingual nature of literate medieval English society.

From the university’s website – Glasgow University  (Special Collections  .

More, the pictures of interest in Sloane 335 follow after Arderne’s brief ‘glossary’ of the ‘French’ plant-names used in Paris in his day.  This raises the interesting question of whether the pictures in the earlier copy (Sloane MS 335) may derive from a source which Arderne had copied in Paris during the first half of the fourteenth century.  (He is mentioned as serving at the Battle of Crecy). Here, some of the pictures

image above from the British Library Illuminated Manuscripts site. (Not  yet on its  ‘Digitised Manuscripts’ site).

.. and below Arderne’s brief ‘glossary’ courtesy of the University of Glasgow and the internet archive, reproduced from a paper which  D’arcy Power delivered in 1913 to the 17th. International Congress of Medicine in London.  (Note: Power used the letter i in isolation to signify (that is…) which we normally render as ‘i.e.’.

Stylistic tricks in common.

The drawings do share certain stylistic tricks in common with some in the Voynich manuscript, but the comparison offers no easy key to the Voynich drawings; it is important to distinguish between the graphic techniques employed by draughtsmen and the objects of their attention.

Buds or fruit are shown emerging from the calyx in similar ways, in two cases in Sloane 335 and as comparison the image from folio 1r.

(left) detail from Brit.Lib. MS Sloane 335 folio 82r.   (right) detail from Beinecke MS 408 fol. 1r.

More interesting is the placement of just one black dot on each of a plant’s leaves.

The Sloane drawing appears to me (correct me if you know better) to use the dots to mean ‘burres’ or burrs.  It may – but need not – carry the same sense in the Voynich image, though we note the leaves there are are also given spines, or bristles, along the leaf-margins

I would agree then with Rene’s observation, quoted above, that the drawings made in England about the same time as the Vms – but possibly from a French exemplar – display points in common with some in the Voynich manuscript, and that they look  “more  ‘Voynich like'”  than anything I’ve seen so far cited by a Voynich writer – certainly more ‘Voynichlike’ than any image cited from a Latin herbal including the Tractatus de Herbis, de Avibus et Piscibus, of Manfredus di Monte Imperiali, (Paris, BNF ms. lat. 6823).

Notes:

  • When commenting earlier on these drawings from Sloane 335 (in a postscript to ‘The Matter of “alchemical herbals”‘, voynichimagery, (April 8th., 2013), I added mention of a Peter of Arderne, referring to:   Stewart C. Easton, Roger Bacon And His Search For A Universal Science (1952) pp.120-121.

Among other pointers to an Anglo-French environment for manufacture of the Voynich manuscript and its early use are that the month-names are closely similar to the Anglo-French forms; that (as I first pointed out), the linguistic link between a crossbowman and Sagittarius is offered by entries into the English military rolls where ‘Sagittario’ (and variants) are found used for crossbowmen hired for service in Calais, and again  (this being now much re-used without mention of the present author), similarity in form between the type of  ‘cloudband’ seen in some manuscripts of John Gower’s  Vox Clamantis and (in those same), use of the ‘orb’ in three divisions to represent the world –  replacing the older ‘T-O’ form.  That ‘orb’ form is seen used for the same purpose in works by Roger Bacon and has been attributed to him.  I won’t elaborate now, having already published several posts on these matters at voynichimagery.

Noting that in  2014 Ellie Velinska had described an incidence of this form as an ‘inverted T-O’, the present author provided in August-October 2017 its history in brief, explaining its evolution within Christian imagery, and this ‘orb’s replacing the the earlier ‘book of the world’ emblem, first in English works. detail from Brit.Lib. Arundel 83 f.130 (c.1310-1320). See also Pelling’s comments on Ellie’s post (ciphermysteries. Oct.18th., 2017).
detail from Bodleian MS Laud Misc. 719 f.21r (1425-1450). Introduced in ‘The Orb, the Book and Equivalence Part 2’  voynichimagery (Mon. November 20th, 2017) and a detail (below) illustrating its style of ‘cloudband’ – this item from the author’s research having been shared with  members of the voynich.ninja forum at that time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In closing, readers please note that by c.2010, Dana Scott was alone convinced of an English provenance for the Voynich manuscript and he continued actively engaged in investigating English sources when I last saw his comments to the second mailing list.  Any researcher finding him/herself moving towards a similar position should not neglect to consult the work Dana has done over so many years, nor to credit him by name when taking any of it… up.  The second mailing list is still running, thanks to the generosity of Rich Santacoloma and I believe Dana remains a member.

 

typo corrected (thanks, Michael).25th May 2019; abstract added May 27th., 2019 and clarifications for the sense in which ‘Tractatus de herbis’ is used in this paper.

June 1st – Gower images added at Dr.O’Donovan’s instruction. June 3rd, detail from Brit.Lib. Arundel MS 83 f.130. L.S.