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.

The skies above Pt.5: bodies in baskets

Two previous:

Header: detail from f.179 in Brit.Lib.  MS Harley 4375/3, a translation of  Valerius MaximusFacta et Dicta Memorabilia (Memorable Doings and Sayings..); (inset) detail from a mosaic made in the region of Carthage 1st-2ndC AD, (a century or two after Sergius Orata lived).   British Museum.

 

MINUS THE INSET, the image shown in the header illustrates one sentence from Book 9 of Valerius Maximus’ Facta et Dicta, viz:

C. Sergius Orata pensilia balinea primus facere instituit. quae inpensa a levibus initiis coepta ad suspensa caldae aquae tantum non aequora penetravit.(9.1.1)

As first published in English, from the translation by Samuel Speed. that paragraph and the next together read:

There are more recent translations, but Speed’s was the first to be published in English, and appeared four years after Athanasius Kircher’s death.

Excerpts from Valerius Maximus occur  as early as the tenth century in the Latin west,  and it is possible that the fifteenth-century conception of Orata’s ‘hanging baths’  pre-dates Nicolas de Gonesse‘s translation of Book 9.  I’ve not looked at the earlier manuscripts.  Any wanting to doing so might begin with:

  • Dorothy M. Schullian, ‘A Revised List of Manuscripts of Valerius Maximus’, Miscellanea Augusto Campana. Medioevo e Umanesimo 45 (1981), 695-728 (p. 708).
WHAT HAS THIS TO DO WITH THE VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT? (c.1770 wds)

In brief – nothing.  At least nothing directly, but it has become the norm that imagery in this manuscript is compared with items from Latin European works which are prettier, easier to understand and much more luxurious than the Voynich manuscript itself, so I thought this would be an easy way to introduce the month-diagrams’ ‘ladies’ without causing sudden shock and the sort of unthinking remarks which shocked persons tend to make.

More to the point, it lets me establish three points from the outset:

  1. that the image from the Harley manuscript cannot be argued any explanation for the month-diagrams, as I expect some might be eager to do, seeing it fitting neatly with certain other Voynich theories about ladies, baths, magic, plumbing and ‘central Europe’.  But it won’t do, and explaining the fact may prevent researchers’ wasting their own time or adding to that confusion with which the study is already so beset.
  2.  that the fifteenth-century translators and illustrator should not be underestimated.  Valerius speaks of Orata as a fish farmer, Pliny of Orata’s growing oysters. Despite the fifteenth-century translator and painter having put human figures in these baskets, it makes perfect sense in the “Orataean” context that they should have made them baskets, and not the stave-built barrel we see when medieval people are shown taking a modest bath.    The painter has shown containers able to drain very readily rather than anything able to hold water for long enough to take a bath in the Latin style (Greek baths differed).    I think  Fagan has the right of it, and is largely in harmony with the thinking of those medieval translators and painter, for he says that Orata’s invention (pensilia balinea) had nothing to do with humans’ bathing.   We do better to envisage Orata’s ‘suspended baths’ as a variant form of  lift-net fishing [see image, below, left] and/or as being related to that practice, still-usual, by which shellfish are maintained alive after harvesting,  immersed in fresh sea-water until fully grown and so purged of any contaminates before being cooked or sent to market.   I suppose it is even possible the basket-full might have been dropped directly into heated water but in in any case, a light, rapidly-draining container –  of netting or of woven sea-grass  – would be entirely practical. The image below (right)  proves it was. And where Valerius speaks chiefly of Orata’s fish-farming, Pliny dilates on his unfortunate interest in shellfish.
    detail from a mosaic made in Carthage c.2ndC AD. Now in the British Museum
    known today on the Atlantic coat of France as carrelets; in Italy (chiefly around the head of the Adriatic) as trabucco; in India as Cheena vala.

    (The Harley painting is too early and insufficiently northern to be about ducking witches.)

  3. That the landscaping efforts by Orata and his fellows in Campania must be seen in the context of the reputation which, at that time, adhered to the harbour of Byzantion and the Horn, just as it had for millennia before and to as late as the fifteenth century.   The astonishing abundance of those waters was viewed as a wonder in the ancient and classical world and the same classical authors in whom fifteenth-century Latin Europe was so interested dilate on the subject.  I quote from a couple of those sources later in this post.  In a way scarcely conceivable now when our food supply is constant and arrives indifferent to seasons and without our labour, Byzantion’s bountiful supply of food from the sea was regarded with awe,   the city’s commercial production of salted and pickled fish provided a large part of the city’s wealth, even in medieval times.  Salt-dried and -pickled fish, but particularly the dried  had been the mainstay of  Roman armies and remained the principal food for those travelling by sea. A fish sauce called garum is believed the invention of  Phoenicians or of Greeks, and although a late imperial Roman tax on salt saw garum production sink rapidly in those times, a century after the Voynich manuscript was made,  Pierre Belon found “scarcely a shop without it” in Constantinople (formerly Byzantion and later Istanbul).  Belon adds that it was all made in Pera (“Pere”) (p.78)

It made perfectly good sense, and good economic sense for Orata and his fellows to attempt to re-create that environment in the Bay of Naples.

  • Pierre Belon, Les observations de plusieurs singularitez et choses memorables trouvées en Grèce, Asie, Judée, Egypte, Arabie et autres pays étrangèrs (Paris, 1553). Published first in French and English, the Latin edition appeared in 1589. The reference is on p.8 of the 1553 edition. Belon visited Istanbul in c.1547-8.
  • a quick basic overview of trade, goods and taxes in medieval Constantinople is in Mark Cartwright’s article for the Ancient History Encyclopaedia. here.

I’m not suggesting that the tiered  ladies of the Voynich month-diagrams are sea-food in disguise…  but puzzling over the Harley image and its odd features  led me to enquire further and, one thing leading to another as it tends to do, I was brought, eventually, to the point where I could conclude that the Voynich month diagrams had originally ‘spoken Greek’ and to identify the set of terms, and ideas, most relevant to the way the ‘bodies in barrels’ are depicted in folio 70v-i.

I  exempt from this description of ‘Greek-speaking’ the diagrams’ central emblems.  Not because it is impossible they also originated in a Greek-speaking environment but because they appear to be late additions to the material (after c.1330 but before 1438) by which time – as I was also able to conclude from other studies and enquiries of this manuscript – the greater proportion of material now in the Voynich manuscript had entered the Latins’ domain.  This makes it more likely – if not certain- that the central emblems were taken from a source in some language familiar in those regions at the time;  perhaps a Latin work, or one written in a western European vernacular, in Occitan, French, Anglo-Norman, Hebrew or a dialect of it.. or even Aramaic etcetera.  More likely; not certainly but in 2011, I expressed the opinion that the central emblems may have been copied from a work then in Fleury but dating to c.10thC AD. (This was before mention of France became acceptable to the ‘central European’ theory-holders, for which change we must thank Ellie Velinska’s longstanding fascination with the Duc de Berry more than any body of objective evidence.)

What is certain is that when  ‘matches’ are claimed for the month- diagrams by writers adducing some detail from a Latin manuscript,  all but the sequence of central emblems is omitted from their efforts, and even when treating those, the more optimistic sort of Voynichero swans past indifferent, or oblivious,  to points at which the proposed ‘match’ fails – historically, iconographically or technically.  Here, once again, I must mention Koen Gheuens‘ work as exceptional because he has paid attention to (e.g.) the fact that the Voynich ‘scales’ are of a type quite unlike those pictured in the medieval Latin manuscripts or adduced by other Voynicheros.

The critical detail is a second and thinner crossbar threaded through the wider. It is very clear in the Voynich emblem, and although the example cited by Gheuens is not unambiguous – that is, one might argue that its knob and hook were fixed into the end of a solid bar rather than being the termini of a thinner rod threaded through the larger – nonetheless it is a creditable potential match and he deserves credit for accepting rather than waving away that problem of very different construction.  The diagram you see below the scales in that pocket calendar records the hours of darkness and of daylight for the month of September.  I’ll come back to to the curiously nomadic history of such calendars later in the series, but the fact is they hop about – between England and the Scandinavian countries at first, and then make their way inland after some time.

To my knowledge no-one has ever found  a comparison for any of the  Voynich month- diagrams.   No-one  had done so before Panofsky, and he could find none closer than those in the Libros…  No  closer comparison seems to have been found since.  Nor have I offered one.

What I’ve done is draw conclusions about first enunciation and, thereby, intended significance.  And this because,  just as you can’t read a book by just looking at it you can’t read the   ‘thousand words’ by just looking at a picture.

I think it quite possible, after doing that work, that the ‘labels’ for figures in the Voynich month diagrams may be place-names.  And while it may be a natural assumption  that, were this the case,  the system invoked would be the generalised type of chorographic astrology, it should not be forgotten that between a star’s position on the celestial globe and that of a specific place on the terrestrial globe, correspondence can be literal, and very literal, practical types have known so from before Babylon’s first brick was laid. Every ancient literature in the world presumes the stars were made for nomads, farmers, herders and mariners. Not one supposed them made for astrologers.

Several of my readers have commented on the curious fact that,  after I introduce some new item or conclusion such as that the labels might be place-names, the same proposal appears without mention of the source not long afterwards in one or another ‘Voynich’ venue, where it tends to be lightly tossed about as some random ‘idea’ which had  just occurred to the participant regardless of the fact that several others know quite well where this ‘idea’ came from.

I’m afraid that a decade’s unremitting efforts on the part of one or two theorists has had its effect;  to admit that you are among the hundred or so people who read each post, and one of the ninety or so who don’t mis-use the material has become a bit risky if you appreciate being among the peaceable.   It is now ok to help yourself, but in public arenas  ‘not done’ to do be honest and open about it.  If you do, it is a dead cert. that someone will soon appear on the lists and try to show you the error of your ways.

 

But, as I say, to help yourself is perfectly acceptable – to those omnipresent few theory-touts, and to me.  Where we differ is that I consider my research and its original observations and conclusions should be re-used with mention of my name, and they don’t.  One understands their situation; it just messes things up if you’re getting everyone on board with your theory, to admit that half the new ‘ideas’ you use to inspire the crew have been lifted from work you don’t quite understand, other than it seems to undermine the theory.  Getting fellow believers to work it up in new form. one consistent with your theory and so re-assign  credits to fellow-believers surely does keeps everything nice, neat, homogeneous and attractive to visitors. But it cannot be called honest, or helpful to those more interested in the fifteenth-century manuscript than in stories woven about it.

Which is another of the reasons why, now that I’ve decided to put a little more online in treating these diagrams, I won’t providing just an illustrated precis and a short reading list as I did in posts to Voynichimagery.  This time, I’m setting out, step by step, the process by which I finally gained the conclusions I did (though I’ll ‘telescope’ a little).  I expect most will find it fairly hard-going – because it was – and I shouldn’t be  surprised to lose a few theorists in the maze.  🙂

So – to the fifteenth-century depiction of C. Sergius Orata and ‘bodies in baskets’.

“Bodies in Baskets” – Part A

C. Sergius Orata

Modern scholarship has tended to look more to Pliny’s account of Orata but for our purpose,  Valerius’ is the more valuable.   Pliny wrote later, and was a military gent and a friend of the Emperor Vespasian, highly conservative in the Roman fashion and inclined to think Orata ‘orientally’ sensual and venal: “not quite one of us”. This bias is vented by speaking of little but Orata’s  cultivating oysters (a little too close to the murex, perhaps?), and scarcely mentioning Orata’s fish-farming, on which Valerius concentrated. Nor does Valerius suggest a commercial motive as Pliny would do later.

Despite his name, Orata might indeed not have been quite ‘Roman’.  At the time when he was most active in Campania (the region of Capua and the Bay of Naples) it was still chiefly Greek and Samite.  Even a century later Strabo names  Naples among the few remaining bastions of civilisation in the peninsula, the rest having succumbed in one way or another to – as Strabo puts it – the barbarian Romans.

  • Strabo, Geographia  VI, 253 = VI.1.2)

The painter dresses Orata by combining conventions for an ‘oriental’  with faintly Byzantine overtones, but I do not think it due to his consulting any  eastern ‘Byzantine’ – nor relying on artistic imagination.

On Byzantine ‘Greeks’ in medieval western Europe, a good brief overview:

It seems to me that, the painter being provided with Pliny’s comments in addition to those of Valerius, misconstrued Pliny’s second-to-last sentence, having failed to notice that Orata was no longer the subject.  After a long passage about Orata, Pliny at the end shifts suddenly and swiftly from Orata,  by way of Licinus, Philip and Hortensius, to Lucullus – another fish-fancier of Naples, though omitting that name in his second-to-last sentence, which translates as:

 At which,  Pompey the Great called him “Roman Xerxes” in his long robe. 

Orata’s upper dress appears as if of shot silk,* and the ‘long robe’ is given by the painter to other eastern figures, including ‘Sardanapalus‘.  Thus the ‘Persian’ of Naples, Lucullus, becomes the ‘oriental’ and not-quite-Roman, Orata.  Yet the elegance with which the painter conveys by these means Orata’s social rank, ‘oriental’ tendency to luxury, and even a suggestion of the effete (the inclusion of a luxurious version of the Roman feminalia) is supremely elegant.  The reader expecting a literal and historically-correct ‘portrait’ will be disappointed, but those who are aware of the degree to which medieval imagery is less illustration of a text than its reiteration will see how easily the image committed to memory might then be ‘re-read’ – its several devices allowing cultured, impromptu remarks on the subjects of fish, baths, and Sergius Orata according to Valentius and to Pliny.

*as samite? By the late medieval period, samite had come to be “applied to any rich, heavy silk material which had a satin-like gloss”.

The sentences where Pliny shifts from discussing Orata also explain his concentrating on Orata’s oysters:  Pliny knew of Roman nobles who weren’t to be supposed ‘oriental’ or effete, and they (sadly misled) had also raised fish.

In those same days, but somewhat before Orata, Licinius Murena devised pools and stewes to keep and feed other types of fish, and his example being followed by certain noblemen , they did likewise – namely Philip and Hortensius.  Lucullus cut through a mountain near Naples for this purpose – that is, to bring an arm of the sea into his fish-pools, the cost of doing more than the house he had built.  At which,  Pompey the Great called him ” Roman Xerxes” in his long robe….

-which shows that Pompey knew his Herodotus. And that Pliny was thinking of the Bosporus in connection with this behaviour.

It is true that by conventions of Byzantine art, red boots were a mark of any eminent personage, including kings of whom nothing more was known than references in the Biblical narratives.

Red boots – Medes, Persians, Romans and Byzantines

A good, brief up-to-date account of Byzantine Greeks in early fifteenth-century Italy:

On the significance and history of red boots, which subject specialists in Roman history still debate with surprising warmth:

  • ***Maria G. Parani, Reconstructing the Reality of Images: Byzantine Material Culture and Religious Iconography 11th-15th Centuries (Brill: 2003)***

Specifically for the controversy over red calceus mulleus, see Ryan’s notes:

  • Francis X. Ryan, Rank and Participation in the Republican Senate (1998) pp.55-6 and notes.
  • Irfan Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Volume 2, Part 2  (1995) passim esp. pp. 161-168.

The boots given Orata may, or may not, be ‘Byzantine’ but his hat was never worn in Constantinople – or if ever, not after the 3rdC AD. It is another of those ‘speaking devices’, a conventional bit of visual shorthand, of a type widely used in medieval imagery.

Headwear of such a sort appears with variations in medieval art as token for the ‘easterner’ and, in this form, chiefly as sign of the eastern Egyptian or Jew.  The version shown (left) has its crown-like brim less strongly indented than Orata’s is, but this mounted figure is meant for a younger Moses, as prince of Egypt and overseer of Jews’ labour.  (Note that the roughly parallel lines used for the horses’ manes is not the technique we call ‘parallel hatching’).

.

discarding bad habits:Wrecking-rocks of literalism and the whirlpool of pareidolia.(900 wds)

In terms of iconography there is a major difference between the Voynich ‘ladies in barrels’ and the detail from that fifteenth century manuscript picturing Orata and the ‘bodies in baskets’.

A modern, western reader who has no Latin may well consider Orata’s hat and costume odd and the elevated tubs odder still, but it would not require group effort, for more than a century, to make sense of the image overall.  It is immediately plain  to us that we are to interpret those figures of men and women literally; that the tubs are to be read as bath-tubs, and whatever bewilderment might be felt about the purpose of that image, the image itself is comprehensible.  We do not speculate about whether, perhaps, Orata is sitting in a tent watching clouds pass and imagining them baskets.  We are not so bewildered by our inability to read its intended meaning that we resort to asserting it the work of a sex-crazed, foolish, immature, or deliberately deceitful person attempting wantonly to conceal from us the information to which we have no key within our existing range of knowledge and experience.

That so many, on realising their inability to read imagery in the Voynich manuscript, have resorted to such means to avoid admitting  nothing comes to mind which lets them make sense of a drawing or a diagram, and leads them to invent off-the-cuff excuses and rationalisations (even to the point of delusion in asserting that what is so plainly not an ordinary expression of medieval western culture IS an ordinary expression of Latin culture) simply expresses the normal range of human reactions when presented with something entirely unlike anything in the individual’s existing experience and mental repertoire. That Panofsky could not only recognise his own lack of comparisons but openly say so, is a remarkable thing; for a human being in general but for an eminent specialist in the field of medieval Latin art even more so.  He was not prevented from seeing accurately by any fear of losing face. That’s very rare.

As humans it is an innate and universal habit when confronted with a new thing, word or person to immediately hunt our range of knowledge for some comparison for it: this is how we learn language, identify faces in crowds and so on. It is how we learn a second language – by finding parallels from the one already known.  It is how we change a stranger’s status to that of friend: we liken their face, character or habits to ones familiar to us.   But when our existing repertoire returns a ‘null result’ to that instant and instinctive search, natural  responses veer  between panic, dislike, suspicion, self-deception or a feeling experienced as boredom-distaste, to (by far the rarest) an intelligent curiosity: a desire to widen our own repertoire to a point where the hitherto unparalleled phenomenon is contextualised and in that way becomes among things ‘familiar’ to us.  Consider how people react to a piece of abstract expressionism and you’ll get the idea.

Or perhaps a better illustration is the  way European scientists reacted on receiving the first specimen of an Australian platypus.  There was no one creature known to European science with which the creature could be compared, no genera or species to provide its context.   So the scientists (naturally) compared it, as best they could, with what they did feel comfortable with:  they saw the bill as a ‘duck’s bill’, the tail as ‘like a beaver’, the feet as ‘like an otter’… and concluded the specimen a fake, made by stitching together bits of a duck, a beaver and an otter. Naturally. Just so, those only comfortable with some aspect of European history and culture form their ‘Voynich theories’ within those same parameters, and then hunt only within their comfort zone (sometimes as limited as one medium and one small locality) for items which they might ‘match’ to some detail in the manuscript.

The aim in such cases is not to elucidate the original, but to claim it ‘not really unfamiliar’; stylistics are ignored; context; no effort made to explain (for example) a whole theme or even a whole diagram, detail by detail or to test theories or alleged matches against what is known about history or art or codicology or palaeography or …  anything else.  Classic example: the [so-called apothecary jar] container from the Vms supposedly ‘compared’ with the printed image of a German Christian ritual vessel. This is pareidolia. And over-literalism, too. It serves just one purpose, to offer a subliminal advertisement for a ‘Latin-German Christian’ theory. Which is not to say that whoever devised the ‘pairing’ did not believe it themselves. Comfort-zone.

Once the European scientists’ own horizons widened, once they set about to learn more, their personal, innate, instinctive, panic-responses ceased. They no longer needed to insist the thing was ‘really’ familiar, because they had worked to become familiar with the context in which it belonged in fact.  Since this understanding cured the ‘null’ reaction, the natural and essentially defensive responses were no longer needed. They could see the thing as it was without stress and without the equally instinctive urge to express hostility to the provider of that first disturbing specimen.  They stopped attacking his motives and character.  Such attacks, like inane ‘scoffing’ are common means to express hostility of such a kind, though one must admit that not a few Voynich narratives are amusing.

The way to pass safely between the Scylla of plodding literalism and the Charybdis of pareidolia is, simply,  to know more. Ask questions. Do the hard yards. Cross-examine yourself  at every step. Make yourself your best-informed and sternest critic.  Doesn’t matter if others think your ideas plausible. As Feynman says:

“It doesn’t make a difference how beautiful your guess is. It doesn’t make a difference how smart you are …[It doesn’t matter how many are willing to believe, either.]  If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.”

_________________

What is not  explained about the image of Orata, by the words of Valerius nor of Pliny is why Orata’s “pensilia balinea” are here given the form of a basket woven from straw, or from  sea-grass or something of that sort. The detail shown (below, left) tells us that in medieval Latin Europe baskets of this type were known, but whether ever made so large as that in the Harley manuscript image we may never know; such objects rarely survive the centuries.

  • Terms for baskets in Latin and Old English are on a page at Wyrtg’s site.

 

“Pensilia balinea”

Most modern commentaries cross-reference Valerius’ pensilia balinea  with  Vitruvius‘ description of Roman baths, and take it that Orata’s invention was not “suspended baths”of the sort envisaged by the Harley image, but those piers (suspensura), sometimes of stacked blocks called suspensera, by which the floor of a Roman baths was ‘suspended’.

While I cannot follow Fagan in some of his enthusiasms, I think he has the right of it, and is in harmony with the fifteenth-century translator and illustrator, to the extent he says:

I believe that Orata’s … invention was used in connection with fish-raising rather than with human bathing. Orata was widely known as a fish-farmer, and may even have derived his cognomen from the practice. Tellingly, all the sources mentioning Orata [and] his pensiles balineae together strongly imply a connection between the device  and Orata’s fish-farming business; in fact, Orata and his pensiles balineae are never explicitly linked to baths for human use. Furthermore, Pliny’s notice appears in the general context of a section on men who invented fishponds….(p.59)

  • Garrett G. Fagan, Sergius Orata: Inventor of the Hypocaust?, Phoenix, Vol. 50, No. 1 (Spring, 1996), pp. 56-66.
Short bibliography:
  • On Roman plumbing and suspensura see e.g.
    • Robert James Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology, Volume 4.
    • Vitruvius, di Architectura, Bk 5  10.2)

    Readers may also enjoy:

  • Janet DeLaine, ‘Some Observations on the Transition from Greek to Roman Baths in Hellenistic Italy’, Mediterranean Archaeology, Vol. 2 (1989), pp.111-125.
  • John Wilkes (ed.), Encyclopaedia Londinensis, Volume 7 (1810)  is – of all places – the best for detailed description of traditional fishing methods.  on Tunny fishing  see p. 415

To the foregoing, I should like to add the suggestion that Valerius seems to have understood more clearly that Pliny ever did the implications of those efforts made by Lucullus and Orata; that around the Bay of Naples, infused as it was still with Greek heritage and culture, those  fish-breeders had as their model the landscape about Byzantion of Thrace (as it then was), whose natural abundance of fish is constantly discussed and marvelled over, described in extraordinary detail by several classical and late classical authors, including Strabo.   The other centre of the fish-trade –  apart from Campania – was Gades in Iberia, an old Phoenician stronghold. The coins of those cities, from centuries before Orata lived, to as late as the 3rdC AD, show the city’s character throughout the greater Mediterranean world by that means.  I might have taken a broader range of examples, but concentrate here on the period from the days of Orata (early 1stC BC) to that of Strabo  (64/63 BC – c. 24 AD), Pliny ( AD 23–79) and Dionysius of Byzantion (2ndC AD).

Strabo may be said to dilate on the theme of Byzantion’s abundance from the sea, but fish and gods are the whole tenor of Dionysius’  Anaplous of the Bosporus. Classed as a ‘geography’ it reads more like a manual and sailing guide for the god-fearing fisherman,  and since it will be important to understand how the region’s character was perceived in the general imagination, when Lucullus and Orata lived, as when Valerius, Pliny and Strabo wrote, I’ll quote a little from those two authors:  first from Dionysius and then from Strabo:

from Dionysius of Byzantion

§ 5 With the current breaking sharply near here, the largest part pushes on toward Propontis, but the gentle part conducive to fishing is received in the so-called Horn. This is the gulf beneath Bosporion headland, quite deep, more so than an anchorage, for it stretches for 60 stades, and safe as any harbor, with mountains and hills encircling it to block the winds, and further in with rivers that bring down deep, soft silt, at the mouth under the headland on which lies the City .[proving that Byzantion was a walled city before Constantine translated the capital of the Roman empire thence and renamed Byzantion ‘Constantinople’).

§ 6  The city has sea all around it except for the isthmus connecting it to the mainland….. That sea is deep close inshore, and with strong currents driven by the Pontic sea and the narrowness of the passage and the impact and refluxes that strike the city in a mass. It divides around the Bosporion headland, part of it flowing into the deep, fish-laden gulf and ends in slight, shallow landings. It is called Horn from the similarity of the shape. It surpasses a gulf in depth, as I said, and a harbour in convenience. For big mountains surround it protecting it from the violence of the winds ….

§ 36Bolos, with a rich winter fishery, on which is a precinct of Artemis Phosphoros (lightbearer) and Aphrodite Praeia (mild), to whom the the Byzantines* customarily sacrifice. For she is believed to store up the favorability of the wind, calming and suppressing the excessive disturbance they cause.

* ‘Byzantines’ here means people under the rule of Thracian Byzantion.

§ 37 The next place, Ostreodes (oystery), is named from the occurrence. For an underwater reef is formed at sea, whitened by the multitude of oysters, and the bottom is visible, especially in calm weather. The place grows back what is consumed, so the use is so to say profligate, and oyster beds rival the fishery in value.

§92 After Chelai is the place called Hieron, which was built by Phrixus, son of Nephele and Athamas, when he sailed to Colchis, a place indeed owned by the Byzantines, but a common haven to all who sail. ….

and this next item, more than oysters, could be why C. Sergius received the cognomen ‘Orata’:

§ 93.  In the sanctuary is a bronze statue of ancient work, a young man stretching out his hands in front of him.

Many explanations are given for why this statue is composed this way; some say it is a sign of the boldness of sailors, deterring reckless navigation into danger and showing the happiness and reverence of those who return safely. For neither is without its terror. Others say that a boy wandering on shore returned shortly after his ship had left the port, and, overcome by despair for his safety, stretched his hands up to heaven, but that the god heard the prayers of the boy and returned the ship to port. Others say that on the occasion of a great calmness of the sea, while every wind was still and a ship was long delayed, its sailors were struggling under the scarcity of the port’s supplies. Whereupon a vision appeared to the captain, ordering the captain to sacrifice his own son, since by no other means could the voyage and the winds resume. But at the moment when the captain, being compelled by necessity, was ready to sacrifice the boy, it is said that the boy stretched out his hands, and that the god, moved by pity at the senseless punishment of the boy or by the boy’s youth, took up the boy and sent a favourable wind. Let each judge as he likes whether these or the contrary are credible.

  • from the translation by Brady Kiesling from the Greek/Latin edition of Carolus Wechser, Anaplous Bosporou. Dionysii Byzantii De Bospori navigatione quae supersunt (1874).  The English translation is online [TOPOS]. Wechser’s Greek/Latin edition digitised at Archive.org.

 

And so one sees the inference in Pliny’s treatment of Lucullus’ changing the landscape near Naples creating as it were a new ‘Hellespont’ that cost  more than his palace, and created another ‘golden horn’ as sheltered arm of the sea.  Similarly, by knowing Strabo’s text, the parallel is clear for Valerius’ description of Otata’s engineered landscape: “He separated shoals of  diverse sorts of fish within the large circuits of vast Moles..[and] burdened the hitherto unpopulated banks of Lake Lucrinus with stately high structures, so he might keep his shell-fish fresh..”  A Byzantium in miniature.

from Strabo

Now the distance from the headland that makes the strait only five stadia wide to the harbour which is called “Under the Fig-tree” (medieval Pera, now Galata)  is thirty-five stadia; ….  The Horn, which is close to the wall of the Byzantines, is a gulf that … is split into numerous gulfs — branches, as it were.The  pelamydes  [‘tunny’] rush into these gulfs and are easily caught — because of their numbers, the force of the current that drives them together, and the narrowness of the gulfs; in fact, because of the narrowness of the area, they are even caught by hand.
Now these fish are hatched in the marshes of Lake Maeotis, …and move along the Asian shore as far as Trapezus and Pharnacia. It is here that the catching of the fish first takes place, though the catch is not considerable.. .But when they reach Sinope, they are mature enough for catching and salting.Yet when once they touch the Cyaneae and pass by these, the creatures take such fright at a certain white rock which projects from the Chalcedonian shore that they forthwith turn to the opposite shore.  There they are caught by the current, and since at the same time the region is so formed by nature as to turn the current of the sea there to Byzantium and the Horn at Byzantium, they naturally are driven together thither and thus afford the Byzantines and the Roman people considerable revenue.     

Strabo, Geography, Book VII, Chapter 6.

 

At this point in the log is a note that questions of continuity between the Roman and the medieval trade have already been treated..

Short bibliography
  • Robert I Curtis, Garum and Salsamenta: Production and Commerce in Materia Medica (Brill: 1991)

If any reader shares my fascination for technicalities, they might also enjoy:

  • James Arnold Higginbotham,  Artificial Fishponds in Roman Italy (University of North Carolina Press: 1997) though I should add that it hasn’t any relevance to study of Beinecke Ms 408.

 

That the texts of Strabo, and of Dionysius of Byzantion were still known and copied in Constantinople during the early fourteenth century  is proven by the deservedly famous Vatopedi manuscript,  a complation of texts from major and minor classical authors describing the sea-routes of the Black Sea, Red Sea and to as far as England.  It is difficult to think other than the compilation was made for contemporary needs, and these may have included the needs of foreigners resident in the enclaves of Pera and within Constantinople, wanting to know those routes. Diller’s study of the Vatopedi remains a standard reference.

  • Aubrey Diller, ‘The Vatopedi Manuscript of Ptolemy and Strabo’, The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 58, No. 2 (1937), pp. 174-184.
  • Codex Vaticanus 2061. – includes text from Strabo, Geographia  on leaves 235, 237, 240, 243, 244, 246-249, 251-253, 310-315. 20.5 by 20.3. Taken to the Vatican library in the 17thC from the monastery of St. Mary of Patirium, a suburb of Rossano in Calabria.

Postscript: The two masters of theology who translated Valerius’ Facta et Dicta held degrees at the highest level offered at that time in western Europe.  It can be presumed, then, that they were well aware of post-classical and Christian associations for bathing.  For the medieval Christian these would certainty include association with baptism and with marriage. For a brief explanation see  Isidore of Seville,  Etymologiae VI.xix.41; IX.vii.8.

 

detail from a map originally part of the Vatopedi manuscript. Now in the British Library.

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2 minor typos corrected – 17th Sept. 2019.